Tag Archives: Retirement

News Ireland daily blog by Donie

Thursday 8th September 2016.

Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland’s claim costs

Motorists more concerned about price of cover than road safety, committee hears

Image result for Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland's claim costs  Image result for Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland's claim costs

Motor insurance premiums have risen dramatically and could rise by a further fifth, says Conor Faughnan of the Automobile Association.

Insurance companies are pulling out of Ireland because of the lack of information about the costs of meeting claims, the Automobile Association warned on Thursday.

“Competition should be attracted into our market, but, in fact, insurers are in active retreat from Ireland,’’ Mr Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs of the Automobile Association (AA Ireland) told an Oireachtas committee.

The “book of quantum’’, the document that describes in detail the appropriate level of financial compensation for injuries of a given severity, is hopelessly outdated and is effectively useless as a guideline to the courts, he said.

Meanwhile, the courts are not bound to abide by it. Seven out of every 10 cases are settled directly by the insurance companies to avoid a court case, but the detail of settlements are not shared.

Motorists are now more concerned about the cost of insurance than road safety, fuel costs, taxation and road maintenance, Mr Faughnan told the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

Premiums have risen dramatically and could rise by a further fifth, he warned, adding that new car sales have themselves jumped by 20 per cent so far this year.

Motorists who had made an insurance claim, or acquired penalty points, were unable to shop around and had to absorb whatever increases there were with their insurance company.

Mr Faughnan said there was a lack of clear information and data on issues surrounding proper claims’ costs. “So if you are a foreign insurance company, and you want to come into Ireland, you are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the people already here because our data is so murky and so difficult to understand,’’ he added.

Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association Mark Fielding said there was a continuous line of complaints from members on the handling of what they would regard as questionable claims.

Members complained insurance companies continued to settle without the consent and knowledge of the insured businesses, he added.

Director of the Small Firms Association Patricia Callan said rising costs and competitiveness were issues for her members, ranking second only to labour costs.

Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years

 Image result for Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years  Image result for Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years  Finance Minister Michael Noonan (left) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) are 73 and 65 years old respectively. Most workers must retire at 65.

(Right pic above) Finance Minister Michael Noonan (left) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) are 73 and 65 years old respectively. Most workers must retire at 65?

This is not the kind of news that any young professional in Ireland wants to hear.

Ireland’s pension gap is now the second largest in Europe, according to Aviva, behind only that of the UK.

Aviva’s report on the Irish pension system has advised that people hoping for an adequate income post-retirement must save an additional €1,000 per month – something that virtually anyone who is earning anything like the average wage in Ireland will tell you is utterly impossible.

The news gets worse the older you are, with people in their 60s being told they need to save an extra €28,000 a year. Short of winning the lottery, it’s hard to see where that is going to come from for most.

The report notes that there has been a decline in pension savings, meaning that a pushback on the age of retirement or an increase in state pensions would not entirely alleviate the problem.

According to media sources, two of the biggest factors that have widened that pension gap are longer life expectancy and lower returns on investments.

The number of workers with pensions has dropped by 5% since the start of the economic crash in late 2008.

5% increase in support for a united Ireland

A five-point increase in backing for unification, now at 22% which is up from 17% in 2013.

Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland  Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland  Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland

According to the data there is still a significant percentage of people in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

There has been a significant statistical increase in support for a united Ireland among people in the North, according to a new survey conducted by Ipsos Mori.

The face-to-face survey of more than 1,000 people carried out across Northern Ireland on behalf of BBC political programme The View, between August 16th and September 2nd, indicates a five-point increase in support for a United Ireland (22%), from 17% in 2013 . This is regarded as a significant change.

More than four out of 10 people with a Catholic background (43 per cent) would back a United Ireland, up from 35% in 2013, an increase regarded as statistically significant.

When respondents from across the North were asked if the government should call a referendum on the Border, 33% of people said No and 52% said Yes, while 15% were don’t know.

A majority of Protestants were against the idea, with 72% No and 53% of Catholics Yes.

According to the data there is still a significant percentage of people in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

A referendum.

When asked how they would vote if there was a referendum on the Border, 63% of respondents said they would vote to stay in the UK, down 2% on 2013.

From 2013 there has been a 5% increase to 22% among those who said the would vote to join the Republic of Ireland.

When the 2016 results are broken down by religion, 88% of Protestants and 37% of Catholics said they would vote to stay in the UK, while 5% of Protestants and 43% of Catholics said they would vote to join the Republic of Ireland.

Some 83% said the Brexit decision had not altered their position, while 17% indicated it had changed their thinking.

Those whose views had been influenced by the EU result were slightly more likely to be female, from a Catholic background and drawn from the affluent AB social classes.

Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’

Irish research now shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health condition.

Image result for Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’  Image result for Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’

The Tilda study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

“The saying” You really are as old as you feel, a leading expert on ageing has confirmed.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator with the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) said their research shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health.

Uncovering the Secrets of Successful Ageing is an analysis by Tilda of 10 years of its study of older people.

Its findings, published today, include health, social, and economic factors.

The study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, life circumstances and other health changes were accounted for. Negative attitudes towards ageing also seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted.

Hundreds of participants from all over Ireland gathered at Trinity College Dublin today for the 10th birthday of Tilda.

Sattie Sharkey said she volunteered herself to be part of the study because she tended to fall.

“It is very important this research has taken place as it will play such a large role in policy and decision-making, and researchers have gained a real insight into the issues facing older people in Ireland,” she said.

“I used to fall regularly in my home. Falls are debilitating. They not only hurt you physically but they take your confidence away too. My falls were due to a tumour in the back of my head and I had to have an operation.”

Living independently?

Ms Sharkey said she enjoyed being interviewed by the Tilda researchers and has more confidence living independently.

