Wednesday 2nd July 2014
Enda Kenny denies a Cabinet split on property tax
FF leader challenges Kenny on Quinn resignation
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has denied that the Cabinet is split on the property tax.
He told the Dáil today that there was no basis for the “division’’ among ministers, as claimed by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.
He added that the tax was an alternative to increased income taxes and the details involved were still being worked out by the Government.
“The law says that the elected representatives of the people, whatever the shade of opinion on the council, are entitled to reduce the property charges by 15% if they so wish,’’ he added.
“It is a matter for them to make that decision.’’
Mr. Kenny said the Government had already decided that 80% of the charges collected would be kept in each local authority area.
Mr. Martin said media reports had said there was a significant split in the Cabinet on the issue, with Fine Gael wanting to charge local authorities more.
Services devolved from central government would have to be paid for, he added.
Mr. Kenny said he was sorry to see Mr. Martin acting on “the absolute gospel belief of what you read in the papers’’.
Earlier, Mr. Martin asked the Taoiseach to confirm that Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn had resigned from the Cabinet.
Mr Kenny said Mr. Quinn, who at the time was announcing his resignation to journalists at press briefing on the Dail plinth, should be given the courtesy to make a statement.
Mr. Martin said the primacy of parliament was important.
Irish Water to deliver a price plan to energy regulator today
Commission critical pricing plan, including the cost per litre for Irish water, has not been submitted to it in advance of an announcement.
Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen: TDs and Senators “would have hoped to have been privy to it, and had hoped to ask questions on it”
The exact pricing structure for water charges being proposed by Irish Water will be submitted to the Commission for Energy Regulation today, but is not expected to be published until next week at the earliest.
The commission appeared before the Oireachtas environment committee yesterday, but said Irish Water’s pricing plan, including the cost per litre, had not been submitted to it in advance.
The deadline for submitting the plan is today, and an Irish Water spokeswoman confirmed it will be provided to the commission.
However, the commission confirmed to the committee that Irish Water had sought to reduce the free allocation of 38,000 litres per child, as had been originally announced by the Government.
While Irish Water said this is “unrealistic” the commission said in its presentation to the committee this will only be granted in the event of more “robust research and consumption analysis”.
Members of the environment committee were severely critical of Irish Water for not providing the submission in advance of their meeting.
Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, the acting chairman, said TDs and Senators “would have hoped to have been privy to it, and had hoped to ask questions on it”.
“I don’t want to mince my words, we are disappointed, some are angered. We are at a loss today. This is the latest in a series of delays.”
Paul McGowan of the commission said it shared the committee’s disappointment, and it repeated the Government commitment that the average household will pay €240, although some homes will pay more and others will pay less.
Labour Party TD Kevin Humphreys said the meeting yesterday was a waste of time, and said Irish Water was “showing contempt” by failing to provide the requested information.
Irish smoking rates drop as more teenagers quit cigarettes
Teenagers are “fighting back” against big tobacco companies, with only about one-in-eight now lighting up, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has said.
Their remarks came ahead of the X-Hale Film Festival, for which young people produced dozens of short movies about cigarette use.
“We know that the tobacco industry needs to target teenagers to replace the smokers who have already died from their addiction or who have quit,” said Kevin O’Hagan of the ICS.
“The X-Hale Film Festival gives the next generation the opportunity to fight back and they have certainly done that via the 47 films which have been showcased.
“Currently, 5,500 smokers a year die from tobacco related illnesses. These youth groups have sent a rallying call to their peers and to Government to ensure that their generation won’t follow this same path of premature death.
“They want to smoke out big tobacco firms from this country for good,” he added.
In 1998, some 21.2pc of young people were smokers compared to 11.9pc in 2010, data from Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) shows.
There has also been a notable fall in rates of young people who have tried smoking.
In 2002, some 62.1pc of 15 to 17-year-olds had given it a go, compared to 45.7pc in 2010.
In addition, a decline from 60.2pc to 48.9pc was seen between 2002 and 2010 in the percentage of those who had their first cigarette aged 13 or younger.
The ICS said Ireland is on track to have less than 5pc of the population smoking by 2025. X-Hale films highlight the harmful effects of smoking.
Some 43 youth groups showcased their films at Smithfield’s Lighthouse Cinema yesterday.
The works can be viewed online (www.cancer.ie/xhale). To date, they have received more than 21,000 views.
