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News Ireland daily BLOG byonie

Sunday 12th February 2017

The Northern Ireland peace status is at risk because of Brexit,

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The Irish leader who helped secure the Good Friday agreement says he fears the consequences of a border dividing north and south.

Bertie Ahern at a press conference in Dublin in 2008, announcing his resignation as taoiseach.

Theresa May has been accused of putting Northern Ireland’s peace process in jeopardy by the Irish leader who helped to secure the Good Friday agreement.

In a sign of growing fears about May’s vision for Brexit, Bertie Ahern took aim at the prime minister over her recent white paper, in an interview with the Observer. Ahern, who served three terms as taoiseach between 1997 and 2008 and helped to deliver power-sharing in Belfast, said that the British government appeared to have resigned itself to the establishment of a border between the north and south once the UK leaves the EU in 2019, with potentially devastating results.

“[May] seems to be switching her language,” he said. “She’s saying not that there’ll be no border, but that the border won’t be as difficult as to create problems. I worry far more about what’s going to happen with that. It will take away the calming effects [of an open border]. Any attempt to try to start putting down border posts, or to man [it] in a physical sense as used to be the case, would be very hard to maintain, and would create a lot of bad feeling.”

In its Brexit white paper published last month, the government stated its aim to have “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

The secretary of state for exiting the EU, David Davis, has suggested that the arrangements between Norway and Sweden could be a model to copy, where CCTV cameras equipped for automatic number-plate recognition are in place. However, in an interview with the Guardian on Saturday, the European parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt appeared to scorn such a model, given that there would need to be customs checks and restrictions on the free movement of people.

Ahern said he, too, was unconvinced that the current technology could do the job. There are 200 crossing points on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, with 177,000 crossings by lorries a month, 208,000 by vans and 1.85m by cars.

“I haven’t found anyone who can tell me what technology can actually manage this,” Ahern said, adding that he feared the furious reaction of the unionist communities in the mid-1980s when the Republic was given an advisory role in the government of Northern Ireland could be repeated on the nationalist side if controls were reinstated. “Any kind of physical border, in any shape, is bad for the peace process,” he said.

“It psychologically feeds badly into the nationalist communities. People have said that this could have the same impact on the nationalist community as the seismic shock of the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement on unionists, and I agree with that.

“For the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement was about removing barriers, integrating across the island, working democratically in the absence of violence and intimidation – and if you take that away, as the Brexit vote does, that has a destabilising effect.

“With so many other issues, there is a real concern … the only way [of] doing this will be a hard border. When people talk about hard borders, they’re talking about the borders of the past – but now any kind of border with checkpoints and security constitutes a hard border.”

Ahern’s comments were made as an EU document leaked to the Observer appeared to dash May’s hopes that the two states can come to a bilateral agreement. The British prime minister has repeatedly suggested that the 1923 Common Travel Area deal can be the basis for the future, although it was signed before either state joined the EU.

However, a memo from the European parliament’s legal affairs committee, which is helping shape the negotiating position of the European commission and the red lines of the European parliament, rebuffs that suggestion: “The [Good Friday] agreement makes it abundantly clear that the fact that both parts of Ireland and the UK are within the EU is a basis for the agreement. Moreover, the fact that Brexit could result in the reintroduction of border controls and controls on the free movement of persons between Ireland and Northern Ireland means this is a question for the EU, and not only Ireland the UK.”

Boom in new Irish construction jobs as figures soar to near record levels?

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The PMI noted that activity in the Irish construction sector continued to rise sharply in January – prompted by an increase in new orders.

A surge in new construction jobs reached near record levels in Ireland last month, new figures indicate.

The number of firms reporting workforce expansions (27%) in the latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index was second highest recorded since the monthly survey was first run over 16 years ago.

The PMI noted that activity in the Irish construction sector continued to rise sharply in January.

This was prompted by an increase in new orders.

On the price front, the rate of input cost inflation quickened to the sharpest since February 2007.

The PMI provides a seasonally adjusted index that tracks changes in total construction activity.

Simon Barry, Chief Economist Republic of Ireland at Ulster Bank, said: “Irish construction activity continues to grow at a healthy pace according to the latest results of the Ulster Bank Construction PMI.

“The headline PMI index remained comfortably in expansion territory in January, albeit that the pace of growth eased for the third month running consistent with a modest loss of momentum early in 2017 after a robust end to last year.

“Very encouragingly, residential activity remains a particular bright spot with housing activity continuing to rise at a rapid pace, while commercial activity also very much remains in expansion mode, though the pace of growth has eased in recent months.

“Civil engineering continues to lag behind the other sectors, with respondents reporting a third consecutive monthly decline in activity.

“Respondents continue to judge the Irish construction outlook to be very favourable. Confidence about future activity prospects remained strongly positive in January amid further solid gains in new orders, despite some easing in the rate of increase.

“Indeed, buoyed by the ongoing increase in work volumes, last month saw a substantial and accelerated rise in staffing levels with the rate of job creation picking up to its second-fastest in the survey’s 16-and-a-half year history.

“One note of caution stems from further evidence of building cost pressures with the rate of input cost inflation picking up to its quickest in almost 10 years.

“Respondents reported higher prices for oil-related products and for items sourced from UK suppliers, the latter effect consistent with growing signs of Brexit-related price and costs increases in the UK economy.”

A motorway to Dublin should not be the only priority project for Sligo

Northwest gateway town also needs better infrastructure and regional connectivity

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Knock airport: needs more regular flights and quicker connections to Sligo City.

A Sligo-Dublin motorway would support Sligo city as a hub for the growth of the wider region around it, stretching into Donegal, but there are greater priorities.

Economic development in Ireland over the past 20 years has been unbalanced. Economic activity and population growth has increasingly been concentrated in a select number of city regions.

The northwest, on the other hand, has experienced slower growth and rural decline. Regional and rural development requires a sizeable urban centre, and the northwest currently lacks such a centre.

The recently abolished National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 recognised this. It selected Sligo as one of eight regional “gateways”, envisaging that it would be developed to such a scale that it would have the critical mass necessary to sustain strong levels of job growth in the region.

Critical mass is needed. In the new “informational economy”, the absence of a centre with sufficient scale is important. Otherwise, some businesses will not come and some workers will not stay.

One criticism repeatedly levelled at the National Spatial Strategy is that it picked too many gateways. Consequently, Sligo might lose its status in the new National Planning Framework now in gestation.

Given its strategic location, however, Sligo is likely to be accorded an important role in supporting local development. But the gateway concept is more sophisticated than the idea of a traditional growth centre.

The operative word today is “connectivity” between urban centres. A gateway requires strong connectivity not just to major centres at home and abroad, but also to smaller destinations closer to home.

A necessary element.

A motorway to Dublin is one necessary element. However, other key pieces of infrastructure are needed first. It currently takes two and a half hours to drive from Dublin to Sligo, which is not bad compared with the times to other regional centres.

However, one needs to be able to get into Sligo when one gets there. Traffic congestion there is already too heavy for a relatively small town, so other forms of connectivity might require more attention.

Rail services must be upgraded, since they are at least as important as a motorway to Dublin, both for the town, its hinterland and international visitors. Commuters, for example,must be able to get into Sligo to work.

Quality bus services to Sligo’s hinterland are crucial. Internationally, so are better flight services. Knock airport helps greatly, but it is an hour away. That connecting journey needs to be cut, and quickly.

Meanwhile, Knock airport should have regular services to London and Brussels, not just the ones that it has at present. It is important for international connectivity that Sligo must also have high-capacity broadband.

All of this, if combined with a strengthened third-level institute and a stronger Industrial Development Authority presence, will bring important investment to Sligo. If properly backed, Sligo could be the spark to set the northwest alight.

Experts warn of safety fear as patients are given the right to use medicinal cannabis

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Experts have now stressed there are many “unknown truth’s” around the safety of medicinal cannabis despite the fact patients with specified conditions will be able to access it later this year.

The Health Minister Simon Harris is to proceed with the legislation and regulations which would allow a “compassionate access” programme. Experts have stressed, however, there are still questions around the safety, quality and effectiveness of the products.

The specified medical conditions are:

  1. Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis;
  2. Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy;
  3. Epilepsy which is resistant to treatments.

The breakthrough emerged following a report from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) .

It was asked to carry out a scientific assessment of its therapeutic use by the minister.

It followed pressure from patients and personal testimonies of gaining relief from symptoms including pain and seizures.

“I understand this is a matter of great concern to many patients, to many colleagues in the Oireachtas and to members of the general public who have contacted me,” Mr Harris said.

“I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area. This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice.”

Prof Tony O’Brien, a consultant in palliative medicine who chaired the group, said that making it available for a limited number of conditions would be a significant first step that recognised patient need.

It would also provide patient protection with oversight from consultants. The legislation should also allow for a registry to be set up to collect medical information and provide insight into the future use of cannabis products for medical purposes.

Cannabis has potential therapeutic benefits, but there is a need for robust evidence to be generated through clinical research in patients.

The group looked at the relevant scientific reviews and publications available worldwide, as well as the international approaches to cannabis for medical use.

There is limited scientific data available, the report has added.

“The safety of cannabis as a medical treatment is also not well characterised. For these reasons, and because most cannabis products available under international access schemes do not meet pharmaceutical quality standards, it is not possible to authorise such products as medicines,” it said.

NASA picks three potential drill sites for Mars 2020

All three could have supported life in ancient Mars.

Image result for NASA picks three potential drill sites for Mars 2020   Image result for NASA picks Jezero crater, which got the most votes, was once an ancient lake comparable to Lake Tahoe  Image result for Northeast Syrtis, which got the second highest number of votes

When the Mars 2020 rover reaches the red planet, it will quickly begin drilling for samples from its surface. NASA hasn’t picked the exact drill site yet, but it has narrowed its choices down to three during a workshop with scientists in Monrovia, California.

The group consulted images and data sent by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter before voting for easily accessible locations they believe could have supported life. Jezero crater, which got the most votes, was once an ancient lake comparable to Lake Tahoe. It was connected to a large river that fed it water and sediments, making it an ideal site for the rover’s search for signs of life.

Northeast Syrtis, which got the second highest number of votes, used to have hot water circulating under its crust. Finally, there’s Columbia Hills — the group’s third and most controversial choice where the Spirit rover used to roam. Spirit found silica rocks in the site resembling hydrothermal mineral deposits on Earth. Some of the people who attended the workshop didn’t think Mars 2020 would be able to shed light on whether the rocks could truly be linked to life.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 5th November 2016

ESRI report predicts Ireland will find it difficult to be a magnet as a corporate tax friendly country after Brexit

Big demand for mortgage finance underlines need for foreign banks to operate in the Irish market

Image result for ESRI report predicts Ireland will find it difficult to stand out as a corporate tax friendly country after Brexit  Image result for ESRI report predicts Ireland will find it difficult to stand out as a corporate tax friendly country after Brexit

In a world of increasing political and economic uncertainty, making meaningful medium to long-term economic forecasts is difficult. Nevertheless, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in publishing its outlook for the Irish economy has tried to chart a potential path for the domestic economy to 2025, and to identify some of the major policy challenges ahead.

The ESRI presents a relatively optimistic outlook. It regards a 3% growth rate for the domestic economy as sustainable, underpinned by a growing labour force and an expanding working age population – bolstered by net immigration. Much, however, will depend on the growth in global trade and on what form an hard or soft Brexit agreement ultimately takes.

The institute’s second concern is how the introduction of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCTB) in the EU might affect foreign direct investment in Ireland, by hitting employment growth and tax revenue. The CCTB does not change Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate. Instead the tax payable by a company would reflect the location of its actual activities, and the profits earned there.

Since Ireland’s low rate would thereby apply to a smaller share of the profits of multinationals, the country would become a less attractive investment option to such companies; securing overseas investment would be harder, and corporate tax revenues would be depressed.

The ESRI suggests that under CCTB, which the Government opposes, economic output could decline by 1.5%, foreign direct investment would drop by some 5% and revenues from corporation tax decline by a similar figure.

The British government’s aims to lower its corporate tax rate from now 20% to 15% over time. President-elect Donald Trump is planning to lower the US rate to 15% within months.

The ESRI identifies another concern: the likely inability of the banking sector to supply adequate mortgage finance to meet the rising demand for housing. An additional €50 billion may be needed by 2024, it suggests. Irish banks may be unable to provide the loans, creating the need for foreign banks to re-enter the market.

Almost 40% of Irish consumers will overspend this Christmas

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New research commissioned by Ireland’s leading gift card company One4all shows that close to 40% of Irish consumers expect to spend more than they can afford this Christmas. Under 35s are the group most likely to go over their Christmas budget, with 45% of respondents in this age group anticipating an overspend. This correlates with research undertaken last year by One4all, which showed that 54% of us do not save for the Christmas period.

The survey was undertaken nationally by RedC in November, with 1,000 respondents overall.

Overspending is not the only thing getting Irish workers down about the holiday season, according to the nationally representative survey. 40% of respondents stated that they do not get enough time off at Christmas. Again, under 35s are the most affected by this lack of time off – more than half (51%) in this age group complained about their short Christmas holidays. However, only one third (33%) of Irish workers have used up all of their holiday entitlements for this year.

With Christmas traditionally being a ‘stay at home’ holiday, it is surprising to learn that 30% of respondents would rather spend Christmas abroad than here in Ireland. This rises to 37% in under 35s, and drops to 25% in over 55s, who would be more likely to want a traditional Christmas.

One4all also asked respondents who they think should be awarded a Christmas bonus this year. Our president Michael D. Higgins won out, with 39% thinking he deserved a bonus, followed closely by Robbie Brady at 33%. Only 20% of Irish adults reckon their boss deserves a Christmas bonus. Interestingly, women are more likely than men to feel their boss should get a bonus, with over one quarter saying they believe it’s deserved.

21% of adults feel that Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager deserves a Christmas bonus – and this is before the President elect won his election campaign.

New eagles have landed to bench with a record number of solicitors for 2016

Brexit ‘uncertainty’ prompts 800 solicitors from England and Wales to join Irish roll call?

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Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society of Ireland, said that solicitors’ firms are coming on the roll to ensure they maintain the status of EU membership.

A record number of new solicitors will be added to the Law Society of Ireland roll by the end of the year due to Brexit, the society has said.

There will be 1,347 new solicitors by the end of 2016, 500 more than the previous record set in 2008 and almost four times as many as in 2015.

More than 800 of the new solicitors are from England and Wales, from where only 70 transferred last year.

But that does not mean they will actually set up practice in Ireland; so far very few have taken out practising certificates.

Unlike solicitors from other EU countries, practitioners from England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not required to go through a transfer test. But once on the roll, they must apply for a practising certificate annually.

There are 462 new Irish trainees on the roll this year and 34 barristers. Both of these figures have doubled on 2015, which was a particularly low year for new entrants.

By the end of 2016, it is expected there will be more than 16,300 solicitors on the roll.

A ‘Tsunami’ of new solicitors

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, said the “tsunami of new solicitors” has been caused by the “Brexit-driven” transfer decisions made by solicitors qualified in England and Wales to take out a second jurisdictional qualification in Ireland.

“This they have been perfectly entitled to do since the mutual-recognition regime between the two jurisdictions was first put in place in 1991,” he said.

“The single word that dominates all assessments of the potential impact of Brexit is ‘uncertainty’. So far, the Law Society of Ireland has no knowledge that any of the England-based firms intend to open an office in this jurisdiction.”

He said solicitors’ firms are coming on the roll to ensure they maintain the status of EU membership.

More than 110 solicitors from one firm, international practitioners Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, one of the 10 largest law firms in the world, have joined. And 86 have joined the roll from Eversheds, which already has an office in Ireland.