“I’d also like to say, I’m younger than the two people who want to be the president of the United States,” she said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Dr Colm O’Reardon, deputy secretary for strategy and policy at the Department of Health, said Tilda’s findings will help to dispel myths about older people and ageing.

“The common portrayal of older people in our society is often that people over 65 have no meaningful contribution to society and it becomes part of the myths about ageing,” he said. “This study will change the assumptions decision-makers will bring when it comes to making policy.”

Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the Health Research Board, said “the time has come to stop HSE-bashing” and to focus on how to improve our health service.

He said the recent RTÉ documentary on the HSE called Keeping Ireland Alive had a positive reaction on social media and from the general public.

“It’s a small turning point in the collective ambition for our health service at a time when collective energies are switched from HSE-bashing to actually defining what ambition we have for our health service here,” said Dr Love.

“I believe that through initiatives like Tilda we can turn our health service into a national treasure.”

Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe

Discovery of genetic differences, using DNA analysis, could boost efforts to save declining populations.

Image result for Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe  Image result for Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe  A Masai giraffe, one of the four newly recognised species, grazing inside Nairobi national park

Four giraffe species: top left: reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), top right: west African giraffe.

Researchers have discovered there are not just one but four distinct species of giraffe, overturning two centuries of accepted wisdom in a finding that could boost efforts to save the last dwindling populations.

Analysis of DNA evidence from all of the currently recognised nine sub-species found that there is not just one species of giraffe but enough genetic differences to recognise four distinct species. Experts said the differences are as large as those between brown bears and polar bears.

Giraffe have suffered a decline in number from around 150,000 across Africa three decades ago to 100,000 today, as their habitat has been turned over to agriculture. But as a single species the giraffe is currently listed as of least concern on the red list of endangered species, leaving the tallest living animals a relatively low conservation focus compared to rhino and elephant.

“People need to really figure out that giraffes are in danger. There are only 100,000 giraffes left in Africa. We’ll be working closely with governments and big NGOs to put giraffes on the radar,” said Dr Julian Fennessy, lead author of the new study which saw genetic testing in Germany on 190 giraffe.

The four recommended new species are the southern giraffe, with two subspecies, the Angolan giraffe and South African giraffe; the Masai giraffe; the reticulated giraffe; and the northern giraffe including the Kordofan giraffe and west African giraffe as subspecies.

If formally recognised as four separate species, three of those four would suddenly be deemed more seriously threatened by the red list, Fennessay said, which would hopefully catalyse greater efforts to protect them.

A Masai giraffe, one of the four newly recognised species, grazing inside Nairobi national park.

While the southern giraffe was increasing markedly in number, populations in east and central Africa were in trouble, he said.

“It’s all habitat loss, fragmentation and a lot of that is, let’s be honest, linked to human population growth – increasing land for agricultural needs, whether for commercial or for subsistence farming,” he said, speaking from Windhoek, Namibia. “In some of these countries though there is illegal hunting or poaching causing the decline.”

Co-author Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Germany, said: “This has huge implications for conservation. It’s also significant from an evolutionary aspect: the giraffe is a very young species and we see evolution, becoming species, in real time, happening in front of our eyes.”

Both said they were surprised at the number of genetically distinct species, because the currently recognised nine subspecies are relatively similar-looking. The most obvious differences are in the shape of their patterns and how far they extend, and how many horns the creatures have.

The study also suggested that the four species do not mate with each other in the wild, an unexpected finding given giraffe move far and wide, and have been shown to interbreed in captivity.

The historically accepted definition of one species of giraffe was based on a description in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, who examined a Nubian giraffe (now to be considered as a northern giraffe). The new study’s discovery that there are in fact four will not come as a a total surprise to those who study giraffe closely – previous research has suggested some subspecies appeared genetically distinct enough to be considered separate species.

The conclusions of the study, which took five years, will be now be reviewed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s specialist group on giraffes.

West African giraffe, a subspecies of northern giraffe, in southern Niger.

In a statement, the IUCN said: “The number of species of giraffes has come in for much discussion and debate in recent years. The findings of this latest study will need to be carefully evaluated, as it could – as the authors note – have considerable implications for their conservation. We know that giraffes, while widely distributed, are declining nearly across their range, with some narrowly distributed populations in serious trouble.

“If the findings of the current study are accepted, then it may well be that some species would be listed in threatened categories on the IUCN red list. This would hopefully flag the need for increased attention on a species that is otherwise normally considered common.”

Fennessy, who is also co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said: “I would just hope that as the IUCN reviews this, they look at the fact 200 years ago people looked at giraffe coat patterns from samples sent from Africa and made a decision to call it one species and nine subspecies. And now, using nuclear mitochondrial and genomic DNA, I think more science can help us answer the mystery.”

The new study, Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of One, was published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.


News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 16th August 2016

Simon Coveney is the most impressive Government Minister so far

A rundown of how Ministers performed over Government’s first 100 days in office


M. D. Higgins and Enday Kenny with Simon Coveney.

  Minster for Health Simon Harris:  The Department of Health has put an end to many a political ambition.

How many new ministers have started full of ideas, ambition and reform, and have been stretchered off, desperately staunching the damage?

Who has emerged from there stronger than when they went in? Michael Noonan? Brian Cowen? Micheál Martin? Mary Harney? James Reilly? Even Leo Varadkar?

Step forward Simon Harris. At 29 he is the youngest Minister for Health in the history of the State.

Yet there is no evidence of youthful callowness here. Harris has been a star performer for Fine Gael since 2014. He is hard working, street smart, always well-briefed, practical and has a bucket-load of ideas. And he is brimful with confidence too.

It is hard to keep up with his energetic start. He scored an extra €500 million for a winter initiative, and this week published a “five-point” plan, with a €50 million lure, to reduce record waiting lists. He has reactivated the National Treatment Purchase Fund, and has been active on the legislation front.

