Tag Archives: science

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 1st June 2016

Minority Irish Government suffers its first defeat on workers rights Dáil vote

Labour and Sinn Féin in sharp exchanges over Dáil motion on workers’ rights

   

The minority Government has suffered its first Dáil defeat of this Dail.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan: claimed Labour was guilty of ‘gross hypocrisy’’, given it failed to defend the rights of workers while in government.

Its amendment to a Labour motion on workers’ rights was defeated by 78 votes to 58 on Wednesday night. Fianna Fáil voted with Labour against the Government as did Sinn Féin, the Green Party, a number of Independents and the AAA-PBP.

Sinn Féin did not press on its amendment.

A number of Independents including Clare Daly, Thomas Pringle and Mick Wallace facilitated a vote for the AAA-PBP amendment as the group did not have the minimum 10 TDs required for a vote, but then abstained. The AAA-PBP motion was defeated by 104 votes to seven.

Labour’s motion on the protection of workers’ rights was accepted without a vote. It calls for the Government to introduce a legislative package to protect and enhance workers’ rights through a number of measures including ending the abuse of ‘if and when’ contracts, combating, bogus self-employment, ensuring freelance workers have the right to collective bargaining, promoting the living wage in public procurement and preventing unilateral pay reductions.

There were sharp exchanges between Sinn Féin and Labour during a resumed debate on the Labour motion.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan claimed Labour was guilty of “gross hypocrisy’’ , given it failed to defend the rights of workers while in government.

He said the Labour motion called on the Dáil to stand up for working people and ensure employees secured a fair share of national prosperity.

“These are fine sentiments but this motion is sponsored by a party who was a partner in the most right-wing government since the foundation of the State,’’ Mr Quinlivan added.

“In government, Labour and Fine Gael went vulture-like after the incomes of ordinary working people and waged war on the living standards of the most vulnerable.’’

Labour TD Alan Kelly accused Sinn Féin of engaging in political point-scoring instead of looking meaningfully on the issue.

“While Labour in the Republic is trying to form a coalition of political thought and trade unions to tackle if and when contracts and zero hour contracts, Sinn Fein in government in Northern Ireland stands over one of the highest rates of the proliferation of zero hour contracts anywhere in the world,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh O Laoghaire criticised the “practice of bogus self-employment and the ill-treatment of workers’’.

He said it had been a significant issue in the building industry and was now creeping into other forms of employment.

Mr O Laoghaire said bogus self-employment allowed a company to make an illegitimate saving on tax and employers PRSI, a figure which increased profit by roughly 11 percent at the exchequer’s expense.

“For the worker, this can mean no entitlement to holiday pay, sickness or maternity benefit, or even pension contributions,’’ he added.

“There is no redundancy, no notice of termination and no recourse when it comes to a case of unfair dismissal.’’

Labour TD Joan Burton said if there was a blot on the recent 1916 commemorations in O’Connell Street, it was “the spectre of Clerys famous building shrouded and dead, a death created by a series of clever corporate moves both on and offshore with hundreds of workers thrown out on the street’’.

‘I used to think I was curvaceous’ but now I’m obese’ (says new Minister) Marcella

*Corcoran Kennedy says people over use the word ‘bullying’, 
   

The new Minister of State for Health Promotion on the left: Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and in a Fine Gael group photo right.

A new junior health minister has revealed that she used think she was “curvaceous” but now realises that she is actually obese.

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, who has responsibility for health promotion, also told the Dáil this evening of death threats she received during the General Election.

During a debate on the formation of a new strategy for the health service, the Offaly TD said people have to take “positive steps” to make sure they improve their own well-being.

She described it as a “sad fact” that one in four children are obese and more than half of adults are overweight.

And she revealed: “It’s something that I’m going to have to look into my heart about. I used to think I was curvaceous but now I’m told I’m actually obese so I better do something about it.”

As part of her new portfolio Ms Corcoran Kennedy said she will be encourage people eat better food and cut down on alcohol and tobacco.

The first-time minister then addressed a Dáil debate on mental and told about how she somethings feels down.

“We all experience anxiety. We all experience depression of one type of another. Some days you might be down and that’s normal enough. But if you can’t get back up that’s when you might be going into trouble,” she said.

And she warned that the word ‘bullying’ is losing its impact because some people are using it in a “facetious” way.

“The word ‘bully’ for me has very strong implications, whether it’s in the schoolyard or the workplace or whatever.

“But if that word is just thrown around and becomes something commonplace, then there isn’t the emphasis on it that there should be, and the recognition of how wrong it is and that there is action that needs to be taken,” she said.

Ms Corcoran Kennedy went on to describe how she finds social media “very, very challenging”.

“The level of negativity and vilification and viciousness that is tossed at public representatives as if we are figures of stone. As if we do not feel the same as everybody else. As if we don’t have a family the same as everybody else,” she said.

“During the election I gave up looking at it altogether. My life was actually threatened on social media.

“I don’t believe that the person who threatened me had any intention of carrying anything out but at the same time it wasn’t a very nice thing to think that there was a man somewhere in the country that thought the world would be a better place without me in it.

“And that he would be prepared to do time if I was removed from the world.”

She added: “That’s actually just a horrible thing to take in as a public representative and as a citizen of this country.

“It’s entirely wrong that that type of behavior from adults is tolerated because we wouldn’t tolerate it from children in the playground.”

Kian Egan and Jodi Albert love life by the sea in Strandhill Sligo

    

Kian Egan and Jodi Albert are fulfilling their dreams in Strandhill Co Sligo.

Former Westlife singer Kian Egan and his wife Jodi Albert say they’ve no regrets about turning their back on the celebrity circuit by opting for a quieter life by the sea in Strandhill in Co. Sligo.

The showbiz couple told Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday, that they have embraced living by the sea and the lifestyle it affords for themselves and their family as “it’s a so friendly and lovely place to live”.

The Voice of Ireland coach Egan said that touring the world with Westlife and living in London for many years highlighted “how special and amazing” Strandhill is, saying it was the perfect option for settling down with their growing family.

He told Tubs: “I suppose as the years went on and we got married and started having children and talked about the idea of where they would grow up and what type of lifestyle we wanted them to have, it just felt like no matter where we went in the world, Strandhill was the place for us.”

The couple, who have been together for 12 years and have two sons, 3-year-old Koa and new arrival Zekey.

Jodi agreed with the sentiment, adding: “Here it’s so friendly and lovely that everyone genuinely wants to say ‘Hi, how are you?’ and they mean it, they care, in London they don’t.

“As I got older and we had children I just really wanted to be part of a community and I want my children to feel like they’re part of a community because I travelled so much as a kid working that finding that place where you belong was a weird thing for me.

Kian Egan and Jodi Albert chat to Ryan Tubridy about living in Strandhill

“I don’t want that for my kids, I want them to belong somewhere, so if they travel the world they know where home is.”

However, the couple admitted that they still enjoy the glamorous side of city living, saying they love spending time in Dublin when Kian is filming The Voice.

Albert said: “We have our chill time during the week and then when he’s working we have a little weekend to ourselves and go eat in a nice restaurant and have a couple of cocktails!”

Newly appointed Senator to donate her salary to Pieta House

Joan Freeman will donate her €65,000 salary to suicide prevention centre that she founded in 2006.

NO FEE0483 Darkness Into Light 2016 copy     FB_IMG_1462605410191

Joan Freeman, the founder of the suicide prevention centre Pieta House, is to donate her Senator’s salary of € 65,000 to the service she set up in 2006.

Joan Freeman, the founder of the suicide prevention centre Pieta House, is to donate her Senator’s salary of €65,000 to the service she set up in 2006.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin appointed Ms Freeman to the Seanad last week.

In an agreement reached by Mr Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáil were allowed to make three appointments to the Upper House.

Joan Freeman to give the whole salary that comes with her new Senator role back to the organisation she founded

Ms Freeman said it was “only right” that Pieta House benefitted from her appointment to the Seanad.

“I was appointed Senator because of Pieta House so it’s only right that Pieta House and the community benefit as a result of this,” she said.

“I’m only reflecting what the people of Ireland have done over the last ten years by giving so much. It costs Pieta House approximately €1,000 to provide a programme of therapy to one person from start to finish so this money will go towards helping people who need the service.”

In the decade since it was founded, Pieta House has helped over 20,000 people in suicidal distress or engaging in self-harm. More than 5000 poeple accessed the service in 2015.

Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi rejected by Irish Government as not cost effective

Price talks urged between Government and maker on cost pf €160,000 per patient medicine

    

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland said patients were dismayed by the recommendation against reimbursing the cost of a new drug,

A new €160,000 drug that cystic fibrosis (CF) campaigners have described as a “game-changer” has been rejected for Irish patients on cost effectiveness grounds.

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland said patients were dismayed by the recommendation against reimbursing the cost of the drug, Orkambi.

The recommendation by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics recommends that Orkambi should not be funded “at submitted cost” though it recognises the health benefits provided by the drug.

Price negotiations needed?

CF Ireland said the recommendation opens the door to further price negotiations with the manufacturer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

It called on the Government to clarify if it will enter into further negotiations and called on Vertex to reduce significantly the price of Orkambi as part of these negotiations.

“We support a fairer deal for this drug, but it will be a travesty if this drug is not provided to our patients or if there is a significant delay in providing this drug,” said CF Ireland chief executive Philip Watt.

About 500 people with CF have the potential to benefit from Orkambi in Ireland.

Rare Arctic whale spotted for first time in Irish waters

Bowhead renowned for its singing prowess and repertoire of songs

Whale Moving    Today FM image

The rare Arctic bowhead whale normally frequents far cooler waters below polar ice.

An Arctic bowhead whale has been recorded for the first time in Irish waters, some 2,000 miles south of its natural habitat. The rare marine mammal, renowned for its repertoire of songs, normally frequents far cooler waters below polar ice. It was spotted by port pilots for Greenore and Warrenpoint at the mouth of Carlingford lough last Sunday.

The research yacht Celtic Mist, which was donated to the IWDG by the family of late taoiseach Charles J Haughey, is in the area and hopes to get further sightings of the mammal, which is estimated at just under seven metres (20ft) long.

IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley said he had received photos from Leo Cunningham of Carlingford Louth Pilots, adding that the mammal’s paired nostrils were the key identifying feature.

Dr Berrow said the size indicated it was a juvenile and may be the bowhead which was spotted hugging the coastline at Cornwall, southwest England, on May 15th.

In February 2015, a bowhead was recorded off the Scilly Islands. He said this latest report made for a “remarkable recent run of sightings of this very rare species at these latitudes”.

Another Arctic wanderer, a beluga whale, was sighted off Antrim in July, 2015. Humpback and minke whales are currently feeding off Cork; both humpbacks and blue whales are renowned for their musical prowess.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 27th January 2016

Crisis in Irish banks caused directly by decisions of ‘bank boards, managers and their advisers’

   

The crisis in the banks was “directly caused by decisions of bank boards, managers and advisers to pursue risky business practices, either to protect their market share or to grow their business and profits.”

