Tag Archives: labour market

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

The shredding of documents played a key role in downfall of FitzPatrick inquiry

Legal adviser ‘taken aback’ by Garda Commissioner’s note about witness statements

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The former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has been acquitted on all charges against him at the Circuit Criminal Court.

The spectacular ending of the trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has come about in part because documents relevant to the case were shredded by a solicitor investigating the alleged offences.

The extraordinary shredding of documents led to a collapse of an earlier trial and contributed to the decision by the judge on Tuesday that he would direct the jury to acquit in this trial.

Kevin O’Connell, a legal adviser with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, took on a lead role in the investigation but, according to evidence he gave in the absence of the jury, shredded documents during a “panic attack” in his office in May 2015.

He informed the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what he had done, then sought psychiatric help. The first trial of FitzPatrick, then ongoing, collapsed as a result.

The collapse of one of the most significant white-collar crime cases to come before the courts in the wake of the Irish banking crisis is a huge blow to the reputation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the agency established to investigate corporate crime. It led the inquiry. It is also a blow to the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the Companies Acts relating to giving false or misleading information to Anglo’s auditors Ernst & Young (now EY).

In announcing his decision on Tuesday, Judge John Aylmer referred to O’Connell’s evidence that the documents he shredded were notes of phone conversations similar to other such notes he had discovered to the DPP.

However, the judge said the fact was we didn’t know what was in them and there must be a doubt about why they were singled out.

O’Connell had given evidence to the first trial of FitzPatrick, over six days, in the absence of the jury, as it was becoming evident that the investigation had been mishandled in relation to the taking of statements from two key witnesses.

In evidence heard by the court in the absence of the jury it emerged that O’Connell feared last year, at the time of the shredding, that he was going to be “hung out to dry” if the case collapsed.

Garda correspondence.

More recently, internal Garda correspondence, released to the trial by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, showed senior Garda officers being advised in the wake of the shredding that no members of the force were connected with the destruction of documents or with the taking of witness statements from two key witnesses.

O’Connell, in the witness box in the absence of the jury, said he was “taken aback” by the latter claim, given that Garda colleagues in the ODCE had been involved in the inquiry alongside him and had been copied in email correspondence and had attended meetings concerned with the taking of statements from the two witnesses.

Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC commented to the court that the Garda were “attempting to find a bus to put him [O’Connell] under.” An assistant Garda commissioner, the correspondence revealed, had been warned that the case might produce “adverse publicity” for the force.

Extended legal argument heard in the absence of the jury outlined how the inquiry was handled as if it was a civil case before the High Court rather than a criminal case. The process of taking witness statements from two key witnesses, the court heard, was “lawyer led”.

The two key witnesses, EY partners Kieran Kelly and Vincent Bergin, were “coached” and their witness statements contaminated, with some of the wording in both statements having been actually written by the former Director of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, the court was told. The interference included the suggested changing of key phrases in the statements. The taking of statements occurred as if they were affidavits being prepared for a civil case.

The two key witnesses, both former auditors of Anglo’s books, signed witness statements that were the product of a long engagement involving a number of individuals in the ODCE, as well as lawyers in EY and in the law firm that acts for EY, A&L Goodbody.

It was “statement by committee”, Condon told the judge, during the extended legal argument.

Potential conflict?

There was also an issue of potential conflict. Some of the lawyers acting for EY in the drafting of the statements were also acting for EY in a €50 million damages claim from the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation(IBRC). The State-owned body’s case includes matters relevant to the FitzPatrick trial.

The lawyers were also acting for EY in relation to an inquiry by the firm’s regulatory body, the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb), which is investigating the adequacy of the audit work done by EY on Anglo’s books. Condon said the Carb inquiry could potentially lead to EY losing its licence.

One of the complaints from FitzPatrick’s defence team was that the ODCE did not seek out information that went to their client’s potential innocence as well as his potential guilt, a point that has now been accepted by the judge. The ODCE had been trying to “build” a case, the judge said.

FitzPatrick walks away an innocent man. It is the second time he has faced charges that came to trial and from which he has emerged with his innocence intact. In 2014 a jury found him innocent of charges of providing unlawful financial assistance to 10 individuals known as the Maple 10, in July 2008, so that they could buy shares in Anglo Irish Bank.

During that trial, Judge Martin Nolan directed that FitzPatrick be found not guilty of other charges relating to loans issued to members of the family of the businessman Seán Quinn.

The charges on which FitzPatrick is now to be acquitted related to the treatment of loans from the bank which were transferred each year end to the Irish Nationwide Building Society, before being transferred back to the bank. This meant they did not have to be disclosed in Anglo’s end of year accounts.

