Tag Archives: life saving

News Ireland daily BLOG byDonie

Sunday 29th May 2016

Crisis talks needed to patch up cracks in new Irish Government

Fianna Fail anger over Fine Gael row-back on guidance counsellors


Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will hold crisis talks in the coming days as the first chinks in the confidence and supply deal have emerged over plans to hire more guidance counsellors for secondary schools.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is understood to be furious that Fine Gael is rowing back on what he believed was a commitment to fully restore the number of guidance counsellors in schools to pre-financial crisis levels.

The issue of guidance counsellors was a sticking point during government negotiations with Fianna Fail insisting it form part of the agreement for facilitating a Fine Gael-led minority government.

The agreement states that Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s government will commit to “reintroduce guidance counselling to secondary schools”

However, the parties are now at loggerheads over how this should be achieved.

The Fine Gael/Labour ¬Coalition abolished so called ex-quota guidance counselling hours and included counsellors in pupil/teacher ratios.

Fianna Fail is insisting guidance counsellors should be reintroduced in all secondary schools and the roles should be excluded from pupil/teacher ratios when funding is allocated.

Fine Gael believes guidance counsellors should be included in pupil/teacher ratios and schools should have the power to decide on their own staffing resources.

A senior government source said school management and principals hold a “very different view” to Fianna Fail on guidance counsellors.

“There is also a big difference in what school management would say and what the lobby for guidance counsellors say about this,” the source said.

Fianna Fail’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne is to meet with Education Minister Richard Bruton this week to discuss the issue. He said reintroducing guidance counsellors is a “priority” for Fianna Fail.

“It’s very clear in the confidence and supply agreement but more importantly this service has never been more necessary in our schools,” he said.

“Mr Bruton will simply have to deliver what Fine Gael has already agreed to in the confidence and supply agreement and I look forward to meeting him this week to get confirmation on that,” he added.

The minister’s spokesman said he is also looking forward to meeting Mr Byrne to discuss “how to best implement the commitment on guidance counselling”.

“Minister Bruton will be keen to listen to views as to how best implement this commitment through future budgets,” he said.

“In deciding the best approach, the best interests of the child and the best means of providing guidance counselling will be paramount,” he added.

In response to a parliamentary question last week, Mr Bruton said to fully restore guidance counsellors it will require an additional 300 teaching posts at an estimated cost of €19m per year.

Mr Burton is understood to have scheduled meetings with all of the opposition ¬education spokespersons.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail is preparing a raft of new legislation which it hopes will get cross-party support in the new Dail.

The party is set to introduce up to 20 bills in the coming weeks. Last week, the party’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan introduced a private members bill which will strip the power to rule on parole hearings from the ¬Justice Minister. Parole hearings would instead be heard by an independent review body.

Sinn Fein’s justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said he agreed in principle with the bill and said his party is likely to vote for it in the Dail.

Fianna Fail is also bringing forward legislation to clamp down on abuses of the au pair system. It will introduce a cultural exchange programme which will take in au pairs and ensure they do not work more than five hours a day and have two days off a week.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry has drafted a bill to ring-fence tax from alcohol sales for mental health services, and legislation to prevent repossession of the family home.

The Government is set to discuss re-introducing bills drafted by the last administration at this week’s cabinet meeting. New ministers are also expected to draft new ¬legislation in the coming weeks.

Brendan Howlin expects this minority Government to fall within 12 months

New Labour leader says party not rewarded by voters for ‘spectacular’ economic recovery


Brendan Howlin (above left) now says I think we will have another general election in the next 12 months?

The Labour Party leader said on Saturday he expects the minority Government to collapse shortly and his party is preparing for another general election within 12 months.

Brendan Howlin was speaking on Saturday after meeting party councillors for the first time since becoming party leader.

Mr Howlin said what the country required was a Government that was agile and had the trust of the people to respond to crisis.

“We don’t have that now. I think we will have another general election in the next 12 months, that would be my view. We have to prepare for that.”

Addressing his party’s disastrous election performance, in which it lost 30 of its 37 seats, Mr Howlin wry observed that “if Bill Clinton had been right – and it was all about the economy stupid – we should have fared better at the last election.”

“But economic statistics are arid affairs and difficult to excite the public about. And it is the case too that the debate about the last election had a touch of survivors bias about it.”

