Tag Archives: mental-health

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Theresa May to meet An Taoiseach Enda Kenny amid growing Brexit fears

British leader is visiting Dublin as concerns increase over UK’s plan for leaving the EU

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British prime minister Theresa May plans to meet Enda Kenny in Dublin on today Monday.

British prime minister Theresa May meets the Taoiseach in Dublin on Monday amid growing concern in Government about the impact of a hard Brexit on the Border and on trade between Ireland and Britain.

The meeting comes two weeks after Ms May said Britain would leave the single market and key parts of the customs union when it withdraws from the EU.

Ms May has identified maintaining the Common Travel Area as a key objective in Brexit negotiations and the Government is confident that there is broad support in other EU member states for that position.

The prime minister’s decision to leave the customs union’s common commercial policy and common external tariff, however, has made some form of customs control along the Border difficult to avoid.

The EU is responsible for agreeing trade policy on behalf of all its member states and there is little enthusiasm in Brussels for a special trade arrangement between Britain and Ireland.


The focus for British and Irish negotiators is likely to be on ensuring that any customs controls on the Border will be as “frictionless” and unobtrusive as possible.

Last night, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the prime minister was aware of the concerns the Government had about the impact of Brexit on the island.

He said Ms May’s visit afforded an opportunity to hear her priorities and to discuss her response to the difficulties Ireland faced.

“Our priorities are well known to the British prime minister and I believe it’s important that [today] we hear her view on what again is a great challenge to the island of Ireland with particular reference to our economy, our trade with the United Kingdom and of course the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process and the need to ensure, in the context of the forthcoming negotiations that the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is fully adhered to,” Mr Flanagan said.

Before travelling to Dublin, Ms May will host a meeting in Cardiff of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) which co-ordinates the relationships between Downing Street and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

No veto

Britain’s supreme court ruled last week that the devolved administrations have no veto over the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which starts formal Brexit negotiations.

Ahead of the meeting in Cardiff, however, the prime minister said she remained committed to listening to the views of legislators in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We will not agree on everything, but that doesn’t mean we will shy away from the necessary conversations and I hope we will have further constructive discussions today,” she said.

“The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, and the UK government has a responsibility to deliver on that mandate and secure the right deal for the whole of the UK.

“We all have a part to play in providing certainty and leadership so that together we can make a success of the opportunities ahead.”

Irish House building activity increased by more than 30% in 2016

A total of 5,626 residential units registered in year, says Construction Industry Federation

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The majority of housing units registered last year were in Dublin.

House building activity increased by more than 30 per cent in 2016, according to the latest figures from the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

A total of 5,626 residential units were registered to start construction in 2016, a 31 per cent increase on 2015.

The majority of housing units registered last year, or some 3,223 homes, were in Dublin, but house building activity is also strengthening elsewhere in Ireland, the federation said.

“All measures of house building activity and housing output show a strengthening trend as we begin 2017,” said CIF director general Tom Parlon.

“However, the planning environment and access to development finance will continue to be critical factors for all involved in the house building sector.”

Housing supply will remain “a key issue confronting industry and Government” throughout 2017, he said.

“Measures must be taken to provide finance to regional housebuilders in tandem with the recent measures taken at national level such as the local infrastructure fund and the help-to-buy initiative,” Mr Parlon added.

An increase

According to the CIF House Building Activity Report, a total of 11,320 residential units were commenced in the 11-month period January to November 2016.

This figure represents an increase of 46.5 per cent, or 3,593 units, on the total number of units commenced during the first 11 months of 2015.

Individual or one-off housing accounted for 36 per cent of total commencements.

Urban centres such as Cork and greater Dublin continue to experience the most concentrated levels of new housing supply with 1,419 and 6,209 new units commenced respectively last year.

A total of 13,376 residential units were completed in the 11-month period January to November 2016, which represents an 18.2 per cent increase in activity on the same period in 2015. The average monthly completion figure currently stands at 1,216 units.

In its last House Building Activity Report, the CIF estimated that circa 14,000 residential units would be completed by the end of 2016. But it said activity had increased near the tail end of the year and that the final figure would be closer to 14,500.

€500,000 to be invested in boosting tourism at Ireland’s national parks

The funding will focus on the five national parks and five nature reserves along the Wild Atlantic Way, as well as Wicklow National Park.

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Failte IRELAND is set to invest some €500,000 in boosting tourism to Ireland’s national parks.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny today announced Fáilte Ireland’s new strategic partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS), which aims to increase tourism in the rural areas where the parks are located.

This initial funding will focus on tTourism Irl.,he five national parks and five nature reserves along the Wild Atlantic Way, as well as Wicklow National Park.

Announcing the initiative in Ballycroy National Park, Co Mayo, Kenny said the money “will undoubtedly allow for the design of excellent tourism projects building on the strengths of each location, as well as further promoting our national parks and nature reserves for visitors and tourists”.

Michael Ring, Minister for State for Regional Economic Development, added: “While the last few years have been difficult in relation to exchequer funding, I am delighted that we are now in a position to invest further in our natural heritage”.

A bumper year in 2016.

Speaking about the project, Fáilte Ireland’s Director of Strategic Development Orla Carroll said: “We know from our own research that more and more visitors want to experience the Irish landscape up-close and personal.

Our national parks can do just that – by unlocking this potential we can give our visitors a real opportunity to get back to nature and get in touch with Ireland.

2016 was a record-breaking year for Irish tourism, with nine million visits taking place in the first 11 months. There were 8,919,700 million visits to Ireland up to the end of November, an 11% increase compared to the same period in 2015.

Galway city and 23 other towns to be added to the 4% rent cap list

Opposition TDs criticise Coveney’s decision not to include Waterford and Limerick in list

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Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he was delivering on the commitment he gave when he published the Government’s rental strategy in December.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has confirmed rent caps are to be extended to Galway city and 23 towns.

They were declared “rent pressure zones” after the Government reached agreement with Fianna Fáil. Galway city, nine towns in Meath, seven in Kildare, three in Wicklow and four in Cork will have rent increases restricted to 4 per cent per annum for the next three years.

Mr Coveney said he was delivering on the commitment he gave when he published the Government’s rental strategy in December, naming Dublin and Cork as rent-pressure zones.

Opposition TDs have criticised the decision not to add Waterford and Limerick to the list.

A push for more towns?

Fianna Fáil spokesman on housing Barry Cowen said the party would continue to push for more towns to be included. He said they had sought the inclusion of 40 towns.

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan said tenants in Waterford and Limerick would suffer as a result of the decision. “This is disastrous for tenants who are already struggling to pay and now face rises they can’t afford. Linking rent increases to the consumer price index as the Labour Party has proposed would have been a much fairer way to go.

“The people of Limerick, Waterford and other parts of the country are now left with no protection from steep hikes, which is a direct result of this legislation.”

Rent pressure zones

Mr Coveney said in drawing up the list of rent pressure zones, he was guided solely by information given by the Residential Tenancies Board.

“In rough speak there needs to be a sustained level of unsustainable rental increases for four of the last six months. There needs to have been at least seven per cent annual rental inflation in rental markets.

“Secondly, it needs to be a high rent in that area, it needs to be above the national average.

“I want to reassure people. This isn’t politicians making designations to be popular or to try and bring home good news to their areas.”

Towns to have rent caps:

Naas, Sallins , Celbridge, Leixlip, Rathangan, Kildare, Newbridge, Slane, Julianstown, Duleek, Laytown, Bettystown, Ashbourne, Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, Ratoath, Bray, Enniskerry, Wicklow, Douglas, Ballincollig, Carrigaline and Passage West

How cruel & fat shaming comments can actually make people very sick

The cruel comments and mocking behavior can take a real physical toll, researchers say.

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The now President Trump is not without blame?

It’s a sad but true fact: Fat shaming is everywhere. Now, there’s evidence it can do more than damage self-confidence—it may also have serious health consequences. A new study found that overweight women who believe negative messages about their bodies are at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes than those who maintain a more positive body image.

The research, published in the journal Obesity, showed that higher levels of “weight-bias internalization”—the term for what happens when people are aware of negative stereotypes about obesity and apply those stereotypes to themselves—were associated with more cases of metabolic syndrome, a combination of health issues that raise the risk for heart disease and diabetes. This was true above and beyond the effects of body mass index (BMI), indicating that internalization isn’t just a result of weight or other issues, but a risk factor on its own.

“There is a misconception that sometimes a little bit of stigma is necessary to motivate people to lose weight,” says lead author Rebecca Pearl, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “But time and time again, research shows that this is just not the case.”

The new study supports the idea that when people feel bad about themselves, it can affect their physical health as well as their mental health, Pearl says.

To study this effect, Pearl and her colleagues at Penn’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders focused on 159 obese women who were enrolled in a clinical trial to test the effects of weight-loss medication. (The study was funded by the drug’s parent company, Eisai Pharmaceutical Co.)

To determine their level of weight-bias internalization, the women indicated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “I hate myself for being overweight.” The statements touched on stereotypes about overweight people being lazy, unattractive, or incompetent.

The women were also examined to determine whether they had metabolic syndrome, which includes risk factors like high triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference.

After the researchers adjusted for age, gender, race, and BMI, they found that women who scored in the top half for weight-bias internalization were three times more likely to have metabolic syndrome that those in the bottom half. They were also six times more likely to have high triglycerides, one aspect of high cholesterol.

The findings were also adjusted for depression, which is also associated with poor self-esteem and negative body image.

Most of the women in the study were African American. That’s important, says Pearl, because most weight-bias research to-date has included mostly white women. Internalization scores do tend to be lower for black women, Pearl says, “but that doesn’t mean it’s doesn’t affect some African Americans just as it affects white people or Hispanic people.”

The study was not able to show a cause-and-effect relationship, and Pearl says it’s also possible that people with more health problems feel worse about themselves as a result. But previous research helps support the researchers’ theory that bias can have a direct impact on health.

It’s been shown, for example, that fat-shaming experiences can lead to increased inflammation and stress-hormone levels in the body. People who feel bad about their bodies are also less likely to exercise, Pearl adds, and can have a harder time eating healthy.

It isn’t clear why some women internalize weight bias and others don’t, Pearl says—whether they’re in a supportive environment and exposed less to fat shaming, or are simply less vulnerable to its effects. But for many women, she says, these messages are hard to avoid.

“People with obesity are portrayed in negative ways in the media; there’s bullying at school and on social networks; people even feel judged by family members or in health-care settings,” she says.

It’s important for loved ones, and the general public, to be sensitive to this issue, Pearl says. “Rather than blaming and shaming people and being dismissive of their struggle, we need to work collaboratively to set goals to improve health behaviors.”

As for women and men who are struggling with their own body image, Pearl recommends taking a good look at the stereotypes they’ve internalized—and then challenging them.

“A patient claims she overheard a member of staff referring to her”

“as just a psychiatric case”

Our health service must place a greater priority on the physical healthcare needs of people with mental illness, writes Dr Stephen McWilliams.

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Image result for Dr Stephen McWilliams  By Dr Stephen McWilliams

Some patient’s claim that, by virtue of their existing mental illness, they must work twice as hard to have their physical illnesses taken seriously by the health service.

In the waiting rooms of general hospitals, accident and emergency departments and outpatient clinics, they overhear themselves talked about primarily with reference to their anxiety, depression or psychosis, even when their reason for attending is purely physical.

One such patient told me she overheard a member of staff referring to her as “just a psychiatric case”. Another recalled being informed by a general nurse (in a private medical hospital), “we don’t do mental health here.” Such examples are not unusual.

These attitudes, where they exist, come at a cost

Psychiatric patients often feel marginalised in general medical settings. They receive less effective and often delayed care for their physical illnesses because such symptoms are frequently eclipsed by their psychiatric diagnosis.

My patients are not alone in experiencing this. The phenomenon – termed “diagnostic overshadowing” – has been highlighted as a real problem in the healthcare of individuals with psychiatric illness.

Diagnostic overshadowing is a major theme in a recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London entitled: “Whole person care: from rhetoric to reality – Achieving parity between mental and physical health.” In Ireland, the drive to reduce costs has seen funding for the treatment of psychiatric illness gradually shrink in comparison to that for physical illness.

This is despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimation that 350 million people worldwide have depression, making it the world’s leading cause of disability. Mental illness and physical illness are a long way from gaining parity of esteem. They simply are not seen as equally important. It is little wonder people with mental illness sometimes feel disenfranchised.

Separation of mental illness and physical illness is largely artificial

They often occur in the same people. A recent report by the UK think-tank QualityWatch examined 100 million hospital episodes annually over five years. They found that almost half of people with mental ill health have a concurrent physical condition. They are four times more likely to die of respiratory (lung) disease and 2.5 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

QualityWatch also reported that people with serious mental illness die 10 to 17 years younger, which echoes a WHO assertion that individuals with schizophrenia die 10 to 25 years younger.

Suicide accounts for some of this, but physical illness is the main reason. For example, people with schizophrenia are six times more likely to smoke heavily, while approximately half are significantly overweight. Up to 15% have diabetes and 58% have elevated blood pressure.

Meeting medical needs

As a general rule, meeting the medical needs of any patient will reduce the amount of emergency care they need relative to planned care. People with mental illness have 10% fewer planned medical admissions than the general population, according to QualityWatch.

Instead they have three times more A&E attendances and almost five times more emergency admissions. Less than one in five of these emergency admissions among psychiatric patients are to address their mental health needs; most are for the potentially-preventable complications of common illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, epilepsy and various infections.

Individuals with underlying mental illness are more likely to be admitted overnight and they generally remain longer in hospital.

Deaths that could be avoided

It is little wonder that the UK National Health Service has estimated that some 40,000 deaths might be avoided each year if individuals with serious mental illness were afforded the same amount of physical healthcare as the general population. The equivalent number of deaths annually based on Ireland’s population would be almost 3,000.

