Tag Archives: Leo Varadkar

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 21st August 2016

Ireland needs long-term vision but not higher taxes

Minister says he shares Taoiseach’s vision for a united Ireland


The Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar speaking at the Collins Griffith commemoration at Glasnavin Cemetery,

The Government needs to focus on building a social recovery and politicians should develop a long-term vision for the country, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said.

Delivering the oration at the Collins/Griffith Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said increasing taxation would not be the solution to all of the country’s social deficits.

He said a “functioning tax system should both encourage business and reward individuals as well as providing for those who need protection.

“Increasing general taxation is not the solution to all of our social and problems and infrastructural deficits and increasing it too much creates a problem in itself,” he added.

“Collins recognised that ‘the essence of our struggle was to secure freedom to order our own life’. And that is the vision that should be at the heart of our thinking in the 21st century.

“We need to advance and expand the recovering economy so that more people are free to order their own life; they are free to achieve their ambitions and their dreams.”

The Minister said it is the role of the Government to make that happen and to “provide freedom and opportunity”. Mr Varadkar added: “Without economic freedom and prosperity we cannot have real independence.

“ And without freedom to order our own lives, any improvements in the economy will be meaningless.

“It is a difficult challenge. But it is achievable if we recognise that we need sound economic policies to achieve better living conditions for all our citizens and that social justice and inclusion, in turn, help to build a stronger more sustainable economy.

“A virtuous circle of sorts. Economic gains on their own, without a vision for society to accompany them, will result in a squandered prosperity that will ultimately be unsustainable. We had that during the boom years.

We must ensure that we do not have it again in the recovery years.”

In what is being perceived as a significant speech Mr Varadkar said the Government must build a true enterprise economy, where people are “rewarded for hard-work, innovation and excellence, and are supported, not hindered, by the state in providing for themselves and their families”.

He said a united Ireland can be achieved at some point in the future but not through a border poll. He said he shared “the vision of An Taoiseach that foresees a united Ireland at some point in the future, and I share his belief in how it should be achieved.

“Through respect and consent, by accepting the identity of the minority tradition and honouring their values by finding a special place for them to thrive, not through assimilation or the crude majoritarianism in a border poll,” Mr Varadkar said.

The issue of a border poll, a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, emerged following the United Kingdom’s vote in June to leave the EU. Speaking at the MacGill summer school in Glenties Co Donegal in July, Mr Kenny departed from his prepared script to raise the prospect of a border poll at some point in the future. However he stressed that the conditions for such a vote did not exist at present, and he did not favour a vote at present.

In Glasnevin on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said: “The only way we will achieve real unity is by respecting the different traditions, identities and values on this island, not by trying to obliterate them.

“It was easy for some to jump on the Brexit result, and use it to make a land-grab for Northern Ireland. And it was counterproductive. Often the people who speak loudest about republican values, are the least when it comes to honouring them. The inclusive vision of Griffith is better than the opportunistic rhetoric of assimilation, and it is the only chance we have of securing lasting peace and achieving genuine unity on this island,” Mr Varadkar added.

The 94th annual commemoration remembered both Michael Collins andArthur Griffith. Collins, who served as minister for finance in the first Dáil in 1919 and who was a member of the Irish negotiating team and a signatory of the Anglo Irish Treaty, was shot dead in an ambush at Béal na mBláth in Cork on August 22nd, 1922. Griffith, founder of Sinn Féin and president of the Dáil from January to August 1922, died 10 days before Collins’s assassination and was buried at Glasnevin.

Bank of Ireland blames Europe for the new charges

Trend for charging firms for large deposits stems from low interest rates since the crash


Richie Boucher, chief executive of Bank of Ireland: the bank said its decision to charge large corporate and institutional customers for deposits is due to the European Central Bank’s decision to levy a negative interest rate of 0.4% on overnight deposits.

Richie Boucher has never been afraid to stand out from the crowd, which might explain Bank of Ireland’s decision to begin charging large corporate and institutional customers for holding deposits with the institution.

From October 10th, a rate of 0.1% will be charged to customers who hold deposits of €10 million or more with the bank or have multiple deposit accounts with it, regardless of the sums involved. It is thought to affect only a small number of customers.

Bank of Ireland has told customers that this is the result of the European Central Bank’s decision earlier this year to levy a negative interest rate of 0.4% on overnight deposits.

It turns out that Ulster Bank has been quietly charging large corporates in the Republic for holding deposits with the bank for some time now. This might have been its parent, Royal Bank of Scotland, testing the waters as it emerged on Friday that the institution plans to charge large corporates in the UK for their deposits from Monday.

And we know that some banks in Germany and other European countries have begun introducing negative interest rates.

This all stems from the ultra-low interest rate environment that we’ve been living with since the global financial crash in late 2008. Many central banks around the world are now charging negative interest rates in the hope of persuading investors and companies to put their money to other uses that might generate them a return and also stimulate economic activity.

It’s also a factor of the banks having ample access to liquidity at a time when lending in Ireland is sluggish. They arguably have too much money in their vaults at a time of muted lending demand.

Nonetheless, Bank of Ireland is setting itself out from AIB, its biggest rival in the Irish market. AIB, which is 99 per cent State owned, is not charging a negative interest rate on its deposits and says it has no plans to do so.

Will those corporates affected by the Bank of Ireland charge switch to AIB? Possibly but a lot will depend on the nature of the business relationship between the bank and the customer. It will certainly encourage them to interrogate their banking arrangements in some detail and possibly rationalise their accounts.

The fear among the business community is that this might be a slippery slope to the banks eventually charging us all for the privilege of housing our deposits with them. This seems unlikely in the case of personal customers, given the political storm that would most likely erupt given that taxpayers bailed out the sector to the tune of €64 billion.

But SMEs might yet find themselves in the firing line if the ECB’s effort to stimulate European economies continues to yield meagre results.

Galway leading the way on recycling


Galway has embraced electronic and electrical waste recycling and leads the way in Ireland.

Galway city and county is embracing the world of recycling by almost doubling the targets set by the EU for electrical and battery waste.

In all, over 1,850 tonnes of electrical waste was collected throughout the county for recycling – adding to Ireland’s growing reputation as a recycling champion.

An average of more than eight electrical items were collected for recycling from every household in the city and county in 2015 – that’s a 17% increase on the previous year.

That 1,850 tonnes works out at an average of 7kg of electrical waste being recycled per person in Galway in 2015, almost double the original EU target of 4kg per head, according to the latest figures from WEEE Ireland released this week.

And approximately 75% of Galway householders are now actively recycling their electrical and battery waste.

Irish consumers are now recycling 15% more than they did four years ago – putting the country on top of the EU table.

Over 250 tonnes of electrical waste came from WEEE Ireland collections days that were held throughout the whole county.

WEEE Ireland collected approximately thirteen million household appliances for recycling in 2015 alone.

Irish retailers account for over half of the waste collected showing a significant increase documented in the twelve-month period from 2014 to 2015.  This means that Ireland has the highest percentage take-back through retailers in the EU.

WEEE Ireland’s report also shows that an equivalent to 28 million AA batteries and three million lamps were collected for recycling during 2015.

“These results are hugely encouraging and show that Irish householders and retailers alike are well ahead of other European countries when it comes to recycling. Ireland can proudly say that more than any other EU country we have taken a lead in this area,” said WEEE Ireland CEO Leo Donovan.

WEEE Ireland also noted a number of recycling challenges. These included the fact that only 25% of small electrical and electronic waste items are being recycled.

Toys, tools, small appliances, energy saving light bulbs and portable batteries are being either hoarded or sent to the landfill, and this is where householders can make a real difference keeping recyclables out of refuse.

New study casts doubt on concept of ‘healthy obesity’


New research has indicated that previous assumptions that it is possible to be obese while remaining otherwise healthy may not be accurate.

The Karolinska Institutet study provided evidence that white fat tissue samples from obese individuals classified as either metabolically healthy or unhealthy showed nearly identical abnormal changes in gene expression in response to insulin stimulation.

Recent estimates suggest that up to 30% of obese individuals are metabolically healthy and therefore may need less vigorous interventions to prevent obesity-related complications. High sensitivity to insulin which promotes the uptake of blood glucose into cells to be used for energy, is considered a hallmark of metabolically healthy obesity.

However, this new research casts fresh doubt on whether any such thing exists, indicating that insulin-sensitive obese people may not be as metabolically healthy as previously believed.

Mikael Ryden of the Karolinska Institutet said: “The findings suggest that vigorous health interventions may be necessary for all obese individuals, even those previously considered to be metabolically healthy.”

Researchers will now examine the outcomes of these patients following bariatric surgery to determine whether weight loss normalises their responses to insulin.

This Bosnian pine tree in Greece is Europe’s oldest known living tree

An ancient Bosnian pine, nicknamed Adonis by researchers, has been dated to about 1,075 years old, making it the oldest known tree living in Europe. 


European history has had one continuous observer for more than a thousand years: a pine tree in Greece.

Dendrochronologists have calculated the tree’s age to be at least 1,075 years old, making it the oldest tree in Europe. This little pine, nicknamed “Adonis,” has seen world wars, a century of revolutions, the Protestant Reformation, the Crusades, and a good chunk of the Dark Ages.

“The tree we have stumbled across is a unique individual,” said Stockholm University graduate student Paul J. Krusic, according to the Washington Post. “It cannot rely on a mother plant, or the ability to split or clone itself, to survive.”

He’s referring to trees that repeatedly clone themselves, so a tree living now is genetically identical to one living more than 10,000 years ago. Tree systems like those have been called the oldest trees in the world, but the individual trees live only a few hundred years before asexually spawning a replacement clone.

This tree has, itself, lived through more than a thousand years of history.

“Cloning is a very effective evolutionary survival strategy,” said Mr. Krusic. “It’s cool, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as you or I being left alone to our own devices and living for 1,000 years, like this tree.”

Some other trees have been estimated to be a lot older than Adonis, but therein lies the rub. Estimation does not make an ancient tree, at least in the eyes of scientists. This tiny tree creates one new trunk ring each year, making it comparatively easy for scientists to determine its age.

According to Mr. Krusic, who was part of the team that counted tree rings for the study, Adonis is actually more than 1,075 years old. The scientists who took the pencil-sized core samples from Adonis’ tree trunk didn’t reach the center of the tree, so it has more rings that they couldn’t count.

“I am impressed, in the context of western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree; all the empires, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, all the people living in this region,” Krusic said, according to Phys.org. “So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years.”

Elderly trees are rare in Europe, although they are relatively common in other parts of the world, including the United States. The reason has a lot to do with humans – the more human traffic there is in a region, the more likely a tree is to be chopped down for a human purpose, whether firewood or construction or to make room for development.

In Greece, Adonis and its neighbors are just a few miles from civilization, making their survival all the more unusual. Their proximity is very interesting to researchers, who plan to study fallen trees nearby to determine the what fingerprints humans have left on the region.

“That has a story in it. A story about climate change, about human influences,” said Krusic, according to the Washington Post. “That’s the real story we’re working on. This is just something we stumbled upon.”

Scientists say that many of the trees in the ancient Greek forest where Adonis was discovered are remniscent of elderly trees they have seen in the United States. And, as it happens, Adonis lives in nature’s version of a retirement home – several of Adonis’ neighbors are also around 1,000 years old.

Elsewhere, scientists are using trees to push back against human influence. In 2009, The Christian Science Monitor’s Andy Nelson reported on dendrochronologists in Vietnam, who use wood dating in ancient Vietnamese forests to monitor how forests have responded to monsoon seasons and precipitation.

“It’s not simply that we want to understand the rules of the climate system…. We want to understand how those rules interact,” said tree researcher Kevin Anchukaitis in 2009. “In chess, each move that a player makes in the game is going to influence the subsequent move, so there are long-term consequences of each individual move.”

More recently, in California, researchers seeking to understand how trees can combat drought and climate change have looked to the state’s famed sequoia trees, which have withstood extreme conditions while performing essential services to the environment, providing homes for countless animals and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 3rd. February 2016

Martin says Fianna Fáil can win most seats in the general election,

The party leader of FF says he has a ‘far stronger social conscience’ than any of its rivals.


The Fianna Fáil director of elections Billy Kelleher TD (left) and party leader Micheál Martin TD during the launch of Fianna Fáil’s general election campaign in Dublin on Wednesday last.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said his party is capable of winning the most seats in the general election and providing an alternative government to Fine Gael and Labour.

Speaking after the launch of Fianna Fáil’s election campaign in central Dublin on Wednesday, Mr Martin pointed to the party emerging as the largest after the 2014 local elections. He also said Fianna Fáil was more competitive than it had been given credit for in many of the constituencies.

In an interview today Wednesday, Mr Martin said though the local elections were a different type of election, the party had out-performed the polls. He argued that it could repeat the performance on February 26th – polling day.

Asked what the party would do if that were to happen, Mr Martin would not go into specifics.

“We will go into government, again deciding on whom the people decide to give the maximum number of votes to,” he said.

“Fine Gael had ruled out Fianna Fáil and we have ruled out them. Sinn Féin has ruled out Fianna Fáil but we have ruled out them for reasons we have already made clear.

