Tag Archives: Revenue

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 8th August 2016

Sugar tax will damage the Irish economy, Beverage council group claims

Irish Beverage Council says planned levy will not tackle obesity

     

A sugar tax of 10c on cans of soft drink will not help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem, said the Irish Beverage Council.

A sugar tax of 10 cent on cans of soft drink will increase the average household’s annual grocery bill by €60, but won’t help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem, said the Irish Beverage Council (IBC).

The group, which represents companies that sell sugary drinks in Ireland, has produced a report arguing sugar taxes do not achieve public-health objectives, and instead cause “economic damage to consumers, business and the Irish economy”.

IBC’s pre-budget submission, called Sugar Tax: All Cost, No Benefit, suggests Irish soft drinks companies could lose sales worth about €60 million a year to Northern Ireland as a result of the planned levy, while Exchequer VAT revenues could also be hit.

It said the estimate of lost sales was based on the consumer behaviour after currency market movements created a similar price gap between groceries priced in sterling and euro.

Low-income households

Food-based “sin” taxes are regressive and have a disproportionate effect on low-income households, it also argues.

“A sugar tax may be populist, but it is simply not supported by evidence,” said IBC director Kevin McPartlan.

The organisation, which is affiliated to employer group Ibec, noted that VAT was already applied to sugar-sweetened drinks at the standard 23%.

This could be lost to the Exchequer if a separate sugar tax is introduced ahead of the UK and provides enough of an incentive for cross-border trade in soft drinks, the industry argues.

The potential lost VAT revenue could be €35 million per year, it estimates.

“Any attempt to introduce a soft drinks tax prior to the UK’s potential implementation would create a significant differential to the price of products sold north and south of the border,” said the report.

A sugar tax in the UK is not due until 2018.

Britvic Ireland chief executive Kevin Donnelly told the Irish Times business podcast last month that the combination of weak sterling and the introduction of a sugar tax in the Republic before Northern Ireland “would drive quite a wedge in pricing between the two parts of Ireland”.

Denmark abandoned a tax on sugar drinks after 15 months following a loss of VAT income, which was attributed to consumers travelling to Germany and Sweden.

The Programme for a Partnership Government, published in May, listed a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks as one of a range of measures that would be used to fund a reduction in personal tax rates, such as the phasing out of the Universal Social Charge (USC). No date was set for its introduction.

A Department of Finance spokesman said on Sunday that the issue had been studied in pre-budget tax strategy papers which outlined the options for the Government.

It said all views would be considered in the run up to the budget. The timing of any introduction of the tax would be dealt with on budget day, he said.

A recipe change is needed

IBC said it “remains unclear” whether a sugar tax was being introduced “solely as a revenue-raising measure or as a health levy with a related strategy”.

It is lobbying the Government to abandon the tax and instead encourage changing recipes and improving labelling.

The soft drinks industry has “taken thousands of tonnes of sugar and billions of calories out of the national diet” in recent years by changing recipes and offering a wider choice, its report states.

Almost half of all non-alcoholic drinks consumed in Ireland are now low or no-calorie varieties.

In Mexico, a sugar tax of 10% introduced in 2014 prompted a fall in the consumption of soft drinks in that year, but figures from the two largest Mexican bottlers of Coca-Cola show sales began to climb again earlier this year.

The tax of one peso per litre has been a successful revenue-raising measure, however, generating more than $2 billion since January 2014, or about one-third more than the Mexican government had expected.

Social welfare deal for self-employed people being surveyed across Ireland

   

The self-employed people in Ireland are being asked if they would welcome an opt-in social welfare system whereby they would pay more to access more benefits.

20,000 surveys will be sent out to a random selection of people across a wide range of industries including agriculture, construction and hospitality.

It is part of the Government’s plan to reform the PRSI system and create a better link between contributions and the benefits received.

Mark Fielding, head of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, has said people will always think twice about setting up their own business without a safety net: “It certainly stops people, or it has the capacity to stop people setting up business because as an employee you have an immediate entitlement to benefits if you are out of a job.

“As a self employed person, you don’t have that immediate entitlement.

“Invalidity isn’t covered for the self employed and disability isn’t covered for the self employed.

“The difficulty is it will cost and that is where the crux of the matter is.”

Irish Government being urged to introduce e-cigarette liquid tax levy

Department of Finance says 50c levy on every 10ml of liquid could yield €8.3m annually

    

Four EU member states, Portugal, Italy, Romania and Slovenia – have introduced taxes on e-cigarettes, or on the liquid used in them.

The Government has been told to consider introducing a levy on the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

The Department of Finance says a levy of 50 cent on every 10ml of the liquid used in the products, which are largely used by people attempting to quit smoking, could yield €8.3 million annually.

The proposal is included in a tax strategy paper published by the department which outlines a number of options in the area of excise duty.

“However, the implementation and collection of such a tax would be difficult given the wide variety of ways in which these products are supplied to the consumer,” the department says. “Secondly, as previously stated, many sources consider e-cigarettes to be a cessation tool and certainly less harmful than cigarettes.”

Safer than tobacco?

Four EU member states – Portugal, Italy, Romania and Slovenia – have introduced taxes on e-cigarettes, or on the liquid used in them. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the products have been deemed to be 95 per cent safer than tobacco equivalents. Public Health England, an agency of the UK’s department of health, said e-cigarettes were not risk-free but when compared with smoking, evidence showed they carried “just a fraction of the harm”.

However, former minister for children James Reilly raised concern about their effects late last year and insisted action would be required if evidence of them being damaging to health emerged.

The licensing system?

The Department of Health is preparing the general scheme of a Bill to provide for the introduction of a licensing system for the sale of tobacco products and non-medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes. The legislation will prohibit the sale of tobacco products from self-service vending machines and temporary or mobile units/containers.

It will also prohibit the sale of non-medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes, by and to persons under 18 years.

The tax strategy paper says Ireland has the second-highest excise duty on tobacco-related products in the European Union.

However, the Department of Finance said: “It should be noted the Revenue Commissioners have expressed concerns that increases in excise may not lead to increased yields, as consumers are further incentivised to exit the tobacco products market in Ireland.”

Conservation measures and the preservation of our rare species in Ireland

Are we doing enough?

     

Conservation measures to protect our environment and its wildlife have in many cases proven to be ineffective, with species still declining,

The spend by the State on protecting snails, frogs, corncrakes, and freshwater pearl mussels can sometimes raise eyebrows among a disbelieving public.

Against the background of almost weekly stories of trauma for patients waiting on trollies in hospital A&E departments and the unending homeless crisis, a combined spend of almost €1m in 2015 on only two protected birds, the hen harrier and the corncrake, may appear hard to justify.

However, the Department of Arts and Heritage has pointed out on a number of occasions that there is a legal obligation under EU law to spend the money on conservation measures, warning that if the money isn’t spent Ireland would have a much larger spend on fines imposed.

An Taisce’s natural environmental officer, Fintan Kelly, makes the argument that not enough money is provided for conservation of these protected species claiming that “due to political wrangling the money available for conservation has been spread too thinly”.

He claims: “The conservation measures themselves have consistently been watered down to such an extent that by the time it comes to implementation they cannot deliver meaningfully.”

The farming lobby is also not happy with aspects of the Government’s plan for conserving protected species.

  The Natterjack toad is rare in Ireland, limited to parts of Co Kerry. Ireland spends €48,000 a year on its protection.

IFA SAC project team chairman, Tom Turley, said IFA’s view has consistently been that the implementation process for designations does not protect landowners. The process of consultation has also fallen far short of what is required.

He said: “IFA has called for a proper consultation with an effective appeals system. The main concern of the IFA centres around the restrictions imposed and the lack of a proper compensation mechanism. Management plans have not been put in place. As a result, farmers and landowners have seen their incomes affected by designations with a devaluation of their land.”

Mr Turley added: “IFA has called on Minister Heather Humphreys to initiate discussions on a new process of consultation, appeals and a proper compensation mechanism. Areas that are currently designated should be examined as to whether they should remain designated.”

However, Mr Kelly pointed out: “Many of Ireland’s most threatened habitats and species are of poor and declining conservation status. In 2013 a report by the National Parks and Wildlife Service revealed that only 9% of the 58 habitats that were assessed were found to be in ‘favourable’ conservation status, 50% as ‘inadequate’ and 41% as ‘bad’.”

The hen harrier is considered to be one of our ‘at-risk’ species but farmers in areas designated for its protection have long been calling for support

He stated: “Some of our most threatened species such as vertigo (snails), freshwater pearl mussel and hen harrier continue to decline at an alarming rate.” Even once common species may not exist as breeding species in Ireland in the near future.

There have been significant declines in their long-term breeding distribution: Corncrake (92% down), curlew (89%), whinchat (77%), grey partridge (74%), woodcock (68%), lapwing (56%), red grouse (52%), and redshank (50%).

He said: “There is no evidence that there will be any major decline in pressures over the next decade. Pollution and the intensification of the agricultural and forestry sectors are threats for species moving forward. Climate change will also bring its own challenges.”

Mr Kelly claimed: “Agri-environment schemes in Ireland have in the main failed to halt biodiversity loss. This is despite vast sums of taxpayers’ money being invested.

“For example €2.18bn has been given to farmers in Ireland under CAP environmental schemes between 1994 and 2006, these schemes, have failed to deliver sufficient protection for Ireland’s biodiversity. This situation makes a mockery of Ireland’s current branding of our food and drink sector as ‘green’ and sustainable under Bord Bia’s Origin Green marketing campaign.”

The number of calling males is down 20%?

Mr Kelly said documentation which An Taisce got access to via Freedom of information requests reveal the NPWS agrees.

He pointed out: “In the documentation the NPWS expresses understandable frustration that its past submissions to the Department of Agriculture ‘have not particularly influenced the selection of measures for Natura lands’, despite the fact that the NPWS is the responsible body with direct expertise.”

Mr Kelly said that the farmers in hen harrier designated sites have been crying out for support for years.

“It would have benefited these hill farming communities and Ireland’s hen harrier population which is undergoing a collapse in its breeding population within these protected sites due to inadequate habitat management and due to pressures such as inappropriate forestry and windfarm development.”

Brendan Dunford, BurrenLife director, in the Burren with delegates from the EUFRAS/IALB (European Forum for Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services) Conference in June. He says the BurrenLife programme has had a ‘phenomenal impact’ on the Burren landscape.

Mr Kelly claimed that there “is inadequate enforcement of environmental law in Ireland”. He said: “The NPWS are critically underfunded and have seen their budget repeatedly slashed. For example, in December 2010 it was announced that the NPWS’s budget was to be cut by a huge 56%.

