Tag Archives: Road deaths

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 19th November 2016

Almost 200 countries agree climate time-frame change and make appeal to Trump

Marrakesh conference agrees to work out a rule book by December 2018

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Members of International delegations at the climate conference in Marrakesh on Friday.

Nearly 200 nations agreed around midnight on Friday to work out the rules for a landmark 2015 global deal to tackle climate change within two years in a new sign of international support for a pact opposed by US President-elect Donald Trump.

At the end of two-week talks on global warming in Marrakesh, which were extended an extra day, many nations appealed to Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, to reconsider his threat to tear up the Paris Agreement for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Showing determination to keep the Paris Agreement on track, the conference agreed to work out a rule book at the latest by December 2018.

A rule book is needed because the Paris Agreement left many details vague, such as how countries will report and monitor their national pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Two years may sounds like a long time, but it took four to work out detailed rules for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement’s predecessor, which obliged only developed countries to cut their emissions. Paris requires commitments by all.

The final text also urged rich nations to keep building towards a goal of providing $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told a news conference that Marrakesh had been the start of turning promises made in Paris into action.

“We will continue on the path,” he said, urging Trump to join other nations in acting to limit emissions.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who will host next year’s climate meeting in Germany, invited Trump to drop his scepticism about climate change and visit the South Pacific nation to see the effects of stronger storms and rising seas.

Trump plans to favour fossil fuels over renewable energies and has threatened to halt any US taxpayer funds for UN climate programmes.

On Thursday, governments reaffirmed their commitment to “full implementation” of the Paris accord which seeks to phase out greenhouse gas emissions this century and to limit a global average rise in temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Not one country has said that if President Trump pulls the United States out of Paris, they will follow him,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Environmental groups said the outcome in Marrakesh was a step in the right direction, but many issues needed to be resolved over the next two years, including funds for developing nations.

“Rich countries have been trying to wriggle out of their pledges to help poorer countries meet the costs of coping with impacts and greening their economies,” said Harjeet Singh at ActionAid.

Also on Friday, a group of 48 developing countries most at risk from climate change said they would strive to make their energy production 100 percent renewable “as rapidly as possible”, as part of efforts to limit global warming.

The Social Democrats joint leaders call for radical changes in Ireland?

Party seeks end to religious discrimination, repeal of the 8th amendment

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Catherine Murphy (centre) and Róisín Shortall address the party event in Dublin.

The joint leaders of the Social Democrats have called for radical changes in Irish society including an end to religious discrimination, repeal of the 8th amendment, an end to corruption, and prioritising public services over tax cuts.

Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall set out a vision for the party based on the Nordic political model, with a strong liberal outlook, at the first national conference of the new party.

In their leaders’ address to the conference at the Dublin Convention Centre last night, Ms Shortall and Ms Murphy emphasised homelessness, affordable homes, a universal health system free at the point of delivery, as well as saying that spending on public services should always be prioritised over health cuts.

Speaking to about 300 members, the leaders called for repeal of the Official Secrets Act, as well as the Ministers and Secretaries Act. Ms Shortall said that it would open up government.

She also said that the Social Democrats in power would also ensure that those found guilty of white-collar crime and corruption would be put beyond bars. The part, she said, would establish an anti-corruption agency.

Both Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall called for repeal of Section 7 of the Equal Status Act. That they said would remove the “baptism barrier” and ensure that there would be no bar on grounds of religion preventing children being enrolled in faith-based schools.

“The law of the land, as it currently stands, is that state-funded schools are perfectly entitled to refuse entry to children as young as four because they are not signed up to a particular religious belief.

“Even schools which do allow access to children of different faith, or no faith, continue to expose those children to a religious ethos to which they do not subscribe. This is entirely unacceptable.”

Ms Murphy said the party would also pledge to abolish zero hours contracts if in power.

Ms Shortall said: “Across the world people are hurting and are seeking to lash out at an establishment that has hurt them.

“But lashing out is not enough; we want to replace anger with hope; hope that things will be better for the many and not just for the chosen few. Brexit and the unknown quantity of a Trump presidency have the potential to impact negatively on all of us, and on our ability to compete on the world stage.”

She said the most successful countries were those where the gap between rich and poor was smallest. “The countries that manage to achieve this, are ones which strive towards equality of outcome. Invariably the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway deliver better on these successful outcomes.”

Ms Murphy was highly critical of the reforms that have taken place over the past decade, saying they were driven by savage cuts.

“We see it in our chaotic health service; in our ever-worsening homelessness and housing crisis; in our underfunded and disjointed public transport system; in the second most expensive childcare costs in the world; and an educational system where parents are increasingly being asked to fund basic services such as school-heating costs.”

Ms Shortall also committed the party to a goal to end consistent child poverty by 2021.

On housing, Ms Murphy called on the Government to take immediate action to ensure long term rent certainty.

“We have to immediately free up many of the 200,000 vacant homes across the country,” she said.

As much as 130,000 customers hit by Three mobile data breach

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The primary purpose of this was not to steal customer information but was criminal activity to acquire new handsets fraudulently.

More than 130,000 users of the Three mobile network has been compromised in a cyber security breach.

Customer information from more than 130,000 users of the Three mobile network has been compromised in a cyber security breach, the mobile operator has said.

Three boss Dave Dyson said in a statement that all affected customers were being contacted individually and that while personal information had been accessed, no financial information had been compromised.

Three men were arrested after the data breach was revealed, over the alleged fraudulent use of the company’s phone upgrade system in attempted to steal handsets.

“As you may already know, we recently became aware of suspicious activity on the system we use to upgrade existing customers to new devices and I wanted to update all our customers on what happened and what we have done,” Mr Dyson said.

“On 17th November we were able to confirm that eight customers had been unlawfully upgraded to a new device by fraudsters who intended to intercept and sell on those devices.

“I can now confirm that the people carrying out this activity were also able to obtain some customer information.

“In total, information from 133,827 customer accounts was obtained but no bank details, passwords, pin numbers, payment information or credit/debit card information are stored on the upgrade system in question.

“We believe the primary purpose of this was not to steal customer information but was criminal activity to acquire new handsets fraudulently.”

Three said it was continuing to work with law enforcement agencies, and as a precaution additional security measures had been placed on customer accounts.

The company had been criticised by some customers on social media for what was seen as a muted response to the breach, however Mr Dyson said Three would address all consumer concerns.

“I understand that our customers will be concerned about this issue and I would like to apologise for this and any inconvenience this has caused,” he said.

“We are contacting all of these customers today to individually confirm what information has been accessed and directly answer any questions they have.”

Security experts have again called for major companies with large amounts of customer data to do more to protect consumers.

The breach is the latest in a string of cyber attacks and data breaches, including those on TalkTalk and Yahoo.

How stages of prostate cancer are determined?

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Any diagnosis of cancer has its own method of staging, which is a way to describe how much cancer is in your body and where it’s located.

Any diagnosis of cancer will have its own method of staging of the cancer detected. Cancer staging is a way to describe how much cancer is in your body and where it is located.

Staging of prostate cancer gives the doctor the information he needs to know on how big the tumor is, whether it has spread or not and if it has spread, where has the cancer gone to.

Staging is necessary for several reasons:

Testing for prostate cancer?

Image result for Testing for prostate cancer? When a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer, the initial staging is based on the results of PSA blood tests, biopsies, and imaging tests. This phase of staging is referred to as clinical staging.

A PSA blood test is used primarily to screen for prostate cancer and it measures the amount of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. PSA is a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate gland.

The higher the level of PSA is an indication of a more advanced cancer. The doctor will want to know how fast the PSA levels have been rising from test to test as a faster increase could indicate a more aggressive tumor.

A biopsy of the prostate can be done in the doctor’s office and the results from this can tell what percent of the prostate is involved. It can also determine a Gleason score, which is a number from 2 to 10 showing how closely the cancer cells look like normal cells when viewed under a microscope.

If the score is less than 6, it suggests the cancer is slow growing and not aggressive. A higher number indicates a faster growing cancer that is likely to spread.

Imaging tests used to determine prostate cancer can include CT scans, MRI, or a bone scan.

How prostate cancer is staged and what they mean.

Stage I cancer

This stage is known as localized cancer, as the cancer has been found in only one part of the prostate.

Stage I cancers cannot be felt during a digital rectal exam or seen with imaging tests. If the PSA is less than 10 and the Gleason score is 6 or less, stage I cancer is most likely a slow growing cancer.

Stage II cancer

This stage of cancer is still localized and has not spread beyond the prostate but is more advanced than stage I.

In stage II, the cells are less normal than stage I and may grow more rapidly. There are two types of stage II prostate cancer: Stage IIA, which is found only on one side of the prostate; and Stage IIB, found in both sides of the prostate

Stage III cancer

This stage of cancer is called locally advanced prostate cancer and has spread outside the prostate into local tissue such as the seminal vesicles, the glands that make semen.

Stage IV cancer

This stage of cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as nearby lymph nodes or bones of the pelvis or spine. It could have spread to other organs such as the bladder, liver, or lungs.

For men diagnosed with stage I, II or III prostate cancer, the goal is to cure the cancer by treating it and keeping it from returning.

For men diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer, the goal is to improve symptoms and to prolong life as in most cases, stage IV prostate cancer is not curable.

The stage of prostate cancer along with the PSA and Gleason score will help the doctor to decide on the best treatment taking into account a man’s age, overall health, symptoms, side effects of treatment, and what are the chances the treatment can cure the cancer.

More than 38,000 people killed on Irish roads since records began in 1959

The stats come ahead of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims

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Records show that a total of 38,787 people have been killed on Irish roads since records began in 1959.

While 14,839 people have been killed on roads in Northern Ireland since deaths were first recorded there in 1931.

The statistics come ahead of World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, to be held on Sunday November 20th.

Ceremonies are to be held to mark the day across the island.

The transport minister, Road Safety Authority (RSA), An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and road safety groups are calling on road-users to join the international community to mark the day.

Transport Minister Shane Ross has welcomed the fact that people both north and south were coming together to remember all the lives lost on the island’s roads.

“Many lives have been saved and injuries prevented as a result of the collaborative work by road safety agencies on both sides of the border in recent years so it is fitting that we should come together on World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims’ to remember those who have tragically died on the road and to also think of their families.”

“I would also like to acknowledge the great work done by those in the emergency services and medical professionals, on both sides of the border, who have to deal with the aftermath and consequences of collisions.

“We will be thinking of them too on Sunday and the life-saving work that they do.”

“People just like you and me have lost their lives”

While Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, Chris Hazzard, added:  “Across many generations thousands of families have been devastated by the heartache of road tragedy.