Mr Murphy said he had spoken to Freshfields and it had unambiguously stated it would not be setting up an office in Ireland. He also said only anti-trust, competition and trade law specialists from the company had transferred to the Irish roll.

He also said there will be no real boost to the society’s finances as a result of the increase in numbers as the €300 per solicitor fee for admission to the roll only covers administration costs.

A handful of nuts can cut your heart disease and cancer risk

Image result for A handful of nuts can cut your heart disease and cancer risk  Image result for A handful of nuts can cut your heart disease and cancer risk  Image result for A handful of nuts can cut your heart disease and cancer risk

Nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals

“People consuming at least 20 grams of nuts daily less likely to develop potentially fatal conditions such as heart disease and cancer,” The Independent reports. That was the main finding of a review looking at 20 previous studies on the benefits of nuts.

Researchers found consistent evidence that a 28 gram daily serving of nuts – which is literally a handful (for most nuts) – was linked with around 20% reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and death from any cause.

However, as is so often the case with studies into diet and health, the researchers cannot prove nuts are the sole cause of these outcomes.

It’s hard to discount the possibility that nuts could be just one component of a healthier lifestyle pattern, including balanced diet and regular physical activity. It could be this overall picture that is reducing risk, not just nuts.

The researchers tried to account for these types of variables, but such accounting is always going to be an exercise in educated guesswork.

Also, many non-lifestyle factors may be involved in any individual’s risk of disease. For example, if you are a male with a family history of heart disease, a healthy diet including nuts can help, but still may not be able to eliminate the risk entirely.

The link between nuts and improved health is nevertheless plausible. As we pointed out during a discussion of a similar study in 2015: “Nuts are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, protein, and a range of vitamins and minerals … Unsalted nuts are the healthiest option.”

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway, Imperial College London, and other institutions in the US.

It was funded by Olav og Gerd Meidel Raagholt’s Stiftelse for Medisinsk forskning (a Norwegian charitable foundation), the Liaison Committee between the Central Norway Regional Health Authority and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), and Imperial College National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

The study was published in the peer reviewed medical journal BMC Medicine on an open-access basis, so it is free to read online.

The UK media presents the results reliably but without discussing the inherent potential limitations of the type of observational evidence examined by the researchers.

What kind of research was this?

This was a systematic review that aimed to examine the link between nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and death.

Previous studies have suggested an intake of nuts is beneficial, and some have found it could be linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Other studies though have found no link. The researchers consider the possibility that there is a weak link and that’s what they aimed to look at.

A systematic review is the best way of compiling all literature on a topic available to date. However, systematic reviews are only as good as the underlying evidence. Studies looking at dietary factors are often observational and it is difficult to rule out the possibility of confounding variables from other health and lifestyle factors.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers searched two literature databases to identify any randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or prospective cohort studies that had looked at how nut intake in adults was linked with cardiovascular disease, cancer and death from any cause.

Studies had to report information on nut intake specifically (ideally by dose and frequency). Researchers assessed the quality of studies for inclusion.

Twenty prospective cohort studies met the inclusion criteria. Nine studies came from the US, six from Europe, four from Asia, and one came from Australia. All studies included adult populations; five were in women only, three in men only, and 12 in a mixed population.

The researchers did not find any suitable RCTs to include in their analysis. This is not especially surprising as RCTs involving diet are notoriously difficult to carry out. You could never be sure that everyone who was randomised into the “eat no nuts” group would stick to the plan, or vice versa.

Also they’d need large samples and long follow-up times to capture disease outcomes, so are not usually feasible.

What did they find?

Cardiovascular disease

Twelve studies (376,228 adults) found nut consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. Each 28 gram/day serving was linked with a 21% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (relative risk [RR] 0.79, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.70 to 0.88).

This was for any nut intake, but risk reductions were also found when analysing peanuts or tree nuts separately. Increasing intake was associated with reduced risk up to 15grams/day, above which there was no further risk reduction.

Looking at specific outcomes, 12 studies also found a 29% reduced risk of heart disease specifically (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.63 to 0.80).

However, 11 studies didn’t find a significant link with the outcome of stroke specifically (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.83 to 1.05).


Nine cohorts (304,285 adults) found that one serving of nuts per day reduced risk of any cancer by 15% (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.76 to 0.94). By separate analysis, the risk reduction was slightly higher for tree nuts (20%) than peanuts (7%).

All-cause death

Fifteen cohorts (819,448 people) recorded 85,870 deaths. One serving of nuts a day was linked with a 22% reduced risk of death during study follow-up (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.72 to 0.84).

Looking at specific causes of death, each serving of nuts a day was linked with reduced risk of respiratory deaths (0.48 (0.26–0.89); three studies) and diabetes deaths (RR 0.61, 0.43 to 0.88; four studies).

There was no link with deaths from neurodegenerative diseases, and inconsistent links with deaths from kidney disease and infectious diseases. No other disease-related causes were reported.

Overall, the researchers estimate that 4.4 million premature deaths in 2013 across America, Europe, Southeast Asia and Western Pacific could be attributable to nut intakes below 20 grams/day.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers conclude: “Higher nut intake is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality, and mortality from respiratory disease, diabetes, and infections.”


This systematic review finds evidence that nut intake may be linked with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and death.

The systematic review has several strengths. It identified a large number of studies with a large total sample size. It also included only prospective cohorts assessing nut consumption and then followed up later disease outcomes.

It excluded cross sectional studies, which assess diet and disease at the same time, and so can’t show the direction of effect. It also excluded cohorts that have retrospectively questioned diet when the person already has the disease, which could be subject to recall bias.

However, there are still a number of inherent limitations which mean these studies cannot easily prove that nuts are the magic dietary ingredient that are solely and directly responsible for these outcomes.

There were no randomised controlled trials of nut consumption. All studies were observational where people were choosing their own diet.

The researchers took care to include studies that only looked at nut consumption as an independent factor and looked at results that had adjusted for any confounders. However, the factors that the studies adjusted for, and how well they were assessed, will have varied across studies.

As such it’s very difficult to prove that nuts alone are the causative factor and they are not just one component of a generally healthier lifestyle pattern, including balanced diet, regular physical activity, not smoking, and moderating alcohol.

When it comes to frequency or quantity of intake, it is likely there is an element of inaccuracy when people report how much they eat. For example, most people wouldn’t weigh out how many nuts they’re eating each day.

The review also provides limited information about specific types of nuts. Considering peanuts in particular, the studies included in the review didn’t specify whether these are plain nuts, or whether they could have added salt and oils.

It is also likely that cardiovascular and cancer outcomes were not assessed the same way in all studies, for example whether by participant self-report or by checking medical records.

Overall there does seem to be a link between nut consumption and health, but nuts alone won’t reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease or cancers, if your lifestyle is still generally unhealthy.

If you want to live a long and healthy life then you should exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in salt, sugar and saturated fats, while avoiding smoking and moderating your consumption of alcohol.

Nuts are high in “good fats” and can be eaten in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Unsalted nuts are best as excessive amounts of salt can raise your blood pressure.

Emotions high as Sligo Borough Council closes its books & is no more

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A chapter in Sligo’s proud history came to a close on May 6th 2014. Sligo Borough Council, which had been in existence for 400 years, was no more.

It was part of a move that summer whereby one county council would be in place after the local elections.

Sligo Champion reporter Michael Moran was there to capture the sombre mood in City Hall in what was a poignant day for the council and also a day to reflect on those who had played such a vital role down through the years and paving the future of Sligo. The Borough Council may be no more, but their stories will remain.

Michael revealed it was an historical and emotional day: “Four hundred years of Sligo Borough Council brought to an end in 77 minutes.

“City Hall had seen many momentous occasions over the Centuries. None ever like this.

“Freemen of the Borough, former Mayors and Councillors, past and present staff and invited guests were in the packed Council Chamber for the last ever meeting of the local authority.”

Members dealt with a number of issues on the Agenda before the final Mayor, Councillor Marcella McGarry, ruled that a number of deferred motions would remain so to allow Councillors have their say at the end of an era. “They did it with dignity, some sadness and sincerity,” Michael added.

Many expressed the hope that a Borough Council would return in the future.

Others reflected on the past. At the end and with the sound of a Piper echoing in the background, the Mayor concluded the meeting at 5.32pm. The Minute book was closed for the final time.

There was spontaneous applause as the concluding chapter was written.

Michael said: “The Chamber was then the scene for a celebration of the Borough Council.

Then, in an act to underline the sense of occasion, two symbols of Sligo Corporation,silver Maces presented in 1842 were handed by the Mayor to Council CEO Ciaran Hayes for exhibition in Sligo Museum. He then presented an inscribed souvenir to each serving Councillor.

“The curtain came down on the Borough Council with performances by representatives from Feis Shlighigh and Feis Ceoil.

“Earlier in the day, children from St Brendan’s NS, St John’s, Gael Scoil Chnoc na Re and St Edward’s were among the many visitors to City Hall to view the Sligo 400 Exhibition and view the Council Chamber.

Mayor Marcella McGarry said: “We reflect on 400 years of local history and pay tribute to the men and women who served this town; people who gave of their time and their toil for the community. They served with distinction over many generations.”

“”The presence among us of our Freemen and former Mayors and other distinguished guests bestows a palpable sense of occasion.

“It highlights the historical significance, the political importance and social and economic legacy of 400 years of Sligo Borough Council.”

Meanwhile, as the Borough Council was winding down, there were rumbles going on as what to do with the now-defunct Mayor’s chain. That summer saw Sligo host the All-Ireland Fleadh, with President Michael D Higgins being welcomed by the Mayor of Sligo Municipal District, Cllr Tom MacSharry. who was without a chain, as The Sligo Champion remarked.

“It was as formal an occasion you could have, the country’s President being welcomed to officially open the All Ireland Fleadh. Apparently Clr MacSharry can’t use the old mayoral chain, which had been in use by the now abolished Borough Council since 1882. It has now emerged that the outgoing Borough Council met in the mayor’s parlour prior to holding their last formal public gathering.

“At this private session the issue of what to do with the historic mayoral chain came up. Councillors voted that they would donate the chain along with the deputy’s mayor’s chain and ceremonial maces to the County Museum.

“The thinking behind the move was that the mayoral chain was presented to the Borough Council/Sligo Corporation in 1882 and as this body was being scrapped so too should the use of the chain. The situation leaves Clr MacSharry without a chain and he won’t have one unless a new one is commissioned. The other question, of course, is: does the present title deserve one?”

Antarctica glows blue as NASA AIM spacecraft observes early noctilucent cloud season

Over the Southern Hemisphere

Image result for Antarctica glows blue as NASA AIM spacecraft observes early noctilucent cloud season  Image result for Antarctica glows blue as NASA AIM spacecraft observes early noctilucent cloud season

Night shining clouds arrived early in the sky above Antarctica and are shining blue. The early arrival of the clouds has triggered suspicion that the warming of the Arctic region could be a reason. 

The sky above Antarctica glowing in electric blue has made big news after NASA updated about the arrival of noctilucent, or night-shining clouds, in the Southern Hemisphere.

In terms of looks, the luminescent clouds are looking wispy as in a blue-white aurora borealis when seen from the ground. The same looks like a blue gossamer haze when seen from space.

The data and images sent by NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere spacecraft (AIM) above the Antarctic sky showed the sky as radiating bright with electric blue color.

What makes it special this year is their early arrival, stumping scientists who suspect it as yet another manifestation of the warming of Arctic region.

Some scientists hold the view that this corresponds to an earlier seasonal change at lower altitudes. NASA spokesperson Lina Tran explained that the clouds were seeded by fine debris from disintegrating meteors.

AIM spacecraft analysis?

Since its launch in 2007, AIM spacecraft has been monitoring the atmosphere. Data show that changes in one region of the atmosphere also affect another region in what is called as “atmospheric teleconnections”.

The spacecraft’s evolving orbit has come handy in measuring the atmospheric gravity waves that are contributing to these teleconnections.

“AIM studies noctilucent clouds in order to better understand the mesosphere, and its connections to other parts of the atmosphere, weather and climate. We observe them seasonally, during summer in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This is when the mesosphere is most humid, with water vapor wafting up from lower altitudes,” NASA explained in a statement.

The early arrival of Noctilucent Clouds

As mentioned, the early start of blue shining clouds this year — from Nov. 17 instead of late November or early December — has baffled scientists. So there is more mystery in the early start of the shining clouds season in the Southern Hemisphere.

Considered the highest and coldest clouds of Earth, Noctilucent clouds are normally spotted around 50 miles above the Earth’s surface in the mesosphere region.

The blue shine happens when ice crystals formed from the interaction of water vapors with the dust, and micro-debris from meteors start reflecting when sunlight falls on them.

Methane Concentration

One pivotal explanation to the phenomenon was offered by James Russell, a principal investigator of AIM. He said growing methane content in the atmosphere could be responsible for the phenomenon as it allows more water vapor to be loaded into ice crystals leading to these clouds.

Gary Thomas, a professor at the University of Colorado, calls noctilucent clouds a relatively new phenomenon.

“They were first seen in 1885,’ about two years after the powerful eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia, which hurled plumes of ash as high as 80 km into Earth’s atmosphere,” he said. But even after the ash dispersed, the clouds persisted.

The onset of night-shining clouds coinciding with the early arrival of summer in the Antarctica is a matter of concern for climatologists and NASA.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 31st October 2016

Charlie Flanagan surprised by Arlene Foster’s claim of poaching investors from the North

First Minister says ‘political instability in Dublin’ is driving Brexit decision-making

Image result for Charlie Flanagan surprised by Arlene Foster’s claim of poaching investors from the North   Image result for Charlie Flanagan surprised by Arlene Foster’s claim of poaching investors from the North

The United States Secretary of State, John Kerry (right) meets Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan in Co Wicklow during a one-day visit to Ireland.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said he was “very surprised” by comments made by Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster about the “poaching” of jobs for the Republic at the North’s expense.

Mr Flanagan also said on Sunday he was “very concerned” about Mrs Foster’s remarks that political instability in the Irish Government, rather than concern for Northern Ireland, was driving the State’s stance over Brexit

Dublin made during her first address as party leader to the DUP’s annual conference on Saturday.

The Minister was asked about Ms Foster’s comments during a joint press conference in Tipperary with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“I was very surprised at these remarks,” he said. “I’m very concerned at these remarks. I’m very concerned at a claim that representatives of the Irish Government were allegedly talking down the Northern Ireland economy.

“I’m very concerned at allegations that representatives of the Irish State were in any way poaching business or investors.”

Mr Flanagan said he spoke on Saturday evening to the North’s Minister for the Economy, Simon Hamilton, to express his concern over the comments.

“He and I agreed that it is important that we work together, which we will do. I believe it’s important that the unique relationship of the people on this island forms part of the negotiated framework in the matter of the relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union.

“We need to work together. We have to work together, in order to ensure the economic and social prosperity for all the people on this island. That is the priority of our government.”

Mr Kerry, who was in Tipperary to accept this year’s Tipperary International Peace Award at Aherlow House Hotel, said that when dealing with Brexit “people need to be really careful with downstream consequences… one choice can have an impact on other aspects”.

He said “how that border access is managed” needs to be done “very thoughtfully and very sensitively” so it doesn’t impact on trade within the island.

During her speech Mrs Foster said political instability rather than concern for Northern Ireland was driving the Irish Government’s stance over Brexit.

The Stormont First Minister said relations with the Irish Government were as good as they ever had been and she would continue to work with the southern neighbours.

But she told delegates at the DUP annual conference near Belfast relations with the EU were much less important than the benefits derived from being within the UK.

“The reality is that political instability in Dublin, and fears for their own future, are driving their decision-making at present as much as any concern about Northern Ireland.

