Tag Archives: Irish Water

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 15th February 2017

Another Garda whistle-blower demands inclusion of their case in public inquiry

Keith Harrison claims he and his girlfriend endured surveillance and referrals to Tusla?

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A second Garda whistle-blower has demanded that his case is included in a public inquiry into an alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Another Garda whistle-blower has demanded that his case is included in a public inquiry into an alleged smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Keith Harrison claims he and his girlfriend endured covert and overt surveillance, referrals to Tusla – the Child and Family Agency, and that they were the victim of rumour, innuendo and malicious falsehoods.

Garda Harrison issued a lengthy statement through his solicitor after Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed a tribunal was being set up into the scandal of unfounded and false sex abuse claims being peddled against Sgt McCabe.

Mr Harrison claimed there is an “orchestrated system and culture” among senior management of the force that dictates the treatment of whistleblowers.

Mr Harrison said: “The efforts of this Government to restrict the inquiry/commission of investigation to the very traumatic story of Sgt McCabe absolutely ensures we will not get to the bottom of the culture of management failures and ill-treatment of whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána. ”

Effectively forced

The Government was effectively forced into ordering the tribunal with hearings to be public.

The decision was taken after Mr McCabe and his wife Lorraine said they would not accept any investigation into the controversy being held behind closed doors.

“There’s nothing worse in this country than to be called a sex abuser, nothing worse,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil.

The terms of reference of the tribunal are expected to be finalised in the next 48 hours, with the Government now under deepening pressure to extend it to include other whistle-blowers.

Who is Sgt Maurice McCabe?

In 2008, Sgt Maurice McCabe raised concerns about quashing of penalty points. In 2012, he was banned from using Pulse, the Garda system through which he identified questionable quashing. Controversy over his treatment led to resignations of Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and minister for justice Alan Shatter. In due course, Sgt McCabe was vindicated over his main complaint.

The Garda whistle-blowers: We found this helpful a Yes No

Garda Harrison, who was previously nominated for a Scott Medal for bravery but has been on extended sick leave, was stationed in Athlone when he stopped a colleague on suspicion of drink-driving in 2009.

He also raised concerns about drug-dealing investigations.

In the statement issued on behalf of Mr Harrison and his partner Marisa Simms, their solicitor claimed that since then both he and his family suffered victimisation, bullying, and intimidation.

Disciplinary action?

He has also faced disciplinary action and threatened criminal prosecution.

The officer was prosecuted for having no insurance on his car and he was reported to Tusla.

Garda Harrison has spoken out before and some of his claims have been put on the record in the Dáil.

“It is our belief that senior management within An Garda Síochána set out to attack and destroy our family because I sought to speak out about malpractice within the force,” Mr Harrison said.

“In doing so they tried to discredit me, and also reported ‘concerns’ regarding the wellbeing of my partner’s children, leading to a Tusla investigation, which revealed no risk whatsoever.”

Garda Harrison said his treatment bears similarities to the experience of Sgt McCabe and his family.

“It is clear to us the incidents contained in the disclosures of Supt (David) Taylor and Sgt McCabe are not isolated but rather, along with our experience, identifies a common approach within the senior management of An Garda Síochána to whistleblowers,” Mr Harrison said.

Under pressure

Amid the second whistle-blower going public, the Government is under pressure for Ministers, including the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, to formally explain what they knew and when they knew it, regarding the McCabe affair.

The sergeant was at the centre of an unfounded and false report on a Tusla file of an allegation of sex abuse against a colleague’s daughter.

A counsellor working on behalf of the agency has claimed the error was made when details from a different case were cut and pasted on to a file.

Sgt McCabe has rejected an apology issued by the Health Service Executive at the weekend.

A horrific ordeal?

And in a four-page statement issued on Monday, Sgt McCabe accused Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan of privately discrediting him while publicly declaring her support over his horrific ordeal.

The officer claimed the Garda chief’s lawyers set out to discredit him at the O’Higgins Commission which investigated and vindicated a series of allegations by Sgt McCabe of negligence in policing in the Cavan-Monaghan district.

Irish Cabinet approves new Irish drink-driving laws

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The Cabinet has approved new laws that will automatically ban all those caught drink driving from the roads.

Currently, first-time offenders are not necessarily disqualified and can pay a fine and get three penalty points.

Transport Minister Shane Ross said that this sends out the wrong road safety message.

Welcoming the decision to approve the General Scheme of a Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017, Minister Ross said: “The evidence shows that despite a perception to the contrary, drink driving continues to be a very serious issue in this country.

“We can no longer be ambivalent in our attitude toward this destructive practice.”

“What I am now proposing is that the existing provision allowing people to get penalty points rather than a disqualification for drink driving sends the wrong message and should go.

“Instead of three penalty points, such drivers will get a three-month disqualification. This is quite proportionate.

“Drink driving is serious, and potentially fatal. Even a small amount of alcohol can impair people’s reactions, and that cannot be tolerated when people are behind the wheel of a car.”

The Minister expressed his hope that this Bill can be passed quickly and without amendment.

Minister Ross added: “It is important to get it out there and working, and with it the message that drink driving will no longer be without serious consequences.

“This is an important step on the road to enacting what will be a focused, timely and urgently needed piece of legislation which will ultimately save lives.”

The General Scheme will now be submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for formal drafting, with a view to its publication as soon as possible.

In line with Government policy, the Minister will also refer the General Scheme to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for its consideration.

New Irish tenancy laws confuse both the tenants and landlords

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The Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, announced before Christmas, aimed to bring a greater level of predictability to the rental market. However, confusion remains for both tenants and landlords.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney last month announced an extension of the existing list of rent pressure zones (RPZs). The list now includes most of Galway City as well as 23 smaller commuter towns, including Cork City suburbs such as Douglas and Ballincollig.

While tenants will welcome the new measures in a climate of rapidly rising rents, many landlords see them as curtailing their potential rental income and their ability to manage their properties.

What does it mean if I live in a RPZ?

For those properties now located within a RPZ, rent rises are capped at 4% per year for three years. There is also a set formula which landlords must use when calculating the reviewed rent. This cap doesn’t apply if the property was vacant (before the current new letting), and was not let at any time in the 24 months before the area became an RPZ. The cap also won’t apply where there has been a substantial change in the nature of the accommodation since the rent was last set. For example, if major refurbishment works have been undertaken which would change the market rent applicable for that property.

How often will landlords be able to review rents?

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2015 had restricted a landlord’s ability to review rents to once every two years, so many tenants may now be confused as to when their rent can next be reviewed. The new legislation means that, in the case of existing tenancies within RPZs, the cap on rent rises will apply when the next rent review falls. So, if you are currently within a rent review freeze, the RPZ designation will become relevant once those two years are up. When that next review occurs, rent reviews will then be allowed annually, rather than every two years.

What happens when I have rented a property for six months or more?

Once you have lived in a property for more than six months, a part 4 tenancy occurs, entitling you to remain for a further three-and-a-half years. This right is separate to any lease agreement with the landlord, so even if you have a one-year lease, after six months, you also have part 4 tenancy rights. After four years, if you remain in the property, a further part 4 tenancy begins.

The landlord can only terminate a part 4 tenancy on certain specific grounds, for example, if they require the property for their own use, for that of a family member, or if they plan to substantially refurbish the property.

Two main changes have been introduced to give tenants greater security of tenure.

The first is the extension of the cycle from four to six years, for tenancies that began after December 24, 2016. For any part 4 tenancy beginning before that date, a four-year cycle remains but, as soon as that ends, the further part 4 tenancy will be a six-year cycle.

The second change relates to how a part 4 tenancy can be terminated. Previously, once the first cycle was up, a landlord was entitled to terminate the tenancy at any time in the first six months of the further part 4 tenancy, without needing to fall within one of the above termination grounds.

That six-month window has now been removed. For all tenancies, which began after December 24, 2016, once the further part 4 tenancy commences, the stated reason for termination must also be one as set out in the legislation. This is expected to be extended shortly, to tenancies which commenced on or before that date.

Landlords who wish to avoid having to give specific grounds will need to time the termination correctly so that it falls before a further part 4 tenancy begins.

To achieve this, they will have to serve notice before the current part 4 tenancy ends, with the notice period expiring on, or after, the tenancy’s end-date. This ensures that a further part 4 tenancy does not occur.

Anything else that we should know?

A further provision, which has not yet commenced, is a restriction on landlords seeking to terminate tenancies on the grounds of “intention to sell”. This is where they propose to sell ten or more units within the same development, either at the same time or within a six-month period. This will be of interest given recent media attention around “vulture funds” buying up loans from banks. As they now wish to sell off properties they hold as security, these vulture funds are serving notices on multiple tenants within the same development of “intention to sell”.

Landlords will soon only be able to rely on these grounds if they can prove that selling the property with the tenant still remaining will reduce the market value by 20% below what it would be, if sold with vacant possession. They also need to prove it would cause undue hardship on the landlord.

Irish Water reveals households wasting less than it was previously thought

Managing director Jerry Grant: 765m litres a day still being lost in public pipe network

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Metering is said to have identified that “by far the most beneficial gain” in Irish Water’s activities was in fixing leaks “on the public side” of the pipe network.

Information gathered from the State’s water-metering programme has led Irish Water to conclude households waste less water than previously thought.

Jerry Grant, managing director of Irish Water, told the Oireachtas Committee on the future of water charges the utility was “forced to rethink” its calculations on water usage, after the metering programme revealed individual water use was about 110 litres per day, at the lower end of international comparisons.

It had previously been estimated that individuals used in excess of 140 litres per day, but metering had identified that “by far the most beneficial gain” in Irish Water’s activities was in fixing leaks “on the public side” of the pipe network.

Mr Grant told the committee on Tuesday that domestic meters measured “flow” to households “for a variety of uses”, but he said “it was a government decision to charge” for that water.

Drinking water supply?

He said Irish Water provided about 1.7 billion litres of drinking water to homes and businesses a day. Of this, 600 million litres were consumed by households and 300 million litres went to “non-domestic” premises.

He said these figures were dwarfed by the 765 million litres a day which were still being lost in the public pipe network – about 45% of overall water production.

The use of domestic meters had already identified leaks of 77 million litres per day on the householder’s property, which had been fixed under the utility’s free “first fix scheme”.

Already conserving water?

The data the company had got from 800,000 water meters had shown most households were already conserving water – but one per cent of households used over 20% of all domestic water. Five% of households accounted for use of one third of domestic water supplies.

Mr Grant said metering had helped the utility establish that some households had “continuous night flows”, which indicated leaks.

Some 28,000 homes had availed of the utility’s free “first fix” scheme, resulting in savings of 70 million litres of water per day.

He said about a half a billion euro had been spent on domestic water meters when the scheme was suspended, and the remaining fund of about €150 million had been redirected to invest in the network, largely in new connections.

One domestic leak under a driveway could typically see consumption rise to that of 20 households, he said.

“The information is telling us the fundamental gain is about fixing leaks,” Mr Grant said.

He added the greatest gains in water conservation over the next 15 to 20 years will not be from individual household conservation measures, but in fixing leaks and installing district meters.

Mr Grant was asked by Anti Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy why water meters were used to gather information on households, while district networks used other tools, from “listening sticks” to technology, to establish water flow.

Mr Grant said Irish Water could gather data from 80,000 meters in two months, collecting by the use of technology-equipped vans, whereas to send out individuals to seek access to individual properties and stopcocks would take a multiple of that time.

A lust for life and why sex is better in your 80’s

Sexually active older people are considered a curiosity, but a new survey suggests that lovemaking is often more fulfilling for ‘sexual survivors’ than those in middle age

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Dr David Lee says ‘sexual survivors’ are probably ‘the healthiest people in older age’.

Dr David Lee, a research fellow at Manchester University’s School of Social Sciences, calls them “sexual survivors” – people over the age of 80 who still enjoy an active sex life. In a report written with Professor Josie Tetley, using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, he notes that while physical challenges (erectile difficulties, for instance) occured more frequently with age, the emotional side of sex appeared more fulfilling for people over 80. Men and women in this age bracket reported more shared sexual compatibility and emotional closeness than those in their 50s, 60s and 70s – which sounds like good news for anyone going through a drought in middle age.

Sex isn’t defined by penetration, says Lee – some older people find more imaginative ways to keep their sex lives active. “We saw quite a lot of adaptation in the older people, saying they no longer had penetrative sexual intercourse and were more content with kissing and cuddling and general intimacy. We kept a very broad definition of sex. We saw what appeared to be adaptive behaviour in the older members of our sample.”

Don’t bank on hitting your sexual peak so late, though. The problem is, having a sex life at all in your 80s is far from guaranteed. Only about one in 10 women aged 85 or older, and nearly one-quarter of men of that age, enjoy one. “They’re a minority, clearly, but they’re an interesting minority,” says Lee. “Among those who were [sexually active], it was quite interesting that they seemed happy with their sexual lives.”

Lee is studying what it takes to become a sexual survivor. There is likely to be a range of factors, he says. Having a partner is important, of course, and many people in their 80s have been widowed. “I would envisage that these [sexual survivors] are the healthiest people in older age,” he adds. Medication, for instance, can interfere with sex drive and ability.

Sexually active octogenarians are still considered such a curiosity that documentaries are made about them (such as Channel 5’s Party Pensioners, which featured an octogenarian burlesque dancer, and Sex and the Silver Gays, a film about older gay men who go to sex parties). Sites aimed at millennials run interviews with them, too – in 2015, Vice published an interview with an 82-year-old called Chris Wilson about his exploits on Grindr (he said he found the hook-up app “especially helpful when travelling. When I was in London, England, I got hit on by about 40 guys. I had sex eight times in seven days!”).

Lee says we need to get used to the idea that some older people may want a fulfilling sex life – and take seriously the means to allow them to achieve this. “We’re simply trying to broaden the discussion around sex and saying, irrespective of age, there is a need for joined-up healthcare services that people can access if they wish. We’re seeing from the comments in our survey [that] when older people try to access healthcare [for] sexual problems they have come across dismissal: ‘You should expect it at your age.’” But Lee has also seen how it becomes internalised in older people: “They think: ‘It’s not relevant to me anymore.’” Better, instead, to know you could enjoy a later-life sexual peak.

First live birth evidence in a group of dinosaur relatives found

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It was adapted for a fully aquatic lifestyle

Scientists have uncovered the first evidence of live births in the group of animals that includes dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds.