“Almost 15,000 people, people just like you and me, have lost their lives across the north since records began.  Many others have been seriously injured and are living with the physical and emotional scars.

“Road safety is a continuous challenge and road deaths do not discriminate. All road users are vulnerable – every journey, every day, every road.”

Chief Superintendent Aidan Reid of the Garda National Traffic Bureau said: “This Sunday gives us all an opportunity to reflect on our behaviour on the roads. An Garda Síochána is committed to working with communities and organisations to make every effort to keep our roads free from tragedy, but our biggest enemy is complacency.”

While PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: “So far this year, Police officers have visited the homes of 59 families across Northern Ireland to deliver the devastating news that one of their loved ones has been killed on our roads.

“Many more have received news of serious injuries. Behind every statistic, every news report, there are families and friends who have been affected and we must remember them.”

The Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims was first held in 1993 in the United Kingdom.

Since then it has been organised by non-governmental organisations in a number of countries.

It was created as a means to give recognition to victims of road traffic crashes and the plight of their loved ones who must cope with the emotional and practical consequences of these events.

On October 26th 2005, the United Nations adopted a resolution which calls for governments to mark the day each year.

Global sea ice (Antarctica) shrinking at never before recorded speeds,

Scientist’s now warn

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Climate change experts say the repercussions of warmer sea temperatures are already being felt.

While ice in the Arctic is close to reaching record lows, the Antarctic has seen sea ice running at lowest ever levels since records began.

Global sea ice is retreating at unprecedented speed with its impact already being felt across the globe, a leading scientist has warned.

While ice in the Arctic is close to record lows, the Antarctic has seen sea ice running at lowest ever levels for this time of year since records began.

Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the polar ocean physics group at Cambridge University, said rates of ice growth in winter had slowed and rising temperatures were causing it to melt faster in the summer, causing a dramatic reduction in area and thickness.

He warned the global repercussions of the reduction of sea ice were already being felt, long before the ice has fully disappeared.

“As the ice area gets less, you’re changing the albedo of the earth, which is the fraction of solar radiation that gets reflected straight away back into space, so you’re absorbing radiation which warms the earth quicker creating a feedback effect as the ice retreats,”

“The only secure way of stopping the sea ice to retreat is stopping warming the climate and that is really by reducing our carbon dioxide emissions.”

He also warned of the disastrous implications melting sea ice had for rising sea levels across the world.

According to a new study, sea water levels have risen by almost 7.8 inches due to ice melting since 1870, causing flooding of low-lying coastal communities and displacement of fish populations fleeing increasingly warm waters.

“As the ice retreats you get warmer air over the Arctic and that warmer air spreads out to places like Greenland’s ice cap causing it to melt faster in the summer than it did in the past, which is contributing to global sea level rise,” he said.

He also warned of the release of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from the seabed as the ice melts, a gas that scientists recognise as a key driver of climate change.

“We are now seeing huge plumes of methane coming up to the surface from methane being released from the seabed,” he told The Independent.

“The ice in summer has shrunk back from all the seas around the edges of the arctic and without the sea ice, those seas around the edge can now warm up because the water is shallow which allows this warmer water to bathe the seabed.

“The seabed at the moment is covered with permafrost, frozen ground, hiding a large volume of methane underneath. As soon as the warmer water starts to act on the seabed the permafrost melts and the methane is released.”

Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in October were unusually high over the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, as well as the Barents and Kara Seas along the Eurasian coast, helping to limit ice growth (Climate Change Institute/University of Maine)

Concern is also growing among the scientific community over Donald Trump’s election as US president.

Last week, what is hoped will be one of the biggest ever environmental campaigns was launched by a group of scientists and environmentalists in an effort to convince the President-elect that global warming is real.

Professor Wadhams warned that Mr Trump’s stance as a climate change denier could be “a disaster and a catastrophe for the world”.

“I recently attended the Marrakech climate change conference and there was enormous concern because the US delegation who signed the Paris agreement is still Obama’s administration,” he said.

“Legally the US is taking part fully in the Paris accords but as John Kerry was saying, his administration would only be in office for the next two months. There’s general gloom everywhere, you quiver with fear with the rest of the globe for the future.”

However, Professor Wadhams, who recently published a book on the shrinking of sea ice, A Farewell to Ice, said there was hope for the future if the proper measures were put in place.

“One measure to stem the methane emissions from the seabed would be a kind of fracking method that the oil industry suggests which would be to drill down through these sediments, open up cavities which would then be filled with methane when you pump it out,” he said.

“Global warming and climate change is not going to be easy to reverse, especially sea level rise as that just seems to continue inexorably. The only way that’s been suggested that might work is ‘marine cloud brightening’, a form of geoengineering where you inject very fine water particles into the bottom of low cloud, these particles evaporate and it makes them brighter which will reflect more solar radiation.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 19th June 2015

Irish regulations helping to reduce road death numbers,

Says Minister Donoghue


Paschal Donohoe announces new moves to arrest drivers who are banned by the courts.

Paschal Donohoe said 1,000 people a month were being disqualified from driving by the courts, yet about one in ten of these were subsequently detected by the Gardaí driving vehicles.

The number of people who have been killed on the State’s roads this year is 19 below the similar period last year – a statistic Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has ascribed to tighter rules of the road safety.

Announcing new measures which would allow gardaí to arrest those caught driving while disqualified, Mr Donohoe said certain types of behaviour were no longer acceptable.

Describing the new measure as “the next wave of efforts to make our roads safer”, Mr Donohoe said that from Monday, a person caught driving while disqualified may be brought immediately before the court if one is sitting, or may be detained until the next day’s court’s sittings.

Gardaí are currently obliged to issue a summons which can lead to difficulties with service of the summons through changes of address or the perpetrator leaving the country.

Mr Donohoe said 1,000 people a month were being disqualified from driving by the courts, yet about one in ten of these were subsequently detected by the gardaí driving vehicles which he described as “absolutely unacceptable”.

The penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine of up to €5,000 and and / or up to six months in prison.

“This year to date we have had about 590 prosecutions by the gardaí of people who were caught getting back into their car and driving the very roads they were banned from,” he said.

Mr Donohoe said he recognised the work of the gardaí in detecting and prosecuting those “who should not be on our roads”.

He said the move was one of a number of measures which had been put in place in recent months which he believed were making a difference to driver behaviour and a subsequent reduction in road deaths.

“We changed the number of penalty points that were applicable to certain kinds of offences and we have also had heightened road safety campaigns that have been run by the Road Safety Authority and other bodies in relation to the need to be safe on the roads.”

According to the Garda, 67 people were killed on the State’s roads up to 9am on Friday morning – some 19 less than the comparison figure for 2014.

However, Mr Donohoe said there were still difficulties with drivers speeding, using a mobile phone, drink-driving and not wearing a seat belt. He said there had been 3,000 arrests so far this year for suspected drink-driving.

Cost of bid to keep ill woman in UK would fund a unit in Ireland

Says a judge


Legal costs of HSE bid to keep a woman in a specialised unit estimated at well over €1m

When Mr Justice Seamus Noonan in the High Court observed the costs of the case of a woman with a severe personality disorder would fund a purpose-built unit in the Republic, Gerry Durcan SC, for the woman, said the legal costs of similar cases involving vulnerable young people over the last 20 years would pay for an entire “purpose-built system”.

A High Court judge has said the costs of legal proceedings by the HSE aimed at keeping an 18-year-old woman with a severe personality disorder in a specialised unit in Englandagainst her wishes would fund a “purpose-built” unit for her in Ireland.

The costs to date of various proceedings in Ireland and England concerning the woman are estimated to exceed well over €1 million.

It also costs £400,000 (€560,000) a year to keep her in St Andrew’s unit in Northampton, where other Irish children and adults are regularly detained .

The woman has been detained for 19 months in St Andrew’s. Before that, from age 14, she was treated in various units in Ireland for some two years.

When Mr Justice Seamus Noonan observed the costs of the case would fund a purpose-built unit for the woman here,Gerry Durcan SC, for the woman, said the legal costs of similar cases involving vulnerable young people over the last 20 years would pay for an entire “purpose-built system”.

Eleven barristers, including six senior and five junior counsel, and at least five solicitors are involved in the latest case, brought by the HSE, before Mr Justice Noonan.

It raises important issues, including whether the involuntary detention in St Andrew’s, when the Irish Mental Health Acts prohibit detention of adults with personality disorders, breaches the woman’s rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

Most of the doctors agree that, as of now, she has capacity to make decisions about her treatment.

The HSE wants the woman to stay in St Andrew’s and she wants to return to Ireland, as provided for by the High Court in an order last March.

Voluntarily co-operate

It directed a care plan and other arrangements be put in place in time for the woman to return earlier this month. She has told the judge via videolink from Northampton she will voluntarily co-operate with treatment here.

The HSE claims circumstances have changed since the March order and has appealed that order to the Court of Appeal.

Pending that appeal, it has asked Mr Justice Noonan to vary the March order to keep the woman in St Andrew’s in the hope she will co-operate with a form of therapy considered the “gold standard” for her condition.

Doctors involved with her treatment have said they consider her a high suicide risk.

Lawyers for the woman, her estranged parents and her court-appointed guardian, all of whom are separately represented, accept she is a suicide risk but disagree her circumstances have changed materially since last March.

It has also been argued the HSE took no effective steps to put measures in place allowing for her treatment here.

The HSE argues she cannot be effectively treated here and her condition is best managed in St Andrew’s.

In evidence to the court, a psychiatrist who dealt with the woman in Ireland said there is a tension between her liberty, her right to live in the land of her birth and her need for treatment.

He considered it was in her best interests to have her condition managed in St Andrew’s.

That facility was best placed to provide her with treatment and while she had declined it, it could be offered again.

If she continued to refuse it, she should, after a specific time, be permitted to return, he believed.

Kept alive

He agreed she had been detained in hospitals here and England effectively for the past four years, with little improvement in her condition. However, she has been kept alive, he said.

If permitted to return home, the woman should not be subject to imposition of in-patient admission, he said. Should she opt for treatment in Ireland, the services here would be offered to her, he said.

His concern is about staffing, he said. Ireland does not have the resources available to large countries, and does not have the most appropriate facility to treat people with this form of personality disorder.

When Mr Durcan said Ireland does not detain people with personality disorders, the doctor said other jurisdictions do.

The Irish psychiatric services can manage most people apart from a “tiny minority” being treated in England, he added.

Mr Durcan said a medical report of August 2014 set out a view on what was necessary to be put in place for when the woman turned 18 this year, but it seemed there was no contact between the Irish adult mental health services and St Andrew’s concerning the woman’s possible treatment in Ireland for some six months after that report was produced.