“But there are other parties. Obviously we want to create a different type of Ireland in the next five years. That will be the litmus test of us going into government.”

70 candidates for Fianna Fáil.

Mr Martin told a press conference that the party was going to run an active campaign in every community. He said it was running 70 candidates, providing a mix of “proven experience and new faces”

“We will hold this Government to account and promote a positive message. We want an Ireland for all,” he said.

Mr Martin repeated his attack oin Fine Gael as a “party of the wealthy”. “Five budgets out of five were weighted in favour of the wealthiest,” he claimed.

He said Fianna Fáil was offering a choice on the way we want to take this country forward.

“The choice is between a party Fine Gael that wants to look after the wealthiest in our society and a party like Fianna Fáil that wants to look after all of our people,” he added.

“Getting access to health, young people getting access to education, creating decent quality jobs, good quality homes, and ending homelessness. These are our priority issues…That is a choice People need a choice. It can’t be a coronation.”

Asked was there one thing that distinguishesd Fianna Fáil from its rivals, he replied: “We have a far stronger social conscience in terms of getting a fairer society in place.”

He told the press conference that Fine Gael and Labour were claiming credit for measures they opposed before last election “I reject the notion that people must choose between a strong economy and decent society,” he said.

Ireland’s Election 2016 & some basics you need to know


The Taoiseach has announced the election will take place on Friday, February 26 and almost five years to the day since the last election.

This will make it the shortest campaign in the history of the State – 21 days pre-voting day.

The last General Election was held on February 25, 2011 so you might need a little refresher on how things work.

Here’s all of what you need to know.

The basics are:

  1. – You must be 18 or over to vote
  2. – A member’s official Irish title is Teachta Dála (TD) which in English means Deputy to the Dáil. To stand for election to the Dáil, a person must be at least 21.
  3. – The law states a General Election to Dáil Éireann must be held at least once every five years.
  4. – The country is divided into constituencies, each of which elects either three, four or five Members.
  5. – Under the Constitution, there must be at least one Member for every 20,000 to 30,000 people
  6. – The constituencies must be revised at least once in every 12 years. In practice, constituencies are revised on the publication of the results of each census.

What do TDs do?

They divide their time between their constituency (meeting local people and groups, holding advice clinics and working on local issues) and attendance in the Dáil and its specialist committees.

How many TDs are there?

There are at present 166 Members of the Dáil, representing 43 constituencies. However, that is set to change after the upcoming election.

The constituency commission in 2012 was given the task of reducing Dáil numbers to between 153 and 160. It was decided that 158 seats was the most appropriate number to meet the constitutional population to Dáil deputy requirement. Nearly 500 candidates will be competing for these 158 seats come February 26.

The number of 158 includes the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett, who will be automatically returned.

The number of constituencies was also reduced by three from 43 to 40.

That means that while the number of five-seat constituencies remains unchanged at 11, the number of three-seat constituencies will be 13 instead of 17 and the number of four-seat constituencies will be 16 instead of 15.

Who runs the country during an election?

The Taoiseach retains his role as do the ministers. The cabinet will still meet if necessary.

How are the votes counted?

Through Proportional Representation P.R.

On your ballot paper, you indicate your first choice by writing 1 and 2 opposite your second choice, 3 opposite your third choice and so on.

Essentially, if your first choice is either elected with a surplus of votes over the quota required to be elected or is eliminated, your vote is transferred to your second choice.If your second choice is elected or eliminated, your vote may be transferred to your third choice.

Confused? Don’t worry, we’ll publish a longer guide to PR in the coming weeks.

When will we know the results?

The count starts at 9am on the day after polling day. The new Dáil will meet on Thursday, March 10 at 10.30am.

Does this affect the Seanad?

An election to Seanad Éireann must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of Dáil Éireann.

Am I registered to vote?

The electorate, which is based on the new register of electors published on February 1, 2016, currently stands at approximately 3.2 million.

If you are unsure whether you are registered to vote, visit CheckThe Register.ie.

If you’re not registered, there is still time to be included on the Supplement to the Register by filling in theRFA2 form. The form then needs to be signed by a member of An Garda Síochána and received by your local council at least 15 working days before polling.

You can also register a change of address on the Supplement with the RFA3 form

HSE did not tell of family of foster home abuse due to ‘legal advice’


‘Ann’ continued to stay at foster home for four years after HSE removed last vulnerable adult

The HSE director general Tony O’Brien (above left pic) said Ann’s family had been encouraged to stop sending their daughter to the foster home from 2009 but were not told of the abuse concerns.

The HSE did not tell the family of a woman with severe intellectual disabilities of its concerns about a risk to her of sexual abuse at a foster home in which she was staying because its legal advice was not to do so.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) it was the HSE’s legal advice that, because there was a report being compiled for it on allegations that another woman in the foster home being referred to as Grace she was subject to sexual abuse, the HSE could not tell the second woman’s family the details of its concerns about the foster home.

The second woman, being referred to as Ann, continued to stay at the former foster home in the south east four years after the HSE had removed the last vulnerable adult it had placed there (Grace).

Ann went to the home for 21 years, between 1992, when she was 12, until October 2013. She spent 12 nights per fortnight in the home until the HSE eventually insisted her family stop placing her there, the Oireachtas committee was told.

Ann was brought there privately by her family, going home every second weekend and continued to stay at the home despite the fact that Grace had been removed in 2009 amid serious concerns about alleged rape and neglect.

The removal of Grace occurred 13 years after the HSE had ceased all new placements in the home due to the alleged abuse concerns.

The HSE had said Grace was the last person placed in the home. However, last weekend it emerged another vulnerable adult, Ann, had been staying there, though had not been placed there by the HSE.

Mr O’Brien said Ann’s family had been encouraged to stop sending their daughter there from 2009.

He agreed a number of contacts, including a HSE social worker, had told the local HSE team in Ann’s family’s area, that she should not still be staying at the home.

“During June 2011, having been contacted by the gardaí, the HSE team at local level engaged with [Ann’s] family again to confirm there was a Garda investigation, to advise them of concerns and to invite them to make direct contact with an Garda if they wished.”

Asked by PAC member John Deasy TD (FG), whether her family were told the “tenor” of the concerns about the home, whether they were told about the alleged sexual abuse at the home, Mr O’Brien said it was his “understanding” that they were not.

Ann’s family, despite the HSE’s invitation to them to place her in alternative care “confirmed they had no concerns regarding the foster family and wished to continue their part-time contact with the foster mother”, said Mr O’Brien.

Pat Healy, HSE national director for social care, said that because Ann was an adult at this stage the HSE had no legal capacity to stop her family placing her there or to stop the home having her.

In October 2013 however, the HSE “demanded the foster family cease all care activity which was either current or which they might be minded to engage in towards the future”.

Mary-Lou McDonald TD (SF) said the implication that the state had no responsibility for Ann’s welfare, reminded her of the arguments the State had made around the “private” placing of women in Magdalene laundries. She said the state had responsibilities toward people using the home as a care setting.

Mr O’Brien was severely criticised at the meeting for the HSE’s handling of the matter.

Mr Deasy asked Mr O’Brien whether it was true that neither the foster home nor Grace had been visited by a social worker between 2001 and 2007. Mr O’Brien said this was his understanding.

Mr Deasy said that wasn’t just a “missed opportunity” to save Grace, it was “extremely serious, negligent to extraordinary proportions”.

Mr O’Brien said he was concerned, if the HSE went back though files and cases over the years, they would “find issues in other parts of the country”, with regard to safeguards and protections of vulnerable children and adults.

Some 47 children spent time in the foster home between 1983 and 2013.


Leo Varadkar aware of foster home abuse allegations in 2014

Minister for Health says he received letter from whistleblower detailing sex claims


The Minister for Children James Reilly (left) and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar (right) during an address to Fine Gael candidates and supporters by Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD .

Minister for Health 70 candidates has confirmed he became aware of allegations of abuse at a foster home in late 2014.

Mr Varadkar said he received a letter from a whistleblower detailing sex abuse allegations at the foster care home in the south east.

He said he followed up with a meeting at an official level with Minister of State Kathleen Lynch and one of the whistleblowers in early 2015.

The Minister said: “The first thing we sought to establish was that nobody was still being put in risk and we did establish that right away that nobody was still being put at risk.

That was the most important thing. Anything else was about investigating what happened in the past. Two investigations had already occurred or were occurring at that stage.”

The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard how a young woman, who has an intellectual disability and was left for almost 20 years in a foster home which was the subject of serious concerns over sexual abuse.

’Grace’ had been placed there in 1989 and remained there until 2009, despite the fact that other foster children had been removed by 1996.

The Government has agreed in principle to establish a Commission of Investigation into the allegations.

Mr Varadkar said he has been informed by the Health Service Executivedirector general Tony O’Brien that the key people involved in keeping ‘Grace’ in the home no longer work in the public service.

“There are people who may have had a role on other levels who have roles in Tulsa and the HSE as well. Anybody in every walk of life should reflect on the decisions they make and consider what the right thing to do is but at the same time to not forget these are still allegations and allegations have to be properly investigated,” he said.

“People have a right to a fair hearing.”

Mr Varadkar said people must be held accountable but it should not be the media or politicians who make that judgement.

Ravens will move food if spying is a possibility, A study shows

Birds share human capacity to predict others’ behaviour even if competitor is hidden


Nevermore will this raven’s food above be stolen?

Ravens can assess the risk of being observed when hiding food and will change locations of a food cache if they think another raven has been spyingon them.

This seems a uniquely human capacity, to predict how another individual is thinking, but ravens can do it too even if the competitor ready to steal the food is hidden from sight.

Some animals may appear to have this skill, but it is difficult to prove, says Thomas Bugnyar and colleagues from the University of Vienna.

One bird may be responding to gaze clues rather than mental state, for example noting the line of sight of a another raven scoping out the hidden food.

To get around this the researchers trained ravens to use a peep hole to spy on one another. Sometimes the peep hole would be open and other times not, but the birds knew what another spying bird could see.

If a raven busy hiding food suddenly sees a possible thief it will change its behaviour in the sure knowledge it is being observed.

But the same evasive action occurs if the view is blocked other than through an open peep hole and the recorded sound of a raven is played. The raven making the cache knows it is probably being observed through the spy hole and acts accordingly.

It does not hesitate to hide food when it sees the peep hole is closed however and proceeds as if hidden from view even if it can hear a competitor in the other chamber.

“This strongly suggests that ravens make generalisations based on their experience and do not merely interpret and respond to behavioural cues from other birds,” the authors write in the journal Nature Communications.

This mental capacity is described as “theory of mind” and until now had only been seen in humans and non-human primates, the authors write.

“These findings confirm and unite previous work, providing strong evidence that ravens are more than mere behaviour-readers,

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 15th July 2015

Only just 46% of Irish Water clients have paid their bill


Irish Water is expected to announce today that less than half of its customers have paid water charges.

Just 46% of households who must pay have done so, the company will say, almost eight months to the day since the Coalition announced the revised flat-rate charging scheme.

Government sources confirmed the figures yesterday and said the board of Irish Water was being notified of the payments before they are announced by the semi-state company today.

“They are quite good given the opposition to the charges,” said a Government source. “They will climb substantially with the new measures coming in too. The problem is a lot of people leave it until the last minute.”

Households were given until the end of June to register with Irish Water to be allowed apply for conservation grants, which will be given to customers in September. Under the revised charging structure announced by the Government last November, single adult households in receipt of the grant will pay a maximum €60 a year while multi-adult residences must pay €160 a year.

However, there is no official deadline for when households must pay their bills. Under legislation passed by the Coalition last week, customers cannot be taken to court and forced to pay their charges until at least seven unpaid bills have passed — by which time it would be 2017.

People must have unpaid water bills of at least €500 before they are taken to court for debts to be deducted from salary, welfare or pensions.

In May, the Irish Examiner revealed the average rate of registration up until February was 69%, with 10 of 26 counties having registration rates above 75%.

As of last month, more than 1.3m people had registered with Irish Water. It is expected the company will today say that 1m of these are customers who are required to pay charges. The rest include households which, while not paying for charges because they are on water schemes or have their own wells, will be entitled to the conservation grants. This means 540,000 households, having registered as customers, have yet to pay charges.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said he and colleagues had tried six times over two months to obtain figures from Irish Water about the numbers who had paid their bills.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny surprised the Dublin TD when the Fine Gael leader said that Irish Water would reveal the data today. A Government spokesman said the Cabinet did not discuss the figures at its weekly meeting yesterday.

Irish Water refused to answer questions on the payment figures last night and would only say they would be released today.

The first billing cycle for Irish Water has just finished after bills for the first quarter of the year were delivered between April and last month. It is understood the board of Ervia, Irish Water’s parent firm, is aware of the level of payments.

The Government came under pressure in recent weeks to publish the payment figures after introducing sanctions or compliance measures to force tenants to pay charges and deduct people’s wages or dole if bills remain unpaid.

Anti-water charge campaigners are expected to use the low payment levels to criticise Irish Water and raise questions about whether the project has worked.