The so-called “warehousing” of the loans led to FitzPatrick’s resignation when it emerged in December 2008, and contributed to the loss in confidence in the bank that in turn led to it being nationalised in January 2009. The ODCE began investigating the matter in December 2008.

O’Connell said the documents he shredded had been overlooked when disclosure was being made to the FitzPatrick defence, and when he discovered them on a tray on the floor of his office, he realised he was going to have to go back to the witness box and give more evidence. After he informed the State legal team of what he had done, he sought psychiatric help.

Bizarre and dramatic development.

The bizarre and dramatic development turned a crisis caused by how the investigation had been conducted, into a full-blown catastrophe. Although O’Connell said he wasn’t sure what the documents he shredded were, he said he believed they were notes taken in meetings or during phone calls associated with the case. Complaints about disclosure had featured during his giving of evidence in 2015, and when he returned to the office and found more documents that had not been disclosed, he panicked, he said.

In 2015 he referred to eight or nine pages of notes, while this year he said he thought about three or four pages may have been involved. He refused to let the court have access to reports concerning his mental health.

O’Connell had played a key role in gathering evidence against FitzPatrick even though he had never played a role in investigating an indictable offence before.

The court heard that, as problems with the investigation emerged during the trial, the new Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, who had taken over from Appleby in August 2012, informed his staff that only Garda officers were to henceforth take witness statements.

He also said that when the details of what had happened in the FitzPatrick case emerged, it was likely that the agency would suffer “very severe reputational damage” as well as “parliamentary scrutiny”.

All of the interviews with the EY partners occurred in the presence of the solicitors from A&L Goodbody, including partner Liam Kennedy, with whom O’Connell was in regular contact.

There were up to 40 versions of the Kelly and Bergin statements in the huge discovery of documents released to the defence last year. It was after the multiple drafts were received that the defence learned of the flaws it argued existed in relation to how the investigation had been conducted.

Some of the drafts had been going “back and forth” between the ODCE and A&L Goodbody, some within the ODCE, and some within A&L Goodbody. It was “statement by committee”, Condon said. “Conspicuous by their absence were the guards.” He said standards in investigating a suspected crime could not be lowered just because it was an alleged white-collar crime. “Everyone goes to the same prison.”

The FG leadership battle & the candidates Simon Coveney v Leo Varadkar

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Simon CoveneyPersonal: Aged 44. Son of former Fine Gael TD and minister Hugh Coveney, who died in an accident in 1998.

As well as being a politician, his father was a successful surveyor and wealthy farmer. Married to Ruth Furney, an IDA executive in Cork. They have three young daughters.

Education: Clongowes Wood College. UCC, Gurteen Agricultural College, Tipperary, Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire, England. Holds a BSc in agriculture and land management.

Political: First elected a Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central in 1998 by-election caused by his father’s death. Was an MEP 2000-2007 but gave up Euro seat for Dáil politics. Appointed agriculture minister in 2011, took on additional defence portfolio in 2014. Housing Minister since May 2016.

Career trajectory: Began in the shadow of his late father’s reputation and later for a time dubbed “light weight”. But seen as a potential Fine Gael leader for almost a decade. Viewed as earnest and policy-driven – he has been cultivating personal support in recent years.

Strengths: Unfailingly polite, extremely hard-working and pays keen attention to policy details. A dealmaker, capable of standing his ground as well as compromising. Did heavy-lifting on Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal to underpin this Government.

Weaknesses: More focused on policy than people. Knockabout politics does not come naturally to him.

Lucky general? In his first job as agriculture minister in 2011, he presided over the only Irish sector doing well. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet.

Unlucky general? He landed the toughest Cabinet job in May 2016, leaving him a housing and homelessness crisis and the future of water charges. These just as he was trying to become taoiseach.

To be expected: From Cork’s wealthy section of society, he sails and played rugby.

A surprise: Was expelled from the elite Clongowes Wood secondary boarding school for partying and drinking, much to the anger of his parents. Specialised in human rights as an MEP.

Soundbite winner: “Whatever ministry I have, whether it’s defence, whether it’s marine, whether it’s agriculture, I’ve tried to make as big a mark as I can in taking on some big challenges and trying to overcome them. I’ve got some very big challenges at the moment to take on and overcome, and there’s a lot of people relying on me to do it,” in December 2016 on facing up to challenge of being the Housing Minister.

