Tag Archives: obesity crisis

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 3rd. April 2017

Major broadband providers ordered to block illegal streaming sites

Major film and TV studios say up to 1.3 million users here may be involved in illegally accessing their output

Image result for Broadband providers ordered to block illegal streaming sites  Image result for Broadband providers ordered to block illegal streaming sites

Six major film and TV studios have secured injunctions directing internet service providers to block access to websites involved in illegal streaming or downloading of films and TV shows.

Mr Justice Brian Cregan made the orders against nine internet service providers after saying it was “clear” from evidence before the court breaches of the studios’ copyright had “manifestly occurred.”

The orders would not amount to a breach of lawful use of the internet and were not disproportionate, said the judge.

Their proceedings were brought against a number of ISPs – Eircom, Sky Ireland, Vodafone Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland, Three Ireland, Digiweb, Imagine Telecommunications and Magnet Networks.

None opposed the application for the injunctions and the court heard they had adopted a neutral stance.

The studios, all members of the Motion Picture Association, sought the orders on grounds including up to 1.3 million users here may be involved in illegally accessing their films via various websites.

  • Irish film industry lauds judgment blocking piracy websites
  • Online content: Studios’ battle with streaming services heats up
  • Music industry shows movie makers the way with illegal downloads

Represented by Jonathan Newman SC, the companies argued digital piracy is costing the studios hundreds of millions annually and, according to recent research, led to the loss of 500 jobs here in 2015 and €320 million in lost revenues.

The plaintiffs are Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Disney Enterprises, Universal Studios, Sony Pictures Television and Columbia Pictures. Their case was supported by independent distributors and film-makers in Ireland.

Disable access ???????

In a ruling on Monday evening, Mr Justice Cregan granted orders requiring the ISPs to block or disable access by subscribers to a number of websites, known as “streaming” websites, including movie4k.to, primewire.ag and onwatchseries.to.

There was no opposition to the orders but the court was asked to deal with issues raised by Eir.

Eir said it was prepared to pay the cost involved in dealing with the relevant websites to date but was concerned about the cost implications if it had to deal with a large number of these sites into the future.

It asked the court to put a cap on the number of notifications per month, which the movie companies could make directing the ISPs to block websites.

Conor McDonnell, solicitor for Eir, said it was suggesting a cap of perhaps 50 notifications per month but the movie companies were opposed to any cap.

The judge said there should be no cap on the amount of notifications for the time being.

The judge welcomed that Eir and the movie studios had resolved another outstanding issue in relation to the temporary blocking of certain websites.

American families desperate to flee to Canada from Donald Trump’s power grasp

Image result for American families desperate to flee to Canada from Donald Trump's power grasp  Image result for fleeing families to Canada

The number of people trying to cross the US border into Canada has increased dramatically since Donald Trump came to power.

At the end of a lonely country road in upstate New York, a taxi pulls up.

Five people get out and stand uncertainly in the freezing rain – two men from Yemen, a woman from Eritrea and her two small boys.

They’ve come to flee America through its northern border, in to Canada.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police waiting on the other side of the snowy ditch tell them they will be arrested if they cross at this unofficial border point.

They know this, but it is still scary to hear and the group pauses, just a few feet from the border.

One man is starting to shiver in the cold? and another explains that his visa has expired and he cannot go back to his war-torn country.

“Can you help us, please?” asks the woman as she tries to hold both her children to stop them standing in the snow, but they are wriggling and she lets one go.

He is giggling and playing next to abandoned luggage and a baby stroller from previous crossings as his mother calculates if this is going to be worth the risk.

Suddenly an officer offers the information she is waiting to hear – she will be arrested, processed, and then if all is well, released to the immigration authorities.

The two men, the woman and her sons take just a few steps over the invisible border and in to police custody, hoping to one day become a refugee in Canada.

The next morning it happens again.

Three smartly dressed men from Turkey say they want to claim asylum in Canada.

They don’t speak much English but they’ve brought carefully written letters explaining why they want to leave.

One is a former history teacher who was arrested and harassed in Turkey and he has been living in the States but now feels he cannot remain here anymore.

Why not stay in America? We asked “Because of Trump” his friend says, shaking his head.

In just this one location these crossings are happening up to five times a day.

Up and down this vast border region thousands have done the same, the numbers increasing sharply since Donald Trump rode to power on a wave of populist anti-immigrant sentiment.

The Canadian Border Services Agency says there was a six-fold increase in refugee claims just at Quebec’s border in February compared to the same month in 2016.

Nationally, the agency says that in January and February 2017 more than 2,500 people crossed over and made asylum claims.

RCMP Corporal Francois Gagnon said: “It’s mostly families … parents with kids, strollers.

“We’re going to use compassion on every occasion, but definitely seeing those families crossing the border, you know it touch somewhere our hearts, you know we are all most of us fathers and mothers, so the approach is going to be softer.

For many, being detained by the Canadian police is actually the aim.

An agreement between the US and Canada prevents people from either country seeking refugee status in the other.

But if they are arrested while crossing illegally, most people are given a criminal background check and then are released and given access to housing, schools, emergency healthcare and work permits while they await immigration hearings.

Immigration lawyer and head of the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers Mitchell Goldberg said: “I think it’s decent, I think it’s the right thing to do, I think it’s an investment in the future of Canadians.”

‘A lot of the time’ I am just waiting on a system that may or may not work properly

Colin McSweeney is just one of 4,875 adults nationwide relying on emergency accommodation every night?

Image result for we am just waiting on a system that may or may not work properly  Colin, who told his story on Ireland's Property Crisis (Image via RTE)

An RTÉ documentary highlighting Ireland’s property crisis tonight shone a big light on a homeless Trinity College graduate who is working but still can’t afford somewhere to live.

Colin McSweeney, 45, above left pic began working in the IT sector after completing his degree in Dublin. When that company folded, he found himself not being able to afford his rent and relying on the emergency accommodation system to shelter him.

Although he has a job as a researcher in a library, Colin spends his nights searching for accommodation in different hostels.

The college graduate details the trouble with finding a bed in the city and revealed that he sometimes relies on using the 24-hour Starbucks, which is located at the former Anglo Irish Bank HQ on St Stephen’s Green, to keep him warm through the night.

“This is Dublin’s first and only 24-hour Starbucks. I’ve spent a few nights over the last five months here. I’ve gone an entire evening here on just a cup of tea. The one thing is that if you try and sleep, you’ll be woken up by the security guard. But they’re nice.”

Colin is forced to find ways of keeping warm and safe for a whole night when the emergency accommodation system lets him down.

He spends his days in Pearse Street library waiting for a call back to see whether or not he has somewhere to stay that night.lin receives the phone call telling him he has a bed for the night.

Waiting on the call, he says: “Today revolves around this phone call. At this point, the system should ring me back.

“A lot of the time, you’re just waiting on a system that may or may not work properly and call you back. The longer you wait, the worse it seems.”

Thankfully, just as he was about to give up hope, Colin receives a call telling him he has a bed for the night and he makes his way to Frederick Street. This is what he does every night of the week.

Other people featured on Ireland’s Property Crisis included single mother Selena who is trying to find a new home to rent since her landlord sold her current property. Selena must leave the property by Easter Monday but the new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme has found nothing suitable in her area.

In another example of people trying to make ends meet, the Sadlier family are paying rent on their house in Donnycarney, Dublin, while also trying to pay off the mortgage on a one-bed apartment they bought ten years ago.

The number of people presenting as homeless in Ireland was at an all-time high in February.

There were 4,875 adults staying in emergency accommodation. As well as this, there are 1,239 families with 2,546 children, according to the latest Housing Department figures.

Bowel cancer and doing this could reduce the risk of this cancer by nearly 50%

Image result for Bowel cancer and doing this could reduce the risk of this cancer by nearly 50% Image result for Bowel cancer and doing this could reduce the risk of this cancer by nearly 50%

Bowel cancer risk is 46% higher in people with the largest waist circumference, compared to those with the smallest.

Bowel cancer: Losing weight is key and could reduce the risk by as much as 50%, experts now claim

Research has revealed women in the UK are not considering their cancer risk when it comes to their weight.

According to 2017 statistics, only just over one in ten UK women – 11 per cent – would be motivated to lose weight to reduce their cancer risk.

Lee Dvorkin, consultant general and colorectal surgeon at BMI Healthcare said: “Factors thought to increase the risk include smoking, obesity and eating excessive red meat, alcohol, animal fat and sugar.”

Obesity and a high body mass index (BMI) ratio are strongly associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer, argue experts.

Additional body fat is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and World Cancer Research Fund as a cause of bowel cancers.

Bowel cancer: Over half of cancer cases are diagnosed too late

An estimated 13% of bowel cancers in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese.

Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is essential to lowering the risk of the second biggest cancer killer.

Bowel cancer can affect both men and women of any age.

It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, and the second biggest cancer killer, with someone dying of bowel cancer every 30 minutes in the UK.

Factors thought to increase the risk include smoking, obesity

Over half of bowel cancer cases are diagnosed late, but an early diagnosis is crucial.

In line with new 2017 NHS Digital statistics, 58% of women in the UK are currently overweight or obese, and 27% of women are currently inactive – doing less than 30 minutes of exercise a week.

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential not just for overall health but also to help prevent cancer development.

Despite this the latest research, conducted on behalf of BMI Healthcare points to the vast majority of women in the UK not being motivated to lose weight to cut their risk of cancer.

Bowel cancer concern: Maintaining a healthy weight can prevent the cancer developing

The new research conducted independently on behalf of BMI Healthcare as part of its April Be Bowel Cancer Aware campaign reveals that 42% of UK women would feel embarrassed to tell someone if they had irregular bowel habits or blood in their stool, the two key warning signs of the cancer.

The new figures raise the concern that women are putting themselves at increased risk of late diagnosis because they are too embarrassed to tell anyone about their bowel habits.

More than a quarter – 27% – of women have or may have had bowel cancer related symptoms.

However some 40% of women did not discuss their bowel cancer related symptoms with anyone – this includes just talking to a partner, friend or a family member.

Fearless fanged Coral Reef fish’s heroin-like venom could lead to pain killing treatments

Image result for Fearless fanged Coral Reef fish’s heroin-like venom could lead to pain killing treatments   Image result for Fearless fanged Coral Reef fish’s heroin-like venom could lead to pain killing treatments

A fearless fanged coral reef fish that disables its opponents with heroin-like venom could offer hope for the development of new painkillers.

University of Queensland researcher Associate Professor Bryan Fry said the venomous fang blenny was found in the Pacific region, including on the Great Barrier Reef.

“The fish injects other fish with opioid peptides that act like heroin or morphine, inhibiting pain rather than causing it,” he said.

“Its venom is chemically unique????

“The venom causes the bitten fish to become slower in movement and dizzy by acting on their opioid receptors.

“To put that into human terms, opioid peptides would be the last thing an elite Olympic swimmer would use as performance-enhancing substances. They would be more likely to drown than win gold.”

Fang blennies, also known as poison-fang blennies or sabre-tooth blennies, of the genus Meiacanthus, are popular as ornamental tropical aquarium fish.

“Fang blennies are the most interesting fish I’ve ever studied and have one of the most intriguing venoms of them all,” Associate Professor Fry said.

“These fish are fascinating in their behaviour. They fearlessly take on potential predators while also intensively fighting for space with similar sized fish.

“Their secret weapons are two large grooved teeth on the lower jaw that are linked to venom glands.”

Associate Professor Fry said the unique venom meant, the fang blenny was more easily able to escape a predator or defeat a competitor.

“This study is an excellent example of why we need to protect nature,” he said.

“If we lose the Great Barrier Reef, we will lose animals like the fang blenny and its unique venom that could be the source of the next blockbuster pain-killing drug.”

The research, published in Current Biology, was led by Associate Professor Fry, who works with the UQ School of Biological Sciences Venom Evolution Laboratory, and Dr Nicholas Casewell of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK.

It involved researchers from across UQ and from Leiden University and the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands; Monash University; and the Bangor and Anglia Ruskin universities in the UK.

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

Monday 16th May 2016

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

Utility states customers must pay outstanding balances despite suspension of charges


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspension to end of March.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Naval ship LÉ Róisín rescues 125 migrants in the Mediterranean

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Mediterranean deaths?

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

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

New Government strategy aims to tackle Irish obesity levels

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New calorie content Legislation.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Well, that’s not the case at all?

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

It could cause the pilot to get a headache.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 11th April 2016

Number of housing units for sale across Ireland at a 9 year low


Daft.ie says in its latest report that the total number of properties for sale at any one time across Ireland continues to fall from 2015 and in the first quarter of 2016 was a 9-year low.

At less than 24,000, the report says this is now at its lowest point since February 2007. The biggest falls in availability are now occurring outside Leinster. Across Munster, Connacht and Ulster, there were 13,500 homes for sale in April 2016, compared to almost 21,000 two years previously.

House prices rose by an average of 5.9% in the year to March 2016. The divide between Dublin and the rest of the country persists, with prices effectively stable in the capital — rising just 0.9% in the last year — compared to a rise of 9.7% on average outside Dublin. In almost all parts of the country, however, inflation now is less than three months ago.

The national average asking price in the first quarter of 2016 was €210,000, compared to €198,000 a year ago and €164,000 at its lowest point. In Dublin, prices have risen by an average of €91,000 – or 41% — from their lowest point in mid-2012. Outside the capital, the average increase has been €37,500, or 28%, since the end of 2013.

The report says that while prices are stable in Dublin, they continue to increase strongly in other cities. Compared to the same period in 2015, prices in the first quarter of 2016 were 14.9% higher in Cork, 14% higher in Galway and 18% higher in both Limerick and Waterford cities. Inflation outside the cities varies from 8.3% in Leinster to 10.4% in Connacht-Ulster.

Commenting on the figures, author of the Daft.ie Report Ronan Lyons said: “It is interesting to note that in year-on-year terms, prices are now falling in five Dublin markets — Dublin 2, Dublin 6, Dublin 16, Dublin 18 and South County Dublin. These are some of the most expensive markets in the country and show the effectiveness of the Central Bank rules. Nonetheless, across the country, prices continue to rise, because the increase in population each month is not being matched by an increase in new homes. Addressing the shortage of supply and in particular the high cost base on construction — must a top priority for the new Government.”
Average list price and year-on-year change – major cities, Q1 2016

Dublin City: €311,686 – up 0.9%
Cork City: €232,145 – up 14.9%
Galway City: €228,222 – up 14.0%
Limerick City: €149,989 – up 18.0%
Waterford City: €134,945 – up 18.0%

The issue in the Irish housing market currently – and in particular in the greater Dublin area – is a lack of homes. Every month, roughly 2,000 new households are formed, each requiring somewhere to live. But each month currently sees the construction of at best 1,000 new homes. In Dublin, the figures are even starker – nearly half of all new households are being formed in or around the capital but only 150 or so properties are being built each month in the city.