Meanwhile, the Right2Water campaign has announced proposals for a further national demonstration against water charges on August 29. “It’s very clear this government believes the water charges issue has gone away,” the group said in a statement. “We’re saying very firmly that it hasn’t and this will be the biggest issue when it comes to the next general election.”

The payment rates may also raise questions as to whether Irish Water will pass a Eurostat test this year as an independent entity

No qualified pancreas transplant surgeon available in Ireland

Seanad asks Leo to explain?

Health Minister Leo Varadkar forced to appear before Seanad tonight to explain the issue.


Leo Varadkar and Surgeon David Hikey now retired.

The Government suffered two defeats in the Seanad today.

Coalition senators were outvoted by the Opposition who demanded that Health Minister Leo Varadkar appear to discuss the issue of pancreas transplants.

The Government was defeated by 24 to 23 following a Fianna Fáil motion tabled by Kerry senator Mark Daly.

Fianna Fáil Seanad leader Darragh O’Brien told the Upper House: “We have been trying to get answers from Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, for some time now, on behalf of patients whose lives are at risk, as Ireland remains without any surgeon qualified to carry out pancreas transplants.’’

Mr Varadkar was forced to then appear at 9pm tonight to discuss the issue.

Later, a Fianna Fáil motion calling for a reversal of cuts to lone parents was passed.

A Fine Gael source said they expect further defeats in the Seanad in the coming weeks due to the Government’s minority.

IAG-Aer Lingus take-over deal cleared for by the EU


Merged IAG-Aer Lingus will have to offer for sale five pairs of landing slots at London Gatwick

The proposed €1.36 billion takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, has cleared its last major obstacle after the European Commission conditionally approved the deal yesterday evening.

IAG has committed to offering for sale five pairs of landing slots at London Gatwick, specifically for flights to Dublin and Belfast, to get the deal over the line. IAG has also promised the commission it will enter into agreements with IAG’s long-haul rivals to maintain route link-ups with Aer Lingus’s network.

The commission said it had concerns that the original terms of the merger would have lead to “insufficient competition on several routes”, including Dublin-London, Belfast-London and Dublin-Chicago. It said it also feared that IAG might try to prevent Aer Lingus from connecting its flights with those of IAG’s long-haul rivals. Since the deal was first notified to the commission on May 27th, however, IAG returned with specific competition remedy proposals to sway Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner, to rubber stamp the merger.

“By obtaining significant concessions . . . the commission has ensured that air passengers will continue to have a choice of airlines at competitive prices,” said Ms Vestager.

Under the terms of the approval, the merged IAG-Aer Lingus will have to offer for sale the five Gatwick slot pairs, although it is understood these will not necessarily be existing Aer Lingus slots. Iberia and British Airways, both owned by IAG, also own Gatwick slots. The commission has stipulated that whoever buys the slots will have to commit to use them for flights to Dublin and Belfast.

Aer Lingus and IAG confirmed to the stock market last night that at least two of the slot pairs must be used for flights to Dublin, while one must be used for Belfast. Aer Lingus shareholders are to vote tomorrow to approve measures designed to facilitate a commitment to the Government that connectivity will be maintained between Dublin and London Heathrow.

An Post seeks permission to offer customers current accounts


Providing banking services through post offices was recommended in a report done for Communications Minister Alex White in May

An Post has applied for a licence to allow it to offer current accounts to customers.

The move is at an early stage, but could provide a threat to the major banks. It is understood An Post is seeking to operate full current accounts.

Taxpayer-rescued banks have reacted to the financial crash by gradually removing free banking options for householders.

Now the 1,000-plus post offices countrywide could challenge the dominance of the main banks by offering better-value current accounts.

An Post has been trying to get back into consumer banking since Belgium bank Fortis pulled out of a joint venture with it, called Postbank, in 2010.

Post offices currently offer banking services for customers of AIB and Ulster Bank.

An Post does not need a banking partner to offer current accounts – day-to-day payments servicing accounts. Providing banking services through post offices was recommended in a report done for Communications Minister Alex White in May by a committee headed up by entrepreneur Bobby Kerr.

Dail Independents launch Social Democrats political party

Group pledges to abolish water charges and repeal the eighth amendment


A new party called the Social Democrats has been launched by three prominent Independent TDs: Catherine Murphy from Kildare North, Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly and Róisín Shortall who represents Dublin North West. Mary Minihan reports.

The three prominent Independent TDs who launched the Social Democrats party said they would insist on the abolition of water charges if negotiating to take part in a new government.

Catherine Murphy from Kildare North, Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly and Róisín Shortall, who represents Dublin North West, will share the leadership of the new party until after the general election.

“If we are in a position to be negotiating a programme for government, our position is that water charges would immediately be abolished. Our position is that the public ownership of the utility would be absolutely guaranteed,” Mr Donnelly said at the launch of the party.

“Irish Water is set up for privatisation. We would immediately remove that as an option. We would immediately pause the water metering implementation.”

Mr Donnelly said his household had not paid water charges “to the best of my knowledge”.

He said his family, part of “the negative equity generation”, had moved house three times in seven months. However, he said he “probably would” pay water charges, while Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall confirmed they had not paid.

Making their announcement at the Civic Offices in Wood Quay in Dublin, the trio said they wanted to see a 2:1 investment in public services relative to tax cuts in the upcoming budget.

They were critical of the Government’s proposed 50-50 split between tax cuts and spending increases.

They also said they were committed to extending paid parental leave to move towards a system where children could be cared for at home for at least the first 12 months of their lives.

Ms Murphy said the party hoped to attract “people of conviction” to contest the election under its banner. “Our intention is to deliver a social democratic vision that is very much in the Nordic tradition,” she said.

Asked about the party’s stance on abortion, Ms Murphy said they all agreed the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution had to be repealed and replaced by legislation.

There were a variety of views in society that needed to be adequately consulted so the vast majority of people could subscribe to the legislation, she added.

Ms Shortall said the “policy-based” party hoped to contest the election in every constituency.

She said the party would make a decision about a leader after the election, when she hoped its Dáil representation would be much larger.

She said the party had done a lot of work on its proposals to enhance childcare. Quality of and access to pre-school services should be improved, she said.

The party is also proposing the establishment of “child clinics” in all communities, “so that we can practice that principle of prevention and early intervention when it comes to wellbeing, particularly in relation to children”.

Ms Shortall said nobody else had been approached to run for the party, but that would happen. She also hoped people would approach the party in the coming weeks and months.

Independent Senator Katherine Zappone, who was previously in talks with the TDs, announced last month she would contest the Dáil election as an Independent candidate in Dublin South West.

A document distributed by the party at the launch event said its key policy areas were “strong economy, open government and social vision”.

The party’s values were listed as: “progress; equality; democracy and sustainability”.

Mr Donnelly said the traditional Irish approach to planning, investment and public services was short-term. “The Irish people deserve more than this and are demanding more than this.”

There was a growing demand for better education, healthcare, jobs and society, he said.

“New vision, fresh ideas, better approaches, these are what need to be put in place and ultimately that is what today and the Social Democrats are about.”

Ms Murphy said the Social Democrats wanted to end the practice of judges being appointed by politicians.

She said they wanted to see the Official Secrets Act replaced because they believed that openness was the key to good governance.

“We’re not interested in getting into auction politics. We believe in option politics,” she said.

She said the “standard merry-go-round of scandal, inquiry and report, but no real lessons learned” had to stop. It was “corrosive and offensive” to the values of Irish people

Seaweed that tastes like bacon/rashers


Close up of dulse seaweed being grown and harvested at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport Oregon. Chris Langdon has been growing and studying it for decades and is now working with the Food Innovation Center in Portland on creating healthly and appealing dishes.

Oregon State University researcher Chris Langdon wasn’t looking for the next hipster snack when he started growing a special strain of seaweed 15 years ago. But he may have found it.

Dulse is a leafy red seaweed that grows along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It’s packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, and contains up to 16 percent protein by dry weight.

“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” Langdon said in a statement, referring to a slug-like mollusk popular on restaurant tables in some parts of the world.

But when he tried the dulse himself, he realized it was surprisingly delicious — at least his version of it.

“In Europe, they add [dulse] powder to smoothies, or add flakes onto food,” Langdon said. “There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

When he brought in the marketing savvy of OSU business school teacher Chuck Toombs and the expert taste buds of research chef Jason Ball, dulse’s potential as people food floated to the surface.

“Dulse is a super-food, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” Toombs said. “And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”

Currently there are no commercial dulse-growing operations in the U.S. harvesting the plant for human consumption. But Langdon has patented his strain and Toombs’ MBA students are preparing a marketing plan for a new line of specialty foods.

“The dulse grows using a water recirculation system,” Langdon said. “Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 12th July 2015

Merkel & Co turns the screw on Greece

Intense pressure put on Alexis Tsipras to accept tough reforms and austerity measures


Tonight’s talks have been described as a “mental waterboarding” of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

GREECE has now been presented with the Eurozone’s demands for a new bailout programme, and the proposals on the table would see the Greeks forced to vote through sweeping changes by Wednesday night.

The proposals would see Greece streamlining its VAT procedures, broadening its tax base, and implementing a raft of spending cuts among other demands.

Premier Alexis Tsipras was tonight put through the wringer in a meeting with Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, where he was left under no illusions that the swift reforms are expected to be implemented this week.

Greek officials are believed to be ‘humiliated’ by today’s events, and highly critical of the hardline stance being taken by German Chancellor Merkel.

Fianna Fáil in panic as Bertie Ahern will defends the Irish boom

Ireland better off even after bust, ex-Taoiseach to claim


The former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country’s history

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country’s history.

Mr Ahern is expected to make the controversial claim in evidence when he appears before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry next Thursday, the Sunday Independent understands.

Senior Fianna Fail sources have said the party is gripped with “alarm” and “deep nervousness” over Mr Ahern’s testimony to the inquiry, fearing it could precipitate a backlash in the opinion polls.

“God knows what he will say, there is certainly a fear he could wipe three or four points off our poll rating if it goes badly,” one senior Fianna Fail party figure said.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, former minister and aunt of the late Brian Lenihan, Mary O’Rourke, said she is “alarmed” at the potential fallout of Mr Ahern’s sworn evidence at the inquiry.

She said: “If he could replicate Brian Cowen, he’d do well. I am a bit afraid of what Bertie Ahern might say.”

His appearance comes as the Sunday Independent has learned that economist and Central Bank director Alan Gray, who was contacted by Mr Cowen on the night of the bank guarantee, is to be called to give evidence, given his central role in events.

Inquiry members have conceded that they had not realised the significance of Mr Gray’s involvement but now consider him to be a key witness.

Following the evidence of his successor Brian Cowen to the inquiry, it is expected that Mr Ahern will tell members that the crash saddened him and that he regrets what happened.

It is expected he will say the crash left him devastated, but it is understood that Mr Ahern will strongly argue that even with the crash, the policies he and his governments pursued have left Ireland a better country and its people better off.

He is likely to state that it would be wrong to say that all of the Celtic Tiger gains were eviscerated by the crash.

Mr Ahern is expected to say that while he did not get everything right during his time in office, he feels he sincerely tried his best to do the right thing by the Irish people.

While Mr Ahern – who was forced to resign from Fianna Fail in 2012 in the wake of the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report – is also expected to express some regret for the crash, he is expected to express his happiness at getting a lot of things right during his tenure.

Mr Ahern is expected to claim in his evidence that his policies and those of his government during the Celtic Tiger years changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The Sunday Independent understands that Mr Ahern will also attempt to spread the blame for the crash onto State and international agencies for failing to diagnose the crash.

He is expected to specifically criticise the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the IMF, it is believed. In spreading the blame, Mr Ahern is expected to point to the economic analysis of a host of international economic agencies, including the IMF, EC and the OECD, as setting the stage for the country’s economic outlook.

It is not the first time Mr Ahern has sought to spread the blame for not spotting the crisis in the Irish banks.

On the day he left the Dail for the last time, Mr Ahern said: “If I have any regrets, it is that I would have loved if somebody somewhere would have told me what was going on in the banks in this country, but no one ever did, we get wise after the event.”

Mr Ahern is also expected to staunchly defend the role and influence of social partnership, saying it helped to broaden the influence beyond the reach of a small group of elites.

He is expected to argue that it is important that access to government is granted to a broad group – rather than a small elite, and that is what social partnership allowed.

But, Mr Ahern’s appearance has raised fears within FF as to the impact of what he might say on the party so close to the general election.

People have pointed to recent utterances where he was critical of former colleagues and fear he could use the inquiry to put pressure on party leader Micheal Martin, whom he has been publicly critical of.

His pointed criticism of the late Brian Lenihan in a TV programme on his legacy raised eyebrows.

“He was unnecessarily sharp, but I would think that. Another part of me would think that is just Bertie,” Ms O’Rourke said yesterday.

Mr Ahern also recently made a point at a recent O’Donovan Rossa commemoration at Glasnvein, that he was “no longer a member of Fianna Fail”.

Leading members of Fianna Fail have expressed their happiness at how well the Brian Cowen hearings went and said that government attempts to use the inquiry to damage Fianna Fail have backfired.