“The trend in Ireland around smoking is changing. We are seeing a huge cultural shift into how smoking is treated and how it is perceived,” said John McCormack, chief executive of the ICS.
Early alcohol tippling at 14 years ‘A binge drinking risk’
Early alcohol drinking experience is one of a wide range of factors that can be used to identify future binge drinkers, research now suggests.
A single glass of wine or beer at the age of 14 can help a young teenager along the path to binge drinking, say scientists.
Early alcohol experience is one of a wide range of factors that can be used to identify future binge drinkers, new research has shown.
Others include personality traits such as risk and sensation seeking, family history, genetics and brain structure.
Combined together, they were able to predict who from a large group of 14-year-olds would be binge drinking by the age of 16 with 70% accuracy.
Having even a single alcoholic drink at the age of 14 was shown to be a “powerful” predictor of binge drinking, possibly because of its association with risk-taking and impulsivity.
Dr Hugh Garavan, from the University of Vermont in Canada, who co-led the study, said the vulnerable period between the ages of 14 and 16 was “critical” to a young person’s future drinking behaviour.
“Just delaying people drinking by six months or a year is actually a very, very substantial intervention that would have vast beneficial consequences,” he added.
A computer was used to analyse a wealth of data on more than 2,000 14-year-olds from England, Ireland, France and Germany. All were participants in IMAGEN, a major ongoing study of adolescent development.
The software looked for patterns that singled out those youngsters who went on to become binge drinkers by the age of 16 – defined as having got drunk on at least three separate occasions.
Results were confirmed by predicting binge drinking with the same accuracy in a separate group of teenagers. The findings appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature.
“Notably, it’s not the case that there’s a single one or two or three variables that are critical,” said Dr Garavan. “The final model was very broad – it suggests that a wide mixture of reasons underlie teenage drinking.”
One surprising discovery was that bigger brains in 14-year-olds are associated with future binge drinking.
Adolescents undergo significant rewiring in their developing brains, so that it is normal for their brains to reduce to a more efficient size. Bigger brains in adolescents are therefore a sign of immaturity.
“There’s refining and sculpting of the brain, and most of the grey matter – the neurons and the connections between them – is getting smaller and the white matter (made from nerve fibres) is getting larger,” said Dr Garavan. “Kids with more immature brains – those that are still larger – are more likely to drink.”
Co-author and IMAGEN leader Professor Gunter Schumann, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “We aimed to develop a ‘gold standard’ model for predicting teenage behaviour, which can be used as a benchmark for the development of simpler, widely applicable prediction models.
“This work will inform the development of specific early interventions in carriers of the risk profile to reduce the incidence of adolescent substance abuse. We now propose to extend analysis of the IMAGEN data in order to investigate the development of substance use patterns in the context of moderating environmental factors, such as exposure to nicotine or drugs as well as psychosocial stress.”
Research suggests culling badger’s not an effective to stop the spread of bovine TB?
An anti-cull protester outside the British houses of parliament in London.
New research has suggested that culling badgers is not an effective way of reducing tuberculosis in cattle.
A study which models the way in which TB spreads across Britain using data on cattle dating back to the 1990’s found that few options could reverse annual increases in the disease.
The research, published in the journal Nature, found that only culling the whole herd when infection was found, vaccination of cattle, or additional national testing for infection would be effective in stemming the rise of the disease.
However, researchers said whole-herd culling would initially involve a 20-fold increase in the number of cattle slaughtered and the measure was a “draconian” one, which they did not advocate.
The latest analysis was seized on by anti-cull campaigners as further evidence that culling badgers to control TB in cattle did not work, but the British government rejected the findings, saying badger culling was necessary as part of measures to prevent the disease.
The model looked at transmission of bovine TB within farms, between nearby farms, and between more distant farms due to cattle movement. It also modelled the effects of control strategies on the potential spread of TB.
It assessed whether new TB cases, or breakdowns, in herds were caused by movement of cattle between farms, infection being missed during testing as the test is only around 70% effective, or by infection from the farm environment, and found 40% of new cases were due to a combination of all three.
The study was unable to separate out transmission from badgers and from other routes in the environment such as pasture where the disease lingered.
However the farm environment seemed to play a “relatively minor role” in onward transmission of TB, Professor Matt Keeling, of the University of Warwick and one of the study’s authors, said.
“Only 15% of breakdowns are solely due to the environment and although the majority do feature the environment in there somewhere, if you get rid of all the environmental transmissions you’d only expect to stop around 15% of new breakdowns,” he said.
