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Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Saturday 22nd August 2015

Irish Government begins sending out applications for water conservation grant

  

Government begins sending applications for water conservation grant.

Under the current water conservation grant, anyone registered with Irish Water before the end of June is entitled to receive a €100 fee to help them conserve water.

They added that Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly will not be bringing the reported proposals to Cabinet when it reconvenes.

The department confirmed that people will be asked to provide their PPS numbers when applying for the payment which must be done online as there is no application form.

Data released under Freedom of Information has revealed that Department of the Environment has suggested the Local Government Management Agency could establish a new database of Irish Water customers and non-customers to be used by the Department of Social Protection to administer the grant from next year.

After the EU group’s ruling that Irish Water must remain on the exchequer’s books, and its swipe at the grant in particular, it appears a number of Government TDs have now given up on the argument – this time with one eye on the safety of their own Dáil seats.

“I think it is reasonable to say, given all the focus we have had especially with a utility like Irish water, to look at what measures can we take and what further work can be done to improve its efficiency and ensure it is better able to meet the needs of providing safe and secure water for Ireland”, he added.

The payment of the grant is fixed for 2015 and cannot be changed.

Therefore, any attempt to limit payment of the €100 grant could impact negatively on this cohort, most of whom are rural-based.

The cost of water charges drops to €160 for a family and €60 for an individual when the grant is included.

And when, depending on who you listen to, that policy relates to either wasting taxpayers’ money on a grant given to people refusing to pay water charges or taking money away from struggling would-be voters, it is yet another no-win situation for the Coalition and an open goal for an opposition constantly waiting to pounce.

Mr Cowen said it was time for real, alternative policies in relation to Irish Water.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis said the Coalition was “at sixes and sevens” over the conservation grant.

“There must be a single public utility for the supply of clean, fresh, drinking water for every home in the country, free of domestic water charges”.

Canadian company offers help with Irish BCG vaccine shortage

  

A Danish company is the only licensed supplier of the BCG vaccine in the EU.

A healthcare company in the Republic of Ireland said a Canadian firm has offered it 40,000 doses of a vaccine that protects against tuberculosis.

It follows concerns that the BCG vaccine would not be available until later this year or early next year.

Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, said problems meant the vaccine, produced in Denmark, was not available.

He blamed production difficulties, delivery delays and sealing problems.

Carysfort Healthcare said it has been offered 40,000 doses of the BCG vaccine from the Canadian medical supply company, Intervax.

The delivery can be made in the next two to three weeks, but the offer will expire on 25 August due to shortages of the vaccine in other countries.

The Danish company is the only licensed supplier of the vaccine in the EU. However, according to Carysfort’s managing director, Fintan Smith, the BCG offered is prequalified and approved by the World Health Organisation.

Mr Smith has been in contact with the Health Products Regulatory Authority in connection with the offer and whether it will allow the medicine to be used as an emergency as it is not licensed in the Republic of Ireland.

‘50,000 babies affected’

Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams had raised the vaccine’s lack of availability after a Louth councillor from his party, Jennifer Green, who is due to give birth in three weeks, had been told her baby would not be given the vaccine as recommended by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Mr Adams said the difficulties had been known by the Irish Department of Health since last year.

He said that, as a result of failing to find an alternative supplier, at least 50,000 babies, and potentially many more, would not receive their BCG when appropriate.

The Department of Health said other countries were experiencing similar delays in acquiring supplies of the vaccine from the Danish company.

The statement added that production was suspended in 2014 pending an extensive investigation regarding a possible problem with the capping of the vials.

It said the investigation had ended and product produced during 2014 was being released.

The statement also said the HSE would arrange appointments for children to attend clinics when the vaccine supply was restored.

The HSE said it had “no control over when BCG vaccine will be delivered by the vaccine manufacturer” and that “these supply issues will continue until at least quarter one, 2016.”

Redheads come together at Cork Convention festival 

  

Redheads will this weekend have the opportunity to have their portrait taken while supporting a good cause at one of the country’s more unusual festivals.

Professional photographer Jörg Köster will take portrait photos of all eligible redheads at this weekend’s Redhead Convention in Cork. While it is free for redheads to have their picture taken, proceeds from prints at Jörg’s photobooth will go to the Irish Cancer Society.

The German native, who has been based in Cork since 1990, has been developing a portfolio of redhead portraits towards an exhibition and possible book, and expects to have boosted his body of work to some 1,000 portraits by the time his photobooth closes at the end of this weekend’s festival.