Soundbite gaffe: On March 1, 2016, he “dropped the ball” by suggesting abolition of Irish Water could be part of Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government-making talks. “We need to take on board within reason, what they are looking for,” he said on RTÉ.

Unique Selling Point: Total commitment to policy achievements in whatever job he takes on.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Stated hobbies: Sailing, rugby, GAA and following all sports.

Coveney’s policies

TAXATION: He would change Fine Gael’s current stance on scrapping USC. Also wants to raise bands so workers don’t hit the 40pc rate at €33,800.

INFRASTRUCTURE: A long-term strategic infrastructure plan as part of ‘Ireland 2040’. Ring-fence up to €20bn for infrastructure, mostly focused on transport.

BREXIT: With his experience as an MEP and agriculture minister, says he is best-placed to represent Ireland in talks.

HOUSING: Sticking to his ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan. Has committed more than 20,000 new homes a year being built.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: From a policy point of view, says he agrees with Varadkar.

ABORTION: The Citizens’ Assembly recommendations go “too far” but the current laws need to be changed to recognise crisis pregnancies.

EDUCATION: ‘Action Plan for Education’ and produce specific annual targets.

HEALTH: Also cites the Oireachtas committee as an important process and plans “to substantially reduce health inequalities in Ireland”.

UNITED IRELAND: Committed to immediately drafting a white paper on possible reunification.

Leo Varadkar

Personal: Aged 38 and a qualified medical doctor. His father, Ashok, is an Indian-born medical doctor and his mother, Miriam, a nurse originally from Co Waterford. His parents met while working in England. He has two sisters – Sophia is a doctor in the neurology department of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, while Sonia is a nurse at the Coombe in Dublin. Lived most of his life in the prosperous west Dublin suburb of Castleknock. Is unmarried and in January 2015 became Ireland’s first openly gay government minister.

Education: The King’s Hospital, Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.

Political: Schoolboy and student Fine Gael activist. Unsuccessfully contested 1999 local elections, elected to Fingal County Council in 2004. TD for Dublin West since 2007. Minister for transport and tourism 2011-2014; health 2014-2016; Social Protection 2016 to date.

Career trajectory: Has been talked about as a potential Fine Gael leader since his arrival at Leinster House in June 2007. One of the party’s young Turks, once dubbed “Tory Boy” in his youth – has been busy dumping the right-wing rhetoric and gravitating to the middle.

Strengths: Quick-thinking and dynamic. Does a refreshingly candid “honesty-in-dishonesty line” and usually gets away with it. Very hard-working.

Weaknesses: More style than substance. For all his talk, was a “manager rather than a doer” as transport, health and finally Social Protection Minister.

Lucky general? His two full winters as health minister, 2014/15 and 2015/16, were mild and did not have a full-blown “trolley crisis”. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet in 2011.

Unlucky general? As tourism and transport minister, his two junior ministers were Michael Ring and Alan Kelly, two of the Dáil’s toughest characters. Had fretful two years in health when he faced high expectations as a doctor.

To be expected: As a medical student in TCD, social life was all about Young Fine Gael.

A surprise: Has been busy brushing up on his Gaeilge – came to this week’s decisive Fine Gael meeting directly after sitting a civil service Irish exam.

Soundbite winner: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me,” his summation as he announced he was gay in January 2015.

Best howler: “I really can’t wait to get the keys to one of those government jets. My bowels aren’t feeling the Mae West today.” An over-sharing blog, as an opposition TD in 2009, recounting a marathon journey home from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, involving long waits in Moscow and Heathrow.

Unique Selling Point: Can still claim to be “an outsider” carrying a certain air of mystery and intrigue.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Michael Collins.

Stated hobbies: Fitness, good food and wine, and good company.

Varadkar’s policies

TAXATION: Cut high marginal income tax rates.Tax equality for self-employed. Merge USC and PRSI.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Increase capital spending over 10 years, focusing on the Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick and motorway access to the west and north-west.

BREXIT: Five Brexit principles, including trying to keep Northern Ireland in the single market.

HOUSING: Scrap the ‘Help-To-Buy’ scheme if it is inflating prices, and spend on ‘Housing with Care’ for older people.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Essentially strikes will be banned after a Labour Court judgment has been made.

ABORTION: Would support access to a termination in cases of rape but not on demand.

EDUCATION: Increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. He will also provide subsidised school books/tablets to all children.

HEALTH: “The health service of the future needs to be patient centred and about better access and outcomes”.