“And while they seek to take the views of people of Northern Ireland on the issue of Brexit at home, their representatives are sent out around the world to talk down our economy and to attempt to poach our investors.

“It is clear, conference, that the one place that a hard border does exist is in the mind of the Irish Government.

“Well, I don’t believe in a hard border and am happy to welcome shoppers looking for a bargain from across the border any time they want to come.

“And I am quite confident that the investment offer that will be available, both now and in the future, will mean our reputations as a place to invest will continue to grow.”

Mrs Foster was addressing her first party conference as leader. She replaced Peter Robinson in December. The DUP retained its position as Northern Ireland’s largest party in the May Assembly poll. The party campaigned for Brexit in the June referendum.

Gardaí offered a substantial package to avert Friday’s strike,

Talks between Garda bodies and department of Justice are continuing over the weekend

Image result for Gardaí offered a substantial package to avert Friday's strike   Image result for Gardaí offered a substantial package to avert Friday's strike

The Garda Representative Association (above) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors are threatening to withdraw their labour this coming Friday.

Gardaí have been offered a “substantial arrangements and a package” in a bid to avoid unprecedented strike action on Friday, according to Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe.

Mr Donohoe declined to be drawn on the specifics of the proposals being put to the Garda Representative Association (GRA).

However, the Minister insisted the Government was committed to finding a solution and meeting the needs of gardaí.

Members of the GRA and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) will strike for 24-hours on each of the four Fridays in November as part of a dispute over pay and representation.

It is understood the Government is offering to pay gardaí extra money for periods of time before their shifts begin.

The offer centres on payment for a 15 minute period spent “on parade”, which is a largely historical practice of preparing for a new shift.

It is not clear if the payment would be for work that was already done and unpaid, or for extra work that would have been carried out.

Discussions between the Department of Justice and the garda representative bodies are ongoing today under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.

Mr Donohoe said the Government was in discussions with a number of agencies about the need for a contingency plan if the strike proceeds.

However, Mr Donohoe would not be drawn on whether the Defence Forces would form part of the measures.

He said: “There is no contingency plan comparable to 12,000 members of the force not turning up.”

Mr Donohoe said while the Government was aware and appreciative of the work of gardaí, he stressed any arrangement would have to be within the parameters of the existing Lansdowne Road agreement on public sector pay, which 20 other unions are signed up to.

The Association of Secretary Teachers of Ireland is also in dispute with the Government over pay.

Mr Donohoe said the Government was committed to equal pay for all public servants but declined to commit to a timeframe.

Mr Donohoe told RTÉ Radio on Sunday “it all comes out of the same pot of money, the same pot of money I am using to deal with other issues all over our country.

“There is no ideological difficulty or resistance to this (equal pay). It is the challenge of having the money available to do it.”

Mr Donohoe’s Ministerial colleague Sean Canney confirmed emergency planning to deal with a potential strike by gardaí was under way.

If the strike does go ahead, gardaí will work off a priority list with violent and life-threatening crimes prioritised, one newspaper has reported.

Under this contingency plan reported murders, serious assaults and aggravated burglaries would be responded to first while burglaries and road traffic collisions where there is no serious injury or threat to life would not be responded to immediately.

If the strike proceeds, non-GRA and AGSI gardaí, mostly senior officers and members of specialist units, will provide skeleton policing cover.

Asked about the contingency plans in the event of a strike a Garda spokesman said: “There are mechanisms in place for resolving these matters the Garda Commissioner would encourage all bodies to remain engaged.

“The best outcome for all involved, including the public is that these issues are resolved within these mechanisms.”

From the Government point of view, the focus is on securing a deal with the 10,000-strong GRA compared to the estimated 2,000 members in the AGSI.

The total strength of the force is over 13,000 and Government sources said securing GRA support for a new deal is crucial to halting a possible strike.

Separately the Unite trade union called on the Government to give an unambiguous commitment to the principle of equal pay for equal work.

Unite Irish regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said the “pay discrimination against new entrants to the public sector is unacceptable and must be addressed.”

“This is not just a matter for ASTI members: it is totally unacceptable to all workers that their colleagues doing the same work are not paid the same wages. Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental principle and its application was hard-won by the trade union movement.”

“All unions who signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement would recognise that this issue of equality must be addressed urgently.”

Jamie Oliver says obesity poses a greater threat to the UK than Isis does

Image result for Jamie Oliver says obesity poses a greater threat to the UK than Isis does  Image result for Jamie Oliver says obesity poses a greater threat to the UK than Isis does  Image result for Jamie Oliver says obesity poses a greater threat to the UK than Isis does

Jamie Oliver has attacked Theresa May’s government for not doing enough to tackle obesity and insisted the obesity epidemic poses a greater threat to Britain than Isis.

In an episode of Dispatches which is set to air on Channel 4 tonight, the celebrity chef compared the challenge of curbing obesity to “war” and argued Ms May had failed to follow through with David Cameron’s pledge to fight childhood obesity.

Mr Cameron made childhood obesity a flagship issue for his second term, placing No 10 officials in charge of the issue rather than the department of health. Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the UK and one third of children are overweight or obese by the time they reach 11 years of age.

“If you are worried about the thing that hurts British people the most, it ain’t Isis, right?” Oliver said.

“Obesity is killing huge amounts of people, well before their time. This is a war.”

Brandishing a copy of the new proposals, he also said: “This should go to the Trade Descriptions Act because that says an ‘action plan’ and there’s hardly any action in there.”

“When you look at how the plan came out at midnight, next to the A-level results, while the whole of government’s on holiday, it absolutely screams out, ‘we don’t care’.”

According to Dispatches, great swathes of Mr Cameron’s original plans no longer exist under the watered down plans of the current government.

Mr Cameron’s original plans included proposals to cut childhood obesity by half within the next ten years and thus have 800,000 fewer obese children by 2026. Obesity can lead to fundamental problems in later life, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes and is estimated to cost the NHS more than £4 billion every year.

Galway nurse Rachael Dalton works to increase prostate issue awareness

Image result for Galway nurse Rachael Dalton works to increase prostate issue awareness  Image result for prostate cancer & local events in Galway where men can approach nurses from urology, cancer care and radiotherapy services  Image result for prostate cancer & PSA tests where men can approach nurses from urology, cancer care and radiotherapy services

Rachael Dalton (left) and a Movember initiative.

A Galway nurse is aiming to create awareness surrounding men’s health – and more specifically those who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer – ahead of the nationwide Movember campaign which begins this month of November.

Rachael Dalton, a nurse in UHG, has organised two local events in early November where men can approach nurses from urology, cancer care and radiotherapy services to answer any questions they may have regarding the disease.

The first – in UHG on November 2 – is an information evening for the general public regarding prostate cancer. Answers relating to the diagnosis, treatment and questions relating to Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) testing can be sought on the night.

The second event will take place in the Salthill Hotel, on November 8, and is for men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and who are currently undergoing treatment. The evening will see discussion on what services are available to men to try and assist them with any side effects they may be experiencing.

Approximately 3,400 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Ireland each year; the second most common cancer in men here.

Prostate cancer has a 90.6% five-year survival rate – men are now living longer with prostate cancer but unfortunately on occasion they are also living with some short and long term side effects relating to their treatment.

Rachael’s events are funded by the Movember and the Irish Cancer Society.

“My main interest would have been in oncology and cancer care. I also have an interest in education – in both my colleague’s and patient’s education. So I found that clinical special role allowed me to use my skills and education to promote education of patients and to develop these education evenings which we run across the west of Ireland.

“My role is to provide men with support, education and advice along the way and be a link for men between the hospital and other community services that are available to support them with any side-effects relating to their prostate cancer treatment or diagnosis,” Rachael stated.

Rachael described the role of the Movember campaign as “absolutely pivotal” in raising awareness of cancer in men. The campaign will see thousands of men throughout Ireland grow various forms of facial hair in an effort to raise money for the cause.

Irish scientists make breakthrough on aggressive breast cancer with new drug

Image result for Irish scientists make breakthrough on aggressive breast cancer with new drug  Image result for Irish scientists make breakthrough on aggressive breast cancer with new drug  Image result for Irish scientists make breakthrough on aggressive breast cancer with new drug

Irish scientists have found a potential new way to treat one of the most aggressive and difficult to treat forms of breast cancer.

Researchers have shown that a new drug can prevent the growth of some cancer cells.

The study was carried out by BREAST-PREDICT, an Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre. The findings from their work have recently been published in the International Journal of Cancer.

If found to be successful in clinical trials, APR-246 has the potential to save lives for patients with a form of breast cancer which is currently difficult to treat.

The research was carried out by PhD student Naoise Synnott.

“At the moment the only form of drug treatment available to patients with triple-negative breast cancer is chemotherapy.

“While this will work well for some patients, others may find that their cancer cells don’t respond as well as might be hoped to chemo, leading to patients suffering the side effects of this treatment without any of the desired outcomes.

“I decided to focus my BREAST-PREDICT research on triple-negative breast cancer because it was clear that work needed to be done to provide better and more targeted treatment for these patients.

“I hope that the work of me and my colleagues in St Vincent’s and UCD will be a big step in providing better treatment and hope to future triple-negative breast cancer patients.”

More than 250 people are diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer each year. It accounts for approximately one in six breast cancer cases globally.

Triple-negative breast cancer is often aggressive, difficult to treat and tends to be more common in younger women.

The oldest and thickest arctic sea ice no match for our warming summers

Image result for The oldest and thickest arctic sea ice no match for our warming summers  PaintImage116

According to research conducted by NASA, the thick layers of the Arctic sea ice are melting. In the past, huge blocks of ice would remain frozen during the hot season, but today they melt along with the new ice layers.

Since 1984, scientists have been working on estimates of the sea ice age and its age evolution in order to understand the mysteries behind the ice thickness across the Arctic, as direct measurements often fail to reflect its exact characteristics.

According to the researchers, the sea ice has grown, shrunk, spun, melted and drifted out of the Arctic during the last three decades, as shown by a NASA visualization of the age of Arctic sea ice.

During the first years of the 21st century, researchers at the University of Colorado created a way to monitor the Arctic sea ice movement, as well as its evolution in age, through the use of data from a corroboration of sources, mainly satellite passive microwave instruments.

Thus, brightness temperature was shown; according to the scientists, the ice’s thickness is directly proportional to its age.

“Ice age is a good analog for ice thickness because basically, as ice gets older it gets thicker. This is due to the ice generally growing more in the winter than it melts in the summer,” noted Walt Meier, a NASA sea ice researcher.

The instruments used by the researchers measured the microwave energy that the sea ice emitted, as well as the influence on the ice temperature, the ice salinity level, the texture of the ice surface and, ultimately, the layer of snow that lies on top of the sea ice.

Each year, the ice is created during the winter and it melts during the summer. However, the ice layer that manages to survive the hot season thickens from one year to another. Consequently, this starts a natural slippery slope. The more ice remains after the hot season, the thicker the ice layer during the cold season, and the thicker it becomes, the harder it is for it to melt.

During one single year, the ice grows from 3 to 7 feet in thickness; however, multi-year ice, the one that manages to remain unmelted throughout more seasons in a row, is roughly 10 to 13 feet thick. However, despite this natural trend of growing in thickness, the sea ice has become thinner and younger during the past years.

According to Meier, this bizarre and threatening phenomenon is caused by sea ice melting from one season to another. While the sea ice formed throughout various seasons should be more resistant to melting, it seems that it behaves very similarly to the current year’s ice layer. Consequently, the old ice melts along with the new one during the hot seasons.

One of the main reasons causing this occurrence could be the ice formation and its dynamic. Unlike the past, when ice layers were seen in huge, resistant blocks, the current ice layers can be observed in much smaller chunks, which makes them more vulnerable to melting during the hot season.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 8th July 2016

As much as 48 charities are directly involved with suicide care in Ireland

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Ireland has some 48 non-profit organisations which are directly involved in some form of suicide care including counselling, prevention and information.

Of these, 31 are registered, and have a reported 153 staff.

One of these organisations is Console – which will be closed down shortly following revelations of financial irregularities.

Nearly half the charities are based in Dublin, with significant numbers also in Cork and Kerry.

Financial data was available for 29 of the suicide charities after the filing of accounts with the Companies Registration Office in 2014.

Pieta House had the largest turnover in 2014 with a reported income of €5.4m.

Six reported an income of €500,000 in 2014.

Public funding for several of the suicide organisations comes from a range of sources including the HSE, the National Lottery, Tusla the child and family agency, county councils and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

HSE Grants

Other funding was given by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Environment.

The HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention spent €4.4m in 2014 with the largest grant given to the National Suicide Research Foundation.

It gave €582,998 to the Samaritans, €548,000 to Console and €503,000 to Pieta House.

Shine received a grant of €303,506.

Ivan Cooper, director of advocacy at The Wheel, which supports charities, said: “The charity sector cannot continue to lurch from controversy to controversy – the work of the sector is much too important for that.

“It is the people and communities supported by charities that suffer every time a controversy occurs. We must end this cycle.

“Charities embody an immensely positive social value in Ireland.

“They result from a culture where people take initiatives to address social issues in their communities, and this approach is supported by the public and State entities.

“This vital work must be placed on firm footing, one that provides the necessary transparency and accountability for the public while supporting the trustees, staff and volunteers of charities to do their work.

“In short, we need a coherent policy framework for charities to operate in. We need effective and proportionate reporting for charities.”

Sick leave rates still very high in parts of the Irish public service

Reforms of sick leave arrangements see costs fall by more than €104m to €317.9m


Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said the number of days lost to sick leave per full-time equivalent jobs across the public service had fallen by 1.0 days to 8.5 days.

Rates of sick leave in parts of the public service remain high, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has said.

However, reforms to sick leave arrangements introduced in 2014 had generated significant savings for the exchequer, he added.

New figures released on Friday by the Department of Public Expenditure showed that, overall, the level of sick leave across the public service has fallen below 4 per cent for the first time.

The figures published by the department revealed that, on average, 10.2 working days per full-time employee were lost in the Civil Service in 2015.

However, the department figures showed that within the Civil Service, areas such as the Irish Prison Service, the Department of Social Protection, theNational Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Revenue Commissioners all reported higher levels than the average.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said that across the wider public service “areas such as the health sector and the Civil Service have higher average rates of days lost, but management in all areas will be working to further reduce rates of sick leave and absenteeism through the development of targeted strategies”.

Significant savings

Significant savings have also been achieved through changes. The department said that since reforms to sick leave arrangements were introduced in 2014 – which effectively halved entitlements – the cost to the State had fallen by more than €104 million to €317.9 million.

The department said the number of days lost to sick leave per full-time equivalent jobs across the public service had fallen by 1.0 days to 8.5 days.

The new figures cover about 250,000 full-time equivalent personnel across the public service, including the Civil Service, education, health, justice, local government and defence sectors.

In a statement, Mr Donohoe said: “While there has been a significant improvement since the reform, the rates of sick leave in areas of the public service remain high and need to be reduced further.

“To achieve this, management in each of the sectors must focus on the proactive management of absenteeism, and policies designed to assist employers in managing cases of prolonged or frequent absence proactively will be required.

“This will be a key recommendation in the review of the operation of the sick leave scheme, which is being undertaken by the department.”

He said his department would be establishing a public service sick leave management forum “to provide ongoing support for each of the sectors in managing sick leave in their respective sectors, including the identification of the underlying causes of sick leave and the development of targeted strategies aimed at further reducing sick leave absences.”

He said a target for the rate of sick leave would be set within each of the sectors and this would be monitored on an annual basis.

“It is also intended for the sectors of the public service to publish sick leave absence rates on an organisational/regional basis, where figures are available,” he added.

