Tag Archives: Leo Varakar

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 26th July 2015

David Drumm to give evidence by video link to Banking Inquiry team


Ciaran Lynch said a decision would be made on Tuesday

The Chairman of the Oireachtas banking inquiry Ciaran Lynch said it will decide on Tuesday if it will accept an offer from the former Anglo Irish Bank Chief Executive, David Drumm, to give evidence to the inquiry via video link from the United States.

Mr Lynch said by then the inquiry team will have access to the full legal advice on the matter and will make a decision on that basis.

However, he would not be drawn on the implications for the future of the inquiry if some members withdraw from the session if the inquiry does agree to hear Mr Drumm’s evidence in this way.

Mr Lynch said he was sure the work of the inquiry could be kept “out of the courts” when the full membership meet and discuss the matter with their support team and legal advisers on Tuesday.

He said it was important that the inquiry finish its work and that it has managed to complete two thirds of its work and interview 70 witnesses without encountering any major legal obstacles.

Mr Lynch said at the start of the inquiry he had asked members to leave their club jerseys at the door and he was sure they would do that when the group meets again on Tuesday.

He also said it is critical that the banking inquiry survives the recent controversies about how it is operating.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, Mr Lynch said a Senior Counsel has been appointed to look at the internal procedures of the inquiry and it would be inappropriate for him to comment.

He said he would not speculate on what would happen if an inquiry member refused to take part in a particular hearing.

The inquiry has faced a number of challenges to date but it has operated on a collegial basis so far and he expected next weeks meeting to discuss Mr Drumm’s offer of video evidence will be in the same context, he added.

Mr Lynch said the value of the committees work will be reflected in its final report which is due to be published by the end of the year.

Earlier, a number of politicians who are members of the Banking Inquiry said that they will not participate in a proposed session where David Drumm may give evidence by video link.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy and Fianna Fáil finance spokesman McGrath said if the Banking Inquiry agrees to accept evidence via video link from the former Anglo Irish Bank CEO David Drumm they will not participate in that session.

Mr Murphy said he had made the decision to protect the integrity of the inquiry and said it would be undignified of the Oireachtas to offer Mr Drumm the privilege of giving evidence when he refuses to return to Ireland to co-operate with garda investigations.

He said agreeing to Mr Drumm’s request would be a fundamental mistake.

Mr McGrath said he believed that facilitating someone who had refused to cooperate with Justice authorities would be an affront to democracy and should not be considered.

The Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins said he would make his final decision on the matter on Tuesday after the committee hears legal advice on the matter.

He said some people were saying that it would be interesting to hear from Mr Drumm but many others felt strongly that allowing him to give evidence in this way might treat ordinary people who had suffered as a result of the banking collapse with great contempt.

New poll shows Ireland wants Leo Varadkar as leader


Fine Gael Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is the overwhelming favorite among the public and Fine Gael supporters to be the next leader of the party.

A poll for The Sunday Times shows 34% of people would like to see Varadkar, who came out as a gay in January, take over from Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“It’s always nice to get positive feedback from the public, but there is no vacancy. Enda is the leader and I have my hands full in health and a lot of work to do,” Varadkar said.

The poll shows independents are up five points to 31%, a record high. Fine Gael were unchanged in the poll with 24%. Fianna Fail were down three points to 18%, Sinn Fein were down two to 17%. Labor was down one point to eight and the Greens were down a point to one %.

Recently-formed political alignments were too new to be included as separate groups in the poll and were counted with the independents.

They included the Social Democrats launched last week with three Independent TDs (members of Parliament) as joint leaders. One of them is Roisin Shortall, a former junior minister who resigned from government in 2012 when she also resigned from the Labor Party.

The other new party is Renua Ireland, whose leader is Lucinda Creighton, who also resigned as a junior minister and from Fine Gael when she voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Both the Social Democrats and Renua have said they will run candidates in every constituency in the next general election which will be held within a year.

HSE pays €4.4m every year for mental health treatments in the UK?


The HSE is paying €4.4 million a year for mental health treatments in the UK.

The Sunday Times reports that 13 patients have been transferred to the UK for specialist psychiatric treatment.

The patients were moved abroad for periods of between two months and almost 14 years.

Fianna Fail’s spokesperson on Mental Health Colm Keaveney said these cases highlight the lack of investment in specialist care available in Ireland.

“We’ve seen a breach in the Programme for Government – a commitment to ring-fence specialist recruitment and expenditure in community mental health teams,” he said.