UNITED IRELAND: Prepare that it might happen in our lifetime but won’t agitate for it.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members’ votes worth 0.9% of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10%, while the remaining 25% is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney
Total: 45
Total: 19
Ministers: 17
Ministers: 5
TDs: 16
TDs: 5
Senators: 11
Senators: 8
MEPs: 1
MEPs: 1
Richard Bruton -Minister
Simon Harris – Minister
Frances Fitzgerald – Minister
Damien English – Minister
Michael Ring – Minister
Dara Murphy – Minister
Eoghan Murphy – Minister
David Stanton – Minister
Sean Kyne – Minister
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy – Minister
Joe McHugh – Minister
Kate O’Connell – TD
Helen McEntee – Minister
Maria Bailey – TD
Charlie Flanagan – Minister
Sean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -Minister
Hildegard Naughton – TD
Patrick O’Donovan – Minister
Peter Fitzpatrick – TD
Regina Doherty – Minister
Tim Lombard – Senator
Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Minister
Jerry Buttimer – Senator
Paschal Donohoe – Minister
Paudie Coffey – Senator
Heather Humphreys – Minister
James Reilly – Senator
Pat Breen – Minister
Colm Burke – Senator
Catherine Byrne – Minister
John O’Mahony – Senator
Andrew Doyle – Minister
Paul Coghlan – Senator
John Paul Phelan – TD
Gabrielle McFadden – Senator
Noel Rock – TD
Deirdre Clune – MEP
Tony McLoughlin – TD
Alan Farrell – TD
Michael D’Arcy – TD
Tom Neville – TD
Josepha Madigan – TD
Pat Deering – TD
Jim Daly – TD
Brendan Griffin – TD
Ciaran Cannon – TD
Colm Brophy – TD
Peter Burke – TD
Fergus O’Dowd – TD
John Deasy – TD
Joe Carey – TD
Neale Richmond – Senator
Catherine Noone – Senator
Paddy Burke – Senator
Martin Conway – Senator
Michelle Mulherin – Senator
Maura Hopkins – Senator
Ray Butler – Senator
Frank Feighan – Senator
Maria Byrne – Senator
Joe O’Reilly – Senator
Kieran O’Donnell – Senator
Brian Hayes – MEP

Undeclared

Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *

Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *

Michael Noonan – Minister  Michael Creed – Minister
Bernard Durkan – TD Sean Kelly – MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement  

Irish unemployment hits nine-year low as full-time jobs up 84,000 in first quarter

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said full-time employment had increased by more than 84,000 in the first quarter

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Ireland’s unemployment figures has fallen to levels not seen since the recession and economic collapse hit the country in early 2008.

Official figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed 33,200 fewer people out of work at the start of this year, compared with the same time last year.

The unemployment rate is now down to 6.4%, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said, with 148,800 people classed as out of work, the lowest number in nine years.

“The labour market has begun the year in a very positive manner and I welcome the very strong employment growth that was recorded in the first quarter,” Mr Noonan said.

“Employment gains of 68,600 (3.5%) clearly demonstrate that economic growth is generating significant dividends in the labour market. Indeed, it is noteworthy that full-time employment increased by over 84,000 in the first quarter and I particularly welcome this development.

“The policies that have been implemented by the Government continue to bear fruit. The objective in the months and years ahead is to enhance the resilience of the economy in order to protect these gains and generate more jobs in the future.”

A breakdown of the labour market figures recorded in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey showed an 18.5% fall in the number of unemployed people in the year to the end of March.

It said that people who are classed as long- term unemployed after being out of work for a year or more now account for just over half the total number of jobless.

The CSO also said there are 2,191,400 people in the labour market.

As many as 460,000 may be exposed to unsafe radon levels in Ireland

Irish householders urged to test their homes?

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As many as 460,000 people in Ireland may be exposed to radon levels that are deemed to be unsafe, new research has found.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in all rocks and soils. When it surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, leading to an potentially dangerous health risk.

Globally, radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, coming after smoking. The gas is linked to around 250 cancer deaths in Ireland every year.

A research team led by geologists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has produced a new ‘risk map’ using indoor radon concentration measurements and relevant geological information.

They found that including more geological data, such as bedrock and glacial geology, provided a more detailed picture of the risks posed by radon.

According to this map, around 10% of Ireland’s population is exposed to radon levels that exceed the references safe level – that is around 460,000 people who may currently be at risk.

This new analysis divides the country into three risk categories – high, medium and low. This is based on the probability of having an indoor radon concentration level above the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

The map shows that the probability of living in a home with a concentration above this is calculated to be 19% in high risk areas (around 265,000 people), 8% in medium risk areas (160,000) and 3% in low risk areas (35,000).