A fashion and food photographer by profession, Köster developed an interest in redheaded subjects after shooting Irish clothing products for German catalogues. Having started his redhead portfolio, a friend alerted him to the Crosshaven festival.

“I got in touch with the promoters and it was an added attraction for them, so I’ve been there since 2011,” said Köster.

“It works for both of us. We sell prints, and proceeds go to the Irish Cancer Society. It allows me to do sunlit photoshoots with 200 to 300 redheads in two or three days, whereas it would take me decades to get 1,000 pictures like that in natural light otherwise,” he said.

The brainchild of siblings Joleen and Denis Cronin, the Redhead Convention is in its sixth year in Crosshaven and will today feature a Kids Zone, Redhead Cinema, and Foxygen — a dedicated redhead music festival.

Among the redhead performers are Ginger Nutz, a trad band made up entirely of natural redheads from the West of Ireland; ginger-fronted West Cork band The Baby Cheeses, and the Crosshaven Ukuladies.

   The red-headline act for the weekend is Irish jazz and blues singer Mary Coughlan.

Jacky Colliss Harvey, author of Red: A Natural History of the Redhead, will be signing copies of her book and the afternoon will see the coronation of the King and Queen of the Redheads.

Meanwhile, a panel discussion with successful redheads in business will hear contributions from Tristan Rogers, publisher of international redhead art magazine MC1R, and Emma Kelly, a blogger behind the campaign to include ginger emojis in Apple’s iPhone.

The Irish Cancer Society is also set to receive 20% of ticket fees, and other fund-raising activities, such as an outdoor yoga session, will provide donations to the national charity for cancer care, research, and support in Ireland.

Organisers say red hair is the rarest of hair colours and accounts for just 0.6% of the global population. Ireland has the second highest per capita population of redheads at 10%, next only to Scotland at 13%.

Want supermarket tomatoes to taste better? Then dunk them in hot water

 

Ever felt that the tomatoes you bought in a supermarket were lacking in taste? Like they were good, but not good enough?

Tomatoes sold in supermarkets can apparently be made to taste better by dunking them in hot water before they ripen. We’re listening.

The discovery could result in tomatoes bought from stores being as flavorsome as those straight off the vine.

If these green tomatoes are picked then a hot bath could make them taste

Yep. We’d be pretty happy about that too. Because vine tomatoes are a serious luxury.

Typically tomatoes destined for supermarkets are picked while still green and coaxed to ripen while they are stored and transported at low temperatures.

The problem is that chilling degrades their flavour, making supermarket tomatoes relatively tasteless compared with those sold on farms.

Early tomatoes could taste as good as vine-ripened varieties with this hack

Step on up the scientists from the US Department of Agriculture. They found that a simple treatment process can dramatically boost the flavour of transported tomatoes.

Dr Jinhe Bai said: “Ideally, tomatoes should be picked ripe and then sold immediately, as they are at farm stands.

“To produce a better tasting tomato, we added a hot water pre-treatment step to the usual protocol that growers follow. We found that this pre-treatment step prevents flavour loss due to chilling.”

Pick ripe and sell straight away is best, but the hot water trick could help

In the tests, Florida-grown green tomatoes were dipped in water heated to about 51.6C for five minutes and allowed to cool at room temperature.

Only then were the fruit chilled to the temperatures normally used for shipping.

Samsung to make US stock market debut in 2016

  

The listing of Samsung Bioepis on the Nasdaq Stock Market is aimed at securing funds for investment in a new breed of drugs

South Korea’s dominant Samsung conglomerate will make its first entry into US stock markets next year with the listing of a biotechnology affiliate, a company official has said.

The listing of Samsung Bioepis on the Nasdaq Stock Market is aimed at securing funds for investment in the field of biosimilars – a new breed of drugs that mimic the effects of far more costly biologic drugs made from living cells.

“With an underwriter already designated, preparations are under way for the public stock listing of Bioepis in the first half of next year,” the Samsung official said.

Bioepis will be the first Samsung affiliate to list in the United States.

Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest mobile phone maker which accounts for the lion’s share of the group’s sales and profits, controls 46% of Samsung BioLogics, which in turn holds 90% of Bioepis.

The Samsung group is already remarkably diverse, with interests ranging from electronics to construction and shipbuilding, and sees biotechnology as a revenue growth engine for the future.

Spiders ‘as big as mice’ trying to invade Irish homes

    

A number of people last year had strong reactions to the spider’s venom

Experts say that spiders ‘as big as mice’ may be trying to invade Irish homes.