Fianna Fail TD and Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness said: “If it was meant to be a stitch up of Fianna Fail it hasn’t worked.

“It has failed to materialise to the extent the government parties had hoped it would.”

Health crisis mud beginning to stick to Leo Varadkar

One year in charge and it’s going wrong for health Minister Varadkar.


It was great for a while, wasn’t it? The more Leo Varadkar says he would do nothing about the health system, the more people thought he was deadly.

For months after becoming health minister, Varadkar won plaudit after plaudit for lowering expectations for what he would do before the general election.

But, a year into his reign, King Leo’s crown is beginning to slip, as the murky reality of the worst department of government begins to get the better of him.

It is now a measure of how his first year has gone, one suspects that Taoiseach Enda Kenny would be more than happy to reappoint Leo Varadkar to the quagmire of the Department of Health after the next election.

Varadkar’s move to Hawkins House one year ago was significant on two fronts.

From the Government’s perspective, it put an end to the shambolic era of Dr James Reilly, who, through his Universal Health Insurance plan, placed the financial viability of the State at risk, according to money minister Brendan Howlin.

Three years of over-promising and under-delivering had risked sinking the Coalition on more than one occasion.

Ruairi Quinn, when education minister, famously told his party colleagues at a private meeting that concerns of backbenchers about Dr Reilly were “shared by their Cabinet colleagues”.

But for Varadkar, the move into health would be the greatest test of his political and intellectual skill set, given the myriad of daily crises faced. If Varadkar managed to get to the next election unscathed, then his leadership ambitions or at least his promotion ambitions will not have been dented.

So, on taking office, Varadkar immediately, and very deliberately, set about doing everything differently from Reilly.

From his first press conference on the plinth in Leinster House on the day the reshuffle happened, Varadkar lowered everyone’s expectations as to what he would do.

He had only 18 months, couldn’t fix a health system in that time, he said. Rather he would tinker with a few bits and bobs, put some manners on the budget and hopefully hand the grenade over to someone else.

By immediately saying he wasn’t going to bother to try and transform the system, people couldn’t ask him why he wasn’t transforming the health system.

A short time later, he dumped Reilly’s beloved child of UHI from a height, saying the timescale put forward by his bumbling predecessor was too ambitious. In political speak, this meant it was all but dead.

Being “slapped down” by Kenny at the start of September over UHI appeared to only increase the lusty anticipation of what life under Leo would be like within Fine Gael.

Varadkar also began talking of the need for a “realistic budget” in Health for 2015 in the run-up to the October Budget day, and for the first time since taking office in 2011, Howlin had the capacity to accede to that request. And unlike Reilly, who lost out time and time again, the new minister got the extra funds.

His personal approval rating soared after he became the first openly gay minister to reveal his sexuality earlier this year.

But the last six months have seen a barrage of negative news stories which are beginning to take the gloss off Varadkar’s halo.

We have had the disturbing Prime Time expose into disability care added to a series of negative inspection reports into disability services, deeply alarming stories about the standard of care at the country’s maternity hospitals, record-high numbers of patients waiting on trolleys as well as ever-lengthening waiting times for treatments.

Latest figures show that the number of people waiting more than a year for an outpatient appointment rose to 61,400 at the end of December, with 385,781 in total waiting to be seen.

He was caught on the hop when, in January, he was on his holidays in Miami when the number of patients on trolleys topped 600.

In April, Varadkar got an additional €70m to address hospital overcrowding and to cut waiting times for patients.

Most of the money went on the nursing home support scheme in a bid to remove so-called “bed blockers” out of the system, but critics have branded this as a sticking-plaster solution.

Clinicians have argued that since the 1980s, almost 2,500 acute hospital beds have been removed from the system, and with an ageing population, the shortfall has resulted in the emergency department log jams. They argue the way to resolve the issue is to open more beds.

Varadkar has also come in for criticism from his own friend and former colleague, Lucinda Creighton, after he appeared to suggest UHI was still alive. Creighton has expressed astonishment at the revelation that just five members of staff within the Department of Health are working on the government’s highly touted Universal Health Insurance policy.

Commenting on the skeleton nature of the staff, Ms Creighton said: “The revelation that just five staff are now assigned to the Universal Health Insurance unit within the Department of Health in 2015 is indicative of how far the issue has slipped down the Coalition political priority list.”

But even this week, Varadkar has drawn the ire of Howlin after he suggested he would need another €1bn to safely deliver healthcare.

Howlin, on Wednesday, said: “A billion seems to be the annual figure that ministers for health demand, it’s a nice round figure, and for the four years I’ve been here, it’s the sum looked for.”

Varadkar is clearly a capable politician and a man of real intellect, but the stark realities appear to be getting the better of him.

Water protesters ‘trap a Labour Senator in his car’


A Labour senator Denis Landy has revealed how he was trapped inside his car, while bottles and stones were thrown at it, during a water charge protest in Dublin last week.

Senator Denis Landy, aged 53, said that he and a member of his staff were trapped in the car for about 20 minutes by protesters while he tried to get to Leinster House.

The Carrick-on-Suir native said: ”It was extremely unpleasant to be surrounded by people firing implements at your car.

“This is our national parliament and we should be allowed to come and go in a democracy without being subject to that type of abuse.”

He said that the protest delayed him by more than three hours.

He added: “I originally wanted to leave at 6pm for a meeting, but eventually left at 7.30pm and again my car was surrounded on Kildare Street so I had no option but to abandon it and leave.”

Higher education could increase your life expectancy


Education is pretty important. A new study reveals how less-educated counterparts were more likely to deal with certain health risks.

New findings published in the journal PLOS ONE suggest that getting a college degree could actually reduce the risk of early mortality.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina discovered that going back to high school to finish degrees helped avert as many deaths as smokers who chucked the habit.

The study noted how those who attain higher education–namely a high school diploma or college degree–have a much lower mortality rate due to associated factors such as healthier behavior, enhanced cognitive performance, higher income and overall psychological well being.

During the study, researchers examined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Health Interview Survey and other information, looking at data from 1 million people between the ages of 1986 and 2006. Focusing on those born in 1925, 1935 and 1945, findings revealed that over 145,000 deaths could have potentially been postponed if many of the participants had just received their high school diploma or GED.

Furthermore, the study results showed that close to 110,000 deaths may have been avoided if adults with some college had gone on to attain their bachelor’s degree.

“Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits,” said researchers Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health. “In addition to education policy’s obvious relevance for improving learning and economic opportunities, its benefits to health should also be thought of as a key rationale. The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 10th February 2015

Finance Minister Michael Noonan ‘pessimistic’ a solution can be found for Greece


The Irish finance Minister Michael Noonan has said he is pessimistic at this stage that a solution can be found for Greece.

The minister, who is travelling to Brussels tomorrow for an emergency meeting of Eurozone finance ministers, told TDs tonight that he did not favour a debt write-down for the country.

Asked if he was optimistic about a solution being found, he replied: “Today I’m pessimistic.

“Because with the various reports I’m reading in the media and the various briefing notes that I get, I don’t see the basis for a solution emerging yet. Many of the proposals that are emanating are, on the face of it, technically impossible.”

And he said he couldn’t predict what would happen over the coming days, but he said the Greek government had to set out what it wanted, and then the focus would shift to the ECB and European Commission to respond, followed by European governments.

Mr Noonan told the Oireachtas Finance Committee that there was a major humanitarian issue in Greece, and that he had sympathy with the Greek people, but he said he wasn’t in favour of a debt write-off. Instead, he suggested he was in favour of suspending the repayment of debt.

“We won’t favour any write-offs of debt, because if you write off debt, it makes a hole in everyone’s balance sheet,” he said.

“But if you park debt, and even if there’s no interest being paid on it, the debt owed to you is still there as an asset on the  balance sheet even if it’s costing the recipient nothing to receive it. So I think there’s space there.

“I want Greece to stay in the Eurozone, so I wouldn’t favour any strategy that would encourage, induce or drive Greece out of the Eurozone.”

Mr Noonan said Ireland had no contact from the Greek authorities either at ministerial or ambassadorial level.

Mr Noonan said there was a problem with the way the bailout programme was implemented in Greece because structural reforms were not made.

“Sovereign countries have responsibilities for running their country, and they have responsibilities for the welfare of their people. The Greek authorities over a number of years did not take the same action as the Irish authorities, the Portuguese authorities or the Spanish authorities.”

Meanwhile, G20 finance ministers tonight urged Greece and its creditors to resolve their difference. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew cautioned against “casual talk” that Greece could leave the Euro and recommended a “pragmatic approach” in which the parties can agree on terms that are mutually agreeable.

Earlier, UK Chancellor George Osborne said a Greek exit from the Euro would be very difficult for the world economy.

13 ‘significant’ breech births in Drogheda Hospital an audit reveals


HSE says cases involve diagnosis in advanced labour at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital

A HSE audit has found 13 ‘significant incidents’ where a breech birth was diagnosed in advanced labour in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda between May 2012 and June 2014. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Thirteen “significant incidents” where a breech birth was diagnosed in advanced labour occurred in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda over a two-year period, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The death of a baby in the hospital in 2013 followed an undiagnosed breech and this is under examination by the local coroner, the HSE said in a statement.

An internal clinical audit, prompted by the death, established breech was not diagnosed before labour in 21 cases between May 2012 and June 2014. During this period, 7,667 babies were delivered, with 221 of them in the breech position.

“Overall, approximately 4 per cent of babies will be breech at term. It is widely recognised that even in experienced hands there will be a number of undiagnosed breech presentations in labour,” the HSE said.

“It is important to recognise that these 21 cases are not all critical incidents. Breech diagnosed in early labour is not considered a critical incident and would not usually be reported. However, breech diagnosed in advanced labour is a significant incident and would usually be reported.”

The audit found eight of the 21 cases were diagnosed in very early labour, while 13 were diagnosed in later labour.

According to the statement, the audit was not a review or incident investigation of the 21 cases, but was conducted in order to identify if the rate of undiagnosed breech in the hospital was within an acceptable range.

The rate of undiagnosed breech in the hospital was 9.5 per cent of breech births, compared to an expected rate of 20-25 per cent suggested in international studies.

The 21 births included eight midwife-led patients and 13 in consultant-led units.

In 2007, a coroner returned a verdict of medical misadventure in the case of baby Shane McArdle, who died less than 24 hours after being delivered in a breech position at Our Lady of Lourdes. The breech went undiagnosed.

Babies born in the breech position are delivered buttocks or feet first, as opposed to the head. Many breech births are delivered by Caesarean section.

Last month, it emerged seven births involving oxygen deprivation at Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe, two of which resulted in death, are under investigation. Separately, some 170 births in recent years are under review by a HSE panel following complaints from patients about a number of maternity units

Varadkar denies plan to require patients to have insurance to access certain GP procedures


Minister rejects warning by Irish Medical Organisation

“Insurers should cover more procedures being done in primary rather than in hospitals, which is much more expensive”

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has denied the Government has plans to require patients to have health insurance to access certain procedures and services provided by their GPs.

He said the Department of Health had launched a public consultation process in late December 2014 on the scope for private health insurers to cover a fuller minimum range of services provided by GPs in primary-care settings .

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said on Tuesday that the Government was “preparing a mandate that will require patients to have health insurance to access certain procedures and services through their GPs”.

The IMO said the introduction of mandatory private health insurance to fund GP services would destroy many of the positive characteristics of the current GP system in Ireland.

Dr Ray Walley, the chairman of the IMO’s GP committee, said “such a move would see GPs being forced to treat patients differently depending on whether they had insurance or not, that the profitability of insurance companies would force behaviour and business changes on GP practices, that same-day appointments would become a thing of the past, and that independent GPs would be replaced by corporate GP practices with reduced availability of GPs in rural Ireland”.

Mr Varadkar said there were no plans to require anyone to have insurance and therefore it would not involve any change to the law.

He said the initiative launched by the Department of Health in December related to “people who do not have medical cards and now have to pay their GP the full cost of visits and procedures out of pocket”.

“The Government is looking for ways in which more people can get better value from health insurance if they chose to to have it. This would involve more people being reimbursed for GP visits and procedures by their insurers.

“Some people already have insurance policies that covers some of their primary-care costs but most don’t. For example, this means that if they have their in- grown toenail removed in a hospital they are covered by their insurer but if their GP does it they are not and have to pay out of pocket. That makes no sense. Insurers should cover more procedures being done in primary rather than in hospitals, which is much more expensive.”

The Department of Health said the public consultation process was not linked to the Government’s plan for the introduction of universal health insurance.

The department said 29 submissions had been received as part of the consultation process from stakeholders, representative and interest groups and other interested parties. It said these were currently being considered.

ESA to launch reusable spacecraft into low Earth orbit


Intermediate Experimental Vehicle expected to splash down in Pacific after 1hr 40m

File image of a March 2008 launch from the European Space Agency’s Kourou facility in French Guiana.

The European Space Agency has an important launch on Wednesday from its Kourou launch pad in French Guiana.

The launch is a flight-test of a reusable vehicle that will provide service for visits to low Earth orbit.