The psychiatrist said he disagreed the analytic therapy recommended in that report was appropriate for the woman.

The necessary specialist service is just not available here – he could not “conjure up” such a service and nor did he think such was a good idea.

In her evidence via videolink to the court last week, the woman said the “most important thing” for her was “to be returned back to my country”.

She said she would not take her own life and has many plans for the future.

The price of tobacco and alcohol in Ireland is ‘70% higher than the EU average


Alcohol and tobacco prices are higher here than anywhere else in the EU, official Eurostat figures have revealed.

The publication of the consumer price level report across the EUtoday showed that Ireland’s alcoholic beverages and tobacco prices (collectively) are 70% higher than the EU average.

The National Off-Licence Association has stated called on Government to reverse the budgetary hike on alcohol in Budget 2014.

Evelyn Jones, government affairs director of the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA), stated: “Eurostat’s results highlight the disproportionate and unfair campaign the Irish Government alone is waging against the alcohol sector via excise duty, which places a severe drain on cash flow and jeopardises product quality.

“Eurostat correctly attributes the “large price variation” in price as “mainly due to differences in taxation”.

According to NOffLA, excise on wine is 624% higher than the EU average. Beer and spirits are 298% and 243% above average, respectively.

“Not only has this placed the 92,000 jobs associated with the sector to extreme peril, we can see from Ireland’s ranking in other categories that excise is inflating Ireland’s average prices to that of fifth [highest] in the EU,” she said.

Ireland ranks fifth highest in prices overall: we are fourth most expensive restaurants & hotels, fifth most expensive for personal transport equipment, sixth most expensive for food & non-alcoholic beverages, and tied-13th for most expensive consumer electronics.

“It is simply wrong to suggest high prices benefit anyone other than the Government,” said Ms Jones.

“Not only is it anti-consumer, the level of excise means there is very little left for the actual producer, let alone the wholesaler and retailer.

“65.2% of a bottle of spirits is tax, leaving 34.8% to pay the supplier, staff and overheads before any profit is seen.”

NOffLA released its pre-budget submission earlier this month calling on the Minister for Finance to reverse the 15% increase in excise duty imposed in Budget 2014, to restore parity to wine taxation in relation to domestic alcohol, to ban the below invoice cost selling of alcohol and regulate for out-of-state imports of alcohol to support the 1,850 independent off-licences and 5,800 jobs at serious risk of closure as a result of the past two excise duty increases on alcohol.

Irish state rules out fresh changes to oil firms exploration taxes


The Government has said there is no need to readdress last year’s altered fiscal terms for exploration firms active in Irish waters, despite this year’s dramatic drop in oil prices.

Following his address to delegates at Energy Ireland’s annual conference at Croke Park yesterday, Ciaran O’hObain, principal officer at the Department of Natural Resources’ Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD), was specifically asked whether energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, which advised the Government on last year’s tax changes, would advise differently if delivering its findings in the current oil price environment.

World oil prices have fallen from over $100 per barrel to $50-$60 in the last year and are not expected to rise past $70 per barrel in the long term.

Last year, the Government changed the tax framework for Irish offshore operators, with the top rate of tax on profits made from any future oil find in Irish waters increasing from 40% to 55% and a 5% royalty revenue also going to the State for each year of a producing field’s lifespan.

The new terms will only relate to new finds and will not be backdated to cover previous finds that have yet to be drilled.

Mr O’hObain said yesterday that there is no issue to address regarding the new fiscal terms. He said that Wood Mackenzie based its analysis on a $60+ oil price, not specifically on a $100 price tag.

He added that the analysis was based on “a longer term view” and on a number of issues, including competition, outside of the record high oil prices.

“It wasn’t based on a 2014 price footing, but a more longer-term view. There is no proposal to be revisited,” Mr O’hObain said.

The question was posed by Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA) chairman Pat Shannon.

Earlier this year, the IOOA suggested this year’s Finance Bill should include — as has been mooted by Government — incentives for marginal field operators, such as a lowering of the corporate tax rate (currently at 25% for explorers) and a removal of the 5% royalty fee for small and marginal field operators.

Mr O’hObain also suggested it is still too early to gauge how much interest is being shown in this year’s Atlantic Margin licensing round, which closes in September.

He said firms would be making “critical decisions”, regarding new investments this summer.

“Yes, there is interest. But we won’t know how this will translate into actual applications until September,” said Mr O’hObain.

He added that Ireland has many elements in place for a viable oil industry, including fiscal policy, industry engagement, joined-up thinking, and regulatory structure, but needed to see more drilling activity.

He said that Ireland remained under-explored, even though we are at a time of a record high number of licence and prospect authorisations.

Earlier this week, Deirdre Michie, the head of the UK’s oil sector representative, Oil & Gas UK, warned that the industry needed to get used to a future environment where long-term oil prices will hover around the $60 per barrel mark.

Britain’s once thriving North Sea-based exploration sector reached a 20-year low last year in terms of activity, with just 14 exploration wells drilled compared with 44 drilled in 2008.

Scientists discover that most kangaroos are ‘left-handed’


The study involved observing multiple species of marsupial in the wild for extended periods

Researchers have discovered that most kangaroos are left-handed, making them the only other species apart from humans to show a ‘handedness’ on a large scale.

The study, published in biology journal Current Biology, was conducted by a team of Russian scientists, who spent hours observing the behaviour of multiple species in the wild.

The scientists looked at the red kangaroo, red-necked wallaby, eastern grey kangaroo, and found that most animals of these species used their left forelimb far more often than their right.

The study says that two species of kangaroo and the wallaby displayed ‘population lateralisation’, meaning the animals showed a dominant use of one paw across a whole population.

The study also found that this left-handedness is consistent across different types of behaviour, for example when eating, grabbing things, and grooming.

The brush-tailed bettong, a tiny marsupial that resembles a squirrel, also showed a distinct left-handedness equal to that of the kangaroos.

Other marsupials observed in the study, such as Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, the sugar glider, and the grey short-tailed opossum, did not show a similar level of laterality.

These three creatures, unlike the larger marsupials, move on four feet instead of two – the study says this suggests that these postural characteristics are instrumental in whether the animal shows lateralisation.

Animals individually can be observed to show a preference for one side over another, as can be seen when asking a dog for a paw. However, lateralisation has never been proven at a population level before in a species other than humans.

Despite the popular misconception that polar bears are left handed (using their right paw to cover their black nose before killing their prey with their left), these few marsupials are the only non-human animals that mostly use one hand over the other.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 10th January 2015

Irish industrial production surges some 33% year-on-year


Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set for its fastest pace of growth since 1998

Industrial production surged by a third in November compared to the same month last year, paving the way for the fastest pace of growth in the sector for 17 years.

Output was up 4% in November, but jumped a massive 33% year-on-year.

Analysts said the data pointed to a surge in output in the second half of last year.

“All in all, Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set for its fastest pace of growth since 1998,” said David McNamara, analyst with Davy Stockbrokers.

“A flat December would leave output up 20% in 2014. Much of this is related to the multinational sector, with little feed-through to the real economy.

“However, the ‘traditional’ sector is also set for the fastest pace of growth since 2000 at about 9pc for 2014, with surveys pointing to continued growth in 2015.”

The data from the Central Statistics Office shows that the so-called modern sector, made up of a number of high-technology and chemical sectors, showed a monthly increase in production for November 2014 of 9.3%. There was a monthly decrease of 4.4% in the more employment-intensive traditional sector.

In the year-to-date, industrial production has now expanded by 22% on 2013, driven by a bounce-back in the pharma-dominated modern sector, which was up 33.9%, and an 8.1% rise in the traditional sector.

“Looking ahead, the manufacturing PMI points to continued growth in early 2015, with employers taking on new recruits at the fastest pace in 15 years, signalling positive output expectations for the year ahead,” Mr McNamara added.

Alan McQuaid of Merrion stockbrokers said the data underlined how well the Irish economy is doing compared with the rest of the Eurozone.

“Based on the figures up to November and on the strong PMI data, we are now looking for manufacturing output for 2014 as a whole to be around 23pc higher than 2013, following a decline of 2.1pc in the previous year,” he said.

“Another strong double-digit rise is envisaged for 2015.”

Mr McQuaid said that it was crucial that the economy remains competitive as the recovery takes hold.

Separate data from the CSO shows the monthly services sector had a more modest annual rise in November, increasing 5.5%. But it was down on October by 1.1%.

Irish road deaths are on the rise – it is time we looked to Sweden for a safety inspiration?


The CEO of the RSA said, ‘We saved more lives than ever before in 2012 we can do it again in 2015’.

After a rise in the amount of road deaths reported for 2014- the first week of 2015 has proved no different.

Six people were killed on our roads in the first 7 days of this year – while figures released for 2014 showed an increase in road deaths from the year previous.

A total of 196 people died last year – compared to 190 in 2013. However, that number was down to 162 in 2012.

The Road Safety Authority has expressed serious concern following the rise in road deaths last year and an equally tragic and poor start for road safety in 2015. CEO of the RSA, Moyagh Murdock, said:

It’s been an appalling start to the year and mirrors exactly the situation at the same time last year.

Ireland’s road record?

It’s important to note that the latest European Transport Safety Council’s (ETSC) Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) report showed that Ireland, Sweden, Norway and the UK had the lowest death rates across Europe based on journeys taken.

Based on 2013 figures, it found Ireland to be well below the EU average of 51 deaths per million population- with 41. The lowest rate was in Sweden at 27, and the highest was in Romania at 93.

Sweden’s roads have become the world’s safest with other places such as New York trying to copy it’s success.

‘Vision Zero’

Three Swedes in every 100,000 die on the roads each year – compared with 11.4 per 100,000 in America and 40 in the Dominican Republic, (which has the world’s deadliest traffic).

In 1997, the Swedish parliament wrote into law a “Vision Zero” plan, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether. Deaths have now reduced by half since 2000.

It’s “2+1″ roads – where each lane of traffic takes turns using a middle lane to overtake – is said to have saved over 145 lives over the first decade of the plan.

Sweden also has low speed limits in urban areas, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate bikes from cars.

It’s believed that strict policing has also helped – with less than 0.25% of drivers tested now over the alcohol limit.

Road deaths of children have plummeted—in 2012 only one child was killed, compared with 58 in 1970.

That’s a stark difference to Ireland where there was a doubling in the number of fatalities among children last year.

Sixteen children aged up to 15 years lost their lives in 2014, eight were pedestrians and eight were passengers.

What needs to be done?

A report by the White Roads EU project, showed that good road design, the presence of adequate maintenance programmes, the installation of reliable homogenous traffic signage, road markings and appropriate lighting are among the key aspects that lead to low accident rates on sections of roads.