Trevor Hayden of Complete Pest Control told the Star that spiders up to 12cm long are possible in Ireland these days. It comes after reports in the UK of spiders ‘as big as mice’ were reported.

‘Amazingly they can get that big,’ he said. However, this super-sized spider is nothing to worry about.

“While they can bite, they are not dangerous,” he added, though that won’t put those terrified of creepy crawlies at ease.

Thanks to a wet spring and a relatively warm summer the numbers of house spiders in Ireland this year has risen sharply, and when you learn that they can have 60 spiderlings at any one time, it is no surprise that there seems to be a spider epidemic.

An abundance of food for spiders to eat, chiefly other insects, has also led to the larger-than-normal eight-legged creatures.

But the good news is that of the 420 different species of spider in Ireland, only one, the infamous false widow, is a danger to humans.

A number of people last year had strong reactions to the spider’s venom after getting bitten but house spider venom is harmless to humans.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 13th July 2015

Tánaiste Burton calls on highly paid civil servants to forgo pension increases

Joan Burton says she had always been in favour of caps on public service pensions

  

Tánaiste Joan Burton has called on highly paid consultants and civil servants to forgo pension increases.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has called on highly paid consultants and civil servants to forgo pension increases following controversy over rising payments as part of the unwinding of emergency financial measures.

Ms Burton said she had always been in favour of caps on public service pensions, which was why payments to Ministers on leaving office were ended by the Government.

“We’ve already suggested to the people involved, particularly those who are office holders, but to be perfectly honest the bulk of them are highly paid consultants and very highly paid civil servants,” Ms Burton said.

“Perhaps they should all pause and reflect as to whether at this point in time, given the significant size of their pension gross of over €100,000, whether they should all pause and reflect and say at this point in time I don’t particularly need it.”

Ms Burton was speaking on her way into Government Buildings on Monday. Her comments come after Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week said former senior politicians in receipt of ministerial pensions should decline an increase.

He did not specify who exactly he was speaking about when he said a “small number” of people should “refuse the increase that is coming to you”.

A group of Fine Gael TDs had raised concerns about increases in ministerial pensions due to be given to former office holders.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin previously said he could not further reduce the pensions of former ministers and taoisigh.

He said he had sought a general application for the reduction of pensions under emergency financial measures.

“I have begun to unwind that for the lowest pension cohort but I can’t exclude anybody from that and it has to have general application.”

A five-fold increase in the number of bankruptcies last year 2014

    

The number of bankruptcies increased by almost 570% last year – with 448 people being declared bankrupt.

An increase in bankruptcies was widely expected following their launch of the Insolvency Service of Ireland, in March 2013, which reduced the term of bankruptcy from 12 to three years.

Figures from the Courts Service Annual Report also showed that the numbers of debt cases at every level of the courts fell significantly last year.

They decreased by 27% in the High Court, 43% in the Circuit Court and 41% in the District Court.

In the criminal courts, drink-driving cases fell by a quarter, but road traffic offences still make up 62% of orders in the District Court.

While there was a 15% decrease in less serious drugs offences.

“New Eircode system” Some things you need to know about the new system

It’s not compulsory or before time or likely to please all but Ireland now has postcodes

   

We’re getting postal codes? About time, no?

Before we answer that can we just say a big hello from D02CX89. We are indeed getting a postal code system – in fact we already have it and to say it is long overdue is an understatement. In fact, the Republic has long been the only developed country on the planet without an effective means of identifying a postal address but Monday’s official roll out of the new Eircode system means we can now put some delivery distance between ourselves and the likes of Tuvalu, Djibouti, the Cook Islands and North Korea as we proudly enter the 21st Century.

How long did it take for us to get here?

The smart answer is nearly 100 years. The world’s first postal code had its debut in Ukraine in 1932 but was abandoned seven years later. Germany rolled out codes in 1941 while Argentina introduced them in 1958 and Britain followed a year later and the US in 1963.

The notion that we would need a postal code system was first mooted more than 10 years ago. It was considered urgent at the time because more than a third of Irish homes and businesses have what are known as non-unique addressees. This phenomenon is most commonly found in rural areas where homes may just have a townland as an address.

How much has the system cost?

The total cost is €27 million – that works out at €16m over the first two years and a further €1.2 million per annum for the remaining eight years of the contract.

And what will we get for this outlay?

Over the next couple of weeks 2.2m homes and businesses across the State will be sent their new code in the post. People will not need to do anything and the code will automatically arrive through their letter box – which postal workers will find it easier than ever to find.

What will the Eircode look like?