Mr Howlin said Labour’s opponents Sinn Féin and the AAA/PBP “would have driven the economy into the ground had they been let. We didn’t let them. The economy recovered. Spectacularly.”

He said his party was not given credit for solving the big problem of the State’s solvency and could not solve all of the other problems and suffered as a consequence at the hands of the voters.

Mr Howlin pointed to data this week showing that unemployment has almost halved from 15 per cent to 8 per cent and said this was a statistic that the party should “shout from the rooftops. This is nothing to do with the new Government. It is all our work and we should be proud of it.”

Describing this as an incredible achievement which had directly led to 155,000 people and their families becoming better off, he said it was ironic that this did not work in the party’s favour during the election.

The not so clear understanding of body mass index (BMI)

Is it time to move away from a BMI-focused approach at the level of the individual?


Given the relationship between increased weight, and diabetes and heart disease, you would expect that a rising BMI would be associated with increasing mortality but that is not the case

“The road is long, With many a winding turn, That leads us to who knows where”

The lyrics of the Hollies hit He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother fit nicely along the convoluted road that is the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and health.

From being an accepted arbiter of whether you were overweight, obese or a member of that elusive category, normal, the emperor’s clothes have become somewhat tattered of late. Add conflicting advice on healthy eating, and the world of fitness and health has become most uncertain.

BMI, which is calculated by dividing your weight (in kg) by the square of your height (in metres), gained currency as a more accurate measure of “healthy” weight following the publication in 1972 of a paper in the Journal of Chronic Diseases by Ancel Keys.

He argued that BMI was, “if not fully satisfactory, at least as good as any other relative weight index as an indicator of relative obesity”.

Keys was prescient in describing BMI as “not fully satisfactory”. Using the ultimate outcome of mortality, the optimal BMI associated with lowest risk of all causes of mortality is no longer certain.

Given the relationship between increased weight and a greater incidence of diabetes and heart disease, you would expect that a rising BMI would be associated with increasing mortality. However, compared with normal weight, being underweight is associated with increased mortality, and a moderately elevated BMI is associated with lower mortality. This unexpected relationship is called the obesity paradox.

In a paper published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Danish researchers found that the optimal BMI associated with lowest mortality had increased from 23.7 to 27 over three decades. In addition, they reported the risk of all-cause mortality linked to a BMI of 30 (traditionally the cut-off point between being overweight and obese) now equates to the risk associated with having a BMI of 18.5-to 25 (underweight/ normal range).

Their finding calls into question the validity of the World Health Organisation(WHO) overweight categories, which define a BMI of 20-25 as normal, with 25-30 classified as being overweight.

“If this finding is confirmed in other studies, it would indicate a need to revise the WHO categories presently used to define overweight, which are based on data from before the 1990s,” the authors say.

Why the increase in BMI associated with lowest all-cause mortality has occurred over time is a mystery that needs further study.

Is the improved treatment of cardiovascular disease in people who remain overweight conferring a survival advantage that is independent of the person’s weight?

How is the known link between obesity and higher rates of cancer feeding into this mortality decline? Is weight gain in later life more or less life-limiting than being overweight from childhood?

It may be time to move away from a BMI-focused approach at the level of the individual patient. For example, obesity staging systems focus on overall cardiometabolic health, rather than BMI.

Better measurements of body fat, such as waist circumference, may also help. And some mechanism for incorporating a person’s exercise levels into the obesity “equation” is worth exploring also.

The publication in Britain last week of a controversial report, advocating that we eat more fat, muddies the waters even more.

The National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration called for a diet low in refined carbohydrates but high in healthy fats, saying it offers “an effective and safe approach for preventing weight gain and aiding weight loss”.

There is no doubt that, from the frontline of clinical practice, guidelines suggesting high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were a universal panacea, did not reduce obesity levels. Looking back, dietary guidelines demonising fat were an open invitation to increase sugar and carbohydrate consumption.

Between measuring and dieting, overweight/ obesity is truly in a “terrible state o’ chassis”.

HSE group to consider funding for two new life saving cancer drugs?


                            The new Health Minister Simon Harris.

A special drugs group in the HSE is expected to meet on Wednesday to consider funding for two new cancer medicines.

Cancer specialists have warned that time is running out for a group of patients with advanced skin cancer and other forms of the disease who could benefit from the blockbuster drugs.

Health Minister Simon Harris said this evening he has asked the HSE group to convene this week to discuss making the drugs pembrolizumab and nivolizumab available under HSE schemes.