The number of new cars licensed in Ireland up 23.9% in first half of 2016

Volkswagen was the most popular make of new car licensed with 10.9% market share


Volkswagen was the most popular make of new car licensed in the first half of 2016, with 10.9% market share.

The number of new cars licensed for the first time rose by 23.9% in the first six months of the year, figures show.

Data from the Central Statistics Office indicates 97,490 new cars received licenses in the period January to June.

The number of used imported cars rose by 25% compared to the same period last year.

A total of 4,143 new private cars were licensed for the first time last month, an increase of 5.6% compared with June 2015.

A total of 5,459 used cars were licensed, representing an increase of 45% on the same month last year.

Volkswagen was the most popular make of new car licensed in the first half of 2016, with 10.9% market share.

Toyota was the second most popular car make with 10,384 new private cars licensed and a 10.7% market share, followed by Hyundai, Ford and Nissan.

In the first half of 2016, seven out of every ten (70.3%) new private cars licensed were diesel fuelled.

Statins may cut the risk of dying from four common cancers, scientists now believe?


Statins may significantly cut the risk of dying from four of the most common cancers, evidence suggests.

Scientists found “striking” reductions in death rate among cancer patients diagnosed with high cholesterol.

Treatment with the cholesterol-lowering drugs taken by millions of people in the UK is the most likely explanation, they believe.

A high cholesterol diagnosis was associated with a 43% lower risk of dying from breast cancer, 47% from prostate cancer, 30% from bowel cancer and 22% from lung cancer.

The findings support previous research indicating that statins may offer protection to cancer patients.

A study published last month in the journal Breast Cancer Research showed that breast cancers can manufacture a tumour-boosting molecule from cholesterol.

Dr Paul Carter, from Aston University in Birmingham, UK, who presented the new findings at a meeting of heart experts in Florence, Italy, said: “Our research suggests that there’s something about having a high cholesterol diagnosis that improves survival and the extent to which it did that was quite striking in the four cancers studied.

“Based on previous research we think there’s a very strong possibility that statins are producing this effect.”

He added: “These findings are likely to be seen in other cancers as well but this is only speculation and would need to be confirmed by studies in different types of cancer.”

The scientists analysed the health records of almost a million cancer patients admitted to UK hospitals over a 14-year period between January 2000 and March 2013.

Clinical information was compared with mortality data obtained from the Office for National Statistics.

Out of a total of 929,552 patients, 7,997 had lung cancer, 5,481 breast cancer, 4,629 prostate cancer, and 4,570 bowel cancer.

After adjusting for factors which might influence life span, including age, gender, ethnicity, and the ten most common causes of death, the scientists found that patients were less likely to die if they had a diagnosis of high cholesterol as well as cancer.

The new research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology meeting in Florence.

Curiosity finds unique ripples in Mars Planet dunes


Though both Mars and Earth possess wind-blown sand dunes with very similar characteristics, it seems Martian dunes have a little something extra.

Mars is a planet shaped by aeolian — or “wind-driven” — processes. So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to know the Red Planet also sports some pretty big sand dunes.

From afar, these dunes strongly resemble the dunes we have on our planet. But in a new study carried out by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, an active dune field on Mars has revealed that, though many of the processes that shape Martian dunes are the same processes that shape terrestrial dunes, there’s an extra ripple that can only form in Mars’ atmosphere.

“Earth and Mars both have big sand dunes and small sand ripples, but on Mars, there’s something in between that we don’t have on Earth,” said graduate student Mathieu Lapotre, of Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., in a NASA statement.

On both Earth and Mars dunes can be as large as a football field and consist of a gently-sloping upwind face and a steep downwind face that is shaped by continuous sand avalanches as the prevailing wind keeps pushing material over the apex of the dune. Classical arc-shaped barchan dunes can often result on both planets and Mars satellites have captured some stunning observations of these types of dunes from orbit. Just look at them, they’re amazing.

On Earth, the surfaces of these dunes are often rippled with peaks and troughs spaced around 30 centimeters (12 inches) apart. These rows of ripples are created by wind-carried grains of sand colliding with stationary grains, eventually creating a corrugated texture on dunes covering sandy deserts and beaches.

Until Curiosity started its approach to the active dark Bagnold Dunes six months ago on the northwestern slopes of Mount Sharp, scientists didn’t know whether these small-scale “impact ripples” existed. From orbit, larger ripples measuring around three meters (10 feet)from peak to peak could be seen and it was generally assumed that these larger-scale ripples were equivalent to Earth’s impact ripples, only much larger owing to the thin Martian atmosphere and lower gravity.

But when Curiosity arrived at Bagnold, the rover didn’t only see the 10 feet-wide ripples, but it also saw the small-scale ripples just like Earth’s impact ripples.

“As Curiosity was approaching the Bagnold Dunes, we started seeing that the crest lines of the meter-scale ripples are sinuous,” said Lapotre, who’s also science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission. “That is not like impact ripples, but it is just like sand ripples that form under moving water on Earth. And we saw that superimposed on the surfaces of these larger ripples were ripples the same size and shape as impact ripples on Earth.”

So it turns out that Mars dunes have an added complexity that could only be proven by rolling up close and taking photos. Mars dunes have the small impact ripples, plus medium-sized “sinuous ripples” that can be resolved from space.

Interestingly, though Earth’s dunes don’t possess sinuous ripples, they can form underwater — on a riverbed, for example. Rather than particles colliding, these sinuous ripples are created as flowing water drags particles, causing them to settle in a rippled pattern.

Lapotre, who is lead author of a study that was published on July 1 in the journal Science, thinks that the Martian sinuous ripples are being driven in a similar way, but it’s the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere that’s dragging the particles to form the medium-sized ripples on the sand dunes. Lapotre’s team have nicknamed them “wind-drag ripples.”

“The size of these ripples is related to the density of the fluid moving the grains, and that fluid is the Martian atmosphere,” he said. “We think Mars had a thicker atmosphere in the past that might have formed smaller wind-drag ripples or even have prevented their formation altogether. Thus, the size of preserved wind-drag ripples, where found in Martian sandstones, may have recorded the thinning of the atmosphere.”

But after studying observations (carried out by Curiosity and NASA’s veteran rover Opportunity) of Mars’ sandstone dating back to 3 billion years ago, the researchers found evidence of these wind-drag ripples preserved in the material of the approximate same size as the ripples that exist in today’s Martian dunes. This means the planet lost most of its atmosphere early in its geological history and for the past 3 billion years the atmospheric pressure has remained fairly constant — a finding that fits with other Mars atmosphere evolution models.

“During our visit to the active Bagnold Dunes, you might almost forget you’re on Mars, given how similar the sand behaves in spite of the different gravity and atmosphere. But these mid-sized ripples are a reminder that those differences can surprise us,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

It’s pretty amazing to think that a fairly simple observation of an active sand dune on Mars can reveal so much about Mars’ current and ancient atmospheric conditions. But as the sophisticated wheeled robot continues its quest to seek out past and present habitable environments, and this is all in a day’s work.

Mars plays host to a huge number of dune fields — regions where fine wind-blown material gets deposited to form arguably some of the most beautiful dunes that can be found on any planetary body in the solar system. Using the powerful High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, planetary scientists have an orbital view on these features that aid our understanding of aeolian (wind-formed) processes and Martian geology. Here are some of our favorite Mars dunes as seen by HiRISE. Pictured here are shell-like “barchan dunes” in the ancient Noachis Terra region of Mars.

Dunes of many shapes, sizes and formation processes can be found on the Red Planet. Shown here are elegant “linear dunes” with deposits of larger rocks and possibly ices in their troughs.

These slug-like dark dunes are striking examples of “dome dunes” — elliptical accumulations of fine material with no-slip surfaces. These domes contrast greatly with the often jagged appearance of barchan dunes. Found at the bottom of Proctor Crater, they are darker than the surrounding crater floor as they are composed of dark basaltic sand that was transported by the wind.

Looking like a wind-blown silk sheet, this field of “star dunes” overlays a plain of small ripples, another aeolian feature. The ripples move more slowly across the bottom of Proctor Crater, so the large dune field will travel over the smaller ripples. Dunes are continuously evolving and moving with the wind, ensuring that the Martian surface is never static.

These “transverse dunes” are undergoing seasonal changes. Likely entering Mars summer, this region of dunes is stained with pockets of subliming ices — likely carbon dioxide. As the ices turn from solid to vapor, dune material slumps, revealing dark, sandy material underneath.

Resembling the mouths of a shoal of feeding fish, this is a group of barchan dunes in Mars’ North Polar region. Barchan dunes betray the prevailing wind direction. In this case, the prevailing wind is traveling from bottom right to top left; the steep slope of material (plus dune “horns”) point to the downwind direction. The HiRISE camera monitors barchans to see if they move between observing opportunities, thereby revealing their speed of motion across the Martian plains.

This is the same barchan dune field, zoomed out, a “swarm” of dunes covering the plains.

Not all barchan dunes “behave” and form neat “horny” shapes. They can become muddled and overlapping, creating “barchanoid dunes,” as shown here.

This very fluid-looking collection of barchans is accompanied by a wind-blown ridge in the Hellespontus region of Mars but…

…only when zoomed out does the true nature of this fascinating region become clear. The prevailing wind is eroding the mesas (small hills) to the right of the image, carrying fine material downwind (from right to left), creating a startling pattern of barchans and a viscous-looking trail of sandy ridges across the plains.

The band Train sang about the “Drops of Jupiter” — what about the “Drops of Mars”? Sure, they’re not made of any kind of fluid, but they do make for incredibly-shaped dunes. These raindrop-shaped dunes are found in Copernicus Crater and are known to be rich in the mineral olivine, a mineral that formed during the wet history of Mars’ evolution.

These craggy-looking dunes are old barchanoids eroding away through seasonal processes (sublimation of sub-surface ices) and the persistent Martian wind.

These linking barchan dunes are at the leading edge of a dune field — grains of dust have been blown across a plain, deposited and left to accumulate in elongated arrow shapes.

Dome-shaped dunes and barchans seem to “reach out” and touch their downwind partners with slumped material.

Barchan dunes inside Arkhangelsky Crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars reveal a wind direction from top left to bottom right. Note the tracks of Martian dust devils over the dune slopes.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 11th & 12th June 2016.

Why ‘Brexit’ really matters to the half a million Irish living in Britain


Irish people ‘have a good thing going’ in London and are ‘better off in a connected world’, according to a Dubliner who was recently voted Chef of The Year and runs four of the hottest restaurants in the British capital.

Chef Robin Gill and his wife Sarah – who works with him in their restaurants – believe a ‘Leave’ vote in Brexit could seriously affect their business.

‘Why we’re voting to remain’ – ‘Chef of The Year’ Irishman and owner of four London restaurants

“It looks like the economy could take a big hit if the vote is for leave. But more importantly for us, we employ over 60 people and a lot of them are from all over the EU,” Robin told Independent.ie.

“What happens if Britain votes to leave? Will they need work visas? Will they have to go home? London needs talented people to come here from all over the world, I really hope the vote is for staying in.

“We’ve lost really good people with the visa situation in Australia and Canada. I can’t imagine what it would do to our business,” he continued.

“We’re doing well, the economy is doing well, we’re better off in a connected, globalised world. We’re voting Remain”.

Brexit is the biggest political decision to face the UK in four decades – should they stay or should they go?

Upwards of half a million Irish citizens could have a big say on the referendum – on whether Britain should remain in the European Union – on June 23rd.

The Irish living in the UK are in a virtually unique position – they are the second biggest migrant group, standing at around 500,000 and only outnumbered by the 800,000 Poles.

And, due to the historical quirk which sees us still counted amongst former commonwealth or Empire dominions, only the Irish, Cypriots and Maltese get to vote in the referendum.

Irish economists, businessmen and politicians have already had their say, with Enda Kenny causing a bit of a stir when he arrived in London for a Mayo GAA game recently and took the chance to remind the Irish in the UK to vote ‘Remain’.

Bob Geldof and Michael O’Leary of Ryanair have also been loud pro-EU voices.

‘We don’t have a negative view of the EU like the Brits do’ – Irishman and owner of London pop-up bar Six Yard Box5

The Irish in London today are different from their parents and grandparents generation, those who came in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, often with low skills and low expectations.

The New London Irish are typically young, very well-educated and making the most of the city’s booming, globalised economy.

For Irish entrepreneurs like Seb O’Driscoll, a 35-year-old Corkman who runs The Six Yard Box, a hip, pop-up sports bar in Elephant & Castle, there’s no doubt how most Irish will vote.

“The Irish are everywhere in London, and most love it for being a multi-cultural city with huge diversity and a real international feel,” says Seb.

“The sense I get, from guys coming into the bar here, from my friends and the Irish you meet, they’ll all be voting remain. We don’t have a negative view of the EU in the way a lot of Brits do. And we don’t know what’s going to the happen to the economy if we leave”.

UK Chef of The Year Robin reiterated Seb’s comments and said the opportunities for Irish in London are endless.

“I’ve tried to leave eight or nine times and then another opportunity comes across. From that point, it’s just uncontrollable,” he said.

Brexit: The issues Ireland faces if Britain leaves the EU

If Brexit is the result of the referendum, there will be many unknowns for Ireland both economic and geopolitical.

One of the big issues for Ireland will be how the Republic and North of the country interact with the re-establishment of borders a possibility that has already been highlighted by British chancellor George Osborne.

Not since the long-fought for peace process has this issue arisen and we don’t know what the outcome would be.

From an economic perspective, while Ireland’s dependence on the UK as a trade partner has waned in the most recent past, depending on what kind of trade deal Britain would establish with the EU then that could have repercussions here.

Currently the UK, like other member states, has access to 500m people through the single market.

However, the remain side argues that there’s no guarantees that any kind of free trade agreement between the UK and the EU would be an option if Brexit were the outcome.

One of the upsides of a Brexit, of course, would be a likely influx of foreign direct investment with our low 12.5pc corporation tax rate already attractive for multinationals.

On the flip side, the spotlight is on Ireland’s tax treatment of many of these firms and if, for example, Donald Trump was elected US president he has already warned that countries like Ireland are outsmarting the US and taking jobs by attracting American firms here and he has vowed to stop this.

Investigation under way into discovery of ‘angel dust’ in cattle

Department of Agriculture confirms positive test result for illegal growth hormone clenbuterol


The Department of Agriculture is investigating a case of alleged unauthorised use of the illegal growth-promoting drug clenbuterol, or angel dust, in cattle.

The Department of Agriculture is investigating a case of alleged unauthorised use of the illegal growth-promoting drug clenbuterol, or angel dust, in cattle.

It confirmed the investigation followed a positive test result for one animal in a random sample but would not identify the location of the farm from which it had come.

The Sunday Times reported that a farm in Monaghan was under investigation and that the animal had been slaughtered at a meat processing plant.

Investigators are understood to be attempting to identify and trace products in which meat from the animal had been used.

In a statement, the department said the random sample was taken as part of the National Residue Control Programme, which tests sheep, pigs, cattle and poultry across the State to ensure they have not been given drugs that may be dangerous if consumed.

The department said it had placed all animals on the farm under restriction pending the completion of the investigation.

“The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is fully aware of the case and has concluded that there is no risk to public health from meat that is on the market.”


A single isolated incidence of the use of clenbuterol was uncovered during sampling in 2011 – the first time it had been found since 1999.

On that occasion, two beef cattle tested positive for the banned hormone during an investigation on a farm in Co Monaghan.

The farm was being investigated by customs officials looking into alleged diesel laundering when evidence of the substance was discovered.

The National Residue Control Programme is a component of the State’s food safety controls and is implemented under a service contract with the FSAI.

More than 19,000 samples were tested in 2014, across all eight food-producing species as well as milk, eggs and honey.