It will be a seven character alpha-numeric code made up of two parts. The first part – or the Routing Key – will be made up of three characters and is the postal area governing that particular address. The second, a Unique Identifier, will pinpoint an address and distinguish one address from another.

Tell me more.

Postal districts will be given a certain staring letter so Dublin 4 will become D04 and Dublin 7 will be D07.

And Galway will be G something, right?

No. Galway City codes will start with an H. And Cork will be T. The Eircode design is not based on county boundaries and is language neutral.

Oh, right. Why does Dublin get to keep its Ds?

Well according to the Eircode people “the existing established Dublin Postal Districts 1 to 24 and 6W are being retained in the Routing Key as D01 to D24. These have been in existence for many years and the public is very familiar with them.” A cynic might suggest that the well heeled, and legally adept, denizens of the leafier Ds might have brought some pressure to bear over the last decade to ensure they got to hang onto their badges of distinction.

Will I have to change my address?

No. Addresses aren’t changing and all you need to do is add the Eircode onto the end of your existing address.

Could I replace the address and just use the Eircode when posting letters?

The official line is no and the eircode people say that An Post requires the full, correct postal address to attempt delivery of the mail item. Mind you, if you want to send us a postcard from your holidays our code again is D02CX09.

So do I have to start using it now?

No. The new system is going to be optional which means you will not have to use you new code if – for some inexplicable reason – you do not want to and you will still get your mail delivered.

Is everyone happy?

Is everyone ever happy? Problems with the new codes have already been highlighted. The biggest problem is that the second part of each code had been randomly generated and so neighbouring properties will have completely unconnected codes. Road hauliers – and more seriously – emergency services have said the random nature of it could “cost lives” as the design is impossible to learn or predict so each time the emergency services are dispatched to a location they will be starting from scratch.

Not only that but the big courier firms- the FedExes and DHLs of our world – have all announced that they have no plans to use Eircode because of its design. They claim that Eircode provides the longitude and latitude of an address but point out that the postal delivery sector has been able to access this information for more than two decades. Not only that but as many as 50,000 placements are inaccurate or completely missing because they are in the Irish language.

Is anyone happy?

The Department of Communications thinks it’s brilliant, obviously. The Director of the National Ambulance Service, Martin Dunne isn’t too hard on it either. He has said his service “is looking forward to the implementation of Eircode in Ireland as it will assist in the rapid identification of non-unique addresses”. He suggested that a “considerable number of ambulance calls are to various types of premises and the Eircode system will allow fast and accurate location of these incidents.”

Is there any chance we could see some hilarious codes like T055ER5?

Sadly, no. The chances of hilarity have been greatly reduced by Eircode’s decision to remove slang names, offensive words and abbreviations and to eliminate certain characters to avoid visual and verbal confusion.

Will I be able to use my eircode when buying online?

Maybe. The system is very new and already there have been warnings that many retailers and organisations might not yet recognise and accept it. “Over time, you will see more organisations requesting an Eircode and accepting it,” is what we are being told. .

How do I find out what my postal code is?

Well you can either wait for the news to come in the post or you can check out the Eircode website @ https://finder.eircode.ie. Bear in mind there is a limit of 15 searches per day.

Secondhand smoke raises the chances of a stroke

   

Exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) raises the risk for stroke by about 30%, which is independent of demographic characteristics, socioeconomic factors, smoking history, Framingham Stroke risk factors, and C-reactive protein (CRP) concentration, new research showed.

These findings “add to the body of evidence supporting stricter smoking regulations,” said the authors, who noted that SHS is concerning as 18% of the US adult population smokes.

The study, led by Angela Malek, PhD, Department of Public Health Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, was published online June 16 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The overall stroke analysis included 21,743 participants in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, a national, population-based longitudinal study investigating cardiovascular disease and mortality among white and African American adults aged 45 years and older.

Current smokers were excluded from the analysis. SHS exposure was assessed by duration and frequency. Exposure to SHS was defined as more than 1 hour per week in close contact with a smoker (anything less was deemed as not exposed).

Almost a quarter (23%) of study participants reported SHS exposure in the past year and 77% reported no SHS exposure. Those reporting exposure were significantly younger and more likely to be white, to be female, and to have lower education levels than those without exposure.

History of cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation, left ventricular hypertrophy, Framingham Stroke Risk Score, and region of residence (Stroke Belt vs non–Stroke Belt) did not differ significantly between the exposed and nonexposed groups.

Of the 5081 participants reporting SHS exposure, 53% were former smokers. About 44% of those without SHS exposure were former smokers.