He said he was very concerned about the patients involved. It is unclear if the funding of the drugs will come out of HSE funds or whether the Department of Expenditure and Reform will have to make more money available.

The HSE has insisted it has a responsibility to source the most effective medicine on behalf of patients at an affordable price to the taxpayer.

“As is the case for all new medicines, the clinical benefits of pembrolizumab and nivolizumab are being carefully considered under a process of health technology assessment, in order to determine value for money and patient benefits.

It estimated if it had to pay the price demanded by Merk Sharpe and Dohme for mbrolizumab it would cost €64m over five years.

“Affordability of drugs generally, and of new medicines, is an issue globally and there are a range of other new medicines also becoming available to the market in 2016.

“The HSE must operate within its allocated budget for 2016 and within this prioritise the allocation of resources across the entire health system. In the 2016 HSE Service Plan an additional €7 million was allocated for Cancer Drugs to support the National Cancer Control Programme’s Systemic Therapy Programme.”

It has been claimed that decision on funding expensive new medicines was being removed from the HSE, and given to the Department of Expenditure and Reform , with senior Ministers having the say on whether they be made available to patients.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said the HSE will continue to assess and make decisions in relation to new medicines in the normal manner.

However, decisions that would have a substantial budget impact for will go to the Department.

The natural beauty of Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa resort in beautiful West Cork

Des O’Dowd, owner of Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, tells Sean Gallagher what makes the resort so special


Des O’Dowd with Sean Gallagher (right Pic.) on the beach at Inchydoney.

To most of us who live here and to the millions of tourists who visit us each year, Ireland is most definitely a country of great natural beauty.

From our towns and villages, to our rolling green hills and beautiful sandy beaches, there’s something natural and unspoilt about this land we live in. Add to this the quality of our food, the uniqueness of our culture, and the warmth and friendliness of our people and it’s easy to see why tourism plays such an important role in Ireland’s economic future.

With that in mind, I paid a visit last week to Des O’Dowd, owner of one of the country’s best known holiday destinations – Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa in beautiful West Cork.

Located just outside the heritage town of Clonakilty and overlooking the magnificent Blue Flag beaches of Inchydoney Island, this is a real gem in Ireland’s tourism offering. Built in 1998 and with an annual turnover of €7m, the resort is now a significant local employer with as many as 185 staff employed there at peak times.

“We are an Irish owned and operated four-star hotel and spa,” explains Des proudly as he shows me around the hotel’s expansive facilities which includes 67 bedrooms, 14 self-catering apartments, a seawater spa, two restaurants, a bar and a large function room.

The most striking feature of this hotel is, without doubt, its unique setting. Perched on a slope overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the entire resort enjoys magnificent panoramic views of the sprawling white sandy beaches that stretch out endlessly in front of it.

“We recently carried out research into why our guests choose to come back so regularly to us. And what we discovered really surprised us,” explains Des. “We were sure it would be the high quality of our food, the uniqueness of our seawater spa or the high level of customer service delivered by our staff. But in fact, the answer turned out to be our unique location in West Cork, our proximity to Clonakilty – and this beautiful beach,” he adds as he leads me onto the strand.

“While it’s a gorgeous sunny day here today, the beach is seldom empty. People swim here all year round and there are always plenty of individuals and couples walking by themselves or with their dogs,” he adds.

I also notice a thriving surf school adjacent to the hotel, and further down the beach I even spot a group of women exercising as part of a summer fitness boot camp. Back in the hotel, we visit the Gulf Stream restaurant. Specialising in seafood dishes, it too enjoys the most stunning sea views. Downstairs, the more informal Dunes Bar has become a real favourite for those who enjoy their steaks.

“The quality of our food is very important – and for that reason we source from local West Cork suppliers,” explains Des.

Next, it’s on to the hotel’s award-winning spa. Back in 1998, this became the country’s first Thalassotherapy Spa (the term derives from the Greek words for ‘sea’ and ‘medical treatment’) and includes a unique heated seawater therapy pool, as well as a myriad of treatments based on sea muds and seaweed.

“Our main market is Irish people who want to get away and spend quality time by themselves or with partners, friends and family,” explains Des. “We are blessed with a very loyal customer base, with most of our business coming from repeat customers or those who have received recommendations from family or friends. Many of these have been coming here for years, which means a lot to us. While we do attract guests from the UK, Europe and the USA, these are normally individuals or small groups looking for an authentic Irish experience – rather the larger bus or tour operator type bookings,” he adds.