Known as the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle or IXV, it is about the size of a family car and weighs about two tonnes.

A European Vega rocket will lift it onto a suborbital path and then release it 340km up and it will continue to climb to about 412km before beginning its short return journey, the agency said.

The flight should prove the IXV can return from space safely. It is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean after a total mission time of one hour and 40 minutes.

Flight controllers will use thrusters and aerodynamic flaps like a remote control plane to manoeuvre the craft when in full use.

Irish involvement

There is significant Irish involvement in the IXV, according to Tony McDonald, manager of ESA programmes at Enterprise Ireland.

The Dublin subsidiary of US aerospace company Curtiss-Wright, which employs about 140 people, was involved in developing some of the avionics systems controlling the vehicle.

“It is an experimental re-entry vehicle and it will prove the technology works and can be used on future missions,” Mr McDonald said.

“Proof that space technology works is key when you enter the marketplace. You need show the technology works in the space environment.”

Ireland has 50 companies involved in space technology, employing about 2,000 people, he said.

Some are involved in flight activity, but many are also taking technology developed for space and then using it in downstream non-space sectors such as the aircraft industry and medical devices.

Curtiss-Wright has a long history in engineering, given it arose from the original company set up by the Wright brothers after their successful early flights. The company is also involved in “mission critical” data collection as the IXV is put through its paces during the flight.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 25th January 2015

The generation game? Who are Ireland’s future political leaders

Who of today’s strong performers could become tomorrow’s political figureheads?

In politics, predictions made when there is no short-term prospect of a change of leader can become moot by the time that change occurs.

In the past it has been generally easier to predict leaders on the Fianna Fáil side. Micheál Martin, Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds and Charles Haughey were all obvious contenders. In marked contrast, Enda Kenny would not have featured as a strong contender on the Fine Gael side in the late 1990s, but then circumstances conspired to elevate him to the leadership.

Which of today’s strong performers could become tomorrow’s political figureheads?

FINE GAEL? Leo Varadkar
One of the most capable performers in the Dáil, he has been a rising star since emerging on the scene a decade ago. He is very bright, ideologically driven, a clear thinker. He can absorb lots of information and then does what few politicians do well: makes clear decisions and shows good management skills. There’s a bit of spin to his straight-talker reputation. He is not collegial, which sometimes annoys colleagues. It’s impossible to say if his disclosure last weekend that he is gay will have an impact, positive or negative, on his prospects.

Simon Coveney. ?
He’s still in his early 40s but has been around for a long time. He’s not the world’s greatest debater and is very much a policy and details person. He has been a good Minister for Agriculture and thinks his way through positions – he has taken a contrarian stand, for example, saying “clean and green” Irish agriculture should get exemptions from climate-change action. Comes from a long-established Fine Gael family and would appeal to traditionalists. His comments this week about potentially sharing power with Fianna Fáil were quite damaging to him.

Frances Fitzgerald. ?
Unlike Varadkar and Coveney, Fitzgerald sided strongly with Enda Kenny in the last leadership battle. She was rewarded with a senior ministry and has been promoted to Justice. She’s also playing a key role in electoral strategy. Some colleagues criticise her for being slow to decide on issues such as publication of the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Others like her calm and steady style. It has certainly worked for her since she took over from Alan Shatter. The children’s-referendum campaign was not her finest hour, however, and the same-sexmarriage referendum will be a huge test.

LABOUR, Alan Kelly
Kelly could be the first leader of Labour based outside Dublin since Dick Spring, two decades ago. He trounced the opposition in the deputy-leadership contest and is the favourite to succeed Joan Burton when she steps down. He has a reputation as being assertive, although some colleagues would prefer a Labour leader who was subtler and more urbane.

Alex White,
If you are looking for subtle and urbane look no farther than the deputy for Dublin South. He contested the leadership and has loyal supporters but has not made the same ministerial mark as Kelly. It depends on what kind of leader Labour wants after the next election. White might be seen as a good compromise or caretaker choice. His main challenge is trying to retain his seat.

FIANNA FÁIL Michael McGrath
It’s very strange for the leader of Fianna Fáil and its finance spokesman to share a constituency. It is a sign of Michael McGrath’s strength that he managed to win a second seat for Fianna Fáil in Cork South Central in 2011. McGrath, an accountant, is very assured in his brief and a prodigiously hard worker. He has a quiet, self-confident style and is not given to dramatics. He’s the obvious frontrunner in Fianna Fáil. What might stand against him is that he’s quite conservative on moral questions.

Billy Kelleher
Fianna Fáil has a handful of bright TDs in their 30s and 40s, including Timmy Dooley, Niall Collins, Dara Calleary and Barry Cowen. But the popular Billy Kelleher has been very strong since taking over the health portfolio. Humorous and puckish, he can also bring gravitas to his Dáil performances when required, and has delivered well-researched critques of health policy. He is also more liberal than McGrath. He made an outstanding speech last year on abortion.

SINN FÉIN, Mary Lou McDonald
How long more will Gerry Adams remain as leader? How long is a piece of string? To the outside world Mary Lou McDonald seems the obvious choice to succeed him. She is articulate, intelligent and politically ruthless when necessary. She appeals to non-Sinn Féin voters in her roles as deputy leader and spokeswoman on public expenditure. But although her defence of Gerry Adams and her recent use of Dáil privilege to smear, without any evidence, former politicians as Ansbancher account holders may appeal to core supporters, they could dilute her appeal to prospective supporters.

Pearse Doherty,
He has mellowed a lot in the past few years. The first Sinn Féin politician to give credibility to the finance brief, he is an excellent debater and commands the portfolio very well. Doherty discounts any leadership ambition but is the closest rival to McDonald in the South. The two strongest northern contenders are John O’Dowd and Conor Murphy.


Lucinda Creighton, There’s no doubt that Lucinda Creighton will lead her new party – whatever they decide to call themselves – into the next Dáil and possibly into government. She is outspoken and very ideological and would have been seen as a potential future leader if she had stayed in Fine Gael. The new party will be a big gamble for Creighton: the weight of history is against smaller parties surviving beyond the medium term. At present it seems she has burned her bridges with Fine Gael, but, like her political forebear in Connacht James Dillon, she may eventually return to the fold.

Shane Ross, who is as opportunistic as he is talented, is likely to lead a group of Independents into the next Dáil and possibly into the next government. Ross does passion and outrage better than most Irish politicians and is astute when it comes to choosing his campaigns. A brilliant speaker, he also has a knack of leaving his past behind. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Michael Fingleton and Anglo Irish Bank in the past. Ross may be a maverick but as a former stockbroker and senior journalist with the Independent group he is seen very much as an establishment figure. If he and his colleagues enter government he would be the obvious contender for the most senior ministerial portfolio on offer.

NEW LEFT ALLIANCE, Richard Boyd-Barrett and Paul Murphy?
It’s unlikely that any alliance that comes out of smaller parties and groups will itself become a party in the short term. So the question of a leader may be moot. That might not be a good tactic, as the lack of a leadership figure may have contributed to the demise of the United Left Alliance. If there is a new alliance the most obvious contenders to lead it would be Richard Boyd-Barrett and Paul Murphy. They are similar in terms of style and presentation – down to the megaphones that both carry in the boots of their cars. Boyd-Barrett, who represents People Before Profit in Dún Laoghaire, has been a very effective TD and brought a lot of visibility to the street campaigns and protest favoured by the militant left. Murphy is a recent arrival but is committed and well informed. He got a savaging from opponents for the water-charge protest against Joan Burton, but the controversy did him little harm among his supporters.

Aer Lingus ‘to accept’ bid from British Airways owner IAG

Irish airline Aer Lingus is set to approve a new takeover bid by British Airways owner IAG, 

IAG, which also controls Iberia in Spain, has submitted a fresh bid – which could be approved next week – of around €2.50 (£1.87) per share.

The deal – which values the carrier at about €1.3bn (£971m) – could face political resistance because the Irish government still owns 25% of the firm.

The Irish carrier rebuffed two bids from IAG last year.

By acquiring Aer Lingus, IAG would gain more take-off and landing slots at Heathrow – valued at around £30m per pair – allowing it to operate more flights.

Senior Gardaí broke rules on penalty points


The Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald insists there is no longer “any hiding place” for Gardaí who cancel penalty points.

She was commenting after it emerged an internal Garda report found six senior Gardaí cancelled penalty points in breach of policy after the Garda Commissioner ordered that the practice should cease.

These included a number of cases where the officers cancelled points outside their area.

The report, which will be seen by the Cabinet next week, examined allegations made by a Garda whistleblower.

Sergeant Maurice McCabe claimed last September that abuse of the penalty point system was continuing despite efforts by senior Garda management to clamp down on questionable practices.

Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan introduced a new policy last June that penalty points could only be cancelled centrally. Despite this, some 54 breaches later took place.

The report revealed that in nine cases, six superintendents or acting-superintendents cancelled penalty points.

This was done either in breach of the policy or outside their own district.

The incidents occurred despite the fact officers had previously been disciplined over cancellations and the issuing of firm directions by Commissioner O’Sullivan and her predecessor, Martin Callinan.

The report also revealed that at least two gardaí had points cancelled in questionable circumstances and one superintendent cancelled penalty points four times without signing the forms properly.

Another garda had penalty points cancelled a total of six times, but his previous history was never checked.


The cases are being forwarded to the Garda Ombudsman, although a number of officers involved will escape punishment as they have already retired.

Ms Fitzgerald said the report represented “a cultural shift” for the force.

“I welcome it in terms of the detail that is in it, the monitoring that it represents and the evaluation of the system both before and after June,” she said.

“It is a cultural shift. There is no hiding place for anyone.”

The establishment of a new Garda unit with powers to verify reasons for cancellations is one of 20 recommendations in the report.

Mary Robinson says 2015 will be a crucial year for climate change


UN Special Envoy says greater urgency needed to tackle issue, Former President and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change Mary Robinson.

UN Special Envoy for Climate Change Mary Robinson has said that 2015 will be a crucial year for climate change.

She said December’s UN conference in Paris will offer an opportunity to set binding climate targets that will be critical the world’s development goals.

The World Economic Forum in Davos, the former President of Ireland said that there needed to be a greater urgency around tackling climate change this year.

“I follow the science very closely. We have very little time left. We are the last generation to be able to do something about climate, and the first generation to understand how serious it is.”

Mrs Robinson participated in a private climate change discussion forum in Davos on Friday alongside businessman Richard Branson and other senior business and civic society leaders. The forum was organised by Bteam, a non-profit initiative which brings together business leaders with a commitment to sustainable development and climate change targets.

Speaking following the meeting, Mrs Robinson said that Davos offered a good opportunity to highlight climate and development issues.

“Davos brings together business leaders, political leaders, civil society leaders and faith leaders,” she said. “Unusually in this meeting there was a common purpose. The business leaders are going to share what they’re doing, the civic society leaders are going to share their ideas and we’re going to cross-message.”

Asked about the role business could play in the fight against climate change, Mrs Robinson, who chairs the Mary Robinson Foundation- Climate Justice centre, said that there was already significant buy-in from the business community.

“I think there are a very significant number of business leaders who are way ahead of politicians at the moment in understanding the climate issue, and understanding that you can’t do business in a climate-conflicted world and that’s the way they see it.”

Mrs. Robinson also pointed out that the session had been co-chaired by three women – herself, Christiana Figuerafrom Costa Rica, who is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Chang and Nigerian-born Amina J Mohammed, the special advisor to the UN Secretary general on post-2015 development goals. “Women are still not very present in Davos so I think we sent a good signa,” she said.

Climate change has emerged as a major theme on the agenda of the World Economic Forum in Davos in recent years, thanks to the participation of high-profile campaigners such as former US vice-president Al Gore and Matt Damon, who last year addressed the forum on the challenges surrounding the provision of clean water globally.

Speaking at a session on Saturday, Mexican chemist Mario Molina – who won the Nobel Prize for his research on the impact of CFC’s on the ozone layer – said scientists needed to do more to communicate the threat of climate change. Mr Molina also said that corporates should be fined for their emissions.

Tackling climate change also featured in the key-note speech from French president Francois Hollande, who will host the global environment conference at the end of the year. He urged business leaders to contribute to a fund to fight climate change on Friday.

Outlining the impact of increasing CO2 levels on temperature in a key-note address, climate change campaigner and former US vice-president Al Gore, said the average global temperature has increased dramatically in the last decade, giving rise to extreme weather events. “The cumulative amount of man- made global warming pollution now in the atmosphere traps as much extra heat energy every day that would be relied by 400,000 Hiroshima class atomic weapons going off every day,” he said.

He said that 14 of the 15 hottest years measured had been in the first 14 years of the 21st century, with 2014 being the hottest year on record.

New Horizons probe eyes Pluto for a historic encounter


When it gets to Pluto, the New Horizons probe will have a packed schedule of observations

A Nasa probe is to start photographing the icy world of Pluto, to prepare itself for a historic encounter in July.

The New Horizons spacecraft has travelled 5bn km (3bn miles) over nine years to get near the dwarf planet.