All examples of this group, known as the Archosauromorpha, lay eggs.

This led some scientists to wonder whether there was something in their biology that prevented live births.

But examination of the fossil remains of a very long-necked, 245 million-year-old marine reptile from China revealed it was carrying an embryo.

Jun Liu, first author of the new study in Nature Communications, said that the animal would have measured between three and four metres long, with a neck that was about 1.7m long.

The embryo may have been around half a metre long and is positioned inside the rib cage of the adult Dinocephalosaurus fossil, which was discovered in 2008 in Luoping County, Yunnan Province in southern China.

Researchers had to consider whether the smaller animal might have been part of the adult’s last meal. But it’s facing forward, whereas swallowed prey generally face backwards because predators consume the animal head first to help it go down the throat.fossil embryo appears to be facing forwards; ingested prey often end up facing backwards

Another line of evidence in favour of the live birth idea is that the small reptile inside the mother is clearly an example of the same species.

Co-author Prof Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, told BBC News that the fossil was important because the Archosauromorpha form one of three large groupings of land-based vertebrates (backboned animals), each including about 10,000 species.

Since we now know that no fundamental biological barrier to live births exists in this group, palaeontologists would be “looking very closely” at other fossils. He suggested one target would be a group of aquatic crocodile relatives – whose mode of reproduction was not well known.

Prof Liu, from Hefei University of Technology in China, said the discovery pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the archosauromorphs by 50 million years.

The mode of reproduction in Dinocephalosaurus also points to how the sex of its offspring was determined.

Co-author Prof Chris Organ, from Montana State University, added: “Some reptiles today, such as crocodiles, determine the sex of their offspring by the temperature inside the nest.

“We identified that Dinocephalosaurus, a distant ancestor of crocodiles, determined the sex of its babies genetically, like mammals and birds.”

Prof Benton explained: “This combination of live birth and genotypic sex determination seems to have been necessary for animals such as Dinocephalosaurus to become aquatic.

“It’s great to see such an important step forward in our understanding of the evolution of a major group coming from a chance fossil find in a Chinese field.”

The possibility that an eggshell once surrounded the embryo but was not preserved in fossilisation could not be ruled out, said Prof Benton. But living Archosauromorphs all lay eggs very early in embryonic development, whereas this embryo is very advanced, with well developed bones.

Furthermore, the team says Dinocephalosaurus’s long neck and other features of its anatomy suggest it could not have manoeuvred easily out of the water, meaning a reproductive strategy like that of turtles – which lay eggs on land before returning to the water – was probably not an option.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 12th January 2017

Irish Water spends €25m a year on billing alone an Oireachtas committee hears

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Ervia chief executive also defends amount the water utility spent on consultants and Irish Water would save €25m a year if it stopped billing customers, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Irish Water would save €25 million a year if it stopped billing customers, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The Oireachtas committee is examining the future of water charges.

It was established last year to consider a report on the charges by an expert commission.

The report proposed that water services be funded by general taxation, rather than by a separate charge, and each household be given an average water allowance, to be determined by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) – Ireland’s water regulator.

On Thursday, Irish Water told TDs and Senators on the committee that the annual cost of billing customers for water charges is €25 million, which includes €13 million for processing bills, €10 million for the contact centre and €2 million in staff costs.

Meanwhile, Michael McNicholas, the chief executive of Ervia, which runs Irish Water, defended the amount the utility spent on consultants, insisting the consultants were “international experts”.

Mr McNicholas said the €73 million spent on consultants was not wasted and was necessary to establish Irish Water.

He said the experts were tasked with building the software and computer systems needed to establish a national water services company.

He said the cost of hiring the experts was “really efficient”.

Water meters.

On Wednesday, the CER told the committee that Irish Water should stop installing water meters in existing homes.

It warned that the cost of completion would cripple efforts to improve water quality and supply.

In a submission to the committee, the CER said finishing the programme was not a priority.

“If a decision was taken to complete further metering, then either significant additional funding would have to be made available or a significant level of necessary capital expenditure would have to be deferred from other priorities for water investment for the time period 2017-2018,” the CER said.

The CER also proposed that householders be given the option of installing a meter. The meter would then entitle them to a tax rebate, if they used less water than average.

It also said grants should be given to people who invest in water-saving measures and that the installation of water meters in new houses and estates should be mandatory.

In a separate submission on Wednesday, Irish Water said €13 billion must be invested in Ireland’s water and waste-water services to ensure safe drinking water and proper sewage treatment.

It said it does not believe water services should be funded wholly or largely through the exchequer, since this would put investment in competition with public spending demands. It said guaranteed funding was needed.

It confirmed it would need €714 million in funding this year, to include the annual €475 million subvention plus €239 million in replacement revenue, in lieu of its previous income from domestic billing.

X-Man star James McAvoy says life has ‘changed massively’ since his divorce

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James McAvoy has revealed that his life has “changed massively” following his split from wife Anne-Marie Duff.

The acting couple, who met on the set of the Channel 4 show Shameless in 2004, announced that they were parting ways after ten years of marriage last May. They broke the news in a statement and asked for privacy for their six-year-old son Brendan.

McAvoy has now commented on the changes in his life over the past 12 months, which include moving into his own place near the family home in north London.

“My life has changed massively”, he told Mr Porter magazine: “At the same time, so much has stayed the same.

“One of the things that’s stayed the same is that I still don’t talk about my personal life, really. Me and Anne-Marie, when we were together, it was our policy not to speak about each other in public. We rarely broke that and if we did, it was for tiny things – ‘Yes, we are cooking turkey for Christmas’ and that policy still stands.

“Even separated, we’re still respectful of each other and committed to doing that publicly and personally. But yeah, things are really good.”

“Which is a rubbish, pat answer”, he added jokingly.

The X-Men star, who plays Charles Xavier/Professor X in the superhero franchise, also said he gave up drinking whiskey because it made him aggressive.

“That used to be my drink – a peaty Talisker, or a Laphroaig,” he said. “But I find that I can’t drink too much whisky any more. More than one or two now and I get a bit leery, a wee bit fighty, a bit chippy, looking for an argument. And I didn’t like that. So I mostly stopped drinking it. My problem is, if I have it in the house, I’ll tan the lot.

“I’m a consumer. If it’s in front of me, I’ll f***ing do it. I’ll consume it. I’ll take it, whatever it is. I’ll have a go… And I don’t know what that is. I still drink, and sometimes have a lot of drink. But I just don’t want to have alcohol in the house any more.”

McAvoy can next be seen on the big screen in Split, Submergence and The Coldest City this year. The Scottish actor said he is unsure if he will appear in a new X-Men installment, as neither he nor his co-stars, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, are contracted for a new film.

“They certainly haven’t asked me to do another yet,” he said. “I know they’re writing another [original] X-Men movie. Whether they’re gonna make it or not, I don’t know. And I know they’re looking at doing some spin-offs as well, that I may or may not be involved in.

“It’s all up in the air at the moment,” he added. “I may end up being in f***ing 20 X-Men movies in the next five years. And I may end up being in none.”

The actor’s new thriller, Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan goes on release in Ireland next week.

BT Young Scientist students find Left-handed people are more ambidextrous, 

The study is one of dozens of class projects at this year’s RDS Primary Science Fair

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Students at the 2017 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition seek to reduce waste, save energy, bring alternative energy sources to market and close the STEM gender gap.

Left-handed people have a chance to shine at the RDS Primary Science Fair, thanks to a research project on whether, with training, someone can become ambidextrous.

The project, from Ballapousta National School, Drogheda, Co Louth, was one of dozens of primary school entries to the fair, which opened on Thursday morning and will run until Saturday afternoon.

The fair is a non-competitive event that aims to promote science, technology, engineering and maths projects undertaken by primary school pupils.

On Thursday, Minister for Education Richard Bruton visited the fair, chatting with the excited fourth-, fifth- and sixth-class pupils as they described their discoveries.

The research projects covered a multitude of subjects, from finding what liquids make your hands go wrinkly to testing what kind of cup keeps a teacher’s coffee warm for the longest period.

Image result for Left-handed people are more ambidextrous  Ronan Tallon, a fifth-class pupil at Ballapousta National School, described what he and his class found with their project, “Ambidextrous! Can I train my other hand? That would be handy!”

“We wanted to find out if we could train our non-dominant hand to be as good as our dominant hand,” he explained, alongside his teacher, Louise McGivern.

The class worked on the project for two months and discovered a number of things, including that left-handed people could train their right hands more quickly than a right-hander could train their left hand.

Girls were also quicker than boys at picking up skills such as cutting with a scissors and catching a ball.

The class put their data into graphs for the fair. They are also offering visitors a chance to test their ambidextrousness.

Daniella Údra, a fifth-class student at Bunscoil Loreto, Gorey, Co Wexford, described what she and her classmates got up to with their project, “Which parachute can land an egg best?”

The project turned out badly for the eggs, but they were hard-boiled before being tossed off a staircase to test the parachutes so there was very little mess.

The group’s teacher is Claire Thompson.

“We used different kinds of parachutes,” Daniella explained.

The class tested square-, round- and octagon-shaped parachutes made of light-weight dishcloths, paper, felt and a plastic bag.

She said the class timed each test and assessed whether the egg passenger had survived the fall.

They found that the best results were with the dishcloth parachute, despite its tiny holes.

‘Human lie detector’

William Lin and Danny Howlin were two of the 37 sixth-class pupils from Kilrane National School, Co Wexford, who presented the project, “Can you become a human lie detector?”

Their teachers are Bobby Kenny and Emma Hore.

“We started with a game that we got from a book with five maths questions and five direction questions,” Danny explained.

The project then shifted towards trying to understand how the human brain worked and then by extension whether the class could use the brain to develop a lie detector that could catch a fib.

In the end, the class managed to produce a lie detector using a Hot Wires electronics kit.

Mr Bruton praised the hard work of the pupils, and said they were learning skills that would be important in their future, technological lives.

He noted the fair involved about 7,500 pupils overall and said that he would like to see that number growing every year.

The RDS has run the fair along side the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for some years, but last year expanded its primary science programme to include a separate event in Limerick.

This year’s Limerick fair will take place next week.

On Thursday, it announced a third location for its primary science programme, in Belfast.

The first Belfast fair will take place this June, said Karen Sheeran, the science and technology programme manager for the RDS.

“There is a huge appetite for it and we are trying to increase access and capacity,” she said.

European Volunteering Capital Sligo for 2017 looking forward to the opportunity of a big year

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Mayor of Sligo Municipal District, Cllr Marie Casserly pictured with Commissioner Draghi.

Mayor of Sligo Municipal District, Cllr Marie Casserly, says 2017 will be a significant one for Sligo, as it holds the title of European Volunteering Capital. In her New Year message, the Mayor said: “2017 will be a big year for Sligo as we continue to punch above our weight taking on the title as European Volunteering Capital.

Thank you to the army of different types of volunteers who care for our community and those that need their help. I have been astonished and delighted to see that there is a huge amount of good work taking place across County Sligo.” She said having this title is a major thing for Sligo.

“Sligo as European Volunteering Capital is a major opportunity for Sligo to project itself not only in Ireland but also in Europe and further afield as a holiday destination and as a quality of life region to live, work, study and invest in. Sligo in recent years as host to European Town of Sport, National Fleadh Cheoil, Yeats, Armada and 1916 Commemorations is now beyond doubt a major sporting, cultural, tourism and transport hub in Ireland. Many of these social and economic accolades are attributed to the work of our volunteers who work tirelessly in their local communities and via our Diaspora networks.”

The Mayor said it’s important Sligo embraces the year ahead.  “Sligo like many progressive regions is going to be affected by Brexit, no one knows yet what will a Hard or Soft Brexit mean.

“What is of direct concern to Sligo is to be aware now of the potential scale of difficulty and scale of opportunity that will affect our economy. We must in the meantime act on the basis of greatest difficulty and opportunity at our doorstep. We have an over dependence on markets in the UK and we must engage more with Europe and in it’s Internal Market of 500 million consumers.

All the benefits from UK relocating firms should not accrue to Dublin. Being European Capital of Volunteering is the rally call for our Sligo Volunteers and our Sligo Diaspora to reach out to investors and start -up companies in the UK to help us grow our creative commercial base, and to contribute to job creation and in turn strengthening purchasing power in our county. The events that I have attended and been involved with since becoming Mayor of Sligo have been varied and diverse but without exception, each one has involved people who want to improve the area they live in, either economically or socially.

“To all those who, in Sligo, through their business, their action or work, have developed projects which contribute to the economic and social life of our country, I hope that their efforts thrive in this achievement. Our county will be a place to be proud of which is more prosperous, vibrant, healthy, sustainable and where people enjoy a better quality of life. I look forward this year as we continue to make the region a better place to live, work, visit and invest. Together we can do it! Most importantly I would like to thank everyone for your continued support and for those who support the local economy through choosing local produce in the supermarkets, butchers, local shops and when eating out. Sligo is a great county. I invite you to join me in anticipating what we will accomplish together in the year to come.

Scientists use light to trigger the killer instinct in mice

Technique called optogenetics used to pinpoint and take control of brain circuits involved in predatory behaviour.

Image result for Scientists use light to trigger the killer instinct in mice  Image result for Scientists use light to trigger the killer instinct in mice  The researchers also observed increased anxiety,  repetitive behaviour and impaired ability to communicate with others in the mice and noted their symptoms are similar to those of autism in humans (illustrated)

A mouse demonstrating instinctual predatory behaviour with a cricket. The researchers also observed increased anxiety, repetitive behaviour and impaired ability to communicate with others in the mice and noted their symptoms are similar to those of autism in humans

It has all the trappings of a classic horror plot: a group of normally timid individuals are transformed by scientists into instinctive killers, programmed to pursue and sink their jaws into almost anything that crosses their path.

However, this hair-raising scenario was recently played out in a study of laboratory mice, designed to uncover the brain circuits behind the predatory instinct.

The research revealed that one set of neurons triggers the pursuit of prey, while another prompts the animal to clench its jaws and neck muscles to bite and kill. The study relied on the technique optogenetics, in which neurons can be artificially activated using light, effectively allowing scientists to switch the killer instinct on and off at will.

Light switches memories on and off

When the laser was off in the experiment, the animals behaved normally, but at the flick of a switch they assumed qualities of “walkers” from The Walking Dead.