Just 42 (0.2%) out of 19,095 samples tested in 2014 were positive. The results were comparable to those returned in 2013, 2012 and 2011.

Last year the department said the “consistently low levels” of positive samples reflected the responsible approach adopted by the vast majority of farmers.

“The extensive testing under the NRCP indicates the absence of illegal administration of banned growth promoting hormones and other banned substances to food-producing animals in Ireland, ” it said publishing figures for the NRCP last year.

“Overall the small number of positives detected related mainly to residues of authorised medicines.”

Big upsurge in judgments and repossessions feared as ‘vulture funds’ close in on debtors


More than €4bn worth of court-ordered debts have been registered against 3,243 borrowers since 2010, with Danske Bank obtaining the largest value in judgments once non-bank entities such as Nama and the former Anglo Irish Bank are excluded.

Danske tops the league of banks pursuing Irish debtors in the courts.

Danske obtained almost €56m in registered judgments against 110 debtors in the first five months of the year alone according to credit agency Stubbs Gazette.

Danske was followed by Allied Irish Bank which obtained judgments valued at just over €38m against 34 debtors in the same period.

Since 2010, toxic loans agency Nama, which last week reported profits of €1.8bn in 2015, obtained just under €1bn judgments against 34 borrowers.

The agency’s annual report shows that it generated €9.1bn in cash during 2015, with €8.5bn coming from asset disposals.

It has registered judgments of almost €682m against 814 borrowers since 2010.

Bank of Ireland has pursued a larger number of borrowers (957) during that time, although the value of judgments is significantly less, at some €377.42m

State-owned AIB has pursued 523 borrowers since 2010, securing judgments valued at €422.43m, followed by Ulster Bank which secured judgments valued at some €344m against 211 debtors.

James Treacy, CEO of Stubbs Gazette, said that he anticipates a “huge upsurge” in judgments and repossessions over the coming years as vulture funds move on distressed borrowers whose loans it has bought.

The so-called “vulture funds” own over 40,000 principal homes and investment properties here in Ireland.

It is understood that a fifth of mortgages sold to ‘non-bank’entities are in arrears.

To date, only two judgments valued at 1.8m were secured by one such fund, Goldman Sachs, through Ennis Property Finance, one of its special purpose vehicles, according to Stubbs data.

However, this is expected to rise now that loans are being actively managed.

“The funds have a reputation for being very tough but pragmatic when it comes to doing deals,” said Mr Treacy.

“Presently it would appear that their preferred approach is to negotiate deals outside the courts but that is not to say that this will not change if they are not achieving their forecasted return on investment.

“If their pre-legal strategies are not profitable I would expect to see a huge upsurge in both judgments and repossessions over the coming years.”

David Hall, Director of the Irish Mortgage Holders Association, said that borrowers including professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants whose loans have been transferred to vulture funds have been operating under a “false sense of security” for the last 18 months.

“It will be carnage,” said Mr Hall, who said dealing with vulture funds will be a “nightmare” for many borrowers.

“It’s like fighting with Conor McGregor with your hands tied behind your back”.

As much as 4,500 diagnosed with diabetes every week, warns a charity


Every week 4,500 people are diagnosed with diabetes across the UK, the charity Diabetes UK has said.  it said that in the last year 235,000 people have been diagnosed with the condition.

The figures, released to mark Diabetes Week, highlight the scale of the “crisis” surrounding the illness, charity chief executive Chris Askew said.

He warned that many people are not aware of the seriousness of the condition.

“This Diabetes Week we are setting the record straight and focusing on the realities of living with the condition,” said Mr Askew.

“There is still a lack of understanding when it comes to people being aware of the seriousness of diabetes and this worries us at Diabetes UK.

“There are over four million people living with the condition in the UK. The fact that 4,500 people will discover they have diabetes over the next seven days is deeply concerning, and highlights the current scale of the crisis.

“Diabetes Week is a time to share our concerns about the scale and seriousness of diabetes, but it is also a fantastic opportunity to highlight that with the right healthcare, support and management, diabetes doesn’t have to hold anyone back.”

Diabetes is a condition where there is too much glucose in the blood because the body cannot use it properly. There are two forms of the condition – Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce insulin. Around one in 10 people with diabetes have Type 1 and it usually affects children or young adults.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin produced does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes is linked to lifestyle factors such as being overweight.

If diabetes is not properly managed it can lead to serious consequences such as sight loss, limb amputation , kidney failure and stroke.

This is how Nasa thought we would be living in 2100


IF you believe that dreams of moving to another planet to escape to impending doom of our dying Earth is something knew, then you’re wrong.

Nasa thought we would be living in outer space by 2100

Recently resurfaced images shows how in 1975, space agency Nasa thought we would be living in 2100.

Illustrations commissioned by the US agency, and carried out by Don Davis and Rick Guidiceto, show several different concepts of how humans might live in the now-near future.

Following 10 weeks of research, led by Princeton professor Gerard O’Neill, the team came up with three possible scenarios as to how we might be living at the end of the century.

One idea is the Cylindrical Colony which would be similar to that shown in the 2014 Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar could be home for up to one million people.

  • NASA launches spacecraft to STOP Earth-bound KILLER asteroid
  • Hubble telescope captures baby star BURNING through gas cloud

Another idea is the Bernal Sphere which would be a structure rotating around a large spacecraft and finally the Toroidal Colony.

All three of the designs had artificial gravity that was created from centrifugal force, and powered by solar energy.

Professor O’Neill had hoped that work on these structures would begin in the 1990s, but that time has passed without it happening, and he has since passed away.

  1. Artificial greenery was also a concept
  2. The colony might have looked cylindrical
  3. A circular tunnel may have revolved around Earth

However, Nasa contractor and space settlement expert Dr Al Globus said that it will be possible to do so in the future.

He said: “Whether it will happen or not is really hard to say. Whether it can happen, absolutely.

“If we as a people decide to do it, we can do it. We have the scientific capability, financial capability, there is simply no question we can do it.

“In two or three decades we might have a couple of small hotels [in orbit], and people moving in on a regular basis.

“All that is on a time scale measured in decades, or in the worst case centuries.”

News Irelanddaily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 22nd May 2016

Ireland’s wounded bank structure will need more than a few quick small patch-ups

It must be acknowledged that high variable rates are a symptom of deeper problems in the system,


Micheal Martin with his front bench colleagues outside Leinster house. The FF Bill empowering the Central Bank to cap certain mortgage lending rates will please mortgage borrowers but will hardly appeal to the Central Bank, which has not sought these powers.

Ireland’s retail banking system comprises the patched-up remnants of the dysfunctional and swollen structure which arose during the bubble. There were spectacular collapses, every single bank had to be rescued, some remain in majority public ownership, several disappeared and a well-functioning system has yet to re-emerge. As is true in many countries, the banks remain burdened with non-performing loans and there are reservations about balance sheet quality. Customers complain about credit availability and cost and there is an evident lack of competition. There continues to be an over-concentration on housing finance.

The Fianna Fail Bill empowering the Central Bank to cap certain mortgage lending rates is an understandable response to borrower concerns and may succeed in reaching the statute book. It will please mortgage borrowers but will hardly appeal to the Central Bank which has not sought these powers, may decline to exercise them and cannot be forced to do so.

Variable rates on mortgage loans in Ireland are about 1.5% higher than the average in Eurozone countries, and in some cases the excess is even greater. Banks which owe their survival to the taxpayer are reporting profits, promising to resume dividends and able to afford pay increases and pension fund top-ups. Borrower discontent is hardly a surprise.

The problem with variable rates reflects the structure of the banking system which emerged after the crash and rescue. The survivor banks have scrambled to rebuild net interest margin, the excess of what borrowers pay over the cost of bank funding. A highly competitive, indeed excessively competitive, mortgage market has been replaced by a small handful of lenders willing to offer mortgages and in a position to expand margins at the expense of captive legacy borrowers.

There are just five active mortgage lenders, AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, Ulster and KBC. The latter is reviewing its involvement and could exit, following the departures of National Irish, Bank of Scotland (Ireland), Irish Nationwide, Educational and others. Just over half of the performing Irish mortgage loans are at variable rates, ranging from 3.5% to 4.5% and even higher, but the remainder are trackers charging 1% or thereabouts and they lose money for the banks. Trackers, which locked the banks into long-term lending at tight margins, are no longer profitable and are no longer offered.

The banks cannot borrow cheaply enough, even with deposit rates near zero.

The lending rate on trackers was set at a modest margin, around 1pc in most cases, over the ECB’s main lending rate at a time when banks could borrow wholesale funds at roughly the ECB’s figure. This rate has been reduced steadily through the crisis and is now zero.

But the Irish banks have been paying well above the ECB’s rate for wholesale funds and are stuck (the margin on trackers is contractually fixed) with the huge book of tracker mortgages issued in the years 2004 to 2008. They made an unhedged bet on the indefinite availability of cheap financing and they lost (or rather, the taxpayers lost).

The resulting hole in their annual revenue has been filled through their ability to expand margins at the expense of captive borrowers, principally variable-rate mortgage borrowers. The ability to expand margins reflects the weakness of competition in the post-crash marketplace.

Irish banks are not substantial lenders to small business – their principal activity consists of mortgage lending and lending to housebuilders and holders of residential land. For AIB and Bank of Ireland, about two-thirds of lending activity is related to housing, for Permanent TSB an even greater portion. Some of this (the trackers) is unavoidably loss-making. Margins on lending to farmers and SMEs have also been edged upwards but the expansion in spreads on variable-rate mortgages is the principal driver of the profit recovery, more than compensating for the losses on trackers.

Bank profits would fall substantially, or in some cases disappear, if variable rates were cut severely. The banks have been rescued through a huge, once-off bailout by taxpayers. They are being rescued every day through a further and continuing subsidisation of their loss-making tracker loans by other borrowers, notably those on variable rates.

A well-functioning market competition, or the threat of competitive entry, would discipline the lenders against overdoing it, since borrowers can switch. But there is limited competition and the weakness of, in particular, the UK banking system has dissuaded potential entrants. The Central Bank is caught in a dilemma and the Government in a conflict of interest.

The Central Bank is doubtless pleased to see the banks restored to profitability, since profits (unless dissipated in dividends) help to rebuild capital. Healthier banks are able to borrow on better terms and are less likely to go wallop again. But the Central Bank has responsibilities to bank customers, too, and cannot be unaware of the cross-subsidisation going on in the mortgage market.

The Government owns a large slice of the banking system and hopes to recover some of the bailout costs through selling off bank shares. Profitable banks able to pay dividends are reassuring for shareholders, and the Government is the biggest shareholder. Awkwardly, the variable-rate borrowers are voters, and their interests diverge from those of the Government as shareholder. It is hardly an accident that the highest variable rate is charged by the bank in which the Government has the smallest stake.

There is a second conflict of interest for the political system. Mortgages are secured loans, collateralised through the lender’s right to repossession. Without this security, housing finance would be much more expensive – check out the interest rate on personal or small business loans to see the difference! Politicians of all parties are sympathetic to the plight of underwater mortgage borrowers, and have been chipping away at the entitlement of banks to repossess.

As a matter of social policy this is perfectly understandable, but it has consequences. One consequence is that the appropriate lending rate goes up, not down, when the collateral value of the loan security is diminished. A draconian regime of instant eviction for non-payment with no sensitivity shown for delinquent borrowers is the one likely to offer the lowest borrowing rates.

It would be nice to have a competitive, profitable, well-capitalised banking system charging low rates to borrowers, paying decent returns to savers, slow to realise collateral from defaulters, yielding generous dividends and offering high returns to departing shareholders. We had a banking system which looked like this for a while and you know what happened next. It is not possible to whistle up these conflicting features by political fiat in the wounded structure of post-crash Irish banking.

The Fianna Fail Bill will now go through a deliberative process in the Oireachtas, presumably the first task of a new committee on banking and finance. This committee will need to acknowledge that high variable rates are a symptom of deeper problems in Irish banking and to address the longer-term structural issues.

Brendan Walsh, formerly the chairman of UCD’s economics department, passed away suddenly last Thursday at the age of 76. Brendan was the outstanding Irish economist of his generation, a gifted teacher, prolific researcher and contributor to public policy, and a wonderful colleague. Ni fheicimid a leitheid aris

Irish Government now to replace jobBridge internship scheme, says Leo Varadkar

The Minister for Social Protection says a more targeted scheme needs to be introduced

  Gone? >

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said he would replace JobBridge with a scheme more suited to the current job market and will be replaced by another that is more fit for purpose. This will not be before the end of September however.

The JobBridge scheme, which provided internships for unemployed graduates, is to be replaced with a more targeted scheme, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said.

The Minister said the scheme, introduced in 2011 by then minister for social protection Joan Burton to provide work experience to graduates, had served its purpose. He said he would introduce a new scheme more suited to the current job market.

Under JobBridge, interns work for between six and nine months, 30-40 hours per week, for an additional €52.50 on top of unemployment allowances. About a third of the 46,500 people who signed up to the scheme have gone on to secure full-time employment.

Since its inception, the scheme has attracted criticism from politicians, trade unions and other bodies, including the National Youth Council of Ireland.

In April this year, trade union Impact called for the scheme’s abolition following reports it had been used to fill hundreds of positions for State agencies and multinational corporations.

Recurring exploitation?

Deputy general secretary of the union Kevin Callinan said many of those who welcomed the scheme in 2011 have been troubled by the recurring reports of abuse and exploitation, “which have dogged its reputation and greatly undermined its many positive outcomes”.

“While the scheme undoubtedly served a useful purpose when youth unemployment and emigration was rocketing at the height of the economic crash, it’s now time to move on,” he said.

The most frequent user of the scheme has been the HSE, which took on 399 JobBridge interns over five years, followed by the GAA with 249 interns. Global IT firm Hewlett-Packard brought in 176 JobBridge interns.

Last week, Minister of State for Training and Skills John Halligan, also spoke against the scheme and said it should be scrapped.

Last week, the Department of Social Protection said decisions on the future of the scheme would only be made after the publication of a review, being undertaken by consultancy Indecon. The report was expected to be ready in September.

Welcoming Mr Varadkar’s announcement, Fine Gael TD for Dublin North-West Noel Rock said there was ample evidence to suggest that the abuses of the JobBridge scheme were outweighing any good that it did.

“As the economic recovery widens and deepens through all sectors, we are thankfully seeing the rate of youth unemployment fall,” he said.

“As such, the JobBridge scheme is now past its sell-by date. I welcome the speed with which Minister Varadkar has recognised this fact, and look forward to further reforms.”

Independent TD Dr. Harty denies his support for new Government is guaranteed 


The Clare TD Dr Michael Harty.

The future of the new Government has been thrown into doubt this weekend after an Independent TD warned he may not support Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s administration on crucial votes.

Clare TD Dr Michael Harty has insisted he will approach any future votes on a strictly case-by-case basis in a move that suggests his support is far from guaranteed.

But Dr Harty, who is one of eight Independent TDs who is voted for Kr Kenny, rowed back on remarks that suggested his support had been pulled.

Dr Harty said today he was not part of the Government and said he will approach all votes including any motions of no confidence in either the Taoiseach or his ministers on a strictly case-by-case basis.

The TD said he backed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach because he believed the country did not want to go back to the polls but insisted he never committed to full-time support of the Government.

However, he rowed back on his statement when his stance came under the media spotlight.

The Clare deputy said he will now back Mr Kenny on motions of no confidence and budget votes.

“When I said on case-by-case basis I meant votes in the Dail and not votes which could bring down the Government,” he said.

Dr Harty also insisted he is a “wholly Independent TD” despite pledging to back Mr Kenny in crucial votes.

When the contradiction in this statement was pointed out, Dr Harty said: “Obviously, if the vote (of confidence) on cataclysmic, unforeseen event it will depend on the issue at hand.”