The long-awaited report into the banking inquiry said that banks “moved far way from prudent lending principles”.

No single event or decision led to the failure of the banks in the lead-in period to the Crisis, but rather it was the cumulative result of a series of events and decisions over a number of years.

Fianna Fail committee member Michael McGrath TD said the inquiry has “enhanced our understanding” of the economic crash.

Asked if Fianna Fail has avoided being blamed for the economic crisis in Ireland he said “That’s for others to judge”.

“People will have to judge the report in the round.

“I’m not going to put a spin on it. People will reach their own conclusions,” he said.

The Banking Inquiry report also found  has found that the significance attached to the ‘night of the guarantee’ – September 29, 2008 – was “a myth”.

The committee reported that the idea of guaranteeing the banks was “in reality” considered as part of a range of options as early as January that year.

Among the other key findings were:

* The Financial Regulator adopted a ‘light touch’ and non-intrusive approach to regulation.

* The Central Bank underestimated the risks to the Irish financial system

* Both institutions were “aware as early as 2003” that banks were placing an increasing reliance on lending to the property sector.

* Neither “intervened decisively at the time or in the years prior to the crisis”.

The report found that government taxation policy reduced direct taxes and transferred reliance on pro-cyclical taxes leading to a “structural deficit”.

It states that government fiscal policy resulted in significant, long-term expenditure commitments funded by unsustainable transaction-based revenue streams.

Fiscal policy after 2001 was not focused on mitigating and managing property price increases.

If steps had been taken “the severe overheating from 2003 to 2007 could have been mitigated”, according to the committee.

The Committee recommended changes for banks, external auditors, State institutions and Government policy and the Oireachtas to minimise risk in the future.

They include:

* All members of bank boards should have requisite financial skill sets including risk and governance.

* A detailed commercial property price register should be introduced.

* Members of the Central Bank board appointed by the government must include sufficient expertise and experience in financial stability and prudential regulation.

* Bands should be set on the proportion of tax revenue accounted for by defined cyclical transaction taxes with triggers for action when breached.

* Oireachtas Committees should be reviewed and resources provided to increase their effectiveness.

The chairman, Mr Lynch, said that it is “crucial” that the information in the report and its recommendations are acted upon by the next government and financial institutions.

He said this needs to happen “so that people will be able to buy a home in an affordable and sustainable way”.

Meanwhile, the report states that the “almost universal adoption” of the theory that the country would have a ‘soft landing’ is the “key failing” for the government, Central Bank and Finance Department.

The committee also found that there was “no independent in-depth ‘deep dive’ investigation of the banks had been commissioned by the authorities before September 2008 and the Guarantee was decided upon in the absence of accurate information about the underlying health of financial institutions.”

The report says there were two crises – banking and fiscal.

These were caused by four key failures – in banking, regulatory, government and Europe.

The report was published this afternoon with Banking Inquiry. Two members Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin and Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Joe Higgins refused to sign the report.

Chairman Ciarán Lynch outlining the key points.

The report states how by October 2010 Ireland’s entry into a bailout programme was “inevitable”.

However, the timing of the entry into the programme was determined by factors outside the control of the then Fianna Fáil/Green Party government’s control.

“The ECB put the government under undue pressure to enter a programme, but also insisted that there would be no burden sharing with bondholders,” the inquiry found.

“Each crisis has at its origin a belief that ‘this could never happen again’ or that ‘this time is different’,” Mr Lynch said.

“One description of this recent crisis was that it was a systematic misjudgement of risk; that those in significant roles in Ireland, whether public or private, in their own way got it wrong; that it was a misjudgement of risk of such a scale that it led to the greatest financial failure and ultimate crash in the history of the state.

“This is one part of the story. The failure to identify the potential risk posed to the overall financial stability of the State by the banking system is another key lesson which must be learned,” Mr Lynch continued.

He added that it must be recognised that there is a lack of an overall framework at a European level for dealing with the financial crisis.

“The report’s findings and recommendations show that lessons must be learned and applied.

“There is no certain formula to avoid another crisis, but constant vigilance and early preventative action is crucial.”

Skills plan to deliver 50,000 apprenticeships over five years

Variety of measures under consideration, one of which is older school-leaving age

   

The Coalition plan is in response to a shortage of skilled workers in key areas.

Some 50,000 modern apprenticeships and traineeships will be created over the next five years under a new skills strategy launched by the Government.

The blueprint aims to ensure Irish workers have the skills that enterprise needs over the coming decade.

Currently, there is a shortage of skilled workers in areas such as IT, science and engineering.

In recent months, shortages have also appeared in specific areas such as financial services, construction, freight and logistics.

The strategy – launched by four Government Ministers, including the Taoiseach and Tánaiste – proposes the establishment of a national skills council which would quickly identify emerging skills gaps.

  • Apprentices look beyond construction as rebuild continues

Among its other aims include:

  • Reviewing the school-leaving age – now 16 years of age – with a view to increasing it to ensure as many pupils as possible leave secondary school with a Leaving Cert;
  • Doubling participation in lifelong learning courses from 7 per cent in 2014 to 15 per cent by 2025;
  • Ensuring work placements are available to all transition year students in schools, as well as full-time students in further education and higher education;
  • Reviewing career guidance services and careers information for schools students and adults to identify options for improvement;
  • Employability statements to accompany all college and further education courses;
  • The introduction of entrepreneurship education into schools.

The development of apprenticeships and boosting the standing of the further education sector is a key part of the blueprint.

‘Great career’

Minister for Skills Damien English said these alternative paths to the workforce were central to delivering the kinds of skills businesses require.

“I would urge talented young people to look seriously at an apprenticeship as the foundation for a great career,” he said.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said a key part of the strategy includes giving people at work a chance to improve their skills.

“This strategy will ensure increased access to high-quality and relevant education and training and skills development opportunities,” she said.

“ It will allow people to benefit from workplace learning and experience, and enable effective participation by all in the economy and society.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the ability to attract new jobs and having “our people fill those jobs” depended on having a well-educated, well-skilled and adaptable workforce.

“This strategy aims to provide an education and training system that is flexible enough to respond to a rapidly-changing environment and that can provide the mix of skills needed over the next 10 years, and beyond,” he said.

Eli Lilly subsidiary to close in Sligo with loss of 100 jobs

Elanco Animal Health has been operating in Sligo since 1991.

   

A subsidiary of pharma giant Eli Lilly is to close its manufacturing facility in Sligo with the loss of 100 jobs.

Elanco Animal Health said the decision comes after an in-depth review of its operations, which has also resulted in a decision to close a manufacturing facility in Dundee, Scotland.

The group said cost reduction initiatives, including a major restructuring last year that saw the loss of 70 jobs at its facility in Finisklin Industrial Park in Sligo, had proven ineffective.

The company has been operating in Sligo since 1991. It provides animal health products in more than 70 countries and employs 6,500 people.

“The decision to close the Sligo facility is difficult, and we are very aware of the impact this has on our employees, their families, and the local region,” said Grace McArdle, site manager at Elanco Sligo.

“Over the next few weeks, our priority will be communicating with our employees and providing support at this difficult time,” she added.

‘Schizophrenia Gene’ discovery sheds new light on a possible cause

     

Researchers have identified a gene that increases the risk of schizophrenia, and they say they have a plausible theory as to how this gene may cause the devastating mental illness.

After conducting studies in both humans and mice, the researchers said this new schizophrenia risk gene, called C4, appears to be involved in eliminating the connections between neurons — a process called “synaptic pruning,” which, in humans, happens naturally in the teen years.

It’s possible that excessive or inappropriate “pruning” of neural connections could lead to the development of schizophrenia, the researchers speculated. This would explain why schizophrenia symptoms often first appear during the teen years, the researchers said.

Further research is needed to validate the findings, but if the theory holds true, the study would mark one of the first times that researchers have found a biological explanation for the link between certain genes and schizophrenia. It’s possible that one day, a new treatment for schizophrenia could be developed based on these findings that would target an underlying cause of the disease, instead of just the symptoms, as current treatments do, the researchers said.

“We’re far from having a treatment based on this, but it’s exciting to think that one day, we might be able to turn down the pruning process in some individuals and decrease their risk” of developing the condition, Beth Stevens, a neuroscientist who worked on the new study, and an assistant professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement.

The study, which also involved researchers at the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Harvard Medical School, is published today (Jan. 27) in the journal Nature. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind]

Schizophrenia risk

From previous studies, the researchers knew that one of the strongest genetic predictors of people’s risk of schizophrenia was found within a region of DNA located on chromosome 6. In the new study, the researchers focused on one of the genes in this region, called complement component 4, or C4, which is known to be involved in theimmune system.

Using postmortem human brain samples, the researchers found that variations in the number of copies of the C4 gene that people had, and the length of their gene, could predict how active the gene was in the brain.

The researchers then turned to a genome database, and pulled information about the C4 gene in 28,800 people with schizophrenia, and 36,000 people without the disease, from 22 countries. From the genome data, they estimated people’s C4 gene activity.

They found that the higher the levels of C4 activity were, the greater a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia was.

The researchers also did experiments in mice, and found that the more C4 activity there was, the more synapses were pruned during brain development.

Molecular cause?

Previous studies found that people with schizophrenia have fewer synapses in certain brain areas than people without the condition. But the new findings “are the first clear evidence for a molecular and cellular mechanism of synaptic loss in schizophrenia,” said Jonathan Sebat, chief of the Beyster Center for Molecular Genomics of Neuropsychiatric Diseases at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the study.

Still, Sebat said that the studies in mice are preliminary. These experiments looked for signs of synaptic pruning in the mice but weren’t able to directly observe the process occurring. More detailed studies of brain maturation are now needed to validate the findings, Sebat said.

In addition, it remains to be seen whether synaptic pruning could be a target for antipsychotic drugs, but “it’s promising,” Sebat said. There are drugs in development to activate the part of the immune system in which C4 is involved, Sebat noted.

Sligo Garda’s risk gene goes wrong as the boss receives the ‘device’

   

A Sligo based Garda is under disciplinary investigation after a ‘bomb prank’ went wrong.

It is understood that the member left the hoax device for a colleague at Sligo Garda station last week as a joke. Unfortunately, the device was delivered to the office of his boss, Superintendent Mary Murray Picture above right.

Sources said that the object comprised “a battery with wires along with some other innocuous items”.

The Garda admitted to the prank, but stressed that he hadn’t meant it for the superintendent, but as a joke for a colleague.

Despite that, a decision was made to instigate internal disciplinary procedures. It is thought that the garda in question was briefly suspended and that, when he returned to work, was transferred.

A superintendent from outside the division has conducted a formal interview with the garda. A Garda spokesman confirmed that an internal investigation was under way, but declined to comment any further.

Garda regulations provide for three different categories of breaches of discipline: minor, less serious, and serious breaches.

In minor cases, there is informal resolution at local level between the member and his or her superior, with sanctions including advice, caution or warning.