He waffled a bit this week when Cathal Mac Coille pressed him on public hospital resources, resorting to political vagueness and inexactitude.

A good start. But too many of his predecessors have stumbled after a promising start. The real test will inevitably come next year when we will see if he has made meaningful inroads.

Marks: 7.5


  The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan

If “trucking away” does not offend the ears of the mandarins in Iveagh House, that’s what Flanagan has been doing. And we don’t mean it in a pejorative sense.

His year has been dominated by Brexit, both before and after the June referendum.

Once it became clear the referendum could be lost, he threw himself into the campaign, speaking to as many Irish groups in Britain as he could.

Since the defeat he has been equally busy. Last week he completed his last of 27 one-on-one session with foreign ministers, arguing Ireland’s unique position.

Its concerns: the Border, trade between Britain and ourselves and the Common Travel Area.

There was some criticism of the lack of a contingency plan. But, in fairness, some scenarios had been set out by the ESRI and others, and it is hard to set out a full plan or strategy ahead of negotiations starting.

Marks: 6


 The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor

Her appointment was the biggest surprise of Kenny’s Fine Gael picks. Not only did she leap-frog from the backbenches, she was handed the plum job of Jobs and Enterprise. Some of her colleagues scratched their heads as to why she had gained preferment over others. She has been careful since being appointed, and has fulfilled all the duties if not really laying out her views on on the way forward for enterprise and jobs policies. As such she has inherited Richard Bruton’s annual “Action Plan for Jobs”. She has done little yet to show divergence from her predecessor. The judgment on that will have to be made in time.

Marks: 4


  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Frances Fitzgerald

Frances Fitzgerald should be mentioned more as a possible successor to Kenny. She is the Tánaiste, and in a powerful position in Government, close to Kenny and in charge of a key ministry.

As Minister for Justice she is everything that Alan Shatter was not. After his very dramatic tenure, she provided a safe pair of hands.

The down side is that she does not have his reforming zeal and it is unlikely we will see far-reaching initiatives during her time in Justice.

Fitzgerald made her name as an equality campaigner, but most of her record in Justice has been as a traditional Fine Gael law-and-order minister.

In the first week she had to weather a controversy as to whether Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s instructions during the O’Higgins’ commission were to challenge the integrity of whistleblower Maurice McCabe. Her response was not wholly convincing.

Her tenure has been party governed by “events”, notably the appalling violence of the feud between the Kinahan and Hutch gangs.

Tougher bail legislation, an electronic tagging Bill and a new armed support unit for Dublin have all featured.

She has shown signs she will be more amenable to a more open approach to asylum seekers in the State, including recently supporting their right to cook in their accommodation. Solid, safe if not spectacular.

Marks: 5


The Minister for Children Katherine Zappone

An Independent TD, she said part of the reason she entered Government was to ensure women’s rights and inequalities were tackled.

She also specifically said her presence would ensure the requisite ambition to pursue a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Moving into Government with a party you opposed for four years is a tough proposition and involves compromise and also invites claims of betrayal.

Zappone was nominated to the Seanad by Labour yet opposed many of the government’s measures. Even the act of joining Government would have alienated some supporters.

She did not help her cause by tweeting in the morning she was abstaining in the vote for Kenny as Taoiseach, and then voting for him in the afternoon.

Mick Wallace’s Private Member’s motion on the Eighth Amendment presented her with a quandary. How she fared depends on what side of the fence you were.

Shane Ross and John Halligan defied collective Cabinet responsibility to support the motion. She would not go there.

In one sense it was brave because she knew she would get flak for it.

Her comment that a referendum would not succeed at this moment infuriated some campaigners.

An academic, she will be a good technocratic Minister. She has established a forum on childcare, and launched a pilot programme in Dublin’s inner city aimed at giving children a voice.

Marks: 4


  The Minister for Communications, the Environment and Climate Change Denis Naughten

He has been the most effective Independent Minister. Despite that status, he is really a Fine Gael Minister, comfortable in this environment, though not wearing the official badge.

He has not put a foot wrong since realising there might be a way back for him to take a ministry he rightly felt should have been his in 2011. He and Kenny have returned to civil terms, and Naughten has focused on what he is best at: policy.

He has an impressive list of ticks in the first three months, including a mobile reception and broadband taskforce, steering an Energy Bill through theOireachtas, and has big plans for a domestic energy efficiency scheme with the same funding idea as the Bike-to-Work scheme.

Makes the right noises on climate change but has yet to be tested on it. Wind farms (opposed fiercely in the midlands) might pose a problem near his own backyard.

Marks: 7.


The Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar

Varadkar is the most intriguing, compelling, enigmatic, frustrating and infuriating Minister of them all. There is no doubt that if the public were to decide who the next taoiseach might be, he would win hands down.

But there have been a few moments that have given some colleagues pause for thought. His time in Health in particular will be seen, at best, as a plateau for him.

Varadkar brings a dispassionate bearing and his analysis is always good. He thinks broadly, imaginatively at times.

His public thoughts often stray into the areas of his colleagues – not always appreciated by them.

Implementation has been a bit of a problem for him. He did not endear himself to non-Fine Gaelers during Government negotiations – seen as a bit distant and detached.

There is no doubt Varadkar is talented and he has certainly hit the ground running at Social Protection. He has already got paternity benefit through, set up a survey on PRSI for the self-employed, and started tackling the scary pensions shortfall coming down the tracks.

The first Fine Gael Minister for decades in a traditional Labour portfolio, his big thoughts on welfare, social protection and job-activation will be interesting when fully propounded. But will he translate them in to action?

Marks: 5


  The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney

Seen as Varadkar’s main rival in the succession stakes, Coveney has been by far the busiest Minister since taking on Housing and Local Government.

He has had to deal almost simultaneously with three of the knottiest political problems that loomed during the election – water charges, a waste dispute, and housing and homelessness.