In the words of the WHO, the reduced life expectancy of individuals with serious mental illness is due to “a society socially and functionally biased towards the population living with severe mental disorder.”

They die earlier not because of their psychiatric illness per se, but “because of the discrimination and lack of access to good health services.” The WHO further asserts that stigma is the biggest barrier preventing people with severe mental illness from receiving effective care.

People with mental illness already get a raw deal

It behoves our health service (our Government and, indeed, society) to place a greater priority than it currently does on the physical healthcare needs of people with mental illness.

Mysterious UFO-shaped cloud appears above mountains in Sweden which baffles skiers

The mysterious cloud was spotted above the mountains in ski resorts in Sweden

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A mysterious UFO-shaped cloud appeared above mountains and baffled skiers who were stunned after seeing it in the sky.

The bizarre sight could be seen over the Duved ski resort in Sweden earlier this week and many stopped on the mountain to take photographs.

Nature photographer Sara Björkebaum spotted the cloud and uploaded a picture of it to her Instagram page, ‘bbaumish’.

Björkebaum, from Sweden, wrote, “Weird weather, cool clouds. I think I may jump on that spaceship.”

Experts have said that it was a “lenticular cloud”, which typically form over mountain peaks.

They usually appear when the air rises near the mountains, and as it cools, it creates a cloud.

An unidentified flying object, or UFO, in its most general definition, is any apparent anomaly in the sky that is not identifiable as a known object or phenomenon. Culturally, UFOs are associated with claims of visitation by extraterrestrial life or government-related conspiracy theories, and have become popular subjects in fiction. UFOs are often identified after their sighting. Sometimes, however, UFOs cannot be identified because of the low quality of evidence related to their sightings.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 11th December 2016

Irish Water spends a hefty €5m on expert advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is an enormous undertaking.

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

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

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

Say construction industry chiefs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks

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

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

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

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

Agreed approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can detect the footprint of the smallest spider

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

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

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

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

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

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 11th August 2016

Gerry Adams says it is time for a united Ireland

Gerry Adams says all parties should come together to talk about Irish unity.


The issue of Irish unity has been absent from official Ireland’s centenary celebrations to mark 1916.

Parades and TV specials were seen, books were written, and reams of newspaper articles published. Songs of the period have been sung and debates held. But the fracture of the island by partition, the abandonment of the 1916 Proclamation as a declaration of freedom and justice for all of Ireland, has been ignored.

The Republic envisaged by the leaders of 1916 and by the Proclamation was to be a rejection of all that was bad, divisive and elitist in British imperialism and colonisation. It was to be an Ireland of equal citizens. A republic for all.

Today those of us who desire that outcome are told by some that we are being divisive. We are told that there will be a united Ireland at some undefined time in the future. But it will not happen through wishful thinking or sitting in a bar singing songs – not that there is anything wrong with singing songs of freedom – or simply talking about it.

It needs a political strategy with clear objectives and actions.

Failure to honour commitments

Those who advocate the wishful thinking approach to Irish unity point to the enhanced relationships between London and Dublin. They praise the ‘special’ relationship between the Irish and British governments as evidence of change. And while it is true that much progress has been made, the reality is that the British government has failed to honour key commitments within the Good Friday and other agreements.

It has unilaterally set aside elements of the various agreements, with barely a whimper of protest, especially from the Irish establishment. It has failed to deliver on a range of important issues, including:

  • A Civic Forum in the north
  • An All-Ireland Civic Forum
  • A Bill of Rights for the North
  • A joint north/south committee of the two Human Rights Commissions
  • An All-Ireland Charter of Rights
  • Honouring its obligations in compliance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
  • The introduction of Acht na Gaeilge

The British have also obstructed efforts to resolve the legacy of the past by refusing to honour its commitments under the Haass agreement, failing to provide information on the Dublin/Monaghan and Dundalk bombs, and reneging on its Weston Park commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.


The real value of the special relationship between the Irish and British governments was demonstrated in the recent Brexit campaign. It is clear the economic interests of the island of Ireland are collateral damage in a fight between factions of the right wing of British politics.

The implications of Brexit are becoming increasingly apparent. It is a real threat to the economy, imposing barriers to trade and a possible EU frontier across Ireland, creating a fundamental crisis in North-South co-operation.

At no time in the Brexit debate was the impact on Ireland, North or South, considered. Our national concerns were dismissed.

The people of the North voted against Brexit. Just as they did in the Good Friday Agreement referendum, all sections of the community, republican and unionist, voted in the best interest of all. They voted to remain in the EU. Yet the British Government say they will impose Brexit on the North against the expressed will of the majority.

The economies north and south are interlinked and interdependent. It has been estimated that 200,000 jobs depend on all-Ireland trade. A recent report on economic modelling of Irish unity demonstrated a dividend and growth in a united Ireland.

The aftermath of the Brexit vote is a clear demonstration of the injustice of partition. It is fundamentally undemocratic and economically wrong. Partition makes no sense. Yet it continues.


A mechanism exists to end partition and bring about Irish unity, through a border poll.

The vast majority of people across Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement. It is worth remembering that 94% of people in the south and 74% of people in the North voted for the agreement.

It included a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity that provided for concurrent referendums north and south. It obliged the two governments to legislate on the basis of referendums for Irish unity.

National unity is in the national interest. Wishful thinking will not bring about unity. We have a mechanism to achieve unity. We need all of those in favour of unity to act together to bring it about.

This is the time to plan and to build the maximum support for unity. The leadership of those parties which support Irish unity, acting together, could be the leadership which delivers it.

Eighteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we should not need to convince the leaders of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to become persuaders for Irish unity.

The Irish government should have a plan for unity. A first step in the next term of the Oireachtas would be the development of an all-party group to bring forward a green paper for unity.

In addition, we need to develop plans for an all island health service; for public services in a united Ireland, through a united Ireland investment and prosperity plan.

Now is the time

The New Ireland Forum in its time created a space for discussion on constitutional options of change and developed a comprehensive economic options paper on the cost of partition.

It failed because it excluded Sinn Féín and operated at a time of a British veto on change – given voice by Margaret Thatcher with her “out, out, out” rejection. Thatcher is gone and so is the British veto.

Constitutional change is in the hands of the people of Ireland, North and South. The politics of exclusion failed, and Sinn Féin is jointly leading the government in the North.

We have the opportunity to end partition and build support for a new and united Ireland. A new Ireland that is built on equality and which is citizen centred and inclusive. The shape of that new Ireland remains to be drawn.

Now is the time for all parties who support Irish unity to come together to design the pathway to a new and united Ireland.

Big concern over €300,000 reduction in Mental Health services


The news that the HSE are looking to cut funding and find savings in Mental Health Services in Sligo Leitrim has caused anger and upset locally.

According to minutes from the May meeting of the HSE’s Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Area, privatisation of a residential service in Mohill is being considered.

The meeting revealed that savings of €30million had to be generated across all services in the Community Health Organisation which covers Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo. As a result of this, €300,000 will need to be saved from Sligo Leitrim Mental Health services before the end of 2016.

As well as cost reductions there were proposals to cut down spending. One of the proposals is looking at the future of Ard na Drise in Mohill as well as exploring possibilities for the Garden Centre and Dochas Clubhouse in Sligo.

Fenagh Councillor and HSE Regional Health Forum member Caillian Ellis said, details of these savings had not been mentioned at the June HSE Regional Forum meeting.

He commented “it is a total disgrace that there would be cuts from the most vulnerable people in society.” He said €300,000 is a “huge cutback” to find before the end of the year.

Cllr Ellis stated mental health services need “more funding, especially in rural Leitrim with many people living alone with financial pressures.”

Sinn Féin TD for Sligo-Leitrim Martin Kenny, speaking said that he was horrified to read in the minutes of a HSE meeting, that far from prioritising mental health, the Executive has plans to slash services in order to balance the books. Minutes of the meeting, which took place in May, of the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Service Area Mental Health Management Team.

Deputy Kenny said, “When I call on behalf of the people I represent for restoration or even maintenance of services, I am told one thing and then I see this report of an internal meeting and find that the HSE’s plan B, is to slash services to the most vulnerable, those with mental health problems. This meeting discusses ways to knock €300,000 off the mental health budget in Sligo Leitrim between now and the end of the year.

“It is a shocking reflection on the HSE that its priorities are based on budgets and not on patients. The list of proposed cuts in horrifying and at a time when every community in Ireland is becoming more aware of the vulnerability of people to taking their lives by suicide, it is nothing short of outrageous.

““I have written to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for reassurance that this scenario will not be allowed to unfold here in this constituency or anywhere else.”

The Psychiatric Nurses Association in Sligo and Leitrim have since threatened to ballot its members over the prospect of cutbacks. The local spokesperson said the service is already under resourced.

A spokesperson for the HSE told the paper, “All services in Community Health Organisation Area 1 (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan & Sligo) have been asked to consider potential cost savings and that is what the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Management Team Minutes reflect.”

The spokesperson stressed, “None of the proposals have been actioned and Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services is well within budget, year to date in 2016.”

The HSE explained, “Ard na Drise was an Independent Living House, it was a private rental to clients of Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services, who provided them with support while they waited for Leitrim County Council houses. This was not a HSE facility and is no longer in use. It was a private rental.

“The clients who lived there have now successfully moved to their own council homes.”

The HSE stated, “There has been no change to the clinical care and treatment that the clients are receiving from the HSE. These clients are still being cared for and supported on a daily basis by their clinical team.”

The minutes for the meeting earlier this Summer reported there “was discussion about reducing service capacity to meet potentially more stringent cutbacks in 2017.”

615 points leaving cert Trinity College asylum student wins right to remain in Ireland


Tatiana Prochukhan with her daughter Nadezda Nadia and St Mary’s School Principle John Michael Porter, said she loves Ireland

An asylum seeker who received anonymous donations amounting to €20,000 to pay for her first year at Trinity College Dublin has been granted a right to remain in Ireland.

Nadezda (Nadia) Prochukhan, 20, shot to national acclaim in 2014 when she achieved 615 points in her Leaving Certificate.

Anonymous donors enabled her to fulfil her dream of studying chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.

Her case was one of two which helped lead to a change in Irish law last year when ex-education minister Jan O’Sullivan announced that third-level student grants would be available to asylum seekers.

Nadia thanked everyone for their support: “People I never met donated money for me to attend my first year of college and that is why I’ve been able to get where I am today. I am so grateful to everyone.”

Nadia, her mother Tatiana, and her younger sister Maria were sent a letter recently informing them their application for asylum, submitted in September 2011, was finally approved.

Tatiana said the family spent the past five years living with no income due to their asylum-seeker status.

The mother had led a campaign for her daughter to be treated like her Irish peers.

Tatiana said being approved to stay in Ireland was one of the greatest moments in her life. She had feared the family would have to survive indefinitely through donations and support from locals in New Ross and her 78-year-old mother in Russia.

“The letter said we have permission to stay in Ireland for three years so we are entitled to everything an Irish citizen is entitled to, apart from being able to vote.

“We can become Irish citizens in five years which would be amazing. We love New Ross and Ireland and I can’t imagine living in anywhere else. The people are so good here.”

She said her family endured five years of suffering from a constant threat of deportation.

“I have been fighting for my children’s lives. Often there was no bread on the table. All our money was stolen before we arrived here. We had to wait for the decision because the Government changed the law twice. We were another cog in the wheel.

“When we got the letter and saw the words we were overjoyed. We were hugging each other.”

She added: “We have been through hell. We had no work permits and no means to make money.

“Someone stole a lot of money from us but we are strong and we remained positive and the people of New Ross and Ireland were amazing to us.’”

Her daughter Nadia is one of the top performers in her class at Trinity College Dublin, where she completed 10 exams in May in her second year of a four-year course.

The Prochukhans are hopeful Nadia will be awarded a grant for her third and fourth years, as the fees come to €8,000 per year at Trinity.

“We have completed all the forms and we are waiting word from the social welfare office.

“My mother Nina has been paying our rent. She is 78 and works three jobs.”

She said the most difficult thing to witness over recent years was her daughters never felt equal to their Irish peers.

Tatiana moved to Ireland with her daughters Nadia and Maria in 2006, living here until 2009 when they had to return to Russia as her father was very ill.

“They returned in 2011 and several business people and townspeople have been helping them since as they have no income.

“They do now. As a mother all you want to see is your children happy.

“Nadia is an example to everyone. Even though she didn’t have the native language and even through she went through a lot of hardship with no money in her family, she was able to achieve her dream.

“She showed what you get when you fight for your rights. We are really proud of her.”

Younger daughter Maria, meanwhile, completed her Leaving Certificate in June and is hoping to study art at the National University of Galway, where she has been offered free tuition and assistance once she achieves more than 450 points.

Tatiana thanked the people of New Ross for their support.

“Without the kindness of the people of New Ross and the New Ross Standard we would never have won these rights.

“People were so good. One lady put €600 through our door. Nobody forced her to do this, it was her good heart. We also got so many kind words on the street and still do and that keeps you going.

Refilling your drinking water bottle is just as gross as licking your dog’s toy


Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure, new research has found.

A new study involved the analysis of 12 plastic water bottles, which were each used by an athlete for one week without being washed. The bottles varied in type, from screw-tops, slide-tops, squeeze-tops and straw tops.

Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure

The result of the lab tests commissioned by Treadmill Reviews, a US website, found that the top of the water-bottles were crawling in potentially harmful bacteria by the week’s end. More than 300,000 colony-forming units were found on each square centimetre of the bottles on average. The average pet toy has 2,937 CFU.

Gram-positive cocci was found on many of the bottles, which can lead to skin infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning.

The study revealed that drinking from reusable bottles without washing them exposes you to more bacteria than if you ate dinner from your dog’s bowl.

Researchers said: “Drinking from these bottles can still be worse than eating a meal from your pet’s dish.

“Based on the 12 water bottles we tested, we found that reusable drinking containers may be crawling with an alarming number of viable bacteria cells: more than 300,000 colony-forming units per square centimeter (CFU/sq cm).”