For less serious breaches, which appears to be the case here, the member is formally interviewed by a superintendent. Possible sanctions can include reduction in pay not exceeding two weeks’ salary, reprimand, warning, caution, or advice.

Lanky bird’s killer kick quantified

  

When the lanky leg of a secretary bird kicks a snake in the head, the killer blow can transfer five times the bird’s own weight in a hundredth of a second.

So say UK researchers who have been studying the kicks of a male bird called Madeleine, kept at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Hampshire.

Madeleine is trained to strike rubber snakes as part of public displays.

The scientists made their measurements by dragging his vulcanised victims over concealed force plates.

Writing in the journal Current Biology, they say that studying such extreme examples of animal movement could help design fast-moving robot limbs or prosthetics.

“A comparable task might be playing baseball with a prosthetic arm, which requires very fast, forceful and accurate arm movements for pitching and batting,” said Dr Monica Daley, a senior lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College.

Secretary birds live in sub-Saharan Africa, stand about 1.4m tall and eat snakes, lizards and small mammals.

Natural ‘ninja’

Their fearsome kick-hunting makes quite a sight, according to animal physiologist Dr Steve Portugal from Royal Holloway, University of London.

“They look amazingly dinosaur-like; they strut through open plains… looking down the whole time. They wait for a snake to be flushed out ahead of them – and then they suddenly run over and start to deliver the kick to the head.”

With their accuracy, speed and ferocity, but strutting on spindly legs instead of soaring through the sky, Dr Portugal said he sometimes describes the birds as “ninja eagles on stilts”.

So the team knew they were studying a unique and agile predator. But when they put Madeleine’s lightning kicks to the test, measuring the power of the blows with a force pad and observing the strike in high-speed video, they were still taken aback by the numbers.

A single kick delivered some 195 Newtons of force – and Madeleine’s foot touched the rubber snake, on average, for just 15 milliseconds (0.015 seconds). Blinking your eyes takes 150 milliseconds.

“So they deliver five to six times their own bodyweight in a tenth of the time it takes to blink an eye, which is really quite surprising,” Dr Portugal told BBC News.

We had a few teething issues where Madeleine got distracted by extension leadsDr Steve Portugal, Royal Holloway, University of London

Other birds of prey reach similar levels of violence – a barn owl can pounce with 14.5 body weights, for example – but few of them do it from a standing start.

Preying on predators

“Most of the time when you measure forces, the whole animal is moving towards the target,” Dr Portugal explained.

“Whereas with these guys, they’re essentially standing still; that force is coming from one leg. It’s a huge amount of force to deliver with a static kick.”

The birds may have evolved its fancy footwork out of necessity, he added. When your prey is itself a venomous snake, mistakes are costly.

“They’re preying on another predator. You’ve only got a fraction of a second before the snake will turn round, so you’ve got to stun it within the first two or three kicks at most.”

In fact, that well-honed instinct to dispatch snakes on sight caused a few problems for the researchers.

During one of the first experiments, Madeleine spotted the cables powering the force plate and set about destroying those instead of the rubber snake.

“We had a few teething issues where Madeleine got distracted by extension leads, because obviously they were very long – so they looked like a humungous lunch,” Dr Portugal said.

The findings have implications for studying how other species move, the team suggests, including extinct ones like the prehistoric South American “terror bird”, which may also have been a kick-hunter.

Dr Daley said: “Despite their very unusual appearance with exceptionally long legs, the secretary bird’s striding gait is remarkably similar to that of ground birds such as pheasants, turkeys and ostriches.

“This suggest that specialisation for their remarkable kick-hunting technique has not unduly compromised their locomotor abilities.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 23rd January 2016

‘Solvency of banks’ reference removed from Irish Government statement

Inquiry finds press release after bank guarantee was altered

  

The former Governor of the Central Bank John Hurley has objected to the finding of the inquiry.

A reference to the solvency of the banks was removed from a government statement issued on the morning of the bank guarantee, the Oireachtas banking inquiry has found.

It was learned that the parliamentary committee has established that the press release on September 30th, 2008 – confirming the government decision to introduce a blanket bank guarantee – was altered to take out a claim that the institutions had sufficient funds.

This raises questions about how long before the bank bailout in November 2010 was the government aware the banks were insolvent.

The Oireachtas committee is also expected to dismiss the suggestion that Anglo Irish Bank would have defaulted if a guarantee was not agreed that night.

The inquiry, which was set up to investigate the cause of the crash, will confirm the Central Bank lobbied for a blanket bank guarantee, but had a contingency plan in place if one was not signed off in September 2008.

Nine months

It will also conclude the guarantee was not decided on that night, and was being examined by the government and other State institutions for nine months before the decision was made.

The final report of the committee is highly critical of the Financial Regulator, the Central Bank and successive governments for failing to see the risks in the run-up to the economic crash.It will conclude the regulator and the Central Bank had sufficient powers to intervene, but did not.

Former governor of the Central Bank John Hurley has objected to this finding.

Strategy memo

The report, which will be published in full on Wednesday, will criticise the government for ignoring the advice of the Department of Finance in the budget strategy memo laid out every April. It will find that, in every year bar one, it exceeded the department’s figures when drawing up its annual budgets.

There is also criticism of the department for an over-reliance on the advice of the Central Bank, and insists it should have carried out its own risk assessment.

The final report also finds there was no cost-benefit analysis of the property tax incentives introduced by successive governments. It concludes had they been amended or abolished sooner it might have mitigated the impact of the property crash.

The inquiry also found the European Central Bank refused to allow Ireland to burn senior bondholders.

It confirms the former president of the ECB, Jean Claude Trichet, directly intervened and warned Minister for Finance Michael Noonan that a “bomb” would go off in Dublin if it moved to introduce burden-sharing.

The report does not estimate how much could have been saved, but outlines the various figures quoted by the National Treasury Management Agency and former International Monetary Fund official Ajai Chopra, who claimed it could have saved up to €9 billion.

Thousands of protesters join anti-water charge demonstrations

      

Protesters from the Right2Water movement opposed to water taxes and austerity gather in Dublin.

Thousands of anti-water charge campaigners have taken part in a series of nationwide protests on Saturday last.

Around 30 demonstrations were organised in towns and cities up and down the country as part of the sixth day of action by the Right2Water movement.

The movement is led by community and political representatives and trade unions.

Ahead of the main events, a number of campaigners staged a picket at the Fine Gael ard fheis in Citywest in Dublin.

Campaign spokesman and general secretary of the Mandate union John Douglas said the controversial water charges should be at the top of the agenda for the forthcoming General Election.

“We promised over a year and a half ago that we would make water charges the number one issue for this election and today’s set of demonstrations is a step towards that objective,” he said.

“Water charges are an unfair imposition on the public and they serve no purpose other than a transfer of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest in our society and they’re also about lining up the future privatisation of our water services.”

The largest protest was staged in Dublin outside the GPO on O’Connell Street.

Right2Water, backed by trade unions including Mandate, Unite, the Communication Workers’ Union, power union the TEEU, and the Civil and Public Services Union, plans to follow the latest rallies with another major demonstration on the Saturday before the election day.

It also plans a high profile conference with a panel of international speakers at the height of the election campaign.

Right2Water’s latest campaign centres on claims that households use 10% of water produced in the country compared with big business and agriculture but they pay nearly 80% of costs.

It has also attacked Irish Water figures which found 61% of customers have paid a bill.

Right2Water claims Irish Water should have taken in 225 million euro in charges to date but has only collected 110 million euro and it has spent 80 million euro on conservation grants.

At the last major rally last August, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Dublin.

A Belfast company wins mammogram tender to Sligo Hospital

A mobile mammography service will soon begin to treat Sligo patients

 

Northern Ireland’s leading cancer charity has won the contract to provide a mobile mammogram service to Sligo and the North West.

It means up to 300 breast cancer survivors in Sligo and Leitrim will soon be able to have follow-up treatment here without having to travel to Galway.

In what will be seen as a coup for his election campaign, Sligo-Leitrim Deputy John Perry confirmed the news yesterday (Monday) that the tender for follow-up mammography services at Sligo University Hospital has been awarded to Action Cancer.

Deputy Perry said the satellite follow-up service will “provide a safe, quality and evidenced based service to women in the Sligo, Leitrim and South Donegal area.”

“I can confirm that a company named Action Cancer, Belfast has been awarded the tender from HSE procurement,” said Deputy Perry.

“I’m pleased now that the Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal areas will be served. I expect it will begin as soon as early March,” he said.

“A site has been identified by management at Sligo University Hospital for the mobile service and I very much welcome this fast progression for provision of the service. This is something I have fought tooth and nail for since 2011 and that this was a red-line issue for me,” he added.

Hundreds of patients travel for follow-up treatment to Galway annually and the initial decision not to provide a service in Sligo was “grossly unfair and had to be reversed,” he said.

The service will operate under the governance of the Symptomatic Disease Service at Galway and all reporting will be carried out by HSE Consultant Radiologists in UHG. The tender requires that the mobile service is of a comparable standard and quality to that provided in Galway and that it can be linked electronically to the Group’s imaging system. The mobile service will be shared between hospitals in the SAOLTA group, ie Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon, Portiuncula, UHG and Merlin Park in Galway.

‘Doppelganger’ Two look-alike strangers take DNA test to find out if they are related

  

‘What does that mean for doppelgangers? Everyone who looks the same – are they related in some sense?’

Irene Adams and Niamh Geaney, both from Ireland, took a DNA test to see if they were related.

Two strangers who were told they look so alike that they could be related have taken a DNA test to find out whether this could be the case.

Niamh Geaney and Irene Adams, both 26, underwent the test after repeatedly being asked by people if they were blood-related.

M/s Adams is the “third doppelganger” M/s Geaney has found since she set up Twin Strangers, an online project aiming to match people who have never met but look alike.

Since setting up the website with friends, the Dubliner has met two similar-looking strangers – one who lived just a few miles away, and the second residing in Genoa. M/s Adams also lives in Ireland.

M/s Geaney, a student and television presenter, and M/s Adams took a DNA test to find out whether they were sisters, half-sisters or related in any way going back 20,000 years in their ancestry.

The results showed that there was a zero% chance of the women being sisters, at 150,000-1 odds, and neither did they share one parent.

M/s Geaney – who describes herself as a “global doppelganger hunter” – said the results to determine whether the pair are related in any way was the one she was “most worried about”.

“This is the one that could show that we are related in some sense. And then what does that mean for doppelgangers?” she said

“Everyone who looks the same – are they related in some sense?”

The test revealed that M/s Geaney and M/s Adams’ ancestors were descended from different parts of the world and so they could not possibly be related.

“Not sisters, not half-sisters, not even related up to 20,000 years ago. It’s Mental,” M/s Geaney added.

Twin Strangers matches lookalikes by asking them to upload photos and selecting the facial features they feel best match them.