And with 200m km still to go, its images of Pluto will show only a speck of light against the stars.

But the data will be critical in helping to align the probe properly for what will be just a fleeting fly-by.

Pluto will be photographed repeatedly during the approach, to determine the probe’s position relative to the dwarf planet, explained Mark Holdridge, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Baltimore.

“We then perform a number of correction manoeuvres to realign our trajectory with the reference trajectory, thus ensuring we hit our aim point to travel through the Pluto system,” he said.

Any initial correction is likely to be made in March.

The Pluto system has five known moons. Others may be discovered in the coming months

When New Horizons arrives at Pluto it will be moving so fast – at almost 14km/s – that going into orbit around the distant world is impossible; it must barrel straight through instead.

One complication is that the seven different instruments aboard the spacecraft need to work at different distances to get their data, and so the team has constructed a very elaborate observation schedule for them all.

But what this means is that very precise timing will be required to make sure the flyby runs smoothly.

The closest approach to Pluto is set for around 11:50 GMT on 14 July – at a miss distance of roughly 13,695km from the surface.

Mission planners want the exact timings nailed to within 100 seconds. New Horizons will know then where and when to point the instruments.

Dwarf Planet Pluto – Demoted but undiminished

Hubble’s best is a synthetic composite of multiple views. What are those shapes?

For people who grew up with the idea that there were “nine planets”, this is the moment they get to complete the set.

Robotic probes have been to all the others, even the distant Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is the last of the “classical nine” to receive a visit.

Of course, this 2,300km-wide ice-covered rock was demoted in 2006 to the status of mere “dwarf planet”, but scientists say that should not dull our enthusiasm.

The dwarfs are the most numerous planetary class in the Solar System, and Nasa’s New Horizons probe is one of the first opportunities to study an example up close.

The first set of navigation pictures may not be anything special, but by May, the probe will be returning views of Pluto that are better than anything from Hubble. Come July, the view should be spectacular, said Andy Cheng, the principal investigator on the probe’s main camera, which is called LORRI.

As Rebecca Morelle reports, even the Hubble Space Telescope could only capture blurry images of Pluto

“The most recent surprise we had was with the Rosetta mission. Hubble had made a ‘shape model’ of Comet 67P but no-one expected it to look like a rubber duckie,” he told BBC News. “I am more than hopeful that we will get similar surprises with New Horizons – it’s what we should expect.”

Those surprises could include yet more moons (five are currently known) and possibly even rings like those seen around some of the bigger planets.

Pluto is currently 5bn km from Earth. It has taken New Horizons more than nine years to get to the dwarf’s doorstep.

Once the flyby is complete, the probe will be targeted at an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt – the name given to the icy domain beyond the main planets. Scientists think this region of space may contain many thousands of Pluto-like objects, some of which may even rival Mars and Earth in size.

The first optical navigation images should be back on Earth by Tuesday at the latest. They will show Pluto with its largest moon, Charon.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 4th December 2014

“Bailout of €680m” for HSE the biggest in its 10-year history


The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Department says overrun will not reduce funds available to health service next year

The Department of Health is seeking a €680 million supplementary budget for the Health Service Executive next month, the largest in the history of the health service, the Department of Public Expenditure has confirmed.

The figure includes a €510 million minimum overrun on the cost of running the health service, as well as increased costs incurred by the State Claims Agency as a result of a rise in claims.

The larger-than-expected bailout for the Department of Health will mean the equivalent sum is carried forward into next year’s account, though Minister for Health Leo Varadkar insists it will have no impact on the funding available next year.

The amount sought demonstrates the intense pressure on the health budget, and the task ahead for Mr Varadkar should demand for services continue to rise.

A number of other departments have also sought supplementary budgets.

The Department of Health said the extra money sought for the HSE reflected increased levels of activity, such as more emergency admissions, more demand for bed days and more elderly patients with complex needs.

Mr Varadkar said the extra money for the HSE has already been included in the base for next year’s expenditure.

Some €54 million is being sought for payments by the HSE to the State Claims Agency. “The timing of income collection and working capital requirements associated with prior years contributes a further €108 million cash requirement in 2014,” the Department said.

Mr Varadkar said these were once-off costs and would not recur next year.

The supplementary budget also includes €5 million for an early access programme to drugs for high-risk patients with Hepatitis C and €3 million to allow an initiative to tackle delayed discharges start this year. through the release of 300 additional places on the Fair Deal scheme.

“The supplementary budget will have no impact whatsoever on the budget for the Department of Health for next year and the HSE Service Plan announced last week is unaffected and the figures remain unchanged,” the Minister said.

The Department says savings of €4 million will reduce the cost to the Exchequer of the supplementary estimate.

The HSE has required a supplementary estimate in all but two years of its 10-year history but this bailout is the largest since it was set up in2005. In 2010, a €595 million supplementary budget was required to shore up its finances.

HSE secretary general Tony O’Brien has argued that half of this year’s overrun is due to issues beyond its control, such as unspecified pay savings and a pensions excess. However, hospital overspending is projected to hit €273 million by the end of the year.

Bishops say same-sex marriage would be

‘A grave injustice’


Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, and Bishop Liam MacDaid, Bishop of Clogher and chair of the Council for Marriage and Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at the media launch of The Meaning of Marriage, a pastoral statement by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

The leaflet highlights ‘uniqueness of the role of husbands and wives’

Allowing same-sex marriage would be a “grave injustice” and a disservice to society, according to members of a representative body for Catholic bishops in Ireland.

Speaking at the launch of a leaflet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage” in Maynooth, high-ranking clergy from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference set out the church’s stall in the run-up to an expected referendum on same-sex marriage next spring.

“The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,” said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,” added Bishop MacDaid, who was flanked by fellow bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin following the organisation’s two-day winter conference in St Patrick’s College.

“While there’s sort of an assumption that this referendum [passing] is a no-brainer, in some societies the legislature has legislated for same-sex marriage, but in other societies- almost everywhere there has been a same-sex referendum- it has been rejected… Our hope would be that the referendum would be defeated,” saidBishop Doran, who courted publicity last week for his concessionary stance on inheritance rights for same-sex couples.

The bishops’ remarks came upon the release of the eight-page leaflet on marriage, which contends that “it is a grave injustice if the State ignores the uniqueness of the role of husbands and wives, and the importance of mothers and fathers in our society”.

Placing a heavy emphasis on the responsibility of a functioning, heterosexual relationship in the child rearing process, the publication states that the “upbringing of children is uniquely possible” through conventional, church-endorsed marital relationships.

It goes on to say that “the union of marriage provides for the continuation of the human race and the development of human society”, and that “marriage of a woman and a man is a fundamental building block of society which makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good and to society as well”.

It is thought that today’s comments from church officials marks the opening salvo in a concerted effort to sway public opinion against same-sex marriages ahead of next year’s referendum. According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.

Sligo hospital issues apology to Sally Rowlette family


Saolta hospital group says services have improved in maternity unit since her death.

Sean Rowlette and his children who’s wife, Sally Rowlette (36), died in child birth at Sligo Regional Hospital.

Sligo Regional Hospital and the Saolta hospital group of which it is a member have apologised to the family of Sally Rowlette, who died in the hospital last year.

In a statement offering their condolences, they said they were apologising “for the events related to her care that contributed to her tragic death”.

Maternity and ICU services in the hospital have improved over the past number of years, according to the statement, and the delivery of quality safe patient care continues to be a priority.

The national maternity early warning score has been implemented for all pregnant women attending the hospital and will help ensure the early detection of any deteriorating patient, it says.

A post-natal communication process has been established for women with severe Hellp syndrome, an acute form of pre-eclampsia, and all incident reports are analysed as part of a risk management process.

On Wednesday, a jury returned a verdict of death by medical misadventure in the case of Ms Rowlette, who died in February 2013 a day after giving birth to her fourth child. The inquest heard evidence that she was a victim of a “broad systems failure”

UPC to acquire wi-fi provider Bitbuzz for some €5-€6 million


Bitbuzz managing director Shane Deasy above

Telecoms provider snaps up Irish-owned wi-fi company

Broadband provider UPC Ireland is to acquire Irish-owned wi-fi company Bitbuzz for an undisclosed sum thought to be in the region of €5-€6 million.

Bitbuzz, which is headquartered in Dublin, specialises in offering wifi to the tourism, retail and leisure sectors, notably hotels and cafes in Ireland and Britain.

It recently won contracts with stores operated by the Cork-based wholesale group Musgrave, Insomnia and Costa Coffee.

UPC Ireland chief executive Magnus Ternsjö confirmed the deal at a media lunch hosted by the company on Thursday.

He declined to disclose further details of the acquisition but said it would be a cash deal and that the wifi service would continue to operate under the Bitbuzz brand.

Bitbuzz founders Shane Deasy and Alex French are to leave the company following the acquisition.

Providing internet services via wifi has become increasingly competitive with a number of high-profile companies vying for market share.

UPC’s move is designed to strengthen the company’s presence in the hospitality, health and education markets, where Bitbuzz is prominent.

With Bitbuzz’s market position and UPC’s fixed-line capacity, the deal is perceived to deliver significant synergies.

Bitbuzz passed something of a milestone when revenues break the €1 million mark in the first half of this year.

Its managing director Shane Deasy said recently the company planned to hire about a dozen more staff by the end of the year as part of an expansion of its activities in Ireland and Britain.

Crows show tendency to be left or right beaked after a study of skills put to the test


Scientists have been examining the tool skills of crows

Crows famous for their tool-wielding show a tendency to be left or right beaked that mirrors handedness in humans, scientists have found.

Individual New Caledonian crows display a preference for holding a stick tool on the right or left side of their beaks.

Researchers believe the birds may be trying to keep the tip of the stick in view of the eye on the opposite side of their heads.

Lead scientist Dr Alejandro Kacelnik, from Oxford University, said: “If you were holding a brush in your mouth and one of your eyes was better than the other at brush length, you would hold the brush so that its tip fell in view of the better eye. This is what the crows do.”

New Caledonian crows have surprised experts with their ability to use sticks to extract larvae from burrows and, in captivity, retrieve food placed out of reach.

The new study, published in the journal Current Biology, also suggests that the birds’ unusually wide field of vision actually helps them to see better with one eye.

Co-author Dr Antone Martinho, also from Oxford University, said: “We thought that their binocular fields would facilitate binocular vision, perhaps allowing the birds to judge the distance from tool tip to target. It turned out that, most frequently, they only see the tool tip and target with one eye at a time.”

Dr Kacelnik added: “Birds and humans face similar problems in tool use and many other activities. Studying similar problems across species helps to put all of them in perspective.”

Stegosaurus skeleton to give up its dinosaur secrets


Scientists have begun the most detailed analysis ever carried out on a stegosaurus skeleton.

Although stegosauruses are one of the most well-known dinosaurs, it is among those scientists know the least about.

There are only six partial skeletons of the creature, which lived around 150 million years ago.

This specimen, nicknamed “Sophie”, has been acquired by the Natural History Museum in London.

A UK team has scanned each of its 360 bones into a computer and has digitally reconstructed the animal.

Professor Paul Barrett, who is leading the research, told BBC News more about what they were hoping to find out.

News Ireland dailY BLOG

Friday 1st August 2014

Foreign Minister Flanagan calls for a ceasefire in Gaza


Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers at Stormont House in Belfast recently. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs says lifting of blockade is ‘fundamental’ to ceasefire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said  “A ceasefire without action on the blockade will not give rise to a lengthy cessation of hostilities so the lifting of the blockade is fundamental.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza linked to an ending of the Israeli blockade of the area.

  “A ceasefire without action on the blockade will not give rise to a lengthy cessation of hostilities so the lifting of the blockade is fundamental,” Mr Flanagan said.

The Minister, who yesterday had his third conversation in a little over a week with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry to explore the prospects of a ceasefire, said that since his appointment three weeks ago he had been at pains to express the desire of the Irish people to see an end to the “wholly unacceptable killing” in Gaza.

“I have met the Israeli ambassador here on a number of occasions in Iveagh House and I have conveyed to him in no uncertain terms the revulsion on the part of the Irish people at what is appearing on our screens daily.

“In my most recent meeting I asked that he immediately following the meeting convey a strong message from the Irish Government to my counterpart, Mr Lieberman, and directly to the office of the prime minister, Netanyahu, which I understand that he did,” said Mr Flanagan.

He added that last week at the EU council of foreign ministers in Brussels agreement had been reached on a strong resolution condemning acts the violence. “On behalf of the Irish people I intervened strongly at that meeting in furtherance of that agreed resolution,” he said, adding that the fact the resolution was agreed without dissent was significant.

“On Wednesday of last week, there was the UN vote. I think the vote must be seen in the context of the EU council of foreign affairs on Tuesday. Ireland’s position at that meeting was that we were most anxious to ensure the wording of a resolution that would be passed without dissent.”

Responding to criticism of the Government for abstaining along with other EU states in a vote at the UN condemning the Israeli actions in Gaza, Mr Flanagan said the resolution was not balanced. “The Palestinian proposal was unbalanced and not comprehensive as presented. Our permanent representative made strenuous efforts throughout the day with our EU colleagues and beyond to achieve balance,” he added.