Des O’Dowd is no stranger to Inchydoney. In fact, he grew up only a few miles away in Bandon. After school, he spent a summer working in Waterville Hotel on the Ring of Kerry which sparked his initial interest in the hotel sector. He later joined a local accounting firm in Cork as a trainee accountant before moving to Dublin where he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1991.

After a year working in the hotel industry in South Africa, he returned home to a job as an accountant in Mount Juliet. However, his break came in 1998, when Cork developer John Fleming – who had just finished building the new Inchydoney Lodge and Spa – began looking for an operator to run the hotel. It was the opportunity Des had been looking for. Together with another colleague, whom he had met in Mount Juliet, he decided to take on the challenge.

At the time, the pair also negotiated an option to buy out the hotel at some point in the future if the opportunity arose. And in 2008 (at which point his partner had moved on to pursue other opportunities), Des decided to exercise the option himself and became the proud owner of the hotel.

“My timing couldn’t have been more off – it was right at the start of the downturn,” says Des. “One bit of advice I got at the time was that Inchydoney is a jewel and to be successful, my primary job was to keep polishing that jewel. And that’s what I’ve tried to do ever since,” he adds.

While running any hotel involves managing a lot of complex moving parts, running an Irish owner-operated hotel brings its own challenges. When Des first began running the hotel during the boom years, he found he had to compete with hotels funded by wealthy individuals, who were not as focused on commercial returns as he needed to be. When the downturn took hold, he was then faced with having to compete with hotels that were being run by receivers or Nama.

“Today, we find ourselves increasingly competing with wealthy foreign companies who have more resources than we do,” he adds.

Deciding not to drop prices and lose quality as some hotels did, Des instead took the more strategic decision of focus on his target market – loyal and repeat customers.

“You can’t be exclusive and not exclude some markets,” explains Des. “So we don’t try and be five-star or three-star. We want to be an excellent four-star. Similarly, we don’t cater for groups like hen or stag parties, as it would detract from our core market,” he adds.

Key to their ongoing success has been the commitment and loyalty of his staff, most of whom have been with the hotel since it opened or shortly afterwards. Having survived the downturn, the team is now stronger than ever before.

“I take the responsibility that comes with being an employer seriously, and I strive to make this not only a great place to visit but a great place to work. Happy staff also make for happy customers,” he adds. He recently invested over €500k on general improvement works and plans to invest the same again in the near future.

“My commitment to this business is not like that of a short-term investment by a hedge fund or an international opportunist buyer. My ambition is to be the long-term owner and operator of one of the most relevant and interesting four-star hotels in Ireland,” explains Des passionately. “I absolutely love West Cork and I’m lucky to live and work in such a beautiful and friendly place.”

Having experienced the uniqueness that is Inchydoney, together with its welcoming atmosphere and magnificent surroundings, I look forward to joining the ranks of those who come back again.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 16th May 2016

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

Utility states customers must pay outstanding balances despite suspension of charges


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspension to end of March.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Naval ship LÉ Róisín rescues 125 migrants in the Mediterranean

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Mediterranean deaths?

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

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

New Government strategy aims to tackle Irish obesity levels

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New calorie content Legislation.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Well, that’s not the case at all?

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

It could cause the pilot to get a headache.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Ireland daily news BLOG

Friday/Saturday 26th/27th February 2015

New Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s unveils the biggest reshuffle of Garda ever in the state


Forty officers assigned to new posts and a further 53 transferred to other positions? The changes represent Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s most significant change to the force.

Almost half of all Garda superintendents and chief superintendents have been assigned to new posts by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

The extent of the change is unprecedented in the force’s 93-year history.

The management shake-up is designed to rebrand and reform the Garda after a period of sustained controversy and in the face of significant criticism.

Some 40 officers have been assigned to their new posts after promotion and a further 53 have been transferred to new positions, though they remain at their existing rank.

At chief superintendent level, there are six promotions into the rank and 12 transfers. The 18 officers moving represent 41 per cent of all chief superintendents in the force.

And the 34 promotions into the rank of superintendent combined with the 41 transfers at that level represents 45 per cent of all superintendents in the force.

The promotions were anticipated, but the scale of the transfers was a surprise and is the biggest reshuffle of the force in the history of the State.