Eleven Rules you should follow if you want Healthy hair

    

In an age of blowout bars, extreme dye jobs, and perms (yes, they’re back!), it’s not a question of if your hair is damaged but of how bad the situation really is. Before you start feeling hopeless because you’d sooner sell your soul than give up your flatiron, consider that even wrecked hair can be revived with a few sneaky little adjustments to your routine, according to scientists. Shinier, healthier-looking hair is just 11 tricks (and one roll of paper towels) away.

RULE: 1 Get it wet less often.

Water makes hair swell from the inside, which forces the cuticle up. “When that happens over and over again, you get frizz and breakage,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. “Don’t wash your hair more than you have to. Whenever you can skip a day, that’s great.” Instead, embrace a dry shampoo that’s a hard-core oil and odor absorber. Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo removes grease and sweat from your hair rather than just coating it with powder.

RULE: 2 Stock your shower.

On those days when you do wash your hair, add a pre-shampoo–yep, that’s a thing now–to your routine. It works like a sealant, “smoothing the hair’s cuticle before it gets wet so there’s less damage,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, who recommends this for all hair types except fine. It also protects against friction from massaging in shampoo. “When your hair rubs together, the edges fray,” she explains. We like Nexxus Color Assure Pre-Wash Primer and Tresemmé Beauty-Full Volume Pre-Wash Conditioner.

RULE: 3 Get smarter about your shampoo.

Don’t worry about sulfates or no sulfates. “We tested sulfates against other cleansers and didn’t see any difference in terms of damage or fading color,” says Schueller. “All shampoos have detergents that strip oil and color from hair.” And don’t even think of touching a clarifying formula since they’re meant to strip your hair of anything and everything. What you want is a shampoo that says “damage repairing” on the label and has proteins to strengthen hair (we like L’Oréal Paris Advanced Haircare Total Repair 5 Restoring Shampoo) or a cleansing conditioner, which has the lowest concentration of detergents. One word of warning to fans of hair spray, silicone serum, or mousse: You’ll need to alternate a cleansing conditioner (we like Purely Perfect Cleansing Creme) with regular shampoo. “Cleansing conditioners can’t remove all that product residue that makes hair less flexible and leads to breakage,” says Wilson.

RULE: 4 Change the way you think about conditioner.

We all know they smooth frizz and make your hair softer and shinier. But if you own a blow-dryer or flatiron, you should also know that conditioners are critical to heat protection. “It’s just as important as heat-protectant spray, if not more, because conditioner is better at coating the hair,” says Wilson. Skim labels for ingredients that won’t rinse off–words with “methicone” or “polyquaternium” in them–or just get one of our favorites: Dove Quench Absolute Conditioner. Leave it on for at least five minutes, and then rinse with cool water. “This allows for more residual conditioner to be left on the hair,” she says.

RULE: 5 Just add layers.

Since heat is the worst thing for your hair, double down with a heat-protectant spray. But recognize that if it’s going to work, you’ve got to apply it the legit hairstylist way: Grab small sections of damp hair and mist each one up and down the length (two or three spritzes per section). When you’re finished, comb your hair to distribute the formula–heat protectants are pretty useless if they’re not applied all over, says Wilson, and getting there takes only a few seconds. Look for one that protects hair up to 450 degrees (it’ll say so on the label), like Style Sexy Hair 450 Degree Protect Heat Defense Hot Tool Spray, or Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Styling Heat Protect Spray for second-day hair.

RULE: 6 Move things along.

Anything that speeds up a blowout is good–less heat means less damage–so humor us with an experiment. Blot (don’t rub) your hair with a towel, then do the same with paper towels. You’ll be shocked at how much more water comes out of your hair and how it makes blowouts take half the time, says hairstylist Adir Abergel. Add a quick-dry spray and you’ll be watching the Today show again in no time. L’Oréal Paris Advanced Hairstyle Blow Dry It Quick Dry Primer Spraycontains ingredients that wick water away from hair (isododecane) and protect against heat (silicones), says Schueller.

RULE: 7 Save your old shirts.

We kid you not: Your cotton Madonna Virgin Tour tee is gentler on your hair than a Frette towel for drying. It’s why top hairstylists, including Mark Townsend, keep them on hand. “They don’t rough up the cuticle as much, so you don’t have to work as hard to smooth the hair and make it look healthy,” he says.

RULE: 8 Cool your head.

If your hair feels hot after you blow-dry or flatiron it, that means it’s still frying. “If you remove a steak from the grill, it still continues to cook, and it’s the same thing with heat retention from a blow-dryer, flatiron, or curling iron,” says Wilson. Hit the cold-shot button on your dryer.

RULE 9:  Get creative.

If you air-dry your hair overnight, you can minimize damage and free up time for snoozing, coffee, whatever in the morning. One trick that works for all hair types: Sleep with damp hair in two loose braids. “It smooths frizz, loosens curls, and gives straight hair beachy waves,” says hairstylist Mara Roszak.

RULE: 10 Do treat yourself.

Weekly scalp treatments make a bigger difference in the long run than you’d think. “Keeping the hair follicles clean prevents the blockage and inflammation that leads to thinning hair later in life,” says dermatologist Neil Sadick. Try Sachajuan Scalp Treatment with salicylic acid, which is better at cleaning the hair follicle than the cleansers in shampoo. If you’re pressed for time, “dandruff shampoos are great for cleaning the scalp, even if you don’t have dandruff,” says Sadick, who recommendsHead & Shoulders Instant Relief Shampoo.

RULE: 11 Boost the shine factor.

Sure, you could use shine sprays and serums, but they’re like fake boobs–they change things, but they don’t always look so natural. Dry oils, which contain the lightest silicones and oils, create the most believable shine. “They smooth the hair’s cuticle, which is the hallmark of healthy hair,” says Wilson

More men needed with singing talent to join “Tone Cold Sober” Sligo barbershop group

    

Left picture “Tone Cold Sober” as they were in 2015, and at the Strandhill markets during Xmas 2015 raising money for charity and right picture in 2010 when they won the National Male Chorus trophy at the 22nd International Barbershop Singing Convention which took place in the University of Limerick Concert Hall.

Tone Cold Sober, the well-established Sligo barbershop singing chorus group pictured above left, often seen and heard at charity events like at the Stranhill markets and civic functions. The ever popular group of singers based in Strandhill are in recruitment mode for the next few weeks.

They had a great first night last Wednesday attracting some 14 new men singers to the Clarion Hotel for an enjoyable and fun loving session.  The thirty or so men learned the Beatles number “All MY LOVING” in no time and at the end of the night sang it in 4-part harmony as if they were singing A Cappella together all of their lives.

The “learn to Sing” free event continues for the next three weeks and the club are offering another opportunity to men of over 18 years who enjoy singing and who could not make it on the first to come along next week.

This event is totally free and men will learn to sing in 4 part A Cappella style. The programme starts again at 8pm till 10pm for the next three Wednesday nights January 27th, February the 3rd and the 10th in The Clarion Hotel.

By the end of the fourth session two popular songs, specially arranged in four-part harmony, will be ready for public performance. Irish men enjoy singing but may feel inhibited doing so in public and for one reason or the other maybe from their school days have never had the chance or confidence to give it a go. This well tried and tested programme is designed to help break down such inhibitions. Everyone, including all current members of TCS will be learning the same songs. In that way it’s a level playing field for one and all.

Participants can consider joining the Chorus at some time and any-time in the future. Those interested are asked to text their name to 087-2444548.

Animals more capable of empathy than previously thought, A study finds

Researcher found that prairie voles would console one another after experiencing stress

    

The prairie vole is capable of consoling behaviour that previously was only known to humans and a few almost human like animals, such as chimpanzees.

A new study has found that prairie voles will console other voles who are feeling stressed – which researchers have described as evidence of empathy.

A study team at Emory University set up an experiment where pairs of voles isolated from each other, and one of them was exposed to mild shocks.

When they were reunited, the voles who hadn’t been shocked would lick their partners sooner and for longer durations than specimens in a control group who were separated but not exposed to shocks.

The consoling behavior only took place between voles who were familiar with each other, and not between strangers. According to researchers Larry Young and James Burkett, this demonstrates that the behavior was not simply a reaction to aversive cues.

The study authors said: “Scientists have been reluctant to attribute empathy to animals, often assuming selfish motives. These explanations have never worked well for consolation behavior, however, which is why this study is so important.”

Prairie voles are known for maintaining lifelong, monogamous partnerships, in which both parents will look after their offspring.

Until recently it was thought that only humans, great apes, and large-brained mammals such as dolphins and elephants were capable of showing consolation behavior towards one another. This latest study is the first time empathy has been identified in rodents.

Researchers also investigated the effects of blocking the oxytocin receptor in the voles’ brains, given that the neurotransmitter is associated with empathy in humans. In a series of consolation experiments, it was found that blocking oxytocin did stop the animals from consoling each other, but did not affect their self-grooming behaviour.

Their report, published this week by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said: “Many complex human traits have their roots in fundamental brain processes that are shared among many other species. We now have the opportunity to explore in detail the neural mechanisms underlying empathetic responses in a laboratory rodent with clear implications for humans.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 21st January 2016

Tanaiste and Mary-Lou McDonald confrontation over 250 children afflicted with Scoliosis

Vicious personalised comments during bitter Dáil debate

       

The confrontation between the two long-time rivals came during a heated Dáil exchange over the plight of 250 children afflicted with Scoliosis and awaiting treatment.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has accused Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald of using “a tsunami of hatred and invective” against her.

The confrontation between the two long-time rivals came during heated Dáil exchanges about the plight of 250 children afflicted with Scoliosis and awaiting treatment for up to 15 months in intense pain.

:00 / 01:04

Ms McDonald said this “scandalous situation” typified the “chaos and failure” of Labour in government and the cancelling of routine procedures at Cork University Hospital due to pressure of work was another.

“Tánaiste, would you accept a 15-month wait for your child?” Ms McDonald asked the Labour leader.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Joan Burton hit back by accusing Sinn Féin of trying to disrupt a well-laid plan to assist the children with Scoliosis, which is a severe curvature of the spine.

She said plans were afoot to open a new operating theatre at Crumlin Children’s Hospital, which had treated 100 children in 2015 – a 51pc increase on the previous, while another 33 children received treatment elsewhere including a British hospital.

Ms McDonald then accused Ms Burton of using “a single-transferrable anti-Sinn Féin rant.”  She accused the Labour leader of trying to claim special treatment for children with Scoliosis would put the economic recovery at risk.

“There’s something obscene about an assertion like that,” the Sinn Féin deputy leader said.

Ms Burton then hit back again. “Have you finished your tsunami of hatred and invective against me?” she asked Ms McDonald.

The Labour leader said Crumlin Children’s Hospital was a world class facility and its lead role in treating Scoliosis would be expanded with extra staff and resources.

Ms Burton also accused Sinn Féin pursued “draconian policies” in Northern Ireland. She cited their Education Minister advising young people there to avoid teaching because there would be no teachers’ jobs in future.