During an average follow-up of 5.6 years, there were 428 stroke events: 352 ischemic strokes, 50 hemorrhagic strokes, and 26 strokes of unknown subtype.

In unadjusted models, the risk for stroke did not differ significantly between those exposed to SHS and those without exposure. However, after adjustment for demographic and socioeconomic status (SES) covariates, SHS exposure was associated with increased risk for stroke (hazard ratio [HR], 1.31; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03 – 1.65) among nonsmoking participants.

Further adjustment did not change the HRs meaningfully, although after adjustment for lifestyle factors, statistical significance was lost.

The stroke subtype analyses included 21,717 participants. After adjustment for demographic and SES covariates, the HR for ischemic stroke was 1.29 (95% CI, 1.00 – 1.68).

There was no association between SHS exposure and hemorrhagic stroke.

Although these findings are consistent with results of some previous studies, other research did not find associations between SHS exposure and stroke. According to the authors, earlier studies were limited in that they were prospective, varied in adjustment for potential confounders, had inconsistent definitions of stroke and SHS exposure, had differing measurement and sources of SHS exposure, used inconsistent assessment of stroke subtypes, and were underpowered by inadequate sample size.

Limitations of the current study are that it lacked cotinine measures to validate SHS exposure and used self-reports to classify prevalent stroke and transient ischemic attack. In addition, statistical power to examine the risk for SHS exposure by stroke subtype may have been limited. The null findings for an association between exposure and hemorrhagic stroke may be due to the small numbers of such strokes.

Samsung gives us a preview of the office of the future

   

They’re known for their smartphones and tablets, but Samsung has been making big strides in the internet of things space in recent times.

The acquisition of tech company Smart Things has seen an increased emphasis on devices that can communicate with each other and form part of a smart home.

Now the firm has been using this knowledge to go a little further, and imagine what the office of the future could look like.

It forms part of the Samsung Smarter Futures report, and this first section is all about work life. It has been put together in partnership with forecasting experts The Future Laboratory, as well as industry thinkers from Google and IBM among others to come up with a portrait of what the office of 2025 might look like.

The report suggests that in the future we will work in ‘creative villages’, with the traditional office becoming a smart environment that is designed to make staff more productive. Samsung say they believe it will end the trend of wanting to work remotely.

(Samsung)

But going mobile will be easier than ever at the same time, with better tech out of the office meaning it will also be quicker to get in contact with others when on the move.

The other big advance will be the increasing presence of smart screens, with Samsung predicting that in the future screens will be everywhere – including built into tables, but will remain invisible until we need them – activated by gesture or voice.

However the report also warns that in order to harness the full potential of all this technology, a lot of us have to overcome a “reluctance to modernise”, particularly among business leaders.

Samsung UK and Ireland president Andy Griffiths said: “This Samsung Smarter Futures report provides clear scenarios whereby smart technology in the future will improve daily working lives. It shows exciting possibilities for how technology can maximise creativity, productivity and staff happiness.

“Whilst this report looks at the future, adopting smart technology has huge economic potential for the UK economy and individual businesses today. The only thing standing in the way of adoption of this technology is business leaders that are yet to realise the potential benefits it can bring. Smart technology is the future; it’s happening now and those who fail to make the most of this may well not survive into the next decade.”

So now is the time to bug your boss about upgrading the company PCs from Windows Vista.

When two galaxies collide, here is what happens to their stars

  Two Planets Collide

People often talk about two worlds colliding, but what about two galaxies? It turns out that scientists now know what happens when a large galaxy crashes into a smaller one.

According to a new study of more than 20,000 merging galaxies, the larger galaxy starts producing stars faster when it merges with a smaller galaxy, while the smaller galaxy ends up slowing star production. Stellar!

Scientists aren’t quite sure why this happens, though it may have to do with large galaxies’ ability to strip away gas — which is fuel for star formation — from its puny companions. Just check out the video above, describing the study.

“When two galaxies of similar mass collide, they both increase their stellar birth rate,” the study’s lead author Dr. Luke Davies, an astrophysicist at The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said in a written statement. “However when one galaxy significantly outweighs the other, we have found that star formation rates are affected for both, just in different ways… Investigating such cosmic collisions lets us better understand how galaxies grow and evolve.”

Our galaxy — the Milky Way — might experience a merger first-hand as it’s on a collision course with its hefty neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. According to Davies, Andromeda is moving toward us at more than 200,000 miles per hour.

But don’t worry, that collision is a few billion years away. For now, this new research may help us to better understand star formation in other galaxies near, and far.