Early in the Government he put through legislation to suspend water charges for nine months.

His choice of Joe O’Toole as chair of the expert group backfired a little, though.

He also had to sort out the mess over changes to domestic waste charges, managing to put it all off for a year.

His third big ask was the Action Plan on Housing, to be published within 100 days of Government.

The €5 billion plan is ambitious but so was Alan Kelly’s plan in late 2014.

The big problem for Coveney is that housing takes forever to deliver, with planning and ossified processes in councils.

Coveney is now pressurising local authorities to deliver and fast-track social housing. It will be next year before we know if he is going anywhere with his plans.

For the moment he has been the most impressive.

Marks: 8. 


  The Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath

The TD for Dublin Bay North, along with Seán Canney, has been the most impressive of the Independent Alliance members in Cabinet.

McGrath has a happy-go-lucky kind of personality and there were some who were sceptical about him cutting the mustard when responsibility came knocking.

What has helped his cause tremendously is his portfolio. It is in an area he cares passionately about. He has an adult daughter with Down syndrome and has been campaigning in this area and on behalf of those with cystic fibrosis for many years.

His approach has been simple. He is not going to expound any big philosophy or set out new thinking.

He has a list of things he wants to do, and he says he is intent on getting them done.

McGrath has set about it in a simple way, with direct approaches to the two Ministers who matter, Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe. His demands are seldom extravagant.

He has secured an extra €28 million to give emergency support to adults with intellectual disabilities who are middle-aged and whose parents are very elderly or who have died.

He also announced a further €3 million to help school-leavers with disabilities to bridge the gap to find employment.

Next on the list is ratification of the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities, a Bill to help disabled people meet their high transport costs, and a cystic fibrosis unit for north Dublin.

Marks: 7. 


Sterling drops to a three-year low against the Euro

Downward pressure weighs on pound ahead of key data being released


Sterling symbols on the Bank of England floor: the currency fell below $1.29 on Monday, the lowest level since July 11th and down 0.2% on the day.

Sterling has hit a three-year low against the euro, with the UK currency trading above 87p against the euro on Monday. A string of key UK economic data – including July inflation figures due on Tuesday – are expected to determine the short-term direction of the currency.

The sterling weakness will put further pressure on Irish exporters to the UK. Ibec warned earlier this month that if the euro approached 90p sterling, some 7,500 jobs and €700 million in exports from the agri-food sector would be at risk. The organisation has called for Government intervention to support affected companies.

Sterling lost some 0.7 per cent against the euro on Monday, trading at about 87p against the euro in New York on Monday night. Market data showed that significant speculative positions had been taken against the UK currency, though many analysts also expect the euro to remain weak in the months ahead.

Sterling dropped before reports this week on July UK inflation, retail sales and jobless claims, which are forecast to show the British economy is struggling in the wake of the June 23rd referendum. The pound dropped to a 31-year low against the US dollar after the Brexit vote, and resumed its decline following the Bank of England’s decision this month to cut interest rates and boost monetary stimulus.

The currency fell below $1.29 on Monday, the lowest since July 11th and down 0.2% on the day. It has dropped more than 13% against the US currency since the Brexit vote.

“[There is] no point over-thinking. Sterling is prone to short-covering but is also trending lower over time,” Société Générale strategist Kit Juckes said.

Further sterling weakness would put pressure on forecasters to reduce their Irish growth forecasts for 2017. Ibec calculates that every 1% drop in the value of sterling against the euro translates to a 0.7% decline in exports to the UK. Slower UK economic growth will also affect Irish exporters by slowing demand

Manufacturing contractions

While surveys have already signalled contractions in manufacturing, construction and services since the EU referendum, this week’s data will provide more concrete evidence of the state of the economy.

The Bank of England cut interest rates to a record low and restarted its quantitative-easing programme on August 4th in an attempt to shield Britain from the effects of its decision to quit the world’s biggest single market.The reports will provide “the first real numbers” on the nation’s economy since the vote, said Richard Falkenhall, a strategist at SEB in Stockholm.

Market forecasters expect Tuesday’s July inflation data to show a 0.5% annual rise. The inflation figures will have an influence on Bank of England policy. The central bank acted to boost the economy following the Brexit vote, but if inflation rises too quickly, then it may be limited in what further measures it takes.

For the moment, investors expect central bank stimulus to continue in the UK, US and the euro zone, which helped to drive equity markets to new highs yesterday.

Better-than-estimated corporate earnings have also helped lift stocks in the past month, boosting valuations.While the S&P500’s price relative to future earnings has climbed to the highest since 2002, volatility with American shares remained near all-time lows. “Stocks have retained a hot pitch and there’s a lot of demand for equities,” said Andrew Brenner, the head of international fixed income for National Alliance Capital Markets.

The good, the bad and the ugly of Vincent Browne

“And maybe now retired host of “Tonight with Vincent Browne”


Rumours that Vincent Browne had retired may have been premature, but maybe it’s time he did?

Vincent Browne will be back on his eponymous late-night TV3 show in the autumn

There will no doubt be relief among TV3 viewers at the news that the eponymous host will be returning to his chair on Tonight With Vincent Browne in the autumn, because, let’s face it, Tonight Without Vincent Browne can be a rather dull affair.

For better and worse, it’s Browne’s personality that pulls the late-night political chatshow together.

Better means it’s watchable. There’s no one more formidable than Browne when he has a mood on him. In the right frame of mind, the irascible curmudgeon is as likely to flay someone who shares his unwaveringly orthodox left-wing views of the world as he is to attack a Government minister on the centre right.

It can be deliciously excruciating to watch as his victims stumble and falter under his rhetorical assault.