However, an EU report on road surfaces shows that Ireland drastically reduced its road maintenance budget between 2008 and 2011 due to the economic crisis.

Ireland South MEP and member of the European Parliament Transport Committee Deirdre Clune, said:

The decision to drastically slash our road maintenance budget between 2008 and 2011 has had enormous economic and safety repercussions and was extremely short sighted.

“I understand that budgets were and continue to be limited but there are economic costs associated with poor road maintenance, not to mention an increased risk of accidents on our roads.”

Clune said she met with the European Road Safety Council, ETSC, during the week and that they’re trying to secure a number of new initiatives at European level “including seat belt reminders for the back seats, alcohol interlocks on the ignition and enhanced safety design for cars”.

The CEO of the RSA, Moyagh Murdock, appealed for road users to be extra vigilant, “I would appeal to all road users, as a New Year’s resolution, to please make safer choices when using the road.

Each one of us has the power to make a difference on the road. We did it before, in 2012 when we saved more lives on the road than ever before. We need to do it again in 2015.

Eating Blueberries can help to keep high blood pressure away


Eating whole fresh fruit, especially blueberries, grapes, apples and pears, is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, but drinking fruit juice has the opposite effect, says a new study.

Eating blueberries on a daily basis could lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just eight weeks, according to researchers at Florida State University.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the effects of blueberries on arterial function as was done in this study, as well as in this study population,” says corresponding author Dr. Bahram H. Arjmandi of FSU. “These findings suggest that blueberries may prevent the progression to full-blown hypertension.”

Postmenopausal women were selected for the study because their incidence of high blood pressure exceeds that of men, and participants were considered to be in the early stages of hypertension.

Working with 48 participants, the research team randomly assigned them to receive either 22g of freeze-dried blueberry powder, the equivalent to approximately one cup of fresh blueberries, or 22g of control powder.

Upon conclusion of the eight-week study, the blueberry group’s collective systolic blood pressure (SBP) was lower by 5.1% and their mean diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was lower by 6.3%.

Arterial stiffness was measured using non-invasive pulse wave velocity technology, and the blueberry group showed improvement, for which researchers believe nitric oxide is to credit since levels increased from 9.11 to 15.35 micrometers (μM).

The placebo group saw no corresponding lowering of their blood pressure, and their nitric oxide levels did not increase.

Aortic stiffness was measured using carotid femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV) technology and showed no change in either group, indicating that dietary changes could have more effect on small, peripheral arteries than they do on central ones.

“The recommended intervention for controlling blood pressure in pre- and stage 1-hypertensive individuals is not pharmaceutical interventions, but rather lifestyle modifications including dietary approaches and there is evidence that many cases of HTN can be prevented and treated through diet and lifestyle changes,” says lead author Dr. Sarah A. Johnson of FSU. “Considering the prevalence of HTN in the U.S., preventive strategies such as dietary modifications (e.g. functional foods and dietary supplements) that aim to improve HTN and its related complications are warranted.”

Recently, a Finnish study concluded that wild blueberries could neutralize a high fat diet, which is thought to occur due to the high concentration of polyphenols they contain.

Good bacteria found in beer may help to fight diseases


A recent study led by Harry Gilbert, professor of biochemistry at Newcastle University, Eric Martens of the University of Michigan’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Wade Abbott, research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has identified the complex machinery that targets yeast carbohydrates.

The study was published in the journal Nature and explains how our stomach has a certain bacteria that help us digest yeast and other complex carbohydrates. The bacteria is also found in beer and breads and is responsible for the bubbles in beer. This study shows that certain microbes in our digestive tract have evolved over the years to become capable of breaking down complex carbohydrates. It is these complex carbs that make up the yeast cell wall.

The research has unraveled the mechanism by which B thetaiotaomicron has learned to feast upon difficult to break down complex carbohydrates called yeast mannans. Mannans, derived from the yeast cell wall, are a component in our diet from fermented foods including bread, beer, wine and soy sauce.

“One of the big surprises in this study was that B thetaiotaomicron is so specifically tuned to recognise the complex carbohydrates present in yeasts, such as those present in beer, wine and bread,” said Martens.

“However, these bacteria turned out to be smarter than we thought: they recognise and degrade both groups of carbohydrates, but have entirely separate strategies to do so despite the substantial chemical similarity between the host and yeast carbohydrates,” added Martens.

The new findings provide a better understanding of how our unique intestinal soup of bacteria – known as the microbiome – has the capacity to obtain nutrients from our highly varied diet. The results suggest that yeast has health benefits possibly by increasing the Bacteroides growth in the microbiome.

Experts believe that the discovery of this process could accelerate the development of prebiotic medicines to help people suffering from bowel problems and autoimmune diseases.

BT Young Scientist top award won by teen alcohol project


Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy from Colaiste Treasa, Cork win the overall prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2015 with their project Alcohol Comsumption: Does the apple fall far from the tree?

A group project by Cork students looking at teenage alcohol consumption has claimed top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.

The best individual prize went to a Co Louth student for her development of a wrist support for boxers.

The top four awards in the exhibition were announced Friday evening, with Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy being declared the 2015 Young Scientists.

Alcohol consumption. 

Their project looked at whether parental alcohol consumption has an impact on the drinking habits of their teenage children, explained the 16-year-old transition year students at Coláiste Treasa in Cork.

“We wanted to see if there was a parental effect on their kids’ consumption of alcohol,” says Eimear.

The two put together a survey and distributed it to fifth and sixth year students from schools around the Mallow area, she explains. “We wanted to assess hazardous drinking habits.”

This involves consuming too much alcohol or drinking too frequently, habits that have an impact on health, Ian says.

The two found parental drinking habits, particularly that of the father, had a major impact on their children’s drinking.

They also discovered that parents who believe it is acceptable for their children to drink alcohol on special occasions were up to four times more likely to engage in hazardous drinking than other adolescents.

Perpetual trophy

They receive the BT young Scientist perpetual trophy, a cheque for €5,000 and a chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists taking place later this year in Milan.

The award for best individual project went to Rachel Ní Dhonnachadha (16), a fifth-year student at St Vincent’s Secondary School in Louth.

Wrist injuries

Wrist injuries are a common problem in boxing, and as a former boxer, Rachel decided to do something about it.

She discarded the current approach of binding up the wrist with a cloth bandage, a method introduced in the 1920s.

Instead she designed a glove-like wrist support that could reduce wrist deflection, and so cut injuries. “It is comfortable to wear and supports the wrist without restricting normal movement,” she says.

She asked Irish boxer Katie Taylor to try out the wrist support and the champion found it very good, says Rachel.

She also collected a considerable amount of data to show that her device really made a difference.

“It gives you a competitive advantage,” she says. It slightly increases punching force and reduces down time as a result of injuries, she adds.

Rachel has applied for a patent for her design and has plans to bring it to the International Boxing Association.

She receives a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €2,400.

The runner-up group prize went to transition year students Patrick Sweeney, Chloe Daniels and Annette Moran.

Traditional music

Their novel study looked at whether birdsong may have been the inspiration that caused similarities between African and Irish traditional music.

Migrating swallows and other species spend time in Ireland and Africa, and musicians looking for inspiration could have picked up melodies from the birds, according to the theory proposed by the three students from Carrick-On-Shannon Community School, Leitrim.

All three are traditional musicians and so would have an ear for a tune.

Patrick came up with the idea and presented it at last year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. He came back again this year with his two collaborators.

They began studying birdsong, comparing it with melodies in Irish and African music. They made this easier for themselves by investigating the frequency waves of the music, which allowed them to look at any similarities in great detail.

They also believe they can open up a source of new inspiration by using recordings of birdsong from the isolated Galapagos Islands.

They receive a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

The runner-up individual prize went to Jack O’Sullivan (16), of Kilkenny College, Kilkenny.

He developed a way to turn an ordinary smartphone into a fully functional desktop computer.

“The power of smartphones is increasing all the time and is now approaching that found in PCs,” he said.

A considerable challenge

It took a considerable amount of work to achieve this – a blend of hardware development and software development. The fact the phone only has a charging point as a way to connect to the outside world represented a considerable challenge, Jack said.

It would be for the phone manufacturers to decide whether they wanted to include a second connection point that would make it easier to use the smartphone in this way.

“The ultimate goal would be a phone with built-in applications like this,” he said. It would convert the phone into a single device for all of a person’s information technology requirements, he said.

He receives a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

News Ireland daily BLOG

Wednesday 10th December 2014

Ray MacSharry seeks Ansbacher dossier from PAC


Ray MacSharry is one of five former politicians named in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald as having been in a dossier of alleged offshore account holders. All five have rejected the claims.

Former Fianna Fáil finance minister Ray MacSharry’s lawyers have written to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) seeking the so-called Ansbacher dossier in which he is named.

Mr MacSharry is one of five former politicians named in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald as having been in a dossier of alleged offshore account holders. All five have rejected the claims.

Contacted by The Irish Times this morning, Mr MacSharry said: “My lawyers are dealing with matters”.

The law firm Arthur Cox, acting for Mr MacSharry, has written to the PAC requesting access to papers given to individual members of the committee.

However, it is understood that the Ansbacher dossier is not considered to be a committee document and therefore the committee is expected to respond that it is not in a position to hand over the dossier.

Mr MacSharry previously described the allegations as “absolutely outrageous” and last week said: “I have never had an Ansbacher account, I never was the beneficiary of one.”

He said he would be consulting his legal representatives to see what recourse he has, both against Gerry Ryan, the whistleblower who submitted the dossier about tax evasion to the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts, and Ms McDonald.

Ms McDonald last Wednesday also named under privilege on the Dáil record former PD leader Des O’Malley, former Fianna Fáil politicians Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Gerard Collins, an ‘S Barrett’, assumed to be former Fianna Fáil TD Sylvie Barrett, and former Fine Gael minister Richie Ryan.

Mr MacSharry’s tough persona while overseeing public spending cuts while Charles Haughey’s minister for finance in the late 1980s earned Ray MacSharry the title “Mack the Knife”.

He became an MEP in 1984, before returning as a TD and minister for finance in 1987 in another Haughey-led government and he was appointed Ireland’s European commissioner in 1988.

Donegal people are most likely to die at home says IHF


A new report commissioned by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) has found that the chances of dying at home or in hospital are dictated by where you live in Ireland, with those in Donegal nearly twice as likely to die at home than those living in Dublin.

Launched last week (December 4) by Senator Prof John Crown, the report — ‘Enabling More People to Die at Home; Making the Case for Quality Indicators as Drivers for Change on Place of Care and Place of Death in Ireland’ — sets out the case for key quality indicators on place of care and death, and calls for health policy to focus on providing more care in the home and in communities.