“As a nation we need to wake up to the current environmental crisis we are living through.”

Select group of farmers get €641k for hen harrier preservation.

A select group of farmers received €641,000 from the State in 2015 for implementing measures aimed at conserving the protected hen harrier bird on their lands.

In total, since the scheme commenced, farmers have enjoyed a €13.6m pay-out. However, the payout in 2015 was significantly down on the €1.86m paid out in 2014.

The Department of Arts and Heritage regards the EU-protected hen harrier as “one of Ireland’s and Europe’s most spectacular yet rarest and most threatened birds of prey”.

In response to a freedom of information request, the department said it has spent a total of €729,000 on all measures conserving the bird in 2015.

A breakdown of the costs show that along with the €641,439 paid to farmers an additional €63,439 was spent on a national hen harrier survey along with a further €20,000 spent on scientific report.

According to the department figures, the highest amount received by any participating farmer was a Tipperary farmer who received €14,594; followed by farmers in Tipperary and Limerick who all received figures in excess of €12,500.

The highest proportion of farmers in the scheme are based on the Midwest, with 96 in Limerick and 86 in Clare. The breakdown shows that there are 60 farmers based in Kerry, 53 in Cork and 32 in Galway and Tipperary.

However, one of those farmers in the scheme and member of Clare County Council, Pat Hayes (FF) said that only now is the designation of lands hitting home with the devaluation of the lands in question: “The designation is having a terrible impact on land values and I believe that there should be a more long-term compensation scheme put in place.”

The largest concentration of hen harriers is in the Stacks to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills, and Mount Eagle SPA where 29 pairs are located with the next highest amount located in the Slieve Aughty mountains in northeast Clare-south Galway.

The hen harrier habitat mapping work that will inform part of the State’s threat response plan for the conservation of hen harrier.

The department has stated previously that without the traditional type of hill farming in hen harrier areas being supported, “it would be expected that the hen harrier population would decline and possibly become extinct”.

It further stated: “The hen harrier is a magnificent bird of prey and a beautiful part of Ireland’s natural heritage. The Hen Harrier Farm Plan Scheme run by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht — National Parks and Wildlife Service — has been important in helping maintain and enhance habitat for this rare and vulnerable native Irish bird in areas that have experienced significant losses in habitat and where this species faces extinction.”

The department said the scheme has supported farmers to stay on the land???.

The general trend in the absence of such a scheme has been land abandonment and rural depopulation, and without this scheme it is likely more high nature value farmland and habitat would have been lost.

The department said that “in the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme payments have been made since 2008.

The farmer is paid for works done, e.g. the creation of hedgerows, improvement of hedgerows, design of scrub habitat, management of rushy/tussocky fields, change in stocking rate, controlled burning, creation of small mammal habitat, etc.”

€2.6m Burren scheme is hailed a success?

A model scheme that has paid Burren farmers more than €2.69m over the past six years to create the conditions to grow rare and wild flowers to prosper has had a phenomenal impact.

Pointing the way forward for future interest heritage schemes reliant on farmers for their success, over the past five years, farmers participating in the BurrenLife Programme have received €5.79m in payments for their role in the improved environmental health of the Burren.

Figures provided by BurrenLife show that €2.69m of those payments were for ‘the management of species-rich grassland’ where the Burren’s famous flowers grow.

Director of the scheme, Brendan Dunford — who last year gave Prince Charles a tour of a Burren farm — said the goal of the programme is that every farmer in the Burren who wants to be included will be included.

The most recent programme involved 160 farmers participating covering 45% of the protected areas in the Burren and Mr Dunford said that it is the programme’s ambition to include 100% of protected areas such as special areas of conservation (SAC).

Mr Dunford said that the programme has had “a phenomenal impact” on the Burren landscape “and the environmental health of the Burren is increasing year by year”.

  The Burren in Co Clare remains one of Ireland’s unique protected landscapes.

The BurrenLife will leave a fantastic legacy and it proven to be a very good value for money model — and we believe is the best model around.” The programme is jointly funded between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Arts and Heritage.

Mr Dunford said: “The programme has a lot of support at national and European level.”

He said that people can see for themselves the increasing environmental health in every Burren field under the programme. The success of the programme has now resulted in the creation of a new six-year programme entitled the Burren programme and it is envisaged 500 farmers will be included in the scheme by 2020.

  €2m to preserve the ‘iconic’ corncrake?

The State has spent €2m over the past four years in its battle to save the corncrake from national extinction and the number of calling males is down 20%.

However, divisional manager with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Denis Strong, points out that a large proportion of the monies in the scheme is paid to farmers.

Last year (2015), the State spent €338,032 in the latest round of its corncrake battle — the bird is going tough times with numbers down 20% to 183 calling males.

Mr Strong pointed out that of the €338,032 spent, €177,675 was paid to farmers: “The money goes directly back into rural Ireland and to the farmers.”

The spend of €338,032 in 2015 followed a spend of €362,111 in 2014, €597,779 in 2013, and €722,237 in 2012.

Speaking on the 2015 spend, Mr Strong said: “The scheme offers good value for money to the taxpayer. The amount spent is a very, small, small contribution on an iconic species that has been here for so long.”

He added: “It is important that we maintain that and protect what we have from a biodiversity point of view. Also, as a member of the EU, we also have a legal obligation to protect and enhance species such as the corncrake.”

The protection measures are in place as mechanised farming decimated the Irish population of the corncrake which was once widespread across the country. The bird migrates here each summer from Africa to breed before returning to the warmer climate for the winter.

The numbers of the bird increased in 2013 and in 2014 to record levels of 230 calling males before last year’s census that found no sign of any corncrakes in the Shannon Callows. The bird has also disappeared from Co Sligo, North Mayo mainland and Achill Island, and Connemara since last year.

The largest concentration of corncrake in the country are the islands of Donegal where 86 calling males were detected during the summer, including 43 detected on Inishbofin and Inishdooey. The 2015 figures show that 55 corncrake males were detected in west Connacht, including 34 on the Mullet peninsula. The bird is now confined to Co Donegal, Co Mayo, and islands off Connemara.

The corncrake is an Annex I species on the EU Birds Directive, requiring that the highest conservation measures be put in place.

  €500k contracts to save pearl mussel? 

The State has entered contracts worth more than €500,000 in a bid to conserve “our panda” — the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

The freshwater pearl mussel is present in 150 rivers around the country and can produce valuable perals

Figures provided by the Department of Arts and Heritage in response to a freedom of information request show that the department entered six contracts worth a total of €512,000 with a number of the contracts stretching through to 2017 and 2019.

The department confirmed that €38,176 was spent last year (2015) on freshwater pearl monitoring with a further €19,804 being spent on a separate study.

The most lucrative contract was won by Richard O’Callaghan, who is providing ongoing scientific support relating to the department’s projects concerning freshwater pearl mussel species.

The mussel has existed virtually unchanged for around 50m years and has survived in Ireland in large numbers and high densities across many rivers, and has existed in some lakes for in excess of 10,000 years.

The mussel can live to 120 years; is present in 150 rivers around the country and is not edible.

Authority on the mussel here, Evelyn Moorkens, says: “They are a very special species. The mussel is both a keystone species — if you lose it, you will lose a whole series of species and it is an umbrella species in that it offers protection to everything else around it.”

Ms Moorkens previously described the mussel as “our tiger, our panda”. The information shows that Ms Moorkens has scooped three of the six contracts with a combined value of €252,000. The work involves her providing, in one case, surveillance on 21 pearl mussel sites between 2014 and 2017 and in another, monitoring of pearl mussel sites in Co Kerry from 2014 to 2019 as part of an EU Life project.

Ninety percent of all freshwater pearl mussels — which can actually produce valuable pearls — are known to have died out across Europe during the 20th century.

The figures show that Philip Farrelly & Co Ltd was the other pearl mussel expert to scoop a large contract after he secured a €94,770 contract for a Fresh Water Pearl Mussel Farm Planning Protocol.

In July of last year, the presence of 7,000 pearl mussels on the Doonbeg river helped US billionaire and Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, blow plans for a giant windfarm near his Irish golf resort at Doonbeg off course.

€250k on endangered toad is money well spent, says an expert

Department spending €48,000 per year for five years on native species

Ireland could face legal action and be subject to fines from the EU if we did not take action to protect the habitat of the native toad.

The State is spending €250,000 over five years in a bid to restore Ireland’s only native toad, the natterjack, to its former glory.

The endangered natterjack is confined to a small area in Kerry and one site in Wexford.

Currently, the State is committed to spending €48,000 per annum to a small group of farmers and landowners who manage new breeding sites for the natterjack in Co Kerry.

Last year, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed that it was seeking tenders from parties in respect of a monitoring project for the natterjack until 2018.

The natterjack is protected under the EU Habitats Directive that requires member states to carry out a series of strict protective measures to ensure that the species has a favourable conservation status.

Expert on the natterjack, Prof Mark Emmerson of Queen’s University said that the spend on the natterjack toad study “is money well spent”. He said: “There is a legal requirement on states in the EU to improve the status of natterjack toads.”

Prof Emmerson said that if the money is not spent and the population of the natterjack declines, Ireland risks facing legal action and potential fines from the EU. The academic said that the chirruping of the natterjack can be heard from more than 1km away, while the mating calls of the male can be heard from great distances.

Adult natterjacks are 60mm–70mm long and are distinguished from the common toad by a yellow line down the middle of the back. They can live up to 15 years, feeding on insects.

The natterjack toad is rare in Ireland, limited to parts of Co Kerry. Ireland spends €48,000 a year on its protection

The current population of natterjack toads is estimated to be around 9,000 adults and it is the only toad species found in Ireland. Prof Emmerson said Kerry provides a great refuge for the toad.

A spokesman for the Depatment of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated: “Considerable efforts have been made in recent years to start restoring the toad to its historic range. This has involved the construction of approximately 100 new breeding sites for the species around Castlemaine Harbour and at Castlegregory in Co Kerry.

He said: “The ponds are dug and managed by 48 local landowners under five-year agreements with the department.

“The cost to the department of this scheme in each of the last two years has been €48,000. It is hoped to continue this scheme to the end of the current five-year agreements, subject to exchequer funds being made available.”

The origin of the long body of snakes now discovered after gene find

    

                                        A snake embryo.

For many years, researchers have been trying to understand the origin of the exceptionally long trunks that characterize the body of snakes. This is a mystery in terms of animal development that can shed light on the mechanisms controlling the tissues that form the trunk, including the skeleton and the spinal cord.

A research team led by Moisés Mallo from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC, Portugal) now discovered the key factor that regulates trunk development in vertebrates and explains why snakes have such a strikingly different body. These findings, published in the latest edition of Developmental Cell and highlighted in its cover, may open new avenues to the study of spinal cord regeneration.