The doctor said he never sought a position in government from Fine Gael and insisted he is not “throwing his toys out of the pram” because he was not appointed as junior minister.

There is now speculation that Fine Gael may seek to back Dr Harty as chairman of a powerful new Oireachtas health committee.

A Fianna Fail source said last night that Dr Harty’s decision leaves the Government in a “very tenuous” position.

“Our aim is not to pull it down unless we are adamantly against something, but if he loses another vote things will become very volatile and Kenny will have to watch every vote,” the source said.

Last week, former Independent Alliance member Michael Fitzmaurice also ruled out supporting the Government, despite the rest of his political grouping backing Mr Kenny.

Each member of the Independent Alliance has been given a ministry, as was Denis Naughten, who was part of the so-called Rural Five along with Dr Harty.

Another Independent TD, Katherine Zappone, was given a senior Cabinet position.

The only other Independent TD who supported Mr Kenny for Taoiseach and was not given a position is Tipperary deputy Michael Lowry.

Fine Gael has sought to distance itself from Mr Lowry, but now his support is more essential than ever.

He has claimed he has an understanding with Fine Gael in return for his support, but the party has denied any such arrangement is in place.

Low-salt diets may not be beneficial for everybody, a study suggests

Salt reduction only important in some people with high blood pressure


A large worldwide study has found that, contrary to popular thought, low-salt diets may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death compared to average salt consumption. The study suggests that the only people who need to worry about reducing sodium in their diet are those with hypertension (high blood pressure) and have high salt consumption.

Risks associated with low-sodium intake — less than three grams per day — are consistent regardless of a patient’s hypertension status.

A large worldwide study has found that, contrary to popular thought, low-salt diets may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death compared to average salt consumption.

In fact, the study suggests that the only people who need to worry about reducing sodium in their diet are those with hypertension (high blood pressure) and have high salt consumption.

The study, involving more than 130,000 people from 49 countries, was led by investigators of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.

They looked specifically at whether the relationship between sodium (salt) intake and death, heart disease and stroke differs in people with high blood pressure compared to those with normal blood pressure.

The researchers showed that regardless of whether people have high blood pressure, low-sodium intake is associated with more heart attacks, strokes, and deaths compared to average intake.

“These are extremely important findings for those who are suffering from high blood pressure,” said Andrew Mente, lead author of the study, a principal investigator of PHRI and an associate professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

“While our data highlights the importance of reducing high salt intake in people with hypertension, it does not support reducing salt intake to low levels.

“Our findings are important because they show that lowering sodium is best targeted at those with hypertension who also consume high sodium diets.”

Current intake of sodium in Canada is typically between 3.5 and 4 grams per day and some guidelines have recommended that the entire population lower sodium intake to below 2.3 grams per day, a level that fewer than five per cent of Canadians and people around the world consume.

Previous studies have shown that low-sodium, compared to average sodium intake, is related to increased cardiovascular risk and mortality, even though low sodium intake is associated with lower blood pressure.

This new study shows that the risks associated with low-sodium intake — less than three grams per day — are consistent regardless of a patient’s hypertension status.

Further, the findings show that while there is a limit below which sodium intake may be unsafe, the harm associated with high sodium consumption appears to be confined to only those with hypertension.

Only about 10 per cent of the population in the global study had both hypertension and high sodium consumption (greater than 6 grams per day).

Mente said that this suggests that the majority of individuals in Canada and most countries are consuming the right amount of salt.

He added that targeted salt reduction in those who are most susceptible because of hypertension and high salt consumption may be preferable to a population-wide approach to reducing sodium intake in most countries except those where the average sodium intake is very high, such as parts of central Asia or China.

He added that what is now generally recommended as a healthy daily ceiling for sodium consumption appears to be set too low, regardless of a person’s blood pressure level.

“Low sodium intake reduces blood pressure modestly, compared to average intake, but low sodium intake also has other effects, including adverse elevations of certain hormones which may outweigh any benefits. The key question is not whether blood pressure is lower with very low salt intake, instead it is whether it improves health,” Mente said

Dr. Martin O’Donnell, a co-author on the study and an associate clinical professor at McMaster University and National University of Ireland Galway, said: “This study adds to our understanding of the relationship between salt intake and health, and questions the appropriateness of current guidelines that recommend low sodium intake in the entire population.”

“An approach that recommends salt in moderation, particularly focused on those with hypertension, appears more in-line with current evidence.” The study was funded from more than 50 sources, including the PHRI, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.



The Blue Marble    

Conspiracy theorists claim to have stumbled upon NASA images that prove the controversial Hollow Earth theory. The Hollow Earth theory claims that the Earth is hollow and consists of an “inner Earth” populated by people and animals.

The inner Earth, according to Hollow Earth theorists, has a Sun and a technologically advanced civilization.

Hollow Earth conspiracy theorists claim there is a hole at the North Pole, as well as at the South Pole, through which the inner Earth can be accessed.

Conspiracy theorists also claim that the government and NASA are aware of the presence of a gaping black hole at the poles, but have tried to cover up the evidence by obscuring the hole in satellite images of the poles. Thus, most satellite images of the North Pole have a “dark zone or blackout region where no information is available.”

But according to the YouTube alien and UFO hunters Secureteam10, in a video uploaded online on May 20, 2016, titled, “NASA Caught Hiding Something At North Pole! Hollow Earth?” new, uncensored and never-before-seen satellite images of the North Pole allegedly prove that NASA and the government have been hiding evidence that there is a hole at the North Pole that leads into the “inner Earth.”

“Every single satellite image that we have of the North Pole shows a massive hole or a blackout hole put there to hide whatever’s underneath,” according to Secureteam10.

NASA, according to conspiracy theorists, quickly delete from their websites all images showing a massive hole at the North Pole when, occasionally, they are uploaded unintentionally. Thus, the only images of the North Pole available to the public are those showing a “blackout” region at the North Pole designed to hide from the public the fact that there is a gaping hole at the North Pole.

Images of the South Pole are also obscured to hide the hole there.

Hollow Earth conspiracy theorists claim that testimony by the few people who have seen the hole at the North Pole and entered the inner Earth are being suppressed by government.

It is claimed that the polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd, found the hole and traveled into the inner Earth. His missing diaries from the late 1940s, according to conspiracy theorists, contain an account of his journey in the inner Earth covering about 1, 700 miles, during which he saw lush vegetation, lakes, mountains and animals, such as woolly mammoth.

He also encountered advanced civilizations.

A German sailor, Karl Unger, also allegedly entered the inner Earth in 1943, during a U-boat expedition to the South Pole. Unger encountered an advanced civilization on an island called “Rainbow Island.”

Adolf Hitler is also rumored to have escaped to the inner Earth.

One of the earliest known proponents of the Hollow Earth theory was John Symmes, who proposed a “theory of concentric spheres and polar void.”

According to Symmes, the Earth is “hollow and habitable within, containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees.”

Symmes toured the U.S. in the 1820s, campaigning for support to equip an expedition to “explore the hollow.” He petitioned the U.S. government to finance an expedition to find the hole at the North Pole.

According to the Telegraph, on March 7, 1822, Senator Richard Thompson proposed a bill in Congress to provide Symmes “with the equipment of two vessels of 250 to 300 tons for the expedition, and the granting of such other aid as Government may deem requisite.”

But the bill failed after a long debate.

Symmes died in May 1829 without achieving his life-long ambition. Rodney M. Cluff is regard widely as Symmes’ successor in the quest for the entrance to the inner Earth. The author of the World Top Secret: Our Earth Is Hollow! claimed to have been introduced to the idea as a teenager while employed at a farm in New Mexico.

After reading “the Scriptures, history and science,” Cluff became convinced that the Earth “as well as all the planets and the moons and even asteroids” are hollow.

In 1981, he traveled with his family to Alaska to “find the way to the Hollow Earth.”

But after the initial attempt in 1981 failed, he tried again in 2003 in partnership with Steve Curry, who managed a travel firm. But after setting up a plan to charter a Russian nuclear ice breaker and a plane to fly over the pole to locate the legendary hole, Steve Curry, leader of the expedition, died before the date selected to start the journey.

The team appointed a new leader, Dr Brooks Agnew, and chose the summer of 2014 to start the journey. But Agnew resigned before the date due to business issues.

And after another member of the team died in a plane crash, Cluff begin to fear that supernatural forces were trying to scuttle the planned expedition.

More recently in 2002, Dallas Thompson, from Bakersfield, California, became convinced, after a car accident in which he nearly lost his life, that the Earth is hollow and that there is a hole in the North Pole that leads to the inner Earth.

His car had plunged down a ravine but he survived miraculously. During the near-death ordeal, he received insights about the inner Earth and the opening in the North Pole.

He appeared on Coast to Coast on October 4, 2002, to discuss his plan to find the hole.

He told Coast to Coast’s Art Bell that the hollow Earth has “cavern systems and caves that traverse the whole mantel.”

He claimed there were huge herds of mammoth and a civilization in the inner Earth. But he couldn’t explain how he came about the knowledge.

Thompson claimed he had secured funding to find the hole. He revealed a bizarre plan to descend into the hole using a helicopter backpack and said he planned to depart on May 24, 2003.

News about the planned expedition spread and soon his book, Cosmic Manuscript, in which he described his Hollow Earth theory, became a bestseller.

But suddenly, and inexplicably, Thompson disappeared after posting to his Yahoo Group on January 11, 2003.

It is claimed that he went into hiding to avoid lawsuit following an allegation that the material in his book Cosmic Manuscript, was plagiarized.

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.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 15th January 2016

Ireland’s second-level teachers to stage a one day strike before election

Lecturers in institutes of technology to also engage in work stoppages early next month


Areas of concern identified by the TUI include income poverty for teachers and casualisation. 

Second level teachers are planning to stage a one-day strike prior to the forthcoming general election.

The move could affect students in about 350 schools across the country, mainly in the vocational, community and comprehensive sectors.

The executive of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) decided on Friday to stage a one-day strike after members voted by a margin of 89 per cent in favour of industrial action.

The date of the planned strike has not yet been determined .

The union said on Friday that the the stoppage in second level schools would go ahead unless its demand for “meaningful talks” are areas of significant concern was met.

Lecturers in institutes of technology, who are also represented by the TUI, are separately planning to stage a one-day strike on February 3rd over serious concerns about issues within their sector.

The areas of concern identified by the TUI include income poverty for teachers, casualisation,what it described as a collapse of student support systems as well as greater bureaucracy in the education sector.

TUI president Gerry Quinn said: “Following an overwhelming mandate for industrial action from members, TUI’s executive committee today decided that unless the union’s demand for talks on a number of crisis issues is met, teachers will take a day’s strike action before the general election.”

The Department of Education said it was open to engaging with the TUI “on issues of mutual concern in the context of their continuing co-operation with collective agreements”.

It said an increase of more than €200 million in the education budget had allowed for a cut in the pupil teacher ratio at primary level and second-level, the employment of approximately 3000 more teachers, and the enhancement of school leadership.

The Department of Education said it was also currently implementing reforms to tackle casualisation in the teacher profession on foot of a report last year by an expert group.

The TUI said that those who entered the teaching profession from February 2012 had been placed on a severely reduced scale which meant their starting salary declined by 21.7 per cent compared to those appointed prior to 2011 (based on contract of full hours).

“To make matters worse, for several years now, second-level teachers have been applying for fractions of jobs with no guarantee of being retained from year to year. Some 30 per cent of second-level teachers are employed on a temporary and/or part-time basis and this proportion grows to 50 per cent for those under 35.

“As a result of casualisation, students are often taught by a succession of teachers in a given subject area over the course of the Junior or Leaving Certificate cycles. Clearly, this is undesirable.”

The TUI also said it was being reported to it that it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to attract new teachers in certain subject areas.

Bus Éireann unveils a €50m bus fleet with power sockets and more leg room

Economic growth fuelling increase in bus passenger numbers says Paschal Donohoe


Bus Éireann launches new €50m fleet of the future. Tim Gaston of the National Transport Authority is pictured with Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and Martin Nolan chief executive of Bus Éireann and Teelin the dog.

Bus Éireann’s new €50 million fleet of the future featuring power sockets, free wifi, monitors, and increased leg room has gone on show in Dublin.

A total on 116 new vehicles including 82 seater double deck commuter coaches and 78 seater double deck buses have been bought for city services in Cork, Limerick and Galway as well as commuter services in the greater Dublin area.

The state-of-the-art vehicles also feature real time passenger information, are wheelchair accessible and have lower fuel emissions

Four of the new buses were officially unveiled at King’s Inns, Dublin , by Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe on Friday.

Mr Donohoe said economic growth was driving an increase in bus passenger numbers. He said the funding , provided by his department via the National Transport Authority, would help deliver a more modern, reliable and comfortable fleet by reducing the average age and maintenance costs. “Ensuring that public transport is an attractive option is central to encouraging people to leave the car at home” he said.

Passenger trips made on all Bus Éireann city and rural routes along with commercial and other services amounted to 37.8 million in 2015, up 700,0000 on 2014 figures.

More than 500,000 extra journeys were made on subsidised Public Service Obligation services last year, while more than 200, 000 extra trips were made on commercial and other services

Passenger journeys in Cork city grew by over eight per cent, while commuter journeys to Dublin -were also up from 6.7 million to 6.8 million.

Bus Éireann chief executive Martin Nolan said last year was a second year of increasing passenger journeys on Bus Éireann services.The funding investment in these new vehicles was both progressive and necessary, he said.

Irish flu activity increases significantly says the HPSC


All indicators of influenza activity in Ireland increased significantly during week one of the 2016 season (week ending January 10, 2016), with activity at moderate levels.

According to the latest weekly flu report, influenza A(H1)pdm09 and influenza B are co-circulating, with increasing hospitalisations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions reported during this period.

“It is now recommended that antivirals be considered for the treatment or prevention of influenza in high risk groups,” the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) recommended, as the number of reported cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Ireland has increased in the past week.

During week 1, 2016 the GP consultation rate for ILI increased to 48.5 per 100,000 population from an updated rate of 11.3 per 100,000 during week 53, 2015 (week ending January 3, 2016). ILI rates have increased above the Irish baseline ILI threshold (18 per 100,000 population) for the first time this season, which means that flu is actively circulating in the community, said HPSC Director Dr Darina O’Flanagan.

“Influenza-like illness increased in all age groups but particularly in those aged less than 65 years. Although flu is starting to circulate, flu activity remains at moderate levels,” she said.

“Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group.”

The highest rates reported in the 15-64 year age group and the predominant influenza viruses circulating are influenza A(H1)pdm09 and influenza B. The proportion of influenza-related calls to GP out-of-hours services remained elevated during week 1 2016.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) positivity also remained at high levels during week 1. Positive detections of adenovirus, parainfluenza viruses and human metapneumovirus were reported with respiratory admissions reported from a network of sentinel hospitals having also been at high levels during week 53.

According to the report, there have been 76 confirmed influenza hospitalised cases notified to the HPSC for the 2015/2016 season to date, with six new confirmed influenza cases admitted to critical care units and reported to HPSC during the week ending January 10, 2016, bringing the season total to 13 cases. Four confirmed influenza cases have died so far this flu season.

Four acute respiratory/influenza outbreaks were reported to the HPSC during the week ending January 10, 2016, one in an acute hospital setting and three in residential care facilities.

The 2015/16 influenza season has started in Europe; with the proportion of influenza virus-positive sentinel specimens over 10 per cent for three consecutive weeks, states the report, with viruses characterised to date this season in Europe genetically similar to the strains recommended for inclusion in this winter’s trivalent or quadrivalent vaccines for the northern hemisphere.