The resolution was supported by a number of countries including China, Russia, Cuba Saudi Arabia and opposed by the US. All of the EU members abstained. “We are a small neutral country with influence. Another small neutral country with influence, Austria, similarly abstained. I believe it is important that our balance be preserved, that our influence be preserved, and that we play a part as a small neutral influential State,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said that in a conversation with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon earlier this week, he had conveyed to him the views of the Irish people and offered humanitarian assistance such as food and shelter and power and fuel.

“I was very pleased last week that myself and Minister Seán Sherlock made available a further amount of €500,000 by way of direct aid. This will go to UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] for direct aid on the ground and that is on top of €10 million that we provide directly by way or relief and support to the Palestinian people.”

Asked about his role in the Oireachtas Ireland-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, Mr Flanagan said he was a member of a group that had met in 2009 and 2010 and included TDs Ruairí Quinn, Lucinda Creighton and Joanna Tuffy. He said this cross-party group acknowledged the right of the democratic state of Israel to defend itself and its territory against indiscriminate rocket fire from organisations such as Hamas or other military groups.

He said the group had not met for a long time and as Minister he would not be involved in any parliamentary caucus but would represent the views of the Irish people. “I condemn the disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on Gaza and I have made that position clear,” he said.

Irish Government ‘bit off more than we could chew’ says Leo Varadkar


Health minister sets out vision of universal GP care followed by universal primary care

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said his priorities for his time in office will be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said the Government “bit off more than we could chew” when taking power, specifically referring to how quickly universal healthcare could be introduced.

In discussing his vision for the Irish health service, Mr Varadkar said his priorities for his time in office would be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments.

However, he said that bringing about any changes in the current structures involves dialogue and negotiation and cautioned against moving too quickly.

“I do think that probably when we came into office as a Government we bit off more than we could chew. We have tried to bring in universal healthcare in too short a timeframe,” he said in an interview on last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne show.

Last month, under plans brought to Cabinet by the Minister for Health, the Government said it had agreed to provide free GP cards for all children over the next three years, as well as to those over the age of 70.

If this was an early sign of Mr Varadkar’s intentions to affect change, he expanded on his philosophy last night.

“I am somebody who very much believes in universal healthcare. I think everyone should have access to health services in the same way people do in almost every western country,” he said.

“Health is a universal right. It’s like education, for example. It’s like pensions when you retire; the whole idea is you pay your taxes and you benefit and that’s how we do a lot of things. We don’t do health like that in Ireland. ”

Mr Varadkar also outlined other issues on his radar, saying more could be done to reduce the price of medicines, while health insurance could be expanded to more of those in their twenties and thirties with the incentive of discounted packages.

“I totally understand that if we are going to make universal GP care and universal primary care work that is going to involve resources and those discussions need to be had. At the same time though, governments can’t write blank cheques and we can’t give vetoes to any section of the health service.”

As a trained GP, Mr Varadkar said he understood the mood of doctors and said in the health profession generally, more needed to be done to lift morale and to retain home produced doctors and nurses.


A New Irish Health Bill will set a minimum indemnity cover for doctors


the Move will allow the irish public to seek redress in the event of a medical mishap, says leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health: “It is good news for patients

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has published legislation that will make it a legal requirement for all medical practitioners to have a minimum level of indemnity cover.

Mr Varadkar said the move would allow members of the public to seek redress in the event of a medical mishap or negligence.

The Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014, published yesterday, places the onus on practitioners to ensure they have adequate cover, he said.

The announcement follows reports last month of consultants in private practice facing increases in their indemnity premiums of up to 50 per cent.

“At present there is no legal obligation on a medical practitioner to have adequate medical indemnity insurance cover,” Mr Varadkar said on the publication of the Bill.

“This legislation will address this deficit. It is good news for patients as the enactment of the legislation will mean that members of the public will be able to have redress in the event of a medical mishap or negligent care from a medical practitioner.”

Under the law, the Medical Council will seek proof of indemnity from practitioners on registration, and will have the power to impose sanctions on those who do not comply with the minimum requirement.

A statement from the Department of Health said the move would not require any higher payment than would be necessary for a normal and adequate policy. The legislation will be initiated in the Seanad in the autumn.

Last July, it was revealed that the UK-based Medical Protection Society (MPS) would be contacting its Irish private consultant clients to tell them of rises in the cost of indemnity cover by as much as half the existing policy.

Such an increase would likely have the effect of threatening the financial viability of some practices while at the same time increasing the cost of care for patients.

Cost of claims According to MPS, the increase in subscription rates is due to a rise in the rate at which doctors are facing legal action and the subsequent cost of claims. It is unclear what effect the new legislation will have on existing cover.

Expressing concerns at the increased prices revealed last month, Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association chief executive Martin Varley said it would result in “a growing number of patients seeking care in public hospitals at a time when these hospitals do not have the capacity to treat more patients due to a lack of frontline resources and an insufficient number of consultants.”

Women in Ireland over the age of 40 are urged to take contraception


the Well Woman Centre says there are many surprise pregnancies for over 45 year old’s.

Women over the age of 40 are less likely to present for smear tests and are also more likely to consider that they do not need contraception, the Dublin Well Woman Centre has said in its annual report.

The trend in relation to smear tests has been described as “worrying”, according to the centre’s chief executive Alison Begas.

She also warned that many women over 40 who are still sexually active should not stop taking contraception. There were 223 births last year to women over 45 in the State.

“We would see a lot of women coming up to menopause. Even in the year before they officially stop having their periods or the year or two afterwards, they should carry on taking contraception,” she said.

Ms Begas said they had come across women who were surprised to become pregnant in their forties. “They thought it definitely shouldn’t happen to them,” she said. “We have women coming in seeing our pregnancy counsellors saying ‘my God, I didn’t think I would be in this position’. At that stage they are not thinking of being mothers to young babies.

“If their periods stop before they are 50, they should carry on taking contraception for two years. That is the standard practice.”

The Dublin Well Woman Centre medical director Dr Shirley McQuade said there was a “ worrying trend” of women not reporting over the age of 40 for cervical tests.

The average age for the diagnosis of cervical cancer is 44 and the average age of death is 55.

“There are minor changes that can progress to major changes over 10 years. If the minor changes can be detected, it makes it easier to treat,” she said.

In the 18 to 29 age group, almost 80 per cent of women are presenting for a smear test. That figure drops to below 70 per cent for women over the age of 40 and for women over the age of 60 it is less than half.

Dr McQuade said this was an international trend and down to a number of factors.

“ A lot of women are generally fit and healthy. They are not going to the doctor and they have stopped taking contraception. Some of them see themselves as too busy. Their priority isn’t their health. They look after everyone else except themselves,” she said.

“ Keeping up to date with regular smear tests is by far the most effective way to for women aged 25 – 60 to protect themselves from this preventable disease.”

The annual report found that Chlamydia continues to be a concern for patients, with over four thousand tests taken in 2013, with 4.6 per cent testing positive for the infection.

In addition, 881 long-acting reversible contraceptive devices (LARCs) were fitted by the Well Woman Centre in 2013, compared to 914 in 2012.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre welcomed the enactment of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013, yet expressed concern over some elements of the legislation.

However, Ms Begas described the legislation as “long overdue”. She accused the Government of presenting legislation which “ fails to deliver a compassionate response to women dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality.

“Learning that a much-wanted baby has a fatal foetal condition is not the fault of the woman, but the lack of compassion in the State’s response to those women clearly places it at fault.”

The Well Woman Centre provides a wide range of primary health care services, family planning, counselling and sexual health services to women and men. The organisation employs nearly 50 doctors, nurses, counsellors and administration staff at three locations in Dublin – Liffey Street, Pembroke Road and Coolock.

Has the mystery of the Northern Siberian craters finally been solved?

Scientist claims they were created by SINKHOLES that erupted outwards

This first giant crater measuring around 262ft and found in far northern Siberia is believed to have been caused by rising temperatures in the area. Recent helicopter video footage of the first hole, in the Yamal region, reveals a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out of the hole with water inside The discovery eliminates the possibility that a meteorite had struck the region in the Yamal Peninsula - the name of which translates as 'the end of the world'

  • The theory by geophysicist Vladimir Romanovskyis backed up by helicopter footage of the first mystery hole
  • The footage shows a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown ou of the 230ft (70 metre) crater
  • Theory states crater began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, when ice collected in an underground cavity
  • Rather than the roof of the cavity collapsing, pressure from natural gas such as methane caused an eruption
  • Two other smaller craters have recently been spotted in the region, triggering debate about their formation
  • One of the craters is located in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula in the Taz district and has a diameter of 49ft (15 metres)
  • The other was spotted on the Taymyr Peninsula in Kransoyark region and has a diameter of 13ft (four metres)

The three mystery craters that appeared earlier this month in northern Siberia have triggered a number of theories about how they formed, including their creation by aliens and meteorites

Now one scientist believes he has a more concrete explanation. The craters, claims geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky, were formed by a type of sinkhole that erupted outwards rather than collapsing inwards.

His theory is backed up by recent helicopter footage of the first hole in the Yamal region which reveals a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out.

This first giant crater measuring around 262ft and found in far northern Siberia is believed to have been caused by rising temperatures in the area. Recent helicopter video footage of the first hole, in the Yamal region, reveals a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out of the hole with water inside

A sinkhole is a hole in the ground created by erosion and the drainage of water in an underground cavity.

The water inside the first crater likely came from melting permafrost or ice, said Mr Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks speaking to Tanya Lewis at LiveScience.

He explained that whereas most sinkholes suck collapsed material inside, ‘this one actually erupted outside.’

Mr Romanovsky believe the crater’s formation began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, when ice collected in an underground cavity.

Rather than the roof of the cavity collapsing, he believes pressure built up from natural gas such as methane. This eventually erupted out a slurry of dirt, creating a crater in its place.

However, the theory does not explain why the hole’s border so round or where the gas came from to fuel such an eruption.

Last week two similar craters were discovered. A second is in the same permafrost region of northern Russia, and a third on the Taymyr Peninsula, to the east, in Kransoyark region. Both were spotted by reindeer herders who almost fell in.

The original hole received worldwide attention after being identified by helicopter pilots some 20 miles (32km) from a huge gas extraction plant at Bovanenkov.

‘Theories range from meteorites, stray missiles, a man-made prank, and aliens, to an explosive cocktail of methane or shale gas suddenly exploding,’ reported The Siberian Times.

‘The version about melting permafrost due to climate change, causing a release of methane gas, which then forces an eruption is the current favourite, though scientists are reluctant to offer a firm conclusion without more study.’

The new Yamal crater is in the area’s Taz district near the village of Antipayuta and has a diameter of about 49ft (15 metres).

A deputy of the regional parliament – or duma – Mikhail Lapsui said: ‘I flew by helicopter to inspect this funnel’ which he said was formed last year though only now have reports of it reached the outside world.

‘There is ground outside, as if it was thrown as a result of an underground explosion.

‘According to local residents, the hole formed on 27 September 2013.

‘Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially at the place was smoking, and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.’

The chief scientist of the Earth Cryosphere Institute, Marina Leibman, told URA.RU website in Sibera: ‘I have heard about the second funnel on Yamal, in Taz district, and saw the pictures.

‘Undoubtedly, we need to study all such formations. It is necessary to be able to predict their occurrence.

‘Each new funnel provides additional information for scientists.’

The third crater and hole is in the Taymyr Peninsula and was accidentally discovered by reindeer herders who almost fell into it, in the vicinity of the remote outpost of Nosok.

The funnel is a perfectly formed cone, say locals who are mystified over its formation.

Its depth is estimated at between 200 to 330ft (60 to 100 metres) and its diameter – more than 13ft (four metres).

Experts – geologists, ecologists, and historians – have not come to a consensus about the origin of the funnel, say reports in the region.

‘It is not like this is the work of men, but also doesn’t look like natural formation,’ said one account expressing puzzlement at its creation.

Scientists in Krasnoyarsk region – the second largest in Russia – plan further study of this hole.

he first hole is around 230ft (70 metres) deep and when a group of experts visited it earlier this month, they noted an icy at its bottom.

Their footage highlights a darkening around the rim which was earlier seen as evidence of heat possibly from an explosion during the crater’s creation.

‘They found the crater – around up to 300ft (70 metres) deep – has an icy lake at its bottom, and water is cascading down its eroding permafrost walls.

‘It is not as wide as aerial estimates which earlier suggested between 164ft and 328ft (50 and 100 metres).’

Andrey Plekhanov, senior researcher at the Russian Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, revealed that satellite mapping imagery is being used to establish when the phenomenon was formed, thought to be in the last year or two.

‘The crater has more of an oval than a circular shape, it makes it harder to calculate the exact diameter,’ he said.

‘As of now our estimates is about 98ft (30 metres). If we try to measure diameter together with soil emission, the so-called parapet, then the diameter is up to 197ft (60 metres).

The structure is so fragile that the scientists could not climb deep into the lake and had to send a camera down instead.

One theory is that the feature is a ‘pingo,’ reports the Sunday Morning Herald.