Despite obvious differences in size and shapes observed among different vertebrate animals, they all have bodies with a head and neck, a trunk and a tail. It is the relative size of each of these body sections what makes a large part of the body differences among these animals. Still, all vertebrates develop by consecutive phases, forming each region of the body in a specific order, from head to tail.

The development is guided by genetic instructions that inform the beginning and the end of each body region’s formation. Moisés Mallo’s laboratory has been trying to crack the genetic code that controls trunk and tail development in vertebrates. In order to achieve it, they studied mice that had particularly long or especially short trunks. “We thought that the analysis of these animals could give us the key to unveil the code of trunk formation”, says Moisés Mallo.

Their experiments led to the surprising finding that the key controller of trunk development was the Oct4 gene, one of the essential regulators of stem cells. Since many other vertebrates also have Oct4, this gene could play similar roles in other animals and might even be responsible for the exceptionally long trunks of snakes. Rita Aires, first author of this study, explains:

“We had found that Oct4 is the switch that leads to trunk formation, still we couldn’t explain the different trunk length observed in vertebrates, particularly in snakes. Therefore, we tested if this switch was being turned on or off during different periods of embryonic development in snakes compared to mice.”

The researchers discovered that the Oct4 gene was indeed kept active during a longer period of time in snakes when compared to other animals. They also showed that this resulted from changes in the snake genome that happened during reptile evolution, which placed the Oct4 gene next to a DNA region that keeps this gene in an “ON” state during long periods of embryonic development.

“The formation of different body regions works as a strong-arm contest of genes. Genes involved in trunk formation need to start ceasing activity so that the genes involved in tail formation can start working. In the case of snakes, we observed that the Oct4 gene is kept active during a longer period of embryonic development, which explains why snakes have such a long trunk and a very short tail”, says Rita Aires.

Moisés Mallo further explains: “We identified a key factor that allows essentially unlimited growth of trunk structures, as long as it remains active. Now we will investigate if we can use the Oct4 gene and the DNA region that maintains its activity to expand the cells that make the spinal cord, trying to regenerate it in case of injury.”

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 26th February 2016

An Irish Times exit poll shows Coalition are well short of overall majority

Significant recovery for Fianna Fáil and gains for Sinn Féin and smaller parties, Ipsos MRBI survey finds

   

The Coalition parties have fallen far short of an overall majority in the next Dáil, according to an exit poll conducted for The Irish Times by Ipsos, MRBI.

Fine Gael support has slumped from 36.1% in the last general election to only 26.1% a far worse result than the party anticipated at any stage of the campaign.

The poll indicates the Labour Party received just under 8% support, far behind the 19.5% it achieved at the 2011 general election.

The Coalition parties did not benefit from a swing in the final days of the campaign, according to the poll..

Fianna Fáil appears to have made a significant recovery since the last election and is could almost double its number of Dáil seats.

Support for Sinn Féin has increased since 2011. There are also big gains for Independents and smaller parties.

The poll indicates the parties’ vote shares to be: Fine Gael 26.1%; Labour 7.8%; Fianna Fáil 22.9%; Sinn Féin 14.9%; AAA-PBP 3.6%; Greens 3.5%; Social Democrats 2.8%; Renua 2.6%; and Independents 16.1%.

At the last general election in 2011, Fianna Fáil took 17% of the first preference vote and Sinn Féin 10%.

In Dublin, Fine Gael has emerged as the largest party with 25.7% of the vote, followed by Sinn Féin with 15.4%, according to the poll. Fianna Fáil is on 14.6%, Labour 9.4% and others received 34.9%.

The 2016 General Election Exit Poll was conducted exclusively on behalf of The Irish Times by Ipsos MRBI, among a national sample of 5,260 voters at 200 polling stations throughout all constituencies in the Republic of Ireland.

Voters were randomly selected to self-complete a mock ballot paper on exiting the polling station. The accuracy level is estimated to be approximately plus or minus 1.2%.

If the final result is close to the exit poll predictions, the Fine Gael/-Labour Coalition will be far short of the numbers required to form a majority government.

Prediction

The complexity of the single transferrable vote system makes it difficult to provide an accurate prediction of the number of seats which will be won by the various parties .

At the last election Fine Gael got a seat bonus of 10%. In the unlikely event of a similar seat bonus this time, it would end up with 56 seats. But a more likely seat bonus of 5% would give the party 50 seats. The new Dáil has 158 seats, eight fewer than in the last one.

It is even more difficult to predict the number of seats the Labour Party will win if it takes just under 8% of the vote. It is likely to be in the range of eight to 12.

One thing that could benefit the party is that the poll indicates very strong transfers from Fine Gael to Labour.

Fianna Fáil, on 23%, should come close to, or even surpass, its target of 40 seats, which would represent a remarkable achievement for party leader Micheál Martin.

Sinn Féin on 14.9% also looks like it could make reasonable gains. Even with no seat bonus, the party should be able to break into the 20s range.

At the dissolution of the last Dáil, Fine Gael had 67 seats, Labour 33, Fianna Fáil 21 and Sinn Féin 14.

Disappointment

The strong performance of smaller parties and Independents confirms the trend evidenced in The Irish Times polls going back over the past 18 months.

The poll results will come as a severe disappointment for both Government parties even though they are very close to the figures they have been getting inIrish Times polls for the past year or so.

The expectation in the Coalition parties was that they would gain support as the election got closer and voters weighed up the merits of stability versus change.

That message did not resonate with the voters and the outcome will generate uncertainty about who can form the next government.

The turnout in the election appears to be down on the 70% figure achieved in 2011. Party sources estimated it might be about 65%.

Turnout was described as “uneven” in the run-up to the polls closing, with politicians claiming many people were still undecided up to the last moment.

The counting of votes begins at 9am today, with the first counts expected to be announced in the late afternoon.

Property tax take should rise with house prices

The EU says

Bailout reforms deemed not enough to remedy all problems resulting from crash

    

The European Commission report said potential new entrants into the mortgage market were probably deterred by the still-high level of non-performing loans and issues with access to property collateral underlying home loans.

The European Commission has strongly criticised the Government’s decision to suspend property tax revaluations, as it underlines a litany of vulnerabilities in the recovering Irish economy.

In an 85-page report published at 10pm yesterday – just as polling closed in the general election – the EU executive also suggested the property tax could be extended to non-agricultural land.

After an election campaign dominated by debate on promised cuts on taxes on income, the commission’s report said the tax wedge on labour in Ireland – the amount taken in taxation – was second-lowest in the EU. Revenue from VAT was also low compared to other member states, it added.

Non-performing loans

Turning to high variable-rate mortgage charges, the report said potential new entrants into the mortgage market were probably deterred by the still-high level of non-performing loans and issues with access to property collateral underlying home loans.

The report on Ireland, which is a regular assessment published each February, said reforms undertaken in the bailout programme had not been sufficient to tackle all the legacy issues from the crash.

“These issues continue to represent vulnerabilities and imbalances that affect the economy, hinder Ireland’s investment potential and pose challenges to macroeconomic policymaking,” it said.

These observations were made even as the commission said Ireland’s “remarkable” economic rebound had broadened and gained momentum in the last two years.

In relation to the property tax, the commission said the yield remained below the EU average.

“A revaluation of self-assessed property values used to calculate local property tax liabilities was initially planned for 2016, but has been delayed by three years to November 2019,” it said.

“This decision represents a lost opportunity to broaden the tax base as residential property prices have increased substantially since the first self-assessment in 2013.”

An increase in the share of revenue from the property tax would reduce the cyclical sensitivity of government revenues and encourage more efficient allocation of land resources, the commission said.

Housing supply

“Extending the coverage to adjacent non-agricultural land would broaden the tax base and improve the efficiency of land use. The latter point may pertinent given current housing supply constraints,” it added.

On housing, the report said demand exceeds supply by a wide margin in major urban areas.

Vulnerabilities persist as Ireland’s debt-to-GDP ratio remained high, it said. While financial sector vulnerabilities were in decline, profitability remained weak. Capital positions were sound but challenges remain as banks adapt to new prudential rules.

“Non-performing loans fell further with the recovery but the ratio remains among the highest in the euro area.”

Unemployment had fallen below the EU average but long-term unemployment and the low work intensity of households remained a matter of concern, the commission said.

“Overall, the welfare system has worked well to contain the effects of the crisis on poverty and inequality, but barriers to inclusive growth remain.

“In particular, concerns persist about inactivity traps for certain households, the high proportion of people living in households with very low work intensity, child poverty and the lack of access to affordable, full time and quality childcare.”

Dunne’s Stores acquisition of meat businesses cleared by competition authority

    

Tipperary butcher Pat Whlean (Centre photo), of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel.

The deal first notified to the Consumer & Competition authority in January has been cleared to go ahead.

Dunnes Stores acquisition of two meat wholesale businesses, Whelan Food & Meat Processors Ltd and Tipperary Sustainable Food Company Ltd, has been cleared by the Competition & Consumer Authority. The proposed deal was first notified to the competition authority just over a month ago.

The meat wholesale businesses that Dunnes has acquired are owned by well-known Tipperary butcher Pat Whelan. The transaction is only for the two wholesale businesses and not the chain of well-known butcher stores operated by Whelan.

Both businesses are located in Co Tipperary and described as operating in the retail sale of meat and related products. The deal is private, with no figures disclosed.

Fifth generation

Whelan Food & Meat Processors was established in 2001 with an address at Clonmel, Co Tipperary. The second business, Tipperary Sustainable Food Company Ltd, was set up in 2008 and also has an address in Clonmel.

The latest accounts filed for Tipperary Sustainable Food Company show the business made profits of more than €280,000 in 2014.

Pat Whelan, a director of both businesses, is a fifth-generation butcher who also operates a chain of high-end butcher stores in Rathcoole and Monkstown in Dublin, Kilmacanogue near Bray in Wicklow, and Clonmel in Co Tipperary. This chain of butcher stores is not part of the deal.

Whelan Butchers and its beef dripping product were winners of the supreme award for the best food product in the UK and Ireland at the 2015 Guild of Fine Food Awards in London.

Dunnes Stores primary supplier of meat is Martin Jennings Wholesale in Co Mayo.

Penguins on a treadmill: what can we learn from the study?

Study finds fat penguins fall over more than slimmer penguins. And they cheat

    

A University of London study using a treadmill shows that fat King penguins fall over more often than slim ones but carrying a bit of extra weight comes with an important advantage when it comes to reproduction, the biomechanics researchers say.