This map now needs to be validated using new annually available indoor radon data.

“EU member states need to translate European radiation protection legislation into national law, and this requires an accurate definition of radon-prone areas. Our research provides one example of how national-scale radon risk maps can be produced, which is especially relevant to countries developing their national radon programmes,” explained Quentin Crowley, assistant professor in isotopes and the environment at TCD’s School of Natural Sciences.

The researchers emphasised that according to the map, even some homes in the low risk category ‘will have elevated radon levels’.

“No model, no matter how sophisticated, can substitute for having indoor radon levels tested. For this reason we advise all householders to test their homes for radon and, if high levels are found, to have their houses fixed. Further information is available on radon.ie,” commented Barbara Rafferty of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Large study uncovers genes are linked to our intelligence

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Exactly what constitutes intelligence, and to what extent it is genetic, are some of the most controversial questions in science. But now a new study of nearly 80,000 people, published in Nature Genetics, has managed to identify a number of genes that seem to be involved in intelligence.

According to a dictionary definition, intelligence is “the ability to learn, understand or deal with new situations” or “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly”.

This is obviously quite broad. Indeed, even animals display a number of different forms of intelligence, typically critical for survival. These range from reaching or gathering sources of food and escaping predators to the sharing of duties within a group (such as in ant communities). Elephants or monkeys also possess forms of empathy and care, which strengthen their relationships and chances to survive.

Human intelligence started out as “reactive”, enabling us to find solutions to the challenges of nature. But it later became “proactive”, so that we could use the resources of nature to develop preventive measures aimed at solving problems. Ultimately, what makes human intelligence different from that of other animals is our ability to shape the environment, for example through farming. This became possible as we developed communities and started delegating tasks on the basis of talents. When the acute problem of survival was controlled, we could dedicate our intelligence to the development of arts or other higher skills.

There are many factors that enable us to shape and nurture our intelligence – ranging from access to resources and information to skills acquired through experience and repetition. But, like with most human traits, there is also a genetic basis.

The experiment?

The method used to measure intelligence in the new study was the so-called “g-factor” – a measure of analytical intelligence. Although it might appear reductive to catalogue all types of intelligence through a single test, the g-factor is often used in scientific research as being among the most unbiased methods. The authors looked at such scores in 78,000 people of European descent to search for genetic factors and genes that potentially influence human intelligence.

They carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS). This assesses connections between a trait and a multitude of DNA markers called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which might determine an individual’s likelihood to develop a specific trait. The test enabled the researchers to identify 336 significant SNPs.

Generally, the vast majority of significant SNPs that result in this way fall in non-coding regions of the DNA. In other words, they indicate portions of the DNA that may regulate gene expression even though the actual regulated gene is unknown. This makes the SNPs from GWAS hard to interpret. So the authors then complemented their analysis with a so called genome-wide gene association analysis (or GWGAS), which calculates the effect of multiple SNPs within genes and can identify actual associated genes. They then combined both kinds of study to strengthen their confidence in naming the genes associated with intelligence.

This work led to isolating 52 candidate genes linked to intelligence. Although 12 of these had been previously associated with “intelligence”, the study needs to be replicated in future studies.

What do we gather?

The researchers discovered that the genes that were the strongest linked to intelligence are ones involved in pathways that play a part in the regulation of the nervous system’s development and apoptosis (a normal form of cell death that is needed in development). The most significant SNP was found within FOXO3, a gene involved in insulin signalling that might trigger apoptosis. The strongest associated gene was CSE1L, a gene involved in apoptosis and cell proliferation.

Does this all mean that intelligence in humans depends on the molecular mechanisms that support the development and preservation of the nervous system throughout an person’s lifespan? It’s possible.

And is it possible to explain intelligence through genetics? This paper suggests it is. Nevertheless, it might be warranted to consider that intelligence is a very complex trait and even if genetics did play a role, environmental factors such as education, healthy living, access to higher education, exposure to stimulating circumstances or environments might play an equally or even stronger role in nurturing and shaping intelligence.

It is also worth considering that the meaning of “intelligence” rather falls within a grey area. There might be different types of intelligence or even intelligence might be interpreted differently: in which category would for example a genius physicist – unable to remember their way home (Albert Einstein) – fall? Selective intelligence? Mozart nearly failed his admission tests to Philharmonic Academy in Bologna because his genius was too wide and innovative to be assessed by rigid tests. Is that another form of selective intelligence? And if so, what’s the genetic basis of this kind of intelligence?

Studies like this are extremely interesting and they do show we are starting to scratch the surface of what the biological basis of intelligence really is.

Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

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An artist’s reconstruction of Graecopithecus freybergi, left, with the jawbone and tooth found in Bulgaria and Greece.

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa.

Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield.

But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.

The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid.

An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region.

At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe.

“This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps of the humankind,” said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo.

“The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike that of the recent great apes which are living in forests.  Therefore, like humans, he has wide molars and thick enamel.

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist?

“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably  El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.”

The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria.

Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and show that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans,”, said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen.

The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid.

The tooth of Graecopithecus. Image result for Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents.

The jawbone of Graecopithecus.  

The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years ago and pushed species further North.

They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today.

Professor Böhme added: “Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity. I personally don’t think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean – not in Africa.

“If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history.” However some experts were more skeptical about the findings.

Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls.

“I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence from Africa.”

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 16th May 2013

Evidence suggests that Irish economy is slowly recovering

 

Growth will be primarily due to exports as domestic demand sluggish

“Unemployment (both short- and long-term) began to fall towards the end of last year. If our forecasts prove to be correct, then this means an annual average below 300,000 unemployed in 2014.” Photograph: Frank Miller

In the ESRI’s latest outlook for the Irish economy, we forecast that growth will improve in 2013 and 2014. If we are right, growth, as measured by GNP, will amount to 1 per cent this year and 1.5 per cent in 2014. The corresponding growth rates for GDP are 1.8 and 2.7 per cent. As has been the case over the past number of years, this growth will be primarily due to increasing exports and we expect that this export growth will continue to be driven predominantly by the service sector. We are currently forecasting that domestic demand will grow by around 0.7 per cent in 2013 and 2014.

If the growth rates we forecast are realised, what will they mean for the Irish economy? One of the main impacts of the crisis has been a sharp increase in the numbers unemployed. We would expect to see some reduction in the unemployment rate to an annual average just below 14 per cent in 2014. Indeed, unemployment (both short and long term) began to fall towards the end of last year. If our forecasts prove to be correct, then this means an annual average below 300,000 unemployed in 2014.

While this is a positive development, it is not all due to job creation. Unfortunately some of the reduction will reflect continuing high emigration. It is hoped that as we move into 2014 an increasing amount of the fall in unemployment will be due to job creation and that emigration levels will be lower.

If there is, as we anticipate, some recovery in the labour market over the next two years then we expect that there will be some moderate increases in average annual earnings. Because of high unemployment and continuing uncertainty in the economic outlook, we would expect that households will continue to save for precautionary reasons, so the saving rate will remain high. In addition, since households are continuing to pay down accumulated debt, it is likely that any growth in household consumption will be moderate.

The public finances look set to benefit from a combination of economic recovery and the deals on promissory notes and extending the maturity of EU/IMF programme loans. Taking account of these it looks likely that the deficit targets set as part of the bailout programme will continue to be met and probably exceeded.

However, we argue again in this commentary that the remaining consolidation measures should be introduced as planned. This is because uncertainty remains for domestic and international growth. Even at the end of the consolidation process the government will still be running a deficit. In addition there is a continued need to reduce government debt. At the end of 2013 it is estimated the debt will be €207 billion, equivalent to 123 per cent of GDP. Such a high debt means interest costs of approximately €8 billion this year.

Our forecasts of growth in the Irish economy are based on forecasts showing the European economy returning to growth in 2014. This is a crucial assumption.

In recent years forecasts for economic growth in Ireland’s main trading partners have been consistently revised downwards. For example, over the past two years, forecasts for world economic growth have been revised from approximately 4 per cent in 2013 to around 3.3 per cent. The expectation at present is that growth in the world economy will pick up in 2014.

If the anticipated international upturn does not occur, then the outlook for the Irish economy is less positive than we have forecast. However, what the current forecasts do suggest is that the Irish economy is slowly recovering.

Dr David Duffy, research officer with the Economic and Social Research Institute, co-authored the latest ESRI Quarterly Economic Commentary with research assistant Kevin Timoney.

30,000 people a day are now sending in property tax returns

 

With less than two weeks to go until the final deadline for paying the property tax,

The revenue service says that more than 30,000 homeowners a day are returning their property tax forms as the deadline for the charge draws close.

More than 845,000 property owners have so far paid the charge, exactly two-thirds of whom have used the internet to make the payment. The remaining third have paid the charge by letter.

Revenue said the rate of payment has increased in recent days as the deadline of Tuesday 28 May draws closer, and has urged homeowners planning to pay to register on the website.