The result is that fewer and fewer homes are on the market. And this is a trend that is common to all parts of the country now, not just Dublin, which did not see any significant over-construction during the bubble years. The first graph below shows the total number of properties on the market each month from 2010 on. It is clear from the graph that the tightening of supply in Dublin took place between 2011 and early 2014 and if anything has improved slightly since.

New drug offers some life changing hope to cystic fibrosis patients

A new drug could make a dramatic difference to one patient with cystic fibrosis,


Claire Meleady with her dog Rupert.

Most 30-somethings woke up this morning wishing they’d something new to wear to work and all Clare Meleady wants, however, is access to a new drug that could enable her to get a job.

A trained reflexologist and tai chi expert, 30-year-old Meleady has cystic fibrosis. However, she is a suitable candidate for Orkambi, an expensive new drug which could significantly improve her quality of life.

Her condition prevents the 30-year-old from working, restricts her attendance at big family events, and has even put a stay on her hopes of starting a family with Barry, her husband of five years.

Orkambi could solve a lot of those problems, but the HSE has yet to decide whether it will pay for the drug, which is expected to cost €150,000 annually per patient.

Currently there are around 1,200 people with cystic fibrosis in Ireland.

However this country not only has the highest rate of the disease per head of population in the world, but also has some of the worst types, because of the particular genotype prevalent in Ireland.

In acknowledgement of this, and of the ongoing need for better facilities for cystic fibrosis patients, Friday next will see a major fundraising campaign in which thousands of volunteers will sell purple roses nationwide to raise €65,000 for the support group Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, whose members anxiously await the HSE’s decision on Orkambi.

“Orkambi is very expensive but a lot of people in the trials have done very well and it’s been a life-changer for many people. I’d like to try it,” says the Ashbourne, Co Meath, woman, who was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 15 months. “It’d enable me to be able to work and my health would be more reliable.”

Although she tries to stay positive, she acknowledges that cystic fibrosis has a severe impact on her day-to-day life: “I cannot work, which puts a huge financial strain on our household,” she says, adding that when she got married, her disability allowance was slashed from €188 a week to just €50.

This has placed the couple under significant financial strain — Barry is a clerical worker and his salary is not huge, she says, adding that they’re currently considering whether they can continue to afford their car.

On a deeply personal level, the loss of her younger brother Paul — the only other member of the extended family to have cystic fibrosis — in February 2015, came as a huge blow to Meleady.

Paul died of heart failure. He had a condition which was unrelated to cystic fibrosis but which, because he had complications related to his cystic fibrosis, could not be treated.

“We were very close, because we both had the condition and we understood how each other felt .”

Her own condition is progressing from moderate to severe.

Although people born in the 1980s are now expected to live into their 30s and early 40s, the average age of death from cystic fibrosis in this country is 27. However, Meleady avoids focusing on the negative. Instead, she spends several hours a day exercising and practising an array of techniques to help her control her symptoms and maintain a positive attitude.

“I practise mindfulness and do meditation and tai chi and I focus on living in the moment.

“You cannot look too far into the future — I deal with the road blocks that come up. Cystic fibrosis has taught me to appreciate a lot,” she explains.

Her devoted husband and a hugely supportive family networks are among the many blessings in her life she says — as is her adored golden retriever Rupert gets her out and about: “He has given me a reason to get up in the mornings.

“The walking has increased my fitness a lot,”says Meleady, who regularly does brisk 10km hikes, often around the Phoenix Park.

Exercise “keeps my lungs clear and keeps me fit,” she says. “I set up a tai chi group locally and I try to do tai chi most days which is very good for strengthening the body and is also a form of meditations.”

She takes a cocktail of medicines — antibiotics as well as medication for digestion, bones, stomach and bowel.

Her big priority now is seeing HSE approval for Orkambi: “I’ve been really anxious for Orkambi to come out. Down the road, I’d love to start a family but with my health the way it is, it’s too risky,” says Meleady, who is on average hospitalised up to three times a year and regularly attends outpatient clinics for a variety of health problems associated with her condition.

However, inadequate staffing and resources means hospitals cannot always cope with the needs of cystic cibrosis patients, says Philip Watt, head of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.

Ongoing staffing problems can mean delays in admitting patients, he says, while the shortage of dedicated isolation rooms for CF patients is another worry.

“In some cases there can be delays in getting treatment because of staffing shortages or lack of rooms,” he reports, adding that sometimes patients have to stay at home instead of going into hospital, while the lack of specialised staff, such as specialised nurses or psychologists, is another issue.

Orkambi, he says, has been shown to reduce hospitalisation amongst patients by about 50%.

“We probably will know in the next eight weeks — around end of May, the HSE will decide whether they will pay for the drug,” he observes.

Until then Meleady must wait and hope: “This drug could change my life — I’d have more energy, less chest infections, and maybe I would be able to work, see my friends and think about starting a family.”

In the meantime, she continues to count her blessings and fundraise for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.

A dedicated musician, she and some friends released a single on behalf of the group some years ago, raising €6,000 for CFI.

Last Halloween, Meleady and her family raised more than €4,000 for the association in memory of Paul.

“I have a lot of good in my life,” she says.

What is cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder which affects the glands, damaging many organs including the lungs, pancreas, digestive tract and reproductive system, impacting breathing, digestion and reproduction.

It causes thick sticky mucus to be produced, blocking the bronchial tubes and preventing the body’s natural enzymes from digesting food. n Cystic Fibrosis National Awareness Week takes place from April 11 to 17. On 65 Roses Day is supported by RTÉ’s Keelin Shanley and Bryan Dobson. It takes place on April 15. Volunteers will sell purple roses to raise €65,000 for services for people with cystic fibrosis. People are also undertaking a range of fun 65-themed challenges as part of the fundraising appeal.

Is Ireland eating itself to death?

Ireland has been caught in a perfect storm of poor diet and sedentary lifestyle… and it threatens to turn us into the fattest country in Europe. Are we eating ourselves to death?


Schooled in fitness left picture: First year students at O’Fiaich College Dundalk taking part in their PE programme.

To doctors like Donal O’Shea, it is the race we don’t want to win. The latest figures from medical journal The Lancet show that Irish males are on course to become the fattest men in Europe within the next decade.

The report finds that Irish women are also breaking the scales as they head towards the top of the heavyweight table.

Already, one in four Irish children is classified as “overweight or obese”.

Another report this week showed that the number of young people taking part in any sport at all in a six-month period has dropped to 68%.

So, how did we find ourselves in this position?

“Back in the 1950s, we were the leanest people in Europe. If anything, at that time were too thin,” says Dr O’Shea, Director of the Weight Management Clinic at Dublin’s St Columcille’s Hospital.

Since the 1970s, we have had a transformation in our lifestyles, and are now facing a potentially life-threatening battle of the bulge.

Despite no end of advice, nannyish healthy-eating tips from nutrition watchdogs, food pyramids, countless reports from health quangos and TV shows like Operation Transformation, we seem to be losing the war on weight.

According to the Lancet report, by 2025, 38% of men and 37% of women in Ireland will be obese. And six out of 10 adults are already classified as overweight.

“Just giving advice does not seem to have worked. The average Irish adult is one or two stone heavier than they were 30 years ago,” Dr O’Shea tells Review.

While this trend is common across the world, it is not universal. Women in Singapore, Japan, Belgium, France and Switzerland have hardly increased their body mass index over the past 40 years.

A coincidence of two changes in our lifestyle helped to bring about the great expansion in the national girth.

“We changed to a diet that was high in fat, high in salt and high in sugar, and the number of fast food outlets grew,” says Dr O’Shea. “At the very same time, physical activity started decreasing. These two factors – changing diet and growing inactivity – came together in a rush, and obesity took off and it keeps going up.”

Our grandparents may have had a lower life expectancy, but their unprocessed diet of meat, potatoes and veg – the ‘holy trinity’ – had health benefits.

“There is a lot to be said for your traditional dinner,” says Janis Morrissey, dietitian at the Irish Heart Foundation. “Jobs in our grandparents’ time were also more manual, and that made a lot of difference.”

Some of the causes of our great expansion may be obvious. The popularity of television, the growth in the number of cars, and the decline of manual labour in favour of office jobs, all mean that less physical activity is required to get by.

In 1981, half of all children in Ireland walked to school. Now, that figure is 25pc.

In other countries, the acknowledgement that we lead more sedentary lifestyles is accompanied by more organised physical activities, particularly for young people. Streets are designed to encourage us to walk or cycle.

“Children should be getting one hour of physical activity a day in school. At second-level, students are supposed to have two hours of PE in Irish schools in a week, but many don’t have any at all,” says Elaine Mullan, lecturer in health-related social sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology.

Many secondary schools have no gym and no playing pitches and some of the changes to our lifestyle have happened without us even noticing.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Morrissey says portion sizes for some foods have grown spectacularly. A survey by Safefood Ireland has shown that the average jam doughnut is three times bigger than the equivalent in the late 1990s. The same goes for croissants and fruit scones. The average muffin and Danish pastry is four times bigger. Did we even notice?

Small and almost imperceptible changes to our lifestyle make a difference to our level of physical activity, and these all add up.

When driving, we used to have to roll the window down manually – now we just press a button. To change channels we had to walk to the TV set and possibly argue over who would do it; and 40 years ago dishes were more commonly washed and dried by hand, requiring a greater expenditure of energy.

The digital age has only added to this surge of inactivity?

Office workers send emails to colleagues who are only a few feet away or down the corridor instead of walking over to them, while kids are more likely to play games on computers than out on the street.

Amid growing safety fears, particularly about traffic, children are given less freedom to roam, and may even be barred from running in school playgrounds. A recent report on obesity by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland advised that schools should allow “running and free play” in school playgrounds and recreation areas.

Unlike other physical conditions, obesity tends to be regarded as a moral failing, and there is an attitude that it comes about as a result of some sort of gluttony and sloth. But is the preaching tone of so much of the health advice given out counter-productive?

According to Francis Finucane, consultant endocrinologist at Galway University Hospital, making the obese feel ashamed is the wrong approach.

“Rather than seeing it as a moral flaw, we should see it as a complex disorder. The reason there are variations in who is fat and who is thin is largely down to genetics.

“Behaviour to do with physical activity and diet are to some extent beyond our control.”

Dr Finucane believes that we can tackle the obesity epidemic by making changes to our environment and introducing taxes on fast food and sugar-sweetened drinks.

As a significant first step in the war on obesity, a tax on sweet fizzy drinks is now looking more likely after a number of parties included it in their election manifestos.

Some 15pc of people consume sweet fizzy drinks every day, but consumption rates are much higher in the 15-24 age bracket. Some 29pc of young men drink these high-sugar drinks daily.

When you look at the sugar content of some of these drinks, it is not hard to see why doctors are concerned. A typical small bottle of cola, for example, contains the equivalent of 12.5 teaspoons of sugar – and a 500ml energy drink can contain up to 21.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Advocates of such taxes believe that the example of the plastic-bag levy show how this type of measure can affect behaviour.

The Irish Heart Foundation commissioned research from an economist, and found a 20% sugar tax would reduce consumption by 18%, and would yield about €44.5m in revenue.

Waterford IT lecturer Mullan believes we need to change our transport policies to compensate for our sedentary lifestyles by encouraging more cycling and walking to schools and workplaces. Realistically, it may be impossible to drag school parents or workers out of their cars if they live far away, but measures can be taken to alleviate this.

“We can’t expect everybody to walk or cycle all the way to school or work. But it’s normal in other countries to have large park-and-ride facilities where there is room for bike storage,” says Mullan.

At lunchtime in urban Ireland, it is common to see children in school uniforms queuing for fast food at nearby outlets, but there are now signs of a strong backlash.

In Greystones, Co Wicklow, parents mounted an effective campaign to create a “no fry zone” as they tried to stop a McDonald’s opening near three schools. Although planning authorities approved the plans for the fast-food restaurant, the opening was stopped when the owner of the property, Lidl, decided it would use the site for other purposes. One of the local residents behind the campaign in Greystones, Philip Moyles, says: “We have been encouraging people to make submissions to Wicklow County Council’s development plan to ensure that no fast-food restaurants can open within 400 metres of schools. There have been over 210 submissions from the public.

“One of the reasons for the campaign is to minimise the exposure of children to obesity, because this can carry into adulthood.”

We may wring our hands at the preponderance of fast food and unhealthy processed products, but studies have found that the ingredients for a healthy diet can be much more expensive. The foods that make us obese, such as processed fatty meats, are often cheaper, according to Mullan.

It is no surprise, therefore, that social background is an important factor in obesity, particularly in childhood. Children growing up in low-income homes are twice as likely to become obese than those in better-off families, a Safefood study has found.

Unless urgent action is taken to prevent obesity, it may soon become normal, just as it is in the US.

“Our perception of normal body weight is determined by the people around us,” says Mullan.

“If people around us are getting larger and larger, then our concept of what is normal changes – and we are more likely to be obese ourselves.

Smart umbrella now tells you when it’s going to rain

If you can afford Oombrella, it’ll be the fanciest parasol you own.


Everything is connected these days, so why not an umbrella? Oombrella is an upscale parasol that alerts you if it’s going to rain before you head outside and reminds you not to leave it behind. That’s a neat idea, but is it worth a $75 (€64) bet on Kickstarter? Clement Guillot (above), the Paris-based entrepreneur behind it certainly thinks so, and was recently at theHacking Hôtel de Ville event in Paris to find more backers. I was able to check out the device and found it to be a charming use of connected tech, though the price may dissuade many folks.

Oombrella tries hard to be worth it. It has Kevlar ribs to maximize wind resistance, and the “shiny” style canopy is a head-turner. It even has a camera screw on top to double as a GoPro selfie/boom pole. However, similar weather-resistant dumb umbrellas can be had for under $30. So most of what you’re paying for is the “capsule” tucked inside Oombrella’s handle, which can be bought separately for €29. It’s a mini weather station with temperature, pressure, humidity and light sensors on board. Those communicate with a smartphone app via Bluetooth LE to perform a variety of functions.

The company behind Oombrella already has a weather platform calledWezzoo with some 200,000 users. The app uses that system to give you a 15 minute warning when it’s about to rain so you can grab it before heading out. Another feature is “forget me not,” which helps ensure you don’t lose Oombrella by notifying you when you stray too far away from it.

As with other connected devices, there are tracking and social functions. You can see the stats of your last rainy trip, including where you went, how much you used it and what the weather was like. You can also spot other Oombrella users in the area using the social functions. A nice touch is a handle light that blinks when you get a call or message, in case you can’t hear your phone during a torrential downpour. If you let it, Oombrella can also “collect data and share it with the community to make hyperlocal weather data more accurate,” according to Wezzoo.

The idea of a stout umbrella that reminds you to bring it when it’s raining and helps makes sure you don’t leave it behind it is nice use of connected tech. However, the price may be a touch high for many folks. While Oombrella has sold out at the €59 ($67) early-bird pricing on Kickstarter, the €64 ($73) and up offerings are still available. The campaign is €10,000 short of its €59,000 goal, but if you’re a weather nerd or want a high-end umbrella that doubles as unique connected device, there’s a week left to grab one.