Ivan de Araujo, a psychiatry researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine and lead author said: “We’d turn the laser on and they’d jump on an object, hold it with their paws and intensively bite it as if they were trying to capture and kill it.”

In the study, the mice were seen to pursue almost anything in their path, including insects, robot insects and even inanimate objects such as bottle caps and wooden sticks.

However, De Araujo said the mice stopped short of displaying aggression towards fellow mice or the researchers, and seemed only to target objects that were smaller than themselves. “It had to be something that could be grabbed and contained, something they want to capture and subdue” he said. “It’s not that they got out of control and tried to kill everything. It had to be something that looks like food to them.”

In the study, published in the journal Cell, the scientists used a technique called optogenetics to pinpoint and eventually take control of the neuronal circuits involved in predation. The mice were genetically engineered so that specific groups of neurons were light-sensitive, meaning that these could be switched on and off by shining a laser into the mouse brain.

The scientists identified two separate clusters of neurons in the central amygdala, a brain area normally linked to emotion and motivation. These were shown to be communicating with other neurons in two motor areas – in one case, a region linked to the ability to run and change speed and, in the other, a region known to control jaw and neck movements.

In real life sensory cues, such as a small animal scurrying across the predator’s field of view, would trigger activity in the amygdala setting off this “chase and kill” neuronal chain of command, the scientists said.

Rodent recall: false but happy memories implanted in sleeping mice.

In the experiment, they were able to bypass the usual sensory requirements and could trigger the predation circuits artificially using lasers.

They found that the two clusters operated independently: if they only activated the “hunting” neurons, the animals would chase the prey, but the biting force of the jaw was decreased by 50%. “They fail to deliver the killing bite,” said De Araujo.

When they only activated the “biting” neurons, mice in empty cages would display “fictive feeding” behaviours, raising their paws as though they were chomping on something.

Hunger had a powerful influence on predatory behaviour – hungry mice were much more aggressive in their pursuit. “The system is not just generalised aggression,” said De Araujo. “It seems to be related to the animal’s interest in obtaining food.”

The same circuits are thought to be closely conserved in the human brain, although De Araujo said that the circuitry is more likely to be associated with our drive to find food, rather than with anger or the instinct to attack.

“My take on this is that predatory behaviour is more related to food intake itself,” he said. “I would be a little hesitant to associate this with aggression.”

Professor Candy Rowe, a zoologist at the University of Newcastle, said that the research provided a valuable insight into predation, although said it was unsurprising that mice have effective predation circuitry in the brain. “Mice are often represented as prey – take Tom and Jerry as an example – but in fact they are predators themselves, particularly of invertebrates. At this time of year, that might include worms or hibernating butterflies,” she said.

Rowe added that in future, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of what sensory information triggers pursuit and capture behaviours, and how prey might evolve strategies to evade this.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 11th December 2016

Irish Water spends a hefty €5m on expert advice

Hefty bill run up in the six months since controversial charges were dropped

Image result for Irish Water spends a hefty €5m on expert advice   Image result for business strategists, lawyers, computer experts

Irish Water has spent €5m on outside business strategists, lawyers, computer experts, public relations and finance specialists in the six months after the Government formally suspended the controversial charges.

The revelation that the embattled utility has paid over €826,000 a month on consultants since May 1 – when it was effectively placed in limbo by the Government – will infuriate nearly one million people who have handed over €144m in water charges last year.

Those who paid their bills still have no idea if they will get that money back if charges are ultimately abolished.

Last night Fianna Fail’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said legislation was urgently needed to ensure the utility was fully accountable for all money it spent.

The list of lucrative contracts includes an average monthly bill of nearly €3,000 for public relations services at a time when a major question mark hangs over the future funding of the company.

Documents reveal nearly €5m was spent on ‘third-party’ services from May 1 to the end of October this year. This includes €775,141 on ‘business change’ support services.

Ernst & Young was paid €406,268 for its expertise, while official records show accounting and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers received €123,570.

Efforts to improve customer services supports also came with a hefty price tag, costing €774,848. It is estimated €32,285 is being spent every week to help improve and streamline customer services.

Ernst & Young also emerged a big winner, earning almost €486,000 for its expertise in the area.

Official records also show that hiring in legal expertise remains a major drain on resources – costing on average €56,800 a month.

In total, €340,830 was ring-fenced to cover costs in this area over a six-month period. Dublin-based legal firm McCann Fitzgerald was paid a total of €79,071 since the beginning of May. The next highest earner was Philip Lee, a specialist commercial law firm, who received payment of €71,438. Invoices for the services provided another law firm, Arthur Cox and Company totalled €45,410. Some €55,700 was allocated to covering the fees of a ‘senior counsel’, although records do not specify the reason for the expenditure.

PricewaterhouseCoopers received another separate payment of €68,000 for its “support on specific technical investment and engineering projects”. A further €113,277 was spent to ensure the “highest standards of governance” in areas like business analysis, information security and data protection. And Murray Consultants, one of Ireland’s biggest public relations agencies, was paid €16,866.

The expenditure comes against a backdrop of continuing uncertainty as to what approach will be adopted with customers who have already paid their water bills.

In a statement, Irish Water said it can require technical assistance and third-party support at any given time. Such expertise was not required on a permanent basis and therefore it was considered more “cost effective” to employ third-party specialists “as they are required”.

A spokesperson said the use of third-party external service providers represents just over 1pc of its annual operational costs. A company spokesman said the relevant data covers the period of May 1 to October 31 this year.

This was on the basis the clause facilitating the suspension of water charges was contained in the confidence and supply arrangement – put in place at the beginning of May on formation of the Government.

Fianna Fail’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said legislation was urgently needed to ensure the utility was fully accountable for all monies it spent.

He pointed out that the confidence and supply arrangement Fianna Fail has agreed with Fine Gael commits to retaining Irish Water as a national utility in public ownership. He said the agreement meant the company must be answerable to the Dail under a number of headings.

“We would have hoped that process would be complete by now, but it’s obviously not, and it’s something we’ll be taking up with the minister, with a view to bringing forward relevant legislation to give effect to that.”

He believes this would result in greater “transparency” in the operations of the utility.

The commission established to examine its future operations recommended that funding for the country’s water infrastructure should come through general taxation – but that there should be charges for wasteful use.

A special Oireachtas committee will now also decide if those who did not pay previous water charges should be prosecuted.

Deputy Cowen says the party is keeping an “open mind” on whether those who use excessive amounts of water should be liable for some financial payment.

“The main thrust of the recommendation is that it is paid for out of general taxation, and we agreed with that analysis.

“But there are many questions outstanding,” he said.

In a statement, Irish Water said “significant progress” had been made since the suspension of charges.

This includes “continuing the development of a single way of working for Irish Water as a public utility, to allow for a full transformation of services to the utility from local authorities.

“This is an enormous undertaking.

“We have developed new systems for local authorities to report vital information on operations, leakage, water and waste water quality to us electronically and in real time in a standardised and consistent way”.

These and other projects had required “specialist support”, but would have a “lasting significant value” for Irish Water as a utility.

As much as 112,000 additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here,

Say construction industry chiefs?

Image result for As much as 112,000 Irish additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here  Image result for As much as 112,000 Irish additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here

A report on the sector found carpenters and joiners will be in most demand.

Construction chiefs have claimed there will be 112,000 additional jobs in the industry over the next three years. A report on the sector found carpenters and joiners will be in most demand followed by general labourers, operatives and electricians.

The Construction Industry Federation has launched a new website, cifjobs.ie, to target workers who emigrated in the 10 years since the property bubble burst and the economy collapsed.

A report on the future of the sector by DKM consultants revealed the industry is set to grow by 9% a year up to 2020 and said that it can sustain more than 100,000 additional jobs.

It said there will be a need for 30,800 carpenters and joiners, 27,600 general labourers, 18,100 operatives, 15,200 electricians, 13,900 plasterers and tilers, 11,800 plumbers, 9,600 managers, 9,400 painters and decorators and 7,800 bricklayers.

CIF director general Tom Parlon said emigrants should consider coming home. ” There is sufficient work in the pipeline to require about another 112,000 jobs up to 2020 and beyond.

“The CIF is attempting to ensure there are sufficient skilled employees by engaging in several initiatives. We’re working with the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) to upskill those on the live register with construction experience. We’re attracting young people into the industry by highlighting the modern globalised careers available. Finally, we’re trying to get the positive news about the industry and Ireland in general to those in the diaspora to attract them back.”

The website will highlight jobs available in the lobby group’s member companies and allow potential candidates to engage directly with them.

Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks

Asking price for medicine that acts on lung function €160,000 per patient annually

Image result for Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks  Image result for Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks  Image result for Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks

The HSE has indicted it is willing to pay €75m annually, but not the existing €400m bill across five years.

The Health Service Executive and US makers of cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, Vertex, are to meet on Wednesday, December 15th, to discuss the cost of the medicine.

Orkambi, which improves lung function and reduces hospitalisation for CF patients, would cost €160,000 per patient annually, or €400 million for the health service over five years, according to its initial price.

Agreed approach

The HSE is willing to pay €75 million which would make it the sixth most expensive drug used by the Irish health system.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he has sought to collaborate with other countries on an agreed approach to negotiations on Orkambi and the HSE has cautioned Vertex it must ask a more affordable price.

The HSE and Vertex said they are committed to finding a definitive solution.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals said this week it will only re-enter price talks on Orkambi if Government representatives with the power to make decisions are at the table.

Vertex asked the HSE to commit to having Mr Harris, HSE director general Tony O’Brien and Department of Health Secretary general Jim Breslin at the talks.

Speaking in the Seanad earlier this week, Mr Harris said this was a “complete misrepresentation”.

“The law of this land, passed by this House and the Dáil in 2013, makes clear that the HSE is the body with statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicines.”

Thousands of people protested outside the Dáil this week about the issue.

The bottom line, says Fitch, is that a monkey’s speech limitations stem from the way its brain is organized.

“As soon as you had a brain that was ready to control the vocal tract,” Fitch says, “the vocal tract of a monkey or nonhuman primate would be perfectly fine for producing lots and lots of words.”

The real issue is that monkeys’ brains do not have direct connections down to the neurons that control the larynx and the tongue, he says. What’s more, monkeys don’t have critical connections within the brain itself, between the auditory cortex and motor cortex, which makes them incapable of imitating what they hear in the way that humans do.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a science fiction movie from 2011, actually has the right idea, notes Fitch. In that film, after a lab chimp named Caesar undergoes brain changes, he eventually is able to speak words such as “No.”

“The new Planet of the Apes is a pretty accurate representation of what we think is going on,” says Fitch.

Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff ?????

Image result for Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff  Image result for Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff  Image result for Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff

The Revenue Commissioners is warning against a slick phone scam intended to scare people into paying off a bogus tax collector.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners said a “small” number of people had contacted the office after receiving random telephone calls over the past week.

The calls are purportedly from a local tax inspector looking for so-called tax defaulters to make a payment and/or disclose their PPS numbers.

In one case, a taxpayer received a call from “Revenue Ireland” in which an automated recording told him to contact the “Revenue” urgently.

The suspicious taxpayer rang a Dublin number that was answered by a man who did not have an Irish accent claiming to be “Officer Ray Miller of Revenue Ireland”.

The taxpayer’s suspicions were confirmed when he began speaking in Irish and the bogus Revenue official couldn’t understand him or refer him to someone who could speak Irish, so he told ‘Officer Miller’ it was an obvious scam and he hung up.

Revenue spokeswoman Clare O’Melia said she was not aware of anyone being taken in by the scam. But she urged anyone who may have responded to a request for “an immediate payment of a tax bill over the phone” or provided the caller with their PPS number, bank account or credit card information to contact gardaí and their bank.

“Anyone who receives a telephone call purporting to be from Revenue about which they have any doubts, particularly if the call is out of the blue, should contact their local Revenue office or the Collector General’s Division at 1890 20 30 70,” she said.

“It’s Christmas and there are a lot of scams out there.” Gardaí have now also issued a statement.

“An Garda Síochána would like to remind the public to be wary of any contact from an unsolicited source, whether it is by telephone or email.

“Do not under any circumstances give out your credit/debit card, bank account, or PPS Number to anyone who makes contact with you over the phone.  An Garda Síochána, Revenue, nor any Financial Institution will ever call you and ask for your PPS number or bank account details.”

Majella O’Donnell hits out at Ireland’s mental health services

Image result for Majella O’Donnell hits out at Ireland’s mental health services  Image result for Ireland’s mental health services & the HSE  Related image

Majella O’Donnell has hit out at Ireland’s mental health services, after her friend was denied immediate help despite being severely depressed.

The 56-year-old wife of Donegal crooner Daniel O’Donnell has previously opened up about her own battle with depression, and how she once considered taking her own life.

Taking to Facebook, Majella decided to use her voice and revealed how she felt “angry and disgusted” after her friend with mental health issues was told she wouldn’t be seen to until next year.

“My friend Anne is a young mother who has been feeling anxious, unmotivated, irritated and generally depressed. She is aware of it and has been on antidepressants in the past,” she wrote.

“She is also aware of the fact that it is negatively affecting her relationship with her partner and putting a huge strain on them. She wanted to get to the bottom of why she feels this way. She phoned a psychiatrist to see if she could talk to someone professional and was told that a) She would have to be referred by her GP; b) She wouldn’t be seen until at least February, and c) It would cost her €300 an hour for the psychiatrist.

“What the f*** is that all about? I get so bloody angry at this kind of thing. Here is a young woman realising that she has a problem and trying to do something positive about it and this is what the outcome is! She went back to her GP who once again prescribed antidepressants, a stronger one this time – and that’s it.

“She doesn’t really want to take them as she would like to understand why she feels the way she does but she feels she has no choice,” she said.

Speaking up: Majella has suffered from depression in the past.

Majella then hit out at the outrageous fees psychiatrists are charging patients, as her friend received a quote for €300 per hour.

“I can accept that a GP needs to refer you, but what really p***** me off is the fact that no one could see her until at least February – but that doesn’t really matter because she could never afford the €300 per hour fee that is being charged. €300 per hour! What the f*** is that all about? It is shameful.

“How dare anyone charge that kind of money to help another human being who is in a desperate situation. That sort of fee cannot be justified! We have wonderful support groups around the country – like Pieta House, Aware, Mental Health Ireland, Grow and lots more – doing their best to help people with their mental wellbeing, but when someone tries to help themselves before things have reached the point of no return, this is what happens.