Supported by a paper written by social and economic research consultant Dr Kieran McKeown, the report draws on data published by the CSO that shows people living in Donegal are more likely to die at home (34 per cent), followed by Kilkenny and Kerry (33 per cent), Mayo (32 per cent), and Leitrim and Wexford (31 per cent).

Despite findings of a recent national survey showing that 74 per cent of Irish people want to die at home, only 18 per cent of people in Dublin do so, followed next by Sligo (26 per cent), and Roscommon and Galway (26 per cent — the national average).

The report finds that areas with no hospice that deliver specialist palliative care services through home care teams — including the South East, the Midlands and the North East — have a higher proportion of deaths in the usual place of residence (home or long-stay places of care) compared to areas with a hospice.

Irish Hospice Foundation CEO Sharon Foley said that quality indicators on place of care and death would show how well the health services were meeting the deepest wishes of people approaching the end of life. “It may be that those areas without hospices have better developed homecare teams. Other reasons may be at play, such as urban/rural differences in allocation of community supports. But we need to find out.”

She added: “The IHF believes that enabling people to fulfil their wish to die at home is not just a matter of effective health services and flexible, responsive, people-centred systems.

“It is fundamental to the very basis of humanity in an evolved society. Allowing choice and dignity in end-of-life care, and in the experience of dying, is a strong indication of how we care for Irish society as a whole.”

Regional airports get €2M funding boost for core services 


The approved funding brings the total financial support by the Exchequer under the Regional Airports Programme to just under €13 million in 2014

More than €2 million in funding is to be given to regional airports to compensate them for costs incurred in providing core services that cannot be fully recovered.

The approved funding brings the total financial support by the Exchequer under the Regional Airports Programme to just under €13 million in 2014.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe said the funding is to cover so-called “subventible losses,” that is costs for services that can’t be recovered from non-core income coming from activities such as restaurants, bars and parking.

Under the Regional Airports Programme, which is due to end this year, financial support has been provided to Kerry, Knock,Waterford and Donegal airports under three main schemes, including the Public Service Obligation Scheme, which provides funding to airlines to operate essential services.

Earlier this month, Mr Donohoe confirmed that regional air services from Donegal and Kerry to Dublin would continue to be subsided under the PSO scheme. Stobart Air, the former Aer Arran, was awarded the contracts to operate the two routes until 2017. It currently runs the Kerry to Dublin-subsidised service while Loganair operates the Donegal route.

The Regional Airports Programme is due to end this year and the Government has submitted a new proposal for a replacement scheme to the EU commission for consideration.

‘The Government’s aim is to give regional airports the opportunity beyond 2014 to grow to a viable, self-sustaining position, particularly considering the contribution that they make to their regional and local economy. As a result, Exchequer support for the four regional airports will be continued beyond 2014,” said Mr Donohoe.

“The decision to continue providing these necessary supports will facilitate the airports in developing and implementing new business plans leading to self-sufficiency within a ten year period. Central to these will be the need for regional and local business investment,” he added.

Irish Men at Risk of Ill Health Because of Diet, Claims Study


Men often have a preference for larger portions, according to the study

A new report launched by safefood has found that Irish men’s food behaviour puts them at a disadvantage health-wise compared with women.

The safefood report, Men’s Food Behaviour, gives an overview of research on men and food behaviour across the island of Ireland and illustrates the need to help change how men interact with food.

The report highlights that men are generally less engaged with food both in terms of food hygiene and healthy eating. It also finds men have less healthy diets, eat more fat and salt, less fruit and vegetables, and tend to see food as fuel.

Men also show greater preference for larger portions of food, are less likely to be aware of healthy eating guidelines and are less likely to regard healthy eating as an important factor influencing their long-term health. And although more men than women are overweight or obese in Ireland, they are less likely to attempt to lose weight or to monitor their diet.

At present, 70% of Irish men are overweight or obese, compared with 50% of women.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition, safefood said: “When it comes to food skills such as planning, purchasing, shopping, cooking and cleaning, women are more likely to be skilled in this area and still do most of this work. This report identifies how men view themselves and their relationship with food and is of importance for men’s health given their levels of overweight and obesity.”

Report places Ireland 25th in Europe for drink-driving related deaths


Ireland has come in 25th place in Europe for drink-driving related deaths.

One in ten fatal car crashes globally are caused by alcohol, with men more likely than women to drink drive, according to a new report by Allianz.

When it comes to Europe, alcohol-related fatalities are highest in eastern countries, while Italy has the lowest number.

In most countries men are twice as likely to be killed in drink-driving crashes as women and Ireland is no exception.

Almost 20% of fatal accidents involving men are down to alcohol consumption while the figure for women is just 8%.

Fathering offspring is more than just a race to the egg


The chance of a male fathering offspring may not be a simple race to the egg, but is influenced by the length of the male’s sperm, say scientists from the University of Sheffield.

Using a captive population of zebra finches, the researchers carried out sperm competition experiments between pairs of males, where one male consistently produced long sperm and the other male always produced short sperm. These experiments showed that more long sperm reached and fertilised the eggs compared to short sperm. The long sperm advantage was evident even when the short sperm males mated with the females first, and were effectively given a ‘head start’.

The findings demonstrate that in birds, in a competitive scenario, the fertilisation success of a male can be influenced by the length of his sperm. The results also suggest that the final outcome of sperm competition may be partly dependent on the female bird.

Dr Clair Bennison from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: “We know that in the zebra finch, long sperm swim faster than short sperm, so we might expect longer, faster swimming sperm to simply reach the egg first. However, this reasoning does not explain why long sperm outcompete short sperm in our study. Long sperm win at sperm competition, by fertilising more eggs, even when short sperm are given a head-start.”

Scientists at the University allowed each pair of male zebra finches to mate with a female bird so that the long and short sperm from the males could compete to fertilise the female’s eggs. Female birds store sperm inside their bodies for many days, and this is one way that the females themselves could influence the fertilisation success of the males. It is possible that long sperm are better at reaching and and staying inside these storage areas than short sperm. Long sperm may even be ‘preferred’ by the female, by some unknown process.

Dr Bennison, added: “Our findings are important because they demonstrate for the first time in birds, using a controlled competitive scenario, that sperm length can influence the fertilisation success of a particular male. The results also add to the body of evidence suggesting that the final outcome of sperm competition may be partly dependent on the female, and that the chance of a male siring offspring may not be an outcome of a simple ‘race to the egg’.”

Scientists believe that a better understanding of how sperm length influences fertilisation success in non-human animals such as the zebra finch may point us in new directions for investigation in human fertility research.

Researchers now plan to investigate if sperm storage duration in female birds varies according to the length of the male’s sperm, and the possible mechanisms responsible for this.

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Central Bank to impose limits on home loans

  • Regulator said to be preparing to publish a consultation paper on its proposals


The Central Bank plans to impose limits for the first time on how much banks can lend home buyers as property values in Ireland soar, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Central Bank plans to impose limits for the first time on how much banks can lend home buyers as property values in Ireland soar.

The regulator is said to be preparing to publish a consultation paper on its proposals within weeks.

Banks and lobby groups will have a chance to comment on the plans, which center on introducing loan-to-value and loan-to-income restrictions.

A spokesman for the Central Bank declined to comment.

House prices are surging even as banks grapple with the aftermath of mortgage crisis that forced the government to bail out most of the nation’s lenders.

A quarter of the country’s owner-occupier home loans are in arrears or had their terms eased.

Loans granted during the boom for more than 85 per cent of the property value were most likely to default in the wake of the crash, central bank economists said today.

“There is no evidence the current price increases are credit driven, but the number of mortgage approvals, a potential measure of new mortgage credit demand, rose sharply in the first seven months of 2014,” said central bank economists Niamh Hallissey, Robert Kelly and Terry O’Malley in a report published today.

“This is therefore a key time to investigate the tools available to policy makers to safeguard future lending.”

Irish home prices soared 15 percent in the year through August, driven by a 25 per cent jump in Dublin values amid a shortage of properties in the Irish capital, the Central Statistics Office said on September 24.

Still, values remain 41 per cent off their 2007 peak both for Dublin and nationally. Any limits would particularly affect first-time buyers, according to one of the people.

Irish mortgage approvals rose by 54 per cent in value to €462 million in July compared to the same month last year, according to Banking and Payments Federation Ireland.

In 2006, mortgage lending surged to €40 billion. Davy, Ireland’s largest securities firm, said that some lenders are beginning to relax lending criteria as the property market recovers.

“It appears some banks are willing to lend 4.5 times combined income to higher-rated borrowers, but this is at the upper end of what is typically deemed responsible internationally,” Davy said in a report yesterday.

“Typically a limit of 3-4 times is considered a more acceptable level. The onus is on the central bank to put limits on the amount of money that can be borrowed to help keep house prices in check.”

Thirteen children have died on our roads so far this year,

  • 7 were killed in the whole of 2013


Deaths on Irish roads have remained high this year, after increasing for the first time since 2005 last year.

140 people have been killed so far this year  on Irish roads.

The Road Safety Authority has expressed concern about the high numbers of vulnerable road users being killed.

Thirteen children under the age of 14 have died in road traffic accidents so far this year, compared to seven children who were killed on the roads in the whole of 2013.

Moyagh Murdock, CEO of the Road Safety Authority said: “This year, for the second year in a row, we are seeing a marked increase in deaths on our roads when compared with previous years, where great strides were made to reduce deaths.

Vulnerable road users are most at risk this year – the old and the young, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.

“We really need to redouble our efforts to try and reduce what was the worst year on our roads in seven years last year.”

Irish Road Safety Week is on from October 6 to 12, the RSA is urging people to get involved in this national drive to save lives.

Sharp fall in number of critical care hospital beds

  • The number of Irish Hospital critical care beds has fallen from 289 to 233


An intensive care unit: none of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit

The number of critical care hospital beds has fallen sharply over the past six years despite a recommendation to double capacity.

The shortage of intensive care beds was highlighted this week at the inquest of Dhara Kivlehan, who died in September 2010 after giving birth a week earlier in Sligo Regional Hospital.

Ms Kivlehan was moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after no bed could be found in the intensive care units of three hospitals in the Republic.

A year before her death a HSE-commissioned report recommended a 45 per cent increase in the number of critical care beds from 289 to 418. Prospectus Consultants said a further increase to 579 beds was needed in the years up to 2020. However, far from increasing, the number has fallen from 289 to 233 at the present time.

The HSE sought to provide an extra 10 critical care beds in the service plan for this year, at a cost of €3 million a year, but was forced to scrap the plan because of funding cuts in last year’s budget, correspondence between the HSE and the Department of Health shows.