World Bank plan to tackle the changing climate


When the rains came to Senegal’s capital and largest city, Dakar, in 2009, the people in Cite de Soleil were up to their chests in water. Even today you can still see the water marks on the walls. People who live there today still talk of the stench, the diarrhea, and the chest ailments suffered by the children.

Travel along the coast and the impact of increased erosion on tourism spots is all too evident. Go inland and you see people having to cope with significant droughts and shorter growing seasons. It’s all too evident that people, particularly poor people, are already suffering the effects of weather-induced stresses.

And looking forward, the climate models suggest that this will only get worse with more extreme rainfall likely in Dakar, stronger coastal erosion, reduced fishing opportunities, and more extreme drought conditions inland.

Senegal is trying to tackle these issues, often with the help of the World Bank. One project is putting in place infrastructure to help manage the floods. It seems to be paying off. People say that when the rains came in 2014, the water washed away quickly. They were able to return to their neighbour-hoods and reinvest in housing. An agricultural project is helping people use new varieties of seeds with a shorter growing season.

These examples illustrate the importance for people and countries for more action to help them adapt to a changing climate. And it’s experiences like these that influenced the thinking behind the World Bank Group’s new Climate Action Plan, with its emphasis on rebalancing our work, with a greater focus on the need to build up the resilience of people and countries to adapt to a changing climate.

At its heart, it’s an action plan that’s intended to help the 140 developing countries who work with the World Bank Group deliver on their ambitious promises in the historic Paris agreement reached last December on climate change. As part of the Paris process, countries committed to implement their national plans, known as NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions – to put help curb global warming.

Soon leaders will gather in New York to formally sign the agreement. The agreement’s main aim is to keep the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To reach those goals, we know we must bend the curve of emissions. That’s why in our action plan, we’ve laid out a target to help developing countries add 30 gigawatts of renewable energy over the next five years- enough to power 150 million homes – to the developing world’s energy capacity.

And it’s why we’re aiming to invest US$1 billion to promote energy efficiency and resilient building in cities responsible for two-thirds of the world’s energy consumption. We will also work with over 30 cities to come up with lower carbon city plans to help deal with the influx of people to urban areas.

We all know that such changes will require massive amounts of private sector investment. That’s why we’re aiming to mobilize $25 billion more in commercial financing for clean energy over the next five years. It’s also why IFC, our private sector arm plans to increase its climate financing by 50 percent to $3.5 billion per year by 2020 and why it plans to increase its mobilization of private finance to $13 billion a year by 2020. And it’s why too, we’ll continue to help countries to axe damaging fossil fuel subsidies and put a meaningful price on carbon pollution, which has the potential to redirect trillions of dollars of investment into a cleaner greener future.

But between now and when the Paris agreement comes into force in 2020, it will be vital to do more – as the experiences of Senegal illustrate – to help developing countries adapt to the changing climatic conditions impacting so many people.

We know if we don’t act, climate change threatens to drive 100 million more people into poverty in the next 15 years. We have to boost people’s resilience so they can cope with the changing climate. And with natural disasters on the rise, we have recognised the need to do more.

We’re working for universal access to early warning systems. So by 2020, the goal is to provide 100 million more people in 15 developing countries access to early warning systems. We’re also expanding sovereign risk disaster financing and aim to provide 50 million more people with social protection to better to cope when disaster strikes.

We’ll be developing tools to help cities become more resilient, piloting a new approach in 15 cities by 2020 integrating a number of elements such as infrastructure development and investment, land use planning, and disaster risk management. And we’ve set a target to quadruple funding over five years to make transport systems more resilient to climate change.

But as we all know, and our plan recognizes, we can’t overlook one of the most basics of human needs – food. With a changing climate, we need climate smart agricultural systems. We’ll be developing investment plans for at least 40 countries by 2020. We’ll be working to boost high efficiency and low energy use irrigation schemes to help farmers grow crops and also help spur greater use of hybrid crops that can withstand different climate patterns in the future. We will also work to restore degraded lands, to protect communities in at-risk deltas and coastal zones, and support investments in forests in ways that both provide livelihoods to poor people and protect valuable carbon sinks.

Climate-smart land use can not only put more money in the pockets of farmers, but can also increase food production. More than one billion people on the planet are now undernourished, and the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food by 2050, in tougher climatic conditions. So our ability to feed the world’s future population depends on us all becoming climate smart.

To get the kinds of impact we all aspire to, will need action at scale. So as well as our own increased climate financing, we will work to help governments not only translate their own ambitious national plans into reality but also build climate resilience into their overall policy-making, planning and budgeting systems. And we will be collaborating even more with other partners to increase our impact.

It’s a tough and ambitious agenda, but we know that without such action now, we will not be able to deliver on our ambition to eliminate extreme poverty and increased shared prosperity. We owe it to the children in Senegal and elsewhere around the world.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 4th April 2016

Shane Ross says ‘we won’t negotiate with Fine Gael’ under the threat of another election’


Shane Ross (left) of the Independent Alliance.

Shane Ross said the Independent Alliance would not negotiate with Fine Gael “under threat” of another General Election.

The Dublin Rathdown TD criticised Health Minister Leo Varadkar after he posted a picture of his Election posters and wrote they were “ready to be deployed” again on Twitter.

Mr Ross said his group of Independents “would certainly not take that threat” of a second vote “seriously” ahead of talks with Fine Gael.

“We’re not going to negotiate under threat. We’re not going to take that sort of nonsense from Varadkar or anybody else…that there’s a General Election threatened to us, he said.

“We won’t regard that as something we’ll respond to positively. We’re certainly not going to take that threat seriously.”

Mr Ross denied that it was “inevitable” there would be another election as TDs prepare to vote for a Taoiseach again on Wednesday, when a clear result is not expected.

He and other Independent TDs said they shared the public’s frustration as government-forming negotiations continue more than a month after polling day.

“You’d need the patience of Saint Job to put up with what’s going on (with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail) and their refusal to meet until next Wednesday,” he added.

Waterford TD John Halligan said the Independent Alliance would not shy away from another General Election this year if it came about.

“We’re not afraid of another election,” he said.

“The people have already spoken. It is unfair to go back to the people and say, ‘we don’t like how you voted’ but if we have to face the electorate, we’re prepared to face them.”

Euro zone unemployment rate at lowest level since 2011

Jobless rate in 19-nation euro zone fell to 10.3% in February, new figures show


The unemployment rate in the 19 countries that use the euro inched down to 10.3% in February in another token of the currency union’s modest recovery.

The rate fell from 10.4 per cent in January, the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat said Monday. January’s figure was revised up from 10.3%.

The job numbers underlined that Europe’s recovery remains only moderate. The number of jobless people fell by only 39,000 in February, compared to a drop of 118,000 in January. Still, there are 1.3 million fewer people without work compared to the same month a year earlier, and the jobless rate is the lowest since August 2011.

“Fewer Eurozone jobless, together with deflation-negligible inflation, should be supportive to consumer spending,” wrote Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Economics, in an emailed note. “Consumer spending will likely be key if Eurozone growth can regain momentum over the coming months after stuttering recently.”

Archer said he expected the jobless rate to dip under 10% later this year.

Germany had the lowest jobless rate at 4.3% thanks to a strong domestic economy and its traditional export strength in machines and auto.

But the rate remains painfully high in Spain at 20.4% and Greece at 24.0%.

The European Central Bank last month increased its stimulus measures to boost the recovery and raise weak inflation. Those steps include pumping newly printed money into the banking system through bond purchases in an attempt to expand credit to companies.

Irish income tax and VAT fall below target for March 2016

Exchequer figures show health overspending last month but corporate tax payments push overall returns ahead of target


Income tax and VAT collections dropped below target in March but another surge in corporate tax payments helped bring the overall monthly return ahead of target. New figures also point to health overspending in March.

Exchequer data for March presents a mixed picture, as the overall tax return in the first three months of the year was ahead of target and ahead of the return in the same period in 2015.

Tax collection reached €11.14 billion to End-March. “This represents a year-on-year increase of €667 million (6.4%) and is €119 million (1.1%) above profile,” said the Department of Finance.

“However, allowing for €108 million of tax receipts delayed until April 1st due to a payment related timing issue, tax revenue is up €775 million (7.4%) year-on-year and €227million (2.1%) above profile.”

As talks continue on the formation of the next government, however, the data shows income tax collections were 12% behind target in March and that VAT collections were 4% behind target.

Income tax receipts, including the universal social charge, reached €1.22 billion in March, €165 million less than the €1.38 billion forecast by the department. The return in March was €136 million or 10.1% less than the same month in 2015.

Income tax receipts reached €4.36 billion in the first three months of the year, up €114 million or 2.7% on a year-on-year basis. This was €153 million or 3.4% below target, which the department attributed to “an underperformance across a range of income tax components.”

VAT returns in March came in at €1.49 billion, €62 million or 4% behind target. In the first three months the total VAT return was €3.89 billion, €193 million or 4.7% below target.

“When consideration is made for[circa] €75 million of VAT receipts delayed from March into early April, receipts for the month are actually up €13 million or 0.8 per cent against target,” the department said.

“Looking at the cumulative performance, VAT receipts are actually up €173 million year-on-year, an increase of 4.5% but down €118 million or 2.9% against profile. This is in line with the positive data from February with retail sales up year-on-year, both in volume and value terms.”

In the terms of the overall return for the first three months, the income tax and VAT underperformance was masked a sharp rise in corporate tax receipts and a big rise in excise duties.

The figures show the State collected €407 million in corporate tax in March, €304 million or 296% more than forecast for the month. Corporate tax payments in the first three months were €654 million, €305 million or 87% ahead of target.

The surge represents a continuation of trends seen in 2015 when corporate tax returns came in well ahead of target.

Excise duties in March reached €575 million, €117 million ahead of target for the months. Collections in for the first three months reached €1.52 billion, €114 million or 8.1% ahead of target.

The Exchequer deficit at the end of March was €1.17 billion, compared to a €197 million surplus in the same period in 2015.

The dis-improvement in the Exchequer balance was “primarily due” to the base effect of the transfer last year of €1.63 billion from the National Pension Reserve Fund to the Exchequer.

“Excluding the impact of this significant one-off transaction, there was an underlying year-on-year improvement in Q1 2016 of €267 million driven by increased tax revenue,” the department said.

Total net voted expenditure reached €10.18 billion, €15 million or 0.2% below profile and €71 million lower on a year-on-year basis.

Net voted current expenditure at €9.73 million to End-March was “marginally above” profile by €11 million. “The largest overspend of €38 million was recorded in the Department of Health, up 1.1% on profile.”

Nearly half (42%) of Irish workers inactive during the day

Number of people exercising the recommended amount in decline, new research shows


Just over a quarter (26%) of Ireland’s workforce exercise at the recommended level of over 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week, according to new research.

42% of Irish workers have said they are either “totally” or “extremely” inactive during their working day.

Fewer people are exercising at the recommended weekly levels than they were 15 months ago, according to new research from the Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF).

Just over a quarter (26%) of Ireland’s workforce exercise at the recommended level of over 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week, the research found.

The survey was conducted online by Behaviour & Attitudes on a nationally representative sample of 18-65 year olds employed in the Republic.

The fieldwork was carried out from 25th January to 2nd February 2016 and a total of 996 employees participated in the survey.

The research was commissioned to mark Ireland’s second National Workplace Wellbeing Day on Friday, 8th April.

Hundreds of organisations across the public and private sector are expected to participate in the campaign which aims to improve employee health by promoting better nutrition and exercise in the workplace.

As part of this year’s activities, employers are also being encouraged to arrange a “Lunchtime Mile” – a one-mile cycle, jog, run, or walk for employees in the vicinity of their workplace.

Dr Muireann Cullen of the Nutrition & Health Foundation said: “A healthier workforce is in everyone’s interest. Four out of five employees believe there is a positive link between their health and wellbeing and their company’s productivity.

“Seven in ten (69 per cent) also say they are more likely to stay longer with employers who show an interest in their health and wellbeing.”

Ireland’s public health nurses under severe strain,

INMO issues call for commission to investigate role of nurses in primary care system


Four out of five nurses reported not having the time to update case notes.

The community and public health nursing system is under severe strain due to rising demand and falling staff numbers, a new report says.

Over half the nurses surveyed for the report said patients had missed out on care over the preceding week because of pressures on staff.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which commissioned the report, has called for the establishment of a commission to investigate the sector. It says the group should report back within a year on the role nurses should play in the primary care system and on the resourcing of their work.

The report found the main area of “missed care” was in health promotion, particularly in relation to older people and the management of chronic diseases. Nurses tended to prioritise clinical work such as injections or dressings or legislative obligations such as child protection at the expense of health promotion and disease prevention.

The care of older people on the risk register was identified as a particular challenge, with 70% of nurses saying they had been unable to address this work in the preceding week.

Disadvantaged groups such as asylum seekers, the homeless, migrants and Missed care

Travellers were most likely to miss out on care from a community nurse, the study by UCD’s school of nursing found.

Four out of five nurses reported not having the time to update case notes. And a lack of administrative support and inadequate staffing levels were identified as having a significant impact on the problem of missed care.

Co-author Dr Amanda Phelan said that while the population had increased and eligibility for public health nursing services was expanding with the rising allocation of medical cards, staff levels were falling. The INMO says there are 200 fewer community nurses compared to 2009.

“We’re going off a cliff,” said public health nurse Mary Leahy. “There has been a phenomenal loss of workforce, just as primary care is being sold as the panacea for everything in health.”

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said it was “no coincidence” that attendances to hospital emergency departments were up 9% this year, given the strain the community nursing sector was under.

One in six community nurses said they were dealing with a population of more than 10,000. The INMO says it was originally intended that each nurse would serve a population of just 2,500.

NUIG begins research on black widow spider venom to treat cancer?


The false black widow spider known as the Steatoda nobilis.

NUI Galway is at the forefront of research into the venom from false black widow spiders which may have anti-cancer properties.

An NUI Galway scientist has begun the research on venom variations from the false black widow spider and its therapeutic potential for anti-cancer properties.

This is the first time the research is being carried out at NUI Galway.

The venom will be tested on different lines of human cancerous cells. This is the first time that an Irish bug is being investigated for its potent bio-activity and the first time that venom from this particular spider is being investigated.

Dr Michel Dugon, an Irish Research Council Fellow in Botany and an Adjunct Lecturer in Zoology at the School of Natural Sciences in NUI Galway, is carrying out the research on the rapid evolution of spider venom and its potential therapeutic applications.

Mr Dugon will use the venom from a local invasive spider, the false black widow, known as the Steatoda nobilis, which arrived in Ireland in 1997 and is well known in the British Isles as ‘the most venomous spider in the UK’. There is evidence of people having fairly serious effects from the bite of this spider, which result in symptoms similar to a wasp or bee sting, but until now the venom has never been studied.