Anyone who received a property tax form despite not being the owner of a property has been asked to contact Revenue with the contact details of the person who is liable for the charge. Revenue has repeatedly said that the onus is on people who receive the form to correct mistakes or else face being pursed for the charge.

Revenue Commissioners say they have received more than 330,000 phone calls to the property tax helpline as homeowners attempt to ascertain the value of their homes and the correct band the property falls into in order to determine how much tax to pay.

Health warning for people to avoid retiring early

  

Research shows there is a small boost in health immediately after retirement but that, over the longer term, there is a significant deterioration.

Research found both mental and physical health can suffer.

It suggests retirement increases the likelihood of suffering from clinical depression by 40pc and the chance of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60pc. The probability of taking medication for such a condition rises by about 60pc as well, according to the findings.

People who are retired are 40pc less likely than others to describe themselves as being in very good or excellent health.

Benefits

The length of time spent in retirement can also cause further disadvantages.

The study was carried out by Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs and the Age Endeavour Fellowship. It concluded that, for men and women alike, “there seem to exist longer-term health benefits of employment among older people”.

Its authors said: “This, in turn, indicates that politicians do not face a trade-off between improving the health of the older population, increasing economic growth, decreasing health spending among the elderly and producing solvent pension systems.

“The policy implication is that impediments to continuing paid work in old age should be decreased. This does not necessarily mean that people should be expected to work full-time until they die, but rather that public policy should remove the strong financial incentives to retire at earlier ages.”

Philip Booth, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Over several decades, governments have failed to deal with the ‘demographic time bomb’.

“There is now general agreement that pension ages should be raised. Working longer will not only be an economic necessity, it also helps people to live healthier lives.”

Edward Datnow, of the Age Endeavour Fellowship, said: “Those seeking to retire should think very hard about whether it is their best option.”

Clinical trials the best method we have for assessing medicines and treatments

 

Clinical trials are the best method we have for assessing medicines and treatments. So why is clinical-trial activity in Ireland and Europe in decline?

What have cider, elixir of vitriol, vinegar, seawater, citrus fruits and spicy barley water got in common? They were the “treatments” given to six pairs of sailors suffering from scurvy aboard HMS Salisbury in 1747 by Royal Navy physician, James Lind.

Scurvy is a condition characterised by bleeding gums, stiff joints and slow wound-healing. The sailors given the citrus fruits recovered demonstrably more than any other pair, a result we now know was attributable to Vitamin C.

This experiment, carried out almost 300 years ago, is commonly viewed as the first “clinical trial”. May 20th is World Clinical Trials Day, a celebration of this experimental tool, arguably one of the most important means to improving health.

In simple terms, the purpose of a clinical trial is to prove a medicine works and is safe for humans. Prior to the advent of proper clinical trials, many drugs were introduced to the market that did not meet these requirements.

The thousands of children born with limb defects due to thalidomide, which was prescribed to pregnant women with morning sickness, dramatically attest to this. More recently, poorly interpreted clinical-trials data contributed to the MMR scare in the late 1990s, led by Andrew Wakefield. The spike in measles cases observed recently in the UK, arising from reduced immunisation rates, illustrates clearly the consequence of this.

It’s regrettable that certain forms of “medicines” escape the rigour of proper scientific and clinical validation. The so-called cures of many homeopathic remedies are most likely attributable to the placebo effect, a phenomenon observed in a patient following a particular treatment that arises from the patient’s expectations concerning the treatment, rather than from the treatment itself. A properly designed clinical trial can eliminate such biases when testing the claims of a particular therapy and accurately gauge whether it is effective or not.

Positive outcomes
On the plus side, and thankfully the clinical-trials story is mostly a positive one, many medicines have been approved by the relevant regulatory bodies. These have been assessed and proven safe and effective by this most pivotal of scientific tools.

Pause a moment and look at this list, which samples just a few medicines that have been vetted by the clinical trial: the contraceptive pill, vaccines, cholesterol-lowering drugs. It is probable that the life of someone close to you, perhaps even your life, has been improved or saved by a treatment approved for use following clinical trial.

The randomised, controlled trial, the most modern form of clinical trial, was recently voted in a top 20 of great British innovations, along with illustrious companions such as the world wide web and Turing’s virtual machine.

Unfortunately, clinical trials activity in Ireland, as in much of Europe, is declining. There is much debate on this topic but in my view the cause is essentially this: the burden of proof to demonstrate a medicine’s safety and effectiveness has, rightly, become very high but the systems to support meeting that burden are struggling to cope. Such systems include legislation, regulation, research-led clinical care and patient participation.