Make a change: Majella is disgusted with Ireland’s mental health services.

“We need, as a country, to sort this problem with accessing psychiatrists and if there is a shortage, then we need to actively start incentivising medical students to look at psychiatry as their speciality.

“Why do we have to wait until a person is so desperate for help that they are considering taking their own lives before we are willing to do something about it,’ she said.

“We need to start being pro-active about mental health instead of being reactive. There, that’s my rant over. I may be a little unreasonable about the whole subject, but it is one that I am so passionate about,” she added.

Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

 Image result for Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors   Image result for Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

The internet of things could be about to get a bit more playful as the AMBER centre showcases a new type of graphene sensor made using the kids’ toy, Silly Putty.

As an atom-thick wonder material, graphene has been prophesised for years now as the next big thing in material science.

But now, an interesting breakthrough made by the AMBER centre in Trinity College Dublin could be about to take us into the sillier side of science, or at least Silly Putty.

Led by Prof Jonathan Coleman, a research team within the centre has been looking at how a melding of graphene and the kids’ toy Silly Putty could be a match made in heaven.

Realising graphene’s unique conductive properties and Silly Putty’s ability to mould into almost any shape, the team wanted to see could they be combined to create a mouldable sensor.

Sure enough, Coleman and his team found that that the electrical resistance of putty infused with graphene – that it is calling ‘G-putty’ – was extremely sensitive to the slightest deformation or impact.

Can detect the footprint of the smallest spider

To test its effectiveness, the team mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of human subjects and used it to measure breathing, pulse and even blood pressure.

To the team’s amazement, it showed unprecedented sensitivity as a sensor for strain and pressure, hundreds of times more sensitive than normal sensors, offering hope for future use in medical devices.

It could also be used as a precise impact measurement device capable of detecting the footprints of the smallest spiders.

Speaking of its potential, Coleman said: “While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises.

“The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th May 2016

Fianna Fáil must explain decision to side with the Government on Irish Water, says Sinn Fein

     

Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin said Fianna Fáil has broken its promise to abolish Irish Water.

Sinn Fein has accused Fianna Fail of acting in coalition with Fine Gael by abstaining in a motion to scrap water charges.

This gave Fine Gael a comfortable winning margin to push through the deal reached with Fianna Fáil during negotiations to form a new minority government.

Under this deal – water charges will be suspend for the moment, to allow for the establishment of an independent commission.

“They’re supporting the Government and they’re supporting this Government’s policy, and they are supporting the continuation of Irish Water, despite clear election promises to the contrary,” he said.

“And they’re supporting a motion that leaves the door open to water charges in the future, so Fianna Fáil have to explain to their electorate why they promised to abolish Irish Water and water charges before the election and now are siding with the Government on these issues after the election.”

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins defended the decision not to vote against the abolition of Irish Water., saying his party plans to support future legislation to abolish water charges.

“There will be, through legislation, a suspension of water charges and a commission to look into the whole issue of water in this country,” he said.

“So we’ve played a progressive part in this, unlike other political parties, and what we saw in the Dáil, spearheaded by Sinn Féin, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and indeed the People Before Profit was just simply petty politics.”

Leo Varadkar does a U-turn on child benefit

     

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has ruled out any linking of the payment of child benefit to school attendance, despite a commitment in the programme for government to do so.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said while there is a requirement to disclose attendance records for children over the age of 16, at present there is no such requirement for those younger than that under current legislation.

He said the monitoring of children is beyond his remit and is a matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

The programme for government states that monitoring of child benefit will be reformed by amalgamating two existing monitoring systems, to address poor attendance within some families.

This initiative has been spearheaded by Communications Minister Denis Naughten. However, Mr Varadkar yesterday ruled out any move to link the payment to attendance.

“Child benefit is a payment that is not means tested nor is it taxed and I have no intention of changing that. For those under 16 it is not linked to school attendance,” he said.

“I had some discussions with [Children’s Minister Katherine] Zappone and [Education Minister Richard] Bruton and our view is that those involved in monitoring truancy do not believe the further tool to enforce attendance would be useful. I see no reason in changing the law.”

Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said concern had been raised following media reports about the inclusion of the measure in the programme for government, but that he welcomed Mr Varadkar’s ruling it out. “We are happy with that and I thank the minister,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was also pressed about the €2.5m cost to the taxpayer in meeting the statutory redundancies at Clerys in Dublin.

He said legal action could be instigated in order to reclaim the monies from the company, which was folded in controversial circumstances last year.

He said the redundancies were paid out of the Social Insurance Fund from PRSI contributions to 134 former employees at Clerys.

He said: “Arising from the Clerys liquidation, the Department of Jobs examined protection law for employees and unsecured creditors to see that limited liability or company restructuring is not used to avoid obligations to employees or creditors.

“It is my firm view that companies should stay true to the spirit and letter of company law. My department is now examining how the monies can be recouped.”

Mr Varadkar said legal action would have to take into account any burden of proof involved, the cost of taking such an action, and the level of assets in the company.

Labour TD Willie Penrose criticised the response, saying it reflects the conservative nature of bureaucracy. He called for Mr Varadkar to make the most of existing law to recoup monies for the taxpayer.

Mr Varadkar was also asked about his decision to scrap the Job-Bridge scheme. He told the Dáil he felt the scheme was now “out of date”.

Ten times more cyclists treated in Irish hospitals after crashes than official figures show

    

Today’s findings also showed far more people were hurt in road accidents

Ten times more cyclists are injured and treated in hospital than official figures show, it has been revealed.

Today’s findings also showed far more people were hurt in road accidents.

Researcher Brian Caulfield said: “New injury indicators are clearly needed since the existing data do not capture the gravity and extent of the problem.”

A team from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering combined data from the Road Safety Authority, hospital records and the Irish Injuries Board.

The study into figures from 2005 to 2011 found there were 88,000 traffic injuries. Hospital figures reveal RSA data only includes around 30% of an overlap with patients admitted for road crashes.

The researchers said: “The evidence the numbers are far greater than the official data indicate implies that reducing injuries needs to play a more important role in road safety strategy.

“Policy measures under consideration to reduce fatalities could obviously also contribute to reducing injuries. Among these are helmets for cyclists, lower urban speed limits, stronger measures to protect pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.”

A spokesman for the RSA said its figures relating to collisions and injuries come from gardai and not hospitals or the IIB.

The lack of one comprehensive dataset has previously made it difficult to assess the extent of the problems in Ireland.

But the Trinity researchers got around this problem by linking figures from three separate sources.

Dr Jack Short, ex-secretary general of the International Transport Forum at OECD, said: “The total social costs of road traffic injuries are greater than the cost of fatalities, so this subject merits increased policy attention and a higher priority in the Irish Road Safety Strategy.”

€500,000 fintech start-up fund announced by Enterprise Ireland

L-R: Geraldine Gibson, Managing Director, AQ Metrics; Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Leo McAdams, Divisional Manager ICT & International Services, Enterprise Ireland; Brett Meyers, CEO, Currency Fair  

Enterprise Ireland has created a new €500,000 fund for fintech start-ups, with ten spots to be filled as part of the IFS-2020 strategy.

Announcing a new start-up fund for fintech start-ups today, Minister for Jobs, Mary Mitchell O’Connor claimed the support was a “key part” of the current government’s push to help key sectors.

Providing €50,000 in equity to ten selected start-ups in the fintech area, applications open at the start of June, closing after just two weeks.

Open to early stage companies that can either be providing technology into the financial services industry, or consumer end-market solutions, blockchain, IoT, AI and ‘data intelligence’ are area encouraged.

Aside from the equity fund on offer, successful applicants will also receive membership to Dogpatch Labs, access to the Ulster Bank Innovation Solutions team, as well as talks from members of the FinTech and Payments Association of Ireland (FPAI).

“By introducing a specific start-up fund targeting the fintech sector,” said Enterprise Ireland’s Leo McAdams, “[we are] leveraging our strong international financial services reputation and our world-class start-up ecosystem to allow ambitious entrepreneurs to start, scale and succeed – providing valuable jobs here into the future”.

Enterprise Ireland has been fairly active of late, pouring €2.5m into ArcLabs at Waterford Institute of Technology in a move that will double the capacity of the incubation hub.

The expansion is hoped to help achieve the goal of a 30pc increase in the number of start-ups in the south-east.

Meanwhile last November a €500,000 specifically aimed at female-led start-ups was created.

Mars is emerging from an ice age that ended about 400,000 years ago

Climate change affects the Red Planet as well as us on earth?

the-red-planet  marsnasa.jpg  NASA-9.jpg

Mars is emerging from an ice age, according to a new study. Studying the Martian climate and how it changes over time can help scientists better plan future missions to Mars and even understand climate change here on Earth, the study authors goes on to say.

Models had already predicted that Mars underwent several rounds of ice ages in the past, but little physical measurements ever confirmed those predictions. Today’s study, published in the journal Science, is the first to map the ice deposits on the north and south pole and confirm that Mars is emerging from an ice age, in a retreat that began almost 400,000 years ago. The researchers also calculated just how much ice accumulated over the poles; the amount is so big that if it were spread throughout Mars, the entire planet would be covered by a 2-foot thick layer of ice.

STUDYING CLIMATE CHANGE ON MARS IS IMPORTANT FOR MULTIPLE REASONS?

Studying climate change on Mars is important for multiple reasons, says study co-author Isaac Smith, who studies sedimentary systems on Mars at Southwest Research Institute. By understanding ice ages, we can get a better understanding of how ice — and water — behaved through time on the Red Planet. It can help us figure out how Mars went from being a wet world to the barren, frigid land it is today. And it can tell us where ice deposits can be found. That’s key if we plan to send humans on Mars. “We want to know the history of water,” Smith says. “At some point, we’re going to have some people there and we’d like to know where the water is. So there’s a big search for that.”

The Martian climate can also inform scientists about climate change here on Earth, Smith says. Mars is the most similar planet to Earth in the Solar System and it provides a good testing ground for climate research, because there are no people burning fossil fuels and pumping global warming pollutants into the atmosphere. “Mars is a very good laboratory for what happens on Earth,” Smith says. “Climate science actually has a very simple but perfect laboratory in Mars, where we can learn about the physics of climate change and then apply what we learn to Earth.”

Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Arizona, who did not work on the study, agrees. “I think it’s a really great study and I think it’s very timely,” she says. “I was really excited to see it. … Climate change is obviously a very salient topic on Earth, but understanding the distribution of water-ice on Mars is also something that’s of great interest because there’s a lot of interest in sending humans one day to Mars. So if we know where there are reservoirs of water-ice, that could potentially be useful for future human exploration.”

MARS “IS NOT A DEAD, STATIC WORLD. THINGS ARE GOING ON AND CHANGING.”

Just like Earth, Mars undergoes cycles of climate change and ice ages. But unlike Earth, climate change on Mars is affected primarily by how “tilted” the planet is. Every planet has an axis around which the planet rotates. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees and it’s pretty stable, varying only a couple of degrees over time. Mars’ axis is currently tilted 25 degrees, but it wobbles between from 10 to 40 degrees. That happens for two reasons: first, Mars doesn’t have a moon as big as ours to stabilize its orbit; second, it’s much closer to Jupiter, and Jupiter’s gravity affects Mars’ rotation. When the Red Planet’s axis is more tilted, the poles receive more sunlight and get warm — so the ice to redistributes to the mid-latitudes, just above the tropic. That’s when Mars undergoes an ice age. “The impact is pretty dramatic,” says Peter Read, a physics professor at the University of Oxford.

Today’s study was based on predictions that 400,000 years ago such a shift in the planet’s axis took place. The researchers used radar instruments onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that’s orbiting Mars. They analyzed the radar images of the ice deposits within the planet’s polar ice caps, looking out for signs of erosion and other features, like so-called spiral troughs that are created by the wind. Tracing these features can reveal how ice accumulated and retreated through time. The researchers confirmed that around 400,000 years ago an ice age ended. Since the end of that ice age, about 87,000 cubic kilometers of ice accumulated at the poles, especially in the north pole. That’s exciting, because 400,000 years is pretty recent when talking about planets in the Solar System.

The study is “another bit of evidence that climate is still actively changing on Mars,” says Stephen Lewis, a senior lecturer at the Open University, who didn’t work on the study. Mars “is not a dead, static world. Things are going on and changing.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 16th May 2016

Irish Water says households are still liable for bills to end of March

Utility states customers must pay outstanding balances despite suspension of charges

    

Householders are liable for water charges bills up to the end of March, Irish Water has said.

The statement follows inquiries by one customer who received a bill on May 10th.

Geraldine Hennessy said she was puzzled when she received a bill after the Government announced that water charges would be suspended for nine months.

When she rang up Irish Water to inquire as to whether or not she should pay her bill, she was told that they had received “no formal directive” from the Government on the subject.

Ms Hennessy, who lives in Donnybrook in Dublin, said she had paid all her water bills to date and was prepared to pay the latest one, which was €40 for the first quarter of 2016.

“I don’t have a problem paying for my water. It is an investment really to upgrade the system, but I don’t want to pay Irish Water €40 only to be told a week later that water rates are gone.

“I don’t see the logic of giving back money to people because, when they paid it, it was the law of the land.”

Suspension to end of March.

A spokeswoman for Irish Water said the Government announced the suspension of water charges with effect from the end of March 2016, but charges apply up to that time.

The spokeswoman said: “Irish Water is currently issuing bills to customers for services provided in January, February and March of this year. Billing will be completed in the first week in June.

“Irish Water customers remain liable for balances due on any bills issued for services provided up to the end of March 2016 and Irish Water continues to accept payment and to deal with any billing queries in relation to outstanding balances.”

Ireland’s cost of funding now less after Friday’s Moody’s upgrade

The yield on Ireland’s 10-year bonds dipped to below 0.8% following Moody’s upgrade of our sovereign

   

On Friday last, Moody’s upgraded Ireland back to an “A” grade, moving the sovereign by one notch to A3 from Baa1.

As a result Ireland’s cost of borrowing fell to its lowest level in over a month on Monday after the ratings upgrade from Moody’s at the end of last week.

Ireland’s 10-year yields fell below 0.77% for the first time since April 11th, down more than 3 basis points on the day.

On Friday, Moody’s upgraded Ireland back to an “A” grade, moving the sovereign by one notch to A3 from Baa1. However, rating agencies S&P and Fitch continue to rate Ireland higher, with S&P’s A+ and Fitch’s A rating two notches and one notch respectively above their Moody’s equivalent following the upgrade.

Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec in Dublin, said on Monday that the move “bolsters the already positive case for Irish sovereign yields”.

“We expect to see Irish yields move further towards core Eurozone levels from here,” he said.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s head of fixed-income strategy in Ireland, Ryan McGrath, said he was “happy to have been proved wrong” with Moody’s surprise upgrade. He was among eight out of 11 economists and analysts polled by the Irish Times who predicted before the announcement on Friday that Moody’s would hold off upgrading Ireland amid concerns over the UK’s referendum next month over EU membership.

“The upgrade was long overdue, as it was almost two years since Moody’s last Irish sovereign upgrade,” said Mr Ryan, nothing that while the ratings firm has narrowed the gap with rivals, it still lags Standard & Poor’s, which rates Ireland A+, and Fitch, which has an A stance on the country.

While German 10-year bond yields flirted once more with record lows of just 0.05%, on Monday they were yielding about 0.12% and French 10-year bonds are yielding about 0.47%. Yields on Spanish, Italian and Portuguese 10-year bonds remain above 1%.

Irish Naval ship LÉ Róisín rescues 125 migrants in the Mediterranean

Irish naval vessel joined search and rescue operations in the region earlier this month

  

The Irish naval vessel LÉ Róisín rescued 125 migrants in an operation in the Mediterranean on Monday.

The ship rescued the 107 men and 18 women from a rubber craft about 40 nautical miles northeast of Tripoli, Libya, following a request from the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre.

A Defence Forces statement said the operation began at 10.47am and finished at 2.45pm.

The rescued migrants are currently receiving food, water and medical treatment.

The LÉ Róisín departed Haulbowline, Co Cork, on May 1st to join humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean as part of a bilateral agreement with Italy.

The vessel is the fourth Naval Service patrol ship to engage in operations in the region since May of last year, following the LÉ Eithne, LÉ Niamh and LÉ Samuel Beckett.

It is one of three naval ships that will be sent this year on 12-week rotations.

Last year, some 8,592 migrants and refugees were rescued by Irish Naval Service vessels.

Many Mediterranean deaths?

More than 700 migrants and refugees have died already this year attempting to cross into Europe via the Mediterranean, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

This is a 50% increase on the same period last year.

New Government strategy aims to tackle Irish obesity levels

Irish Government wants to ensure its citizens does not become the fattest country in Europe

     

The Irish Government plans to target a 5% reduction in the average weight of Irish people over the next 10 years.

Irish people face a new round of belt-tightening with Government plans to target a 5% reduction in our average weight over the next decade.

Disadvantaged areas will be encouraged to shed the most as the plan aims to reduce the gap in obesity levels between the richest and poorest sections of society by 10%.

The national obesity strategy, expected before Cabinet soon, aims to ensure Ireland does not become the fattest country in Europe, as predicted in international studies.

Implementation of the “A Healthy Weight for Ireland” strategy was identified as a health priority in the programme for government.

A sustained loss of 0.5% a year in excess weight (averaged across all adults) is targeted in the first five years of the plan,

A similar target has been set for reducing excess weight in children.

These overall targets will be reviewed every two years to take account of evidence on the likely impact of specific interventions to reduce obesity.

The way to achieve these objectives are set out as “Ten Steps Forward” in the plan.

These envisage a sugar levy this year as well as a “whole school” approach to health.

New calorie content Legislation.

Legislation requiring food establishments to post the calorie content of their meals is also planned for this year.

Other priorities include agreements with the food industry on reducing fat, sugar and salt in their products, and a code of practice for food and drink marketing.

Groups who need most support will be prioritised with an emphasis on families and children in the first 1,000 days of life.

One in four children, and six in 10 adults, are obese or overweight.

The real reason why you need to use your mobile phone ‘Flight Mode’ on airplanes?

    

Each time we take a flight and are asked to switch our phones to ‘Flight Mode,’ we assume it’s because leaving it on normal mode would cause the plane to break in half and plunge us to our watery death below.

Well, that’s not the case at all?

According to indy100, the reason it’s important to switch off your phone signal is a lot more banal than we thought.

It could cause the pilot to get a headache.

An anonymous pilot told the question and answer site Quora: ‘You may have heard that unpleasant noise from an audio system, that occasionally happens when a mobile phone is nearby.

‘I actually hear such noise on the radio while flying. It is not safety critical, but is annoying for sure.’

You probably know the sound he’s talking about – next time you’re beside a radio, put your phone next to it and get someone to call you. You’ll hear a buzzing noise that only goes away when the phone stops ringing.

Now, imagine that at 10,000 feet in your headphones while you’re trying to get clearance for landing.

The Sharks’ electricity sensing organs are even more powerful than scientists realised

   

A great white shark swims near Guadalupe Island off the coast of Mexico.

The most powerful proton conductor in the natural world is a weird, jelly-like substance that lives inside a shark’s head.

That’s according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances, which found that the material that makes up electricity-sensing shark organs called the ampullae of Lorenzini is almost as conductive as some of the most high-tech materials made by man.

Ampullae of Lorenzini were discovered in sharks more than 300 years ago — the sensory organs get their weird name from the 17th-century Italian doctor who first identified them — but scientists didn’t begin to understand what they were for until the past few decades.

Now, it’s clear that the dense networks of jelly-filled canals in the heads of sharks, rays and other cartilaginous fish end in highly sensitive electroreceptors, capable of sensing electric signals from miles away. With every twitch of muscle and flick of a fin, animals in the ocean — including humans — emit a faint electric field, and the ampullae help sharks detect that motion as they swim in search of food.

It’s a pretty neat trick, but scientists still aren’t sure how sharks do it. So they’ve been dissecting the ampullae of Lorenzini — AoL for short — to try to figure out what’s going on.

Researcher Marco Rolandi zeroed in on the jelly that fills the long tubes connecting sharks’ electro-sensitive cells to pores on their skin. He found that it is the best biological material yet for conducting positively charged hydrogen atoms, which scientists call protons. This conductivity allows the electric charge to flow easily from one end of the tube to the other. Other known natural proton conductors, like a protein found in squid skin and the pigment melanin in humans, are not nearly as strong.

The AoL jelly’s conductivity was not that much lower than that of Nafion, a state-of-the-art synthetic material used in things like batteries and fuel cells. Understanding how the jelly works could help researchers who are trying to build better versions of those technologies.

“Given that Nafion is a very carefully prepared material that’s very precisely made, it was interesting to see the shark had replicated something very close to that material just by nature,” said co-author Erik Josberger, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering who worked in Rolandi’s lab at the University of Washington.

Rolandi, now an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said it’s not clear what role the AoL’s proton conductivity plays in sharks’ electric sensing. It’s possible that the conductivity somehow boosts or preserves electric signals, but it could also have evolved out of a fluke. Until scientists investigate it further, it’s impossible to know for sure.

“I always say, if you have all the answers, then we’re out of a job,” Rolandi said. “So it’s rather exciting that we’re creating new questions rather than all the answers.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 5th April 2016

Irish Water the elephant in the room of government talks

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

The Central Bank in Dublin (above left)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bereaved people at greater risk of developing irregular heartbeat,

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

The factors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to beaches than people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 2nd. March 2016

Irish exchequer tax receipts come in ahead of target

Exchequer returns show that Revenue collected €7.2bn by the end of February

 Above projection figs.  

Exchequer figures released on Wednesday afternoon by the Department of Finance show that Revenue collected €7.2 billion by the end of February, €478 million more than in the same period in 2015.

Tax collection rose by €478 million in the first two months of the year as the public finances took the benefit of increased employment and surging car sales.

Exchequer figures show that Revenue collected €7.2 billion by the end of February, 7.1% more than than in the same two months last year.

The rate of increase was higher than the 5.8% foreseen in the October budget for the entire year. However, the January-February data show the return was €34 million or 0.5% behind the Department of Finance target.

There was a blip in VAT returns. Data show that €310 million VAT collection in February – a non-VAT due month for traders – was €109 million lower than in the same period in 2015.

This has been attributed to higher VAT repayments by Revenue to traders as they increase stocks. VAT receipts in the year to date stand at €2.41 billion, €43 million more than in the first two months of 2015.

Expenditure control

At the same time, the figures reflect tight expenditure control. Although €6.56 billion net spending was €56 million lower than forecast, any spending overruns typically do not arise until the later months of the year.

The exchequer was in surplus to the tune of €310 million at the end of February, a figure which was in contrast to the €205 million deficit recorded in the opening two months of 2015.

  • Exchequer returns: Revenue collects €4.5bn in January.

“This €515 million improvement in the exchequer balance is driven by increased tax receipts and reduced expenditure,” the department said.

“Overall, the release shows the Government broadly on track to hit its fiscal target this year,” said Davy economist David McNamara.

“An important point to remember is that the impact of any change in fiscal policy by the next government will not be felt in the numbers until 2017, while EU rules will limit any radical change in course.”

Peter Vale, tax partner at Grant Thornton, said the data would give comfort tothe next minister for finance that the public finances were in good shape. He argued, however, that the reliance on income tax as a percentage of all taxes was too high.

Income tax

Income tax receipts to end-February reached €3.14 billion, up €251 million or 8.7 per cent on the same period in 2015 .

“This performance is consistent with the recovering labour market, employment growth and increases in the average weekly earnings as evidenced by the latest quarterly national household survey and earnings releases,” the department said.

Excise duties reached €946 million in the first two months, a €168 million or 21.6 per cent increase on 2015. “A contributory factor is an increase in car sales which has boosted VRT receipts,” said the department.

Corporation tax receipts stood at €248 million for the first months, largely on target after a big rise in payments during 2015.

Total exchequer debt servicing costs to end-February 2016 were €422 million, down €169 million or 28.6 per cent on the same period last year .

“This decrease is primarily due to lower interest payments on International Monetary Fund loans following the completion of early repayments in March 2015,” the department said.

It also cited “timing factors” around interest payments on loans from the European Financial Stability Facility, the euro zone rescue fund from which Ireland drew big loans during the EU/IMF bailout.

Election result is not a victory for anti-abortion lobby? (Renua)

Candidates who specifically positioned themselves as against choice failed miserably

   

The Renua party failed to elect one any candidates, including Lucinda Creighton, viewed as one of the most recognisable and vocal TDs against abortion.

It won’t go unnoticed amongst marriage equality campaigners that several candidates who were to the fore during last year’s referendum failed to get elected, most notably Averil Power, Aodhán Ó Riordáin,John Lyons, Alex White and Jerry Buttimer.

Did they lose their seats because people don’t care about marriage equality? No, they lost their seats because of a largely anti-government vote.

For those who want to see social justice issues and reproductive rights to the fore as the next Dáil takes shape (if it ever does), it is of course concerning that the Labour Party has been decimated to the extent that it has. There is a feeling that if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael end up forming a coalition, that so-called “liberal” issues will take a backseat. But in case no one has noticed, they generally always have.

The marriage equality referendum was a people’s movement, pushed to the fore by a legal case, a protest movement, campaigning, lobbying, and a popular appetite for equality that grew in tandem with a global movement. Without disrespecting Labour’s involvement in marriage equality it was an issue that was fought for and won by citizens. Labour took up the baton when in government.

People choose who they’re going to vote for for a variety of reasons, and when a smaller coalition partner is punished, good people are always going to lose their seats because they have been perceived as guilty by association, no matter how glowing their achievements were. There has been a lot of chatter online in recent days about another burgeoning people’s movement, the campaign to repeal the Eighth amendment.

Marriage equality

While it can be tempting to tie the marriage equality movement and the pro-choice movement in Ireland together, they are very separate issues. Ireland was at the vanguard of change when it came to LGBT equality last year, yet on reproductive rights, we trail miserably behind most countries.

The prospect of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forming a coalition would obviously create a very conservative government, but in general, politicians have never been to the fore of championing women’s reproductive rights here. That drive has been, and will continue to be, a people’s movement, something that has to be fought for and demanded and dragged out of them.

If we are going to wait for politicians to spearhead it, we’d be waiting a long, long, time, and in fact, we have. What has changed about the movement to repeal the Eighth has very little to do with the political makeup of our governments, and everything to do with a change in perception of the public on the issue, a cracking open of conversations and a desire for progress.

Politicians have avoided talking about it, but outside of our political institutions, the public conversation has only grown louder. This movement will not stop, no matter who is in government. If anything, a conservative government will galvanise it further.

Dissecting where individual politicians and parties stand on reproductive rights does show progress, however. Despite Enda Kenny’s deflections when it came to making abortion an election issue, it was. Like marriage equality, it is a grassroots movement. But it has also been given a new lease of life by young people who are dissatisfied with waiting around for the system to anoint change, and are instead demanding it themselves.

The Life Institute, an anti-abortion group, accidentally provided a decent guide of where candidates were on a pro-choice spectrum, in an attempt to inform voters about which ones were against choice.

Repealing eight amendment.

By the Life Institute’s own count, 150 candidates who ran in this election had a declared anti-abortion position, contrasted with 356 candidates they listed who are in favour of repealing the Eighth, or whose voting patterns had declared a pro-choice stance on abortion.

Another indication of where candidates stood on supporting holding a referendum was a candidate’s pledge compiled by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, or Repeal Eight. 177 candidates signed the Repeal Eight’s pledge, a high number given that Fine Gael candidates do not sign such pledges, the exception on this occasion being Kate O’Connell who was elected in Dublin Bay South.

Candidates who specifically positioned themselves as anti-choice failed miserably. If maintaining the Eighth Amendment was a priority for the Irish public, then Renua, seen largely as an anti-abortion party, would have swept the boards. Instead, they failed to elect one any candidates, including Lucinda Creighton, viewed as one of the most recognisable and vocal TDs against abortion.

In Dublin Bay North, where Power and Ó Riordáin failed to get elected,Tommy Broughan listed repealing the Eighth as one of his election priorities. Finian McGrath signed the Repeal Eighth’s pledge to support a referendum, as did Sinn Féin’s Denise Mitchell.

In Dublin Bay South, which rejected Lucinda Creighton, Kate O’Connell of Fine Gael also signed the pledge, as did Eamon Ryan. When I asked Eoghan Murphy about the issue on Twitter, he replied with a screengrab of his newsletter, which stated “We must tackle Direct Provision and the housing crisis, repeal the 8th amendment, and protect our environment by addressing Climate Change.”