The study found that bottles which you have to slide open with your fingers are the worst offenders, followed by squeeze tops.

The researchers suggested investing in a water bottle that can be placed in the dish washer every evening, and to keep an eye out for stainless steel options.

“We know that when it comes to water bottles and bacteria, stainless steel is a better choice than plastic. Additionally, water bottles without crevices and tough-to-clean spots are less likely to host germs.”

A 400 year old Greenland shark is the oldest vertebrate animal


Shark, which would have reached sexual maturity at around 150 years, sets new record for longevity as biologists finally develop method to determine age

The oldest Greenland shark found by researchers was most likely around 392 years old, although the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

She was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars. Living to an estimated age of nearly 400 years, a female Greenland shark has set a new record for longevity, scientists have revealed.

The discovery places the lifespan of the Greenland shark far ahead of even the oldest elephant in captivity, Lin Wang, who died aged 86. It is also far longer than the official record for humans, held by 122-year-old Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment.

“It kicks off the bowhead whale as the oldest vertebrate animal,” said Julius Nielsen, lead author of the research from the University of Copenhagen, pointing out that bowhead whales have been known to live for 211 years.

But the Greenland shark doesn’t scoop all the gongs – the title of the world’s longest-lived animal is held by Ming, an Icelandic clam known as an ocean quahog, that made it to 507 years before scientists bumped it off.

Grey, plump and growing to lengths of around five metres, the Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest carnivores. With a reported growth rate of less than one centimetre a year, they were already thought to be long-lived creatures, but just how long they lived for was something of a mystery.

“Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success.” said Steven Campana, a shark expert from the University of Iceland. “Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1000 years.”

The new research, he says, is the first hard evidence of just how long these creatures can live.

“It definitely tells us that this creature is extraordinary and it should be considered among the absolute oldest animals in the world,” said Nielsen.

Writing in the journal Science, Nielsen and an international team of researchers describe how they set about determining the age of 28 female Greenland sharks, collected as by-catch during scientific surveys between 2010 and 2013.

While the ages of many fish can be determined by counting the growth layers of calcium carbonate “stones” found in their ears – in a manner somewhat similar to counting tree rings – sharks do not have such earstones. What’s more, the Greenland shark lacks other calcium-rich tissues suitable for this type of analysis.

Instead the team had to rely on a different approach: scrutiny of the lenses in their eyes.

The lens of the eye is made of proteins that build up over time, with the proteins at the very centre of the lens laid down while the shark is developing in its mother’s womb. Work out the date of these proteins, the scientists say, and it is possible to achieve an estimate of the shark’s age.

In order to determine when the proteins were laid down, the scientists turned to radiocarbon dating – a method that relies on determining within a material the levels of a type of carbon, known as carbon-14, that undergoes radioactive decay over time.

By applying this technique to the proteins at the centre of each lens, the scientists deduced a broad range of ages for each shark.

The scientists then made use of a side-effect of atomic bomb tests which took place in the 1950s: when the bombs were detonated, they increased the levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. The spike, or pulse, in carbon-14 entered the marine food web across the North Atlantic no later than the early 1960s.

That provides a useful time-stamp, says Nielsen. “I want to know when I see the bomb-pulse in my sharks, what time does that mean,” he said. “Does it mean they are 50 years old, or 10 years old?”

Nielsen and the team found that the eye lens proteins of the two smallest of their 28 Greenland sharks had the highest levels of carbon-14, suggesting that they were born after the early 1960s. The third smallest shark, however, had carbon-14 levels only slightly above those of the 25 larger sharks, hinting that it was actually born in the early 1960s, just as bomb-related carbon-14 began to be incorporated in marine food webs.

A Greenland shark returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland. The sharks were part of a tag-and- release program in Norway and Greenland. Photograph: Julius Nielsen/Science

“That indicates that most of our analysed sharks were actually older than the time mark, meaning that they were older than 50 years,” said Nielsen.

The scientists then combined the carbon dating results with estimations of how Greenland sharks grow, to create a model that allowed them to probe the age of the 25 sharks born before the 1960s.

Their findings revealed that the largest shark of the group, a female measuring just over five metres in length, was most likely around 392 years old, although, as Nielsen points out, the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

“The Greenland shark is now the best candidate for the longest living vertebrate animal,” he said.

What’s more, with adult female Greenland sharks known hit sexual maturity only once they reach more than four metres in length, the scientists found that females have to clock up an age of around 150 years before they can produce young.

But not everyone is convinced that Greenland sharks can live for four centuries. “I am convinced by the idea of there being long lifespans for these kinds of sharks, [but] I take the absolute numbers with a pinch of salt,” said Clive Trueman, associate professor in marine ecology at the University of Southampton.

Trueman agrees that it is possible to get a record of the early life of a vertebrate from eye lens proteins. However, the fact that the proteins in the centre of the eye lenses, and hence the carbon-14 within them, came from nutrients taken in by the shark’s mother adds a number of uncertainties to the calculations, he says.

Campana says while the approach taken by the researchers is sound, he remains unconvinced that Greenland sharks live for almost 400 years. But, he adds, “future research should be able to nail the age down with greater certainty.”

Nielsen is also looking forward to further research, saying that he hopes the Greenland shark’s new found fame will boost awareness of the animal, as well as conservation efforts and attempts to unravel other aspects of its physiology. “There are other aspects of their biology which are super-interesting to know more about and to shed light upon,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 9th August 2016

New €10m investment plan for rural Irish towns ‘is not enough & needs to be much bigger’


A new Government plan to invest €10m in rural Irish towns needs to be at least 20 times bigger to make any real difference for recession-hit smaller communities, an opposition TD has warned, 

Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway East, Michael Fitzmaurice, made the claim after the badly needed ring-fenced funding was announced by Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys (above pic left).

Under a long-awaited initiative to help rural Ireland recover from a near decade of an economic crash, Ms Humphreys has published plans to invest at least €10m in small towns and villages this year.

The money, which will be provided through the relevant local authorities, will be focussed on 200 specific communities where less than 10,000 people live – with the majority of funding going to villages with populations of less than 5,000 people.

Announcing the plans in Clones, Co Monaghan, yesterday, Ms Humphreys said the renewal scheme is needed “to begin breathing life back into our rural towns and villages”.

While accepting one funding initiative is not “the silver bullet” for tackling longer term economic problems in rural Ireland, the Fine Gael TD said the money available has been “more than doubled” from €4m last year and that up to 200 locations are set to benefit from the Government action.

However, despite the positive comments, Independent TD Mr Fitzmaurice heavily criticised the level of funding, saying it needs to be at least 20 times bigger in order to make any real difference to hard-hit communities.

The Roscommon-Galway East TD said the €10m fund in reality works out at just €380,000 per county, and that the money being made available is “not significant”.

“It’s ticking a box, basically saying, that look it, we have done this trying to get the rural regeneration off. To be quite frank about it you would want 20 times that if you were to make an effort in regenerating parts of rural Ireland,” he said.

While the economic crisis caused havoc to all parts of Ireland, rural communities were among the worst affected due to the linked issues of joblessness and emigration.

Addressing the issue was among the key points raised during the post-election Government negotiations

Dublin Airport now named as one of the fastest growing airports in Europe in 2016


Traffic at the travel hub grew faster than at Barcelona’s El-Prat Airport, Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam

Dublin Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in Europe over the last six months, new research has revealed.

And the booming business led to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce to urge the Government to move forward the construction of a second runway at the popular travel hub.

Passenger numbers climbed by 13.4% in the first half of the year, according to data from the trade associate for European airports (ACI), reports Dublin Live .

In the first six months of this year, traffic at the airport grew faster than at Barcelona’s El-Prat Airport, Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, Copenhagen Airport and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Aebhric McGibney, Director of Public and International Affairs at Dublin Chamber said: “Growth levels at Dublin Airport continue to surprise on the upside.

“The challenge now is to ensure that Dublin Airport is equipped for further growth in the coming years.

“Dublin Airport’s reaction to faster-than-expected growth has been to prioritise the construction of a much-needed new second runway.

“The Minister for Transport must now show the same sense of ambition to ensure that the Metro North link between Dublin City Centre, Dublin Airport and the rapidly-expanding north County Dublin area is built much quicker than the previously-mooted target of 2027.”

He added: “Dublin Airport is a vital piece of national infrastructure, with four out of every five visitors who arrive to Ireland by air coming through it.

“A new rail link is needed not only to serve Dublin Airport, but also to cater for the additional 40,000+ people who will be commuting into Dublin city centre from north county Dublin by 2023.”

Dublin Airport Managing Director Vincent Harrison said: “Dublin Airport had a very strong performance in the first half of this year, welcoming just over 13 million passengers.

“The growth in passenger numbers at Dublin Airport is having a significant impact on the Irish economy,”

Traffic growth across European airports was 4.9% in the first half of that year, with traffic at non-EU airports within Europe growing by just 0.5%

Why Volunteering is good for your mental health


Older people get the most benefit from helping others.

Volunteering is good for your mental health, especially in middle age and beyond, according to a new study.

The report, published in the journal BMJ Open, surveyed people living in 5,000 households in Great Britain over several years. About 20% of the people surveyed said they volunteered.

On a questionnaire that measured mental health and wellbeing—where lower scores were considered healthier—people who volunteered scored about 10.7, compared to the average score of 11.4 among people who didn’t volunteer. Volunteering may “provide a sense of purpose,” the researchers write in the study, while helping maintain social networks that are critical as people age.

Interestingly, people in the 40 and older groups appeared to have the greatest health benefit from the practice. The effect increased as people got older, and it was more robust among people who said they volunteered frequently compared to people who volunteered less often. “One explanation might be that during younger ages, volunteering may be perceived of as yet another obligatory task to fulfill in order to be a good student, parent, worker and so forth, so it does not have beneficial effects on health,” the researchers suggest.

The study is not the first to link volunteering to better health. Otherresearch has suggested that people over age 50 who volunteer regularly are less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers.

All that foot tapping and fidgeting could be good for your circulation 


For people who fidget and that nervous habit of tapping your feet may annoy your friends, but it could be good for your health. (WPVI)

For people who fidget and have that nervous habit of tapping your feet that may annoy your friends, but it could be good for your health.

It can keep the blood flow in your legs going when you sit for a long time.

Researchers at the University of Missouri tested young men and women before and after 3 hours of sitting.

They were surprised to find that fidgeting increased blood flow enough to prevent a decline in the function in leg arteries that’s tied to long periods of sitting.

“What we found on an average, people performed 250 taps per minutes that resulted in an increase in blood flow during the actual fidgeting,” says Dr. Jaume Padilla, leader of the study.

“We believe that any type of leg movement will be beneficial to the arteries of the lower limbs,” continued Dr. Padilla.

It’s not a substitute for exercise, but…

“Perhaps in situations where we are stuck in the office or on an airplane, in these situations fidgeting or leg movement may be a good alternative,” said Dr. Padilla.

The study was good news for M-U student Nathan Winn, a confessed “constant fidgeter.”

“So as long as you are not annoying your friends or bothering other people and you can get potential health benefits out of it, then why not do it?” says Winn.

Previous studies found another benefit to fidgeting – is that it helped young people with ADHD learn easier.

So there’s two good excuses if you are someone who fidgets.

Medieval skeletons found under disused Kilkenny car park

Female remains believed to be of poor Anglo-Norman colonists who died young


The skeletons were discovered just a foot underground during the digging of service trenches for electricity wires.

Four medieval skeletons have been discovered under a disused car park in Kilkenny city.

The female skeletons have been dated to between 1250 and 1350 meaning they were likely among the first Anglo-Norman colonists in Co Kilkenny.

They were discovered just a foot underground during the digging of service trenches for electricity wires.

The service trenches were for the €6 million St Mary’s Medieval Mile Museumin Kilkenny which is due to open in the next 12 months.

The area was formerly a car park which had been concreted over in the 1950s before the church and its grounds were bought by the council in 2009.

Archaeologists have determined that the women, aged between eight and 25, were the poor of the town.

They had been buried in the southwest corner of the city’s main graveyard around St Mary’s Parish Church. This area was reserved for the poor.

Tell-tale green stains on the bones of the skeletons suggest they were buried in shrouds rather than in coffins as the better off were at the time. The stains came from copper-alloy pins used to hold the burial shrouds together.

One of the skeletons, that of a teenage girl, showed evidence of hardship. Her spine was damaged from the prolonged lifting of heavy weights and one of her legs appeared to be shorter than the other, meaning she would have walked with a pronounced limp.

Their premature deaths showed how hard life was for the poor at that time. For these unfortunate girls, life was truly nasty, brutish and short.

The skeletons are being carefully recorded and analysed in the ground by the archaeological team and their osteoarchaeologist. Once exhumed they will be brought to a laboratory for further detailed analysis.

They may be reburied in St Mary’s, following consultation with the National Museum of Ireland.

Meteor shower set to light up Irish skies on next Thursday with dazzling display

‘Three times stronger than normal’


Hundreds of shooting stars will be visible from across Ireland on Thursday evening as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks

Irish skies are set to sparkle later this week as a spectacular meteor shower is expected to peak this week.

The annual Perseid meteor shower is the strongest of the year, according to David Moore, chairman of Astronomy Ireland.

“This year is expected to be two to three times stronger than normal, because we’re passing through a particularly dense swarm of dust particles,” Mr Moore told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

He explained that although they look like stars shooting across a sky, they are actually debris from a comet.

“They’re just bits that have fallen off a comet goes around the sun every 120 years. It’s been around so many times that there’s now a huge swarm of particles all throughout its orbit, and we pass closest to that, a particularly dense strand, on Thursday night.

“We hit them at 100,000 miles an hour and they burn up as a fiery streak,” he said.

Stargazers hoping to take in the dazzling view are advised that the meteor shower will be visible from 10pm on Thursday until 4am on Friday morning, but that the spectacle should continue for several nights afterwards.