The extent of the changes were last night being interpreted within the force as Commissioner O’Sullivan “putting her stamp on” the Garda and making clear she was determined to reform the force.

The management reshuffle represents her most significant action since being formally appointed in November. She had been in the post on an interim basis for nine months.

Under the latest changes, a number of the highest profile units in the force have new officers in control and a large number of geographic divisions are also under new management.

The units with new management include: Garda Bureau Fraud Investigation; Garda Professional Standards Unit; Garda National Traffic Bureau; Garda NationalImmigration Bureau; Garda National Drug Unit and Organised Crime Unit; National Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Child Protection and Human Exploitation Unit.

The divisions with new officers in charge include: Westmeath; Kilkenny-Carlow; Mayo; Kildare, Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) West; Wicklow; DMR South Central; DMR North.

“These allocations, and the resulting additional changes at these ranks, are a critical element of our transformation programme,” Commissioner O’Sullivan said.

“They will allow us to develop the new structures, units and approaches required to ensure we are providing the best possible service to the public.”

Tackling Organised crime?

Following on from the widespread criticisms of the Garda’s approach to investigating crime contained in a major review Garda Inspectorate, a number of structural changes for the force have also been unveiled.

A new “strategic transformation office” has been established to manage the reform programme that has arisen from the Inspectorate’s report and recent controversies, including those involving penalty points.

The Garda National Drugs Unit and Organised Crime Unit have been combined to target organised gangs.

“Risk compliance and continuous improvement” offices have been established in each region to standardise policing processes and monitor the implementation of new initiatives such as victim support services, which the inspectorate had strongly criticised.

Detective superintendents in the regions will take responsibility for crime investigation, crime prevention and pro-active policing in their areas. This is seen as a decentralisation of powers from mostly Dublin based specialist units.

A new chief superintendent’s post has been established to oversee the new Child Protection, Domestic Violence and Human Exploitation Unit.

The commissioner said the placement of new officers in these new roles meant they would develop the skills and capacity needed to bring about the planned reforms across the force.

“Along with other key elements of the transformation plan, these changes will help deliver a victim-centred, community-focused police service that seeks to prevent crime in the first instance and then, when it does occur, investigates it professionally and thoroughly,” she said.

Michael D Higgins says Irish job insecurity fears needs to be addressed

Irish president stresses need to help those in precarious employment during RCSI lecture


President Michael D Higgins said the fears and aspirations of those trapped in chronic job insecurity must be addressed during his Edward Phelan lecture at RCSI.

Large swathes of the active populations of European countries are trapped in chronic job insecurity and their fears and aspirations need to be addressed, PresidentMichael D Higgins has said.

Delivering the Edward Phelan lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), he said a new class of people with precarious employment, sometimes known as a “precariat”, had emerged from the most recent period of globalisation.

“Unlike the proletariat – the industrial working class on which social democracy was built – the precariat is defined by partial involvement in labour combined with extensive ‘work-for-labour’, that is, a growing array of unremunerated activities, often internships of various sorts, that are required to get access to remunerated jobs.”

Mr Higgins said the extension of the “precariat” had been accelerated by the recent financial crisis.

He also maintained that the shift towards precarious employment did not just affect those in low-skilled jobs. He argued that recent analysis of the education sector showed that a considerable volume of teaching and research work was carried out by “temporary lecturers”, “adjunct lecturers”, and so-called “teaching assistants”, who had no job security and must repeatedly resume their exhausting hunt for the next short-term contract.

‘Defining challenge’

Mr Higgins said that “responding to the needs, the fears and the aspirations of those citizens among us who do not enjoy security of employment is a defining challenge for our times”.

“It is a task not just for those who claim to represent the most vulnerable in society, but for all democrats, for trade unionists in all sectors, for workers’ representatives on permanent contracts, and for tenured staff in our universities.”

“Were no genuine alternative to be articulated and translated into a plurality of policy options, populist politicians and heinous religious preachers alike will find it easy to exploit the fears and insecurities of precarious workers. This issue lies at the heart of the crisis which confronts European democracy.”

Mr Higgins said we cannot afford to let social cohesion unravel under the combined effects of the commodification of labour and the depoliticisation of economic policy.

“Distinguishing between populist manipulation of the masses and genuine empowerment of the citizenry through the democratic appropriation of debates on economic issues, it is important to affirm forcefully that no single economic paradigm can ever be adequate to address the complexity of our world’s varying contexts and contingencies.