Fat king penguins are unsteady on their feet while waddling compared to their slimmer counterparts, making them an easier catch for predators (or pesky scientists).

A UK research team discovered this by simply travelling to the subantarctic region of Antarctica, catching 10 male king penguins and putting them on a treadmill. Okay, it wasn’t quite as simple as that but it does mean we can watch penguins on a treadmill.

The team, led by Astrid Willener from the University of Roehampton, was studying the biomechanics of the waddle of the king penguin, which can grow up to 1m tall and up to 16kg, making it the second largest species of penguin behind the emperor.

They captured 10 males who were in courtship and weighed more than 12kg near the shoreline at the edge of a colony. The penguins, serial monogamists, have the longest breeding cycle of all the penguin species – 14 to 16 months – and produce just one chick per cycle. Anyone who has seen March of the Penguins knows that caring for a penguin egg requires enduring an intensely long fast, so it’s crucial that parents have enough fat to keep them going.

The captured penguins, who were kept beside the colony for two weeks, received two training sessions of 10 minutes to get used to walking on the treadmill. Then they were filmed at a speed of 1.4km/hr before and after a 14-day fast (fasting for periods of up to one month is normal for king penguins and researchers checked the critical body mass of the birds to be sure that they were not losing body mass too fast during the study).

The posture – leaning and waddling – of the penguins while walking was then determined by the researchers. To quantify the waddling, the amplitude of peak left and right leaning was calculated.

It wasn’t all simple though. Some of the penguins – the larger individuals – found ways to cheat the system.

“ Sometimes the penguins were lazy and ‘water-skied’ on the treadmill by leaning their back on the back wall of the treadmill. That is obviously not good for the data collection,” Willener told the Guardian.

In the end the researchers found that although the penguins waddled with more agility at a lower weight, they had nonetheless adapted well to be able to handle waddling while heavier, even if they were not as efficient and less stable.

And packing on the pounds did give the big guys an important advantage when it comes to reproduction, the study, which was in the online journal PLoS One, found.

“The weight gain is an adaptive mechanism for them to survive their fast while reproducing and taking care of the egg,” said Willener. “But it is a trade-off between putting on weight to fast longer, in case there is a delay in finding a penguin partner to mate with, and still being able to walk, because if they can’t walk steady, they fall and will be spotted and eaten alive by predators.” Luckily walking isn’t their primary travel mode.

Willener hopes the findings will help in efforts to better understand, and protect the species.

The scientists were careful to point out that the video of its chubby penguin has been sped up, so it appears to be running faster than it did in reality. And, they clarify, no penguins were pushed over during the process.

So, you get to watch penguins on a treadmill and relax in the knowledge that it’s not only humans who put on weight when they have got a new girlfriend.

A view of the Milky Way like you have never seen before

  

Here’s a view of the Milky Way galaxy like you’ve never seen before.

https://youtu.be/Ip3YHk0gu0I   This video takes a close look at a new image of the Milky Way released to mark the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy.

The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope in Chile (APEX for short) captured this super-panoramic image of our home galaxy, mapping the full view of the galactic plane as seen from the Southern Hemisphere in unprecedented detail.

The 40-foot telescope views the sky in sub-millimeter wavelengths, which are between infrared light and radio waves and are invisible to the eye. That allows astronomers to observe the coldest regions of the universe, where gas and dust are only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero, as well as the regions where stars are born.

In the image, the APEX telescope’s observations appear in red, with some data from theEuropean Space Agency’s Planck satellite in fainter red. The blue parts of the image show shorter infrared light captured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

The European Southern Observatory released the map to celebrate the completion of the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy project. The image spans an area of sky 140 degrees long by 3 degrees wide — four times larger than the project’s first map.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 22nd October 2015

Irish beef back on the Canadin menu as deal reopens market there

Import of beef from Europe begin again after 19 -year mad cow disease ban

   

Ireland has also reached agreement with authorities in Oman on veterinary health certification which will allow for the export of beef and sheep meat from Ireland to the region for the first time

Canada has reopened its market to Irish and European beef, 19 years after it blocked all imports because of mad cow disease.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Canada has reauthorised the import of beef from 19 member states.

The deal was brokered by the European Commission and follows an EU-wide audit process..

Ireland was a leading participant in the process, having hosted a visit from theCanadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in February last year.

There will be no restriction on the age of cattle from which beef can be exported, the department also confirmed.

The deal comes in the wake of Ireland being granted access to beef markets in the US, China and Japan, which had also been closed since the infamous BSE crisis of the 1990s.

Separately, Ireland has also reached agreement with authorities in Oman on veterinary health certification which will allow for the export of beef and sheep meat from Ireland to the region for the first time.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveneysaid: “I am delighted to see the re-opening of this potentially valuable market in Canada. This is a market with strong Irish links, which appreciates premium quality foods and should be a natural fit for Irish beef.”

“ It builds on the progress in accessing the US market earlier this year,” he said, noting Ireland’s role in showcasing its production systems as part of the EU audit played a key role in securing this access.

He said the department would now commence work with interested plants here to ensure that the trade in product can commence as soon as possible.

Richard Clinton, group commercial director of Dawn Meats, said: “The reopening of Canada to exports of Irish beef is a welcome development, following as it does on the resumption of business in the USA earlier this year.”

“In anticipation of the reopening of this significant market, our business development team have been working over the last number of months to again add Canada to the list of over 40 countries we supply.”

Limerick brothers win EY Entrepreneur of the Year award

 

John and Patrick Collison (above left) have been named the overall winner at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards for their web and mobile payments company Stripe.

The Limerick brothers started Stripe in 2010, with the goal to make accepting payments online simpler and more inclusive. John Collison accepted the international award for Stripe on behalf of himself and his brother.

The 25-year-old thanked his parents for being so understanding, particularly when the pair started the company and moved to San Francisco.

The brothers, who were among the youngest in the competition, also took the overall prize and will now represent Ireland at the World EY Entrepreneur of the year awards in Monte Carlo next year.

  Other winners on the night included Donald Fitzmaurice and Padraig MacBride from BrandTone who won the top prize in the emerging category, and Jack Dobson from Dunbia took the prize in the industry category.

Brandtone, a mobile marketing company headquartered in Dublin, delivers campaigns from brands including Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, Diageo and Heineken to almost six billion consumers in developing markets.

Accepting the emerging category award, Donald Fitzmaurice said: “It’s a great honour that I accept this award with Padraig on behalf of everyone at Brandtone.”

Padraig paid tribute to his late father who he said would be “smiling down” seeing him win the award.

“This is a big, big shock. I would like to thank everyone in the Brandtone family as well as my own family,” he added.

Jack Dobson from Dunbia, a multinational red meat company based in Co Tyrone, took the prize in the industry category and was overwhelmed with his win.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m really humbled and honoured.

“I must give a lot of thanks to my wife and family who supported me through the highs and the lows.

“This is really an achievement for me. I have never done anything like this before so thank you very much,” he said.

  Fr Peter McVerry (left) also received a special award on the night for his nearly 40 years combatting homelessness.

He joked that while most of the entrepreneurs in the room had achieved something, despite all his hard work, the number of homelessness is at a higher level than when he first started his work.

“It is to the shame of our nation that despite having the fastest growing economy we have a growing homeless problem,” he stated.

HSE is owed €290m for the use of public facilities

Administration and delays by doctors are holding up repayments, PAC hears

    

The bulk of the €22m tax settlement reached between the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners in recent weeks related to the late payment of employers’ PRSI

More than 50 medical consultants are “years” behind in signing off on claim forms that would release money owed to the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Dáil Public Accounts Committee has heard.

The HSE is owed more than €290 million in income for the use of public facilities by private patients, but administrative issues and delays by insurers and consultants have delayed the payment of this money.

The delay in paying the money due to the taxpayer had increased from 148 debtor days in 2011 to 186 days last year, the committee heard.

HSE chief financial officer Stephen Mulvany said the executive was experiencing significant difficulties with health insurers in obtaining sign-off and payment of the money due.

But delays by consultants in processing claim forms were also contributing to the problem, with almost half of the total delay down to the top five consultants with long delays in each hospital.

‘Ridiculous’

Committee chairman John McGuinness described the situation as ridiculous and said it was clear the HSE was failing to bring the consultants responsible for the delays into line. Ultimately, the taxpayer was bearing the cost. He suggested it was time for the health service to “kick ass” and deal with the long-running issue.

Mr Mulvany said the consultants were busy people and their focus was on patients. While disciplinary action was a significant step, it would have to be considered.

The bulk of the €22 million tax settlement reached between the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners in recent weeks related to the late payment of employers’ PRSI, the committee was also told.

Late payment

Mr Mulvany said €18 million of the settlement was in respect of tax with a further €4 million relating to interest and penalties. He said €14 million was in respect of payroll taxes with the bulk relating to the late payment of employers’ PRSI. He said about €2.5 million was in relation to VAT.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming said the public would be shocked to learn the HSE did not pay over PRSI contributors on behalf of employees on time. He said the HSE appeared to be trying to minimise the issue by “whinging” that it only related to a tiny fraction of the organisation’s overall tax payments.

Mr Mulvany said it was not seeking to minimise the issue but to put it in context that 99.9 per cent was paid.

He said what had occurred was a gap between contracts of service and contractors for service in relation to a small number of employees.

Cheese is addictive just like drugs so “I guess I am a junkie”

  

A valuable study has found that cheese is actually as addictive as drugs, and now I think I owe a lot of my family members some reconciliatory phone calls. Because it happened to me: my cheese addiction ruined my relationships.

The study, published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, examines why certain foods are more addictive than others. Researchers identified addictive foods from about 500 students who completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale, designed to measure if someone has a food addiction…

The study found certain foods are addictive because of the way they are processed. The more processed and fatty the food, the more it was associated with addictive eating behaviors.

The study ultimately found that the foods most associated with addiction shared traits with the most addictive drugs: they were highly processed and had high doses and rapid rates of absorption.

Cheese in particular is so addictive because it contains a protein called casein which, when digested releases actual opiates called casomorphins. The property has led Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, to call cheese “dairy crack.”

So, I guess I’d like to say…I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the missed birthdays, for the broken plans, for the missed soccer games, and the failed relationships. I’ve lost too many nights covered in cracker crumbs, bent over the toilet with a boulder of dairy in my stomach. I have been at the mercy of my addiction and while I know I am not to blame, I am at fault.

Stem cell breakthrough reverses infertility after cancer

Scientists from Egypt’s Mansoura Medical School show it is possible to restore fertility by injecting stem cells directly into the ovaries

   

Mice who had suffered ovarian failure from chemotherapy were able to have large litters after treatment. 