Fianna Fáil targets.

Fianna Fáil set out their stall well before the election campaign, with Micheál Martin saying that the party “would not initiate moves to repeal the 8th.” Fine Gael’s position on the issue attempted so many sidesteps that it merely tripped up, with a free vote promised, but not before Enda Kenny’s idea to have a constitutional convention take two.

At the time of writing, Fine Gael has 49 TDs, Fianna Fáil 44, Sinn Féin 23, Labour six, the Anti-Austerity Alliance – People Before Profit six, Social Democrats three, the Green Party two.

Outside of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, 40 members of other parties have policies to repeal the Eighth amendment. Of the independent groupings, Independents 4 Change (Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Tommy Broughan) are all in favour of repealing the eighth amendment. Seamus Healyalso signed Repeal Eight’s pledge.

Of the Independent Alliance six TDs, Finian McGrath and John Halligansigned Repeal Eight’s pledge.

Of the 12 remaining independents elected, amongst them are Katherine Zappone, who along with her wife Ann Louise Gilligan is perhaps the best known champion for marriage equality in Ireland, and who ran on a platform of equality and a strong feminist stance. That’s before you count those in Fine Gael who want at least a referendum on the issue.

While there might be smugness in some quarters that oppose reproductive rights for women in Ireland in the aftermath of this election, the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment is not going to go away. Ignited loudly in 2015, its voice will continue to roar in 2016 until it is listened to, and until the people are allowed to answer themselves.

Irish Water abolition ‘could cost Irish State up to €7bn’

 Abolition  

Irish Water says abolition of the charges would put Ireland in breach of European rules on the water framework directive and Europe’s “polluter pays” principle.

The abolition of Irish Water by a new government would cost the State up to €7 billion over the next five years, according to internal estimates by the State-owned utility.

The estimates envisage the losses occurring under four categories: cash costs, sunk costs, benefits forgone and the lost possibility of getting its debts off the exchequer’s books.

With Ireland’s water and sewerage infrastructure in need of a multi-year investment programme costing well over €500 million a year, the issue will have a crucial impact on the incoming government’s ability to spend money on public services and/or tax cuts.

The cash costs have been estimated at about €100 million, and largely involve paying off staff who would not be transferred to local authorities. It would also include the cost of breaking leases and contracts, and the costs of transferring back the property already put into Irish Water ownership.

Sunk costs are categorised as expenditure the value of which would be lost if the company was abolished or water charges ended. Some €500 million has been spent on the metering system, and another €170 million on establishing the financial, procurement and customer processing systems that Irish Water uses.

  • What’s going on with Irish Water?

The benefits forgone are the domestic water charges valued at €1.6 billion that would be collected in the period to 2021, and a further €1.6 billion in savings that are part of the utility’s business plan to 2021.

The State balance sheet

The final issue is whether Irish Water’s borrowings could be kept off the State’s balance sheet, something that is decided on in Europe.

At present the utility does not qualify, in large part because of the Government’s decision to give people water conservation grants.

Without water charges, the utility cannot pass the Eurostat test. The achievement of savings, and an increase in domestic customers paying their water charges, which stands at about 63%, will be key to passing the Eurostat test. Late-payment charges begin to apply from July.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney told RTÉ’s Prime Time last night that Fine Gael will certainly be willing to talk about water during negotiations on the formation of a new government.

Fianna Fáil has said, if in government, it would abolish the controversial company and suspend water charges but the move could see hundreds of jobs being lost in party leader Micheál Martin’s constituency. About 400 people at Abtran’s Cork facility are involved in providing outsourced customer services to Irish Water. Direct employment losses at the utility would be about 500 but a shared services centre in Cork, used by Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland, would also be likely to let some 100 staff go if the company closes.

Sinn Féin also campaigned on a policy of abolishing Irish Water and water charges. Its newly elected TD for Dublin Bay North, Denise Mitchell, on Tuesday said her party stood on a platform to abolish water charges and it would be a priority in the new Dáil. Newly elected TDs from smaller groups and parties have also supported abolition of the utility.

With Irish Water already taking central control for such issues as procurement, insurance, and an investment plan for a fully mapped water and sewerage system, some experts question if the abolition of the utility was possible. “It would be like putting the toothpaste back in the tube,” said one.

They also pointed out that abolition of the charges would put Ireland in breach of European rules on the water framework directive and Europe’s “polluter pays” principle. The potential fine for such a breach could be in the region of €120 million.

It’s Boeing 767 plane sailing for Sligo embalmer’s glamping dream

   

A Sligo funeral director and embalmer has revealed his plans to move a grounded Boeing 767 aircraft from Shannon Airport to his Enniscrone Sligo home town to use it for camping accommodation in his field.

David McGowan revealed his plans to start a “Quirky Glamping Village” in his field in Enniscrone, West Sligo — and how he hopes to host guests in converted vehicles of various types.

https://youtu.be/ROMHYAuk0Fc  “I got the idea of turning old types of transportation into accommodation,” Mr McGowan told the Anton Savage Show on Today FM. “I rang around the three different airports, Dublin, Cork and Shannon and Shannon was the only one that got back to me and they said they had one but that it was no good to me.”

The plane in Shannon was an engineless 159-foot long, 70 tonne, Boeing 767 with a 140-metre wingspan. The airport told Mr McGowan they believed it would be too big for him.

“I went down and looked at it and said ‘Right, I’m thinking of putting this in my back garden,” he said. However the plane, left behind by a Russian company that went into liquidation, was firmly sealed with frozen bolts. Having bought it for €20,000, Mr McGowan then tried to figure a way of moving it by road.

“We put the whole process into place and engineered the whole thing and after eight months we found that there were two bridges in Clare that we just couldn’t get under,” he said.

“We were all about to do it but these bridges were giving us a problem, and the county councils wouldn’t allow me put a crane on the bridge to lift it over because they didn’t want me stopping traffic going into Limerick City.

“I had 136 ESB wires to lift, I had 23 traffic lights to lift, I had 97 Telecom Éireann wires to lift.

“I went down to a meeting and you couldn’t convince three local authorities to put 500 tonne cranes on these things, sure you could collapse the bridge.

“So there was no point in even bringing engineers in to try and convince them, you just walk away and come up with another plan. I wasn’t determined to be beat. So – the sea,” Mr McGowan said.

“The option of going by sea, instead of the road, means there is a possibility I can get this jet intact.”

Using a barge from Liverpool, Mr McGowan plans to bring the plane up the west coast to Enniscrone.

Having studied the tides, he hopes to make the move between March 21 and 26, during high tide.

Irish life expectancy in 1916 was just 53 years of age

‘Life in 1916 Ireland’ research crunches the numbers on centenary of Easter Rising.

    

Some 1916 photograph’s: from Dublin Six Days after the Insurrection? 2016.

A new statistical picture of life in Ireland in 1916 shows just how much can change in a century.

If you lived in the time of the Easter Rising, your name was far more likely to be John or Mary and if you managed to avoid the prospect of death in childhood, you would probably succumb by the age of 53 with a good chance of bronchitis or tuberculosis being the cause.

It was a world in which children as young as three were sent to industrial schools while families squeezed into almost 24,000 one-room tenements in Dublin alone.

Society was bereft of variety, in food, movement and places of birth; it was an unsurprisingly homogeneous world.

The statistical mirror of Ireland a century ago is the product of arduous research conducted by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) as its contribution to centenary celebrations.

Much of the data, published on Wednesday, is based on the 1911 census and other material as closely applicable to 1916 as possible.

The compendium of history, titled Life in 1916 Ireland: Stories from Statisticsis available on the CSO website for anyone wishing to step back in time.

“Things were very poor back then so poverty jumps out at you, the lack of variety. From some simple things like names, people felt they could only use certain names for their babies,” explained Helen Cahill, the lead statistician on the project.

“We have average prices of groceries that people bought. There was very little variety in food.”

Dublin was a “city of extremes in housing” with 22 per cent having more than 10 rooms and 36 per cent one-bedroom tenements (23,977).

Half of the workforce was in agriculture compared with a paltry 5 per cent in modern Ireland while 10 per cent of people were employed in domestic service.

Some popular names

If you were born 100 years ago the most popular names for boys were, in order, John, Patrick and James, compared with Jack, James and Daniel in 2014.

For girls, the trend was Mary, Bridget and Margaret compared with Emily, Sophie and Emma.

The same census material shows that in 1911, just 0.7 per cent of people here were born outside the UK and Ireland, compared with 11.2 per cent today.

In 1916, more than 8,000 children lived in industrial schools, and some reformatory schools, although the numbers admitted that year were the lowest in some time (1,001).

“The infant mortality rates were just phenomenally high and in Dublin in particular they were sky high,” explained Ms Cahill.

“The average rate in the State was 81. So for every 1,000 babies born in 1916, 81 were dead before their first birthday. The rate for Dublin city was 153.”

With the decline of church influence, marriage statistics have also changed. In 1916, 92 per cent of 15,207 unions were in Catholic churches, compared with a little under 60 per cent in 2014. Conversely, 28 per cent of marriages were civil ceremonies in 2014. That figure was less than 1 per cent a century ago.

About one in eight deaths in 1916 were due to bronchitis or pneumonia (6,708 fatalities) and the same rate for tuberculosis (6,471). Combined, those conditions killed 1,012 people in 2014.

In 1915, there were 359,700 farms of more than one acre compared with 139,860 of more than one hectare (2.5 acres) in 2010, a decline of more than 60 per cent.

And while car sales slumped in the recent recession, the 1.9 million registered in 2014 dwarfed the mere 9,850 of 1915.

Parts of Great Barrier Reef face permanent destruction due to El Nino

    

Parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef face permanent destruction if the current El Nino, one of the strongest in two decades, does not ease this month, scientists said on Wednesday.

The El Nino is a result of a warming of the ocean in the western Pacific — ideal conditions for coral bleaching, where coral expels living algae, causing it to calcify. Coral can only survive within a narrow band of ocean temperature.

The scientists said areas of the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage site, are experiencing the worst bleaching in 15 years.

Coral around Lizard Island off the tropical city of Cairns has seen the most widespread bleaching, with 80 per cent of its coral bleached under unrelenting sunlight, Dr Anne Hoggett, director, Lizard Island Research Station told Reuters.

“Bleaching is a clear signal that living corals are under physiological stress. If that stress is bad enough for long enough, the corals can die,” said Dr Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said.

“What happens now will be entirely dependent on local weather conditions,” said Reichelt.

Scientists said the Great Barrier Reef needs a break in El Nino conditions within weeks if some coral areas are to survive.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s most recent forecast calls for a continuation of El Nino conditions.

This year will be the hottest on record and 2016 could be even hotter due to the El Nino weather pattern, the World Meteorological Organization

The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2,000 km along Australia’s northeast coast and is the world’s largest living ecosystem. It brings in billions of dollars a year in tourism revenue.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee last May stopped short of placing the Great Barrier Reef on an “in danger” list, but the ruling raised long-term concerns about its future due to climate change.

While the El Nino is set to ease by the middle of 2016, according to the BOM, the weather system – which brings hot, dry conditions to Australia’s east coast – is seen as foreshadowing the likely impact of future climate change.

“Coral is the canary in the mine,” said Hoggett of the looming threat from climate change.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 20th November 2105

Irish Water staff vote to strike in row over job cuts

Unions balloted for industrial action after utility revealed plan for up to 1,500 job losses

    

Unions decided to ballot members for industrial action after Irish Water said it intended ‘to reduce the local authority workforce in the company by up to 1,500 by 2021’.

Local authority workers providing services for Irish Water have voted for industrial action in a dispute over proposed staffing cuts.

In ballots counted on Friday members of Siptu and the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) in local authorities, working under the management of Irish Water, supported industrial action up to and including work stoppages by 91 per cent and 84 per cent respectively.

The unions said they decided to ballot members for industrial action following an announcement by Irish Water in a new business plan last month that it intended “to reduce the local authority workforce in the company by up to 1,500 by 2021”.

unions said the unilateral move by Irish Water was in breach of a service level agreement reached between them and the company in 2013 which obliged it to consult in relation to any proposed changes in staffing numbers.

The unions maintained that the proposed move by the company could lead to existing water service staff being displaced by private contractors.

Siptu sector organiser Brendan O’Brien said: “The result of this vote represents a very strong mandate from our members to fight the creeping privatisation of the public water service. The concerns of local authority water workers about the threat to public water services has led their decision to take industrial action when and if necessary.

“We do not accept that the public water service can be adequately delivered with the planned reduction of frontline staff numbers which is in the order of 40 per cent.”

Teeu official, Paddy Kavanagh, said that union representatives would hold talks with Irish Water management next week.

“At this meeting we will set out the position of our members and depending on the response of the company, and following further consultation, decide on what course of action will be taken.”

Separately the trade union Impact is balloting its members for industrial action at Irish Water on the same issue of potential job losses.

“The local government and local services and municipal employees’ divisions of Impact have commenced a ballot for industrial action at Irish Water, following the announcement by the water utility that it will shed 1,500 jobs as part of its business plan published in October”, an Impact spokesman said.

The union said that only members involved in the direct provision of services to Irish Water, including those who worked in non-domestic water billing and water metering, were being balloted.

Impact national secretary Peter Nolan said the union would extend the ballot to other workers in the local authority sector if it became necessary.

In a letter to Impact members Mr Nolan said the company’s proposals constituted “clear breaches of understandings and agreements, negotiated by the union, that have facilitated the transfer of ownership, control and operation of water and sanitation services from local authorities to Irish Water”.

“The decision of both divisions to ballot members on industrial action is a prudent precautionary step. Industrial action will not take place as long as Irish Water and the local authorities abide by these agreements”, he said.

In a statement, Irish Water said they “noted the outcome of the SIPTU ballot of staff of local authorities that provide services to Irish Water through a Service Level Agreement with local authorities. There has been no breach of the Service Level Agreement.

“Any proposed action by local authority staff must comply with recognised practices and national agreements. There is a meeting of the consultative group next week which will be attended by union representatives, local authority management, DECLG and Irish Water.”

A national DNA database for Irish criminals is now launched

   

DNA samples will be stored within Forensic Science Ireland at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

A national DNA database has been launched that will see genetic samples kept for all criminals who receive a sentence of five years or more.

The database is launched under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, which was enacted today.

Similar databases already exist in the UK and many other European countries.

The genetic samples will be stored within Forensic Science Ireland, currently located at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has welcomed the launch.