Ms McDonald said the children and their families cared nothing about Ms Burton’s views on Sinn Féin or any other party. “It’s a typical diversion by you,” she said.

Donegal Independent TD, Thomas Pringle, said that his native county had got a very bad service from the Coalition over the past five years. He said 60pc of the county’s population qualified for a medical card indicating high levels of unemployment, poverty and deprevation.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley sought assurances from the Tánaiste would ensure flood-hit families without insurance would get compensation.

Niall Breslin (Bressie) tells the  Oireachtas of a great epidemic unhinging our mental health

Oireachtas group hears of mounting expectations and pressure on Ireland’s young generation

     

Niall Breslin: Ireland is going through a transitional period as people are talking about mental health and emotional wellbeing

Mental health issues are the “great epidemic of this generation” that can no longer be ignored, musician and campaigner Niall Breslin told the OireachtasHealth Committee on Thursday.

Breslin, also known as Bressie, said he was speaking so young people could get help when they needed it and not suffer in silence.

“They are exposed to too much. So much is expected from them and both the external and internal pressures they are being asked to cope with are simply not sustainable. And the result is the great epidemic of this generation,” he said.

“Agonising suicide rates, disturbingly high anxiety and depression rates, self-harm, eating disorders, OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] . . . We simply cannot ignore this anymore.”

The singer shared his own personal struggles as a teenager dealing with anxiety.

“Crippling insomnia, harrowing panic attacks and incomprehensible self-harm dictated my life,” he said.

“It was let grow into a monster, a monster that fed on silence, fear and lack of understanding.”

Breslin told the committee that policy was not good enough to help people suffering from mental health problems.

  • Voters can make mental health an election issue?

  • Putting mental health centre stage at First Fortnight?

“The idea of a teenager having to be driven half way across the country after waiting two months for a referral is completely unacceptable,” he said.

“Everyone in this room has to be painfully honest with each other and accept that our mental health services and systems are not even close to being adequate or resourced for the demand and requirement that is put upon them.”

“It’s a matter of joining the dots and building something together that can give our youth the support they require to survive in this often chaotic world.”

Ireland is going through a transitional period as people are talking about mental health and emotional wellbeing, said Breslin.

“The draconian stigma that has ravaged families throughout Ireland for generations is slowly eroding,” he said.

“We have gradually commenced normalising the conversation surrounding our mental health and this must be promoted, nurtured and celebrated at every level.”

He spoke of Caoilte Ó Broin, whose body was found in the river Liffey earlier this month.

“Many times his family tried to access help but they were refused because this young man was consuming alcohol and told he couldn’t be helped because of his drinking, which was intrinsically linked to his mental health illness,” he said.

“This family don’t want to play the blame game, or point fingers, they simply want change.

“We need to ask hard questions. Those stories are too common. So many people wanted to help this young man, but their hands were tied by bureaucracy and lack of resource.”

“We have to be honest and ask ourselves, truly are we doing enough?”

Dr Paul D’Alton, head of the Psycho-oncology department St Vincent’s University Hospital, also addressed the committee. He said over the last three decades there was increasing evidence a “whole system” approach was needed to improve mental health.

“As long as we continue to seek a solution in one particular department or in one particular service the HSE provide, such as the mental health services, we are destined to repeat the annual national tragedy of more than 500 lives lost to suicide,” he said.

Dr D’Alton said every person in the State wanted radical change for the wellbeing and mental health of people.

“We need to be very cautious of an insidious mentality that places excessive responsibility for wellbeing and mental health in the hands of the individual,” he said.

Pubs to remain closed on Good Friday 2016,

says Frances Fitzgerald

   

Publicans campaign for end to ban, saying it affects business and confuses tourists

Pubs will remain closed on Good Friday 2016 despite a campaign from vintners for the alcohol ban to be lifted.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on Thursday ruled out an imminent change to the trading rule. “I won’t be doing it this year,” she told RTÉ radio. But she added that it is an issue that would be considered under new alcohol laws. (Election promises?) 

Publicans said they were extremely disappointed with Ms Fitzgerald’s decision not to introduce legislation which would permit all licenced premises to serve alcohol on Good Friday this year.

The Licensed Vintners Association (which represents Dublin pubs) said its members and the public at large will struggle to understand the rationale behind the Minister’s decision. “Our legal advice was that the law only required a minor legislative change,” said its chief executive Donall O’Keeffe.

“This is a lost opportunity not just for publicans but for the capital city and the tourist sector as a whole. This year there was a particular urgency around this issue given the Ireland 2016 celebrations would focus on the Easter weekend and that we have an international soccer friendly between Ireland and Switzerland taking place in the Aviva Stadium on Good Friday itself. Once again thousands of tourists and holiday goers are going to be at a loss wondering why they can’t go to a pub for a drink” O’Keeffe said.

Publicans had called on the Government to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday and on Monday launched the #AboutTime campaign.

“The Minister has had ample time to repeal this archaic law,” said Padraig Cribben of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (which represents publicans outside Dublin). “ Frankly it’s an embarrassment that this legislation is still in force in 2016. Both the VFI and the LVA have had a very positive reaction to our #AboutTime campaign and we were very hopeful that the Minister would finally move on this issue this year.”

He continued: “Previously the Minister indicated that Good Friday trading would be permitted in the context of the Sale of Alcohol Bill and she has had plenty of time to advance that legislation.

“Most other retail businesses will be open and trading but once again the licensed trade will be closed. For a Government which claims to be pro business and seeking election it makes no sense.”

The Intoxicating Liquor Act, when introduced in 1927, said alcoholic drinks could not be sold on Christmas Day, Good Friday and St Patrick’s Day. The St Patrick’s Day clause was repealed in 1960 to accommodate visitors coming from overseas to celebrate the national holiday.

The legislation provides exemptions allowing the sale of alcohol to those attending events or travelling by sea, rail, air or ferry. Alcohol can also be sold in a licensed theatre. Guests staying in hotels can be served alcohol, as long as it is taken with a meal.

Maynooth University team makes diabetes type 2 treatment breakthrough

Researchers working on compound that mimics the anti-diabetic effects of vigorous exercise

    

The new family of drugs discovered by the group ‘works 1,000 times better than the current top diabetes drug Metformin’

Researchers at Maynooth University have come up with a new way to tackle type II diabetes using a compound that mimics the anti-diabetic effects of vigorous exercise.

They have also discovered these compounds reduce the weight increase sometimes seen with the current best treatments available to keep Type II under control.

“There is a lot more work to do, but this looks very promising,” said Dr John Stephens who heads the department of chemistry.

“If it is as clean as it looks, it will be a great improvement on what is currently available on the market.”

The incidence of diabetes in Ireland and abroad has soared over the past decade, with type II patients here numbering at least 200,000 and 370 million worldwide, Dr Stephens said.

The condition occurs when the body becomes unable to take sugar out of the bloodstream and use it up as energy.

Lack of exercise and obesity are key risks, and there are serious health repercussions if it goes untreated, he said. “Diabetes is very serious; you can go blind, you risk amputations, it is a very serious condition.”

They body uses insulin to encourage cells to take sugar as glucose out of the bloodstream. The more one exercises, the more glucose that will be taken up.

The new family of drugs discovered by the Maynooth group does the same thing – but in a different way. It works 1,000 times better than the current top diabetes drug Metformin, and does not seem to cause that drug’s side-effects, Dr Stephens said.

“Our compound is nothing like the drugs used at the moment so it is a potent new class of anti-diabetic agent.” he said.

The team of scientists involved has spent five years developing the new compounds and has already used them to control Type II in mouse models.

“Our compounds are independent of the insulin pathway. The fact that it is independent of insulin means it could serve as an alternative to insulin, but there is much more work to do,” he said.

“We know quite a lot about the compounds, but there is still a long way to go in pre-clinical and toxicological work before we can run human trials. That is some years off – at least three or four,” he said.

The research team includes Prof John Findlay and Dr Darren Martin of Maynooth University, and Dr Gemma Kinsella, formerly of Maynooth and now at of Dublin Institute of Technology.

They also have collaborators in Trinity College Dublin and the University of Leeds.

The team will publish its results in the Journal of Molecular Endocrinology.

An ancient dragon found in Wales named as Dracoraptor hanigani

The apparently youthful dinosaur was running around Wales some 200 million years ago?

Representation of Dracoraptor hanigani  Hand of dinosaur   Hip and vertebrae of dinosaur

Scientists have found the skull and bones (as above pictures right) of a huge beast near Penarth in Wales. The creature has been named Dracoraptor hanigani and is one of the world’s oldest Jurassic dinosaurs.

Dracoraptor is Latin for “dragon robber”, an apparent reference to the dragon on Wales’ flag. The rest of the name comes from Nick and Rob Hanigan, the amateur fossil-hunters who found the bones while they were looking for ichthyosaur remains.

The dragon was related to the Tyrannosaurus rex. But it was a lot less terrifying, scientists say.

The bones aren’t yet fully formed, and so the specimen probably belongs to a youngster.

The dragon would have roamed before dinosaurs took over the world, when it was instead dominated by crocodiles and mammals. The climate of Wales would also have been very different and much warmer.

Dinosaur scientist Steven Vidovic, from the University of Portsmouth, one of the experts whose description of D. hanigani appears in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, said: “The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event is often credited for the later success of dinosaurs through the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but previously we knew very little about dinosaurs at the start of this diversification and rise to dominance.

“Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete two metre-long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 9th & 10th January 2016

Lucinda Creighton (Renua) claims Refugees coming to Ireland should be screened

   

Lucinda Creighton launches her new political party.

Refugees being relocated to Ireland should be screened in light of last week’s horrific sex attacks in Germany, according to Renua leader Lucinda Creighton.

The Dublin Bay South TD today said it is not “xenophobic” to hold the belief that a screening programme should be in place.

Ireland has committed to accommodate up to 4,000 refugees who have fled war-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq.

However, today’s Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll reveals that almost three in five people (59pc) are concerned that terrorists could enter Ireland under the guise of the relocation programme.

The poll was conducted prior to shocking incidents in Cologne, Germany last week, which involved a spate of attacks on women.

Speaking on Newstalk today, Ms Creighton called for tough screening rules.

“I don’t think it’s xenophobic or unreasonable to say that there should be screening, and that there should be a process and mechanism in place to ensure that refugees are genuine refugees and not economic migrants,” she said.

I think in a sense there has been an attempt to silence anyone who questions the kind of complete open door policy. It has to be open door, but it has to involve screening in terms of security but also in terms of the kind of cultural issues that are emerging in Germany,” she added.

FF calls on Central Bank to fast-track review of mortgage rules

Sinn Féin finance spokesman says bank should ‘tread carefully’

   

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Finance Michael McGrath above left.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath has called on the Central Bank to undertake a review of its controversial mortgage rules now rather than wait until the summer to avoid a prolonged period of market disruption.

The Central Bank’s new governor Philip Lane (above right) has promised to review the current raft of mortgage lending restrictions in six months.