“It’s resulted in a staffing crisis on the ground … the HSE are left with no option but to export many of our complex, acute mental health needs.”

Irish study to find best way to quit smoking for ever


The Quit.ie programme was launched by the HSE in 2011, resulting in 600,000 “quit attempts” since then

One is a global empire with testimonials from Anjelica Houston, Anthony Hopkins and Richard Branson. These stars claim to be among the millions of smokers around the world who have kicked the habit thanks to the advice of a former 100-a-day smoker who ultimately died of lung cancer.

The other is a programme run by the HSE that uses hard-hitting media ads and an online and telephone support system to encourage smokers to quit for good.

And now, the Tobacco Free Research Institute (TFRI) at the Dublin Institute of Technology is using a controlled sample of 300 smokers as guinea pigs to test the success rates of Allen Carr’s Easyway smoking cessation programme versus the HSE’s Quit.ie initiative.

The 12-month Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT), which is free for participants and funded through the Department of Health’s Lottery Fund, is intended to show which programme – if not both – is the most likely to help smokers quit for good.

The Allen Carr method was founded by the British accountant-turned-anti-smoking crusader who devised his ‘Easyway’ method of smoking cessation after trying unsuccessfully for years to quit his 100-a-day habit.

When he finally did quit after 33 years of smoking at the age of 48, he established his now world-wide chain of clinics and self-help books promoting his concept, which kept him smoke-free until his death from lung cancer at the age 72 in 2006.

The Quit.ie programme was launched by the HSE in 2011, resulting in 600,000 “quit attempts” since then.

Along with online and telephone support – including the National Smoker’s Quit Line manned six days a week – it has run a number of hard-hitting media campaigns, including the stark message that “one in every two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease.”

The campaigns also include a series of TV ads using the late Gerry Collins, the father-of-three from Greystones, Co Wicklow, who candidly spoke of how his addiction to cigarettes was literally killing him before he died of lung cancer due to smoking in January, 2014.

“Unusually, we have recruited publicly because we want to compare these two treatment modalities,” said TFRI founder and consultant respiratory physician Professor Luke Clancy. “The Allen Carr method is well known all over the world but the efficacy has never been established,” he told the Sunday Independent.

While the number of smokers in Ireland is at its lowest ever level, at approximately 20pc of the adult population, Prof Clancy, who was instrumental in bringing in the 2004 smoking ban, said Ireland still has a way to go if we are to achieve the health department’s goal of being virtually smoke-free, with just 5pc of the population smoking by 2025. “We worried that no matter what we do, we won’t reach this target,” he said. “So we’re looking to see can we improve things.”

Already hundreds of smokers have signed up to the free controlled trial that will take place over the next 12 months in Dublin. After completing an online survey, participants are selected based on various criteria, such as age and number of cigarettes smoked a day.

Those selected can bail out any time after being randomly selected to take part in either the Allen Carr group or Quit.ie group. They will be monitored at one, three, six and 12-month intervals after signing a consent form and being assessed by a nurse who monitors weight and carbon monoxide levels in exhaled breath.

Those who stick it out for the whole year will be rewarded with the chance to enter a draw for a trips to Paris and the Caribbean.

How Lycos almost won the search engine war


In 1998, a young developer named Jim Gilliam was hired at Lycos after he impressed management by finding bugs in their site. He took on the task of improving their search results to find a way to beat their biggest competitor, Yahoo.
It was exhilarating to be back in the game again, a 20-year-old college dropout with stock options, working at the center of the internet revolution. But I was overwhelmed. I’d only ever worked on a team with a half-dozen people, and Lycos was a huge company with hundreds of employees. All the developers seemed much smarter and more experienced than I was, and I was struggling to understand all the different proprietary technologies Lycos had created.

As I dug in, I realised that the scope of the problems was immense. I was paralysed. I didn’t know where to start. At the end of my first week I passed Lycos’s VP of development Dave Andre’s office on my way out for the night. No one else was around and he waved me in. He asked how everything was going, so I was honest and told him what I was feeling. With no hesitation, he dropped the most influential piece of advice I’ve ever received. He said, “Jim, you can code. You have all the power. Just go do it.” So I did.