His greatest moment was probably when he confronted Klaus Masuch of the European Central Bank at a press conference in Dublin as the Troika flew in to survey the ruins of their own monetary policy. If Klaus had expected gratitude from a fawning Irish peasantry, delighted that someone clever and European had arrived to save us from ourselves, he was quickly disabused of the notion, as Browne demanded to know why we had to pay unguaranteed bondholders billions of euro that we didn’t even owe. It was a reasonable question, but Masuch had no answer.

In that moment, Browne was what his breathless admirers, steeped in fantasies of what the news business should be all about ever since they first saw All The President’s Men at an impressionable age, always imagined him to be – a journalistic white knight speaking truth to power.

At its worst, however, this side of Browne does have the tendency to turn into… well, the word “bullying” has been used in the past by those who fell foul of his temper. Former Tanaiste Joan Burton said as much, as did Irish Independent editor Fionnan Sheahan when he had a legendary row with the broadcaster over his long-standing hostility to Independent News and Media.

The charge of bullying may be unfair, but he does have what former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore called a “macho style” of confrontation that lays him open to the charge of bulldozing guests rather than giving them a chance to explain themselves in an atmosphere of reasonable debate. There are times, watching Tonight, when one does get the uncomfortable impression that the whole edifice is a sort of temple to the presenter, and that none may challenge him there.

He also unashamedly uses that platform to advance a very narrow political and economic agenda, one reinforced in his newspaper columns, which can be fearsomely tedious as they pile statistics on statistics to prove the world has gone to hell in a handcart and that his way alone can save us from perdition.

For years now, Browne has pushed the idea that Ireland, far from being broken by the recession, remains a fabulously rich country that could easily afford a socialist paradise if only we stopped being silly and took the money needed to build it off the rich.

It’s such an enticing idea that it almost seems like bad manners to suggest that it might not be quite as simple as that – and anyone foolish enough to try is buried under another avalanche of Browne’s minutiae. He’s great at tangling up guests in their own contradictions, and he invariably “wins” the argument, without ever quite convincing those who don’t share his assumptions that he’s right.

It’s a very lawyerly skill; he is, after all, a trained barrister. But this approach is more impressive than persuasive. Those who tussle with him may give up, but they don’t go away with a belief that he is right, just that there’s no point fighting with him.

This is a common fault among those on the left. They often come out top in debates, but the audience remains stubbornly unconvinced that what they heard actually makes any sense.

The epitome of Browne’s approach was the long series of People’s Debates, which he ran on TV3 in the run-up to the election. Browne travelled the country, visiting every constituency, inviting TDs and other candidates to answer questions from an audience of voters. These often descended into ugly and undignified scenes, with politicians being harangued from the floor. It felt some nights like a circus, with Browne as the ringmaster, and it highlighted his increasing populism.

He reflects a widespread hostility to politicians, which is an understandable mood, but where does that lead, ultimately? Someone has to run the country, and it often seems that none of them would be good enough for him.

It’s not surprising that many decide a visit to the TV3 studios isn’t worth the bother, because they’d just be playing second fiddle to another grandstanding performance. It’s his gaffe, his rules, they’d only come out second best.

His own prickliness doesn’t reflect well on him either. A man who makes a living from putting others on the spot shouldn’t himself be over-sensitive, and Browne does often give off the impression, as Sheehan put it after that row a few years ago, that “he can give it, but he can’t take it”.

The news that he will play a part in TV3’s autumn schedule, despite persistent rumours of retirement, could be a sign Browne still needs to work, either because he’s been at the centre of Irish media and political life for decades and is not ready to give it up, or simply because he needs the money – he’s been refreshingly honest about his finances.

But one can’t help wondering whether it’s a good idea. His once-terrifying technique has been reduced to a series of trademark rhetorical tics and tricks, with ever-diminishing returns. Jeremy Paxman hung up his own arsenal of frowns and sighs two years ago and he’s younger than Browne. Maybe it’s time Vincent did the same. There’s only so long you can flog a dead horse before the viewers start feeling sorry for the nag.

Tetley brewing up future trends in tea drinking

Tetley has looked into the tea leaves and predicted future trends for the country’s favourite brew


A brand of “super” tea will be among new versions of the beverage launched in future years, including some pledging to reduce tiredness or improve concentration and one for hangovers, says a report.

Tetley has looked into the tea leaves and predicted future trends for the country’s favourite brew, with help from the Future Foundation.

Ideas included “remedy” teas – enriched with medicines, from painkillers to antibiotics – tea tablets and personalised blends.

Laurent Sagarra of Tetley said: “Britain’s love affair with tea is enduring. The way we consume tea has gradually evolved since the 17th century, but now we are entering a period of rapid change.

“Significant advances are being made to meet consumer demand and our Super Tea range of functional blends with clinical health benefits already represents the biggest innovation in tea since the tea bag.

“We’re constantly innovating, grading, blending and tasting and now’s the time to see what’s next for the iconic British cuppa.”

Nick Chiarelli, director of the Future Foundation, said: “We’ve blended the consumer trends we are predicting for 2026, with input from Tetley experts and elsewhere to develop a very compelling vision of tea in the future.

“Our report predicts that exciting and satisfying new tea formats will develop, and that tea will evolve to deliver personalised health benefits.”

Schizophrenia patients may benefit from exercise


Research shows that nearly 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve Schizophrenic patients’ ability to understand social situations.

The study presents the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia. (Representational image)

Aerobic exercise can significantly help individuals improve the ‘cognitive deficits,’ especially loss of working memory linked with schizophrenia, finds a study. Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition and its acute phase is typified by hallucinations and delusions, which are usually treatable with medication. However, current medications for schizophrenia do not treat the cognitive deficits including poor memory, impaired information processing and loss of concentration linked with schizophrenia.

“Cognitive deficits are one aspect of schizophrenia which is particularly problematic. They hinder recovery and impact negatively upon people’s ability to function in work and social situations,” said Joseph Firth from the University of Manchester in Britain. The findings showed that nearly 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve patients’ ability to understand social situations, their attention spans and their ‘working memory’ – or how much information they can hold in mind at one time.