Bed occupancy

The HSE says it is implementing a “critical care bed bureau” to optimise utilisation of beds nationally by providing live information on bed occupancy in all units.

However, Ms Kivlehan’s husband Michael said an internal report a few weeks after his wife’s death in 2010 recommended such a national system be put in place.

The HSE was unable to say yesterday why there was such a delay in implementing this recommendation.

None of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said while Ireland needed more obstetricians than the 120 available, this was more per head than Canadaand New Zealand.

Staff Lieut Gen. Surprise at soldiers sleeping in cars claim

Says Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle


Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle: “I would encourage any soldier that has had to sleep in his or her car to talk to the officer in charge in the barracks they’re working in. We do have accommodation”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle has said he was surprised at Pdforra’s suggestion this week that some soldiers were sleeping in their cars at barracks because they did not have the money for the fuel needed to drive home and back the following morning.

He said anyone sleeping in their car should bring it to the attention of the chain of command and accommodation would be provided for them in their barracks.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he planned to establish the full facts.

“If people are sleeping in their cars, I am very uncomfortable with that and it shouldn’t be happening.

“I would encourage any soldier that has had to sleep in his or her car to talk to the officer in charge in the barracks they’re working in. We do have accommodation . . .

“If there’s one thing the Defence Forces do very well it’s they stick together, they work together and they look after each other.”

Moon’s hidden valley system now revealed


The Moon as we see it (L), in terms of height variation (C), and from surface gravity variations (R)

Scientists have identified a huge rectangular feature on the Moon that is buried just below the surface.

The 2,500km-wide structure is believed to be the remains of old rift valleys that later became filled with lava.

Centred on the Moon’s Procellarum region, the feature is really only evident in gravity maps acquired by Nasa’s Grail mission in 2012.

But knowing now of its existence, it is possible to trace the giant rectangle’s subtle outline even in ordinary photos.

Mare Frigoris, for example, a long-recognised dark stripe on the lunar surface, is evidently an edge to the ancient rift system.

“It’s really amazing how big this feature is,” says Prof Jeffery Andrews-Hanna.

“It covers about 17% of the surface of the Moon. And if you think about that in terms relative to the size of the Earth, it covers an area equivalent to North America, Europe and Asia combined,” the Colorado School of Mines scientist told BBC News.

“When we first saw it in the Grail data, we were struck by how big it was, how clear it was, but also by how unexpected it was.

“No-one ever thought you’d see a square or a rectangle on this scale on any planet.”

The full Moon as seen from the Earth, with the Procellarum border structure superimposed in red

So how was this extraordinary feature produced?

Andrews-Hanna and colleagues note that the Procellarum region contains a lot of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium, thorium and potassium.

On the early Moon, these would have heated the crust, which, when it cooled would have contracted.

Mare Frigoris is evidently an edge to the ancient rift valley system

This shrinking, they propose, would have ripped the surface, opening deep valleys. The geometry is the giveaway.

On Earth, cooling and contraction will preferentially produce hexagons containing 120-degree angles.

The famous Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a classic example on the small scale, but even in bigger settings, such as in East Africa’s rift valleys, geological lines tend to intersect in this way.

Procellarum’s giant rectangle does the same, too – because the entire feature is draped over a sphere. This means the angles at the corners are wider than 90 degrees.

“What we’re seeing is a clever trick of spherical geometry. For structures on this scale, a polygon with 120-degree angles at the corners actually has four sides instead of six,” explained Prof Andrews-Hanna.

The team cannot tell when the rifting occurred, but the dating of Moon rocks brought back by Apollo would suggest the valleys were filled by volcanic lavas about 3.5 billion years ago.

Giant’s Causeway: Cooling basaltic rock naturally fractures into hexagons

The Grail satellites sensed very subtle variations in the pull of gravity across the Moon’s surface

The new study goes some way to resolving arguments over the origins of Procellarum, which looks different to other, more circular mare (dark regions) on the Moon’s surface.

For these regions, big asteroid impacts were more important in sculpting their forms.

The study is also further proof of the value of the Grail mission, led from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This comprised two, near-identical satellites that chased each other around the Moon over the course of a year.

They mapped changes in the pull of gravity as they flew over areas of differing mass.

Big mountains will have a different signal to deep depressions, obviously. But the data also reveals those locations that have different rock types and densities.

In the case of Procellarum, the pair sensed an excess of mass stemming from the presence of all the basaltic lava filling the rift valleys.

News Ireland daily BLOG Thursday

Wed. 5th & Thrs 6th June 2013

Ireland’s live Register down by 700 for May to 426,100


On a seasonally adjusted basis the Live Register total recorded a monthly decrease of 700 in May 2013, bringing the seasonally adjusted total to 426,100. In unadjusted terms there were 421,737 people signing on the Live Register in May 2013.

This represents an annual decrease of 11,170 (-2.6%). The number of long term claimants (more than 12 months) on the Live Register in May was 191,997.

The standard unemployment rate (SUR) for May 2013 was 13.7%, unchanged from the revised April 2013 rate. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from the most recent Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) was 13.7% in the first quarter of 2013.

Net annual emigration is running at 30,000 and in April the IMF said that the broad rate of unemployment was 23%.

On a seasonally adjusted basis the Live Register showed a monthly decrease of 700 males in May 2013, while females saw no change over the same period.

The number of male claimants decreased by 11,842 (-4.2%) to 266,921 over the year while female claimants showed little change increasing slightly by 672 to 154,816. This compares with a decrease of 9,527 (-3.3%) to 278,763 for males and an increase of 1,487 (+1.0%) to 154,144 for females in the year to May 2012.

The CSO says the Live Register is not designed to measure unemployment. It includes part-time workers (those who work up to three days a week), seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseeker’s Benefit (JB) or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA). Unemployment is measured by the Quarterly National Household Survey and the latest estimated number of persons unemployed as of the first quarter of 2013 was 292,000.

Today’s Live Register data show the unemployment rate unchanged at 13.7% in May. This suggests the unemployment rate is unchanged from April and flat since the beginning of 2013. Total persons on the Live Register were 426,100 in May. This is the lowest level since August 2009. Of these, 68,900 were under the age of 25. Of course, reduced claims will reflect emigration and lower labour force participation in addition to higher employment. Nonetheless, today’s release suggests the downward trend in jobless claims is being maintained into Q2 2013.

That said, the Live Register release also provides data on numbers in government-run Job Activation programmes that are not included in the Live Register claimants data. Total numbers in these schemes were 86,042 in April 2013, up from 82,161 in April 2012. This is an increase of 3,881, or 4.7%, accounting for around one-third of the decline in Live Register numbers in the year to April.

The monthly unemployment series has been revised down substantially from the 14.0% first indicated for April to 13.7%. These revisions follow the release of the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS), which indicated that employment grew by 0.4% quarter-on-quarter in Q1 2013 and that the unemployment rate fell to 13.7%. So the 13.7% indicated for May in today’s release could in time still be revised substantially.

The Live Register data gave some indication that labour market trends were improving in Q1, although not to the extent revealed by the QNHS. The first vintages of the Live Register data showed the monthly unemployment rate declining from 14.3% in October to 14.0% in March. However, there are no clear signals for Q2 2013, with the Live Register unemployment rate flat in April and May at 13.7%, unchanged from Q1 2013. That said, jobless claims have continued their downward trend, which is somewhat encouraging.”

New motor tyre’s could be dangerous and a death trap


New tyre’s can be dangerous. Just because they have not been used doesn’t mean they are safe.

That is the warning now emerging after being highlighted by the Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI).

Its chief, Dermot Jewell, told Independent Motors it had reports of people buying new tyres only to discover, within two months, that they had perished. That is because they had been lying around unused for years and had begun perishing.

Mr Jewell says: “With money so scarce, people are not replacing tyres as often so they are being stockpiled and growing old. It is very dangerous. You could buy something that’s technically new but they could end up being dangerous.”

   Reputable dealers will check the date of manufacture for you. Dodgy ones won’t. That is the clear message from the Consumers Association.

The frightening verdict that unused tyres can become dangerously unfit for purpose without ever being on the road is another sharp reminder of just how little we know about four of the most important items on our cars.

But you should also know how to check for yourself – please see accompanying guide.

The central message is that tyres are susceptible to aging.

Like all rubber products, their physical and chemical properties change over time, components dry out, adhesion breaks down and that means tread can separate from other parts.

Mr Jewell told us: “Some consumers have bought what they believed to be new tyres. But they discovered they were in fact perished and needed to be replaced immediately for safety.

There is a recommendation that tyres should not be used if they have been in storage or unused for more than six years.

Now, in the absence of regulation on sell-by dates, the CAI is pleading with buyers to ask the age of any tyres they are thinking of purchasing.

“Although they may look new, they may in fact have been in storage for a significant period,” Mr Jewell says.

He admits it is a “new” issue for consumers who pay “significant” amounts for new tyres.

Mr Jewell says: “Reputable traders will have no difficulty in providing basic detail about the age of the tyre. If someone cannot or will not then we suggest consumers take their business elsewhere.”

Sometimes ageing cannot be detected by the naked eye and yet the tyre may be extremely unsafe. The CAI’s concerns come against the backdrop of new research which suggests that as many as 10 million tyres on UK roads could be dangerous – again not because of poor tread, but because of age.

Only 17pc of drivers know how to identify when their car’s tyres were manufactured.

The research, for Kwik Fit, says drivers may find their tyres reach the end of their safe life long before the tread nears the 1.6mm legal limit.

Nearly three-in-five (59pc) don’t know their tyres display the information needed to work out their age. One-quarter (24pc) know but can’t interpret the numbers.

More than six million drivers thought their car’s tyres were older than five years.

Low-mileage, older cars tend to be most at risk from premature ageing as their owners assume there is no problem if they can still see plenty of tread.

Irish Pharmacists legally obliged to replace branded medicines soon


Irish Pharmacists will be legally obliged to substitute branded medicines with cheaper, generic drugs within months.

The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) said assessments are under way on the county’s top 20 active substances that make up approximately 1,500 individual medicines.

The cholesterol-lowering drug Atorvastatin (Lipitor) will be the first one available under the scheme, by mid August, with two to three following each month after.

Pat O’Mahony, IMB chief executive, said specialist staff have been preparing for the introduction of the generic substitution legislation in recent months.

“Generic medicines meet exactly the same standards of quality and safety and have the same effect as the original branded medicines,” he said.

The Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013 was signed by President Michael D Higgins last week and is expected to commence later this month, when consultations and assessments begin.

Under the system, the IMB will publish a list of interchangeable medicines on its website showing those medicines that can be safely substituted by pharmacists.