“Normally you’d expect to see a shooting star every ten minutes in a dark rural sky and less in towns and cities, but we could be seeing two or three if we’re lucky,” Mr Moore said.

He added that although there will be a moon until 12.30am, it won’t make much of a difference to the view, and that conditions are otherwise “perfect” for the shimmering display.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 7th August 2016

Irish domestic growth up about 6% on last year, says NTMA

GDP figure of 26% severely overstated growth, says National Treasury Management Agency


Conor O’Kelly, chief executive of NTMA: its presentation is the first by an official agency to try and capture a more realistic measure of the economic growth rate.

The underlying growth in Ireland’s domestic economy last year was around 6 per cent, according to estimates by the National Treasury Management Agency, in its latest presentation to investors. The NTMA document says that the GDP growth rate of over 26% in the latest GDP figures severely overstates the growth in economic activity here.

The NTMA’s work is the first calculation by an official agency which tries to capture a more realistic measure of the rate of economic growth. It says that on its calculations the underlying growth in domestic demand in the economy was running around 6.8% at the end of 2015. This measurement is in nominal terms – not taking into account price changes, although as inflation was low the difference for the domestic economy would not be very large.

The NTMA presentation also tries to adjust for the main factors which distorted growth via the multinational and business sectors. It says this would reduce the nominal rate of overall GDP growth to 11% last year. The recent CSO figures showed nominal growth of over 32% in GDP last year, with real growth and adjusted for inflation – of over 26%.

The NTMA warns that the CSO figures will complicate the EU Commission’s judgement about Ireland’s compliance with the rules under the stability and growth pact. These rules state that the deficit must be reduced at a specified rate each year as a percentage of GDP. A committee chaired by Central Bank governor Philip Lane is to look at whether separate more realistic figures can be produced, but the CSO will also have to continue to publish figures using international guidelines.

In a separate paper looking at corporation tax, NTMA economist David Purdue says that 10 companies accounted for more than 40% of corporation tax revenues last year , up from the average of 23.8% which the top 10 accounted for between 2008 and 2012. This could create a vulnerability if the companies relocate, or if there are once-off transactions which hit Irish revenues. However, Mr Purdue says that the market generally believes that the Government has taken a conservative view of likely corporation tax revenues for 2016 and it will probably continue to do so.

A record 530,000 on Ireland’s public hospital waiting lists

Number waiting long periods continues to soar despite all the Government promises


The hospital with the longest waiting list was University Hospital Galway, at 32,000.

A record 530,000 people are on a public hospital waiting list for inpatient, outpatient or day care, new figures show.

The number of patients on waiting lists, and the numbers waiting long periods for an appointment, continue to soar, despite the Government’s promise to spend €50 million a year tackling overcrowding.

A record 430,000 patients were waiting for an outpatient appointment at the end of last month, according to the latest monthly data from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

This is 10,000 up on the previous month. Trends also indicate the rate of increase is accelerating. More than 70,000 of these outpatients have been waiting for an appointment for over a year, while 39,000 have been waiting longer than the 15-month supposed “maximum” waiting time set by the Government.

“These figures are a huge indictment of the performance of the Government, the Department of Health and the HSE in tackling long waiting lists,” commented Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher.

Cost lives?

Delays in seeing patients could result in delays in diagnosing serious conditions in patients, and could ultimately cost lives, he warned.

The hospitals with the longest waiting lists include University Hospital Galway, at 32,000, Cork University Hospital, where 25,000 patients are on the list, and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, at 27,000. Meanwhile, almost 78,000 people are waiting for inpatient or day case procedures, a slight increase on the previous month. Almost 14,000 of these have been waiting for longer than a year, and 7,000 are on the list for more than the target maximum of 15 months.

Another 20,000 patients are waiting for gastrointestinal procedures, for which a separate list exists. The reasons for the inexorable rise in waiting lists are disputed. The Government blames rising demand, with an additional 20,000 procedures carried out this year.


Earlier in the year, overcrowding in emergency department forced the cancellation of non-urgent appointments elsewhere in the health system and contributed to a rise in waiting lists, but this effect should have diminished since the end of the winter.

Mr Kelleher said it was clear the health system was not employing sufficient numbers of doctors and nurses to meet demand.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has told the HSE to prepare an action plan setting out specific measures to deal with waiting lists to the end of this year. The plan will focus on the longest waiters first, as well as on measures to “validate” lists.

The programme for government provides €15 million to the NTPF to address waiting lists in 2017, on top of the €50 million the Government says it is devoting to the issue. Last month, the fund was given €1 million to fast-track treatment for 3,000 endoscopy patients waiting more than 12 months.

Fianna Fáil has called for the NTPF to be given the role once again of outsourcing operations to the private sector. Mr Kelleher said it was disappointing this would not happen until next year.

Meanwhile, there were 267 patients on trolleys in emergency departments yesterday, at what should be one of the quietest times of the year.

Beaumont and the Mater hospital had the highest number of patients awaiting admission, at 31 apiece.

The proud moment Paddy Barnes led out our Olympic heroes in Rio


Ireland Flag Bearer Paddy Barnes proudly leads out the Ireland 77 strong team during the Rio Olympic Games 2016 Opening Ceremony.

Paddy Barnes has fulfilled his dream as the Belfast man proudly led the Irish Olympic team out at the Maracana in Rio.

Barnes led the 77 Irish athletes, who will compete across 14 sports, out in a glitzy Opening Ceremony in the famous Rio stadium.

Fireworks explode while dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Proud Irishman Barnes revealed his joy when he was chosen as the Irish flag bearer in April this year.

“I’m delighted to have been asked to carry the Irish flag into the Olympic Stadium at the Opening Ceremony,” said Barnes at the time.

“It’s an amazing feeling to represent Ireland at an Olympic Games and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it twice before already.

“Going to my third Olympic Games as the flag bearer for Team Ireland now is just an incredible honour.

“I will be going for gold in Rio in the ring but I will also have the responsibility of helping to build a really positive environment for all Irish athletes. I could not be more excited about the next 100 days.”

Mental health task-force will seek to help young people

Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon hopes initiative will make a ‘real difference’


Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children: he said the new National Taskforce on Youth Mental Health “has the potential to drive real change in an area where it is very much needed”.

The Ombudsman for Children has said the new National Task-force on Youth Mental Health will need to ensure it delivers specific actions that will “make a real difference in the lives of young people”.

Dr Niall Muldoon was commenting on the initiative to bring together people appropriately placed to examine issues faced by children and young people.

“The establishment of a [taskforce] is a very positive development and one that has the potential to drive real change in an area where it is very much needed,” he said. However, it must identify “clear actions” which would be “supported with the necessary resources”.

The body was announced by Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee who will chair. It will meet in September.

Among the group will be a representative from Facebook; Mayo footballerRob Hennelly who has spoken about mental health; and Dr Tony Bates, chief executive of Jigsaw.

Other members include Mary Cunningham of the National Youth Council of Ireland; Grainia Long of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; Cian Power from the Union of Students of Ireland; Prof Mary Cannon of the Royal College of Surgeons; Dr Shari McDaid of Mental Health Reform; Moninne Griffith of BeLonG To; Ian Power of SpunOut.ie; and Jim Breen of Cycle Against Suicide. A related group to assist the taskforce will be co-chaired by Niall Breslin, and Emma Farrell.

A new study identifies short list of 20 planets with Earth like properties

And the potential to harbour life as we know it?


Finding life beyond Earth means combing through an incredibly vast array of potential planetary candidates, but one new study from a team of researchers led by San Francisco State University astronomer Dr. Stephen R. Kane hopes to add some additional specificity to the search.

The international group of scientists behind the study examined over 4,000 planets outside of our solar system (exoplanets for those In the know) to identify the ones most likely to harbour life based on the model of the only life-bearing planet we know of: Earth.

The result of the research is a long list of 216 planets from the Kepler list, a catalogue of space-based spheres gathered by the Kepler space observatory launched by NASA in 2009 to identify and observe Earth-sized exoplanets. From that list, which includes all planets found to be within the so-called “habitable zone” surrounding a star in which water could remain liquid on the surface of the celestial body.

As we know from the makeup of our own solar system, occupying that solar sweet spot is crucial for supporting life. Any further away, and water freezes – closer in, and it evaporates. Based again on the only example we currently have (Earth), life generally requires liquid water for sustenance.

From that group of 216 — which fit the broad definition of occupying the habitable zone around their particular star, which meant looking at other factors including size and composition of planets — came a short list of 20 candidates which are located in a more “conservatively” defined habitable zone, and that are small and rocky.

Coming up with a short list of Earth-like planets has very real value to the continued project of searching for signs of extraterrestrial life. Simply investigating every exoplanet identified by Kepler just isn’t feasible in terms of available resources, but a core group of 20 with characteristics that greatly increase the likelihood of finding Earth-like life is manageable.

“There are very limited resources available for studying the atmospheres of terrestrial planets and so the Habitable Zone is used to select those planets most likely to have liquid water on the surface,” Kane explained in an interview. “This will become increasingly important once new facilities, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, are deployed.”

So exactly how likely is it that these new 20 Earth-2’s are home to alien life? That’s not for this study to say.

“Unfortunately we cannot give probabilities that a planet has life at this point since we still only have one data point – the Earth – for which we know life exists,” Kane cautioned. “What we can do is focus our efforts on the planets most likely to yield evidence of extraterrestrial life and that is what we hope our work will provide.”

Global warming limit will miss key climate target


Paris climate summit agreed in 2015 to limit global warming to below 1.5C.

The Paris climate summit in December last year had made a decision to limit global warming to 1.5C, measured in relation to pre-industrial temperatures.

The earth is dangerously close to breaking through a 1.5C upper limit for global warming, climate scientists have warned.

The Paris climate summit in December last year had made a decision to limit global warming to 1.5C, measured in relation to pre-industrial temperatures. Scientists and campaigners had hailed the move as a landmark decision and a major success. By setting the target, they said, desertification, heatwaves, widespread flooding and other global warming impacts could be avoided.

But just eight months after the Paris summit Met Office data prepared by meteorologist Ed Hawkins of Reading University shows that average global temperatures were already more than 1C above pre-industrial levels for every month except one over the past year and it peaked at +1.38C in February and March, the Guardian has reported. Keeping within the 1.5C limit will be extremely difficult, say scientists, given these rises.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talks in Geneva this month will likely discuss this alarming rise and scientists will start to outline ways to implement the goals that were set in Paris, the Guardian said. Dates for abandoning all coal-burning power stations and halting the use of combustion engines across the globe — possibly within 15 years — are likely to be set.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 20th June 2016

Ireland’s pace of economic recovery shows no signs of slowing down

Ireland’s rapidly growing economy may require a touch on the brakes


If the recovery were to continue on course through next year and into 2018 the economy would then reach capacity.

In the pre-crisis period we took a benign future as a given. Over the past seven years we have become used to considering instead what might go wrong with the public finances and in the financial sector.

Therefore little attention has been given to the implications of things turning out better than expected. This helps explain the slow response to pressures in the housing market.

Undue concentration on the possibility of a shortfall in growth could result in a repeat of past mistakes if growth were to remain strong.

Since the middle of 2012 the Irish economy has seen a vigorous recovery, with employment growing each year by about 2.5% and gross national product growing by between 5% and 6%.

Initially the recovery was driven by demand from outside Ireland but more recently domestic demand has made an equal contribution. While output per head today exceeds the pre-crisis peak, employment is still well below the 2007 level, and unemployment is still high at 7.8%. Thus the economy is still below its potential and there are no signs to date of inflationary pressures.

The pace of recovery shows no signs of slowing. If it were to continue on course through next year and into 2018 the economy would then reach capacity.

The unemployment rate has been falling at 1.7 percentage points a year since 2012. If this were to continue for the next two years the economy would effectively be at full employment by the middle of 2018 (between 4% and 5%, recognising that in a dynamic economy there are always people between jobs).

However, the forecasts above assume that the objective of raising housing output to 25,000 or 30,000 units a year would not be achieved. If housing output reached this rate by 2018, using the Hermes macroeconomic model, my estimate is that this would add an extra 1.5% to the level of GNP and reduce the unemployment rate by a further 1.5% points.

Full employment by 2018?

If Ireland had already achieved full employment by 2018, this could pose an overheating problem.

In the period 2003-2006 a series of ESRI reports advised the then government that if it wanted to have a major investment programme, especially in housing, a lot of money needed to be taken out of the economy through increased taxation to make space for all the building.

Unfortunately this advice fell on deaf ears, and we know the consequences.

This time around if the Government succeeds in ramping up investment, especially in housing, the pressures on an economy that was already growing rapidly could be excessive.

To avoid a repeat of past mistakes this would require the budget for 2018 to implement a substantial rise in taxation to take the steam out of the economy, and run a surplus to make space for increased building.

Spending cuts effects?

While spending cuts would achieve the same effect that would seem unwise given the low level of public services after seven lean years.

This risk of possible future overheating was recognised by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) in its report published this month.

As well as recommending a mildly contractionary budget for 2017, it recognise that monetary policy operated by the European Central Bank could be undesirably loose from an Irish point of view in 2018, necessitating further tightening of fiscal policy to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of the 2000s.

The IFAC report also repeatedly warns about the un-costed nature of many elements in the programme for government.

While the 2017 budget may take on board only some of these commitments, there could be a major political problem in preparing the 2018 budget if it had to take a lot of money out of the economy through a substantial increase in taxation. The Government would face a dilemma: ignore promises in the programme and protect the economy or implement the programme and risk another boom-bust cycle.

Because the scenario of an overheating economy was not widely canvassed until the recent IFAC report, it will need extensive discussion over the coming year.

It will be important that the wider public comes to understand that just when everything seems to be going very well the Government, in all of our interests, may need to tighten our belts.

We must not repeat the past mistake of throwing petrol on the flames of an overheating economy.