Patients who are treated with aerobic exercise programmes, such as treadmills and exercise bikes, in combination with their medication, will improve their overall brain functioning more than those treated with medications alone. Further, the study also found evidence that programmes which used greater amount of exercise, and those which were most successful for improving fitness, had the greatest effects on cognitive functioning, the researchers said.

“The study presents the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia,” Firth added. “Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long-term disability, and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients,” Firth said. For the study, published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, the team combined data from 10 independent clinical trials with a total of 385 patients with schizophrenia.

Scientists identify brain’s ‘generosity centre’

Holding hands.      Photo credit: biologycorner/Flickr

The area of the brain appears to control pro-social, generous behaviour, the study said

Whether you are a saint or a sinner may depend on a specific part of the brain, new research suggests.

Scientists have identified a region of the cerebral cortex they have dubbed the brain’s “generosity centre”.

Brain scans show that it is especially active in people with a more generous or “pro-social” mindset. These individuals also appear to have higher levels of empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

Participants who are naturally more selfish and less empathic show a lower degree of activity in the “generosity centre”.

Lead scientist Dr Patricia Lockwood, from Oxford University, said: “This the first time anyone has shown a particular brain process for learning pro-social behaviours – and a possible link from empathy to learning to help others.

“By understanding what the brain does when we do things for other people, and individual differences in this ability, we are better placed to understand what is going wrong in those whose psychological conditions are characterised by anti-social disregard for others.”

Pro-social, “generous”, behaviour is a fundamental part of being human and essential to community living.

But while most people show a natural inclination to be pro-social, some individuals are more giving than others. Why this should be so is still not fully understood, although empathy is thought to play a central role.

To investigate links between empathy and generosity the Oxford team set up an experiment in which 31 male volunteers played a computer game that involved learning to associate abstract symbols with money rewards.

Participants, who were all aged between 19 and 32, were given opportunities either to win cash for themselves or for another player.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that while people readily learned to make choices that benefited others, they were quicker at identifying symbols that rewarded themselves.

The MRI scans revealed one particular brain area that seemed to be involved in thinking generously by prioritising a good result for someone else.

Dr Lockwood said: “A specific part of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) was the only part of the brain that was activated when learning to help other people. Put another way, the subgenual anterior cingulate seems to be especially tuned to benefiting other people.”

However, the scans showed that the sgACC was not equally active in every volunteer.

“People who rated themselves as having higher levels of empathy learned to benefit others faster than those who reported having lower levels of empathy,” Dr Lockwood added.

“They also showed increased signalling in their subgenual anterior cingulate cortex when benefiting others.”

The research may have implications for understanding what drives psychopaths and anti-social or criminal behaviour.

The scientists wrote: “Taken together, our findings reveal a computational link between pro-social learning and empathy in humans and therefore pave the way to characterise atypical pro-social interactions in those with disorders of social cognition and behaviour.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 8th May 2016

Independent Ministers target housing and judge selection

Finian McGrath and Shane Ross take to airwaves and print to set out priorities.

    Judicial Appointments Press Conferences

Finian McGrath (left) and Shane Ross have listed affordable housing and laws to ensure judges are selected on merit among their respective promises for Government.

New legislation for affordable housing and laws to ensure judges are selected on merit are among the promises set out by the Government’s two newly appointed members.

Minister of State, Finian McGrath and his Independent colleague, now Minister for Transport Shane Ross, on the airwaves and in print, have been setting out their priorities.

Mr McGrath told RTÉ Radio One’s Brendan O’Connor that he was working on legislation with voluntary housing groups, in relation to affordable housing.

“I’ll probably have that bill ready to roll in maybe four or five week’s time,” he said.

But, he said, in terms of housing, the priority was to deal with the 1,100 families living in crisis accommodation and he suggested that could be done through the use of local authority houses that are boarded-up.

“You cannot have young kids living in hotels and trying to go to school and be normal, that’s solvable if we move quickly,” he said.

He “got a lot of stuff on disabilities” into the programme for government, and also on extending the medical for families on the domiciliary care allowance.

His key areas were health, disability and cystic fibrosis, he said.

“Of course it is a huge political risk for me, but I’m about trying to deliver for the people,” he said.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult, I’m getting it in the neck, but I can take it in the neck any day of the week, if I can deliver on cystic fibrosis, disabilities and health issues.”

He also said some taxes would be going up, and there would be a sugar tax, and more tax on tobacco.

Mental health

He said there was a “good section” in the programme for government on mental health. Issues to be tackled included access to mental health services at primary care and youth mental health, he said.

“We also have phrases [in the programme] like more 24/7 service and liaison teams at primary and emergency care,” Mr McGrath said.

He said “the Government knows if we don’t get particular issues, we are fighting like hell for them”.

In his role as a Super Junior Minister, Mr McGrath can attend Cabinet meetings and speak, but not vote.

He said he had not paid the water charges. Asked if he would agree to pay if the Dáil accepted a recommendation to impose charges by a commission to be appointed to examine the issues, Mr McGrath said he would listen to the democratic vote.

He also highlighted a section in the programme for government, which allowed for “times in the Dáil when the whip is loosened”.

“The world doesn’t fall apart when that happens, by the way, it happens in other parliaments, 25% of other parliaments across the world have free votes,” he said.

In his column in the Sunday Independent, Mr Ross highlighted his commitment to “ridding Irish life of insiders and cronyism”, including in the appointment of judges.

“New legislation, ensuring that judges are selected on merit and no longer on political patronage, is now on the way,” he said.

“The old system will be replaced by a selection body with a lay majority and an independent lay chairperson. Politicians and judges will no longer choose our judges.”