His comments in an interview recently mean mortgage applications throughout the spring and early summer – the busiest time for house sales – will continue to be carried out under the current rules.

Prof Lane said the rules could be tightened or loosened and that he remained open-minded at this point.

However, Mr McGrath maintains a six-month wait for the review would have a corrosive effect on an already sluggish market.

“Given the time it takes to assess submissions and implement any revisions decided upon, it is likely to be the end of the year at the earliest before any substantial changes are made,” he said.

“There is a very real risk that this will result in the already sluggish mortgage market grinding to a halt as potential buyers and sellers wait to see the impact of any new regulations.”

Mr McGrath said his party want the Central Bank to examine the potential of allowing 25 per cent of the deposit requirement for a first-time buyer be met by taking in to account rent payments over the previous three years.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty urged caution saying the Central Bank should “tread carefully” to not give any impression that the spirit of the rules could be undermined.

“It was always conceived that these reviews would be monitored and altered as the evidence dictated,” Mr Doherty said.

He said Sinn Féin was “acutely aware” of the immediate impact the rules have had on first time buyers and young families wishing to move on to a more suitable home for growing families.

“Review of the rules is welcome and sensible but I hope the Central Bank treads carefully and does not give any hope to those parties who have learned nothing and are calling for a return to the politics and economics of the bubble,” he said.

Ireland heading for a great sugar crash landing

     

There is nothing sweet about Ireland’s sugar statistics. We are the fourth highest consumer of sugar in the world, according to Euromonitor research. Yes, the world, coming in behind the US, Germany and the Netherlands.

“It’s shocking,” says Dr Eva Orsmond, who says she sees the effects of excessive sugar consumption daily at her clinics in Dublin, Kilkenny, and Galway.

“The problem is that most people don’t realise the amount of ‘free’ or added sugar that is lurking in food, even savoury food,” she adds.

In Sugar Crash, a one-off documentary that airs on RTÉ One on Monday, DrEva reveals what our love affair with sugar is costing us in hospital admissions, dental health, long-term illnesses and premature death.

The figures are stark. The average Irish person consumes a whopping 24 teaspoons daily. To put that in context, last year the World Health Organisation revised its guidelines to recommend that adults get no more than 10 per cent of their daily calories from ‘free’ sugars or those added by manufacturers.

Counting in teaspoons, that means adults should limit themselves to 10 teaspoons a day — or six to get health benefits.

“It’s easy to identify some sugars, such as fizzy drinks and the biggest offenders, breakfast cereals,” says Dr Eva. “But people mightn’t realise that a single glass of [some brands of] orange juice might be twice the daily recommended intake for a child.”

She says she was shocked to find that sugar was hiding in all kinds of unexpected foods, such as crackers and bread.

“I found a lot of things hard to swallow, even as a health professional” she tells Feelgood. “For instance, I thought my sons (aged 18 and 19) would not be harmed by a little sugar as they will burn it off, but that is wrong. A high intake of sugar is still a risk factor for disease.”

She says looking at the sugar content on labels was also a salutary lesson. In the documentary, she charts the progress of a Kilkenny family who were stunned to find out how much sugar was in their ‘normal’ healthy diet.

For instance, an average bowl of muesli with a pot of flavoured yoghurt at breakfast sounds like a healthy option but, depending on the brand, that single meal could constitute your entire daily intake of sugar.

Sugar may not always be visible, but its effects are all around us in stark relief. Between 1997 and 2007, obesity levels rose here by a staggering 67 per cent and with them, our love of sugar.

Who can say why sugar consumption rates rose so sharply. Part of it might be explained by the increased disposable income of the Celtic Tiger years which we spent on processed and pre-prepared food, Dr Eva speculates.

The ‘low fat’ fad is partly to blame too, she believes. Manufacturers took the fat out of food, but replaced it with sugar, which has no nutritional value and doesn’t fill you up. “In fact,” Dr Eva says, “foods with high sugar make you want more of them”.

And so the cycle goes on, leading to obesity, high cholesterol, an increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and growing dental problems.

The number of teeth extractions among children is also on the rise due to excessive sugar intake.

“No matter how much you brush your teeth, it will not be enough to compensate for the excessive sugar intake,”she says.

One of the most chilling findings is that part of the problem is hidden. Food labels don’t distinguish between added sugars and those that occur naturally. Though, if a product is high in sugar — added or not — it is probably best avoided, Dr Eva says.

And although fruit is not counted as a ‘free’ sugar, it is a good idea to monitor your intake of that too, she adds.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Adopting a healthy diet can very quickly undo much of the damage done by excessive sugar.

“We all need to go back to basics,” says Dr Eva, advocating a return to home-cooking with fresh ingredients. After that, she says, the solution is “education, education, education”.

NASA shares incredible pictures of rippled sand dunes on the planet Mars

    

The beautiful Namib sand dune on Mars left pic. and right a picture of Downwind of the Namib sand dune.

NASA has unveiled spectacular photographs of majestic sand dunes on

It is the first chance scientists have had to examine active sand formations on any planet other than Earth.

The Curiosity Mars rover, NASA’s car-sized reconnaissance robot, has been based on Mars’ surface for more than three years now, and successfully captured the stunning images.

The photographs depict the enormous, segmented Namib dune which stands at a whopping 13 – 17 feet tall.

“One of the first things they want to explore is the grain size and morphology of different parts of the slipface,” Lauren Edgar, a member of the Curiosity team and a USGS Astrogeology Science Centre research geologist said.

The ripples on the dunes change over time due to the prevailing winds on Mars.

After  short period of time, so much sand builds up that the sand at the bottom can’t sustain the weight of the sand on top, and a tiny avalanche occurs

The Namib sand dune is just one of many dunes located in the Bagnold Dunes field on the northwestern side of Mars.

It is situated very near to where Curiosity first touched down back in 2012.

Your Neanderthal DNA may have passed on to you allergies

   

In the American Journal of Human Genetics, two research teams reported that in many people, a group of genes that governs the first line of defense against pathogens was probably inherited from Neanderthals.

If you sneeze when flowers bloom in the spring and tear up in the presence of a cat, your Neanderthal DNA may be to blame.

About 2% of the DNA in most people alive today came from trysts between ancient humans and their Neanderthal neighbours tens of thousands of years ago, recent studies have shown. Scientists are trying to determine what, if any, impact that Neanderthal genetic legacy has on our contemporary lives.

In two papers published last week in the American Journal of Human Genetics, two research teams reported that in many people, a group of genes that governs the first line of defense against pathogens was probably inherited from the Neanderthals.

These same genes also appear to play a role in some people’s allergic reaction to things such as pollen and pet fur, the scientists said.

“It’s a bit speculative, but perhaps this is some kind of trade-off,” said Janet Kelso, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and senior author of one of the new studies. “Increased resistance to bacterial infection was advantageous, but may have resulted in some increased sensitivity to nonpathogenic allergens.”

About 50,000 years ago, the modern humans who left Africa encountered Neanderthal settlements in the Middle East, scientists believe. On some occasions, these meetings led to couplings whose legacy is apparent in the genomes of people with ancestors from Europe and Asia.

Not everyone with Neanderthal DNA inherited the same genes. But the immunity genes appear to be more prevalent than others.

Among some Asian and European populations, researchers found that these particular Neanderthal genes can be found in 50 percent of people.

“That’s huge,” said Lluis Quintana-Murci, an evolutionary geneticist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and senior author of the other study. “It came as a big surprise to us.”

The findings imply that these Neanderthal genes must have served our ancestors well if they are still in our genome today, and especially at such high frequency, said Peter Parham, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford School of Medicine. If the DNA weren’t valuable, it would have been flushed out of the human gene pool.

“It suggests there was a benefit for the migrating modern human and the archaic human to get together,” said Parham, who wasn’t involved in the research. “What has survived is a hybridization of those populations.”

Both of the research groups report on a cluster of three genes — known collectively as TLR6-TLR1-TLR10 — that makes up part of the body’s innate immune response to invading bacteria and viruses.

The innate immune response is different from the acquired immune response that we get through exposure to pathogens, either through vaccines or simply getting sick. Innate immunity kicks in first, and if it’s successful, it can destroy a pathogen in a few hours, before we even know we are sick.

Because this innate immune response is so useful, it has been a strong site of positive selection over time, Quintana-Murci said.

Though both groups of researchers came to the same conclusion that Neanderthal DNA plays an important role in immunity, the teams were asking different questions at the outset of their studies.

Quintana-Murci’s group is trying to understand how microscopic pathogens have influenced the human genome as our species has evolved.

Because infectious diseases have killed so many people throughout history, it makes sense that genes involved in immunity would spread through natural selection.

For their study, Quintana-Murci and his colleagues examined 1,500 innate-immunity genes in people and matched them up with a previously published map of the Neanderthal DNA in the human genome.

The team calculated the percentage of Neanderthal DNA in innate-immunity genes as well as in other genes. When they compared them, they saw that innate-immunity genes had much higher proportions of Neanderthal sequences.

Kelso’s group, on the other hand, is interested in ancient genomes like those of Neanderthals. In particular, her team aims to uncover the functional consequences of long-ago interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals.

The Max Planck Institute scientists analyzed the genomes of thousands of present-day people from all over the world, looking for evidence of extended regions with high similarity to the DNA of Neanderthals. Then they checked how often they saw those Neanderthal-like DNA sequences in humans alive today.

“What emerged was this region containing three genes involved in the innate-immune system,” she said.

Both research groups said there is still much work to be done to determine how this Neanderthal DNA helped humans survive.

However, they are already certain that interbreeding with Neanderthals aided early humans as they faced new dangers after leaving Africa.

“The things we have inherited from Neanderthals are largely things that have allowed us to adapt to our environment,” Kelso said. “This is perhaps not completely surprising.”

Because Neanderthals had lived in Europe and western Asia for about 200,000 years before modern humans got there, they were probably already well adapted to the local climate, foods and pathogens.

“By interbreeding with these archaic people, modern humans could then acquire some of these adaptations,” Kelso said.

Parham of Stanford said the results are convincing, especially since they were made by two independent groups that essentially confirmed each other.

The results add to a growing body of work that highlights our debt to our Neanderthal relatives.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 5th January 2016

Irish Exchequer likely to run cash surplus for 2016

State collects €45.6bn in tax in 2015, which is €3.3bn more than forecast at start of year

     

Tax revenue in 2015 was boosted by strong income tax returns, following increased employment and increased receipts from value added tax, which reflects increased consumer spending. The figures were also boosted by particularly strong corporation tax returns.

The exchequer is likely to run a cash surplus this year after a big rise in tax receipts in 2015 and once-off bank returns took the public finances close to balance in cash terms, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said.

Mr Noonan was speaking after exchequer returns for 2015 showed the State collected €45.6 billion in tax last year, up €4.32 billion on 2014 and €3.3 billion more than the forecast at the start of 2015.

Government forecasts assume the State will collect €47.2 billion in tax in 2016 but the minister raised the prospect of a higher return. “I would not be surprised if the tax take next year again exceeds the target,” Mr Noonan said.