In his research Dr Dugon is using the false black widow spider as a model to determine: if there is some truth regarding the potency of their venom; if the venom is in fact different between populations, which would explain why this spider has such a bad reputation in Ireland and the UK but not in its native range in Madeira and the Canary Islands; and if the venom has potential anticancer properties.

Commenting on the new study, Dr Michel Dugon said: “These toxins, once rearranged, can become powerful tools for the treatment of diseases. It is already asserted that each species of spider possesses its own cocktail of toxins, giving unique properties to its venom. Worldwide, this represents at least 40,000 toxic blends that might hold treatments for diseases crippling millions of people.”

Scientists have now figured out how to program living cells


Imagine a future where you can be injected with bacteria carrying designer DNA that releases cancer-fighting drugs when it finds a tumor in your body.

A team of biological engineers at MIT have taken a big step toward this future with the development of a new programming language that allows for the quick design of complex functions for DNA sequences that can be put into living cells.

These functions can include detecting or responding to specific issues, like a high temperature or a tumor.

Christopher Voigt, a biological engineering professor at MIT, explained how it works.

“You use a text-based language, just like you’re programming a computer,” said Voigt. “Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell.”

Until now, building a biological circuit could take as long as a year, however the new program means “you just hit the button and immediately get a DNA sequence to test,” said Voigt.

Computers to cells

The language is based on the hardware description language Verilog, which has been more commonly used to design digital circuits.

To make it work for living cells, the researchers designed computing elements, such as sensors, that can be encoded into a DNA sequence.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 2nd April 2016

Fianna Fáil now caught between a rock and a very hard place

The party must support a Fine Gael-led government or trigger an election


If there is one thing that stirs the political loins of the ordinary Fianna Fáiler, it is the thought of Fine Gael “arrogance”.

Into that always open marketplace walked Richard Bruton this week, when he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland there was no way Fine Gael would contemplate supporting a Fianna Fáil-led minority government.

“The arrogance,” sniffed one Fianna Fáil figure, summing up the mood that Bruton’s statement had pushed some sort of governmental arrangement with Fine Gael back a few more weeks. “It certainly didn’t soften anyone.”

Bruton was repeating what others including Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar had said before and what Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy defended and repeated later in the week, dangling the political red meat in front of Fianna Fáil noses.

“This thing of ‘any colour as long as it is blue’ is not acceptable’,” said one Fianna Fáil TD. “They need to respect us and respect our voters.”

The reality, however, is that Fianna Fáil sensitivity betrays the truth the party has effectively already come to accept: it will almost certainly have to support or facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority government.

The Dáil numbers are against Micheál Martin and for that reason, the hearts of some Independent TDs might tell them Fianna Fáil – though their heads say Fine Gael.

Fianna Fáil outrage over statements from the mild-mannered Bruton may just be a tactic to delay the inevitable, but there is a genuine feeling that Fine Gael must soften its tone if the two parties are to work together.

Media battle

Martin and Kenny have committed to talking to each other once the Dáil vote on electing a taoiseach on Wednesday is out of the way.

In the likely event of the vast majority of Independents sitting on their hands, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will still continue to pursue a minority government while simultaneously talking to each other.

“Some Independents won’t declare at all, some will go to Fine Gael and we may get a very small few,” said a Fianna Fáil source, acknowledging the reality facing the party while predicting a government will not be formed for another three to four weeks.

Fianna Fáil TDs, however, do get a sense that Martin knows what he is doing and, bar some low-level grumbling about initially losing the media battle to Fine Gael, are happy with how the leadership is handling the post-election fallout.

A sizeable cohort of deputies have chosen to stay silent in case they say something that takes the party down a road Martin does not want to travel.

“A lot of us just don’t want to know,” said one. Another said: “There is absolute trust in Micheál.”

There are still some, notably Michael McGrath, the finance spokesman and head of the Fianna Fáil negotiating team, who are believed to be in favour of a full-blown coalition with Fine Gael. Dublin Bay South’s Jim O’Callaghan, who is also on the negotiating team, is another who has previously said he is open to coalition.

O’Callaghan is also understood to be the back channel through which Fine Gael made some sort of initial contact with Fianna Fáil, via a text message from Varadkar.

Party members are open to the idea of supporting a Fine Gael minority government, say TDs, but have not yet digested how it could work in practice.

Members of the parliamentary party admit they haven’t either.

“I don’t think a lot of them have thought it through, and we probably haven’t either,” said one deputy.

Martin this week told some TDs that their workloads will substantially increase in a Dáil with a strengthened committee system, news which will come as a shock to deputies who keenly tend the constituency.

Policy concessions

“I would describe things at the moment as trying to move to a European-style system of government without European-style politicians or voters,” said one party source.

The negotiations with Fine Gael could initially focus on how a minority government may actually work, which Fianna Fáil wants to be taken on a “budget-by-budget, issue-by-issue” basis. TDs believe such an arrangement could last two to three years.

It will also attempt to extract some policy concessions from Fine Gael, the most contentious of which will be on Irish Water.

Figures from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil concede the issue has taken on political importance out of all proportion to what it would cost to scrap the charges.

Fine Gael has held fast to its insistence that charging and a single national utility are fundamental issues.

Fianna Fáil maintains its position that water charges must be suspended for five years and Irish Water must be scrapped but party figures and TDs acknowledge that compromise is likely, although the feeling against water charges is stronger among some Dublin TDs.

Dublin Fingal’s Darragh O’Brien, however, said housing, homeless and families in mortgage distress were of paramount importance.

With Sinn Féin waiting to pounce, water will be one of the first issues settled between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

“It has to be or the Shinners will bring down the government within one month,” said a Fianna Fáil source.

Second election

There is one thing almost all TDs, within and without Fianna Fáil, agree on: another election must be avoided at all costs?

Carlow-Kilkenny’s Bobby Aylward recently conducted a survey among 500 Fianna Fáil members in his own constituency.

He asked who would favour a possible coalition with Fine Gael and who would favour a second election.

Of the 200 responses, 80 per cent were against coalition and almost 100 per cent were against another election.

“Only two people said to me: go to the country if you have to,” he said.

The gap between the two results of Aylward’s straw poll is the distance over which Martin must bring Fianna Fáil in the coming weeks.


Fine Gael holds very constructive talks with the Independents


Talks between Fine Gael and Independent TDs took place yesterday?

Talks between Fine Gael negotiators and Independent TDs on the formation of a new government have been described as “very constructive”.

The Taoiseach said he hopes to have a list of priorities with the Independents by Wednesday.

Enda Kenny said they are working on 15 policy documents. The parties involved discussed economic matters.

No costings were provided but one proposal included the continuation of the phasing out of the USC as part of a medium-term tax plan.

A draft economic paper presented by Fine Gael to Independents at the meeting stated the party will seek Oireachtas approval to continue to phase out the USC.

The document, seen by RTÉ, said a medium term income tax reform plan will be published for consultation with the finance committee by July and approved by the Oireachtas in October.

It will be paid through non-indexation of personal tax credits, removal of PAYE tax credits for high earners, higher excise duty on cigarettes, a new sugar tax and improved tax compliance.

The plan also supports an increase in the minimum wage to €10.50 per hour.

Overall the Taoiseach said he did not know when a deal could be done. But he hoped Fianna Fáil will be responsible when he goes to them. He also again ruled out supporting a minority Fianna Fáil government.

Fianna Fáil have said they want to hold their talks with the Independents and for Wednesday’s vote to take place before talks with Fine Gael start.

It is understood there was a discussion between the participants earlier about credit unions and post offices working together as competitors to the banks.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan told the meeting money will be tight next year but about €1bn will be available for taxation and spending.

He also referred to challenges such as public sector pay. He said that if all is going well after next year there will be a very strong outcome and more options.

Independents were briefed on a housing document and their feedback will be addressed in a final document.

There were requests to strengthen the role of credit unions in lending and to give NAMA a wider brief on social housing.

Some of the TDs also want the voluntary sector more involved in social housing and more accountability from county managers.

It also emerged this evening that the Independent Alliance will be holding its own talks with Fianna Fáil and not with the other Independents next week.

All 15 Independents have called on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to talk this weekend.

Michael Fitzmaurice said it was time for them to stop “pussyfooting”.

Independent Alliance TD Finian McGrath had said the door is “wide open” for a deal to be struck with Fine Gael – if guarantees on policy can be secured.

He described talks yesterday on housing and homelessness as “very constructive”.

Asked if he was confident a deal could be struck, Mr McGrath said he was confident because those sitting around the negotiating table were “serious” about the issues involved.

Asked when a deal could be agreed, he replied: “Monday or Tuesday.”

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he does not think a deal can be done by Monday or Tuesday but they have spend 50 hours talking to Fine Gael and will talk to Fianna Fáil next week.

Another Independent TD, Denis Naughten, said: “Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael need to talk over the weekend, while the talks are adjourned, because they need to work out in practical terms how a minority government is going to work, and how they are going to get a budget through”.

Michael Harty said it was critical that the two parties stop wasting time and start talking over the weekend.

Central Bank says mortgage lending rules are here to stay

Review of regulations will not lead to their abolition, says the chief economist.


The Central Bank chief economist Gabriel Fagan. 

The Central Bank has again robustly defended its restrictive mortgage lending rules, saying they are “permanent”.

At the presentation on Friday of the bank’s quarterly accounts, chief economist Gabriel Fagan said the bank was working on a review of the rules, which will be published in November, but said this review would not lead to their abolition.

Mr Fagan warned against people equating a review with a change in the rules.

“We shouldn’t think of a change taking place,” he said, adding that the rules may not be changed at all or may be tightened.

Introduced in February 2015, the rules limit the amount home buyers can borrow, typically to 3½ times their gross income up to a limit of 80 per cent of the purchase price of the property.

Last month, the Central Bank issued a robust defence of the home loan caps, saying commercial banks and mortgage brokers were unable on their own to uphold “prudent” credit standards.

However, the rules continue to come under increasing criticism.

Addressing the wider economic recovery, the Central Bank revised its growth forecast upwards for the Irish economy for 2016 and is now predicting growth of 5.1 per cent, up from 4.8 per cent previously, “on the back of exceptionally strong rates of growth in domestic demand”.

However, it warned that Ireland’s economic recovery was “not complete” as it forecast “marginally lower growth” for 2017.

Overall the outlook for the economy remained “broadly favourable”, it said.

It is forecasting gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5.1 per cent for 2016, up by 0.3 per cent from its previous forecast, and 4.2 per cent for 2017, down from 4.4 per cent previously, as it said domestic demand was now firmly the main driver of expansion.

While the economic outlook may be relatively favourable, the Central Bank also noted risks, including levels of public and private sector debt, which remain high.

As such, there is a “strong case for precautionary behaviour and prudence”, Mr Fagan said.

This would allow the next government to build up a buffer should adverse circumstances arise.

Wage growth prediction?

Wage growth was also cited by the Central Bank as a potential risk, as it warned that while there may be some recovery in wage growth, “it is important that that this process does not lead to overshooting”.

Political uncertainty at home may also be an issue.

Five weeks after the general election and with no sight of a new government, Mr Fagan said the uncertainty had so far not had a negative effect.

However, he warned that “protracted uncertainty could lead to an adverse impact”.

On the external front, the regulator said emerging market concerns as well as broader geopolitical factors were potential issues, as was the forthcoming Brexit referendum which “creates uncertainty and is a downside risk factor”.

Pointing to household debt figures, the Central Bank said gross new lending increased in 2015 with households drawing down €4.4 billion in new mortgage loans.

However, the figures also revealed that “a significant degree of deleveraging” was still under way in Irish households as they continued to reduce overall debt levels.

This ongoing decline might suggest that the economic recovery had, to date, been somewhat “creditless”, the Central Bank said.

Irish SMEs told to seek examinership to block vulture funds

Small firms advised to apply for court protection from owners of loans


Many funds that bought distressed Irish business, consumer and property loans from Irish-based banks are active in the courts system, filing summary judgment cases to make borrowers pay their debts.

Small businesses whose bank loans were bundled into portfolios and sold to “vulture” funds have been advised to consider going into examiner-ship to protect themselves should the funds call in their loans.

Hughes Blake accountants, which specialises in examinerships for small businesses, said seeking court protection from the funds could be a “valid tactical maneouvre”.

It said many of the funds behave differently from each other so businesses should familiarise themselves with the approach of the fund that bought their loan.

“[Some] are known for their aggressive and predatory style of doing business; others are more mindful of the social issues around their actions,” said Hughes Blake.

  • Tax seems to be optional for ‘vulture’ SPVs

SMEs should research the owner of their loan and plan ahead for when it moves against the business.

Hughes Blake expects to see several smaller businesses use examinership to escape the funds in “coming weeks and months”.

Meanwhile, many funds that bought distressed Irish business, consumer and property loans from Irish-based banks are active in the courts system, filing summary judgment cases to make borrowers pay their debts.

High Court cases

Ennis Property Finance, which is affiliated with Goldman Sachs, has filed several cases in the High Court in recent weeks, as has the US giant CarVal via its affiliates, Emberton Finance, Pentire Property Finance and Stapleford Finance.

Stapleford was very active in the courts in the run-up to Christmas, filing a number of cases against prominent Irish business people and professionals, including barristers and solicitors.

On the consumer side, Cabot Asset Purchases, which is owned by US distressed debt specialist Encore Capital, is prominent among High Court listings for debt cases.

Ulster Bank, meanwhile, is preparing to sell loans attached to a large number of small businesses and their owners, after passing a deadline of last Thursday for the borrowers to indicate if they were able to refinance or face having their loan bought by a fund.

One Munster legal practice said several of its clients were told that even their performing loans would be sold if they were unable to refinance their distressed loans.

The signs of obesity can be identified in early years of children,

Says a new report?


The pathway to obesity can be identified in babies as young as six months of age, scientists have shown.

Researchers used simple body mass index measurements to single out infants destined to struggle with weight in later life.

Study leader Allison Smego, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the US, said: “These children have a high lifetime risk for persistent obesity and metabolic disease and should be monitored closely at a very young age.”

Body mass index is a system of relating height and weight and expressed as kilograms per metres squared. In adults, a body mass index of 30kg/m2 or above is classified as obese.

Dr Smego’s team looked at several groups of lean and overweight children under the age of six. They included severely obese children referred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for specialised care.

The researchers compared 783 lean and 480 severely obese children, selected on the basis of their body mass index readings between the ages of two and six.

Growth and weight records showed the body mass index trajectories of children who were severely obese by the age of six began to differ from that of normal weight children at about four months of age.

“Body mass index at six, 12 or 18 months of age can accurately predict children at risk for early childhood obesity,” said Dr Smego, whose findings were presented at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston, US.

She added: “It’s not currently recommended to measure body mass index in children under the age of two, but we say it should be because we now know it predicts obesity risk later.

“Paediatricians can identify high-risk infants with body mass index above the 85th percentile (top 15%) and focus additional counselling and education regarding healthy lifestyles towards the families of these children.