Of course if Brexit happens that could be enough to deflate the economy, but then many of the programme commitments might also be unaffordable.

Drivers who miss fines deadline to avoid court by paying on the double option


Ireland’s motorists are to be given the option of paying a ‘double fine’ in return for avoiding a court appearance under plans being brought to Cabinet tomorrow.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is moving to close a loophole in the law which has seen thousands of road traffic-related cases thrown out of court.

Under the current system, motorists who fail to pay a fine within 56 days of the offence are summoned to court.

Prior to their court appearance, they are given two options to pay their fines.

However, thousands of people escape convictions and penalty points by telling the judge they did not receive the original fixed-charge notice.

The Courts Service tentatively estimates that around 7,500 cases are dismissed every year on these grounds.

The Irish Independent understands that Ms Fitzgerald will bring a memo to Cabinet tomorrow, which proposes the introduction of a new payment option which will permit motorists to avoid appearing in court in return for paying double the fine.

The proposal, which has been agreed with Transport Minister Shane Ross and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, was recommended by the Criminal Justice Working Group.

Independents 4 Change TD Tommy Broughan has also called for the introduction of the new payment option.

“This bill will restore fairness to the system, while giving people another payment option and therefore another opportunity to avoid court,” a Government source said.

“The Tánaiste has been aware of the urgency of this legislation and has progressed it as quickly as possible. It will come before Cabinet tomorrow.”

Presently, a fixed-charge notice offence affords two payment options before a courts summons is issued – a first period of 28 days, during which the person may pay the fixed amount, followed by a second consecutive period of 28 days during which the person may pay the fixed amount plus 50pc.

The measures being introduced by Ms Fitzgerald introduce a “third option”.

Separately, Mr Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan will brief the Cabinet on the Government’s summer economic statement which will be announced on Thursday. Central to the statement will be plans for a new ‘rainy day fund’, according to one government source involved in drafting the statement.

The statement will also reflect the prospect of a ‘Brexit’ and the impact this could have on the Irish economy.

However, it is understood Mr Noonan will say that the €900m planned for tax cuts and spending increases is still possible in October’s Budget.

Last Friday, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin questioned whether the Government has done enough preparation in the event of a ‘Brexit’.

Government sources have rejected the criticism and have claimed that Mr Howlin himself would have had an input into the contingency plan.

Less than 10% of mental health facilities compliant with Irish law

Mental Health Commission also concerned at rise in number of involuntary admissions


Left picture (From left) Patricia Gilheaney, chief executive, John Saunders chairman and Dr Susan Finnerty, Inspector Mental Health Services at the publication of the Mental Health Commission annual report.

Less than 10% of mental health facilities inspected last year were fully compliant with legal requirements, according to the Mental Health Commission.

Of 61 approved centres inspected, six were rated compliant and the remainder were non-compliant to varying degrees, the Commission said on Monday.

The lowest levels of compliance related to the admission of children, the handling of medicines and issues relating to premises.

Only one of the fully compliant centres was HSE-run. Almost half of the centres breached rules on seclusion, meaning patients were kept in seclusion contrary to the rules and in a way that could pose serious risk to their safety and well-being, according to Dr Susan Finnerty, inspector of mental health services.

The commission expressed concern at a 9% increase in the number of involuntary admissions, up from 2,162 in 2014 to 2,363 last year.

“We are particularly concerned at the proportion of involuntary admissions where the family and gardaí are the primary referrers (47% and 23%, respectively),”said Mr Saunders, who called at the launch of the commission’s 2015 annual report for a review of the scheme.

The commission called for a formal review of the Government’s policy on mental health – A Vision for Change – 10 years after it was published. It also wants independent monitoring of the policy to identify areas where it is and isn’t working effectively.

Last year, there were 95 admissions of children to adult units, in spite of official policy that this should not happen.

“This situation is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” Mr Saunders said.

Commission chairman John Saunders said there has been a slow but welcome increase in compliance of mental health facilities with legislative requirements. However, there was considerable inconsistency across boundaries.

Further progress could be made in the move from institutional to community care, and the greater involvement of service users and their families, he said.

“There is still a significant absence of psychology, social work, occupational therapy and other multidisciplinary team members and we will not have a recovery-orientated service unless staff make-up reflects the move from a purely medical model to a more holistic bio-psychosocial one.”

Julian Cuddihy case highlights continued mental health stigma

We are all complicit in stigma that indirectly led to deaths of Kathleen and Jimmy Cuddihy

   Donegal man (43) who killed his parents with axe committed to psychiatric hospital by judge

James and Maureen, siblings of Julian Cuddihy, speak to reporter Eoin Reynolds as they leave the Central Criminal Court in Dublin and right pic the tragic parents, Kathleen and Jimmy.

The unbelievably tragic case of Julian Cuddihy, who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity of the death of his parents, Kathleen and Jimmy, at their home on the Inishowen Peninsula, reveals much about the stigma we still associate with mental health.

Giving evidence at his trial, consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Damian Mohan said Kathleen and Jimmy Cuddihy had cancelled a mental health appointment for their son six days before their death. He told the court that they were concerned about the stigma associated with mental health.

Julian Cuddihy’s story is one of loving parents declining to have their son committed to a mental hospital in case it caused a rift between them. This was despite his siblings’ view in October 2014 that he needed urgent psychiatric treatment. His symptoms of paranoia had been building for several years: Julian was refusing to eat because he believed his mother was trying to poison him; he could not sleep because he was worried people were stealing his thoughts while he slept; and he believed he could prevent aliens from reading his mind if he joined the IRA.

Despite their son’s mounting paranoia, Dr Mohan said his parents “wanted to be protective of their son but also did not want him to be submitted to a mental health facility”. Significantly, he added that mental illness is treatable with early intervention.

Delayed treatment

It is clear from the terrible narrative that Julian could have been diagnosed with schizophrenia several years before he killed his parents. He likely would have responded to treatment, at least to the point where his paranoid delusions would have been blunted. And while he may have suffered relapses, good community- based psychological care would have recognised this and stepped in to help. Since his admission to the Central Mental Hospital, Julian has reportedly responded well to treatment.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all complicit in the stigma that indirectly led to the death of Kathleen and Jimmy Cuddihy. Stigma is a societal weapon, a sometimes subtle but destructive force. Historically it has featured prominently in Irish healthcare.

When TB was rampant here in the 1950s, it was a diagnosis that dared not speak its name. In my time as a doctor we have thankfully moved from not mentioning the stigmatising word cancer, to references to the big C, to now openly discussing the diagnosis with friends and family.

But mental health continues to be hamstruck by stigma. Back in 2006 aLundbeck Health Barometer survey found that 75 per cent of Irish people surveyed believed there is either a lot or some social stigma attached to schizophrenia while 60 per cent said the same about depression. Significantly, when the same people were asked about a range of medical illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, only a small percentage associated social stigma with these conditions. I wonder what the percentages would be if the survey was repeated now?

The media pay lip service to guidelines on reporting mental illness. Headlines such as “Schizophrenic’s family wanted help for him before axe killing,” which appeared over otherwise accurate coverage of the Cuddihy trial, give the false impression that people with schizophrenia are uniformly violent. There is also the subtle denigration in the use of the word schizophrenic, rather than a person with schizophrenia.

Our politicians and health service administrators are quick with honeyed words, but their embedded stigma is revealed by the ease with which they made a decision to strip this year’s mental health budget of €12 million to plug a gap elsewhere in the health budget.

And stigma exists within the health professions, too. Recent UK research showed psychiatry was the specialty that received the most disparaging comments when medical students voiced their career preferences.

Until we talk about psychological illness with the same ready acceptance as we do of physical disease, mental health stigma will not go away.

Hundreds of people are campaigning to save the grey squirrel in London


Hundreds of people are campaigning to save a grey squirrel which has taken up home with them in south east London.

Pest controllers were called to have the animal ‘removed’ after it began nibbling nuts at desks at the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich.

A petition to save Cyril the squirrel has now been signed by nearly 500 people.

Pest controllers were apparently called in after it emerged that some people wanted the critter removed because he was allegedly ‘hiding nuts in people’s pot plants’.

Residents at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich believe Cyril arrived after being trapped in a Tesco delivery truck. They say he has gone on to form part of the community.

Graphic designer Anthony Coyne, 44, who signed the petition, wrote that Cyril is often in his studio snacking on hazelnuts.

He wrote: “It appears some scoundrels in the apartments above have complained he’s been hiding nuts in their pot plants and want him killed.

Irish TCD research finds plant based weapons to tackle the antibiotic resistance

MRSA antibiotic resistance    Luke O'Neill, Trinity College Dublin

A new piece of research at TCD has revealed two plant-based candidates that could be pivotal in the fight against antibiotic resistance: broad beans and cowpeas may be the answer to humanity’s sickly prayers.

We’re consistently being told that the day will soon come when our bodies’ resistance to regular antibiotics will reach a crescendo, rendering basic treatments obsolete and ushering in a dramatic reversal of fortunes in humanity’s battle for health.

Previously manageable ailments could prove dramatically more dangerous, lifetimes will shorten, and all the while, we’ll rue science’s inability to outsmart nature.

However, nothing is that clean cut, with a new piece of research led by Trinity College Dublin’s Ursula Bond revealing a couple of weapons we can use to fight that grim version of the future.

Searching for peptides (strings of amino acids) that had antibiotic effects on bacteria, Bond and her colleagues isolated such from a broad bean and a cowpea.

They were discovered by mapping previously-known human peptides, with their structural blueprints almost identical.

The result was a new batch of peptides that, initially, can fight against spoiling food and resultant poisoning. Extracted beyond this, tough, they could aid our antibiotic battle.

Bond presumed that natural peptides would be worth investigating because plants have evolved to protect themselves against countless bacterial threats.

“There are two major advantages to these small peptides, in that no resistance mechanisms have emerged yet, and in that they can be inexpensively synthesised in the lab,” said Bond.

“Initially, our aim was to identify peptides that provide protection against food-spoiling bacteria, but these peptides may also be useful as antibiotics against bacteria that cause serious human diseases.”

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

Tuesday 17th May 2016

Irish Government will not initially oppose the Fianna Fáil bill to tackle mortgage rates

Concerns have been raised about the constitutionality of the proposal


The government has said it will not initially oppose a Fianna Fáil bill that would give the Central Bank greater powers to tackle mortgage interest rates.

This is despite concerns raised about the constitutionality of the proposal, which would give the Central Bank powers to force banks to reduce their standard variable rates (SVRs).

In a sign of the new political reality facing the minority government, Finance Minister Michael Noonan will attempt to move a motion in the Dáil this evening to send the bill back to pre-legislative scrutiny stage in the Oireachtas. But with Sinn Féin supporting the Fianna Fáil bill, the government could be defeated on this at which point it says it will accept the bill at second stage.

This would move it into committee stage where the various provisions of the Central Bank Variable Rate Mortgages Bill 2016 would be discussed at length by TDs and Senators. A government spokesperson said this morning that this was a sign of new politics in action.

Earlier, Noonan told reporters outside Government Buildings why he disagreed with the proposal from Fianna Fáil.

“If you have a central bank that doesn’t want the power and it is not mandatory that they should use the power it seems to me to be destined to be a very ineffective piece of legislation that would go on the statue books but would never be used,” he said.

Fianna Fáil says that the bill would effectively reduce the monthly repayments of some 300,000 people on standard variable rates. SVRs in Ireland are among the highest in the euro zone.

Hundreds of senior Gardaí protest about pay restoration

The President of AGSI says Government must ‘sit up and take notice’ of Garda concerns?


Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors marched to Government buildings to protest over pay and conditions.

Several hundred senior Gardaí marched to Government Buildings on Tuesday in a protest over stalled progress on the restoration of their pay to 2008 levels.

Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, dressed not in uniform but wearing blue t-shirts, marched from Dublin Castle to highlight what they say is a lack of engagement by the Government in dealing with their pay issue.

The large group gathered near Dublin Castle from 11am and traffic came to a standstill about an hour later as they walked in near silence down Dame Street, up Suffolk Street and continuing down Nassau Street and up Merrion Street to Government Buildings.

They were briefly addressed by the organisation’s general secretary John Jacob and its president Antoinette Cunningham, who handed in a letter for the attention of Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

“I think Government need to sit up and take notice of the 650 people that have taken to the streets today in protest at Garda pay negotiations,” Ms Cunningham said.

Group solidarity

She said she appreciated the support and solidarity of the members and their families on the march, as well as their Garda Representative Associationcolleagues and retired members who also joined them.

“We will continue this long and sustained campaign as long as it takes to get meaningful negotiation around pay,” Ms Cunningham said.

Paul McDermott of the AGSI executive said members had rejected the Lansdowne Road agreement last November because the then government had not abided by the terms of the previous Haddington Road deal.

“We brought in all the new practices they wanted on the transformation agenda. Everything was done. We have engaged with the two chairmen – one covering pay and one covering structures and the chairman covering pay resigned from it last week. We’re not sure why. We have not delayed this process at all.”

Mr McDermott said members wanted the increment freeze stopped as it had “hit members hard”.

“If we can get into meaningful talks we will be constructive and we want to see a pathway to having our money restored. Obviously it’s going to be over a period of time. But through negotiation and not through emergency financial legislation and threats. Basically it’s intimidatory – you sign up to this deal or we freeze your pay.”

Mortgages and bills.

Mr McDermott said there were members in difficulty. “We are the same as the rest of society. We live in the community and we reflect it – we have the same mortgages and bills and childcare and some of them have difficulty with their homes under threat. Not everybody, but it reflects what happens in society and there are members in difficulty and they would like to see a pathway.”

Mr McDermott said the mid-ranking roles in the force had “a lot of responsibilities”.

“We are under supervision ourselves. And we have all the different structures such as GSOC and inspectorates looking at us over our shoulders. Our members are doing an awful lot they haven’t done before.”