The first 20 active substances were selected by the Department of Health on the basis of overall cost to patients and the State, which forks out some 2 billion euro (£1.6 billion) on drugs each year.

A Department of Health spokesman said it is not possible to estimate the possible savings from the new legislation.

Meanwhile an IMB survey found eight out of ten consumers would accept a generic medicine if offered it by their doctor or pharmacist, while nine out of ten who previously used generic medicines said they had a positive experience.

It also revealed GPs (64%) and pharmacists (31%) are the most trusted sources of medicines advice.

However it also found one in four people were not familiar with the term ‘generic medicine’ and that 17% of respondents would not accept a generic if offered it by their healthcare professional.

“The main reason cited by those who would not accept a generic medicine is their lack of understanding of generic medicines,” added Mr O’Mahony.

“The increased focus on generics that is accompanying the introduction of the new legislation will help to address this.”

Unborn Babies learn & practice to grimace in the womb


Unborn babies “practice” facial expressions of pain while they are in the womb, scientists say.

Foetuses have been pictured using 4D scanning technology showing what appears to be pain.

The researchers, from Durham and Lancaster universities, suggest the ability to grimace is a “developmental process” which could help doctors assess the health of a foetus.

The study, published in the journal Plos One, found when the mother was 24 weeks pregnant, unborn babies were able to make simple expressions such as smiling. By 36 weeks the children were able to create “complex multi-dimensional expressions” such as pain.

Researchers, who examined video footage of 4D scans of 15 healthybabies, said the process was “adaptive” and helped the unborn baby to prepare for life after birth.

The study expands on previous research that suggests facial expressions of healthy foetuses develop and become more complex during pregnancy.

Researchers hope further investigation will examine whether the development of facial expressions in the womb is delayed if the mother smokes or drinks during pregnancy.

Lead researcher Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University’s Department of Psychology, said: “It is vital for infants to be able to show pain as soon as they are born so that they can communicate any distress or pain they might feel to their carers and our results show that healthy foetuses ‘learn’ to combine the necessary facial movements before they are born.

“This suggests that we can determine the normal development of facial movements and potentially identify abnormal development too. This could then provide a further medical indication of the health of the unborn baby.

“It is not yet clear whether foetuses can actually feel pain, nor do we know whether facial expressions relate to how they feel. Our research indicates that the expression of foetal facial movements is a developmental process which seems to be related to brain maturation rather than being linked to feelings.”

Rare monkeys start family at Dublin Zoo with twins


The newborn white-faced Saki monkey weighed about five ounces when born four weeks ago.

A pair of rare monkeys has started a new family at Dublin Zoo.

The tiny white-faced Saki was only 150 grams – about five ounces – when born four weeks ago and is only now just big enough to be seen by visitors.

Cradled by his protective mother, the unnamed male is one of the first new deliveries expected at the zoo over the summer. The Sulawesi-crested macaques also welcomed a new baby ape arrival recently.

Team leader Eddie O’Brien said it will be another four months before the young saki leaves his mother’s side and ventures out in to the South American House enclosure.

He said: “At the moment he is feeding from his mother and in about four weeks he will start to eat solids of mainly fruit and vegetables.

“For the next four months, his mother will carry the little guy close to her chest.

“In time, he will become stronger, gain more independence and start exploring the habitat on his own.”

While not endangered in the wild, white-faced Saki’s are a rare primate found in the tropical forests of Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela. There are only three in Dublin Zoo, the newborn and his parents.

They have long furry coats with thick, shaggy hair with the male developing a white face and females having a bright stripe of golden hair from beneath each eye to the corner of her mouth or chin.

Staff said the Saki’s are normally shy monkeys, but are known to put on a real show of aggression to protect their territory by arching their backs, growling loudly and shaking their hair and the tree branches.

3-Inch Fossil holds clue to Human split from the Apes


The remains of a 55-million-year-old monkey found in China that could fit in the palm of one’s hand and had man-like feet and face, may offer a new timeline on when humans split from their primate cousins, scientists said.

An analysis of the nearly complete 3-inch (8-centimeter) skeleton concluded it was from the tarsiiforme family of primates, which includes lemurs, and shared characteristics of anthropoids, a group of higher primates that includes humans, according to a report in the journal Nature. The creature lived 10 million years after dinosaurs went extinct, scientists said.

The discovery of the new primate, named Archicebus achilles because of its man-like heel bone, narrows the time frame when tarsiiformes and anthropoids diverged. It also backs the hypothesis that the earliest primates were small mammals active in the daytime, climbed trees, and ate mainly insects, researchers said in the June 5 paper.

“This creature is very bizarre, it has a combination of features from tarsiiformes and from anthropoids,” said study author Ni Xijun of the Beijing-based Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. “It also has nails on all its fingers and toes, a rounded face and brain case, very short snout, and front-facing eyes unlike with other small creatures.”

Very Long Tail

The new primate from the Eocene period, which lasted from 56 million to 34 million years ago, also has slender limbs and a disproportionately long tail when compared with its body. Absence of large eyes, which is common among nocturnal animals, mark it as a diurnal, or daytime, animal, according to the report.

The earliest anthropoid fossil found previously, also in China, is from about 45 million years ago, said Ni, citing an earlier study published in Nature in January 2000.

“We actually don’t know a lot about early anthropoids, but we now know quite a lot about tarsiiformes from this fossil, and we can deduce that the earliest anthropoid could be very similar,” said Ni, whose institute is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a telephone interview from Beijing.

The researchers had obtained the fossil in 2003 from a farmer, who found it while prospecting for relics in an abandoned paleontological site in central China’s Hubei province. The group then spent the next 10 years analyzing the petrified remains.

With an almost complete skeleton for the earliest primate found, scientists that find other fossils in future can use it as a reference, Ni said, adding this “will to help clarify a lot of theories about the origins of anthropoids.”

“From an evolutionary point of view, we know human beings belong to a large family of primates, but when did we separate from the other members?” he said. “Our finding sets up a milestone for that.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 21st May 2013

Central Bank survey says Irish house prices will fall in 2013


The Central Bank said today that a new quarterly survey for the Irish houses/ residential property market shows a majority of those polled expect Irish property prices to fall in 2013.

More than 50% of the sample comprising estate agents and surveyors, as well as those with a more indirect involvement in the industry such as economists, market analysts, and academics,  both in surveys for 2012 Q3 and Q4, said that residential property prices will continue to fall throughout 2013. However, the share of participants with a positive outlook for prices in the coming year increased significantly, to 35% in Q4, from 17% in the initial survey.

A large number of those taking a negative view believed that the fall in prices compared to 2012 would be less than 8 per cent and approximately one third of those surveyed expected a rise in prices in 2013. One in ten believed prices this year would remain stable compared to the average in 2012.

The Central Bank said that only a quarter of owner occupiers in arrears of three months or more have had their mortgages restructured by lenders. It also reported that the vast majority of borrowers given reduced payments were only put on these arrangements on a short term basis.

Overall financing conditions for non-financial corporations (NFCs) have weakened since the last Review. The volume of  new lending by Irish banks to NFCs has remained below 12% of GDP since 2011, below the pre-bubble level of around 20% in 2003-05. The low value of available collateral, such as property, has constrained recent lending volumes.

NFC debt levels are high, but debt owed to Irish banks is falling . This is due to net loan repayments, write-downs of bad debts and transfers of loans to the state-run National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). NAMA was created in 2009 to acquire non-performing, property-related loans from the domestic banking sector.

Other sources of debt include the financial activities of multinational corporations, such as intercompany lending from non-resident affiliates and corporate treasuries. These debts grew rapidly from 2008 to 2012, due primarily to lending from non-resident creditors, but the NFC sector’s net debt remained stable because of corresponding acquisitions of debt instrument assets. Given that bonds and other debt securities are not a significant component of Irish corporate finance, a wider range of financing sources than Irish banks could potentially mitigate the effects of domestic financial sector risks on firms.

A symptom of our ailing Irish health system

“an old problem with a new Doctor”


Is this a problem or what? A new hospital waiting list initiative has been launched aimed at clearing long waiters. At present, five hospitals account for over 60% of those on inpatient hospital waiting lists for more than a year. Latest  figures show that just over 18,500 patients are waiting over three months for hospital treatment, while just over 8,600 are waiting over six months.”

Here’s another new problem “a new hospital waiting list initiative has been launched aimed at clearing long waiters. At present, five hospitals account for 70% of people waiting more than a year for treatment. Latest figures show that just under 24,000 are waiting more than three months for treatment, while just over 11,300 are waiting longer than six months for treatment. The numbers waiting over six months have nearly doubled over the past four months.”

The first news item is from January 2010, during the tenure of that much berated former Health Minister, Mary Harney. The second news item is from this week, during the tenure of the current Health Minister James Reilly, who we are told (frequently) is tackling the waiting list problem.

Well, if frequently launching waiting list initiatives and issuing upbeat statements constitutes tackling the problem, one can suppose that Minister Reilly is tackling the problem.

Unfortunately, statistics tend to be brutally frank, and the latest waiting list figures would beg the question as to whether anything has really changed since Mary Harney departed Hawkins House in early 2011.

Admittedly, the numbers on waiting lists increased substantially during Ms Harney’s tenure after January 2010, and by the time James Reilly came to office in March 2011, three month plus waiters stood at 26,000. After a short period of decline,the numbers are now almost reaching those not so dazzling heights yet again.

The Minister has just announced he has launched yet another initiative aimed at clearing the long waiters from the five hospitals responsible for the longest lists

Ministerial initiatives to tackle waiting list backlogs have been part and parcel of the health planning landscape since before Mary Harney’s time as Minister.

Unfortunately, to date they have been no more than more than sticking plaster solutions that so far have failed to tackle the resourcing and organisational problems that have bedevilled proper access to public hospital care for decades, and which have worsened as a result of the economic collapse of recent years.

To be fair to James Reilly, his establishment of a Special Delivery Unit to cut waiting lists and improve access to hospital care has had some success. During 2012, the SDU’s intervention did lead to some improvements in treatment waiting lists, particularly for long waiters.

By the end of 2012, the total number of three month plus waiters had reduced to 18,773, and among these, only 143 patients were waiting over nine months for treatment. The latter figure is now 3,715. The average waiting time for treatment is now three months, compared to 2.5 months last December.

History is repeating itself. Before they started to get out of control, in late 2009, Mary Harney, through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, had got waiting lists down to roughly the levels James Reilly achieved by late last year, before they inevitably rose again.

This waiting list roller coaster of recent years has a common theme running through it- diminishing healthcare resources and in particular, inadequate hospital and community resources to deal with pressure points in the system.