“Decisions in the economic and financial fields should always remain amenable to political debate; they should not be abandoned to the automaticity of rigid fiscal rules, even less so as economists disagree over the theoretical soundness of such rules.

“We need to foster widespread economic literacy, supported by a pluralist scholarship and accountable policy options in a deliberative democracy.”

Mr Higgins said he was calling for an examination of the assumptions associated with a brand of economics that recast the market as a general principle for regulating the economy, treating labour, land and money as if they were pure commodities.

“The recent economic crisis has shown, on the contrary, that markets do require an institutional framework within which transactions between economic agents can be conducted under the auspices of a third party that guarantees their fairness over the long-term of human existence.

“Without such overarching regulatory authority, contractual relationships would run the risk of reverting to arbitrary logics and the expression of the will of the strongest.”

‘The interview that saved John Connell life’

The listener credits Ryan Tubridy’s 2FM’s interview with preventing his suicide


Ryan Tubridy received an email from a listener who said his show had prevented him from taking his own life

A listener to Ryan Tubridy’s 2FM radio show has credited the broadcaster’s interview with John Connell about depression with saving his life.

Tubridy interviewed the author on Tuesday morning about his battles with depression as a young man.

The listener today emailed the show to thank Tubridy for the interview which prevented him from taking his own life as he had intended that morning.

Tubridy read out the email on air.

It said, “The other morning I packed myself into my car and to the whole world it would have seemed like I was heading out to work, although on this occasion my pockets were loaded iwth painkillers and antidepressants.

“You see, on this occasion I was on a mission of self-destruction borne out of the pain of living and yet quite by chance the radio was tuned to Tubridy and on comes John Connell, on a radio station renowned for pop music and, dare I say it, nonsense at times, but that interview saved my life.”

The listener went on to reveal that he had been a victim of abuse at the age of nine, which led to more issues later in life.

“As a young boy of nine I suffered abuse, something I hide from the world, something I couldn’t face, something that gave me so much guilt, something that changed my world forever,” he said.

“Later in life my guilt manifested itself in addiction – alcoholism and compulsive gambling.  Addiction always needs that pat on the back to say, ‘Well done son, you’re great’ but always that deep, dark self-loathing.

“Nine years ago I entered a treatment centre for the gambling and alcohol addictions and one day at a time I’m still clean and sober but that’s only half the battle.

“That dreadful black dog creeps and crawls its way into my world.  The blackness it brings is so horrendous, a scratch you can’t itch, a pain invisible to all but me, a living hell.  The desire to self-destruct far outweighs the need to keep going.”

The man described himself as “fifty-something year old” who sometimes “feels like that nine year old boy, afraid and alone at sea, running as fast as he can and not moving an inch”.

However, he said he gained some insight from the interview with John Connell.

“And yet the other morning I got hope, hope to face that fear, to realise that help is out there just like the help I got to face addiction,” he said.

“I just need to find the courage to ask for it, to not hide behind a smile, the one that blocks out people, the ones that truly care.”

He said he had attempted suicide by various means four times in the past four years but “something has always saved me”.

He said, “Today I’m looking at the world with just a tad of hope.”

He said he was going re-engage with a counselllor and added, “As John said, there is a future.  The most dangerous place I can go to is into my own head alone.

“I need to use the services available and count the blessings I have and in no uncertain terms ask the good Lord to help me.”

Tubridy responded to the email by simply saying, ‘Well I don’t need to say anything about that”.

Anyone affected by depression or issues in this article can contact the Samaritans for free in the Republic of Ireland on 116 123 or Northern Ireland on 08457 90 90 90.www.samartians.org.

Coffee may protect against Multiple Sclerosis?


Case-control studies suggest coffee may protect against the risk of MS.

Filling up on coffee may protect against development of multiple sclerosis, according to findings from two cohort studies.

In both studies, patients with the highest levels of coffee consumption had significantly lower risks of developing MS over various time periods, Ellen Mowry, MD, of Johns Hopkins, and colleagues reported in an early-release abstract from this year’s American Academy of Neurology meeting.

The authors suspect that the caffeine in coffee is responsible for the relationship.

“Caffeine could be an attractive compound given its apparent benefit in protecting against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases,” Mowry said in an email to MedPage Today. “The exact mechanism by which it does so in those diseases is unclear, and if caffeine is confirmed to be protective in MS, it may still be acting via a different mechanism.”