Separately, uniformed gardaí were policing an anti-water charges protest outside Leinster House on Kildare Street. The AGSI protest did not come into contact with that event and the members dispersed down Merrion Street shortly after 1pm.

Protesting Voices:

Sgt Donal Smyth, who is stationed in Navan, Co Meath, and who has been in the force for 34 years, said he was opposing the financial emergency measures being imposed on members from July 1st.

“We have nowhere else to go. You can’t really impose a new agreement on people where the original one is not completed yet.

“I’m in a lucky position that I’m 9 to 5, but the people on the shifts are really struggling out there and it’s not only that, it’s the extra responsibilities on Garda sergeants. The transformation agenda is coming down the line since Croke Park. We have complied with everything and it’s come to the point now that we are really struggling.”

He said there were 15 new probationer gardaí in his area earning €23,000 per annum.

“I see them coming to try and get accommodation in Navan and things are so difficult. I remember when I joined the job back in 1982 and it’s now 34 years later and we are now back to the same situation we were in when we started back then.”

Sgt Smyth said he was lucky to be at the “tail end” as two of his boys were in college and one was working.

“But I remember going back to 1991 where our job sold out the pensionability of some allowances that we sold on some young people. It’s not going to happen again – it’s unfair.”

He said 275 new sergeants who had been newly promoted this year would be on the same salaries for two years from July 1st without increments.

Sgt Paul Wallace (Letterkenny)

“I’m a former member of the executive and the last term and have been a member of AGSI for 23 years.

“We could be accused of being irresponsible or blocking up Dublin town, but we are actually being responsible and we’d ask the government to be the same.

“It’s no longer one for Garda management – the game has moved on. But it’s sad to see on a nice day in the middle of May passing Trinity College you have mid-ranking gardaí who basically are out to be responsible towards our younger people – the people who have been asked to go forward for promotion but won’t receive an increment.

“It’s a misnomer as well that people will say the guards are looking for a pay increase. “We’re not; they promised to give it back and now it’s time to start. We are not looking for the full 25 per cent and I’m not speaking on behalf of the executive but we need to have something meaningful.”

Padraig Costello

“We hope that it will bring home to Government what is happening in AnGarda Síochána.

John Moloney

“We are coming towards the end game and we need to be listened to like a lot of other groups in the country. We will do it peacefully and quietly and with dignity and we will stick together for as long as this takes. And we’ll be back here again and again.”

Arthur O’Hara

Mr O’Hara, a retired member, said he did not agree with how gardaí were being deployed, particularly with regard to policing Irish Water installations.

“I think that’s radically wrong and again we have always had the support of the vast majority of the community at large.”

“We are not there for any special cause. We are there to serve the community. And I think we have done under very difficult circumstances and with totally inadequate resources, I think we do a bloody good job.

“I lost very close to 29% of my pension. That drove all kinds of things wrong. How could you budget for something like that?”

Irish Prisons now a dumping ground for mentally ill young men

We have amongst the lowest number of secure psychiatric beds per head of population in Europe


The great majority of young men and women remanded to Irish prisons while actively unwell with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illnesses have fallen through the net of a public mental health system which is not designed to meet their needs. 

Despite having one of the highest levels of severe mental illness when compared with other advanced European nations, Ireland has fewer adult psychiatric beds than almost any other country in Europe.

New research looking at the number of beds across the EU shows we have even fewer secure (forensic) psychiatric beds compared with other countries.

Psychiatric bed numbers in Ireland have fallen drastically, and since 2011 beds have fallen to below 20 per 100,000 people, where the European average is still over 40 per 100,000.

The beds that remain are on wards open to the public and to other wards in the same hospital. It is often difficult to care safely for young people with disturbed and challenging behaviour due to acute delusions and hallucinations in such wards.

With the closing of the old-style asylums across Europe, many countries recognised that, even with the development of community mental health services, there would always remain a significant need for some inpatient beds. They are required so the most unwell and difficult to treat patients could receive the help they need in a stable and safe therapeutic environment.

Unfortunately we have failed to plan for the needs of such patients in this country, and the most unwell and difficult to treat patients increasingly find themselves either homeless or placed in prison rather than treated in hospital and supported in the community. Strangely, these well known facts are regarded as neither a failure of policy nor a cause for shame.

In 2016 the current 10-year plan, A Vision for Change will have run its course. It is timely to wonder what policy reforms will come next. A Vision for Changehas led to considerable positive achievements. The experts who drafted the policy should be congratulated for the universal adoption of the ethos and language of recovery. However, while recovery is a commendable policy priority, it is not the same as cure, and it is increasingly obvious that people with severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses have lost out in the recent changes that our mental health service has undergone.

Replaced asylums?

People who have complex and difficult to treat problems are excluded from a “mental health” model that struggles to include the needs of those with severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses.

Many of the acute inpatient psychiatric units which replaced asylums lack the short-term high observation units that could provide for the complex needs of such patients. Across the modern world, such patients are provided for in acute local psychiatric intensive care units.

Typically, in other European countries there are 10-15 beds serving every 250,000 people. This contrasts with Ireland, which has only 30 such beds in the entire country. Again, in other European countries the closure of the old asylums has been compensated for by opening high quality, therapeutically secure, forensic psychiatric hospital beds.

Ireland has not developed any such system and the number of forensic psychiatric beds at the Central Mental Hospital has stayed static at about two beds per 100,000 people.

In England and Wales, by contrast, asylum closures over the last 30 years have been associated with the development of a system of more secure forensic hospital beds so that there are now 7.5 secure forensic beds per 100,000 for the mentally ill.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and many other modern mental health services provide between eight and 10 forensic secure beds per 100,000 population. Not surprisingly, Irish prisons have increasingly become the emergency department “trolleys” for young men with any form of psychotic mental illness. The great majority of young people remanded to Irish prisons, while actively unwell with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illnesses, are charged with very minor offences.

These patients have fallen through the net of a public mental health system which is not designed to meet their needs. Mental health legislation has reformed the rights of people detained for care and treatment, and further reform is needed. But reforms that exclude mentally incapable people from access to care, treatment and protection do them a disservice – it is already too difficult to intervene when a person with a severe mental illness is obviously relapsing and at risk of self-harm and neglect.

Violence is rare occurrence? 

Fortunately, Ireland is an inherently peaceful country where violence is rare and we are very tolerant of the mentally ill. Tolerance, however, is not enough when young people with the most severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses are ill-served by policies that fail to meet their needs. To be able to engage with community services, it is almost always necessary to first have the benefit of the acute treatment needed to restore the basics of mental health.

The next Vision for Change should help to direct resources towards services that are demonstrably effective in engaging and retaining severely mentally ill people to prevent homelessness and imprisonment. Should we fail to do this we are at risk of repeating the kind of discrimination and inhumane treatment which the closure of the asylums and the development of community mental health teams were designed to remedy. Harry Kennedy is clinical professor of forensic psychiatry at the Central Mental Hospital. He is writing in a private capacity

Smoking laws will not be relaxed says new health Minister Simon Harris

Minister for Health fully committed to making Ireland tobacco free by 2025


The Minister for Health Simon Harris said the smoking ban had been a real success and he has insisted there will be no relaxation of the smoking ban legislation.

Mr Harris said he was totally committed to the Programme for Government pledge to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025.

He said the smoking ban had been a real success and it was his and the Department of Health’s position that it should remain in place.

Mr Harris was speaking after Minister of State at the Department of HealthFinian McGrath called for an easing of the workplace smoking ban to allow indoor smoking areas in pubs and restaurants.

Asked at Beaumont Hospital on Monday whether Mr McGrath said he supported Government policy on making Ireland tobacco-free by 2025, he said he had his own personal view but “of course” he would support the policy on health.

He said he also supported proposals in the Programme for Government to increase the price of cigarettes, despite having opposed previous excise hikes.

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the comments from Mr Harris and said Ireland had “led the way in tobacco control measures, showing courage in tackling smoking rates and the tobacco industry”.

“We hope our strong record on progressive public health policies continues well into the future,” it said.

Maternity Hospital row?

Mr Harris also confirmed he would be meeting St Vincent’s Hospital and Holles Street management to dissolve the row over the location of the new National Maternity Hospital.

He said he would be asking both sides to “lower the tempo” a bit and bring a timely conclusion to the row. The expertise is excellent but the conditions were “absolutely deplorable”, he added.

“I would ask both sides to make one last push to get this resolved.”

The National Maternity Hospital is currently struggling to maintain a service in Holles Street, while St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4 is seeing an increase in waiting lists and dangerous levels of emergency overcrowding.

It is proposed a new facility be built at St Vincent’s. However St Vincent’s is adamant that it must take over the governance of the facility, which has been rejected by the board of the National Maternity Hospital.

Mr Harris said governance was important but it should not prevent the facility being built.

“I will not let this hospital be lost over a bureaucratic row.”

Genetic clues reveal how Giraffes got their long necks

  Researchers discover clues on how giraffe neck evolved   

Fighting giraffes (above left) in Ithala Game Reserve, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

For the first time ever, scientists have sequenced the genome of the world’s tallest land species, the giraffe. Surprisingly, this majestic creature required only a small handful of mutations to attain its remarkable physical stature and physiology—but these mutations packed an evolutionary punch.

With their long necks and elegant strides, giraffes have captivated humanity for thousands of years. But there’s more to these animals than their height, which can reach upwards of 19 feet (6 meters).

Adult male Masai giraffe in the Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (Image: Doug Cavener)

Giraffes are surprisingly swift runners, capable of sprinting 37 miles per hour (60 km/h). They also need to pump blood nearly seven feet (two meters) straight up in order to supply their brains with an ample oxygen supply. To that end, giraffes have evolved a rather large left ventricle, and a blood pressure that’s about twice as high as other mammals. They’re also capable of digesting acacia leaves and seed-pods highly nutritious foods that are poisonous to most other animals.

The reasons for the giraffe’s long legs and neck are fairly obvious, and have been discussed since before the time of Darwin. Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck famously argued that giraffe necks needed to get longer so they could reach food way up high (i.e. “Lamarckian evolution”). He was almost correct. As Darwin later pointed out, their necks were the result of selectional processes; only those animals with necks long enough to reach the tallest branches thrived and survived.

This much we knew, but scientists weren’t sure about the exact biology involved, and how giraffes, from a genetic perspective, evolved their panoply of characteristics. Its closest living relative, the okapi, looks more like a zebra than its lanky cousin, so there aren’t other “intermediate” species to go by.

In an effort to learn more about the genetic constitution of the giraffe—and to paint a clearer picture of its evolutionary history—scientists from Penn State University sequenced the entire giraffe genome (along with the okapi genome), making them the first to do so. The results, which now appear in Nature Communications, are offering intriguing insights into how the giraffe’s unique body shape evolved.

To isolate the genes responsible for the giraffe’s unique characteristics, a research team led by Douglas Cavener and Morris Agaba compared the gene-coding sequences of the giraffe and the okapi to more than 40 other animals, including cows, sheep, goats, camels, and humans. Despite the giraffe’s unique appearance and physiology, the researchers came up with just 70 genes that were responsible for some of the giraffe’s most distinctive adaptations.

As noted, the giraffe and okapi feature genetic sequences that are quite similar. The two species are very closely related, having only diverged from a common ancestor about 11 to 12 million years ago. Aside from their heads and hooves, these animals look almost nothing alike, but genetically, there’s very little to distinguish the two species. By studying the okapi genome, the researchers were able to use it as a kind of genetic filter to pinpoint the genes that make a giraffe a giraffe.

The researchers sequenced the whole genomes of two female Masai giraffes from the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya and the Nashville Zoo in the United States, and one male okapi from the White Oak Holdings in the United States. Among the 70 distinctive genetic mutations discovered, over half of them coded for proteins that regulate development of the giraffe’s skeletal, cardiovascular, and nervous system. Interestingly, several of these genes showed signs of multiple adaptations, meaning they confer more than one benefit, or characteristic. For example, some genes control both cardiovascularand skeletal development. The researchers speculate that the giraffe’s stature and “turbocharged” cardiovascular system evolved together through changes in a small number of genes.

An adult male Masai giraffe in Ndarakwai – West Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Image: Doug Cavener)

Cavener and Agaba discovered genetic clues that explain how the giraffe evolved such a long neck and legs which, despite their length, feature the same number of bones as the neck and legs of humans and other mammals.

“To achieve their extraordinary length, giraffe cervical vertebrae and leg bones have evolved to be greatly extended,” said Cavener in a release. “At least two genes are required—one gene to specify the region of the skeleton to grow more and another gene to stimulate increased growth.”

One of these two genes is called FGFRL1, and it plays an important role in the early development of an embryo. It also contributes to the rapid bone-growth phase after a giraffe is born. In fact, this gene has been associated with severe skeletal and cardiovascular defects in both humans and mice when it fails to express properly. This gene, in conjunction with four homeobox genes—which are involved in the development of body structures—provides two of the required elements for the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck and legs.

“What we think has occurred then, is the giraffe evolved a long neck, which occurred over roughly a 15 to 20 million year period, and as its neck extended out, its cardiovascular system was also changing in tandem—and that some of the same genes were actually controlling both processes in concert,” noted Cavner in an accompanying video.

Finally, the researchers also discovered a group of genes that regulates metabolism and growth. These are genes that are likely responsible for the giraffe’s ability to metabolize acacia leaves and seedpods, which many other mammals find toxic.

Moving forward, the researchers would like to fuse the FGFRL1 gene into the mice genome to see how it affects their growth, particularly in its spine and legs. This could eventually lead to treatments in humans who are suffering from skeletal abnormalities and other physiological ailments. The sequencing of the giraffe genome, it would appear, is a scientific effort that’s extending beyond the scope of just zoology and evolutionary biology.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 13th May 2016

Irish 10-year bond yields falls as Moody’s upgrade is anticipated

Ratings agency due to release its latest decision on State’s debt after 9pm on Friday


Moody’s has maintained a B rating on Irish debt for much longer than other agencies.