The exchequer recorded a €62 million deficit in cash terms in 2015, compared to a €8.19 billion deficit in 2014.

According to the Department of Finance, the improvement in the deficit would be €5.2 billion when one-off transactions are stripped out of the figures. Such transactions included the redemption of AIB preference shares, which yielded €1.6 billion, and the sale of shares in Permanent TSB.

Tax revenue in 2015 was boosted by strong income tax returns, following increased employmentm and rising receipts from value added tax, which reflects consumer spending.

The figures were also boosted by particularly strong corporation tax returns, which rose 49% in 2015 to reach €6.9 billion. The Government, whose forecasts for 2016 assume most of these payments are recurrent, expects to collect €6.6 billion in corporate tax this year.

Mr Noonan rejected notion that such provisions meant the Government had built the budget on a base of once-off taxation. “That’s not true,” he told reporters at the department.

“We’ve already built in a buffer in terms of a declining corporation tax take even though we don’t think it will decline very much.”

  • Michael Noonan ‘back on the road again’ after being in hospital.

The figures overall were pretty good, he said. “When you take it into account that we’re due another €1.7 billion from AIB next July it’s quite clear that: not only will we balance next year, but we’ll probably be in surplus in cash terms.”

Under European and domestic fiscal rules, once-off transactions cannot be included when calculating the deficit.

The figures point to a budget deficit close to 1.5% of gross domestic product at the end of 2015 – well below the original 2.7% target, which itself was later revised down to 2.1%.

The Government now assumes the end of 2016 deficit will come of between 0.7% and 0.8% of GDP, down from the 1.2% target set out in the October budget. “We’re estimating now 0.75%, that that will be the outturn at the end of 2016,” Mr Noonan said.

The minister said a balanced budget – net of once-off items – can be achieved in 2017, one year earlier than foreseen previously. “We had committed in the original spring statement last year to a balanced budget in 2018, it looks as if we’ll balance in 2017 now, which is a very big advance in the position.”

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said the 2015 figures were “truly remarkable” .

The overall deficit in 2010 was 32% of GDP and the underlying deficit that year was 11% of GDP, when bank recapitalisations were stripped from figures. In cash terms, the deficit then was €18.7 billion. “Now, five years later, it’s €62 million,” Mr Howlin said .

“There were real concerns that the task we set ourselves – of having a deficit of less than 3% of GDP by 2015 – was an impossible target to achieve.”

Net spending in 2015 was higher than forecast at €42.86 billion, but €271 million below the net estimate for the year after the inclusion of €1.5 billion in pre-budget supplementary estimates. “Any unexpended money reverts back,” Mr Howlin said.

Cumulative income tax receipts for the year were up €1.2 billion compared to 2014, €379 million ahead of forecast.

“This performance is consistent with the recovering labour market, employment growth and increases in the average weekly earnings as evidenced by the recent [quarterly national household survey] and earnings releases,” the Department of Finance said.

Income tax receipts in December reached €1.79 billion, €329 million ahead of the monthly target and €401 million more than December 2014.

“The performance of VAT in 2015 has been very encouraging with receipts finishing the year €170 million (1.4%) ahead of target and on a year-on-year basis, receipts grew by 7.1% (€791 million) in 2015,” the department said.

“These strong receipts are reflective of improved consumer confidence as evidenced by the performance of retail sales for the year to date.”

On the spending side, the department said net spending was €162 million below the revised forecast for 2015 set out in the budgetary projections in budget 2016 in mid-October.

Net voted current expenditure was €39.35 billion, €969 million above the original profile. The largest spending over profile was in health (€574 million), social protection (€275 million) and education.

Debt servicing costs for 2015 were €7.1 billion. On a like-for-like basis, the expenditure was down €473 on 2014 largely due to lower interest payments to the IMF after the early loan repayments.

“Interest expenditure in 2015 at €6,979 million was in line with the outturn projected in Budget 2016 last October. It was some €718 million or 9.3% below the original Budget 2015 estimate of October 2014,” the department said.

INMO Nurses to strike in seven hospital A&Es next week

INMO members reject deal on staffing and over-crowding in emergency departments

      

Liam Doran above left, general secretary of the INMO with nurses striking last year.

Nurses are to stage rolling two-hour work stoppages in seven hospital emergency departments on Thursday of next week.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said there would be further industrial action to follow after its members voted to reject a deal aimed at dealing with over-crowding and staffing levels in hospital emergency departments.

The union said its members in 26 emergency departments rejected, by a margin of 58 per cent to 42 per cent proposals which were brokered before Christmas in talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

The deal agreed at the Workplace Relations Commission involved a series of new incentives to recruit and retain nurses in emergency departments as well as revised internal arrangements for tackling overcrowding in hospitals.

Nurses taking up posts were to be offered a €1,500 education bursary after 12 months.

A relocation package worth a similar amount, announced a number of months, would continue, under the proposals

Controversially the deal contained provision for nurses in emergency units to get two additional leave days in 2016 and 2017 in lieu of meal breaks not taken.

The general secretary of the INMO Liam Doran said : “”It is quite clear that, in rejecting these proposals, our members were stating that they had no confidence in senior management, at local level, to implement the proposed measures on a continuous basis.

“It was also obvious that members believe that there is a complete lack of awareness, within senior management, as to the compromising of patient care, and safe nursing practice, occurring on a daily basis, from the continuous presence of trolleys and overcrowding generally.”

He said the union would now consult with its emergency department representatives and strike committees on Thursday, and prepare for the first day of strike action, in seven hospitals scheduled for Thursday, January 14th.

“Our campaign for a safer environment, for patients and staff, in the country’s emergency departments will continue until our members are satisfied the necessary measures will be applied on a 24/7 basis.”

Lawyers for Áras Attracta staff seek to exclude RTE video evidence

DPP received ‘incomplete evidence’ 

     

Judge Mary devins in the trial of five staff accused of assaulting patients at the Áras Attracta care facility is to give her verdict on next Thursday on whether the DPP received ‘incomplete evidence’ before deciding to prosecute in the cases.

A judge in the trial of five staff accused of assaulting patients at the Áras Attracta care facility in Co Mayo is to give her verdict on Thursday on whether the DPP received “incomplete evidence” before deciding to prosecute in the cases.

Judge Mary Devins will also decide on applications by lawyers for the five accused for video footage to be excluded from the trial.

Some 190 hours of video footage was filmed covertly by RTÉ in the common area of the Health Service Executive (HSE)-run facility between November 3rd and November 19th, 2014

On the second day of the trial at Castlebar District Court, counsels for the accused called for the video evidence to be excluded because of “discrepancies” between the master tape held by RTÉ’s Investigations Unit and the copy of the tape furnished to the State.

Eoin Garavan, counsel for one of the defendants, told the court that the master tape had been examined by a member of his legal team on Tuesday.

“Until yesterday we understood there were no deletions [from the tape]. Then there were five, then there were six. [On Tuesday] the number of deletions has doubled,” Mr Garavan said.

“The whole integrity [of the case] is falling down. The hard disc is different from what we understood it to be.

“There is a huge question mark over the original footage.”

When complaints were made?

The judge said that when the complaints about the abuse of patients were made to gardaí, the matter was referred to the DPP, who elected to prosecute.

She said that it had now been shown that the DPP did not have sight of all of the RTÉ material, including six files which had been deleted.

The judge asked Patrick Reynolds, counsel for the State, if he needed time to consider the situation, given that it appeared that “incomplete evidence” was held by the DPP when a decision to prosecute was made.

Mr Reynolds said he wanted to make an application that the master tape and the copy from which the State had been working be given to gardaí overnight, so that they could be forensically examined by Garda IT experts.

Mr Reynolds asked that the cases be adjourned to Thursday.

The judge is to give her decision on the issues raised, including the application for expert examination of the tapes, at 10.30am on Thursday.

The five accused each face a single charge of assault at Bungalow 3 of Áras Attracta on dates in November 2014.

They are Pat McLoughlin, of Mayfield, Claremorris, Co Mayo; Christina Delaney, Seefin, Lissatava, Hollymount, Co Mayo; Anna Ywunong Botsimbo. Low Park Avenue, Charlestown, Co Mayo; Joan Walsh, Carrowilkeen, Curry, Co Sligo, and Kathleen King, Knockshanbally, Straide, Foxford, Co Mayo.

Why the position you sleep in might be giving you nightmares

Bad news if you like to sleep on your left side..

     

If you’re forever having dreams about your pants falling down in front of your boss or being stuck in the middle of the ocean, it turns out it might not actually be down to that cheese sandwich you had before bed – but rather the position you’re sleeping in.

(If ever there were an excuse to have a cheddar toastie before bed, this is it.)

According to scientific research conducted by Van Winkle, people who sleep on their left side are far more at risk of having nightmares, whilst those who sleep on their right have a better quality of sleep due to ‘feeling safer’.

The report shows that 40% of people who slept on their left side admitted to having disturbing dreams and nightmares, compared to the 14.6% of those who sleep on the right side of their body. Interesting stuff, eh?

The research added that people who slept on their right reported having more pleasant dreams linked to feelings of relief, whist people who slept on their fronts reported feeling sensations related to ‘sex’ more frequently than anyone else. Oi oi.

Researchers think this increase in steamy thoughts is due to not getting as much air when you’re lying on your front, and your brain reimagining this into racy thoughts. So there’s that.

Whether or not there’s actually any truth in this is up for discussion, but if it means we can forget the wives’ tale about eating brie before bed giving you bad dreams? We’re sold.

This is how Tim Peake trained for his upcoming spacewalk

     

When astronaut Tim Peake steps out of the International Space Station (ISS) shortly before 1pm next Friday, he will do so as a history maker.

The former Army Air Corps officer and helicopter test pilot is the first Briton aboard the ISS and the first fully British professional astronaut employed by a space agency.

But it will have taken months of arduous training to get to that point.

As far as the spacewalk is concerned, much of it will have been undertaken at a specially designed Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas.

Major Peake clocked up the hours underwater, with a mock-up of the ISS submerged in an attempt to resemble life in space.

The principle used to simulate weightlessness in a huge tank of water is called neutral buoyancy, as a neutrally buoyant object neither floats nor sinks.

For an astronaut to achieve this in the water, the natural tendency to float or sink is counteracted by weights or flotation devices.

Although it is not exactly the same as being weightless in space, astronauts can practice in neutral buoyancy how to move large objects.

Major Peake will still have been able to feel the pull of gravity while neutrally buoyant, and the drag of moving about through the water will have slowed down his movements – but it is the closest he will get to microgravity on Earth.

Footage uploaded to the European Space Agency website showed the Briton attempting to achieve neutral buoyancy, before being hoisted out of the water on a large robotic platform.

Before departure from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 15, Major Peake described the prospect of conducting a spacewalk as “the icing on the cake”.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 4th January 2016.