There are considerable developments afoot in many of these areas including imminent changes to our clinical trials legislation. Driven from Brussels, it will effectively create a common market for approval of treatments, operating to a single, high standard across Europe.

Other changes in our clinical research infrastructure, such as the networking of our clinical-research centres, should complement the legislative changes to help meet the requirements to prove a medicine’s safety and effectiveness in an efficient manner.

However, these alone will not deliver a well-functioning clinical-trials system in Ireland. Patient participation is required at levels substantially above where they are today. Whilst legislation, research infrastructure and so on are matters of resource allocation and commitment to implementation, patient participation is a more challenging, cultural matter.

At the individual level, there are significant advantages to participating in clinical trials, such as early access to new medicines. However, the real benefit is not at the level of the individual but at the level of society. The cumulative effect of patients participating in clinical studies and trials is to generate new medical knowledge that can be put into practice in preventing, diagnosing and treating disease.

In many ways, participating in a clinical trial is much like donating blood. Both are matters of civic responsibility and a high donor/participation rate is an indicator of a society investing in itself.

For those of us responsible for the clinical-trials system, it is critical we build it and deliver it with the patient at the centre, on a firm foundation of trust. On Monday, when we celebrate World Clinical Trials Day, let us recognise that we have come far but we have some way to go.

New hospital group to improve patient safety in Galway Hospital’s

  

Patient safety at Galway’s three public hospitals will improve under the new hospital grouping unveiled this week, according to Galway Senator Fidelma Healy Eames.

Patient safety at Galway’s three public hospitals will improve under the new hospital grouping unveiled this week by Health Minister James Reilly.

That’s according to Galway Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who has welcomed the announcement that University Hospital Galway, Merlin Park Hospital and Portiuncula are to form the West/North West Hospital Group with hospitals in Roscommon, Sligo, Letterkenny and Mayo General Hospital.

“I believe that this new configuration will give a greater level of autonomy to UCHG/Merlin Park and will result in better service provision, the retention of well trained staff and the development of specialties in smaller hospitals,” said Senator Healy Eames.

She added that each hospital in the group will play a significant role in the provision of services. “This benefits all hospitals in the group. The grouping of these hospitals will enable each hospital to specialise in certain procedures and should result in reductions in waiting lists and the number of people on trolleys,” she said.

Senator Healy Eames added that, since the establishment of the pilot Galway/Roscommon grouping last year, there has been a notable improvement for patients.

“Waiting lists over nine months for inpatient and day case procedures were eliminated in each of the hospitals by the end of 2012. Across the group, the number of patients counted on trolleys fell by 37 per cent last year. This is substantially larger than the national reduction of 23 per cent.

“In future, staff will be recruited to the West/North West Hospital Group rather than to an individual hospital. This ensures that patients in Galway will have access to world class medical staff. The increased flexibility of staff will enable a reduction in the hours for junior doctors, which will improve patient safety at Galway hospitals.”

Humans to blame for climate change

 

A review of 12,000 scientific papers has found the consensus among scientists that humans are to blame for climate change is “overwhelming” and the dissenting view was held by less than two per cent of scientists.

A review of 12,000 scientific papers has found the consensus among scientists that humans are to blame for climate change is “overwhelming”

The survey – the largest peer-reviewed study of its kind – found that a third of papers expressed a view on the causes of global warming – and 97.1 per cent of these said it was mainly man-made. It found a growing consensus among scientists that human activity, led by the use of fossil fuels, was the main cause of rising temperatures.

The lead author, John Cook, a fellow at the University of Queensland and founder of the website skepticalscience.com, said the findings debunked widely-held perceptions of a scientific debate about global warming.

“There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception,” he said.

“There is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary When people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely to support policies that take action on it.”

The survey, published in Environmental Research Letters, examined 11,944 scientific abstracts published between 1991 to 2011.

Mr Cook said the number of papers rejecting the consensus was “vanishingly small”. Increasingly, he said, scientists did not see the need to express a position on the causes of climate change in journal abstracts “just as geographers find no reason to remind readers that the earth is round”.

“When people think scientists agree, they are more likely to support a carbon tax or general climate action,” he told The Age.

“But if they think scientists are still arguing about it, they don’t want to do anything about it.”

A survey in the United States last October found 43 per cent of Americans thought scientists were divided on man-made global warming while 45 per cent thought there was a consensus. Global average surface temperatures have risen by 1.4F (0.8C) since the industrial revolution.

A co-author of the new study, Mark Richardson, from the University of Reading, said: “If people disagree with what we’ve found we want to know.”