Irish 10-year borrowing costs dropped as investors as weighed the increasing probability of an upgrade tonight by Moody’s on the status of the State’s debt.

With a statement expected from Moody’s after 9pm on Friday, anticipation that the ratings agency would put an A-grade on Irish sovereign bonds for the first time since 2011 drove interest rates down.

Irish 10-year bonds changed hands at 0.8439 per cent as markets opened on Friday morning. By the close in Dublin the yield was at 0.8009 per cent, a mark of confidence in some quarters that an upgrade might be imminent.

Despite prolonged post-election uncertainty over the formation of a minority government and doubt over the Brexit referendum, Irish debt has continued to trade around historically low levels.


While investors are encouraged by the pace of economic recovery, bond market interventions by the European Central Bank have also driven borrowing costs down. The 10-year yield fell to a record low of 0.707 per cent in April. At the height of crisis in mid-2011, it reached as high as 14.1 per cent

Moody’s has maintained a B-grade on Irish debt long after rival agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch upgraded to A status in light of the economic turnaround. However, a one-notch increase tonight by Moody’s would be sufficient to replace its Baa1 rating with an A.

Such a move would be seen as a boost for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his new minority adminstration, which pledged to comply fully with stringent fiscal rules even as it adopted an ambitious 160-page political programme.

A Moody’s upgrade would also expand the range of potential buyers of Irish bonds as some conservative investors insist on an A-grade from all three major agencies as the minimum requirement to take a position in any sovereign debt.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald calls for accessible register of company owners

The Tánaiste will introduce new anti-corruption Bill in the Dáil during the current term of the Government


“Ireland will work with its partners to promote good governance and a culture of zero tolerance for all corrupt practices”

A central register holding the names of those who own companies and properties should be publicly accessible in all bar a few cases, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said.

“There should be a good reason not to move in that direction,” said the Minister, who was speaking on the margins of a a global anti-corruption summit in London.

There, she committed to establishing a central register of beneficial ownership which could be accessed by law enforcement agencies – a proposal pushed by British prime minister David Cameron.

Hosting the summit, Mr Cameron has promised to make Britain’s register publicly accessible and a committee in the Department of Finance is considering if Ireland should follow suit.

Public registers.

France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Afghanistan have also announced that their registers will be public. “I certainly think we need at this point to be exploring all the issues around it. There should be a good reason not to move in that direction, if you know what I mean,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

The Tánaiste will introduce a new anti-corruption Bill in the Dáil during the current term, aimed at consolidating anti-corruption legislation and strengthening laws banning the payment of bribes in foreign countries. She said Ireland was determined to play its part in the international effort to combat the corruption which is further impoverishing some of the poorest countries on earth.

Abuse of power

“A lack of good governance, the absence of efficient and accountable institutions, the lack of transparency – all these lead to economic under performance, expose states to corruption and abuses of power and generate security risks at national and regional level. Ireland will work with its partners to promote good governance and a culture of zero tolerance for all corrupt practices. Events like this are an important opportunity to take stock of the global efforts being made and to reaffirm and reinvigorate our response,” she said.

Representatives of some of Britain’s crown dependencies, which have come under the spotlight since the Panama Papers exposed the use of tax avoidance vehicles based in tax havens, complained of double standards at the summit.

The Cayman Islands president, Alden McClaughlin, said that, while small territories such as his were being told to introduce much tougher standards, nobody was taking steps against the US state of Delaware, which is home to tens of thousands of shell companies.

The Tánaiste said that Irish citizens identified in the Panama Papers as using tax havens should consider the good of the country as well as whether such tax avoidance stratagems are legal.

Two Irish landlords convicted who have to pay €3,500 for failing to register tenancies

Residential Tenancies Board secures criminal convictions against lettors in Donegal and Tallaght


The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has secured criminal convictions against two landlords who failed to register their tenancies, despite receiving a number of statutory notices and warning letters instructing them to do so.

Two landlords have received criminal convictions for failing to register their tenancies.

The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has secured criminal convictions against two landlords who failed to register their tenancies, despite receiving a number of statutory notices and warning letters instructing them to do so.

In the first case proceedings were taken against Eileen Maguire of Ballydevitt, Donegal Town, Donegal, for failing to register a tenancy at Ballydevitt, Donegal. The case was heard by Judge John O’Neill on April 4th, 2016.

Ms Maguire was sent two notices ordering her to comply with the legislation but failed to register the tenancy.

The RTB’s solicitors, sent two further warning letters prior to the initiation of proceedings, offering Ms Maguire further opportunities to register the tenancy, which was not availed of.

Mr O’Neill convicted Ms Maguire of an offence under Section 144(3) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and imposed a fine of €1,000. Mr O’Neill made an order for costs against Ms Maguire in favour of the RTB in the amount of €2,500. The tenancy was registered at the time of the court hearing.

The second case?

In the second case Andrew Oliver Fleming of Tymon Crescent, Old Bawn, Tallaght, Dublin 24, was convicted for failing to register a tenancy at the same address.

The judge imposed a fine of €1,000 and made an order for costs in favour of the RTB of €2,500. The tenancy was registered at the time of the court hearing.

The RTB has said further cases will be brought before the courts throughout 2016 and beyond against landlords for failing to register tenancies in breach of the Act.

A total of 22,854 letters were issued by the RTB in 2015 notifying landlords of their specific registration requirement.

Since January 2011, the fee is €90 per tenancy if registered within one month of the tenancy commencing and, a late fee of €180 applies if the tenancy is registered outside of that time period.

The registration fees also fund local authority inspections of rental accommodation to enforce minimum standards.

A landlord, if convicted under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 for failing to comply with a notice, faces a fine of up to €4,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment, along with a daily fine of €250 for a continuing offence where the tenancy continues to remain unregistered after the court hearing.

Lack of commitment to Ireland’s mental health funding problem

New Programme for Government is low on details


The new Programme for Government does not contain a detailed commitment to mental health funding, it has been claimed.

According to Mental Health Reform, while the programme does state that the mental health budget ‘will be increased annually during the lifetime of this new Government’, there are no specific details on mental health funding.

Mental Health Reform is a national coalition of organisations which work towards promoting best practise and improving services for all people with mental health problems. It has 54 member organisations including Aware, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the Samaritans.

According to its director, Dr Shari McDaid, the coalition is disappointed that the Government ‘has not specified an amount of development funding for mental health per year over the lifetime of its term, as had been promised in both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil manifestos’.

She acknowledged that a number of commitments have been made which are to be strongly welcomed, including an intention to extend counselling services to people on low incomes and an intention to establish a National Taskforce on Youth Mental Health.

“It is clear from the range of mental health commitments made, that the new Government is beginning to understand the wide impact that mental health difficulties have on Irish society. But Mental Health Reform is extremely concerned at the lack of any commitment to end the inappropriate admission of children to adult wards and the absence of an immediate commitment to 24/7 crisis supports,” Dr McDaid commented.

However, she welcomed the Government’s intention to use ‘proceeds from the sale of older assets used for mental health services for new developments in mental health’.

Previously, funds raised from the sale of lands were used solely to fund capital developments in mental health, however the Programme for Government suggests that these funds may now also be used for new developments and new services in mental health.

“We welcome the commitment to retaining money from the sale of mental health service lands within the services. The sale of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum in Dublin, which is prime residential land, could potentially raise a significant amount of money for investment in mental health facilities and services,” Dr McDaid added.

Gluten-free products are not always a healthy choice for most children

A paediatrician now says


Diet may be nutritionally deficient, high in fat and sugar, as well as costly.

A paediatric gastroenterologist is warning parents about high fat and sugar in packaged products that are gluten-free.

There is more risk than benefit to a gluten-free diet for people and especially children who haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergy, according to the Journal of Paediatrics.

In a commentary that aims to separate fact from fiction, Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, says a gluten-free diet is not a healthy lifestyle choice.

“Parents should be counselled as to the possible financial, social, and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation of a gluten-free diet,” said Reilly, who is a specialist in pediatric gastroenterology.

In 2015, 25% of U.S. consumers reported consuming gluten-free foods, according to market research by the Mintel Group. The gluten-free industry more than doubled in size from 2013 to 2015.

Most people self-diagnose

Most of those consumers are eating gluten-free without checking with a dietitian or health professional, making it a fad that could be affecting thousands of children, Reilly said.

Gluten-free products are more costly than wheat-based products and lack the nutritional fortification of traditional flours, according a commentary in the Journal of Pediatrics. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Books like David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain and William Davis’ Wheat Belly, have helped make the gluten-free food market a multi-billion-dollar industry, but dietitians are skeptical.

Reilly expressed concern about high levels of fat and sugar in gluten-free packaged foods, saying this could lead to increased caloric intake at a time when a high proportion of the population are struggling with obesity.

She also said a gluten-free diet may be lower in nutrients than one that includes wheat products, as ingredients are not fortified, leading to deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron.

Rice and rice flours often substitute for wheat in gluten-free products, increasing the risk that people are consuming serum mercury and arsenic, which rice takes up naturally from the soil.

She also points to the higher cost of food and quality of life issues for children limited to a gluten-free diet, who would not be able to eat at a friend’s home or to exchange  treats with school friends.

Nothing toxic about gluten

Reilly said there is a misconception that gluten itself is toxic, which may be leading many people to adopt a gluten-free diet when they don’t need to.

  • Gluten-free market booming, but researchers aren’t sold
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“Gluten, comprising gliadins and glutenins, is one of the many protein components of wheat and for the majority of people, gluten proteins pass through the gastrointestinal tract without leading to disease,” she said.

Reilly said parents should be discouraged from putting their children on a gluten-free diet even where one member of the family has been diagnosed with celiac disease or a wheat allergy.  Often the family will all eat gluten-free foods as a matter of convenience.

She acknowledges that celiac disease, which would warrant a gluten-free diet, is underdiagnosed in the U.S. and wheat allergy is rare. But she said there is little data about non-celiac gluten sensitivity in children.

However, putting a child on a wheat-free diet before celiac disease is diagnosed can obscure evidence of the disease, she said.

Gluten and children

Parents may resist reintroducing foods with gluten which may be necessary to get a diagnosis, she added.

“Other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and fructose and lactose intolerance may be responsible for symptoms in those self-diagnosed with gluten sensitivity,” Reilly said in her commentary.

There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of gluten to infants has any impact on later development of celiac disease, she said. Most literature recommends introducing wheat-based products between six months and one year.

She urged people who adopt a gluten-free diet to seek the advice of a health professional.

“Health care providers may not be able to end the gluten-free diet fad, but can certainly begin to play a larger role in educating patients, excluding celiac disease, and preventing nutritional deficiencies in those choosing to stay gluten-free,” she said.

Genes can contribute slightly, to a person’s education level

A study says?


A study said last Wednesday they had identified 74 genes that partially determine how far someone gets in school, depending on which variant of those genes a person possesses.

Compared to environmental factors such as diet, family circumstances and opportunity, this hard-wiring has only a meager influence, accounting for less than half of one percent of the outcome.

Even when combined with all known genetic variants across the human genome, that share only rises to about three percent.

But the findings, published in Nature, are robust enough to help researchers match genetically-linked personality traits — such as grit and contentiousness — with education attainment, at least at the level of society, if not the individual.

Even a single gene, they found, could have a measurable impact.

“For the variant with the largest effect, the difference between people with zero copies and those who have two copies predicts, on average, about nine more weeks of schooling,” said Daniel Benjamin, a professor at University of Southern California and corresponding author for the consortium that completed the study.

The most common type of genetic variants — known as SNPs (or “snips”) — can show up as deletions or duplications of DNA fragments.

Earlier research by the same team of 250 scientists worldwide canvassed the genomes of 100,000 people, and only turned up three relevant genes.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 11th May 2016

The priorities for the new Irish Government’s first 100 days in office published


The Taoiseach Enda Kenny has published the Programme for Government document agreed with Independent TDs in what he called an “ambitious and optimistic plan”.

Among the priorities for the government’s first 100 days in office are:

* The drawing up and publication of an Action Plan on the housing crisis.

* The establishment of a broadband task force for rural areas.

* Agreement with the Oireachtas on a reformed Budget process including the publication of a Spring Statement and a new National Economic Dialogue.

* The reactivation of the National Treatment Purchase fund to reduce hospital waiting lists.

* The preparation of a new winter plan for Emergency Department overcrowding.

* The between Government and education partners on new after-school care arrangements

The document is entitled ‘A Programme for Partnership Government’.

“The Programme for Government published today is extensive but at its core is a simple objective: to make people’s lives better in every part of Ireland,” Mr Kenny said.

“This government is ambitious and optimistic.  Politics is always about what is possible.  That sense of possibility is the touchstone of this Partnership Government for a Fairer Ireland.

“The government will work with all Members of the Oireachtas and with wider society to deliver real and positive change for the people of Ireland.

“The Irish people have worked hard for the progress the country has made and together we can build a better future for all our people in a fair society underpinned by a strong economy,” Mr Kenny said.

Here is why the latest rate cuts from AIB and KBC Banks don’t go far enough

The move will benefit 50% fewer AIB customers than last rate cut and the banks’ customers are still paying considerably more than European norms.


AIB’s rate cut will please its customers, but has the bank gone far enough?

AIB customers got some welcome news when the bank said it would make a quarter percentage point cent cut to its standard variable mortgage (SVR) rate. At 3.4%, the new rate is now one of the most competitive in the market, just behind of the 3.3% offered by KBC Bank, and it is expected that some 76,000 AIB mortgage customers will benefit from the move.

KBC followed suit within hours, lowering its standard variable rate for new customers to 3.2%.

But is this enough?

Firstly, despite this latest cut, Irish mortgage rates remain extremely expensive in a European context. As of December 2015 for example, the typical new business rate on an Irish variable rate mortgage was 3.76%, according to Central Bank figures, compared with a euro zone average of just 1.99%.