Speaking after its commencement, Mr Shatter said “the DNA database will provide enormous help to the gardaí and will revolutionise the investigation of crime in this State, in particular, homicides, rape and other sexual offences, assaults and burglaries”.

“Based on experience elsewhere, DNA samples can help identify the perpetrators of up to 40% of all burglaries,” he added.

How long more until women are treated as equals?

A report from the World Economic Forum finds that true gender equality is still more than a century away?

      

There’s a name for why we give too much weight to the opinions of others? 

In 2006, the World Economic Forum developed the Global Gender Index—a means of measuring a country’s gender disparities for health outcomes and educational, political, and economic opportunities. After collecting a decade of data, the Forum has released a progress report on global gender equality—or rather, inequality, given that a gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

Globally, the disparity in health outcomes—a catch-all term for sex ratio and life expectancy—between men and women is 96 percent closed, and the gap in educational attainment is 95 percent closed. But the inequality in indices of political empowerment (measured by the ratio of men to women in high-level decision-making positions) and economic participation and opportunities (the number of women in the labor force and in high-level positions therein) remains wide. Just 59 percent of the economic gap and less than a quarter of the political gap has been closed.

A gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

That is not to say no progress has been made: Twenty-five countries fully closed the gap in educational attainment, 40 closed the gap in health outcomes, and a full 10 have closed the gap in both. But no country has fully closed the economic or political gaps. Pushback from men in the workplace may partly explain why it has proven more difficult for women to gain an equal number of spots in the highest-ranking positions of the labor force. Alana Massey reported for Pacific Standard earlier this year on several studies that found even men who outwardly support gender equality were inwardly threatened by female leadership:

A study published earlier this month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that, across three separate experiments, even men ostensibly committed to gender equality in the workplace often feel threatened by female bosses and act accordingly. In a simulation of salary negotiation from a starting offer of $28,500, male participants dealing with a male manager counter-offered a mean figure of $42,870. In contrast, men dealing with a female manager counter-offered a mean figure of $49,400. Because it was unlikely that participants would admit to feeling threatened by a female manager, all participants took part in an assessment wherein words flashed on a screen for under a second and then reported on the words they saw. Men dealing with female managers were more likely to see words like “risk” and “fear” than those who dealt with male managers. “We found that men exhibited higher implicit threat, indicating that even if committed to equality in theory, they felt threatened by a female manager,” says Leah Sheppard, a co-author of the study.

There are innumerable reasons why closing the gender gap should be a top priority around the globe. Among them, a study covered by Tom Jacobs that found the countries with the most gender equality won more medals at the 2012 Summer and 2014 Winter Olympics, indicating that “equal rights for women may also boost the competitive prospects of men,” he wrote.

At the current rate of progress, however, it will be another 118 years before the gender gap is closed. At least my great-great-granddaughters will have something to look forward to.

Meanwhile:-

IRELAND is ranked fifth in EQUAL PAY SURVEY

According to the latest survey, the world has seen only a small improvement in equality for women in the workplace over the past nine years     

In a report commissioned by the World Economic Forumit was revealed that Ireland has placed 5th out of 145 countries surveyed in terms of wage equality between men and women. 

The report stated that: ‘No country in the world has achieved gender equality. The highest ranked countries—Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland —have closed over 80% of their gender gaps, while the lowest ranked country—Yemen—has closed a little less than half of its gender gap.’

It was also noted in the report that women are now being paid the equivalent of what their male counterparts were being paid 10 years ago, essentially meaning women are a DECADE behind men in terms of how much cash they make for the same amount of work.

The report called for businesses to make more of a concerted effort to create changes in their companies that would lead to more women employed, in higher leadership positions, and a better work life balance particularly in terms of childcare and maternity leave.

‘Leaders need to take a holistic approach that often leads to fundamental reforms on how to recruit and retain employees; how to mentor and sponsor high-potential women; how to sensitize managers to different leadership styles; how to manage work-life balance policies so that they don’t disadvantage women.’

Shockingly, it’s going to be another ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN YEARS until the gender gap is closed at the current rate we are going.

In some countries such as Iran, progress has stalled completely at 58%, the same figure as 2006. Croatia, Sri Lanka and Mali have also shown disappointing figures.

Have we finally found the ‘happy’ region of our brain?

     

Happiness is a subjective experience for most of us.

It could be anything from receiving that highly anticipated bonus, to finding love or even listening to Taylor Swift.

But one thing we’ve struggled to figure out is… which part of the brain is responsible for processing our joyous emotions?

Happiness is a subjective experience (Thinkstock)

It seems scientists at Kyoto University may have the answer.

According to their study, overall happiness is “a combination of happy emotions and satisfaction of life coming together in the precuneus – a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active when experiencing consciousness.”

But they haven’t been able to identify how the neural mechanism works to facilitate the feelings of happiness.

Scientists say the neural mechanism behind how happiness emerges remains unclear at present

Study leader Wataru Sato believes understanding that mechanism could help scientists quantify the levels of happiness objectively.

Researchers scanned the brains of research participants with MRI.

The volunteers were then asked about how happy they are generally and how satisfied they are with their lives as part of a survey.

The yellow area showing the precuneus region

Results revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus.

“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” said Sato.

“I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”

Meditation is associated with increased grey matter in the precuneus (Jillian/Flickr)

So how does it help us. Does this mean we will be able to train ourselves to be happy in future?

“Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus,” Sato adds.

“This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.”

“Yes that’s correct” We now have got the first ever photo of a new planet LkCa15  being formed

      

The first ever photo of a planet being formed has been captured, even though the planet in question is a staggering 450 light-years away from Earth.

Using the world’s largest telescope, the aptly name Large Binocular Telescope, and the University of Arizona’s Magellan Telescope, graduates from the university took a “direct picture” of the forming planet.

LkCa15 is a young star with a protoplanetary disc around it – a disc of dense gas and dust created from the star’s left over materials, which then go on to create planets which will orbit the star. LkCa15′s disc contains a gap, usually created by forming planets. It was this that drew the researchers towards it.

“This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,” said Stephanie Sallum, a UA graduate student who, with Kate Follette, a former UA graduate student now doing post-doctoral work at Stanford University, led the research.

“No one has successfully and unambiguously detected a forming planet before,” Follette says. “There have always been alternate explanations, but in this case we’ve taken a direct picture, and it’s hard to dispute that.”

To make an already very impressive find even more impressive, of the 2,000 or so known exoplanets in the universe, only 10 have ever been imaged – and they were all fully formed.

“The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” Follette said.

“It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of discs that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”

The two graduates’ advisers verified the findings using Magellan’s adaptive optics system to capture the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” spectral fingerprint – the specific wavelength of light that LkCa15 and its planets emit as they grow.

Cosmic objects are extremely hot as they’re forming and because they’re forming from hydrogen they all glow dark red, which is a particular wavelength of light referred to as H-alpha by scientists.

“That single dark shade of red light is emitted by both the planet and the star as they undergo the same growing process,” Follette said.

“We were able to separate the light of the faint planet from the light of the much brighter star and to see that they were both growing and glowing in this very distinct shade of red.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th August 2015

A technical error sees Revenue ask foreign businesses for millions of euro

The issue relates to the new ‘VAT Moss’ system.

  

The Irish revenue has said that a “technical error” resulted in around 2,000 overseas businesses being sent incorrect invoices.

These were supposedly for the new VAT Moss system that has been put in place to allow businesses to pay tax abroad without having to register in each jurisdiction.

Revenue has said that it is working to update the system to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Traders who received the invoices took to social media to express their disbelief, with the error being covered on the WebDevLaw blog. Earlier Alastair Houghton, a member of the HMRC/SME VAT Moss Working Group in the United Kingdom, said that the letters had come from the Irish Revenue Commissioners but had been sent in error.

There has been no financial impact on those who received the invoices and Revenue has issued an apology for the incident.

Earlier letters were asking some individuals for amounts in excess of €1 million.

Invoices were mostly sent to customers in the United Kingdom. Other correspondence is known to have been sent to the Netherlands and possibly the United States.

The letters sent out were addressed from Michael Gladney, the collector-general with the Revenue. Individuals were given instructions on where to transfer money to.

Irish Water staff start calling customers who fail to pay first bills

  

Irish Water Staff now calling customers who have not made a payment after first two bills, and they remind customers to pay the bill and the charges due.

Irish Water has started calling customers who have failed to make any payments on their first two utility bills to remind them to pay the charges.

Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett said call centre staff last week began phoning customers who had yet to make any payments 21 days following the issuing of their second water bill.

The company had stated five weeks ago that it intended to take this step, which was normal practice “in every single utility company”, she said. Ms Arnett denied suggestions made in some media that there was any targeting of older customers by the call centre staff.

“There is no age profiling, no targeting of older people. I absolutely categorically refute that, it is absolute nonsense.”

She also emphasised the calls were being made by the company’s call centre, and the debts had not been passed on to a debt collection agency. Suggestions made by anti-water charge protesters that some elderly people had been told their water supply would be cut were also false, she said.

“We record every single phone call, this would not and could not happen.”

Payment’s.

Call centre staff offer customers the opportunity to pay over the phone, and outline the different payment methods to those who do not wish to pay at that time, she said.

Figures released by Irish Water in mid-July showed 46 per cent of water charges issued for the first three months of the year had been paid, €30.5 million of the €66.8 million due

This equates to about 675,000 households or 43 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million households on the public water network.

While follow-up calling for non-payment of utility bills may be a common practice, the decision represents yet another public relations blunder for Irish Water. There have been a succession of incidents that have plagued the utility.

Questions were raised over executive remuneration and bonus payments. Head of Irish Water John Tierney revealed on RTÉ that the company had paid €50million to consultants. Then within weeks it emerged that 29 staff members earned more than €100,000 each.

The ESRI economist John FitzGerald calculated that the extra 2,000 staff the company absorbed from local authorities would cost Irish Water up to €2 billion by 2025.

Two weeks ago Eurostat raised a number of concerns about the Government’s considerable control of the utility company. The EU statistics agency confirmed the company had failed the Market Corporation Test which means it must remain on the exchequer balance sheet in the coming years. It also took issue with Government control regarding board appointments and operations.

A third of us have spotted people shaving or putting on make-up while driving

 

Almost a third of drivers say they regularly see people applying make-up or shaving while driving.

The figure comes from a survey by the AA, which also says that 83% of us have seen people using a phone while behind the wheel.

56% of those polled said they had seen people texting while driving, while another regular experience was witnessing people not indicating properly on roundabouts (84%).

Personal grooming – applying make-up or shaving – are not explicit offences, but the AA warned it could be considered “driving without reasonable consideration.”

“It is worrying to think that people are still taking risks despite the fact that everyone with an ounce of sense knows the dangers. There are stricter provisions on mobile devices that will soon become law and there are really no excuses,” said Conor Faughnan, Director of Consumer Affairs at AA Ireland. “Certainly not for personal grooming; that’s ridiculous behaviour.”

The AA also collected anecdotal evidence by positioning a fieldworker on a busy intersection to observe traffic. They reported that, out of 415 vehicles observed passing the intersection during one hour, 10 motorists – including two taxi drivers – were using mobile phones. Another four used their phones while first in the queue at lights.

Researchers target early warning system signs of concussion

Leinster Rugby and TCD have linked up in two promising brain injury studies.

  

Ulster’s Stuart Olding above picture left leaves the field after a head injury sustained against Munster at Thomond Park in last season’s Pro12 competition.

Concussion continues to hang over rugby like an unwelcome cloud. We can expect the World Cup to highlight the dangers and see how far the sport has travelled on what has been a steep learning curve. But the threat of brain trauma is becoming less sinister and more understood as academics in Trinity College Dublin begin to make inroads and promote some optimism.

In recent months researchers at the university doing work involving blood examinations, as well as using cadavers to see how body movement behaves on impact, have joined forces with Leinster Rugby for two innovative projects into the diagnosis and analysis of the injury.

Early warning system

Ultimately, the teams hope to identify incidences of concussion and predict when a player should be taken out of a match. They are not at that stage yet, but initial findings have moved both projects closer to the main objective of an early warning system that would increase player welfare.

One of the projects is based on studying the movement of human bodies in car accidents to help understand what positions and actions cause brain trauma in sports collisions.

The other is a simple blood test that shows up proteins that are associated with concussion. In time they hope a pin-prick test can be used to determine head injury. They have already identified what they call metabolic patterns that indicate trauma has taken place.

“Every activity in the body leaves a map,” says Dr Fiona Wilson, a former Irish rowing team physiotherapist, who along with physiologist Áine Kelly, is conducting the research into blood.

“The fluids of your body tell you a lot. It’s a protein and shouldn’t appear in the general circulation unless the blood brain barrier has been compromised. We are looking at these metabolites and early stages show we may have a map.”

Brain trauma

They have studied the blood from people with severe brain trauma and examined the proteins. They then took blood from rowers, who do not have any collisions in their sport but their metabolic systems work as hard as professional rugby players.

This was to determine that the proteins found in rugby players were from multiple collisions and not physical exercise. From the injured patients they knew what “brain damage” proteins would appear in the blood.

“It’s the same as having a heart attack,” adds Wilson.”You go in to hospital with a pain in your chest and they measure cardiac enzymes. It’s like a brain injury. We know patients with brain injury so we can match our players against that.

“Our initial findings indicate that we have made significant progress in identifying the blood test. Collaboration with Steno Diabetes centre in Denmark means progress can be made towards a finger-prick blood test already familiar to diabetes management.”

In time, debates like those around Irish outhalf Johnny Sexton and Welsh winger, George North – should they or shouldn’t they return to play – will be measurable, a sort of Hawkeye for head injury.

The movement patterns, of bodies involved in collisions may appear ghoulish, but in scientific endeavour there’s no such thing as squeamish and dead people can often keep the living alive for longer.

Associate professor Ciarán Simms and bioengineering PhD student Gregory Tierney are using multi-angled videos to look at collisions. They take real footage of rugby incidents and superimpose a model skeleton image on the players.

Based on previous knowledge from experiments conducted on cadavers and studies of pedestrian crashes, they use mathematics to conclude what forces are in play and identify various tolerance thresholds.

From a database compiled over years of research, they can look at the kind of body movements and collisions that cause concussion. It takes several weeks to do a study, but with automation the goal is for real time use during rugby matches.