State bodies

He also said the selection of directors for state bodies will be “unrecognisably reformed”. He said the Taoiseach had agreed to abolish the Economic Management Council, which had been made up of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

On his appointment to transport, he said his “views on semi-states in permanent convalescence” were well documented. He said he wrote a whole chapter in a book about the goings on in Iarnród Éireann, and once suggested fares should be restricted to €1, and there should be “wholesale culling of the boards of quangos”.

“I am really looking forward to my first meeting with some of the organisations which have received harsh criticism in this column,” he said.

“God knows how the bearded trade unionist Jack O’Connor and I will get on if we ever have to sit across the table over the Luas strike or any other dispute. Everyone says he is really nice, committed guy, but we have a bit of a history.”

Mr Ross said the difficulties in transport are formidable, yet the unique background to the formation of the government suggests that real reform is possible.

HSE board gives its approval to €900m digital e-health plan


The new National Children’s Hospital will be the first site to go live with digital health records

The Health Service Executive has approved the business case for a €900m e-health plan designed to digitalise Ireland’s health system.

The intention is to provide digital health records for all Irish patients by the middle of 2019. The first site that will go live with electronic health records will be the National Children’s Hospital.

Multi-million state contracts will probably be awarded to private companies to deliver the plan.

Having secured the HSE board’s approval, the business case will now go to the Department of Health for sign-off and ultimately to the Government.

The nine-year plan is being spearheaded by HSE chief information office Richard Corbridge. It will cost between €609m and €875m.

A 12-month process to find companies to deliver the plan should begin at the end of this year, if the necessary approval is secured on time.

The funding structure is not yet decided upon but the plan can be divided into four clear parts, Corbridge said.

The HSE first began talking with potential vendors in November 2014. Forbes estimates there are around 260 organisations in the world that deliver e-health records. “We are talking to around 40,” Corbridge said.

The project is being advised by a Chief Clinical Information Officers Counsel, a group of clinicians, in an effort to ensure it fits with clinical needs.

Major lessons were learned from the failure of the HSE’s PPARS system, Corbridge said. PPARS was a personnel and payroll system built for the HSE which could only handle a fraction of the organisation’s HR needs. It has been estimated that PPARS cost around €220m.

In other health-tech news, the Clanwilliam healthcare software group has outlined plans for another €80m spend on three to four acquisitions a year for the next five, having just bought British business Bluespier. Bluespier provides software to hospital theatres and is used in 50 NHS hospitals.

The acquisitions will mainly be Irish and UK businesses, though “we are actively engaged with companies further afield”, chief executive Howard Beggs told the Sunday Independent.

Software entrepreneur Beggs has a minority stake in Clanwilliam, which is majority owned by US private-equity group Eli Global.

Following the Bluespier deal, Clanwilliam now has 300 staff in the UK and Ireland. It was founded in 2014.

Beggs was previously the chief executive of Helix Health, which was formed from a business he founded called Medicom and later sold.

Gardaí warning on crackdown of drivers using mobile phones


Warning issued by Gardai as figures show 76 motorists detected using handsets each day.

The offence of holding a mobile phone whilst driving carries a fixed charge notice penalty of three penalty points and an €80 euro fine.

Gardaí will target drivers using mobile phones in an operation to be launched in the coming days.

More than 28,000 drivers were detected holding a mobile phone while driving in 2015 – an average of 76 a day.

An Garda Síochána said holding a phone while driving remains a significant issue that requires continued and prolonged attention.

“All available Garda personnel, both uniform and plain clothes will participate in this targeted mobile phone enforcement operation. The aim of the operation is to detect offending motorists who hold or use a mobile phone while driving,” the force said in a statement.

“Distracted driving, such as using or holding a mobile phone whilst driving is a high risk activity for all road users and as such must be addressed. Intercepting such distracted drivers will modify driver behaviour.”

Chief superintendent Aidan Reid said today: “Distracted driving causes collisions, and using or holding a mobile phone whilst driving, is a prime example of distracted driving.

“We are announcing that there will be a targeted operation taking place over the next few days, but not announcing the exact dates. This is to give people an opportunity to modify their behaviour and put away that mobile phone. ”

The offence of holding a mobile phone whilst driving carries a fixed charge notice penalty of three penalty points and an €80 euro fine if paid within 28 days. It is also an offence to send or read a text from a mobile phone while driving in a public place.

Exercise during pregnancy gives babies a strong heart


The 3 Best Core Exercises During Pregnancy You Must Try!

When you’ve been struggling with body changes, keeping a meal down, dealing weight gain and running back and forth to bathroom every ten minutes – exercise may be the last thing on your mind during pregnancy. However, research shows that exercise does not only benefit the mother’s heart, but the baby’s as well.

A pregnancy-themed yoga routine or a simple walk can result in better sleep, improved moods, increase in energy as well as a fast recovery after labor. Pregnancy exercises lowers the baby’s heart with long lasting effects that continues until a month after the baby’s birth. Just like an adult that underwent training, a low heart rate means that the heart of the baby is in great health.

Findings from this study also suggest that following a proper exercise routine during pregnancy week by weekwill help improve the child’s healthy heart even after birth. However, it is still unclear as to whether pregnancy exercises will benefit the child in the long run and ultimately reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. In order to find out, there must be several studies that need to be done that will follow the babies for the next several decades to observe the outcomes.

The study itself observed 61 pregnant women who had their heart assessed during and after their pregnancy. As the women varied in the types and amount of exercise, most included yoga, walking, running, and weight lifting. When compared to women who did not exercise, those who exercised for 30 minutes a day, three times a week showed fetuses with lower heart rates. The results also showed the same differences a month after the baby was born.

The babies of those who exercised also showed an increase in heart rate variability, which is a measure that shows how the heart is better controlled by the nervous system. However, it is not exactly proven that exercise during pregnancy will benefit the heart as it could also be due to a growth factor or hormone that is produced by the mother that goes to the placenta and stimulate the development of the baby.