Cancer patients made infertile by chemotherapy have been offered new hope after scientists succeeded in reversing the damage caused to eggs for the first time.

In a landmark breakthrough hailed as “phenomenal” by fertility experts, researchers from Egypt and the US showed that injecting stem cells into ovaries can bring them back to life.

Chemotherapy is toxic to the ovaries, destroying eggs and ovarian tissue and triggering early menopause in some women.

  • IVF women third more likely to develop ovarian cancer

Many younger women are now advised to freeze their eggs before undergoing cancer treatment, but in urgent cases there is often not time.

Now scientists have shown it is possible to restore fertility by injecting stem cells directly into the ovaries.

“This is very exciting piece of research that adds to our understanding of how cells differentiate to become egg stem cells.”

Dr Stuart Lavery:-  Although the procedure has only been carried out in mice so far, the results were so successful that the researchers say they are ready to move to human trials.

Mice who had suffered ovarian failure from chemotherapy were able to have large litters after treatment.

The new treatment offers hope to more than 20,000 women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with cancer each year, and could also help those suffering from early menopause and ovarian failure.

Lead researcher Dr Sara Mohamed, of Mansoura Medical School in Egypt, said she had come up with the idea after meeting a 22-year-old cancer patient who was at risk of infertility from chemotherapy.

“It was a very emotional for me so I decided to pursue it and work on it to figure it out,” she said.

“It a very common problem based on statistics of cancer female diagnosis every year.

“We inject stem cells in the ovaries of mice which had chemotherapy and were damaged and we got very good ovarian function restoration in form of follicle number, hormonal production and finally getting pregnant and having new pups which was our ultimate goal.

“We are now working on translating that into clinical trials (for humans). This approach carries high promise to women with chemotherapy-induced and potentially other types of premature ovarian failure.”

In the trial involving 18 mice, one group were given chemotherapy and then ovarian injections of bone marrow stem cells, while another group had ovarian injections of saline. A third, control, group, had saline injections without the preceding chemotherapy.

Within a week researchers saw a boost in oestrogen, an essential hormone in ovulation, in the stem cell group followed by regeneration in ovarian tissue after a fortnight and an increase in the number of follicles.

Follicles produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and each carry a single egg which they release at ovulation.

The mice who had suffered ovarian failure were able to go on to have large litters of pups while those who had saline injections struggled.

Consultant Gynaecologist Dr Stuart Lavery, of Imperial College, said: “This is very exciting piece of research that adds to our understanding of how cells differentiate to become egg stem cells.

“Clearly, there remains an enormous amount of work to see whether these results would be transferable into humans.

“But it does provide some realistic hope that post-chemotherapy patients who have been made menopausal could one day restore ovarian function and possibly fertility.”

The researchers are now hoping to move to human trials using umbilical cord or even embryonic stem cells although they will still have to convince regulators the procedures are safe.

Recent trials to stimulate stem cells in the ovaries were banned by the Food and Drug Agency (FDA).

Currently women diagnosed with cancer can be be offered egg freezing, or even early stage IVF, before chemotherapy.

But many trusts have cut IVF funding and women are sometimes denied cryopreservation. The new therapy would give peace of mind for women that something could be done to reverse the damage caused by chemotherapy.

And because the new technique regenerates ovarian tissue the new eggs could be even healthier than they were before chemotherapy, experts have suggested.

Women are born with all their eggs but they degrade over time. Stem cells have the potential to make eggs brand new again.

Dr Geoffrey Trew, consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Hammersmith Hospital, London, said: “Fertility-wise, if this works it would be stupendous.

“Certainly it does appear promising and anything you can do to regenerate and ovary is a good thing.

“Theoretically if you are regenerating the ovary you should be getting better quality eggs.

“Clearly we’re not here yet, and it’s good that the researchers are not over-claiming their findings, but it’s a great proof of concept.”

Dr Edgar Mocanu, consultant gynaecologist at Rotunda Hospital in Dublin and board member of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, said: “This could open phenomenal opportunities for women.

“Millions of women around the world undergo cancer treatment and some of them will become infertile through ovarian failure.

“While cancer survival rates have increased dramatically, to date there is no effective method of preventing infertility after chemotherapy. It could also open new avenues for the treatment of menopause induced health issues.”

“This approach carries high promise to women with chemotherapy-induced and potentially other types of premature ovarian failure.”

Lead researcher Dr Sara Mohamed

Dr Owen Davis president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine: “If this experimental treatment can be translated to women who have lost ovarian function from chemotherapy, it will be a great advance.

“Restoring ovarian hormone production, follicle development and fertility to chemotherapy patients is a potential new application for bone marrow donation that could help many women.”

Coventry-based fertility expert Richard Kennedy, president-elect of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, said: “One of the really important messages for our cancer colleagues is that when men or women present for treatment, think about their fertility, think about the impact of the cancer treatment on their fertility.

  • Thousands of cancer patients to be denied treatment

“That is a really important message because the majority of people with cancer now are living for five years or longer, and many are surviving their cancers, so thought about the long-term impact of treatment is important.”

Katherine Taylor, of Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “This sounds very promising and we welcome any new research that helps us build on our knowledge of cancer and fertility. We look forward to seeing how this research advances in years to come.”

The research was presented at the annual sheeting of then American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Baltimore.

NASA unveils super powerful rocket designed to take astronauts to Mars and beyond

 

Space agency hails the arrival of first ‘exploration class’ spacecraft in 40 years and vows to fly it to the Red Planet

Mars or bust: An artist’s impression of NASA’s new rocket

NASA has completed work on a new rocket which could one day carry human astronauts on a mission to the Red Planet.

The Space Launch System is the most powerful spaceship ever built and is designed to “meet the challenges of the journey to Mars”.

It is the first “exploration class” rocket since the legendary Saturn V, which ferried astronauts to the moon during the Apollo era between 1966 and 1973.

“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS, we’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division.

“There have been challenges, and there will be more ahead, but this review gives us confidence that we are on the right track for the first flight of SLS and using it to extend permanent human presence into deep space.”

The new rocket has passed important preliminary tests and is expected to blast off on a test mission in 2018.

“This is a major step in the design and readiness of SLS,” added John Honeycutt, SLS program manager.

“Our team has worked extremely hard, and we are moving forward with building this rocket. We are qualifying hardware, building structural test articles, and making real progress.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th August 2015

A technical error sees Revenue ask foreign businesses for millions of euro

The issue relates to the new ‘VAT Moss’ system.

  

The Irish revenue has said that a “technical error” resulted in around 2,000 overseas businesses being sent incorrect invoices.

These were supposedly for the new VAT Moss system that has been put in place to allow businesses to pay tax abroad without having to register in each jurisdiction.

Revenue has said that it is working to update the system to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Traders who received the invoices took to social media to express their disbelief, with the error being covered on the WebDevLaw blog. Earlier Alastair Houghton, a member of the HMRC/SME VAT Moss Working Group in the United Kingdom, said that the letters had come from the Irish Revenue Commissioners but had been sent in error.

There has been no financial impact on those who received the invoices and Revenue has issued an apology for the incident.

Earlier letters were asking some individuals for amounts in excess of €1 million.

Invoices were mostly sent to customers in the United Kingdom. Other correspondence is known to have been sent to the Netherlands and possibly the United States.

The letters sent out were addressed from Michael Gladney, the collector-general with the Revenue. Individuals were given instructions on where to transfer money to.

Irish Water staff start calling customers who fail to pay first bills

  

Irish Water Staff now calling customers who have not made a payment after first two bills, and they remind customers to pay the bill and the charges due.

Irish Water has started calling customers who have failed to make any payments on their first two utility bills to remind them to pay the charges.

Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett said call centre staff last week began phoning customers who had yet to make any payments 21 days following the issuing of their second water bill.

The company had stated five weeks ago that it intended to take this step, which was normal practice “in every single utility company”, she said. Ms Arnett denied suggestions made in some media that there was any targeting of older customers by the call centre staff.

“There is no age profiling, no targeting of older people. I absolutely categorically refute that, it is absolute nonsense.”

She also emphasised the calls were being made by the company’s call centre, and the debts had not been passed on to a debt collection agency. Suggestions made by anti-water charge protesters that some elderly people had been told their water supply would be cut were also false, she said.

“We record every single phone call, this would not and could not happen.”

Payment’s.

Call centre staff offer customers the opportunity to pay over the phone, and outline the different payment methods to those who do not wish to pay at that time, she said.

Figures released by Irish Water in mid-July showed 46 per cent of water charges issued for the first three months of the year had been paid, €30.5 million of the €66.8 million due

This equates to about 675,000 households or 43 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million households on the public water network.

While follow-up calling for non-payment of utility bills may be a common practice, the decision represents yet another public relations blunder for Irish Water. There have been a succession of incidents that have plagued the utility.

Questions were raised over executive remuneration and bonus payments. Head of Irish Water John Tierney revealed on RTÉ that the company had paid €50million to consultants. Then within weeks it emerged that 29 staff members earned more than €100,000 each.

The ESRI economist John FitzGerald calculated that the extra 2,000 staff the company absorbed from local authorities would cost Irish Water up to €2 billion by 2025.

Two weeks ago Eurostat raised a number of concerns about the Government’s considerable control of the utility company. The EU statistics agency confirmed the company had failed the Market Corporation Test which means it must remain on the exchequer balance sheet in the coming years. It also took issue with Government control regarding board appointments and operations.

A third of us have spotted people shaving or putting on make-up while driving

 

Almost a third of drivers say they regularly see people applying make-up or shaving while driving.

The figure comes from a survey by the AA, which also says that 83% of us have seen people using a phone while behind the wheel.

56% of those polled said they had seen people texting while driving, while another regular experience was witnessing people not indicating properly on roundabouts (84%).

Personal grooming – applying make-up or shaving – are not explicit offences, but the AA warned it could be considered “driving without reasonable consideration.”

“It is worrying to think that people are still taking risks despite the fact that everyone with an ounce of sense knows the dangers. There are stricter provisions on mobile devices that will soon become law and there are really no excuses,” said Conor Faughnan, Director of Consumer Affairs at AA Ireland. “Certainly not for personal grooming; that’s ridiculous behaviour.”

The AA also collected anecdotal evidence by positioning a fieldworker on a busy intersection to observe traffic. They reported that, out of 415 vehicles observed passing the intersection during one hour, 10 motorists – including two taxi drivers – were using mobile phones. Another four used their phones while first in the queue at lights.

Researchers target early warning system signs of concussion

Leinster Rugby and TCD have linked up in two promising brain injury studies.

  

Ulster’s Stuart Olding above picture left leaves the field after a head injury sustained against Munster at Thomond Park in last season’s Pro12 competition.