“Our hope in using this tool is that we can prevent obesity in early childhood.”

A study published in The Lancet journal on Thursday predicted that if current trends continue more than a fifth of people in the world will be obese by 2025.

The research, led by a team from Imperial College London, showed that over a 40-year period between 1975 and 2014 the global number of obese individuals had soared from 105 million to 641 million.

With each passing decade, the average person had become 1.5kg heavier.

Dopey Dick the so called killer whale that swam into Derry in 1977

Is still alive and very well

Whale experts discover orca they know as Comet is same killer whale that swam into Northern Irish city nearly 40 years ago

Comet the killer whale (aka Dopey Dick)   Killer whale pictured in a previous year

Comet the killer whale (aka Dopey Dick) off the west coast of Scotland.

A killer whale that sparked widespread attention when it swam into a Northern Irish city almost 40 years ago is still alive and living off the west coast of Scotland, experts have found.

The whale was nicknamed Dopey Dick by locals after he made his way up the river Foyle into the heart of Derry in pursuit of salmon in 1977. He is now thought to be at least 58 and was identified when pictures of the Irish incident were compared with images taken of a pod of whales near the Isle of Skye in September 2014.

Known as Comet, the orca is part of the vulnerable west coast community whales – the UK’s only known resident population of killer whales – that are tracked by experts.

Andy Foote, a killer whale expert, said: “When I saw the photos on Facebook, I noticed that the white eye patch of Dopey Dick sloped backwards in a really distinctive fashion.

Ships’ noise is serious problem for killer whales and dolphins, the report finds

“This is a trait we see in all the west coast community whales, but it’s not that common in other killer whale populations. The photographs were all quite grainy, but it was still possible to see some of the distinctive features unique to Comet.

“I couldn’t believe it – he was already a full-grown male back in 1977, when I was just five years old.”

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has been documenting the west coast community’s behaviour since 1994.

The four males and four females are not known to interact with other orca populations in the north-east Atlantic and, since studies began, have never successfully reproduced.

In January this year, one of the females, named Lulu, died after being stranded near Tiree.

The trust said the discovery that Dopey Dick was in fact Comet is significant to understanding the age of the west coast group.

Padraig Whooley, sightings officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said: “This match places Comet very much at the upper limits of the typical life expectancy of male killer whales.

“Adult males generally live to around 30 years, but with an upper range of up to 50 to 60 years.

“So, clearly time is not only running out for this individual whale – it is equally running out for whale biologists, who may not have much time left to gather information on this unique local population of killer whales that have made the waters of the British Isles their home.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 25th March 2016

The words of 1916 Proclamation on which modern Ireland was built


One hundred years after the Easter Rising, specialist Thomas Venning examines a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic  and meets a descendent of one of its signatories.

On Easter Monday, 1916, Patrick Pearse stepped into the streets of Dublin to read from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and a document that sparked the six-day Easter Rising, effectively laying the foundations for modern Ireland.

Thought to have been composed by Pearse, with contributions from James Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh, the Proclamation outlined the shape of a new Republic. From the first line, Irish men and women were placed as equals, with ‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities’ guaranteed to all — the Rising placed within the context of Ireland’s 300-year struggle for independence.

Composed on Good Friday, the Proclamation was printed on Easter Sunday at Liberty Hall. The fighting that followed lasted for six days from Easter Monday, with Pearse — facing vastly superior numbers — issuing an order for surrender on Saturday 29 April.  In the subsequent weeks, 15 of the Rising’s leaders, including all seven of the signatories to the Proclamation, had been executed under martial law — James Connolly whilst tied to a chair, his ankle having been shattered by a bullet in the fighting.

‘What’s incredible here is that this text was written one day, printed the next, and put into action the day after that,’ says specialist Thomas Venning. ‘Then, within a few days, every signatory was executed’. The letters of the proclamation confirms the speed of events, improvised from type collected from foundries across the city, in the 24 hours that preceded printing.

Though approximately 1,000 copies of the Proclamation were originally printed, the majority were destroyed in the chaotic events of Easter Week — indeed, by 11 May, the Dublin Metropolitan police were struggling to find a single example. This is one of only 50 surviving copies — its crisp folds suggesting that it was folded immediately after printing.

For Joe MacDonagh, great-nephew of signatory Thomas MacDonagh, the significance of the document is ‘hard to put into words’. ‘This is something which will live on. It embodies something greater — a sense of aspiration that every country would want in its forebears. It’s something of which I’m very proud’.

Brexit the EU would hit Ireland almost as hard as the UK


ING has found that Britain leaving the EU could knock 1.1% points off the Irish GDP

An exit of Britain from the European Union would have almost as bad an economic impact on Ireland as it would on the UK, according to Dutch bank ING.

ING said Ireland would suffer an economic loss in the event of a Brexit, estimating that it could cost the economy an amount equal to knocking 1.1 percentage points off GDP growth before the end of 2017. It estimates that it could cost the UK economy 1.2 percentage points over the same period.

Economists at ING said Malta, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg would also experience a substantial hit if a Brexit happened, suffering GDP losses of between 0.7 and 1 percentage points. Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy, is forecast to experience a GDP loss of half a point.

“If the UK were to vote in favour of Brexit, further turmoil seems guaranteed with significant negative effects on the British economy … From our baseline forecast we estimate that the initial hit to euro zone GDP could by a cumulative 0.3 per cent by end-2017”, ING said.

Fianna Fáil

Sepatately, Fianna Fáil jobs and enterprise spokesperson Dara Calleary said on Friday that the possibility of a Brexit represents one of the biggest threats to Irish exports and SME jobs. He pointed out that Brexit could lead to a significant weakening of sterling against the euro.

“The euro’s recent rise of over 10 per cent against sterling is reflective of this uncertainty. This will damage the competitiveness of our exports to the UK and the relative attractiveness of our goods in markets in which we compete with UK firms.

“Irish exporters are heavily dependent on the UK market, with almost half of all Irish exports to the UK coming from indigenous Irish companies. A Brexit would present a direct threat to continued jobs in this vitally important sector,” he said.

“In a worst case scenario, a British exit from the EU could lead to the introduction of tariffs on trade activity with European states,” he added.


He said the possibility of new border controls between North and South raises an array of concerns as it would have implications for trade and tourism.

“The Irish Government must ensure that steps are taken to safeguard the integrity of the single market and maintain a strong trade link between Ireland and the UK”.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has estimated that bilateral trade flows between the UK and Ireland could fall by as much as 20 per cent in the event of Brexit.

The AIB and BoI have repaid 31% of bailout funds by end of 2015

Total value of Irish Strategic Investment Fund rose almost 11% over first year


AIB and Bank of Ireland had repaid 31% of the bailout funds that they received from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund by the end of last year, according to figures published yesterday.

Isif’s fourth quarter performance and portfolio update shows that the two banks had returned €6.4 billion in receipts to the State agency, by the end of last year, of the €20.7 billion they received between 2009 and 2011 from the former National Pensions Reserve Fund, which Isif has replaced.

Bank of Ireland had repaid €4.2 billion of the €4.7 billion it received while AIB had paid €2.2 billion out of €16 billion it was given. The funds from AIB were received last year and related to €1.9 billion for the conversion of some of the State’s preference shares and a dividend payment on those shares.

Isif said the State’s holding in AIB was worth €11.7 billion at the end of 2015. This was the same figure as the previous year but the mix was different.

Preference shares

The 2014 valuation included the value of the preference shares – breaking down as €7.2 billion for the ordinary stock and the balance in preference shares.

A reorganisation of AIB’s capital last year has altered that mix. In addition to receiving a cheque from AIB the State also received 155 billion ordinary shares as part payment for the conversion of the preference stock. This resulted in its holding in the bank increasing marginally to 99.9%.

AIB also consolidated the number of shares in issue, as a precursor to a potential flotation this year. Taking this consolidation into account, AIB’s shares were worth€3.43 each in 2014 with Isif valuing them at €4.33 at the end of last year, an increase of 26%.

The Isif figures estimate that, in total, the remaining stakes in AIB and Bank of Ireland are worth €13.5 billion. This compares with €15 billion in the previous year when the AIB preference shares were still in issue.

The payment from AIB for the preference shares was remitted to the exchequer under direction by the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and will be used to pay down the State’s national debt in due course.

The AIB holding is part of the €13.5 billion directed portfolio of investments made by Isif, which is under the direction of the minister and also includes public policy investments in Bank of Ireland (the State still owns close to 14% of its shares) and Strategic Banking Corporation, which has received €240 million.

The portfolio generated a 15.3% return on its investment over the year.

An discretionary portfolio?

The fund also includes a discretionary portfolio that comprises equity investments, government bonds and has €7.9 billion at its disposal.

That generated a 1.5% return since the fund’s investment on December 22nd 2014.

Overall, the value of the fund’s holdings rose almost 11% in its first year since taking over from the National Pensions Reserve Fund.

Isif is also developing a connectivity fund that will work to enhance physical and virtual connectivity both within and for the State, with €335 million at its disposal.

Isif was set up as a successor to the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2014, aimed at investing on a commercial basis to support economic activity and employment in the State. By December 2015, it had committed €2 billion to investments in Ireland, and was close to completing on six investments with a value of €200 million.

New study links caffeine consumption to increased risk of miscarriage


Women have an increased risk of miscarriage if they or their partner consume more than two caffeinated drinks a day in the weeks leading up to conception, a new US study found.

Women who drink more than two caffeinated beverages per day during the first seven weeks of pregnancy were also more likely to have a miscarriage, according to the study published online in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

But rates of miscarriage are reduced for women who take a daily multivitamin before and after conception.

The study, carried out by researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University, was based on data from the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study.

That study followed 501 couples in Michigan and Texas from 2005 to 2009, examining the relationship between fertility, lifestyle and exposure to chemicals in the environment.

The current study compared cigarette use, caffeinated beverage consumption and multivitamin use among 344 couples when the woman was carrying a single offspring. Of these pregnancies, 98 or 28% ended in a miscarriage.

The researchers’ conclusions were based on a statistical concept called hazard ratio, which estimates the chances of a particular outcome occurring during the study period.

A ratio greater than one indicates increased risk for miscarriage each day following conception, while a ratio less than one indicates reduced daily risk.

The risk of miscarriage was 1.74 when the woman consumed more than two caffeinated drinks a day, the study showed.

However, the risk was almost as high as 1.73 — if the male partner drank that much caffeine or more.

“Our findings also indicate that the male partner matters, too,” said lead author Germaine Buck Louis, director of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at the NIH.

“Male preconception consumption of caffeinated beverages was just as strongly associated with pregnancy loss as females’.” The study also found that taking a daily multivitamin significantly reduced chances of miscarriage.

Taking a vitamin in the weeks leading up to conception had a hazard ratio of 0.45, a 55% reduction in risk for pregnancy loss.

Women who continued to take multivitamins through the early stages of pregnancy had a hazard ratio of 0.21, a risk reduction of 79%.

Just one fruit juice can exceed a child’s daily sugar intake?

Just one juice or smoothie may exceed a child’s maximum daily sugar limit, with smoothies among the worst offenders, it has emerged.


Research published in the journal BMJ Open found more than 40% of the fruit juices, smoothies and fruit drinks assessed contained the entire daily maximum sugar intake of 19g or almost five teaspoons.

The study described the sugar content of the drinks as “unacceptably high” and said manufacturers must stop adding unnecessary sugars and calories to the products.

Increasing public awareness of the detrimental effect sugar-sweetened drinks have on children’s teeth and waistlines has prompted many parents to opt for seemingly healthier fruit juice and smoothie alternatives.

Among the 158 fruit juice drinks analysed, the average sugar content was 5.6g/100ml but rose to 10.7g/ 100ml among the 21 pure fruit juices tested and to 13g/100ml among the 24 smoothies assessed.

Some 78 products contained non-caloric sweeteners, such as aspartame. While safe, health experts believe the overall sweetness of products should be reduced so children get used to having less sugar in their diets.

Dietary guidelines recommend a serving of fruit juice, fruit drink or smoothie should be no more than 150ml, but only six of the products assessed matched this portion size. The labels on all of the products contained a reference intake that was in line with European law but applied to an average-sized adult woman.

This was wholly inappropriate for children, said the researchers. Experts from the University of Liverpool and Queen Mary University of London examined the sugar content of fruit juices, juice drinks and smoothies sold by seven major supermarkets in Britain, including Tesco and Marks & Spencer. Only products specifically marketed towards children were included. Cordials were excluded even though they are marketed towards children because they do not come in single-serve portions, the focus of the survey.

The researchers said that drinks with a high sugar content should not count as one of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and fruit should be consumed in its whole form, not as a juice.

“Parents should dilute fruit juice with water, opt for unsweetened juices and only give them during meals. Portions should be limited to 150ml a day,” said the researchers.

The researchers said manufacturers needed to stop adding unnecessary sugars and calories to the products now; otherwise, the sugar content would have to be regulated. A food scientist at the Gunter Kuhnle, said the drinks – fruit juices, fruit drinks and smoothies, were often seen as a healthy alternative and their sugar content was ignored.

A recent report by health watchdog, Safefood, found some brands of energy drinks contained more than 16 teaspoons of sugar.

Scientists discover 19 ancient retroviral DNA in human genome


Retroviral DNA that first invaded the humans hundreds of thousands of years ago still can be found in some of the genes today. Scientists have found 19 new pieces of DNA in about 50 of the 2,500 studied genomes. The newly discovered group of DNA contains an intact ancient virus.

A study, which led to the discovery, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study adds on to the already understanding of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). HERVs have contributed to more than 8% of the human genome. The ancient infectious virus got inserted into a DNA-based copy of their own RNA genetic material into the genomes of human ancestors.

The virus is similar to the virus that includes the modern human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. The virus passed from generation to generation and can still be found in our DNA. The new HERVs are part of the endogenous retrovirus family called HERV-K. The virus is named provirus Xq21, found on the X chromosome and second to be found intact hiding in human DNA.

“This is a thrilling discovery. It will open up many doors to research”, said study lead author Dr. Julia Wildschutte, from the University of Michigan Medical School. No one yet knows whether the virus replicate, or reproduce. However, other studies have found claimed that the virus can affect the humans who carry it.

Dr. Wildschutte and co-authors analyzed entire span of DNA from people from around the world, including the places from where ancestors of modern humans originated and later spread to other parts of the world. They used sophisticated techniques to compare key areas of each person’s genome to the “reference” human genome.

In a report published by the Pulse Headlines, “The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, add to what researchers already know about human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs). That’s the name for the ancient infectious viruses that inserted a DNA-based copy of their own RNA genetic material into the genomes of human ancestors.”

They’re part of the same type of virus that includes the modern human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

According to a report in ScienceAlert by BRENDAN COLE, “The virus’s genes then switch on once they’re in the new cell and turn it into a virus-making factory. These new viruses go on to shove their genes into other cells, and the process repeats.”