Lycos was a search engine, and like all search engines at the time, it was trying to figure out how to make money. The key was to make our search engine into something that would appeal to advertisers. Like Excite and Yahoo, Lycos paid the browser, Netscape, to send traffic our way, and we were all trying to keep people on our sites longer, because the longer people were on our sites, the more ads they saw. Lycos’s CEO, Bob Davis, was a sales guy, and his strategy was to cut deals with new, venture-funded dot-coms and split the revenue on all the ads that we sold. We would increase our ad inventory, help the startups, and the Lycos logo would be all over the web.

I didn’t really care about all that. I cared about our search results, which seemed to be the one thing that no one was paying attention to. We were a search engine, but our results sucked, mainly because it took between six and nine months to refresh the search catalogue. This meant that even our partner sites didn’t show up in our search results, making the entire sales strategy pointless. If I could fix this, our search would be better and we’d actually sell more ads.

Climate change drove woolly mammoths to extinction, say scientists

Dramatic climate shifts made it difficult for large animals such as the woolly mammoth to survive, new research confirms.


The mighty megafauna of the last ice age, including the wooly mammoths, short-faced bears and cave lions, largely went extinct because of rapid climate-warming events, a new study finds.

During the unstable climate of the Late Pleistocene, about 60,000 to 12,000 years ago, abrupt climate spikes, called interstadials, increased temperatures between 7 and 29 degrees Fahrenheit (4 and 16 degrees Celsius) in a matter of decades. Large animals likely found it difficult to survive in these hot conditions, possibly because of the effects it had on their habitats and prey, the researchers said.

Interstadials “are known to have caused dramatic shifts in global rainfall and vegetation patterns,” the study’s first author Alan Cooper, director for the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a statement emailed to Live Science.

Temperature drops during the Late Pleistocene showed no association with animal extinctions, Cooper said. Instead, only the hot interstadial periods were associated with the large die-offs that hit populations (local events) and entire species of animals (global events), he said.

Ancient humans also played a role in the megafaunal extinction, albeit a smaller one, he said. By disrupting the animals’ environments, human societies and hunting parties likely made it harder for megafauna to migrate to new areas and to refill areas once populated by animals that had gone extinct, he said.

Extinction analysis

The study is the latest in a long string of research examining what caused megafauna, or animals weighing more than 99 pounds (45 kilograms), to die off during the Late Pleistocene.

George Cuvier, the French paleontologist who first recognized the mammoth and the giant ground sloth, started the speculation in 1796 when he suggested that giant biblical floods were to blame for the animals’ demise. The extinctions also baffled Charles Darwin after he encountered megafaunal remains in South America.

Since then, various studies have placed the bulk of responsibility on ice age humans, temperature swings and aperfect storm of events.

However, advances in examining ancient DNA and ancient climate allowed Cooper and his colleagues to get to the bottom of the issue.

They examined DNA from dozens of megafaunal species that lived during the Late Pleistocene, combing through more than 50,000 years of DNA records for extinction events. The ancient DNA not only told them about global extinction events, but also local population turnovers, which occur when a group of animals dies and another population of animals moves in to replace them. [Wipe Out: History’s Most Mysterious Extinctions]

They then compared the data on megafauna extinction with detailed records of severe climate events, which they gathered from Greenland ice cores and the sedimentary record of the Cariaco Basin off Venezuela.

“By combining these two records, we can place the climate and radiocarbon dating data on the same timescale, thereby allowing us to precisely align the dated fossils against climate,” Cooper said. “The high-resolution view we gained through this approach clearly showed a strong relationship between warming events and megafaunal extinctions.”

The findings also show that extinction events were staggered over time and space, likely because the interstadial warming events had different effects on different regions, Cooper said.

Modern connections

Earth’s climate is much more stable today than it was during the Late Pleistocene, making the world’s current warming trends a “major concern,” the researchers said.

“In many ways, the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and resulting warming effects are expected to have a similar rate of change to the onset of past interstadials, heralding another major phase of large mammal extinctions,” Cooper said.

In addition, humans have disrupted the habitats and surrounding areas of many wild animals, making it challenging for species to migrate or shift ranges to places where they would be better adapted to deal with climate change, he said.

Other researchers called the new study an important one.

It shows “that the extinction and population turnover of many megafauna was associated with rapid warming periods, rather than the last glacial maximum [when the ice sheets reached their maximum during the last glacial period] or Younger Dryas [a sudden, cold spell that happened when the Earth was starting to warm] as has previously been suggested,” said Eline Lorenzen, an assistant professor of paleogenetics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

In fact, understanding how the past climate change affected extinction rates may help people be better prepared for future rapid global warming events, she said.