Can any Minister really keep a permanent lid on waiting lists in a health system that has had more than one fifth of its funding removed since 2008, and with more cuts to come in 2014 and in 2015?

Yes, James Reilly can argue that he  has had some success with waiting lists and he will deal with the latest ‘slippage’ through a €18 million funding injection (which will probably get swallowed up pretty quickly).

But to date it appears that his actions have essentially been ‘fire brigade’ exercises that have yet to deal with systemic flaws in the system.

He says the recent waiting list rise was due to a longer ‘clinical winter’ and a higher than normal level of elderly emergency admissions. But if the system is being changed for the better, as we are told, shouldn’t it be able to cope with these surges?

If waiting lists are really being tackled, shouldn’t we be seeing a more or less permanent decline in numbers, and not have to be frequently going back to the waiting list drawing board simply because very ill emergency patients are turning up in hospitals and needing beds?

It is alarming to note that the Minister admitted this week that the recent pressure on beds caused by higher than usual admissions through EDs had to be be dealt with through reducing the number of planned procedures, thereby increasing waiting list numbers, which then have to be dealt with by yet another special initiative.

And the Minister certainly likes his initiatives.

James Reilly’s SDU has launched many of these with varying degrees of success. We have had the patchily successful treatment waiting list initiative referred to above.

We have had an ED trolley wait initiative, which has has reduced trolley numbers, although the figure are still quite high.

Also, figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation indicate that recently, the old trolley problem has simply turned into an overcrowded ward problem.

We have had two initiatives under James Reilly to reduce waiting times for colonoscopy and gastroscopy tests. Numbers waiting for these tests, often used to check for cancer, are on the rise again.

We have had a more recent initiative from the SDU to reduce outpatient waiting lists. With nearly 7,000 waiting over four years for a first outpatient appointment and 380,000 in total on these lists at the latest count, this particular initiative clearly has a long way to go.

And then we have the ‘hidden’ waiting lists that don’t normally get officially reported.

A recent Irish College of General Practitioners survey of 300 GPs showed that their private patients only had to wait an average of four days wheh they were referred to a private hospital for for an ultrasound test, whereas their public patients had to wait on average 14 weeks for this test at a public hospital.

The average wait for an MRI scan for a GP’s public patient was 22 weeks – nearly six months. Private patients could get these scans done within seven days, the survey showed.

If the GP college didn’t tell us this then we would never have heard about these shocking waiting lists. Up to date figures on average waiting times for GP referrals for hospital diagnostic tests are not published by the HSE or the Department of Health.

Another hidden waiting list is where even if patients get into the hospital system, they still have to wait. Diabetes patients in some hospitals sometimes have to wait two to three years for an outpatient check up, where they are already in the hospital system and have already seen a consultant for the first time.

Again, these statistics are not revealed publcly by the HSE or Department of Health.

James Reilly cannot be faulted for making an effort to improve public patient access to our health system.

Yet, through all the swings and roundabouts of fluctuating waiting list and trolley numbers, and the often reported hardship suffered by sick patients through poor access and poor facilities, and Ministerial promises that teings are getting better, the underlying message seems to be that our health system still doesn’t work, despite all the ‘spin’.

The bottom line, despite some pockets of efficiency and indeed excellence in the service, is that our broke statelet does not have the resources to provide an adequate level of hospital care at crucial pressure points, or to fund community and primary care to a proper level take pressure off hospitals and keep patients out of hospital.

Taking these harsh truths into account, everything else we are told or retold by Minister Reilly and his junior ministers is essentially window dressing.

And as for universal healthcare by 2016 (to be run by insurance companies no less), dream on.

Director General of RTÉ Noel Curran outlines savings achieved through renewed contracts


RTÉ Director General Noel Curran has outlined to the Oireachtas Communications Committee the savings achieved through the restructuring of the organisation.

The meeting focussed on the current budgetary position at RTÉ and the pay levels for contract and staff broadcasters.

Mr Curran said salaries became over inflated during the boom years and on-air staff were paid too much.

However, he pointed out that reductions have been achieved as contracts have been renewed.

He said he realises the public has concerns about the top earners at the station, but said the value of RTÉ presenters needs to be recorded.

He noted the huge “reach” around the Marian Finucane show at weekends.

Responding to a question from Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, Mr Curran said the commercial market remains difficult.

He said that while RTÉ has a target, that target depends on where the second half of the year goes.

RTÉ Managing Director of News and Current Affairs Kevin Bakhurst said restructuring the regions is enabling substantial savings in operating costs.Regarding the move of regional offices into institutes of technology, Mr Bakhurst said a move to Dundalk IT is imminent.

Regional moves will follow in Waterford and Athlone.

Mr Bakhurst said the hope would be that all three regional office moves will be completed by the end of the year.

Mr Curran said there is a danger that a new media charge will be seen as a “panacea” for every ill in the broadcasting industry.

He told the committee that RTÉ is competing against stiff competition, such as Sky, BBC and Google.

Mr Curran said the market is changing so fundamentally that in five or ten years if there is no broadcaster investing across the board “we could be at a huge loss”.

County Galway has lowest proportion of children in the country


County Galway has the lowest proportions of children in Ireland.

According to the CSO’s latest regional quality of life report, just over 16 percent are aged 0-14.

Counties Meath and Laois had the highest proportions of population aged 0-14 in 2011 with 25 and 24 percent respectively.

County Galway had the lowest proportion of that same age-group with 16.5 percent.

In the city, it was 20.9 percent.

The counties with the highest proportion of the population aged 65 and over in 2011 were Cork City at 15percent, Mayo 15 percent and Leitrim at 14.8 percent.

County Galway was 9 percent, and the city was 13 percent.

Smoking in the home ‘claims same number of lives as road accidents’


Smoking figures for 2007 of a cigarette stubbed out in an ashtray. The number of people trying to quit smoking via NHS services has roughly trebled in the last decade but success rates have fallen, figures show. There were almost 788,000 “quit dates” set with NHS stop smoking services, with almost 384,000 successful attempts.

Cigarette smoking in the home is now responsible for as many deaths as road traffic collisions, scientists have revealed. A new Irish-Scottish survey has confirmed children in particular are at major risk from smoking in the home and action is needed to deal with the crisis.

Researchers at NUI Galway, working with colleagues in Aberdeen,Edinburgh and Birmingham, discovered that burning solid fuels did not adversely affect air quality at home but a major problem emerged from cigarette smoking.

Dr Marie Coggins of NUI Galway said: “Our research shows that air quality in homes using coal, wood, peat and gas is mostly comparable to that of outdoor air. However, smoking at home creates much greater levels of air pollutants.

“Levels of particulate pollution were up to 17 times levels found outdoors. The impact of exposure to such levels on vulnerable groups such as children in homes where smoking occurs indoors needs urgent action.”

The study, ‘Indoor Air Pollution and Health’, was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and shows that the concentration of particulate (tiny pieces of solid or liquid matter) pollution in the homes of smokers who smoke indoors is six times higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for general outdoor air quality.

It reveals that Europeans spend 90pc of their time indoors. Advances in the design and construction of domestic dwellings have also resulted in the amount of air entering and leaving a typical building now estimated to be 10 times lower than it was 30 years ago.

DEATHS: The authors conclude that the health burden of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is considerable and believe it is likely that the number of deaths from ETS exposure at home in each country is broadly comparable to those from road traffic accidents (212 in Ireland in 2010; 208 in Scotland in 2010).

The incidence of respiratory illness among children is also likely to be considerable.

The report’s authors have called for improved national survey campaigns to determine what proportion of the population is exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home.

Key recommendations include: l A co-ordinated national campaign to educate smokers and non-smokers about the health effects from smoking at home and the promotion of smoke-free homes.

* More education as to the health effects of second-hand smoke in the home as a means of reducing exposures.

* Greater focus on finding ways to encourage smokers to move towards smoke-free homes.

Professor Luke Clancy, director general, TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland, said that while it was very reassuring that indoor pollution in Ireland was very low even where coal, peat or gas were used, the findings about second-hand smoke were very worrying.

“Action is needed to encourage people not to smoke or at least not to subject others to the health risks associated with inhaling other people’s smoke,” he added.

Irish potato famine pathogen identified by Scientists


Scientists have used plant samples collected in the mid-19th Century to identify the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine.

A plant pest that causes potato blight spread to Ireland in 1845 triggering a famine that killed one million people.

DNA extracted from museum specimens shows the strain that changed history is different from modern day epidemics, and is probably now extinct.

Other strains continue to attack potato and tomato crops around the world.

The fungus-like infection causes annual losses of enough potatoes to feed hundreds of millions of people a year.

A team led by The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, traced the global spread of potato blight from the early 1800s to the present day.

Until now, it has been unclear how early strains of Phytophthora infestansare related to those present in the world today.

Researchers in the UK, Germany and the US analysed dried leaves kept in collections in museums at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, UK, and Botanische Staatssammlung Munchen, Germany.

High-tech DNA sequencing techniques allowed them to decode ancient DNA from the pathogen in samples stored as early as 1845.

These were compared with modern-day genetic types from Europe, Africa and the Americas, giving an insight into the evolution of the pathogen.

“This strain was different from all the modern strains that we analysed – most likely it is new to science,” Prof Sophien Kamoun of The Sainsbury Laboratory told BBC News.

“We can’t be sure but most likely it’s gone extinct.”

Treasures of knowledge

The researchers believe the strain – HERB-1 – emerged in the early 1800s and continued to spread globally throughout the 19th Century.

Only in the 20th Century, after new potato varieties were introduced, was it replaced by another Phytophthora infestans strain, US-1, which is now dominant around the world.

The research, published in the new open-access scientific journal, eLife, suggests crop breeding methods may have an impact on the evolution of pathogens.

“Perhaps this strain became extinct when the first resistant potato varieties were bred at the beginning of the 20th Century,” said Kentaro Yoshida from The Sainsbury Laboratory.

“What is certain is that these findings will greatly help us to understand the dynamics of emerging pathogens. This type of work paves the way for the discovery of many more treasures of knowledge hidden in herbaria.”

Commenting on the study, Professor Sir David Baulcombe of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge said it shows how we can use herb specimens to track biodiversity.

“It might be a revival in the fortunes or relevance of dried plants,” he said. “It illustrates very nicely the arms race over pathogens and their host.”

Phytophthora infestans – which causes potato blight – emerged in the US in 1844, and spread to Europe the following year.

The summer of 1845 was mild but very wet, giving the perfect conditions for the blight to spread.

The failure of the crop in Ireland – which relied heavily on potatoes as a food source – led to the deaths of about a million people from starvation and disease between 1846 and 1851.