“The aspiration is to have a real time use. But we’re at early stages,” says Simms. “We are also reconstructing collision cases with ‘what if’ scenarios. For coaches, for example, you could ask what could a player do to effect a tackle without getting injured.”

The findings are ready to be peer reviewed, with a draft of findings expected to be ready within a month. The perfect outcome would be that for each match a TMO equivalent could look at impacts and use the technology to instantly tell whether a concussive impact has occurred or not. In tandem with the blood markers and the other battery of neurological tests there is excitement about bringing the lab to the pitch.

“Leinster is very supportive of the research,” says Wilson. “They have been so invested in making sure this happens. Every time the players give blood it’s a favour because there is no immediate benefit to them. It’s unusual for athletes, because they are usually being pulled in all directions by different people, to be so helpful.”

The research is being funded from America by the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, a fund for the development of new materials and technologies that can detect early-stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection. As collaborators, they are committing up to $20 million to a variety of projects.

Owls use a ‘stealth technique’ to capture their prey

 

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the owl’s ability to flap its wings hard enough to rise into the air without a sound while swooping silently on swift-moving rodents out of the still night.

The researchers crowned the owl the “king of acoustic stealth” after discovering that its wings absorbed the energy of flight vibrations and converted it to heat much more efficiently than other birds they examined.

Generating enough thrust to get aloft involves a large amount of force and disturbs a lot of air. Yet most owl species manage to do it at frequencies below 2 kilohertz (kHz), well out of their prey’s hearing range, ‘The Times’ reported.

Researchers used the feathers of a long-eared owl, a golden eagle and a pigeon.

Simulating wing-beats, they measured the vibrations and found that the owl feathers trapped much more of the energy as heat than the others.

Scientists could copy the owl’s noise-reduction mechanisms to quieten machine noises such as the thrum of onshore wind turbines, said Jinkui Chu, professor of mechanical engineering at Dalian University of Technology in China.

“The owl’s silent flight ability is even more superior than we thought,” said Jinkui.

“It not only manages to suppress aerodynamic noise when gliding, but also mechanical noise caused by vibration during flying. This is remarkable, considering the noise that creates for other birds,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG

The ruling on Irish Water is a minor setback?

   

The Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s description of the EU’s surprise ruling on Irish Water as a “minor setback” has come under fire for being out of touch with reality.

The utility’s plans for massive borrowing were thrown into disarray when the agency Eurostat insisted it was not independent of Government debt.

The ruling meant money raised on the markets in order to finance an ambitious repair programme would have to be lumped in with State debt.

However, Mr Varadkar insisted this was just a “relatively minor setback.”

Clare TD Michael McNamara — who hopes to stand again as a Labour candidate in the general election despite having the whip taken away from him for voting against Government policy on the Aer Lingus sell-off — warned Mr Varadkar was not facing facts.

“He is absolutely wrong. The only way you could take that view is if you were looking at the HSE everyday, then Irish Water might seem fine to you.

“Eurostat basically said this is doing nothing new, Irish Water is controlled by the State, and the Government is meddling in it,” Mr McNamara said.

Mr Varadkar claimed Eurostat would reverse its decision next year when more people had paid up.

“It’s still a work in progress. There’s no doubt that Eurostat’s decision was a setback. It’s probably a temporary one though,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I think Irish Water is the right thing to do. First of all because metering allows us to identify leaks and actually fix them now; it also promotes conservation, people using less water; it’s giving us the revenue stream that we need to invest more in water infrastructure which was neglected for decades.

“What’s gone against us is the way we account for it in public accounts and as I say that can change next year. As you know 48% of people have paid already and I do think that will rise.”

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Barry Cowen said the Irish taxpayer was €785m worse off because of Irish Water.

“When the Government unveiled the Water Conservation Grant last year it was clearly designed to try and help Irish Water pass the Eurostat test. This plan has backfired spectacularly,” he said.

“The Government is wasting €5m per annum on administrating the Water Conservation Grant. This is money which could be spent on improving water infrastructure, but instead it is being spent on a pointless grant which has failed in its key objective of helping Irish Water pass the Eurostat test.

“The fact is that not an extra cent is being spent on water infrastructure above the €500m per annum Fianna Fáil spent in Government. The establishment of Irish Water has been a costly mistake for Irish taxpayers. The super quango is swallowing vast quantities of public money on a daily basis while giving little in return when it comes to improving the quality of our water infrastructure.

“Just what exactly is the purpose of the Water Conservation Grant considering it is unlikely to lead to water conservation and has not led to Irish Water passing the Eurostat test?

“Irish Water is set to cost the Government up to €70m this year alone. It is time to abolish the super quango instead of throwing more good money after bad,” Mr Cowen said.

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty demanded more transparency on Irish Water’s finances.

Maíria Cahill calls on Dublin to examine abuse claims

 

Mairia Cahill who was abused by senior IRA man and later subjected to a ‘kangaroo court’.

Maíria Cahill arriving for talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings last year,

Maíria Cahill is calling for Dublin to appoint a legal expert to investigate the alleged cover up of the sexual abuse of children.

Ms. Cahill was speaking at the Gerry Conlon memorial lecture entitled “Justice for Victims of Abuse” she delivered on Saturday evening at St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road in west Belfast, as part of Féile an Phobail.

The festival event, chaired by SDLP MLA Alex Attwood, was organised to explore how victims can be let down by the justice system and their own communities.

Ms Cahill came to public attention during a BBC Spotlight programme where she alleged she had been sexually abused by a senior IRA figure and later subjected to a “kangaroo court” investigation by republicans.

The west Belfast woman, whose great-uncle Joe Cahill was one of the founders of the Provisional IRA, pursued the matter through the courts but the case collapsed when she withdrew her evidence after losing faith in the Public Prosecution Service.

In May, a report by Kier Starmer – former chief of the Crown Prosecution Service, now a Labour MP – concluded it was “almost inevitable” that Ms Cahill, and two other alleged victims decided to withdraw their evidence. Following the publication of the independent review the director of the PPS in the North, Barra McGrory, apologised to the three women.

“My case isn’t unique and I know this from speaking to people since I went public,” she told the Féile audience of around 100 people on Saturday.

“I am now calling on the Irish government to put in place, without delay, a person of legal standing to conduct a special investigatory report, more commonly known as a scoping exercise, to help uncover the IRA and Sinn Féin members actions when it came to the cover up of child sexual abuse.”

She added: “There are many victims of abuse who never make it to the media to tell of their experiences.

“Those victims hurt just as much and in some cases more by suffering in silence but when victims and survivors go public we know that, as in my case, calls to rape crisis centres increases and other victims feel compelled to speak out about their cases.

“We should always encourage them to do so.”

Ms Cahill was critical of the criminal justice system, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and other party figures, members of her extended family and elements of the republican community.

She claimed Sinn Féin could not speak with credibility on the issue of child sexual abuse until it went beyond addressing sexual abuse by republicans in general terms.

“They need to admit that the IRA investigated my abuse against my wishes,” she said.

“They need to confirm explicitly that I was brought into a room with my rapist and three individuals from the IRA and that is my bottom line.

“And until they admit that they can never speak credibly on the issue of child sexual abuse again.”

Ms Cahill spoke of a “cover up” and also said that before and since speaking publicly about her life experience she had been made aware of allegations of people being raped at gunpoint and threatened with death, as well as alleged abusers being “moved on without a thought for the next child”.

Following the event Ms Cahill told The Irish Times some IRA members were among the audience at St Mary’s. “They kept themselves fairly quiet,” she said. “They will bring it back again. That’s the way it goes.”

She also said speaking at Féile had helped “lay ghosts to rest” and brought her some comfort. “It was important to do,” she said.

Being a perfectionist may stress you out!

  

Perfectionists who constantly worry about making mistakes and letting others down may sabotage their success at work, and even develop health problems, a new study has found.

In the first meta-analysis of the relationship between perfectionism and burnout, researchers analysed the findings from 43 previous studies conducted over the past 20 years.

They found that concerns about perfectionism can sabotage success at work, school or on the playing field, leading to stress, burnout and potential health problems.

Researchers, however, said that perfectionism is not all bad. One aspect of perfectionism called “perfectionistic strivings” involves the setting of high personal standards and working toward those goals in a pro-active manner.

These efforts may help maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the debilitating effects of burnout, the study found.

The dark side of perfectionism, called “perfectionistic concerns,” can be more detrimental when people constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards, said lead researcher Andrew Hill, an associate professor of sport psychology at York St John University in England.

Previous research has shown that perfectionistic concerns and the stress they generate can contribute to serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, fatigue and even early mortality.

“Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring,” Hill said.

“It also can interfere with relationships and make it difficult to cope with setbacks because every mistake is viewed as a disaster,” Hill said.

The study found that perfectionistic concerns had the strongest negative effects in contributing to burnout in the workplace, possibly because people have more social support and clearly defined objectives in education and sports.

“People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail,” Hill said.

“Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help,” Hill said.

Most people display some characteristics of perfectionism in some aspect of their lives, but perfectionistic strivings or concerns may be more dominant.

The development of a personality profile that identifies perfectionistic concerns might be a valuable tool in detecting and helping individuals who are prone to burnout, the study noted.

The future kitchen in an age of scarcity

  

Americans these days line up to buy iPhones, but half a century ago, they were flocking to see gleaming, futuristic prototypes of kitchen appliances. General Motors’ Kitchen of Tomorrow, part of a traveling exposition of the company’s products, featured an Ultrasonic Dishwasher and an Electro Recipe File.

Cooking technology was a matter of geopolitical importance. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev argued about whose nation had better dishwashers during the president’s 1959 visit to Moscow.

Things that seem mundane now excited our parents and grandparents’ imaginations. Their enthusiasm is understandable:

Rapid technological progress had made their lives easier, as new inventions eliminated hours and hours of menial labor. Many of them would have been used to hauling and chopping firewood for cooking. Stoves and electricity gradually entered U.S. homes over the first half of the 20th century, according to data compiled by W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm in The New York Times. The refrigerator transformed the American kitchen even more quickly, replacing the icebox. In 1930, fewer than 10 percent of households had a refrigerator. Nearly all did by 1960.

Since the introduction of the microwave in the 1970s and 1980s, though, kitchens have changed little, despite the advertisers’ promises. Industrial designers are still thinking about the future of the kitchen, but the contrasts between their prototypes and older ones show how much Americans’ outlook has darkened.

A case in point is IKEA’s Concept Kitchen 2025, which went on display earlier this year in Milan. The designers incorporated a 40 percent increase in the cost of food into their prototypes, along with constraints on energy, water and living space. They wonder whether the world will be able to sustain its eating habits, especially its taste for meat. General Electric’s designers had similar concerns in mind when they unveiled a model kitchen two years ago. Instead of a world of leisure, these corporations are preparing for a hungry, thirsty, crowded future.

The Swedish furniture manufacturer collaborated with design students and the design firm IDEO to design a sink that separates wastewater for the sewer from gray water for reused for washing dishes and irrigation. Their miniature refrigerators communicate with transmitters printed on the food’s packaging to regulate the temperature, so that the appliances don’t waste energy keeping food inside colder than necessary.

Like the Kitchen of Tomorrow of an earlier generation, some aspects of IKEA’s Concept Kitchen seem disconnected from real cooking. The most precious resource in any household isn’t food or water, but time. Convenience is an important reason that families eat so much meat and processed food, even though they require more resources to produce and are more expensive as a result. Vegetables require soaking, washing and careful planning — they don’t keep well, no matter how intelligent your refrigerator. If they spoil, a family will have to make another trip to the grocery store.

And a kitchen that is designed to help save money on food, water and energy might not change the kinds of foods that families buy, unless the design saves them time as well. Research and survey data suggest that families with more material resources do not spend much more on produce than those with less means.

IKEA’s answer to this problem is the digitized “Table for Living,” which uses a camera to identify ingredients placed on it and suggests recipes. The design seems about as useful as General Motors’ Electro Recipe File. Looking up a recipe online might be easier, or even just using the index in a cookbook. And the designers expect that drones will solve the problem of fresh produce by delivering groceries quickly and in minutes, which is optimistic.

That said, one crucial point of progress is evident in IKEA’s kitchen. American manufacturers previously assumed that women would be the ones using their prototypes in the kitchen, and women were the targets of their advertising. “What we want to do is to make more easy the life of our housewives,” Nixon told Khrushchev, who denigrated “the capitalist attitude toward women.” IKEA’s design, by contrast, imagines the kitchen as a place that members of the family share, with parents working from home.

Refrigerators and dishwashers made women’s drudgery in the kitchen obsolete. Yet economists argue that instead of spending that extra time with their children or twirling around in dance shoes, as commercials from the period implied, women instead entered the workforce.

Economists debate how technology will change the ways we spend our time in the future. Some say that technology is saving us more time than ever, even if the changes are hard to measure. Others argue that the most important inventions — the ones that, along with changes in the law and the culture, allowed women to work outside the home — are all in the past. On this view, our children’s lives will resemble our own more than our grandparents’ lives resembled our great-grandparents’, and the kitchens of 2025 might not look that different from those of 1985. And we won’t be well equipped to deal with the environmental challenges reflected in IKEA’s design.

Beluga whale seen off County Antrim coast near Dunseverick

    

Marine researchers have said a beluga whale has been sighted off the County Antrim coast near Dunseverick.

It is believed to be the first time the Arctic species has been recorded in Northern Irish waters.

Dr Peter Evans, director of the Seawatch Foundation, said a fall in sea temperatures could be why the whale strayed so far from its usual habitat.

“A beluga whale is extremely unusual,” he said.

“It’s the first record that we know for Northern Ireland and in fact there’s only been about a dozen in 50 years for the whole of Britain and Ireland.

“On the whole, over the last sort of 10 years, certainly the sea temperatures have been generally warming, but at the same time there have been a number of anomalies where you’ve got actually significantly cooler waters and that seems to be the case here.”

There are just two records of beluga whales off the coast of the Republic of Ireland – one off Clare Island, County Mayo, in 1948 and another at Cobh, County Cork, in 1988.

“This is not the first arctic species to occur in Britain this year. Back in February, the first European sighting of a bowhead whale was captured on a smart phone in the Isles of Scilly,” Dr Evans said.

“In that instance it was thought that the fragmentation of floating ice may have resulted in whales typically associated with pack ice, straying much further south.

“Whether the same has occurred in the case of this beluga is not clear but sea temperatures have been unusually low this summer.”