Eventually (hopefully), your body fights off the viruses that are floating around and infecting new cells, but it can’t get rid of the bits of virus that are already stuck in your DNA. So it does the next-best thing and switches those bits of DNA off.

“In the current era of microbiome research, we humans are already having to come to grips with the fact that `I’ is actually `we’. Instead of our bodies constituting a single life-form, we are each composed of complex and diverse ecosystems of microbes that have a profound influence on our existence. Our health and wellbeing are not just determined by what our own cells do, but what our trillions of invisible inhabitants do, too. And the genetic blueprints that govern our biology are partly carried in those microbial inhabitants, as well as in our own cells,” according to a news report published by ArsTechnica.

“This one looks like it is capable of making infectious virus, which would be very exciting if true, as it would allow us to study a viral epidemic that took place long ago,” senior author and virologist John Coffin, of the Tufts University School of Medicine, said in a press release.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 27th February 2016

Marc MacSharry tops poll & on course to win his father Ray’s old seat in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency


Early indications suggest Fianna Fáil senator Marc MacSharry is on course to win his father Ray’s old seat in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency and has topped the poll. Mr MacSharry was polling strongly in the early boxes opened from the Sligo town area.

John Perry’s director of elections has accused Fine Gael of conducting an arrogant campaign which did not resonate in rural Ireland. The former minister of State John Perry  just got 7% of first preferences – half of the vote he received in 2011

Mr Perry has been one of the biggest Fine Gael casualties to date. He took a successful High Court challenge to be included on the Fine Gael ticket, but has polled the worst of the three party candidates and has conceded that he will not be re-elected.

His vote in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency has been more than halved from his 2011 performance when he topped the poll.

Mr Perry was not present this afternoon at the count in the Clarion Hotel in Sligo.

Instead, director of elections Thomas Walsh said the defeated former small business minister was “bitterly disappointed” and neither he nor the rest of the party had forseen how bad things would be.

Mr Walsh maintained the “keep the recovery going” mantra did not transfer to rural Ireland.

Mr Perry has conceded his seat after polling very poorly in the Sligo Leitrim constituency.

Mr Perry, who fought a court battle to be included on the Fine Gael ticket, received just 7 per cent of the first preference votes. He is trailing in seventh place, according to the final tallies.

His first preference vote of 4,298 is less than half of the 8,663 votes he received when topping the poll in 2011.

He was well behind his constituency colleagues, Leitrim-based Gerry Reynolds (6,505) and the other outgoing Fine Gael TD Tony McLoughlin(6,083).

The big winner in the sprawling constituency is Fianna Fáil’s Senator Marc MacSharry who will top the poll with 8,763 votes, according to the tallies. He is certain of a seat.

Top candidates

The only other certainties are that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will get one seat each. The fourth seat will go to one of those parties. None of the Independents in this sprawling constituency have garnered enough votes to be in with a chance of election.

Leading candidates in order of first preferences are Marc MacSharry (8,763), Gerry Reynolds (6,505), Tony McLoughlin (6,083), Sinn Féin councillorsMartin Kenny (6,079) and Chris MacManus (4,721).

Former TD Declan Bree was the best of the Independents with 3,176 first preferences followed by Sligo Cllr Marie Casserley with 2,675 votes.

It was a disappointing election too for Labour’s Senator Susan O’Keeffe who polled just 1,803 votes. In 2011 she received 4,553 first preferences and came close to winning a seat.

Some 18 candidates stood in what is one of the biggest constituencies by geography in the country – comprising all of Sligo and Leitrim, but also including south Donegal and west Cavan.

Currency fears haunt Irish business


This is panning out to be a very tricky year for Irish exporters, as slowing international economic growth is being laced with extreme currency movements, led by the British pound falling under the pressure of an EU referendum now scheduled for June 23.

However, not all of the sterling fall can be loaded onto UK prime minister David Cameron’s commitment to an in-or-out referendum on the EU, or his failure to get Boris Johnson inside the tent.

The unexpected under-performance of the UK economy since the start of 2016 and the Bank of England’s delaying tactics on interest rate increases and lukewarm promises on more quantitative easing to support economic growth have also taken their toll.

Today, the sterling to euro exchange rate is down about 12% since November, which in many instances will have completely wiped out Irish exporters’ profit margins.

However, exporters may be faced with even more pain if initial sentiment supporting an exit grows.

Many international banking forecasts are indicating a further 10% to 20% slump in the value of sterling.

We will once again be looking at the spectre of trading ghosts of the years 2007 to 2009, when sterling fell by 30%, exporter sales to the UK slumped, and profitability and jobs were lost.

Of course, if over the next few months there is a clear shift in sentiment towards remaining within the EU, the situation is likely to change rapidly.

The consensus amongst foreign exchange currency dealers right now seems to indicate a return to euro to sterling rate of 70 pence, which was the average last year, if the UK commits to stay in the EU.

Exchange rate volatility will have numerous implications for Irish exporters, once the honeymoon period is over and debtor’s payments protected by forward currency contracts have been used up.

Of even greater concern to Irish exporters is if UK voters decided in June to exit the EU.

There are a number of scenarios independent think tanks, including the ESRI, have highlighted showing that Britain would struggle to maintain trade links with EU members and would give up 30% trade growth if it left the 28-nation bloc.

Some of the negative consequences are undoubtedly arising from the Scottish Nationalist Party’s declaration to push again for independence, in the event of the UK voting to exit the EU.

And there is the unique Irish prospect of the North outside the EU with the rest of the country within.

However, perhaps the biggest trading loses will come in the City of London, where the London financial services sector is by far the biggest centre for foreign exchange trading of the euro, a position it could not possible expect to retain if it was outside the EU.

This exit process is likely to take two years, which will stretch the trading skills of both Irish sellers and UK buyers, particularly if international forecasters’ expectations are right and sterling falls by a further 10% to 20% against the euro.

The UK is the single largest market for our rapidly growing services export sector, buying €23bn of computer software, financial services, insurance services, and accountancy and management consultancy services last year.

And, yes, there is also strong exposure for our agri-food and drink exporters, but it is the much smaller exposure of €4.1bn.

And of course there is exposure by the pharmaceutical exporters of €3.9bn and the computer and machinery exporters of €2.5bn as well as the many other small business exporters who export €3.2bn of their goods to the UK.

A UK outside the EU, a fragmented UK, and a much reduced economic UK will, without a doubt, be catastrophic for Ireland’s export industries.

However, it will still be an important market for Ireland, even if there is uncertainty in regulatory, currency and movement of goods and people.

For many companies both across the manufacturing sector and the various services industries in Ireland, the unsavoury option may be forced upon them to open UK offices and manufacturing facilities to retain market share, with the inevitable loss of jobs.

Carrots can help cut breast cancer risk by 60%

A new study has found that eating carrots regularly can slash your risk of developing breast cancer by 60%.


A new study has found that eating carrots regularly can slash your risk of developing breast cancer by 60%.

The research found women with high levels of vitamins called carotenes, which can also be found in vegetables like spinach and red peppers, in their blood faced a lower risk of developing certain types of breast cancer,

Richard Berks, senior research communications officer at Breast Cancer Now, said that people have long known that a healthy diet, carrots included, can help to lower your risk of breast cancer because it helps to maintain a healthy weight.

Berks noted that while it’s really important to eat vegetables as part of a balanced diet, there is unfortunately no such thing as a superfood when it comes to breast cancer risk.

He added “Everyone can reduce their risk of breast cancer and many other diseases through healthy lifestyle choices – such as maintaining a healthy weight, having a varied and balanced diet, being more active, and limiting your alcohol intake.”

Obesity is not good for memory

British Researchers Find


Excess bodyweight not only creates physical health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, but it increases the risk of psychological health problems, such as depression and anxiety, a new study has found.

Researchers in the United Kingdom have found a link between overweight and poorer memory. Overweight young adults may have poorer episodic memory, which can be defined as an ability to recall past events, according to the study conducted by the University of Cambridge.

The study, published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, tested 50 participants aged 18-35, with body mass indexes (BMIs) ranging from 18 through to 51.

Researchers found a link between high body mass index (BMI) and poorer performance on a test of episodic memory. The participants were given a memory test, where they were asked to hide items around complex scenes across two ‘days’. They were then asked to remember which items they had hidden, where they had hidden them, and when they were hidden.

Excess bodyweight may be associated with changes to the structure and function of the brain and its ability to perform certain cognitive tasks optimally.

“In particular, obesity has been linked with dysfunction of the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory and learning, and of the frontal lobe, the part of the brain involved in decision making, problem solving and emotions, suggesting that it might also affect memory; however, evidence for memory impairment in obesity is currently limited,” according to a statement by the University of Cambridge.

Obesity is a growing problem around the world. In UK, around 60% of adults are overweight or obese. This number is likely to grow to approximately 70% by 2034.

Researchers noted that further research is necessary to establish whether the results of this study can be generalized to overweight individuals in general, and to episodic memory in everyday life rather than in experimental conditions.

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and Girton College, University of Cambridge, and the James S McDonnell Foundation.

Nothing to fear except fear itself & there is also Wolves and Bears


By terrorizing island raccoons, scientists finally confirm that large predators can affect their prey through fear alone.

In the Gulf Islands, a short ferry ride south of Vancouver, there lives a population of distinctly un-raccoon-like raccoons. Their mainland cousins are nocturnal animals that stick to forested areas but these island residents are active throughout the day, wandering out in the tidal flats, far away from the nearest trees. And unlike normal raccoons, they forage intently, rarely raising their heads to search for danger. “If a predator came along, they’d be screwed,” says Liana Zanette from the University of Western Ontario. “They seem completely fearless.”

Their boldness is justified. Around a century ago, people wiped out all the large predators on the islands, including bears, pumas, and wolves. Their only remaining threat is the domestic dog. For Zanette, this utopia of fearless raccoons was the perfect setting for testing how fear shapes the natural world.

Predators kill, obviously. But even without baring a tooth or lifting a claw, they can affect their prey. Their very presence, manifesting through tracks, smells, growls and glimpses, produces a state of vigilance, apprehension, and stress. From their prey’s point of view, there will be safe areas where lines of sight are long, and danger zones where hiding places are more common and escape is trickier. The result is a landscape of fear a psychological topography that exists in the minds of prey, complete with mountains of danger and valleys of safety.

This concept came to attention in the 1990s, when gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after having been exterminated seven decades prior. Ecologists showed that the park’s elk would spend so much time watching out for the re-emergent wolves that they spent less time eating and sired fewer young. They died in numbers way beyond what the wolves were actually killing, and their losses rippled throughout Yellowstone. The trees they ate grew taller, providing more wood for beavers and nesting sites for songbirds. The entire park changed, and all thanks to fear of the big, bad wolf.

Arthur Middleton said, “This story—that wolves fixed a broken Yellowstone by killing and frightening elk—is one of ecology’s most famous … But there is a problem with the story: It’s not true.” Follow-up studies suggested that the elk aren’t as afraid of the wolves as previously thought, and that other factors could have led to the elk declines including humans and drought and bears, oh my. And this dispute has fueled a broader controversy about whether it was a good idea to reintroduce the wolves at all, and whether it’s worth “re-wilding” other areas with other large predators that once patrolled them.

Meanwhile, the landscape of fear concept has since moved beyond correlative observations of wolves and elk, and into the world of experiments. In 2011, Zanette showed that song sparrows in the Gulf Islands raise 40 percent fewer chicks if they hear the calls of hawks, owls, and other predators through speakers—even if their nests are surrounded by protective nets and fences. A year later, Dror Hawlena showed that spiders with glued mouthparts can still terrify grasshoppers enough to change their metabolic rates, the chemical composition of their bodies, and the amount of nutrients they return to the soil when they die.

These studies unambiguously showed fear could affect populations and landscapes, but spiders and hawks are a far cry from the wolves, lynx, and bears at the heart of re-wilding debates. Zanette wanted evidence that these large carnivores could trigger the same kinds of effects that she saw among her songbirds. Hence: the raccoons.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 17th & 18th October 2015

No sugar tax and not much provided for young people in 2016 budget


Ireland is ranked fifth highest among 27 EU countries in incidence of childhood obesity

The first ‘giveaway’ Budget since the economic crash has left first-time buyers, variable mortgage holders, savers and those campaigning for a sugar tax disappointed.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan is facing accusations that he overlooked young people.

President of the National Youth Council of Ireland Ian Power welcomed the 50c hike to the minimum wage as 39pc of those on this rate are under 30. But he said it was “extremely disappointing to see the lack of action regarding young jobseekers”.

“We were told that this Budget was about ‘all sharing in the recovery’, however for young jobseekers this is clearly not the case,” he added.

Some measures to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder had been anticipated, such as changes to the Deposit Interest Retention Tax (Dirt) but Mr Noonan shied away from this.

Neither was there any specific measures to tackle Ireland’s high variable mortgage interest rates. The Department of Finance also ruled out a new sugar tax, as proposed by Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Children’s Minister James Reilly.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that by failing to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, the Government is prioritising the wealth of multinational companies over the nation’s health and particularly the health of children.

“We know 60pc of the Irish public back the tax,” the Irish Heart Foundation head of advocacy, Chris Macey, said.’

Comedy Genius’ Brendan O’Carroll to receive IFTA Lifetime Achievement award


Comedian Brendan O’Carroll to be honoured with Lifetime Achievement award at this year’s IFTA awards ceremony.

The 60-year-old star, best known for his portrayal of Mrs Brown in Mrs Brown’s Boys, is being honoured for his contribution, influence and leadership in comedy, according to organisers.

“Brendan O’Carroll is quite simply a creative genius; his comedic style is accessible, immediate and outrageously funny,” said IFTA CEO Áine Moriarty.

“You don’t need to be a Mrs Brown fan to recognise this man’s brilliance, and his absolute skill and craft that is inspiring young Irish comedy writers and performers to find their own unique voice.”

The award will be presented to O’Carroll at the IFTA Gala Television Awards ceremony on Thursday, October 22.

Previous IFTA Lifetime Achievement recipients include Gay Byrne, Fionnula Flanagan, Neil Jordan, David Kelly and Maureen O’Hara.

A worrying rise in self-harm among young boys in Ireland

Hundreds required emergency treatment in 2014 after inflicting injuries on themselves


New figures reveal a ‘worrying’ rise in self-harm among young boys.

Hundreds of children aged between 10 and 14 years required emergency hospital treatment last year after inflicting injuries upon themselves, according to official figures.

Nationally, the number of self-harm cases stabilised in 2014, but there was a surge in the numbers under 14, according to the annual report of the National Self-Harm Registry.

The rate of self-harm among boys as young as 10 grew by 44 per cent last year. Among the 10-14 age group, 78 boys and 244 girls presented at hospitals after harming themselves.

The number of 15 to 19-year-olds presenting with self-harm was 549 for boys and 917 for girls.

The increase is particularly worrying, according to the registry, because self-harm methods among men tend to involve “higher lethality” and there is a greater risk of suicide following self-harm among males compared to females.