Cutting environmental transmission between farms by half, which could represent the impact of a large scale badger cull, has “relatively little effect”, the researchers found, and predicted that controlling badger populations would have a limited effect on TB.
Halving environmental transmission could cut the rise in TB from 10% annually to 6%, they suggested.
Prof Keeling said: “If we reduce transmission from the environment to other farms by a factor of about 50% this has a limited impact on what we see in the future, it would slow the increase in cases but not completely eliminate it.”
The research found that culling the entire herd if an animal tests positive had by far the greatest effect, reducing infected cattle, numbers slaughtered and affected farms by 80% compared to standard measures after six years.
But it also had a huge cost, requiring the slaughter of 20 times the number of cattle than would otherwise be killed as part of TB control measures, although in the long run fewer animals would be slaughtered.
Vaccination had a marked effect in reducing the disease, although the vaccine offers cattle only limited protection.
Increased testing leads initially to more cattle slaughtered and farms placed under restrictions for being infected, but does reduce the disease in later years.
Prof Keeling said Transmission is complicated, it’s multifaceted. This means you’ve got cattle to cattle transmission, you’ve got movement of infected animals and you’ve got infection from the environment and all of these play a role.
“This means there’s no easy strategy that’s ever going to rapidly eradicate infection, and what we’ve predicted is without substantial changes in policy we’re probably going to see this historical 10% rise in cases year on year to continue.
“And we only really found three strategies that stop this rise, and that’s either improved or additional testing, vaccination of cattle that slows disease progression and culling all animals on a farm which obviously is a quite draconian measure.”
He and fellow researcher Dr Ellen Brooks-Pollock were not criticising existing control measures, did not advocate any one policy and that whole-herd culling was never put forward as a viable policy, they said.
The model presented a “dispassionate analysis” of the information available, the researchers said.
British farming minister George Eustice said: “We cannot accept the paper’s findings because it does not investigate the full range of ways in which TB could spread. What this paper proposes would finish off the cattle and dairy industry in this country.
“TB is devastating for our dairy and cattle farmers and, along with blanket testing and removal of infected cattle, biosecurity measures, vaccination and cattle movement controls, culls will help get this disease under control.”
The British environment department’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, said: “Based on our current understanding of the disease cycle, the more severe control measures suggested by the paper would probably result in a rapid decline in the cattle industry in areas where TB occurs.
“However, the study reinforces the basis of the current TB control strategy which is designed to cope with complex and diverse routes of infection.”
The British government introduced a TB control strategy which includes more cattle movement controls, testing, development of vaccinations for cattle and badgers, and two pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
But Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: “The government and the farming industry have focused far too much on badgers and nowhere near enough on the gaping holes in cattle management policy, which have been letting this disease through.
“This research confirms that the vast majority of new bTB outbreaks are due to poor TB testing, biosecurity and cattle control movements, so maybe farmers will now be convinced to give badgers a break and start focusing on methods that will actually work.”
Over-fishing and pollution means Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in 20 years
Caribbean coral reefs are on course to disappear “in the next 20 years” because overfishing and pollution is killing off grazers such as parrot fish and sea urchins which are vital for their survival, a new environmental report claims.
“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” said Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s senior adviser on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”
The report – deemed “the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date,” was formed from more than 35,000 studies spanning 90 Caribbean locations – since 1970, reported the ICUN on its website.
ICUN collaborated with Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in conducting the study.
Coral reefs in the region have deteriorated by more than 50 percent over the past 40 years. However, the report’s authors insist that further deterioration over the upcoming 20 years is avoidable.
“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Program. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”ll / flickr.com
Protection from overfishing, restoring the parrotfish populations and cracking down on coastal pollution could all contribute to the ongoing survival of the reefs.
Grazers are essential and their removal breaks the equilibrium of the ecosystem, letting algae smother reefs, and the spike in bulk shipping in the 1960s and 1970s has contributed to the introduction of pathogens and “invasive species”.
“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” said Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative.
The institute is working alongside Barbuda in the development of its new management plan. “This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs,” she said.
However, the need for reef preservation stretches far beyond the Caribbean. In May, UNESCO condemned the Australian government’s approval of dumping dredged sand and mud in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
UNESCO has noted a “serious decline in the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, including in coral recruitment and reef-building across extensive parts of the property,” saying that the Reef’s World Heritage status could even be downgraded.