A pingo is a large chunk of ice that is located underground that can create a hole in the ground when it melts.

‘Certainly from the images I’ve seen it looks like a periglacial feature, perhaps a collapsed pingo,’ Dr Chris Fogwill of the University of New South Wales said.

‘This is obviously a very extreme version of that, and if there’s been any interaction with the gas in the area, that is a question that could only be answered by going there.’

Dr Plekhanov added the hole was most likely the result of a ‘build-up of excessive pressure’ underground, due to the region’s changing temperatures.

He said 80% of the crater appeared to be made up of ice and that there were no traces of an explosion.

The discovery eliminates the possibility that a meteorite had struck the region.

‘Could it be linked to the global warming? Well, we have to continue our

research to answer this question,’ said Dr Plekhanov.

‘Two previous summers – years 2012 and 2013 were relatively hot for Yamal, perhaps this has somehow influenced the formation of the crater.

‘But we have to do our tests and research first and then say it more definitively.’

After the hole was discovered, there was speculation online about the crater indicating ‘the arrival of a UFO craft’.

Thanks to their readings (shown) the team now believes the cause was increasing temperatures  Ruling out extra-terrestrial intervention, Dr Plekhanov said: ‘We can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost.

‘I want to stress that was not an explosion, but an ejection, so there was no heat released as it happened.’

The latest expedition organised by the Yamal authorities included experts from Russia’s Centre for the Study of the Arctic, and also the Cryosphere Institute of the Academy of Sciences.

They took samples of soil, air and water from the scene and were accompanied by a specialist from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry.

Anna Kurchatova from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, previously said the crater was formed by a mixture of water, salt and gas igniting an underground explosion, a result of global warming.

Gas accumulated in ice could have mixed with sand beneath the surface, and then mixed with salt.

Global warming may have caused an ‘alarming’ melt in the under-soil ice, released gas and causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, Ms Kurchatova suggests.

Yamal, a large peninsula jutting into Arctic waters, is Russia’s main production area for gas supplied to Europe.

Dr Plekhanov said: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, even though I have been to Yamal many times.’

The crater is different from others on Yamal. The experts say the phenomenon maybe a restarting of a process not seen for 8,000 years when the lake-pocked Yamal landscape was formed on what was once a sea.

This maybe ‘repeating nowadays’, he said. ‘If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula.’

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 17th July 2014

Bill providing free GP care for children under six years now passed


Minister Lynch accepts amendment lifting ‘gagging clause’ on GPs

Minister of State Kathleen Lynch: “It is the first step along the way to ensuring that all our citizens have GP cover.

The Minister for Health has removed the “gagging clause” in the legislation providing free GP care for children under six. The Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill, passed all stages in the Dáil yesterday.

Leo Varadkar accepted an amendment removing the restriction on GPs speaking out, which was moved by Independent Prof John Crown in the Seanad recently and passed by the House. Prof Crown had argued that GPs would be prevented from expressing their views under the Bill’s terms.

Mr. Varadkar said that while it was always the intention to ensure freedom of expression for GPs, Prof Crown’s amendment copper fastened their freedom to voice their opinions or concerns about the health service.

“This Act is a significant step in the Government’s plan to provide universal health care,” he added, “starting with access to general practitioners without fees for children under six. This particular measure is the keystone of the Government’s policy in the area of primary care. We are shifting the focus of healthcare from hospitals to the community, and from treating illnesses to maintaining good health.”

Minister of State for Primary Care, Mental Health and Disability Kathleen Lynch said: “It is the first step along the way to ensuring that all our citizens have GP cover. It will be of enormous benefit to hard-pressed families with young children, helping them to overcome the obstacle of the financial burden of GP care.”

Over a thousand pubs have closed in Ireland since 2007


Over a thousand pubs have closed in Ireland since the economic crisis hit in 2007 leaving the industry in a state of despair, according to the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI).

Speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee of Finance, DIGI said that a higher tax rate on alcohol, coupled with a poor economy, has left the industry in tatters.

“Excise damages our rural pubs and independent off-licences,” said Padraig Cribben, CEO of the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

“Since 2007 over 1,000 pubs throughout Ireland have been forced to close. The small pubs in rural communities cannot soak up excise increases across a wide product mix, like a supermarket can.”

In the case of small pub operators they have no recourse but to pass the costs on to consumers. Cribben added that Ireland’s high alcohol prices is also having a detrimental effect on tourism, as visitors flock to Northern Ireland, where hospitality is more affordable.

He said that Ireland is the most expensive country in Europe to buy alcohol, which should be a chief concerns to the country, “second only to the weather”.

“There has been rise in cross-border activity as a result of excise increases, causing pubs, independent off-licences and the exchequer to lose out,” Cribben said.

“On average, there is a 35% price difference between the Republic and Northern Ireland across all categories of alcohol, with Revenue Commissioner Figures showing that a bottle of Irish whiskey is €5.50 cheaper in the north.”

Job-seeker benefit payments of 14.7% goes to non-Irish nationals


New research shows 14% of people in receipt of Jobseekers Benefit entitlements are non-Irish nationals.

That represents an under-representation of the group, compared to the proportion of the workforce they comprise.

A new report published by the ESRI looks at the proportion of non-nationals in receipt of key social security benefits during January of this year.

The research shows a mixed picture with regards to various welfare payments.

“There was no consistent pattern of over-representation among recipients of social welfare benefits,” said author of the report, Emma Quinn, who is also the National Programme Coordinator with the European Migration Network.

There was a distinction, she found, between the two types of unemployment payment – Jobseeker’s Benefit, paid to those covered by their past PRSI contributions, and Allowance, a lower rate paid to those who do not qualify for Benefit.

“I would consider benefits paid to people who have made PRSI contributions – contributory jobseekers’ benefit – non-Irish nationals are under-represented among all recipients of those types of benefits,” she said.

“[But] non-Irish nationals are over-represented among recipients of means-tested benefits – so those are benefits paid to people whose contribution has expired.”

Migrant workers make up 15.4% of the Irish workforce, but only 14.7% of Jobseekers Benefit recipients. The same group makes up 17.5% of Allowance recipients.

Common medications now switched to over the counter sale


the Regulator switches dozens of popular products away from prescription only status.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority today published a list of 12 active substances that are currently classified as prescription-only but are being switched to over-the-counter sale.

Dozens of commonly used medicines will be made available over the counter for the first time following a decision by the drugs regulator to remove their prescription-only classification.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (formerly the Irish Medicines Board) today published a list of 12 active substances that are currently classified as prescription-only but are being switched to over-the-counter sale.

As a result, 34 medicines containing the substances singly or in combination will henceforth be available in pharmacies without prescription.

The list includes medicines used for the treatment of migraines, acid reflux symptoms, hay fever, cold sores, muscle pain and inflammation, fungal skin and nail infections and other inflammatory skin conditions.

Pharmaceutical companies that hold the marketing authorisation for the medicines will first have to apply to the authority to have their products reclassified before the change takes effect.

The decision was taken following examination by the authority of unmet needs in the availability of non-prescription medicines as well as recommendations by an independent consultative panel.

“The authority is pleased to bring this reclassification initiative forward with this initial list of products,” saidLorraine Nolan, director of human products authorisation. “This will see an increase in the range of medicines that can be made available to patients through pharmacies without prescription.

“Dependent on the nature, quality of applications and the relevant engagement process with marketing authorisation holders, further lists of appropriate substances may be considered in the future.”

Earlier this month, the authority switched the classification of a first nicotine replacement product from prescription-only to over-the-counter.

The medicines affected by the latest switch include diclofenac salts for muscle pain relief, penciclovir for cold sores, sumatriptan for migraine and mixtures of hydrocortisone with other drugs for skin problems.

Most of these drugs are better known under their commercial names.

Coral reefs face increased risk of fatal disease from dredging


World-first study in Australia shows impact of underwater development on coral reefs and raises further concerns about the threat to the Great Barrier Reef

Australian scientists have discovered that coral reefs face a serious threat of disease from underwater excavation activity, raising further concerns about the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

The world-first study examined the impact of 7 million cubic metres of dredging on 11 reefs off the coast of Western Australia and found that underwater excavation doubles the level of disease in nearby coral. It found that dredging forces corals to spend more energy cleaning the sediment from their surface and this can lead to chronic stress.

“Just like in any other organism, it seems that chronic stress can lead to increased levels of disease in corals,” said Joe Pollock, a marine scientist who led the study for the Australian Research Council’s Coral Reef Studies Centre of Excellence.

“Dredging is a pressing issue on many coral reefs throughout the world, including the Great Barrier Reef.”

The study, published in PloS ONE, comes amid growing concerns about the impact of a series of ports being built along the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the development activity along the 1,500-mile stretch of reefs and cays off Australia’s east coast and is considering downgrading the reef’s heritage status.

In January, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott approved a controversial port expansion which will allow three million cubic metres of dredged sediment to be disposed of in the Great Barrier Reef waters. A separate project to expand the port of Gladstone has involved significant dredging in the reef marine park and led to claims that it has affected water quality, sea grass cover and creatures such as turtles and dugongs.

Scientists and environmentalists have warned that the dredging will further endanger the reef, which they say is already facing widespread loss of coral cover due to coastal development, climate change, agricultural and industrial pollution, storms and the crown-of-thorns starfish.

The latest research examined large-scale dredging conducted to build a channel to transport liquefied gas from a resources project in the state of Western Australia and is believed to be the first study examining the link between dredging and coral disease.

“Corals require both light and food to survive,”

Mr Pollock said. “Unfortunately, dredging impacts corals reefs on two fronts, increased turbidity mean less light for photosynthesis, while increased levels of sediment falling onto the coral can interfere with their ability to feed.”


Climate changes happening more rapidly than at any point on record


A new look at the “vital signs” of Earth’s climate reveals a stark picture of declining health. As global temperatures rise, so do sea level and the amount of heat trapped in the ocean’s upper layers. Meanwhile, mountain glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting away beneath an atmosphere where concentrations of three key planet-warming greenhouse gases continue to rise.

“Data show that the climate is changing more rapidly now than it has at any time in the historical record,” says Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

The numbers speak pretty loudly, too. Depending on which data set scientists look at, 2013 falls somewhere between the second warmest and sixth warmest year since record keeping began in 1880. Global sea level reached a new record high last year—about 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) above the average measured by satellites between 1993 and 2010. Overall, sea level is rising about 3 millimeters (one-eighth of an inch) each year. And for the 23rd straight year, mountain glaciers on the whole lost more ice than they gained, says Jessica Blunden of ERT Inc., who works with Karl at the climate monitoring agency in Asheville. “Changes in these [glaciers] are visible and obvious signs of climate change,” Blunden says.

The new study, State of the Climate in 2013, was released online today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The detailed, peer-reviewed analysis was based on data from environmental monitoring stations on land, sea, and ice and from sensors on satellites and planes. More than 400 scientists from 57 countries contributed to the report. (Previous State of the Climate reports, issued annually since 1991, can be found here.)

Increases in the levels of three key greenhouse gases are likely to be the root of recent warming, scientists suggest. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide reached more than 395 parts per million last year, a 2.8 ppm increase over 2012 levels, according to the new report. Levels of both methane and nitrous oxide (N2O), which on a pound-for-pound basis trap heat more effectively than CO2, rose last year about 0.3%. (Nevertheless, about two-thirds of the atmosphere’s heat-trapping power comes from CO2, which is much more prevalent than the other two gases, the researchers report. Carbon dioxide levels are now in uncharted territory, the scientists say: Ice core records reveal that until the early 20th century, CO2 concentrations hadn’t risen above 300 ppm during the previous 800,000 years.)

From pole to pole, few parts of the globe are being spared warm-up. In the Eurasian Arctic, average temperatures last summer ranged between 1°C and 3°C warmer than the average temperatures there from 2007 through 2012. Fairbanks, Alaska, had a record number of days (36) in which the daily high temperature reached 27°C (80°F) or higher. All that warmth is seeping into the ground, too.

Permafrost temperatures measured 20 meters below ground at many sites in Alaska reached record highs last year, the scientists report. And 2013’s Arctic sea ice coverage in September, the month it usually falls to its lowest for the year, was 18% below the average coverage for that month from 1981 through 2010. Although not a record low amount, the scientists note that September sea ice coverage is declining almost 14% per decade since satellites started measuring sea ice extent in 1979.

At the other end of Earth, 2013’s average annual temperature at the South Pole was –47.4°C (–53.3°F): chilly, yes, but nevertheless a record high since scientists started collecting weather data there in 1957.

In between, China, Japan, and South Korea suffered their warmest summer on record, and Australia really suffered: With large swaths of the Land Down Under tallying summertime highs above 45°C (113°F), Australia had its warmest year since record keeping began in 1910.

The amount of heat stored in the upper 700 meters of the world’s oceans, which has increased substantially over the past 2 decades, also reached a record level last year. That increased heat content helps boost the strength of typhoons and hurricanes, Karl suggests. In the next couple of months, he notes, NOAA will release a report that discusses how climate change might be related to several episodes of extreme weather last year.