Concussion continues to hang over rugby like an unwelcome cloud. We can expect the World Cup to highlight the dangers and see how far the sport has travelled on what has been a steep learning curve. But the threat of brain trauma is becoming less sinister and more understood as academics in Trinity College Dublin begin to make inroads and promote some optimism.

In recent months researchers at the university doing work involving blood examinations, as well as using cadavers to see how body movement behaves on impact, have joined forces with Leinster Rugby for two innovative projects into the diagnosis and analysis of the injury.

Early warning system

Ultimately, the teams hope to identify incidences of concussion and predict when a player should be taken out of a match. They are not at that stage yet, but initial findings have moved both projects closer to the main objective of an early warning system that would increase player welfare.

One of the projects is based on studying the movement of human bodies in car accidents to help understand what positions and actions cause brain trauma in sports collisions.

The other is a simple blood test that shows up proteins that are associated with concussion. In time they hope a pin-prick test can be used to determine head injury. They have already identified what they call metabolic patterns that indicate trauma has taken place.

“Every activity in the body leaves a map,” says Dr Fiona Wilson, a former Irish rowing team physiotherapist, who along with physiologist Áine Kelly, is conducting the research into blood.

“The fluids of your body tell you a lot. It’s a protein and shouldn’t appear in the general circulation unless the blood brain barrier has been compromised. We are looking at these metabolites and early stages show we may have a map.”

Brain trauma

They have studied the blood from people with severe brain trauma and examined the proteins. They then took blood from rowers, who do not have any collisions in their sport but their metabolic systems work as hard as professional rugby players.

This was to determine that the proteins found in rugby players were from multiple collisions and not physical exercise. From the injured patients they knew what “brain damage” proteins would appear in the blood.

“It’s the same as having a heart attack,” adds Wilson.”You go in to hospital with a pain in your chest and they measure cardiac enzymes. It’s like a brain injury. We know patients with brain injury so we can match our players against that.

“Our initial findings indicate that we have made significant progress in identifying the blood test. Collaboration with Steno Diabetes centre in Denmark means progress can be made towards a finger-prick blood test already familiar to diabetes management.”

In time, debates like those around Irish outhalf Johnny Sexton and Welsh winger, George North – should they or shouldn’t they return to play – will be measurable, a sort of Hawkeye for head injury.

The movement patterns, of bodies involved in collisions may appear ghoulish, but in scientific endeavour there’s no such thing as squeamish and dead people can often keep the living alive for longer.

Associate professor Ciarán Simms and bioengineering PhD student Gregory Tierney are using multi-angled videos to look at collisions. They take real footage of rugby incidents and superimpose a model skeleton image on the players.

Based on previous knowledge from experiments conducted on cadavers and studies of pedestrian crashes, they use mathematics to conclude what forces are in play and identify various tolerance thresholds.

From a database compiled over years of research, they can look at the kind of body movements and collisions that cause concussion. It takes several weeks to do a study, but with automation the goal is for real time use during rugby matches.

“The aspiration is to have a real time use. But we’re at early stages,” says Simms. “We are also reconstructing collision cases with ‘what if’ scenarios. For coaches, for example, you could ask what could a player do to effect a tackle without getting injured.”

The findings are ready to be peer reviewed, with a draft of findings expected to be ready within a month. The perfect outcome would be that for each match a TMO equivalent could look at impacts and use the technology to instantly tell whether a concussive impact has occurred or not. In tandem with the blood markers and the other battery of neurological tests there is excitement about bringing the lab to the pitch.

“Leinster is very supportive of the research,” says Wilson. “They have been so invested in making sure this happens. Every time the players give blood it’s a favour because there is no immediate benefit to them. It’s unusual for athletes, because they are usually being pulled in all directions by different people, to be so helpful.”

The research is being funded from America by the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, a fund for the development of new materials and technologies that can detect early-stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection. As collaborators, they are committing up to $20 million to a variety of projects.

Owls use a ‘stealth technique’ to capture their prey

 

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the owl’s ability to flap its wings hard enough to rise into the air without a sound while swooping silently on swift-moving rodents out of the still night.

The researchers crowned the owl the “king of acoustic stealth” after discovering that its wings absorbed the energy of flight vibrations and converted it to heat much more efficiently than other birds they examined.

Generating enough thrust to get aloft involves a large amount of force and disturbs a lot of air. Yet most owl species manage to do it at frequencies below 2 kilohertz (kHz), well out of their prey’s hearing range, ‘The Times’ reported.

Researchers used the feathers of a long-eared owl, a golden eagle and a pigeon.

Simulating wing-beats, they measured the vibrations and found that the owl feathers trapped much more of the energy as heat than the others.

Scientists could copy the owl’s noise-reduction mechanisms to quieten machine noises such as the thrum of onshore wind turbines, said Jinkui Chu, professor of mechanical engineering at Dalian University of Technology in China.

“The owl’s silent flight ability is even more superior than we thought,” said Jinkui.

“It not only manages to suppress aerodynamic noise when gliding, but also mechanical noise caused by vibration during flying. This is remarkable, considering the noise that creates for other birds,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 11th September 2013

Irish Tax defaulters pay Revenue Commissioners a total of €127m for 2nd Quarter 2013

    

Just under €22.62m worth of tax settlements were paid to Revenue during the second quarter of the year; a rise of just over 10% on the preceding three months.

The latest quarterly tax defaulters list — published yesterday — also shows that the number of individual settlements totalled 136 in the three months to the end of June; 10 more than were published in the first list of the year.

Of the latest batch, 59 were for amounts exceeding €100,000 — of which seven topped €500,000. Four cases involved settlements of more than €1m.

Brendan O’Connor, a company director and landlord, with an address in Enniscorthy — settled for just over €1.2m in a case regarding under-declaration of income tax and Vat. Dublin-based landlords, Barry & Sons paid just over €1m after under-declaring for corporation tax and Carrick-on-Shannon-based furniture suppliers, the Orthopaedic Bed Company was charged €1.23m for under-declaring for income tax, Vat, PAYE and PRSI.

The largest single settlement concerned Co Meath- based building company, Midland Contractors.

The Kells-based firm, which is in liquidation, settled for nearly €2.18m, regarding the under-declaration of Vat.

In its commentary, regarding the second quarter list, Revenue said that of the overall 136 cases, four settlements — totalling €1.28m — related to its Single Premium Insurance Products Investigation cases.

Other settlements include the Commons Bar, Commons Road, Cork, trading as Kenroode Investments for €275,820.34. William Cashman, a turf accountant based in Douglas in Cork settled for €405,399. And Gerald Mackay, a publican based in Youghal settled for €275,820.34.

Revenue added that the published settlements only reflect “a portion” of all of its audits and investigations during the three months under review.

“Settlements are only published when the extensive voluntary disclosure options are not availed of and the default is as a result of careless or deliberate behaviour,” Revenue said.

Yesterday’s data showed that a total of 2,151 audit and investigations — together with 16,440 risk management interventions — were settled between the beginning of April and the end of June, resulting in a total yield of €127m.

Criminals convicted of serious offences in Ireland to have DNA info entered into a database

 

Database to contain genetic profiles of people convicted of offences that attract prison sentences of 5 years or more

Criminals convicted of serious offences and most suspects detained in connection with serious criminal investigations are to have their DNA profile added to a new national database.

Under a draft law published today, gardaí will be empowered to take biological samples in the form of mouth swabs or hair follicles from offenders convicted of a serious crimes and suspects held in relation to offences that carry a sentence of five years or more.

The database will include the genetic profiles of offenders entered on the sex offenders register on or after the day the law comes into effect, as well as crime scene profiles from unsolved crimes.

The facility is designed to enable the authorities to match a DNA profile from an individual to an unidentified crime scene profile obtained in the course of a criminal investigation, and to match crime scene profiles from different crime scenes. It will also assist in identifying missing and unknown persons, including unidentified human remains.

It will be operated by the Forensic Science Laboratory at Garda Headquarters in Dublin, which already routinely does DNA testing for the force. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the data would be held on purpose-built software supplied by the FBI to agencies around the world.

The software, called Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), is used in 40 countries, including 18 EU member states, and was installed in the Forensic Science Laboratory in 2012.

“The intelligence generated will be invaluable to the Gardaí in relation to identifying prolific offenders involved in volume crime such as burglary but also in relation to serious offences against the person, such as homicide and sexual offences,” Mr Shatter said.

“It will contribute to the move towards more effective, targeted and smarter policing and will also facilitate cooperation with other police forces in relation to mobile criminals.” He also pointed out that the database would be of benefit in establishing the innocence of individuals suspected or wrongly convicted of offences.

The Bill states that suspects under 14 years may not be sampled for the database. Neither can “protected persons”, defined as those who do not have the capacity by reason of a disability to understand the nature or effect of the taking of a sample, or who cannot indicate their consent. However, both groups may be sampled where this is necessary to prove or disprove their involvement in a particular offence.

The Bill states that samples taken from individuals will be destroyed as soon as the profile has been generated or within six months – whichever is the later.

In relation to people who are not proceeded against or are not convicted, the Bill includes a presumption in favour of the removal from the database of their DNA profiles, subject to the Garda Commissioner having the power to authorise retention on the database where he is satisfied that this is necessary.

A statutory test is set out by which the commissioner will make this decision, which can be appealed. The retention periods allowed will be 6 years in the case of adults and 3 years for children.

The arrangements governing the retention of samples taken for evidential purposes include a presumption in favour of destruction of the samples relating to suspects who are not convicted, subject to the Garda Commissioner having the power to authorise retention for 12 months (which will be renewable) where he is satisfied that this is necessary. Again, this decision will be appealable.

The DNA profiles of people convicted of serious offences will continue to be held on the database indefinitely.

The Bill includes a number of safeguards in relation to the taking of samples. For example, the procedure is to take place “in reasonable privacy” and must be explained to an individual before it is carried out.

Where reasonable force may be used to take a sample, it requires prior authorisation of an officer of at least Superintendent rank. Its use must also be observed by a senior person who has responsibility for determining how many officers are required, and must be electronically recorded.

Mr Shatter said he was determined to ensure that the database would be ready for use as soon as the legislation was enacted. To make this happen, the laboratory has been given funding for new specialist staff and to allow for the purchase and installation of new equipment.

Irish Shipping activity surges to its highest level since 2008

 

Increased imports of animal feed coincides with fodder crisis

Increased imports of animal feed and fertilisers saw shipping and port activity increase by 11 per cent during the second quarter.

The latest iShip index, published today by the Irish Maritme Development Office, showed activity for the three months to the end of June was at its highest level since 2008.

The index indicated that four of the five principal domestic freight segments grew during the quarter.