The trend highlights the need for awareness programmes geared to young boys and aimed at reducing stigma related to mental health, it says.

Further research is also needed into the effectiveness of interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy which have proved effective with girls.

Irish hospitals

In the decade since 2004, Irish hospitals have recorded almost 102,000 incidences of self-harm, involving 63,000 people, according to the report.

Last year saw 11,000 presentations involving self-harm by 8,700 individuals.

The overall rate of self-harm was unchanged from 2013 and follows three decreases in successive years.

However, the rate last year was still 6 per cent higher than the rate recorded before the recession in 2007.

Male self-harm was up 2 per cent, while the female rate was unchanged. Since 2007, the male rate has increased 14 per cent, while the female rate was up less than 1 per cent.

Gender gap

The rate of self-harm remains higher among women than men but the gender gap has narrowed from 37 per cent a decade ago to 16 per cent last year.

The report finds wide variations in the rates recorded in different cities and counties. Men in Cork city were three times more likely to self-harm than men in Co Clare, while the rate among women was three times higher in Limerick city, compared to CoMonaghan.

The only significant decrease in the male rate of self-harm was in Co Carlow, down 37 per cent, while similar drops for women were recorded in Co Tipperary and Limerick city.

In contrast, the male rate of self-harm was up 72 per cent in Co Roscommon, 69 per cent in Co Cavan and 25 per cent in Co Kerry.

The rate among women jumped 33 per cent in Co Kilkenny.

Intentional drug overdose was the most common method of self-harm, occurring in two-thirds of all cases.

Medicines such as tranquillisers, anti-depressants and paracetamol were involved in 21-37 per cent of drug overdose acts, while hanging occurred in 7 per cent of self-harm incidents.

The report says the steep increase in self-harm involving highly lethal methods noted between 2007 and 2010 may have begun to level off. Similar to 2013, alcohol was involved in over one-third of cases.

Presentations in hospitals peaked around midnight and almost one-third took place on Sundays and Mondays.

Pot still Irish whiskey returns to the West of Ireland


L-R: An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD with Connacht Whiskey Distillery Directors Tom Jensen, PJ Stapleton, Rob Cassell & David Stapleton

A dream to bring pure pot still Irish whiskey back to the West of Ireland after an absence of over 100 years took its first official step recently when The Connacht Whiskey Distillery in Ballina, Co. Mayo was opened by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D.

The €10m investment will generate 40 new jobs at the 27,000 square feet distillery which also features a visitor centre. The Distillery goes into production in mid-October and expects to produce up to 70,000 cases per year. It is only the second Connacht-based craft whiskey distillery, and one of a handful of developed craft distilleries across the country.

Speaking at the opening, the Taoiseach said, “I am delighted that the craft of whiskey-making is returning to the West of Ireland and in so doing is creating 40 new jobs. It is especially pleasing to see the renewal of what was Duffys’ Bakery – we’re moving from one grain to another, so to speak – and bringing new life to this scenic location on the banks of the River Moy. This exciting venture brings to fruition the vision of David Stapleton and his US-Irish team and marks a positive development for the agri-food and drinks sector. It is also a vote of confidence in Mayo and yet another sign of the regional recovery that has begun to take hold across Ireland.”

Taking on scotch
Connacht Whiskey director and past President and CEO of Remy Cointreau USA, Tom Jensen says, “Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing whiskey in the US, but is outsold by scotch 4 to 1. Unlike scotch, Irish whiskey lacks regionally produced whiskeys that reflect the various terroirs of Ireland. Our goal is to introduce US consumers to the beauty of a hand crafted, pot distilled Irish whiskey from Western Ireland.”

Different to other distilleries in the news recently
Rob Cassell, Master Distiller, Connacht Whiskey, comments, “We are very different from the massive, production-driven Irish distilleries that have been in the news lately. We are a company focused on bringing consumers small batch Irish whiskey that is smooth, full of character and has a distinctive flavour. We have a luxury of opportunity here at Connacht Whiskey that allows us to have a step into the past by creating traditional style Irish Whiskey.

We are able to innovate yet pay homage to the past, and are recreating a spirit that can only be produced in the West of Ireland. Irish whiskey has a rich and forgotten past of its pure pot distilled whiskey and I am honoured to have the opportunity to pay tribute to and create a spirit that is unique to the West of Ireland. When a local Irishman can take a bottle of our spirit elsewhere is the world and proudly tout ‘this is from my home’, I’ll know we have succeeded in bottling the craftsman’s passion of the West of Ireland.”

Michael Cantwell, Head of Food Division, Enterprise Ireland, commented, “The Connacht Whiskey Distillery has cultivated the roots of tradition with ambitious and highly innovative thinking to grow a company with the potential to scale rapidly in international markets from its Ballina base. Enterprise Ireland has worked closely with the company in implementing their plans and we look forward to focusing on driving their export sales, creating and sustaining jobs in Ireland for the future.”

Conor McGregor was always going to be a success says a Sligo businessman who sold him clothes 


Conor McGregor being fitted out with Mark Cunnigham at EJ Menswear Sligo.

Eamonn J Cunningham believes Conor’s work ethic and confidence make him a success and such a captivating character.

Conor McGregor was always going to be a success says a Sligo businessman who sold him clothes after his UFC debut.

Eamonn J Cunningham founded and owns EJ Menswear in Sligo town.

The Sligo native believes Conor’s remarkable work ethic and confidence makes him so captivating.

The 27-year-old Dubliner came to the west of Ireland on the 25th February 2014.

Conor had just beaten Marcus Brimage and Max Holloway in the UFC fight announcing his arrival on the international stage.

He bought a Hugo Boss Bowler hat, a checkered shirt with braces and cufflinks to match.

Conor posted on Twitter at the time: “Thank you EJ Menswear Sligo for opening up after hours and hooking me up!! Late night shopping, Sligo style.”

Eamonn said: “We opened after hours at 11.30pm at night so he could come in.

“He was just starting to make waves.

  “All the lads here with Eamon in left picture” knew about Conor McGregor and were fans of his. We got on very well with him.

“We like to think that we can claim part of the revival of the dickie bow as a fashion trend in the country.

“It seemed to skyrocket after that.

“He was down to earth and he is working really hard. “Conor is well able to back up whatever he says and he has the confidence and talent to do it and is a special man.

“He’s very fond of three piece suits, it’s very trendy now and gives him a signature look.”

Eamonn channelled the spirit of Conor McGregor making a promotional sales video for his shop which went viral and was viewed over a quarter of a million times.

“McGregor is so topical, our videos, personally I think they’re so bad, they’re good.

“I wouldn’t be the best actor in the world.

“I thought it would be a challenge to take off McGregor and it would be a bit of craic.

“We went for it and it worked out.

“My own son Mark was at Conor’s fight against Chad Mendes in Las Vegas in July.

“He won’t be at the Jose Aldo fight in December because it’s a busy month for us in the shop.”

‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor isn’t the only famous man to walk through EJ Menswear.

Westlife’s Kian Egan and Shane Filan used to work in the store before their international success.

Kian was also a babysitter to Eamonn’s children.

He said: “Both Kian and Shane worked with us for a while.

“Cian used to babysit our kids.

“He was a good babysitter.

“He loved the guitar and taught my son Mark how to play the instrument.

“We lived across the street from each other at the time.

“Cian was only 14 then, he worked in the shop when he was 16.”

The shop fitted the band with clothes and suits in the early days.

Eamonn feels that the shop is a lucky charm for anybody who gets clothes there.

He said: “We’d like to think we played a small part in the success of different people who came through the doors.

“McGregor came into our place and now he’s a world superstar.

“Sligo Rovers won three cup finals in a row.

“They wore suits for the three finals when they won the cup.

“In 2007, Sligo won the Connacht final, we had fitted them out with suits.”

Eamonn started in the clothes business thinking he would try it for six months.

Forty years later, he’s still in the rag trade.

He worked for Horan’s menswear, Sligo, for 17 years before setting up his own business.

Eamonn said: “At the time, you had to serve an apprenticeship, work your way up the ladder.

“I started in the underwear department and ended up in the suit department.

“You saw every aspect of the men’s business from start to finish.

“It was great training, times were tough, you worked your hours and you worked a lot of extra hours on a very basic wage.

“I had a good boss, I watched a lot and learned from he was operating.

“I opened my own business in 1994 when I was 34.”

Eamonn J Cunningham with the EJ Menswear team in Sligo city.

EJ Menswear is setting up their own website so they can reach customers who have emigrated.

Eamonn said: “Online has changed retail but the core of our business has been built up through customer service and one on one.

“That’s what we like, the customer coming in, we take care of them and they walk out happy.

“That’s what gives me the buzz and it alway will.

“We’ve had a lot of requests to be online because we have customers coming from all over the country and from other countries.”

Eamonn is focused on making the Sligo flagship store as big as it can be.

The mens clothing store in Sligo has some 25,000 likes on their Facebook page.

He added: ““We’ve often thought about opening another shop but it would be very hard to replicate.

“There’s not two of me, or my son Mark, Tom Clarke or any of the lads that work in the shop.

“We’re trying to be a destination store and “Online is helping us reach out more.”

Is a man’s brain programmed to prefer sex over food


It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but a new study suggests that when it comes to sex, food is the last thing on his mind.

Researchers have found that the male brain is hardwired to seek out sex, even at the expense of a good meal, with specific neurons firing up to over-ride the desire to eat.

The male brain is hardwired to seek out sex?

Intriguingly, women do not have the same neurons, suggesting that sex for females comes secondary to sustenance.

Although the neurons have only been found in the brains of nematode worms, scientists at University College London say that it is likely that similar mechanisms are at work in humans.

And it is proof that male and female brains are wired differently, a controversial subject, which has been argued by scientists and feminists for decades.

Co-author Professor Scott Emmons, from the Departments of Genetics and Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said: “Though the work is carried out in a small worm, it nevertheless gives us a perspective that helps us appreciate and possibly understand the variety of human sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identification.

“Although we have not looked in humans, it is plausible that the male human brain has types of neurons that the female brain doesn’t, and vice versa. This may change how the two sexes perceive the world and their behavioural priorities.”

The team were surprised to find the new cells because the worms have been studied by extensively in the past and it is the first time they have been spotted.

The newly identified neurons have been dubbed MCMs or ‘mystery cells of the male’

The worm species used in the study, Caenorhabditis elegans, has two sexes: males and hermaphrodites.

These hermaphrodites are essentially modified females that carry their own sperm and do not need to have sex in order to reproduce.

Scientists conditioned the worms so that when salt was present they realised that they would be starved. Over time, the worms moved away from the salt. However when the salt was present at the same time as a mate, the male worm still moved towards the mate. In contrast, hermaphrodites moved away from the salt even when a mate was present.

It indicated that for males the sex trigger was stronger than the salt.

“Areas of the brain involved in learning display sex differences in many animals, including humans, but how these differences directly affect behaviour is not clear,” said senior author Dr Arantza Barrios of UCL’s Cell & Deveopmental Biology department.

Brain cells specific to men fire up when mates are present and override the need to eat, scientists have found

“We’ve shown how genetic and developmental differences between the two sexes lead to structural changes in the brain of male worms during sexual maturation.

“These changes make male brains work differently, allowing males to remember previous sexual encounters and prioritise sex in future situations.”

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Artificial skin could soon give sense of touch to Artificial Limbs


A new “organic electronic skin” was developed with hopes of giving a sense of touch to artificial or prosthetic limbs.

According to the report published at Science Mag Journal, the researchers led by Prof. Zhenan Bao of Stanford University in California has developed a skin-like “mechanoreceptors” integrated with “organic transistor circuit” that transforms pressure into digital signals sent directly to the brain.

This work represents a step toward the design and use of large-area organic electronic skins with neural-integrated touch feedback for replacement limbs,” the researchers pointed in the report.

In a report by Medical News Today(MNT), the team of engineers used a two-layered plastic component where the top layer serves as a sensor that distinguishes pressure just like what the human skin does. Meanwhile, the second layer acts as the “circuit” that will convert the pressure into electric signals which were then sent to the nerve cells to the brain.

As mention by the report, in order to do this, the researchers used “carbon nanotubes” in the plastic component that enabled it to “conduct electricity.” Through this, the flexible material was able to act like a skin, transmitting “short electric pulses.”

The researchers tested the plastic material by creating a model of a line of neurons that were found in a human’s nervous system. Through converting pressure signals to light pulses, the researchers discovered that the neurons and their skin-like plastic material could create a “sensory output” that is recognizable and communicable to the nerve cells.

“The sensor successfully converted pressure into a digital response in a pressure range comparable to that found in a human grip,” the researchers furthered in their study.

On the other hand, although the material is still on trial stage and there are still a lot of works to do, the researchers shared that they will be improving what they created and will look into developing a sensor that will enhance the sensing ability of artificial limbs.

“We have a lot of work to take this from experimental to practical applications. But after spending many years in this work, I now see a clear path where we can take our artificial skin,” Prof. Bao told MNT.

This new material could very well help those people who have lost their limbs due to various incidents. As reported by the Amputee Coalition, there are roughly two million people in the United States that suffer with the loss of limbs. Making this worse is that there are 185,000 amputations happening in US every year.

News Ireland daily BLOG Monday

Monday 23rd June 2014

Inquiry needs to examine why symptoms of bubble were ignored by Ireland

Says former Taoiseach Bruton


ECB says it is on track to assume oversight of euro-area lenders as ‘health check’ underway

John Bruton, Ireland’s former prime minister and current chairman of Ireland’s International Financial Services Centre (IFSC).

The banking inquiry needs to examine why symptoms of the bubble were repeatedly ignored by politicians and regulators in the run-up to the crash, former Taoiseach John Bruton said today.

 Mr Burton, who is now the president of Dublin’s International Financial Services Centre, made the comments at a conference hosted by the Irish Banking Federation in Dublin later this morning.

The same cevent also heard from the chair of the European Central Bank’s supervisory board Daniele Nouy, and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Cyril Roux.

Mr Bruton said the inquiry would need to confirm that the symptoms of a bubble were visible in the wider economy, why such signs were ignored, and should also outline the practical steps needed to ensure that similar symptoms were not ignored in future.

“Taking away the punch bowl, while the party was still on, was never going to be easy,” he said. “ It was never going to be easy politically, socially, or administratively. Yet that is precisely what has to be done if we are to prevent a bubble economy developing in Ireland ever again.”

Mr Bruton says he believes two obvious signs of disaster were “studiously ignored” by the political and regulators.

“One was the fact that house prices were rising far faster than either the rate of increase in incomes, or the rate of inflation in other prices, and meanwhile people were getting 100 per cent mortgages.”

Mr Bruton says once that process ended, and house prices were only rising at a rate at or below that of incomes, borrowers, who had been given 100 per cent mortgages or were otherwise financially exposed, were immediately heading towards negative equity or inability to pay.

“That made a soft landing inherently unlikely. Why did no one see that?”

The other issue Mr Bruton addressed in his speech was the huge deficit that developed on the Irish balance of payments.