The rate cuts by AIB and KBC mean they may now be the most competitive on the Irish market, but both are still charging considerably more than the euro zone norm, and far above the average rate charged in Germany (2.62%); Spain (1.68%) and France (1.98%) in March of this year.

It is an anomaly that persists despite political pressure. Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath is hoping to exert even more pressure on this front. He said on Monday that he hopes to publish a Bill within two weeks which will propose giving the Central Bank extra powers to help it to coerce banks to cut rates.

The move to fixed rates

Furthermore, the number of people who will benefit from the cut is much less than in previous rate cuts. Last August for example, AIB said that its SVR cut would benefit some 156,000 mortgage account holders.

Monday’s announcement, however, only applies to AIB, and not to its Haven and EBS subsidiaries. That means it will help just 76,000 customers cut the cost of their mortgage, or some 50% less than in previous rate cuts.

The exclusion of Haven and EBS in the announcement will clearly be unwelcome to variable rate customers with those lenders. Another factor limiting the numbers benefitting may be the very concerted effort by banks to switch customers onto fixed rates, by offering their best rates on these products.

Ulster Bank for example, recently came together with One Big Switch to offer its lowest rate of 3.29% over a four-year fixed term – while earlier this year Bank of Ireland announced cuts of up to 0.35%, but just to new fixed mortgage interest rates.

Bank of Ireland, which continues to have a stubbornly high top rate SVR of 4.5%, has perhaps achieved the strongest shift to fixed rates. In the second half of 2015, for example, fixed rate products accounted for two-thirds of all its mortgage lending, up significantly from about 30% just a year ago.

This has also had a significant impact on its entire mortgage book, with 16% of its mortgage book on fixed rates as of end 2016, up from 9.0% in 2014.

AIB itself has seen more of its mortgage book switch to fixed rates – from 8% in 2014 to 11% at the end of 2015 – although it should be noted that its latest rate cut means that its SVR is now the lowest rate it offers.

Having more customers on fixed rates may offer a bank more stability but it also makes it more difficult for customers to switch, with banks typically imposing expensive break fees for customers looking to move off a fixed rate.

This makes switching offers, such as AIB’s €2,000 contribution towards legal fees, or Bank of Ireland’s 2% cash back, sound attractive but limits take-up, with factors such as the number of mortgage customers still on trackers, or those unwilling to go through the whole mortgage process again, precluding many from switching to save.

Figures from the Banking & Payments Federation for example, show that just 130 property owners a month switched their mortgage in the first quarter of this year. And this represented a dramatic increase on the same period in 2015 when just 56 customers a month switched.

Here’s what the Irish Government plans to do about housing and mental health

These are two of Ireland’s major issues and here’s how they will be tackled?

housing, opposition, government, buildings, cabinet, ministers    

They are two of the biggest issues facing the country and the new Fine Gael-led minority government made a swathe of pledges on housing and mental health?

With an ongoing housing crisis, it is no surprise that it is the second item tackled in the 155-page document.

To start, the government wants to build 25,000 new houses a year every year by 2020.

Last year, building on just 8,000 homes was begun and to do that, the building will be ramped up to 18,000 a year by 2017.

New Housing Minister Simon Coveney today told Sean O’Rourke that he needs to “continue and intensify” the work done by his predecessor Alan Kelly in relation to building houses and working with local authorities to increase the supply of social housing.

I’m not afraid of being radical if that’s what’s necessary.

He said that he would use legislation to fast-track planning and committed to an “immediate response”.

“I regard what’s happening in housing, and in particular for families that are homeless, as a national emergency and we need an immediate response.”

The document also pledges two major initiatives in the government’s first 100 days: An Action Plan on Housing and a new model of affordable rent.

The programme also promises to end the use of hotels and B&Bs as long-term emergency accommodation and a scheme to help first-time buyers.

Mental health problem?

The subject of mental health, which has been the focus of much discussion, received its own section in the document.

In it, the government pledged to tackle the crisis in the area, not just by using the health service.

The stigma associated with mental health remains and will require a wider and more concerted effort across all aspects of society, not just focussed upon our health services.

On the health side, the government says GPs will play a key role in tackling the area.

They have also committed to an expert review of current status of response to mental health issues in Ireland will advise on how to increase 24/7 support.

The government also wants to ensure that every Emergency Department has a team of clinical nurse specialists in psychiatry to provide rapid response to cases of self-harm.

In order to make the conversation around mental health more open, Wellbeing will be made a Junior Cert subject in 2017.

Speaking today, Health Minister Simon Harris said mental health would be addressed in the community.

“We will continue to support the provision of mental health and disability services within the community, where appropriate.

“The more intervention we can have for patients at the earliest possible stage, the more likely a better outcome is for patients.”

Basic power breathing trick could help to calm your anxiety in seconds

It could help you feel calm and collected again in a short space of time.


Anxiety sufferers will know how much the feeling of panic can take over your life, and often it can feel like it’s overwhelming and uncontrollable, which only worsens the problem.

It can start with a shortness of breath, sweaty palms and having the shakes, and end in a full anxiety attack. But a new technique devised by Big Think has a suggestion for how you can bring yourself back to a state of calmness in a matter of moments, and it could make a big difference to sufferers.

It sounds basic, but it’s all down to breathing; ‘power breathing’ to be precise. In a video, Jane McGonigal, author of the personal growth app SuperBetter explains what makes power breathing so different and effective in comparison to the ‘deep breaths’ people with anxiety are often told to exercise.

And it’s actually really simple. All you do is focus on exhaling for twice as long as you inhale. “So you might inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight,” McGonigal explains in the video.

Apparently, this technique calms our nerves by counteracting the ‘flight or fight’ adrenalin response we experience when stressed or nervous. The flight or fight response occurs from the sympathetic nervous system, but power breathing reportedly switches this to parasympathetic ‘rest-and-digest’ response instead, which slows down our heart rate and relaxes our muscles.

The method has apparently been used to prevent panic attacks, so if you feel one coming on, it might be worth trying to take a step back and give the power breathing a go.

It’s also reported to reduce the symptoms of migraines.

So we’d suggest giving this breathing technique a go; whether you’re a regular sufferer of anxiety or even if you’re just feeling nervous about something you’ve got coming up like a presentation or a meeting, it’s worth trying it out to make you feel all kinds of zen.

The resolve of the Dunne’s Stores siblings cannot be underestimated


This year, Checkout commemorates its 40th anniversary and with this in mind, every week, Retail Intelligence is going to ‘reel in the years’ and publish a story from our extensive archives. This interview from February 1976 with Frank Dunne records Dunnes Stores’ first foray into the cash and carry business.

Dunnes Stories has been busy always in expanding its belief in being the top retailer in Ireland.

Dunnes Stores has spent tens of millions of euros – perhaps even over €100m at this stage – to get shoppers through its doors.

By offering customers €10 off for every €50 they spend, its generous voucher deal has done what it was designed to do. But previous anecdotal evidence from insiders has suggested that when Dunnes turned off the voucher tap, that it was noticing a marked fall in sales at stores.

It’s easy to wonder if it has got itself into a vicious, rather than virtuous, circle.

And that long-running money-off campaign must certainly have dulled profits at the notoriously secretive retailer that’s headed by Margaret Hefferan and her brother, Frank Dunne.

But it seems to be the price they’re prepared to pay to regain Dunnes’ footing.

Coupling that strategy with a push towards providing shoppers with fancier goods could also help it to retain customers who might otherwise have gone elsewhere if not for the vouchers.

And Dunnes has been busy expanding its offering.

Last year, it bought the small, Dublin-based coffee chain Cafe Sol, with a view to opening outlets in its busier stores around the country.

Earlier this year, it bought Whelan Food and Meat Processors. The business was owned by Pat Whelan, a renowned Tipperary butcher, with the firm having concessions in three Avoca stores. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago that Dunnes would have chased the kinds of shoppers who’d be willing to splash out on refined products such as those that Whelans offers.

But it takes a long time to change mindsets and images (unless you happen to be Ryanair, it seems).

Dunnes could do it, but it can’t alienate its traditional customer base.

The person who does his or her shop at Dunnes probably isn’t the same person who could just as easily opt to pop into M&S for the bulk of their groceries.

So knitting together a coherent strategy, rather than cobbling something together and hoping it will work, will be hugely important if the notoriously media-shy Dunnes is to chase a different kind of shopper while holding on to its core.

Margaret Heffernan and Frank Dunne are no doubt eyeing a return to glory days. Being number one in Ireland is surely their goal. If SuperValu can beat Tesco and do it, then surely Dunnes can too, they probably figure. The last thing they’ll want is a pyrrhic, short-lived victory that costs a fortune.

Both are also no doubt keenly aware of the advance of time. Margaret Heffernan turned 74 back in March. Frank Dunne will be 73 this month.

It may still leave them with many years at the helm, but may also have focused their minds on their legacy at Dunnes Stores.

They surely will not want to leave the ship gliding behind SuperValu and Tesco.

And one thing is certain: despite Dunnes being in third position on the podium, the resolve of the siblings to make it number one should never be underestimated.

NASA Astronomers have found more than 1,000 new Planets

The Kepler mission’s announcement of 1,284 worlds previews the overwhelming number of planetary discoveries to come?


This week astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope announced that the planet-hunting spacecraft had increased its catalogue by an additional 1,284 worlds. This is the greatest number of planets ever announced at one time, swelling Kepler’s confirmed planetary haul to more than 2,000 and the number of indisputably known planets beyond our solar system to more than 3,000.

Like nearly all of Kepler’s worlds, the latest discoveries come from a single star-filled patch of sky in the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus. That’s where the spacecraft began to stare after its launch in 2009, looking for telltale dips in the light from 150,000 stars as planets flit across their faces. Kepler stopped monitoring that particular region of sky in 2013, after hardware malfunctions forced its operators to change its observing strategy. It now seeks planets around a smaller number of stars in a narrow band of sky around the sun in a new phase of its mission, dubbed “K2.”

Mission scientists have long known that some fraction of the dips in starlight that Kepler saw during its primary mission were due to imposters—double stars, variable stars and other astrophysical phenomena that can masquerade as the shadowy passages of planets. To narrow its findings down to real planets, Kepler’s team relied on painstaking, time-consuming observations from other telescopes on the ground and in space.

As candidate planets piled up, however, this authentication process became a bottleneck, too slow and inefficient to keep up with Kepler’s flood of data. Yesterday’s announcement came from a new, more automated and statistical approach to validating Kepler’s candidates, pioneered by the Princeton University astronomer Tim Morton. “Planet candidates can be thought of like bread crumbs,” Morton explained at a press conference. “If you drop a few large crumbs on the floor, you can pick them up one by one. But, if you spill a whole bag of tiny crumbs, you’re going to need a broom. This statistical analysis is our broom.”

The technique analyzes the shapes of each possible planet’s dip in starlight and, based in part on the estimated frequency of various astrophysical imposters, calculates the probability that an actual planet produces each dip. Based on this analysis, each of the 1,284 worlds announced yesterday has a better than 99 percent chance of being an actual planet, and an additional 1,327 Kepler candidates are probable planets that failed to exceed the 99 percent confidence level. The analysis also dismissed 707 candidates as likely false positives.

About 550 of the newly announced 1,284 worlds could be rocky, based on their estimated size. And of these, nine orbit within their stars’ habitable zone—the not-too-hot, not-too-cold region where liquid water and life as we know it could exist. This brings Kepler’s total haul of potentiallyhabitable worlds to about two dozen.

According to Kepler’s Mission Scientist Natalie Batalha, extrapolated to the entirety of the galaxy this suggests there could be 10 billion approximately Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of stars throughout the Milky Way. The nearest, Batalha said, might be as close as 11 light-years away—practically right next door in interstellar terms.

Tellingly, these estimates are scarcely different from those produced earlier in the Kepler mission from smaller sample sizes and more piecemeal analyses of the data. Astronomers, it seems, are at last getting closer to learning the true frequency of the occurrence of potentially habitable planets throughout the cosmos. Yet the most exciting and arguably more meaningful questions remain out of reach: How many of our neighboring potentially habitable planets are actually habitable, and how many of those are actually inhabited? No one yet knows.

Finding answers to these questions will be a key task for the future of astronomy. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018, as well as its follow-on Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) slated for the 2020s, each have slim-but-significant chances of probing the atmospheres of a few nearby small planets for signs of habitability and life. Additionally, a new class of ground-based 30-meter telescopes set to debut in the 2020s could perform similar observations. Beyond that, astronomers dream of building and launching one or more next-generation giant space telescopes custom-built to take snapshots of alien Earths, although such observatories presently seem unlikely to fly until the 2030s at the earliest.

In the meantime the most remarkable thing about the ongoing surge in planetary discoveries from Kepler and other missions is that it shows no sign of slowing down. A decade ago the announcement of even a dozen planets at once was considered sensational; now the bar has been raised, and announcing hundreds or thousands at a time is not guaranteed to be front-page news. Not even experts can keep up with all the planets that now fill the catalogues.

Soon the exploding field of planet hunting will become even more overwhelming. Kepler’s final catalogue is slated to appear in late 2017, potentially adding hundreds or thousands more confirmed worlds to the tally. Meanwhile, automated, all-sky, ground-based surveys are ramping up that could deliver Kepler-like numbers of planets. But the real flood of discovery will probably come from space telescopes.

WFIRST is projected to find a few thousand planets in a survey of the Milky Way’s star-rich galactic bulge, and NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launching in 2017, will perform an all-sky survey of nearby stars that is projected to net at least 1,500 planets. Even bigger numbers could come from other projects: Both the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft as well as its PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission, a sort of supersize Kepler set to launch in 2024, are likely to find tens of thousands more apiece.

Perhaps 10 years from now—and certainly 20—getting excited about a thousand new planets will probably seem positively quaint.