The growth was largely driven by a surge in demand in the dry bulk sector which includes grain, agricultural products, coal, animal feed and fertilisers.

The increased volume of feed and grain imports coincided withthe country’s fodder crisis earlier this year, which forced farmers to import greater amounts of animal feed to make up for the shortage of silage.

The dry bulk sector has been the strongest performing freight segment over the last three quarters, growing by 26 per cent to 4.08 million tonnes in the second quarter.

Roll on-roll off trailer volumes increased by 8 per cent to 229,772 units, the index showed.

The majority of roll on-roll off traffic moves betweenIreland and Great Britain, our largest trading partner, and this trade grew by 6 per cent as demand conditions in the UK improved.

Exports were flat as global economic conditions continued to impinge on demand, the report said.

Parking charges in Ireland generate totals of €360 million a year

   

Local authorities make most from car park charges
Car parking charges generate more than €360 million a year for local authorities and private industry in Ireland, a European parking conference in Dublin will hear today.

Irish cities and towns have more than 350,000 paid parking spaces but most are off-street in car parks, a Europe-wide survey has found.

It identified that there was potential to generate far more income from parking if more on-street or “kerbside” spaces were to be metered.

Local authorities do best from parking charges with revenues of some €115 million, according to the Irish Parking Association, the private and public sector representative body which is hosting the conference.

Private car parks have revenues of €80 million and car parks at railway stations and other transport hubs generate €70 million.

Shopping centre car parks have revenues of €50 million; parking at hotels and hospitals have combined revenues of €25 million; and equipment suppliers have revenues of €15 million.

Miscellaneous associated services produce a combined total of €5 million.

Kerbside potential
The industry as a whole contributes more than €100 million to the exchequer, and directly employs more than 1,500 people in Ireland, the association said.

Across Europe the industry is estimated to be worth more than €20 billion and employs 500,000 people.

Most of Ireland’s paid parking is off-street in car parks with about 270,000 spaces, compared with 85,000 on-streets paid parking spaces.

Across Europe the ratio of off-street to on-street is far closer with almost 22 million off-street spaces compared to 12 million on-street paid parking spaces.

However, the European Parking Association estimates that far more “kerbside” spaces in city centres could be made to pay.

Free spaces
The association will tell the conference that its survey of the scope of the industry across Europe shows there are more than 190 million currently free spaces which represent a potential source of revenue.

The conference is being held at the National Convention Centre and will be opened by Minister for Transport  Leo Varadkar.

It will be attended by almost 500 delegates and will hear from Irish and international experts .

Speakers include the secretary general from the Department of Transport Tom O’Mahony, Dublin city engineer Michael Phillips and Transport for London director of traffic Alan Bristow.

Topics are set to include innovative parking solutions in a Georgian city, cashless on-street parking, whether paid parking is killing the high street, lessons in parking from the London Olympics 2012, and a wireless parking experiment in San Francisco.

The key to preventing suicide lies within Ireland’s communities

 

There are plenty of charities and support groups aimed at suicide prevention, but do they offer the right help?

About 500 people die by suicide every year in Ireland. Those working on the coalface of the problem say it’s closer to 10 deaths a week – eight of which are men. Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, these people and others who have attempted suicide will be remembered.

In Ireland, we are no longer afraid to talk about suicide and there are now many charities supporting people through periods of extreme psychological distress who might otherwise have taken their own lives.

More help.
There is also more help for families and friends trying to understand and cope with the loss of a loved one through suicide these days.

But, do we really know what best helps people in acute emotional crisis? And do we have the psychological maturity to give people the support they need to prevent them from taking their own lives?

Caroline McGuigan is a psychotherapist with Suicide or Survive (SoS) and a former user of the psychiatric services.

She firmly believes that the keys to suicide prevention are within the community. “There isn’t one answer or one organisation. What works for you won’t work for me but if we invest in community, it can heal itself,” says McGuigan.

Struggles and vulnerabilities
She says that while we are talking more about suicide, we don’t talk about our own vulnerabilities and struggles.

“Part of life is struggle and we need to challenge the idea that if you feel low or anxious that you are a lesser person because of it and that it’s something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

“I’ve learned time and time again that listening is the key and asking questions like, have you experienced this before? What did you do to help you through then? Don’t decide you know what’s best for the person. Don’t judge them. A paternalistic approach doesn’t work.”

According to McGuigan, what’s really important is to hold hope.

“The stressful thoughts and emotions do pass. It’s also very important to use the word ‘we’ when talking about getting support and remind the person that he/she is a valued and capable human being.

“Even in distress, a person can tap into the resources that got him/her through so far.”

The standard advice for anyone who is suicidal is to seek help from their GP, at their nearest A&E department or to phone a helpline.

Joan Freeman from Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm crisis centres, points out that if someone in acute distress arrives at their GP or A&E department, he/she needs to be seen “quickly, compassionately and efficiently”.

“People can be waiting for hours among people who are physically ill and [when A&E departments are busy] many of those in acute emotional distress will leave the hospital without being seen,” she says.

She acknowledges, however, current HSE plans to put in place emergency care nurses who will fast-track individuals in acute emotional distress and/or with a history of self-harming.

Ireland’s Mothers to-be are the ‘biggest drinkers’ of six countries

 

Irish mothers-to-be are drinking significantly more during pregnancy than women in other countries.

But they are not increasing their odds of having a smaller baby, high blood pressure or a premature birth.

However, crucially, new research did not look at the effects of alcohol on the developing baby’s brain and whether it increases the risk of hyperactivity and slow learning.

An international study looked at the drinking patterns of 5,628 women during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, including consumption by 1,774 pregnant women in Ireland.

Irish women were the biggest drinkers, but it found alcohol consumption in early pregnancy did not appear to adversely affect some conditions.

These include the baby’s weight, pre-eclampsia – a condition that can be life-threatening for the mother if left untreated – or spontaneous pre-term birth.

The Department of Health warns pregnant women to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy because of the potential brain damage it can cause the unborn baby, leading to a condition known as foetal alcohol syndrome.

The newly published study was conducted by researchers funded by the Health Research Board and led by the College of Medicine and Health in University College Cork (UCC).

Lead researcher Louise Kenny, Professor of Obstetrics in UCC, stressed the potential for damaging the baby’s brain remains one of the single most important reasons for pregnant women to avoid alcohol intake.

She said the research was conducted with the principal aim of developing screening tests to predict which babies would be small for their gestational age, would develop pre-eclampsia in the mother and to determine the risk of spontaneous pre-term birth.

However, the findings unearthed worrying levels of drinking among pregnant Irish women when compared with their counterparts in Australia and New Zealand.

Eight in 10 of the 1,774 women recruited in Ireland had drank some alcohol in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

And one in five reported drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol during that time.

Around 31pc admitted two or more episodes of binge drinking, compared to 4pc in New Zealand.

Overall 65pc-80pc of women in the UK and Ireland consumed some alcohol in pregnancy, compared with 38pc in Australia and 53pc in New Zealand.

The 5,628 women were surveyed in Cork, Auckland, Adelaide, London, Leeds and Manchester.

DNA study suggests hunting did not kill off mammoth

  

Researchers have found evidence to suggest that climate change, rather than humans, was the main factor that drove the woolly mammoth to extinction.

A DNA analysis shows that the number of creatures began to decrease much earlier than previously thought as the world’s climate changed.

It also shows that there was a distinct population of mammoth in Europe that died out around 30,000 years ago.

The results have published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The view many researchers had about woolly mammoths is that they were a hardy, abundant species that thrived during their time on the planet.

But according to the scientist who led the research, Dr Love Dalen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the study shifts that view.

“The picture that seems to be emerging is that they were a fairly dynamic species that went through local extinctions, expansions and migrations. It is quite exciting that so much was going on,” he told BBC News.

Dr Dalen worked with researchers in London to analyse DNA samples from 300 specimens from woolly mammoths collected by themselves and other groups in earlier studies

The scientists were able to work out how many mammoths existed at any given time from the samples as well as tracing their migration patterns. They looked at the genetic diversity in their samples – the less diverse the lower the population

They found that the species nearly went extinct 120,000 years ago when the world warmed up for a while. Numbers are thought to have dropped from several million to tens of thousands but numbers recovered as the planet entered another ice age.

The researchers also found that the decline that led to their eventual extinction began 20,000 years ago when the Ice Age was at its height, rather than 14,000 years ago when the world began to warm again as previously thought.

They speculate that it was so cold that the grass on which they fed became scarce. The decline was spurred on as the Ice Age ended, possibly because the grassland on which the creatures thrived was replaced by forests in the south and tundra in the north.

The reason they died out has been a matter of considerable scientific debate. Some have argued that humans hunted them to extinction while others have said that changes in the climate was the main factor.

A criticism of the climate extinction argument is that the world warmed well before the creatures became extinct and so that could not have been the cause.

Any role of humans in the process has yet to be demonstrated”

Prof Adrian ListerNatural History Museum London

The new results show that mammoths did indeed nearly go extinct between Ice Ages and so backs the view that climate change was the principal cause for their demise.

These results back a computer simulation of conditions at the time carried out by researchers at Durham University in 2010.

And of course other animals, including humans, became more active after the Ice Age and so competition with other species and hunting may also have been a factor in their extinction, though not the principle cause, argues Prof Adrian Lister of the NHM.

“During the last ice age, between about 50,000 and 20,000 years ago, there were substantial movements of mammoth populations – European populations being replaced by waves of migration from the east, for example,” he said.

“But from about 20,000 years ago onwards, the population started the dramatic decline that led to its extinction, first on the mainland about 10,000 years ago, and finally on some outlying Arctic islands. The pattern seems to fit forcing by natural climate change: any role of humans in the process has yet to be demonstrated”.’

News Ireland daily BLOG Monday

Monday 6th May 2013

Irish household tax dodgers pay up as Revenue closes in

         

Revenue chief Josephine Feehily said she will use a a range of powers to ensure compliance.

Irish homeowners who dodged paying the €100 household charge are being flushed out by fears they will be targeted by the taxman.

A flood of household tax protesters are paying up ahead of the first property tax deadline, which falls tomorrow.

The Revenue Commissioners will take over responsibility for collecting both taxes from July 1, and has promised to chase any tax evaders.

In the past week alone, almost 20,000 homeowners have paid the household charge – in a massive surge.

Government sources say the rise in homeowners suddenly paying the household charge is down to the fear of Revenue being on their trail – and the risk of having all their income audited.

Revenue is expected to target those who failed to pay the household charge in the first wave of enforcement.

It will use a database identifying the 1.2 million households who have paid the charge and will cross-reference it with details of those sent property tax demand letters. A comparison of both databases will help identify non-payers.