“The country was spending more abroad than it was earning abroad. That spending was fuelled by imported credit. Given that devaluation was impossible, that could only be reversed by (an inherently unlikely) dramatic increase in exports, or by a cut back in imports,” he said.

“The latter could only be engineered by a recession of some kind. It was plain to see that such a recession would render many mortgages unsustainable.

“Why did no one in politics, in Government, in the Central Bank, or in the banks themselves do the basic arithmetic to work that out?”

Mr Bruton insisted that the possibility must be faced that policy makers, including in the Central Bank, did not truly understand the implications of joining the euro, and acted (or failed to act) as if the devaluation/inflation option, was still open to the country.

Chair of the European Central Bank’s supervisory board Daniele Nouy said preparations to assume oversight of euro-area lenders were going according to plan.

“We are working very intensely to meet the objectives and we are well on track with achieving them,” Ms Nouy said. “For the first time in the history of the European Union, we will have a supervisor with a truly European mandate. It will reduce regulatory arbitrage and remove national biases. As a result, we will enhance confidence in the supervision of banks and in the whole financial system.”

Irish study says alcohol is ’embedded’ in national identity


The report stated alcohol abuse had created a “huge burden of health and social harm” in the Republic of Ireland

Alcohol has become “embedded” in Irish national identity, according to a major government-funded report into drinking habits in the Republic of Ireland.

 Almost 6,000 people submitted personal “alcohol diaries” for the study.

At least once a month, over one third (37%) of all respondents consumed six or more drinks in a single drinking session – classified as binge drinking.

More than half of the drinkers who took part would be classified as “harmful drinkers” by international standards.

The state-wide alcohol survey, funded by the Irish Department of Health, was carried out by the Health Research Board.

As a nation, it is clear that we need to recognise, accept and tackle the negative consequences that can arise from our use of alcohol”

It found 54% of respondents who drank would be considered as harmful drinkers using a World Health Organization measurement known as the AUDIT-C screening tool.

‘A complex relationship’

Those who took part in the survey were aged between 18 and 75, and they submitted diaries detailing their personal alcohol consumption between July and October 2013.

The researchers stated that if the harmful drinking statistic was applied to the population as a whole, it would indicate there were between 1.3m and 1.4m harmful drinkers in the Republic of Ireland last year.

Binge drinking was most common among young men, with 68% of male drinkers aged between 18 and 24 confirming they did so on a monthly basis.

Almost two-thirds (63.9%) of men and half (51.4%) of women surveyed started drinking alcohol before they turned 18, the age at which it is legal to buy alcohol in the state.

However, just over one fifth (20.6%) of all those who took part in the research did not drink at all, having consumed no alcohol for at least a year before the survey began.

The Health Research Board’s chief executive, Graham Love, said Ireland has “a complex relationship with alcohol”.

“Its use has become embedded in our national identity and it is often associated with significant cultural and religious events.”

The cost?

Mr Love said alcohol abuse had created a “huge burden of health and social harm, not just on those who drink, but on their families, friends and colleagues”.

“As a nation, it is clear that we need to recognise, accept and tackle the negative consequences that can arise from our use of alcohol,” he added.

The chief executive said that according to latest estimates, the combined cost of deal with alcohol-related crime and health problems was 2.39bn (£1.9bn).

Underground route for EirGrid west project unveiled today

Route will run from north-west Mayo to the existing Flagford substation in Co Roscommon

The underground cable will run between Crossmolina and Ballina, down the east side of Lough Conn, north-east of Foxford and north of Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen and Frenchpark in Co Roscommon to the Flagford substation area, south-west of Carrick-on-Shannon.  

The underground cable will run between Crossmolina and Ballina, down the east side of Lough Conn, north-east of Foxford and north of Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen and Frenchpark in Co Roscommon to the Flagford substation area, south-west of Carrick-on-Shannon.

The operator of the national electricity grid has unveiled its preferred underground route for its controversial Grid West project.

The project involves connecting the north Mayo area with a strong point on the transmission system near Carrick-on-Shannon.

The underground route option would run from north-west Mayo to the area around the existing Flagford substation in Co Roscommon.

It is proposed to run the underground cable mainly along local and regional roads from north-west Mayo between Crossmolina and Ballina, down the east side of Lough Conn, north-east of Foxford and north of Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen and Frenchpark in Co Roscommon to the Flagford substation area, south-west of Carrick-on-Shannon .

This proposed route has been put forward after consultation with local authorities in Mayo, Roscommon and Galway, as well as the National Roads Authority and other relevant agencies.

Speaking in Castlebar today, EirGrid chief executive Fintan Slye said they had received extensive feedback from their public consultation.

“In January we responded with a number of important initiatives, including looking at underground options for the Grid West Project. Details of this underground route option are available today on the project website ,” he said.

“Over the coming weeks we will be asking the people of the West to review the work we have done to develop this underground route option and also proposed amendments to the overhead route corridor, and to provide us with their feedback on both,” he said.

“Importantly, the work we are doing on both underground and overhead options will be brought together into a single report later this year. This report will be submitted first to the Independent Expert Panel and, subject to its approval, published for public consultation.”

The overhead pylons route has been estimated to cost €240 million but the cost of the underground alternative remains unclear.

The development comes on foot of a storm of protest against pylons from farm, tourism and environmental groups, which emerged as a major political issue last year for both Fine Gael and Labour.

This led the Government in January to appoint an independent panel to carry out a detailed examination of whether cables could be put underground.

That independent panel, chaired by former Supreme Court judge Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness, will review both overhead and underground options.

Minister for Communications and Energy Pat Rabbitte denied the proposed underground route was merely a box-ticking exercise by EirGrid.

He acknowledged that cost would be a big factor in the decision to opt for the underground route or the overhead pylons route.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny show on Newstalk today he said the Government would make the ultimate decision and that it would be a “difficult” one.

“If the [underground]route costs three times more .. then my personal view is that we can’t afford that. I would ask taxpayers to tell me why it is … that Ireland in its straitened economic circumstances is supposed to put those cables underground.

“Protesters have been saying to me they want to see a fair comparison. They are now getting a fair comparison and I hope that they would put on their other hats as taxpayers and electricity bill payers and compare the two.”

Independent MEP Marian Harkin said any cost benefit analysis needed to place as much emphasis on factors such as landscape and health as it did on the cost of materials and installation.

She said opting for the overground route would “ignore factors such as adverse effects on the tourism sector and the important health issues associated with the presence of high voltage overhead cables.”

She said she had confidence in the independent panel.

Michael Colreavy, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources welcomed the proposed underground route while the party’s TD for Cavan-Monaghan Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called for the cabling for the new North-South Interconnecter to be routed underground in light of the news.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association also welcomed the announcement due to the negative effects on farming, landscape and tourism and the possible health risks of overhead lines.

A number of changes to the overhead route corridor were also announced today. These changes involve undergrounding over 7km of the existing 220kV line into Flagford.

It also involves an alternative substation site or the option to underground lower voltage lines (110kV lines) into the proposed substation at Moygownagh.

Partial undergrounding will lessen the visual impact of wires in and around both substations.

EirGrid is planning to write to people affected by the underground route option as well as updating people within the emerging preferred overhead route corridor option.

Over the coming week EirGrid will be contacting stakeholders with details about how and where they can review this work, meet with the project team and provide feedback.

Obesity crisis so severe in Ireland that parents now face burying their children


Department of Health secretary general calls for restricted availability of sweets, fizzy drinks

Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin has said the current generation of parents could be the first to “bury our children” unless the problem of obesity is tackled.

The obesity problem among young people is so bad that the present generation of parents may be the “first to bury our children”, Department of Health secretary-general Ambrose McLoughlin has said.

He told an Irish Heart Foundation conference today that the State had to move away from treatment and towards prevention, adding that tackling obesity was now a “public health priority”.

“If we don’t deal with [obesity], we will be the first generation to bury our children,” he said.

Mr McLoughlin addressed the conference on the feasibility of imposing a 20 per cent tax on all sugary drinks. One of the ways to tackle obesity, he said, was to restrict availability to so-called “top shelf” items such as sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks which were not necessary for human health.

Mr McLoughlin said discussions were taking place with eight Government departments and an action plan on a “Healthy Ireland” would soon be submitted to the Minister for Health James Reilly.

He added there was now “significant evidence” that fizzy drinks contributed to childhood obesity. “We believe there is a need for a societal debate now to look at the issues.”

A poll carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation found that 52% of the Irish public want a 20% tax on sugary drinks such as full-fat Coca Cola and 7up, with some 87% of the population believing such drinks contribute to obesity among children and young people.

In their last pre-budget submission, the Irish Heart Foundation advocated a tax on sugary drinks which it said would raise €60 million. The proceeds could be used to subsidise buying fruit and vegetables and support a children’s health fund in schools, it said.

IHF chief executive Barry Dempsey described the introduction of such a tax as a “no brainer to protect our children”.

Guest speaker Dr Adam Briggs from the University of Oxford said a 10% tax on sugar sweetened beverages could lead to a 1.3% reduction in obesity and reduce the number of obese and overweight adults by 14,000.

Consultant endocrinologist Prof Donal O’Shea warned that the health service was close to becoming “overwhelmed” by the number of obese children presenting.

Some 20% of calories for Irish children between the age of five and 12 came from junk food, he said. He said children receive the equivalent of two weeks energy a year, or some 24,000 calories, from sugar-sweetened drinks.

Dr O’Shea said there had been an absolute explosion in the extreme end of obesity with a 1,200 per cent increase in those with a body mass index of 52 or over (18 to 25 is normal).

“We now know that obesity causes every disease and makes every disease worse. Nothing does that bar ageing,” he said.

He criticised Coca Cola’s advertising campaign of personalised bottles with names on them which is aimed at children, describing it as “personalised pedalling to our kids”.

Mysterious night-shining Clouds are back again


Earth’s polar skies have shined with eerie blue-white glowing clouds slowly twisting and undulating in the twilight sky every summer since the late 19th century.

These mystifying clouds are referred to as night-shining or noctilucent clouds. Such clouds form in an upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere called the mesosphere during the summer and can be seen from the high latitudes on Earth.

If skywatchers want to possibly see noctilucent clouds, four criteria must be met: The sky must be free of tropospheric (“ordinary”) clouds. The region of the atmosphere where they form must be sunlit.  This means that the sun must be no more than 16 degrees below the horizon. The background sky must be adequately dark enough for the clouds to stand out.

This final requirement means that the sun must be at least 6 degrees below the horizon, what astronomers refer to as the end of civil twilight. Your viewing location should be at a latitude north of 45 degrees, although as you will soon see the clouds have been sighted at more southerly latitudes in recent years

A series of massive eruptions from the Krakatoa volcano in late August 1883 may have serendipitously helped to draw attention to the phenomenon of noctilucent clouds. Dust and ash injected high into the atmosphere from the Indonesian volcano caused spectacular and colorful sunsets worldwide for several years.

On the evening of June 8, 1885, T. W. Backhouse was admiring one such beautiful sunset from Kissingen, Germany, when he noticed something rather strange: as darkness deepened and the ruddy glows faded, he noticed wispy bluish-white filaments seemingly glowing in the north and northwest sky. At that time, scientists dismissed this effect as some curious manifestation caused by the volcanic ash.  But after a few more years, the ash settled and the vivid sunsets induced by Krakatoa faded.

And yet the noctilucent clouds persisted.

There is some debate suggesting that Backhouse was not the first to describe the clouds, since in a report dated from 1854, Thomas Romney Robinson, in Armagh, Ireland, communicated his personal observation of the “phosphorescent properties of ordinary clouds.”  So it might be that Robinson was making a reference to noctilucent clouds 31 years before Backhouse.

What causes them?

Noctilucent clouds can form only under very restrictive conditions. They are the highest clouds in the atmosphere, located in the mesosphere at altitudes of between 47 to 53 miles (76 to 85 kilometers). They are normally too faint to be seen, and are visible only when illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon while the lower layers of the atmosphere are in the Earth’s shadow. [Earth’s Atmosphere Top to Bottom]

Ice crystals in clouds need two things to grow: water molecules and something for those molecules to stick to — dust, for example. Water gathering on dust to form droplets or ice crystals is a process called nucleation. It happens all the time in ordinary clouds, which generally appear at altitudes of up to about 9.5 miles (15 km) and get their dust from sources like desert wind storms.

But it’s all but impossible to push wind-blown dust all the way up into the mesosphere. So scientists speculate that the dust associated with noctilucent clouds could originate from outer space.  Every day, Earth encounters millions of meteoroids, which have been shed by comets. While some of this material rams into our atmosphere in a flash to produce the effect of a shooting star, other tiny particles remain aloft.  As for the source of the water vapor necessary to produce clouds at such extreme altitudes, upwelling winds during the summer are capable of carrying water droplets from the moist lower atmosphere toward the mesosphere.

That’s why noctilucent clouds only appear during the warm summer months. The clouds consist of tiny ice crystals about the size of particles in cigarette smoke.

Some more viewing tips?

While reports of noctilucent clouds from Europe and Russia date back to the late 19th century, the first observation from North America did not come until 1933, probably because most were not specifically looking for them, or if they did see them, they didn’t realize what they were seeing.

Observers have been able to draw some interesting conclusions from observing the clouds over the past 75 years in North America. The earliest and latest sightings are, on average, April 1 and Sept. 28, respectively. Peak activity comes around July 20, about one month after the summer solstice.

Ninety-two percent of the displays are observed during June, July and August and 82 percent are observed after the summer solstice. Before the solstice the clouds tend to be faint and cover small areas of the sky, whereas after the solstice they are usually brighter and more extensive.

In general, it would seem that the best times to look for them are during July and August.

As to what you’re looking for: gossamer, electric-blue clouds, resembling luminous tendrils, spreading across the northern to northwestern sky and slowly twisting and rippling in the twilight.

It’s a case for global warming?

Over the last few decades, noctilucent clouds seem to have been increasing in frequency, brightness and extent. A century ago, for instance, the clouds were confined to latitudes above 50-degrees north. Observers would have to go to places like the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Russia to see them. But in recent years, they’ve been glimpsed as far south as Colorado, Utah and Virginia.

It is theorized that this increase is connected to climate change.

“Extreme cold is required to form ice in a dry environment like the mesosphere,” said Gary Thomas, a professor at the University of Colorado.

Surprisingly, global warming helps. While greenhouse gases warm Earth’s surface, they actually lower temperatures in the high levels of our atmosphere.

Studies from above?

Satellites have helped scientists study these clouds. In September 2009, the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and the United States Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP) conducted the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE) using exhaust particles from a Black Brant XII suborbital sounding rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to create an artificial noctilucent cloud. The rocket’s exhaust plume was widely observed and reported from New Jersey to Massachusetts.

Other evidence indicates that at least some noctilucent clouds resulted from freezing water exhaust from NASA’s retired space shuttle fleet. In fact, the clouds were observed and photographed by astronauts from orbiting spacecraft.