You’ll soon be able to delete those annoying default Apple apps


iPhone neat freaks can breathe a sigh of relief after it emerged the beta of the latest version of iOS will enable users to remove native apps they don’t use.

Reddit user bfodder noticed that in the beta version of iOS 9.3, with a little tweaking, a user could delete the native apps that previously were untouchable.

This means so-called bloatware apps such as Stocks, Tips, Find Friends and iBooks – often rarely used and consigned to a folder in the corner of your home screen – could be removed completely.

There is a catch however, the process required to remove apps is not only complicated (and involves paying £79 to be in Apple’s Developer Program), but also only applies to some types of users.

In order to make the changes, bfodder had to so some editing in the Configurator program – this is normally only accessible to businesses and schools who need to tailor devices to their needs. In short, it means that this option may never become completely accessible to the general iPhone user.

However, iOS 9.3 is still in beta, so things can still change before it is put on general release to the public. Also, Apple has shown signs recently of softening its stance on native apps, with another shortcut (which you can see below), that enables users to hide apps they don’t use but can’t delete.

With Android beginning to cut down on pre-installed apps as well, it appears bloatware could be on the way out.

NASA takes a look at possible ice volcano’s on Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft delivers a closer look at what might be a dramatic ice volcano on the surface of Pluto.re


Everyone knows what a volcano looks like. It spews out hot lava, spits fire and screams “Don’t touch me!” If you were an astronaut faced with a volcano on Pluto, you might see something very different than what we’re familiar with here on Earth. NASA thinks the dwarf planet may have ice volcanoes on its surface.

NASA has known about the possibility of ice volcanoes on Pluto since last year, but a new image released on Thursday gives scientists a closer look at one of the potential sites for such exotic activity. The New Horizons spacecraft zoomed in for a close flyby in July and has been sending back data and images ever since. The composite color image shows a feature called Wright Mons, named for the pioneering Wright brothers. Wright Mons is massive at 90 miles (150 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) high. If NASA confirms that it is an ice volcano, then “it would be the largest such feature discovered in the outer solar system.”arge Image

This could be an ice volcano on Pluto.

Ice volcanoes, also known as cryovolcanoes, kick out a slush containing ice, nitrogen, ammonia and methane, as opposed to the molten rock spit out by Earth volcanoes. Scientists suspect ice volcanoes exist on Saturn’s moon Titan and Neptune’s moon Triton. “To put them in perspective — if Mount Vesuvius had been a cryovolcano, its lava would have frozen the residents of Pompeii,” says NASA scientist Rosaly Lopes.

Wright Mons is located near the bottom left-side point of Pluto’s heart, a heart-shaped formation that covers a large part of the dwarf planet’s surface. The area in the close-up image is notable for its lack of impact craters. NASA says this tells scientists the surface here was created relatively recently and may point to volcanic activity as the culprit.

Pluto is a surprisingly diverse place. Its surface is covered with icy plains, ancient cratered areas and possible dunes. There’s even a pitted area that scientists say acts like an icy lava lamp.

New Horizons launched in 2006, the same year Pluto was demoted from a full planet to dwarf-planet status. The spacecraft reached its main destination in 2015, but there are still plenty of discoveries to be made and new mysteries to be solved as NASA works through the heaps of data and images coming back from deep into space.

News Ireland daily BLOG byDonie

Sunday 15th November 2015

Obama and Putin’s see as one at G20 Summit following months of tensions between US and Russia


* Obama, Putin agree need for transition in Syria
* U.S. vows redoubled effort against Islamic State
* France and allies set to intensify air strikes
* G20 set to agree that migration is a global problem

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. security advisor Susan Rice (2nd L) prior to the opening session of the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders summit summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey November 15, 2015. Man at 2nd R is unidentified.

The U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to step up efforts to eliminate Islamic State and prevent more attacks like those in Paris, while urging Russia’s Vladimir Putin to focus on combating the jihadist group in Syria.

A White House official said Obama and Putin agreed during a 35-minute meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Turkey on the need for a political transition in Syria, saying events in Paris had made it all the more urgent.

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, right prior to the opening session of the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15 2015. The 2015 G-20 Leaders Summit is held near the Turkish Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya on Nov. 15-16, 2015. (Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency via AP, Pool)

The two-day summit brings Obama and fellow world leaders just 500 km (310 miles) from Syria, whose 4-1/2-year conflict has transformed Islamic State into a global security threat and spawned Europe’s largest migration flows since World War Two.

Obama described Friday’s killing of more than 120 people in Paris, claimed by the radical Sunni militant group, as an attack on the civilised world and said the United States would work with France to hunt down those responsible.

“The skies have been darkened by the horrific attacks that took place in Paris just a day and a half ago,” Obama said.

“We will redouble our efforts, working with other members of the coalition, to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria and to eliminate Daesh as a force that can create so much pain and suffering for people in Paris, in Ankara, and in other parts of the globe,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

5U.S. President Barack Obama, left, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, prior to the opening session of the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15 2015. The 2015 G-20 Leaders Summit is held near the Turkish Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya on Nov. 15-16, 2015. (RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

U.S.-led efforts to combat Islamic State were complicated when Russia joined the conflict a month and a half ago, targeting what the West says are mainly areas where foreign-backed fighters are battling Assad, Moscow’s ally, rather than Islamic State.

The United States, Turkey and their allies want Assad out.

Obama huddled with Putin during a working lunch and the two agreed on the need for a Syrian-led transition including U.N.-mediated talks, the White House official said.

Putin and Obama talked “extensively”, Russian news agencies cited top Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov as saying.

“Strategic objectives relating to the fight against the Islamic State are, in principle, very similar, but there are differences on the tactics side,” he said.

Their meeting builds on progress in Vienna, where foreign ministers on Saturday outlined a plan for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, although differences over Assad’s role remain.


The Paris attacks again demonstrated how Islamic State poses a threat far beyond its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

Washington already expects France to retaliate by taking on a larger role in the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign against Islamic State (ISIL).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomed the renewed sense of urgency to find a solution to the war in Syria after the Paris attacks, adding the world had a “rare moment” of diplomatic opportunity to end the violence.

Obama wants to coax other European and Middle Eastern countries into more tangible steps to show their military commitment. He met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, discussing the need to support the moderate Syrian opposition and the Iraqi government in the fight against Islamic State.

Obama said he also discussed in a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan coordinating efforts to fortify the border with Syria, which Islamic State has used to smuggle supplies and foreign fighters.


The coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris on Friday put Obama and other leaders of the world’s major economies under increased pressure to find common cause.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Washington itself has an appetite for much deeper involvement after already stepping up air strikes and committing small numbers of special operations troops to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The Paris carnage, in which 129 people were killed in attacks on a concert hall, restaurants, bars and a sports stadium, also poses a major challenge for Europe, with populist leaders rushing to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

In a diplomatic coup for Europe and for Turkey, the G20 leaders will agree that migration is a global problem that must be addressed in a coordinated way, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters, although it has yet to be accepted by all and is due to be published on Monday.

Europe and Turkey, the most heavily hit by the crisis, had been pushing for the G20 to recognise the issue as a global problem and help to deal with it financially, despite opposition from China, India and Russia. A million migrants from the Middle East and Africa are expected to come to Europe this year alone.

According to a separate draft statement, they also agreed to step up border controls and aviation security in the wake of the Paris attacks, which they condemned as “heinous”.

Crunchy toast could give you cancer, FSA warns

New study finds high level of cancer-causing chemical in home cooked roast potatoes, chips and toast

A new study has warned that eating crunchy toast could increase your cancer risk.

Beware the crispy roast potato and the crunchy slice of toast. Both contain worryingly high levels of a cancer-causing chemical.

A new study by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Government’s food safety watchdog, measured the amount of acrylamide – a cancer-causing toxin – in roast potatoes, chips and toast cooked in the home.

The FSA’s chief scientific adviser said the new research showed the need for roast potatoes and chips to be cooked to only “a light golden colour” and that bread should be toasted to “the lightest colour acceptable”.

Researchers with the FSA discovered that the crispier the roast potato or chip, the higher the levels of acrylamide they contained. The same went for toast.

The chemical, which is a proven carcinogen, is formed from a reaction between amino acids and the sugars and water found in potatoes and bread when they are subjected to temperatures above 120C.

The problem is the roast potatoes and chips that appeared the most mouth-watering – which were darkest in colour and crispiest in texture – contained the highest levels of acrylamide.

The official research, published last week, showed huge variations in levels of acrylamide depending on how long the potatoes or bread was cooked for.

In a batch of chips cooked for longest, scientists recorded 1,052 microgrammes of acrylamide per kilogramme – 50 times higher than in the batch with the lowest levels of the chemical.

In roast potatoes, the FSA recorded 490 micro grammes of acrylamide per kg in the crispiest and most cooked batch – 80 times higher than the levels contained in the palest batch of roast potatoes cooked.

The same was true of toast. The palest, least cooked toast contained just 9 microgrammes per kg while the crispiest toast contained 167 microgrammes – almost 19 times more.

Professor Guy Poppy, the FSA’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said in a report accompanying the study: “The risk assessment indicates that at the levels we are exposed to from food, acrylamide could be increasing the risk of cancer.”

Prof Poppy added: “We do not advise people to stop eating particular foods but… when making chips at home, they are cooked to a light golden colour.”

He said that “bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable”.

Scientists are still unclear about what constitutes a safe level of acrylamide and the European Commission is currently considering introducing maximum levels.

There is a regulatory limit of just 0.1 microgrammes per litre for the amount of acrylamide that can be present in drinking water in the EU – a quantity far lower than found in cooked potatoes, toast or other substances including coffee.

The FSA study took samples of cooked potatoes and toast from 50 households, bagging up the samples and then measuring the levels of acrylamide in the laboratory.

Researchers found that none of the householders were aware of the possible dangers of acrylamide lurking in cooked potatoes or toast – and had no idea that prolonged cooking caused the chemical to be produced in higher volumes.

The researchers gave a series of tips on how to reduce the amount of acrylamide in roast potatoes and chips.

Researchers recommended:

  1. Parboiling potatoes first before roasting them – considered the best method for producing crispy ‘roasties’ anyway – because the process reduces the free sugars that generate acrylamides
  2. Storing potatoes in a cupboard rather than fridge. Low temperatures can increase the amount of sugar and sweetness in the potato , leading to more acrylamide when cooked
  3. Cooks should not ‘fluff up’ parboiled potatoes before roasting them because in doing so it increases the surface area which in turn increases levels of acrylamide.

The official recommendation to avoid ‘fluffing’ up parboiled potatoes – usually by shaking them in the pan before roasting – will appal professional and amateur cooks alike.

It is widely recognised that the best roast potatoes involve ‘fluffing’ before roasting.

But the report states: “For roast potatoes, the deliberate fluffing up (shaking parboiled potatoes in a pan) that was witnessed on a few occasions is a deliberate attempt to increase surface area. Participants’ aim for this process is for cooked potatoes to be crispier (i.e. through more oil or fat being absorbed). The increased surface area may lead to greater acrylamide generation.”

Nine of the biggest diabetes myths debunked by an expert


Millions of people have diabetes, but do we actually know what the condition is or why it developed? To mark World Diabetes Day we asked Pav Kalsi, a senior clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, to clear up a few of the most common myths about the disease.

1. Diabetes is caused by an unhealthy diet

We’re often told that binging on burgers and chips will cause diabetes, but this statement completely ignores the difference between Type 1 and Type 2. This is probably because 90% of diabetes sufferers have Type 2, which is caused by being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet.

However, Type 1 has nothing to do with these factors. “Type 1 diabetes isn’t linked to diet,” explains Pav. “No one knows what exactly causes it but it’s not to do with being overweight. It usually affects children or young adults, starting suddenly and getting worse very quickly.”

She adds: “Too often Type 1 diabetes, which is not linked to lifestyle, is mistaken for Type 2, which can be caused by being overweight, but it is important that the distinctions between the two types are clearly understood.”

2. All overweight people will develop diabetes

Not all overweight people are going to get diabetes – although the majority of people with Type 2 diabetes do have an unhealthily high BMI. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reports that worldwide 80% of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis.

However, Pav says: “Being overweight or obese can significantly increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes but it is not guaranteed that everyone who is overweight will develop it.”

You’re also at higher risk if you are African-Caribbean, Black African, Chinese or South Asian, aged over 40 years of age (or over 25 if you are South Asian) or if you have a relative with the disease. You can check your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes here.

3. Anyone who has diabetes will know that they have it, this depends on the type of diabetes.

“It is hard to ignore the signs of Type 1 diabetes because symptoms can often appear quite quickly,” says Pav, adding that “leaving it untreated can lead to serious health problems, including diabetic ketoacidosis, which can result in a potentially fatal coma”.

“The symptoms include going to the toilet a lot, bed wetting by a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies, being really thirsty and not being able to quench the thirst, feeling more tired than usual and sudden weight loss or looking thinner than usual.”

However Type 2 diabetes can be easier to miss as the symptoms develop slowly, especially in the early stages. This is problematic, as some people don’t get diagnosed until they have suffered from the disease for several years, so ask your doctor if you have any concerns.

4. People with diabetes can only eat really small portions of stodgy foods like pasta, or should avoid them completely

Nope! According to Pav, the best way to manage diabetes is to eat a balanced diet, consisting of fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrate foods (such as pasta), non-dairy sources of protein and dairy.

“All people, including people with diabetes, should include some starchy carbohydrates in their diet,” explains Pav. “The amount of carbs you need depends on a number of factors – including how physically active you are, your weight and nutritional goals.”

She continues: “Since the amount of carbohydrates you eat has an effect on your blood glucose levels and your weight, it’s good to be aware of your portion sizes.”

5. Diabetes sufferers have to snack constantly instead of eating large meals

Wrong again. People with diabetes do not have set meal plans, but they are advised to spread their meals out over the day.

So what does our clinical adviser suggest diabetes sufferers do? “Avoid skipping meals and space your breakfast, lunch and evening meal out over the day,” she says. “This will help control your appetite and blood glucose levels – especially if you are on twice-daily insulin. Working a long shift? Take a healthy packed lunch and healthy snacks with you.

“It is recommended that people who take medication for their diabetes – which includes all people with Type 1 – always have access to snacks for when their blood sugar level drops, as well as to regulate their blood sugar between meals.”

However, that is not the case for people with Type 2 diabetes. “People with Type 2 diabetes who aren’t taking medication don’t need extra snacks,” Pav explains, “and if they are also overweight they need to plan carefully what snacks they eat outside of regular mealtimes.”

6. If you have diabetes, your immune system is weaker and you’ll get colds a lot

Pav says: “If you have diabetes, your immune system is not weaker compared to someone without diabetes.

“However, as the body responds to illness and infection by increasing blood glucose levels, day-to-day blood glucose management becomes more complicated. All people with diabetes should get the flu vaccine, regardless of type, as they are more at risk of potentially serious flu complications, such as pneumonia.”

7. Everybody with diabetes has to take insulin

Not EVERYBODY who has diabetes needs insulin to stay alive, although the condition is progressive and many people eventually may need it.

Everyone who has Type 1 does need to take it as their pancreas doesn’t produce any of the hormone. Insulin can either be injected once a day or administered through a pump to release the hormone in a steady flow throughout the day.

8. If you’re a diabetic, you can’t drink any alcohol

There is no need for diabetics to go teetotal, but drinking alcohol does make hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels) more likely to occur, especially if diabetes is treated with insulin or certain tablets.

Pav says: “To reduce the chance of a hypo, it is important not to drink alcohol on an empty stomach. A hypo can be confused with drunkenness when there is the smell of alcohol on your breath, so it is really important to tell people you are with that you have diabetes and what help you might need if you have a hypo. Also, make sure you carry some ID to let others know you have diabetes, such as an ID card, medical necklace or bracelet.