“This study is a bit of a wake-up call,” Lorenzen said. “Here we have empirical evidence — based on data from a lot of species — that rapid climate warming has profoundly impacted megafauna communities, negatively, during the past 50,000 years.

“It doesn’t bode well for the future survival of the world’s megafauna populations,” she said.

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Central Bank to impose limits on home loans

  • Regulator said to be preparing to publish a consultation paper on its proposals


The Central Bank plans to impose limits for the first time on how much banks can lend home buyers as property values in Ireland soar, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Central Bank plans to impose limits for the first time on how much banks can lend home buyers as property values in Ireland soar.

The regulator is said to be preparing to publish a consultation paper on its proposals within weeks.

Banks and lobby groups will have a chance to comment on the plans, which center on introducing loan-to-value and loan-to-income restrictions.

A spokesman for the Central Bank declined to comment.

House prices are surging even as banks grapple with the aftermath of mortgage crisis that forced the government to bail out most of the nation’s lenders.

A quarter of the country’s owner-occupier home loans are in arrears or had their terms eased.

Loans granted during the boom for more than 85 per cent of the property value were most likely to default in the wake of the crash, central bank economists said today.

“There is no evidence the current price increases are credit driven, but the number of mortgage approvals, a potential measure of new mortgage credit demand, rose sharply in the first seven months of 2014,” said central bank economists Niamh Hallissey, Robert Kelly and Terry O’Malley in a report published today.

“This is therefore a key time to investigate the tools available to policy makers to safeguard future lending.”

Irish home prices soared 15 percent in the year through August, driven by a 25 per cent jump in Dublin values amid a shortage of properties in the Irish capital, the Central Statistics Office said on September 24.

Still, values remain 41 per cent off their 2007 peak both for Dublin and nationally. Any limits would particularly affect first-time buyers, according to one of the people.

Irish mortgage approvals rose by 54 per cent in value to €462 million in July compared to the same month last year, according to Banking and Payments Federation Ireland.

In 2006, mortgage lending surged to €40 billion. Davy, Ireland’s largest securities firm, said that some lenders are beginning to relax lending criteria as the property market recovers.

“It appears some banks are willing to lend 4.5 times combined income to higher-rated borrowers, but this is at the upper end of what is typically deemed responsible internationally,” Davy said in a report yesterday.

“Typically a limit of 3-4 times is considered a more acceptable level. The onus is on the central bank to put limits on the amount of money that can be borrowed to help keep house prices in check.”

Thirteen children have died on our roads so far this year,

  • 7 were killed in the whole of 2013


Deaths on Irish roads have remained high this year, after increasing for the first time since 2005 last year.

140 people have been killed so far this year  on Irish roads.

The Road Safety Authority has expressed concern about the high numbers of vulnerable road users being killed.

Thirteen children under the age of 14 have died in road traffic accidents so far this year, compared to seven children who were killed on the roads in the whole of 2013.

Moyagh Murdock, CEO of the Road Safety Authority said: “This year, for the second year in a row, we are seeing a marked increase in deaths on our roads when compared with previous years, where great strides were made to reduce deaths.

Vulnerable road users are most at risk this year – the old and the young, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.

“We really need to redouble our efforts to try and reduce what was the worst year on our roads in seven years last year.”

Irish Road Safety Week is on from October 6 to 12, the RSA is urging people to get involved in this national drive to save lives.

Sharp fall in number of critical care hospital beds

  • The number of Irish Hospital critical care beds has fallen from 289 to 233


An intensive care unit: none of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit

The number of critical care hospital beds has fallen sharply over the past six years despite a recommendation to double capacity.

The shortage of intensive care beds was highlighted this week at the inquest of Dhara Kivlehan, who died in September 2010 after giving birth a week earlier in Sligo Regional Hospital.

Ms Kivlehan was moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after no bed could be found in the intensive care units of three hospitals in the Republic.

A year before her death a HSE-commissioned report recommended a 45 per cent increase in the number of critical care beds from 289 to 418. Prospectus Consultants said a further increase to 579 beds was needed in the years up to 2020. However, far from increasing, the number has fallen from 289 to 233 at the present time.

The HSE sought to provide an extra 10 critical care beds in the service plan for this year, at a cost of €3 million a year, but was forced to scrap the plan because of funding cuts in last year’s budget, correspondence between the HSE and the Department of Health shows.