Pregnancy exercises have also been shown to benefit the mother by lowering the mother’s blood pressure, improve their moods, and ease back pain.

The best and safest pregnancy exercises include:

  • Walking

  • Running

  • Swimming

  • Yoga

  • Light weight training

However, it is important to note that some forms of exercises may harm both the mom and they baby and should not be performed during any time of the pregnancy.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy for moms

As most of us tend to exercise to help prevent diseases such as obesity and diabetes or keeping the weight off, it is also important to exercise during pregnancy and keep your body moving. Exercise has many benefits for moms, which includes:

  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Constipation Relief
  • Better Sleep
  • Ease pelvic and back pain
  • Wards off Fatigue
  • Improves your mood
  • Reduces the risk of complications during pregnancy
  • Lowers the risk of complications during labor
  • Fast recovery

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy for babies

Exercise is not only great for you but for your baby as well. Here are the benefits of exercise for babies:

A strong heart.

Exercises will strength the baby’s heart, even at 36 weeks gestation and up to 1 month old.

Lower BMI

Studies show that when mice exercise during their pregnancy, their baby was less at risk of diabetes and obesity. Even with a diet high in fat, exercise will cancel out any poor effects of an unhealthy diet.

A healthy brain

Another study shows that when pregnant mice were give exercise wheels, the offspring were less prone to neurodegeneration, which is the change in the brain that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Reduces risk of diabetes

Research shows that mice born to exercising moms had better sensitivity to insulin, even after they’ve become adults.

Even if you weren’t exactly a gymnastic before you were pregnant, it’s okay to start slowly. Just five minutes a day is a great way to get started. Take brisk walks around the block or go swimming to let your body cool down. Just be sure to understand the rules of safe exercise during pregnancy. Contact sports are a big no-no as they carry a high risk of falling or getting hit. Be sure to stop any workout routine once you feel out of breath, lightheaded, unusual contractions, or any fluid or vaginal bleeding. Also be sure to consult with your physician before trying any exercise.

Cut out the red meat and you will live longer

A new report states


A review of several large scale studies into dietary health effects has found that meat eaters die earlier than vegetarians.

You should eat less red meat, less processed meat and replace them with far more vegetables to live a longer, healthier life. If you’re still craving some protein, try fish or chicken.

This might not sound too outlandish, not after several reports in recent years into how to form a balanced, healthy diet.

But, after looking through a number of those findings and reviewing and collating them as a whole, the Mayo Clinic in the US has found that even slight increases in red meat intake can prove damaging to your health.

Looking through international reports, which in total dealt with more than 1.5m people, the new paper found that ‘all-cause mortality’ is higher for people with increased daily consumption of red meat, especially processed meat. Other things like poultry and fish don’t seem to have the same effect.

“This data reinforces what we have known for so long – your diet has great potential to harm or heal,” said Brookshield Laurent, assistant professor of family medicine and clinical sciences at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“This clinical-based evidence can assist physicians in counselling patients about the important role diet plays, leading to improved preventive care, a key consideration in the osteopathic philosophy of medicine.”

The longer you’re a vegetarian the better, obviously, with those on such a diet for over 17 years expected to live 3.6 years longer.

Puget Sound could become a retirement home for some performing Orcas


The chances of a retirement home in the San Juan Islands for Orcas who have spent their lives performing in concrete pools have greatly improved.

The Whale Sanctuary Project launched Thursday with the intent of building the world’s first coastal cetacean sanctuary. One of the locations it’s considering is the waterways and inlets of Puget Sound (above middle pic.) and Vancouver Island.

It would be a retirement home for captive whales deemed at risk of not surviving if released into the wild. The planned sanctuary would serve orcas, belugas and dolphins endemic to colder waters who are retired from entertainment facilities. It would also serve injured or ill animals rescued from the ocean.

Rescued animals may be rehabilitated and returned to the wild, but those animals who spent a lifetime performing for millions of spectators will not be released. Instead they will be given lifetime care in a protective environment.

“We are not necessarily talking about pens, per se, but more in the lines of an inlet, bay or cove that’s cordoned off,” said Executive Director of the Whale Sanctuary Project Dr. Lori Marino. “Of course all those engineering decisions will depend on the actual site.”

The sanctuary would be open to the public on a regularly scheduled basis but in a manner that doesn’t disturb the animals, according to project leaders.

“This is good news,” said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Whidbey Island based Orca Network.

For 20 years, the Orca Network has been fighting for the return of Lolita, an orca that was captured 45 years ago from Penn Cove and is still on display at the Miami Sea Aquarium.

“These are esteemed scientists, I know a lot of them. They are specialists, they add a lot of credibility to the whole idea of sea pens,” said Garrett.

Lolita could be an early candidate for a sanctuary in the Puget Sound.

The Whale Sanctuary Project, based in Utah, has received an initial donation of $200,000 from Munchkin, a maker of baby products. The company has pledged at least $1 million toward the completion of the project.

“You can call for Sea World and other captive facilities to phase out their programs, but the fact of the matter is there’s no place for most of the animals to go,” said Dr. Marino.

Sea World executives have said their animals would remain at Sea World when they retire. Garrett says the owners of Sea Aquarium have turned a deaf ear to the Network’s offer of a sanctuary for Lolita.

“They’ve never really entertained the idea because it didn’t have the kind of ‘umph,’ you know, the kind of support,” said Garrett.

Now that the Whale Sanctuary Project has a strong financial backer, Garrett says Lolita may have chance to return.

The Orca Network has filed suit against the Miami Sea Aquarium in an attempt to return Lolita to Puget Sound. That suit will be heard in a Miami courtroom in June.

Dr. Marino says her group is also looking at locations on the east coast. She predicts a sanctuary could be in place within 3 to 5 years.