“If you drink more than a few units during an evening, you will have an increased risk of hypos all night and into the next day too. Always snack on a starchy snack, such as cereal or toast, before bed to minimise this risk.”

9. You can’t do anything to prevent developing diabetes

This varies between the two different types. As Type 1 is not linked to lifestyle, it cannot be prevented as it develops when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. Pav explains: “No one knows for certain why these cells have been damaged, but the most likely cause is the body having an abnormal reaction to the cells. This may be triggered by a viral or other infection.”

However, being overweight can put you at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, so there are some things people can do to prevent or delay the onset. Pav says: “Maintaining a healthy weight by doing regular physical activity and eating a healthy balanced diet is extremely important to reducing risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

WHO warns against diabetes epidemic


Stating that immediate action has to be taken to control the onslaught of diabetes, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for South-East Asia, said on the World Diabetes on (November 14) that diabetes is a global epidemic which kills one person every six seconds and over five million every year.

Diabetes makes people prone to heart disease, kidney failure and infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, among others, leading to premature death.

“The number of people with diabetes is projected to increase alarmingly from 457 million in 2014 to 592 million by 2035 if we do not act now to arrest this trend,” noted Ms. Khetrapal.

Diabetes can be prevented and treated. World Diabetes Day, created in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and WHO, is focusing on “Healthy Living and Diabetes” as the theme for 2014 to 2016, and the importance of prevention in diabetes.

To put the spotlight on the urgent need to act against diabetes, WHO has selected diabetes, as the theme for the World Health Day 2016. WHO South-East Asia Region is home to an estimated 91 million people affected by diabetes. Of these, nearly half go undiagnosed. WHO is supporting countries by advocating for and catalysing multi-sectoral policies for health promotion and strengthening national health systems for early detection and treatment of diabetes.

These include training health workforce, developing treatment norms and increasing the availability of basic diagnostics and essential medicines at primary health care centres.

“We need to work collaboratively with governments, civil society, private sectors, schools, workplaces, media and other local partners. We all have a role to play to ensure healthier environment for a healthy living. However, the key role is of an individual to make lifelong healthy choices for a healthier future,’’ noted a statement issued by WHO- South-East Asia Region.

According to WHO, the number of people with diabetes is projected to increase from 457 million in 2014 to 592 million by 2035

A massive icy cloud formation on Titan


NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is near the end of its moon that started more than a decade ago. It has supplied humans with amazing images and data about Saturn and its moons. And just recently, it sent a photo showing a massive gas cloud forming around the southern polar region of one of Saturn’s moon, Titan.

The image of the icy formation on Titan was taken a few months back by the Cassini probe and was only released a few days ago by NASA. The agency performed extended investigation in the unusual seasons happening on Titan and also on the observed atmospheric changes.

Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) captured the incredible photo of the ice cloud floating in the mid to low stratosphere on the moon. The formation was estimated to be at an altitude of 124 miles with temperature of -238 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prior to this icy formation, Cassini was busy sending information regarding the season transitions on Titan. There was a same massive cloud seen above the south pole of the moon back in 2012 with an altitude of 186 miles. The formation of the newly seen giant ice cloud marked winter on the surface of the moon. CIRS enabled mission scientists to observe the season changes on the moon, with the ability to record shifts in thermal wavelengths.

NASA is expecting another follow data when winter is happening or if a new season will develop on the moon. Seasons on Titan lasts for 7.5 years on Earth, so the moon is still on winter when the Cassini mission ends by 2017.

Carrie Anderson of Goddard Space Flight Center at NASA said that the massive ice cloud captured at the south pole of the moon is indeed an unexpected, but exciting finding for the team.

Mission scientists chose to present this subject of icy formation being suddenly visible on Titan at the Meeting of Division of Planetary Sciences of American Astronomical Society last November 11.

In addition, mission scientists studying the seasonal transitions on Titan noted that there is a gas cloud formation on the troposphere of Titan that has a similar rain cloud formation pattern on the troposphere of Earth.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 31st October 2015

Retiring central Bank governor Honolhan warns Irish Government over it’s growth

Patrick Honohan says multinational activities were boosting figures


Patrick Honohan, outgoing governor of the Irish Central Bank.

The rate of economic growth is being exaggerated and may be leading to overconfidence in planning for the future, the outgoing Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan has warned the Government.

The business activities of multinational companies were affecting the figures, he said, creating a risk that Government policy would not be based on a realistic view of future prospects.

In a letter sent to Minister for Finance Michael Noonanbefore the budget, Prof Honohan said the economy was still some way off its pre-crisis peak. This was a reason for caution in framing budgetary policy, he said.

He warned Mr Noonan it was imperative to avoid a return to the type of pro-cyclical fiscal policies observed in the past, and in particular not to base spending plans on windfall tax gains that could quickly disappear.

Separately, UCC economist Seamus Coffeyhas warned the Government against making long-term budgetary commitments on the back of temporary non-cyclical tax revenues.

Speaking at a conference in Dublin, Mr Coffey said several headline expenditure increases in the budget were predicated on a recent surge in corporation tax receipts, which remains unexplained and might well be temporary.

A cautious approach.

In his pre-budget letter to Mr Noonan, released under a Freedom of Information request, Prof Honohan repeated warnings from outside agencies such as the EU Commission and the IMF that the budget must be cautious and should aim to eliminate borrowing as quickly as possible.

The EU Commission is now examining Ireland’s budget and is expected to give a preliminary opinion by December on whether it is within fiscal rules.

Meanwhile, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council head John McHale has expressed concern about the budgetary stance. The council will issue its formal view on the budget shortly.

Prof Honohan, in a strong warning to the Government, said the interpretation of Ireland’s economic growth numbers were “seriously complicated” by the way in which the activities of multinationals were measured, noting that a significant part of the recent growth in production could be attributed to “distorting features”.

“Neglecting these measurement issues has led some commentators to think that the economy is back to pre-crisis performance,” the governor said. Prof Honohan warned that total employment was still more than 10 per cent below the previous peak with the result that the unemployment rate has only just fallen below 10 per cent despite emigration.

Windfall gains

“All things considered, you will be alert to the danger of using windfall fiscal gains to justify long-lasting spending commitments,” he said in the letter dated August 16th.

“Distinguishing between revenue sources that can be considered as stable – such as taxes on personal income – and those which have a one-off or transitory characteristic is a challenge of which I am sure that your department is cognisant, especially given the speed at which transitory revenue sources associated with the housing bubble evaporated in 2009 and 2010,” Prof Honohan wrote.

At a seminar on the impact of austerity hosted by the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, Mr Coffey also warned of the dangers of basing budgetary measures on temporary tax dividends.

The Government’s levy on company profits is expected to generate about €6 billion in 2015, a 50% increase on last year. A jump of this magnitude in any tax stream is “very strange”, Mr Coffey said.

Denis O’Brien accuses Lucinda Creighton of ‘self-serving’ attacks

Businessman says Renua leader ‘failed to ascertain the facts’ about Topaz contract


Billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien has accused Renua leader Lucinda Creighton of “self-serving” attacks on him following a Dáil speech in which she demanded action on the findings of the Moriarty tribunal.

In her speech, Ms Creighton said five years had passed since the tribunal found it was “beyond doubt” that former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry had “imparted” substantive information to Mr O’Brien which was of “significant value and assistance to him” in securing Ireland’s second mobile telephone licence in the mid-1990s.

In a letter on October 23rd last, Mr O’Brien, who signed it himself and sent it from his Dublin office – “Seventh Floor, One Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2 – said Ms Creighton had raised an Irish Mail on Sunday report that claimed he had given a Topaz refrigeration contract to Mr Lowry’s company.

“It is most regrettable that you failed to ascertain the facts before making this statement. For the record, the factual situation is the process for this contract began in 2013; the appointment letter was issued on February 6th.

“Of critical importance is that I did not take ownership of Topaz until March 24th, 2014. The only inference I can draw from your reference to Topaz is an eagerness to sacrifice the facts for the purpose of self-promotion,” Mr O’Brien complained.

Challenging Ms Creighton’s description of the Moriarty tribunal report, Mr O’Brien said: “It is abundantly clear that your motivation again here is self-serving. I find it extremely curious that when I set out the full facts in a letter to you on March 28th, 2012, you clearly had no dispute with any of them.”

In that 2012 letter Mr O’Brien wrote to Ms Creighton: “I did not make any payments to Mr Michael Lowry TD.”

The tribunal, at paragraph 61.274, page 1152, part II, volume 2, stated Mr O’Brien was “a person who made payments to Mr Lowry”.

The 2012 letter went on to argue the tribunal findings – opinions, Mr O’Brien termed them – were “completely devoid of legal effect”.

October letter.

Mr O’Brien’s October 23rd letter returned to this theme.

“My position as to the findings of the Moriarty tribunal,” he wrote, “are the same as they were on the day the report was published – they are (as stated in my letter to you) opinions with no basis in fact.”

He continued: “It is regrettable that you, as both a public representative and a lawyer, prefer to misrepresent the fact for self-advantage.”

The letter is signed, “yours sincerely, Denis O’Brien”.

Ms Creighton’s office had no comment to make.

Mr O’Brien is currently engaged in several High Courtactions, including an action against a Dublin-based public relations consultancy, Red Flag, which he has claimed in court is at the centre of an unlawful conspiracy to defame him and undermine his businesses.

In a separate action against the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges, Mr O’Brien claims it failed to uphold his constitutional right to his good name by not reprimanding TDs for allegedly abusing Oireachtasprivileges.

Mr O’Brien objects to comments made about him by, among others, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who raised questions about Mr O’Brien’s banking arrangements with IBRC, the successor bank to Anglo Irish Bank.

Central Bank was not involved in Army at ATM talks,

Honohan says Honohan was spinning yars?

Taoiseach questioned on banking comments as Opposition accuse him of spinning yarns


Speaking outside Leinster House, Gerry Adams has called An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny ‘a spoof’ after he claimed he did not receive a specific briefing about increasing security at ATMs during the economic crisis`.

The Governor of the Central Bank Patrick Honohan has said all sorts of ideas were discussed when pressure came on the State’s banking system but having the Army on standby at ATM machines was “not territory the Central Bank is or was involved in”.

His comments came amidst controvsery over remarks made by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Madrid last week. He told a European People’s Party (EPP) conference that Mr Honohan had told him to prepare to deploy the Army.

“The Governor of the Central Bank in Ireland said to me: ‘It looks like this weekend . . . you’ll have to put [the] Army around the banks and around the ATM machines and introduce capital controls like they had in Cyprus’,” he said.

Mr Kenny’s account was dismissed as a “fairy tale” by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Asked on Wednesday if he had received a specific briefing from the Central Bank to the effect that he might have to deploy the army, Mr Kenny said: “No, not specific, no.”

He said the Government did set up a taskforce comprised of a number of Departments and agencies of which the Department of Finance, the Taoiseach, and the Central Bank were involved.

“They considered all of these contingencies and clearly as was pointed out to you by the Minister for Finance [Michael Noonan] the question of security in the event of a break-up of the euro currency was one that was considered.”

Asked on Thursday if he regretted his Madrid remarks, Mr Kenny said: “I’ve tried to explain that when the taskforce was set up they had to consider all of the contingencies or possible options that might happen because there was a very serious situation arising right across Europe and there was a lot of talk within different Governments and so on that there might be an end to the euro currency per se.”

Asked to explain what had happened, Mr Honohan said the Taoiseach’s recent clarifications “put this story to bed, really. He talked about contingency planning exercises… sure… There was contingency planning, I absolutely agree”.

He added: “There was contingency planning and all sort of ideas were discussed. I wasn’t directly involved in most of those conversations. The Central Bank was. But we also do our own contingency planning that we don’t tell anyone about. But we also participated fully in the Government’s exercise.”

When questioned on whether he told Mr Kenny he needed to have the Army on standby Mr Honohan said he didn’t want to get into conversations he had with him. “I have no doubt that he had officials in other departments talking about contingencies of that type. That’s not territory the central bank is or was involved in. That’s clear now from what he is saying”.

Asked if this planning was related to a specific event Mr Honohan said “we are talking about 2012. There were a lot of concerns about the system, and we were talking about the system, not Ireland”.

Sinn Féin earlier this week accused Mr Kenny of standing in front of his European sister parties and spinning a yarn about the matter and now found himself in a “highly embarrsing” situation.

HSE says it may take weeks to clear chemotherapy delays


Five patients at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda had their treatment postponed

The Health Service Executive has said it may take weeks to clear delays in chemotherapy treatment caused by a shortage of a specific drug to treat cancer.

A number of cancer patients have suffered delays in chemotherapy treatment due to the shortage.

Some chemotherapy drugs were recalled two weeks ago, as a precautionary measure, following fears they may have been contaminated during manufacturing.

Dublin-based pharmacy Fannin Compounding, one of two companies supplying chemotherapy drugs to Irish hospitals, issued a safety alert after a machine it uses to manufacture the medicine was found to have been contaminated.

The bacteria, which can cause potentially life-threatening gastro-intestinal infections, was found in batches of drugs during routine testing.

In a statement this morning, the HSE said some hospitals throughout the country are currently experiencing difficulties in securing continuous supply of chemotherapy drugs due to the safety alert at Fannin Compounding.

The HSE would not give any details of the number of people affected by the shortage of the drug due to the contamination, but said that it was a “sub-set of cancer patients”.

Five patients who are treated at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda had their treatment postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday last week.

Delays of one or two days for the cancer treatment have been experienced at Cavan Hospital, while University Hospital Limerick has also confirmed that eight patients have been rescheduled for treatment next week due to a delay in receiving supplies.

The HSE moved to assure patients that hospitals are in contact with those affected to reschedule their appointments.

The HSE’s contingency plans to deal with this issue involve sending some cancer sufferers to different hospitals for treatment and sourcing the drug from another company in Ireland as well as the United Kingdom.

It says this is a temporary solution until operations resume at Fannin Compounding.

The HSE also said the precautionary recall has been completed.

It said: “There was no evidence of contamination of chemotherapy and, more importantly, no evidence of adverse clinical consequences for patients.”

Ozone hole gets bigger, Earth to bear more UV damage


The 2015 Antarctic ozone hole area was larger and formed later than in recent years, scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have said.

The ozone hole is a severe depletion of the ozone layer above Antarctica that was first detected in the 1980s.

The Antarctic ozone hole forms and expands during the Southern Hemisphere spring (August and September) because of the high levels of chemically active forms of chlorine and bromine in the stratosphere.

Earlier this month, on October 2, the ozone hole expanded to its peak of 28.2 million sq kms — an area larger than the continent of North America. Throughout October, the hole remained large and set many area daily records.

Unusually cold temperature and weak dynamics in the Antarctic stratosphere this year resulted in this larger ozone hole, scientists said.

In comparison, last year the ozone hole peaked at 24.1 million sq kms on September 11. Compared to the 1991-2014 period, the 2015 ozone hole average area was the fourth largest.

“During September we typically see a rapid ozone decline, ending with about 95 percent depletion in that layer by October 1. This year the depletion held on an extra two weeks resulting in nearly 100 percent depletion by October 15,” said Bryan Johnson, a researcher at NOAA laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

The ozone layer helps shield the Earth from potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer, cataracts and suppress immune systems, as well as damage plants.

The large size of this year’s ozone hole will likely result in increases of harmful ultraviolet rays at the Earth’s surface, particularly in Antarctica and the Southern Hemisphere in the coming months.

Thanks to the montreal protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone layer, atmospheric levels of these ozone depleting compounds are slowly declining. The ozone hole is expected to recover back to 1980 levels in approximately 2070.1