“Over the last number of weeks there has been a lot of interest in paying up on the household charge arrears,” a government source said.

“The first thing Revenue will look at when they get the list is the people who haven’t paid the household charge. They are putting themselves up in lights if they haven’t paid the household charge.”

Similar to the Revenue’s policy on income tax dodgers, failure to pay the property tax will result in people running the risk of an audit.

They also face the prospect of being hit with hefty late-payment interest of 8pc, additional cash penalties and the possibility of being prosecuted.

In the past week alone, some 19,478 household charge rebels paid up as the arrival of the property tax made them anxious about being caught.

This is almost a three-fold increase on the previous week, when 7,753 paid. Almost 1.2 million households have now paid the tax, or 74pc.

Revenue has a lot more power to enforce payment than the local authorities did under the household charge, and often cites the threat of an audit for taxpayers who fail to file their tax returns on time.

Chairwoman Josephine Feehily said she was confident that 97pc of people would pay the property tax, and will use a range of powers to ensure compliance.

They include taking the tax from PAYE workers’ pay packets, drawing the money through attachment of bank accounts and taking deductions from state payments.

Evaders may also be tracked through power or phone providers, the HSE, or the Private Residential Tenancies Board.

Most of this year is expected to focus on updating the database of compliant households, with enforcement action expected to begin later this year.

Services

Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that some €125.7m has been collected through the household charge, which had been allocated to local authorities to provide essential services.

But he warned that the Revenue Commissioners would chase evaders.

“In the last few years Irish people have had a tough time of it and, in spite of that, nearly 1.2 million people paid the household charge,” he said.

“We are on the road to economic recovery but it is a road that requires difficult decisions. This Government is prepared to take the hard decisions that will get us there.

“The tax base in Ireland will be broadened this year with the introduction of the Local Property Tax and in the long run this will provide local authorities with the ability to raise funding locally and spend it on necessary local services.

“Any liability to the household charge that remains un-discharged on July 1, 2013, shall be treated as a charge of €200 to local property tax that is due and payable on that date.”

A €30 penalty was added to the €100 household charge on January 1 for those who had not paid. This has since increased to €144, and will rise to €145 next month and to €200 from July 1 – the day Revenue takes responsibility for collecting it.

FG confirms changes to abortion Bill are possible

  

TDs and Senators will be allowed to deliberate on ‘small print’ of legislation

Fine Gael has confirmed anti-abortion backbenchers will be able to introduce amendments to proposed legislation, in a move that could set the party on a collision course with Labour.

Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan insisted the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill would not be “rubber-stamped”, with TDs and Senators getting numerous opportunities to “deliberate on the small print” of the law.

However, Labour says it is determined that the Bill will pass through the Oireachtas unamended, with a senior party source firmly rejecting three proposed alterations which some Fine Gael backbenchers are seeking.

These include the introduction of a “gestational cut-off point” after which terminations cannot be performed in cases where the mother is suicidal, along with a “review” of the legislation after 12 months if abortion figures escalate.

A third amendment being sought is legal representation for the unborn child if a woman is granted a termination on grounds of suicide.

No fait accompli
Mr Flanagan said: “There will be an opportunity for amendments. This isn’t just a parliamentary rubber-stamp. I wouldn’t like people to think that this is a fait accompli because it isn’t.

The Oireachtas health committee hearings on the “heads” or broad outline of the Bill begin next week, and once published the legislation must pass through various stages in the Dáil and Seanad.

However, Mr Flanagan stressed the extent to which amendments would be accepted “is one for debate and deliberation”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday the “review” proposal would be a matter for discussion at the health committee hearings.

Responding for the first time to the Catholic bishops’ description of the planned law as “morally unacceptable”, Mr Kenny said Ireland was a republic, in which politicians had a “duty and responsibility” to legislate.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion here but, as I explained to the cardinal and members of the church, my book is the Constitution and the Constitution is determined by the people,” he said.

The people’s wishes
“We live in a republic and I have a duty and responsibility as head of Government to legislate in respect of what the people’s wishes are.”

Mr Kenny expressed the hope the Government could “bring everybody with us” on this matter, but senior party figures remain concerned about the voting intentions of a small number of deputies.

Minister of State for equality and mental health Kathleen Lynch of Labour said any Government, “either now or in the future” could repeal any piece of legislation.

In response to the bishops’ suggestion that the Bill “appears to impose a duty on Catholic hospitals to provide abortions”, Ms Lynch told RTÉ Radio One’s This Weekprogramme it was “only reasonable” that facilities funded by the State complied with the law of the land.

Mr Kenny said the people’s wishes had been determined and set out by the Supreme Court judgment on the X case. “It is time to bring clarity and certainty to it. ”

Asked if Fine Gael members were concerned about excommunication from the Catholic Church, he said: “I have my own way of speaking to my God.”

A 15 year old boy develops dipstick test for cancer

  

Experts say the pancreatic dipstick stands a chance of becoming the world’s best and cheapest test for the disease.

A 15-year-old US high school student whose uncle died of pancreatic cancer has developed the first test for the disease that could detect tumours before they become too advanced to treat.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate for any cancer, which has remained unchanged for 40 years. It is symptomless in its early stages and strikes more than 8 000 people a year in the UK and 45 000 in the US. Four in five patients are inoperable by the time they are diagnosed and fewer than four in 100 live for five years.

Jack Andraka wrote from his home in Maryland to 200 professors seeking laboratory time to develop his idea for a screening test that would be as simple to use as a pregnancy test. The son of a civil engineer and an anaesthetist, he got the idea after researching the problem on the web and coming up with a system.

Of the 200 professors, 199 rejected or ignored him. But Professor Anirban Maitra, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, an expert in the genetics of pancreatic cancer, was intrigued. He invited Jack to come and speak to specialists in the disease who interrogated him for more than an hour.

At the end of the interview, the specialists were sufficiently impressed to allow him space in their laboratory to develop his system. The result was a dipstick paper sensor that detects the level of a protein called mesothelin in the urine (or blood) which is a biomarker for pancreatic cancer.

It is 168 times faster than the existing, inaccurate method of measuring serum tumour markers, more sensitive and, at 5 cents each, cheap. It won the $75 000 (about R680 000) Grand Jury prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year. Jack was recently invited to speak at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) in London.

Experts say the pancreatic dipstick stands a chance of becoming the world’s best and cheapest test for the disease – but it will take many years of trials and further development before it can be made commercially available. Several pharmaceutical companies are said to be interested.

Jack was invited by Michelle Obama to the State of the Union address in February, where Barack Obama told the crowd what he had achieved. “Not bad for a guy who is just barely old enough to drive,” the President joked.

When Jack was asked at the RSM meeting whether he was worried that, having sent his idea round to so many experts, somebody else might take it up and develop it, he replied that it would not have mattered because it was for the benefit of humankind. That won him the loudest applause of the day.

Mentor’s view’An honour to have him in my lab’Jack Andraka’s mentor, Professor Anirban Maitra, said: “Jack Andraka is fabulous. I have been delighted and honoured to have him in my lab. He sent me a nice write-up on his lab plans and research, very interesting coming from a 15-year-old boy… I am fortunate to have answered his email.”

Steve Pereira, a member of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s medical advisory board and consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital, London, said: “It is very impressive that a 15-year-old can be interested and stimulated to look into an area that is under-researched.

“Mesothelin has been looked at before but the innovation was to develop the test as a dipstick for urine… The excitement is in using new technology to bind an antibody to a dipstick and then use it like a pregnancy test.” – The Independent

RNLI volunteers proves to be Koda’s best friend after fall from cliff

   

Volunteer RNLI crew members above Nick Searls and Ian Fitzgerald who rescued Koda who fell off a cliff in Sandycove, Co Cork

Man’s best friend has learned that a dog’s own best buddy is an RNLI volunteer.

Koda, a pedigree husky, can testify to that fact after owing her life to Cork RNLI volunteers Nick Searls and Ian Fitzgerald

Koda was inspecting the coastline around Sandycove, outside Kinsale, when she got too close to the edge and slipped over the cliff.

The dog landed in water with a strong current that swept her more than 100 metres out to sea despite her desperate struggles to reach the shore.

A jagged reef also meant that her owner, Sally Anne Baggy, couldn’t get close enough to help drag the struggling dog from the water.

Luckily, two Kinsale RNLI volunteers were at the scene within minutes, and realised the danger facing the terrified dog.

Nick Searls dived into the heavy seas and swam over 200 metres to reach the now-floundering animal.

He managed to attach a harness and was able to swim slowly back to shore, dragging the weakened Koda with him.

Nick was then assisted by safety line out of the sea by Ian Fitzgerald.

Koda was immediately taken to a Kinsale vet, who said that, despite being exhausted and shocked, the dog was none the worse for her ordeal.

80% of Irish employees spend 56 minutes of working day on social media

      

46% of employers do not have policy on use of websites such as Twitter and Facebook

The browsing of social media services takes up an average of 56 minutes of the working day for more than 80 per cent of Irish employees, a report issued today claims.

Law firm William Fry, which published the report, said that even though 40 per cent of companies had imposed work-time bans on websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, employees were using their mobiles or other devices to get around the restrictions.

The report claims that 46 per cent of Irish employers do not have a social media policy in place, which the law firm said left businesses open to internal disputes, abuse and potential litigation.

However, William Fry associate Catherine O’Flynn said there was a limited value to placing absolute restrictions on social media use by staff.

“Instead, companies should focus on defining realistic limits for access to social media in the workplace,” she said.

The report is based on a combination of telephone and online polling by market research firm Amárach. A total of 200 companies each employing more than 50 people were surveyed by telephone and 500 employes were surveyed online.

The research found there was little clarity when it came to ownership of work related social media accounts, with confusion over what happens to work contacts when an employee leaves a company.

Just 17 per cent of employers who responded to the survey said they had discussed this matter with their employees.

“As the economy recovers and movement within the job market increases, these issues will arise more frequently,” the report says.

It also warns employers that they could be held liable for acts of bullying, harassment or discrimination carried out by employees on social media sites, even if they were carried out without the consent or knowledge of management.

“It will be helpful to an employer’s defence to show that they took practical steps to prevent the act complained of, by having a social media policy which identifies and requires appropriate employee conduct on social media sites,” the report adds.

Almost three quarters of employers (73 per cent) said they were not concerned that confidential business information might be posted on social media sites by employees.

Some 56 per cent of respondents said they encourage their employees to report negative comments made about their business, but 38 per cent of workers said they would do nothing if they came across negative comments about their employer on social media.

workers said they would do nothing if they came across negative comments about their employer on social media.