Although the balance of evidence linking coffee and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s falls on the side of benefit, the literature on coffee and MS is far less clear.

“The literature is a bit limited with respect to coffee and MS risk,” Mowry said. “One study showed no apparent association between the two, although notably that study had fewer patients than ours.”

She noted that her study was limited because it “asked patients about prior coffee intake after the diagnosis of MS was made, such that it is possible that ‘recall bias’ played a role. For example, perhaps patients with MS subconsciously underestimated their previous coffee intake more than people without MS.”

She and colleagues conducted two population-based, case-control studies. One was a Swedish study that included 1,629 MS cases and 2,087 controls. The other was a Kaiser Permanente Northern California study of 584 cases and 581 controls.

In the Swedish cohort, they found that drinking coffee was associated with a reduced odds of developing MS compared with drinking no coffee at all.

The reduction in risk was greatest for those who drank the most coffee. Those who reported having at least six cups a day or more had a 33% reduction in risk of developing MS compared with not drinking any coffee (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.95).

The researchers also found that those who had high coffee consumption for either 5 or 10 years before the index year had a lower likelihood of developing MS:

•           5 years: OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.50-0.99

•           10 years: OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.48-1.06

Similar results were seen in the northern California study. People who drank at least four cups of coffee per day prior to the index year also had a 33% reduction in risk of MS compared with those who drank no coffee, they found (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.47-0.95).

A possible explanation for the association is that the caffeine in the coffee has neuroprotective properties and may suppress the production of proinflammatory cytokines, the researchers said.

Although the relationship requires further study, Mowry said coffee and caffeine should also be studied for potential effects relapses and long-term disability in MS.

A white-tailed eagle found dead in Lisnaskea


The Irish Wildlife Trust has revealed that a white-tailed eagle has been found dead. The discovery was made in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “We are sorry to bring you the terrible news that another white-tailed eagle has been found dead. The male white-tailed eagle, Ingar, was almost four years old and had spent most of the last year on Upper & Lower Lough Erne.

“It had been hoped that he was going to set up a territory on the lake and take a mate but sadly this is not to be.

“With a long life span and small reproductive output, every eagle is important in the reintroduction scheme and every loss a heavy, heavy blow.

“People on this island, north and south, need to unite to stamp out the persecution of all our wildlife, especially birds of prey.”

Bumblebees form false memories as us humans,

Scientists now say


The early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), is one of the smaller bumblebees.

When recalling memories, some individuals can remember items incorrectly. Tiny, buzzing little insects known as bumblebees can be unreliable witnesses too, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology – the first to explore false memories in any non-human animals.

“We discovered that the memory traces for two stimuli can merge, such that features acquired in distinct bouts of training are combined in the animal’s mind. As a result, stimuli that have actually never been viewed before, but are a combination of the features presented in training, are chosen during memory recall,” said Dr Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London, who is a co-author on the study.

Dr Chittka and his colleague, Dr Kathryn Hunt, trained bumblebees to expect a reward when visiting a solid yellow artificial flower followed by one with black-and-white rings or vice versa.

During subsequent tests, bumblebees were given a choice between three types of flowers. Two were the yellow and the black-and-white types they’d seen before. The third type of flower had yellow-and-white rings, representing a mixed-up version of the other two. Minutes after the training, they showed a clear preference for the flower that most recently rewarded them. Their short-term memory for the flowers was good.

One or three days later, however, something very different happened when the bumblebees’ memory was put to the test.

At first, the bumblebees showed the same preference displayed in the earlier tests, but as the day wore on, they appeared to grow confused.

Half of the time, they began selecting the flower with yellow rings, even though they’d never actually seen that one in training before.

“The insects’ observed merging of long-term memories is similar to the memory conjunction errors humans sometimes make,” the scientists said.

“We don’t think those false memories in either bumblebees or humans are simply bugs in the system, but rather are side effects of an adaptive memory system that is working rather well.”

Dr Chittka added: “there is no question that the ability to extract patterns and commonalities between different events in our environment is adaptive.”

“Indeed, the ability to memorize the overarching principles of a number of different events might help us respond in new situations. But these abilities might come at the expense of remembering every detail correctly.”

In bumblebees, with their limited brain capacity, the pressure to economize by storing overarching features of a class of objects rather than each individual object might be even more intense.

“We are fascinated to learn how lifetime experiences accumulate and are integrated in making day-to-day foraging decisions,” Dr Chittka said.