Bed occupancy

The HSE says it is implementing a “critical care bed bureau” to optimise utilisation of beds nationally by providing live information on bed occupancy in all units.

However, Ms Kivlehan’s husband Michael said an internal report a few weeks after his wife’s death in 2010 recommended such a national system be put in place.

The HSE was unable to say yesterday why there was such a delay in implementing this recommendation.

None of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said while Ireland needed more obstetricians than the 120 available, this was more per head than Canadaand New Zealand.

Staff Lieut Gen. Surprise at soldiers sleeping in cars claim

Says Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle


Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle: “I would encourage any soldier that has had to sleep in his or her car to talk to the officer in charge in the barracks they’re working in. We do have accommodation”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle has said he was surprised at Pdforra’s suggestion this week that some soldiers were sleeping in their cars at barracks because they did not have the money for the fuel needed to drive home and back the following morning.

He said anyone sleeping in their car should bring it to the attention of the chain of command and accommodation would be provided for them in their barracks.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he planned to establish the full facts.

“If people are sleeping in their cars, I am very uncomfortable with that and it shouldn’t be happening.

“I would encourage any soldier that has had to sleep in his or her car to talk to the officer in charge in the barracks they’re working in. We do have accommodation . . .

“If there’s one thing the Defence Forces do very well it’s they stick together, they work together and they look after each other.”

Moon’s hidden valley system now revealed


The Moon as we see it (L), in terms of height variation (C), and from surface gravity variations (R)

Scientists have identified a huge rectangular feature on the Moon that is buried just below the surface.

The 2,500km-wide structure is believed to be the remains of old rift valleys that later became filled with lava.

Centred on the Moon’s Procellarum region, the feature is really only evident in gravity maps acquired by Nasa’s Grail mission in 2012.

But knowing now of its existence, it is possible to trace the giant rectangle’s subtle outline even in ordinary photos.

Mare Frigoris, for example, a long-recognised dark stripe on the lunar surface, is evidently an edge to the ancient rift system.

“It’s really amazing how big this feature is,” says Prof Jeffery Andrews-Hanna.

“It covers about 17% of the surface of the Moon. And if you think about that in terms relative to the size of the Earth, it covers an area equivalent to North America, Europe and Asia combined,” the Colorado School of Mines scientist told BBC News.

“When we first saw it in the Grail data, we were struck by how big it was, how clear it was, but also by how unexpected it was.

“No-one ever thought you’d see a square or a rectangle on this scale on any planet.”

The full Moon as seen from the Earth, with the Procellarum border structure superimposed in red

So how was this extraordinary feature produced?

Andrews-Hanna and colleagues note that the Procellarum region contains a lot of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium, thorium and potassium.

On the early Moon, these would have heated the crust, which, when it cooled would have contracted.

Mare Frigoris is evidently an edge to the ancient rift valley system

This shrinking, they propose, would have ripped the surface, opening deep valleys. The geometry is the giveaway.

On Earth, cooling and contraction will preferentially produce hexagons containing 120-degree angles.

The famous Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a classic example on the small scale, but even in bigger settings, such as in East Africa’s rift valleys, geological lines tend to intersect in this way.

Procellarum’s giant rectangle does the same, too – because the entire feature is draped over a sphere. This means the angles at the corners are wider than 90 degrees.

“What we’re seeing is a clever trick of spherical geometry. For structures on this scale, a polygon with 120-degree angles at the corners actually has four sides instead of six,” explained Prof Andrews-Hanna.

The team cannot tell when the rifting occurred, but the dating of Moon rocks brought back by Apollo would suggest the valleys were filled by volcanic lavas about 3.5 billion years ago.

Giant’s Causeway: Cooling basaltic rock naturally fractures into hexagons

The Grail satellites sensed very subtle variations in the pull of gravity across the Moon’s surface

The new study goes some way to resolving arguments over the origins of Procellarum, which looks different to other, more circular mare (dark regions) on the Moon’s surface.

For these regions, big asteroid impacts were more important in sculpting their forms.

The study is also further proof of the value of the Grail mission, led from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This comprised two, near-identical satellites that chased each other around the Moon over the course of a year.

They mapped changes in the pull of gravity as they flew over areas of differing mass.

Big mountains will have a different signal to deep depressions, obviously. But the data also reveals those locations that have different rock types and densities.

In the case of Procellarum, the pair sensed an excess of mass stemming from the presence of all the basaltic lava filling the rift valleys.