Former Irish Nationwide chief Fingleton loses court action

Action was to stop Central Bank from starting inquiry into regulatory breaches

    

In his High Court proceedings Michael Fingleton sought various orders and declarations from the court in respect of the Central Bank’s decision to launch an inquiry

Former Irish Nationwide Building Society chief executive Michael Fingletonhas lost his High Court action aimed at preventing the Central Bank from conducting an inquiry into alleged regulatory breaches at the financial institution.

Mr Fingleton, along with several other former officials of INBS, are the subject of a Central Bank inquiry, under Part III C of the 1942 Central Bank Act, which is due to commence hearings in February.

He challenged the Central Bank’s decision to subject him to an inquiry claiming it was unfair and unreasonable.

The Central Bank, which wants to inquire into allegations certain prescribed contraventions were committed by both INBS, and certain persons concerned with its management, between August 2004 and September 2008, opposed the application.

Giving judgment today Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, dismissed Mr Fingleton’s action, clearing the way for the inquiry to proceed.

In a lengthy and detailed ruling Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Fingleton had “not satisfied me that there is any unfairness inherent in the inquiry process to which he is subject.”

Mr Fingelton was not present in court for the decision.

The inquiry, in the event of any finding of wrong doing, has the power to impose a fine on an individual of up to €500,000. INBS was nationalised and merged with the former Anglo Irish Bank into IBRC in 2011.

The Central Bank estimates the collapse of INBS cost the tax payer €5billion, although the figure is disputed by Mr Fingleton.

  • Michael Fingleton action to stop Central Bank inquiry opens

In his action Mr Fingleton sought various orders and declarations from the court in respect of the Central Bank’s decision to launch an inquiry which he claims is disproportionate, oppressive and unreasonable.

Mr Fingleton also claimed that proceeding with the inquiry is a breach of fair procedures and an unlawful breach of his right to a fair hearing.

Mr Fingleton argued the Central Bank cannot conduct an inquiry of this nature. This is because Mr Fingleton, who retired in 2010, is no longer involved in the management of an entity that was a regulated financial service provider.

It was also claimed there was a delay by the Central Bank in bringing the inquiry, he had been subject to prejudicial adverse media coverage, and was made the scapegoat for the banking crisis.

Mr Fingleton is also the subject of proceedings before the Commercial Court, also arising out of events at INBS before it was nationalised. Mr Fingleton also claims that at the very least the inquiry should not be conducted until those proceedings have been concluded.

The Central Bank had rejected all of Mr Fingelton’s arguments, and said there was nothing preventing the inquiry from proceeding as planned.

In his decision Mr Justice Noonan dismissed all grounds of Mr Fingelton’s case. The 1942 Central Bank Act applies to Mr Fingleton, the Judge said, the former INBS CEO was lawfully subject to the inquiry.

There had been no culpable delay by the Central Bank in conducting its investigation into Mr Fingleton resulting in any unfairness to him.

The inquiry, and the elaborate procedures provided for in the 1942 Act, ensured Mr Fingleton’s right to a fair hearing “is guaranteed,” the Judge added.

“It seems to me that the public interest is well served by a credible system of financial regulation and enforcement such as that provided in the 1942 Act,” the Judge said.

Much of Mr Fingelton’s claim, the Judge said, was “an attempt to to preempt in advance issues before the inquiry that may or may not arise, or be determined by the inquiry itself.”

Any suggestion Mr Fingleton will be subject to any prejudice by the inquiry, the Judge found, was “devoid of substance and without merit.”

Rejecting Mr Fingleton’s claim the inquiry would occasion significant financial hardship on him as he would have to bear the legal costs associated in preparing for the inquiry.

The Judge noted that the Central Bank referred in a sworn statement said annual reports for INBS from the years 2003 to 2008 show Mr Fingelton’s remuneration package amounted to €9.77 million.

The Central Bank also avers that when his pension fund matures it is worth approximately €30 million. Mr Fingelton had not replied to that evidence, the Judge said.

“In the light of that the applicant’s complaints about equality of arms and the unfair costs burden on him of participating in the inquiry ring somewhat hollow,” the Judge said.

The Judge adjourned all outstanding matters in the case, including the issue of legal costs, to January 14th.

FF makes a proposal on ‘arrears crisis’ in sub-prime mortgages

Michael McGrath says situation is ‘absolutely disastrous’

    

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath.

Fianna Fáil has said the Government’s failure to deal with the “spiralling arrears crisis” in the sub-prime mortgage market is “disastrous” as the owners of such loans are amongst “the most aggressive in the market” at seeking court ordered repossessions.

New figures provided by the Central Bank indicate that 20,338 mortgage accounts issued by sub-prime lenders were in arrears of more than 90 days at the end of September 2015. This compares to 19,935 at the end of December 2014.

The sector now accounts for 22.5 per cent of all residential mortgages in arrears more than 90 days compared to 15.5 per cent a year previously.

In recent years, there have been several loan books sold in Ireland. There are 7,461 mortgages now in the hands of non-bank lenders and vulture funds.

GE Money disposed of its subprime mortgages to Pepper in 2012. Among the other buyers of mortgage books was US private equity fund Tanager who bought 2,000 distressed home loans from Bank of Scotland Ireland.

Permanent TSB sold around 2,200 home loans to Mars Capital while the IBRC liquidation also saw loans originally issued by Irish Nationwide sold off to various vulture funds.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the situation in relation to mortgages issued by sub-prime lenders was “absolutely disastrous”.

“While the mortgage arrears crisis generally has shown some signs of easing, the trend in relation to these mortgages has been steadily deteriorating in the face of complete indifference from the Government,” he said.

“It is clear from court reports that sub-prime lenders account for a disproportionate level of legal action being initiated in many Circuit Courts. The fact that 61 per cent of the outstanding balance on these mortgages are in arrears is of huge concern.

“In many ways, this is not surprising given the very high interest rates and income multiples associated with these loans.

“Most of the originators of these loans have now sold them on. In my view there is a clear need for a specific response to the problems of this sector including clear targets for resolution measures.”

He said Fianna Fáil was putting forward three proposals to tackle the issue.

Firstly, he said the party was calling for an extension of the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Targets, which currently only apply to the six main banks operating in the State.

He also called for the establishment of a dedicated mortgage to rent scheme targeting this group of loans, and for the Central Bank to be obliged to publish a specific report on how current owners of these loans are complying with the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears.

“Significant fines should be imposed in cases where breaches of the Code take place,” said Mr McGrath.

“This issue is now reaching a crisis point and unless action is taken we will be facing a massive social problem.”

Banking Inquiry final report could now be published in late January

    

The final report of the Banking Inquiry could be published at the end of this month.

The Inquiry has opened its right-to-reply phase today, meaning any of the 80 people named in the document have 21 days to contest certain elements of the report.

Senator Susan O’Keeffe (pictured) co-authored the finxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxl report which was signed off by the Inquiry members on New Year’s Eve.

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She said it is intended to publish the report on Wednesday, January 27, but this could be affected by potential challenges.

“People will be aware legal challenges are complex and take time, and are not easily resolved,” she said.

“I guess if someone were to make a legal challenge, it would delay the publication, but I can’t say that for sure.”

Irish Business owners are not happy about the new minimum wage

The wage increased from €8.65 to €9.15 per hour last week.

  

Thousands of jobs could be at risk due to the recent increase in minimum wage, according to the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME).

In its final Business Trends Survey for 2015, the organisation says there is the potential for 60,000 new jobs in Ireland if costs for businesses are curtailed.

The survey finds that current and future sales are at their highest in eight years, with owners and managers “generally positive in expectations for the new year”. Ten out of the 12 economic indicators tracked have increased.

However, the report warns that job creation will decrease due to the minimum wage increase. As of 1 January, it was upped from €8.65 to €9.15 per hour. The survey lists the euro exchange rate as “the biggest area of concern” for businesses.

Mark Fielding, CEO of ISME, noted: “Following on from a mixed-bag of results in the previous quarter it is a relief to see such a positive report coming from owner-managers this time round. The recovery might finally be trickling down to SMEs but it is important that we focus now on managing our costs and nurturing this growth.”

Fielding said that despite some improvements “SME competitiveness has taken many blows this year”.

Rents, insurance, energy and legal costs have all increased while the slack consumer demand has dictated that pricing and margins have reduced. This means that small businesses operating on increasingly tight margins cannot afford any more cost increases.

“The increase in the minimum wage due in January will be a difficult adjustment for labour-intensive sectors and may force some businesses to reduce staff hours.”

He added that, as the general election draws closer, “We are being treated to more and more outlandish political promises and policies”.

“Labour’s promises to impose a ‘living wage’ during the next administration will result in cost-conscious employers delaying and cancelling job creation which will be unaffordable if those increases are introduced.”

The living wage

Last month, Joan Burton said introducing a living wage of €11.50 per hour makes sense.

The Tánaiste said the next government should look at a €2 increase over four years – 50 cent per year.

“I don’t see any threat in the fact that people would earn a decent wage,” she stated.

The ISME survey was conducted in the third week of December, with 956 SME respondents. Some 54% of respondents employ less than ten people, while a further 36% employ between 11 and 50 people and the remaining 10% employ between 51 and 250 people. Geographically, 32% are from Dublin with 59% spread across the country, while 9% operate from multiple sites.

30,000 new jobs

The Small Firms Association (SFA) published its outlook for 2016 today. The survey found that 77% of owner-managers feel the business environment is improving, with just 4% indicating it is getting worse.

Domestic economic growth was highlighted by over 40% of businesses as their biggest opportunity in 2016. Other positive factors identified were specific sectoral opportunities (14%), exporting (12%) and bringing new products to market (10%).

Over 65% of survey respondents indicated their intention to recruit over the coming year, up slightly since the last survey in June.

This was welcomed by Patricia Callan, SFA Director: “Small firms already employ over half of the private sector workforce and almost two-thirds of our members will be hiring in 2016.

“Small firms have a crucial role to play in job creation around the country, reducing unemployment and attracting emigrants home to work. We expect small firms to create 30,000 jobs in 2016.”

Scale of diabetes timebomb laid bare with one in five retirees suffering from the condition

New figures show a 65 per cent rise in diabetes diagnoses in just a decade, as experts warn that the number of sufferers has now topped 4 million – and will reach 5 million in a decade

     

Experts say Britain’s soaring obesity rates is fuelling “alarming” levels of diabetes 

One in five retirees are suffering from diabetes as new figures reveal the scale of the middle-age time bomb facing Britain.

Spiralling obesity rates have fuelled a 65 per cent rise in diagnoses in a decade, with more than 4 million people now living with the condition, UK data shows.

Charities said the NHS will become “crippled” by the burden of the condition without urgent action to make “profound” changes to today’s lifestyles.

Experts called for measures to bring down the price of healthy foods, introduce clearer food labelling and bring an end to “couch potato” habits.

NHS figures, analysed by the charity Diabetes UK show the number of people with diabetes in the UK has topped four million for the first time and is on course to hit five million in less than a decade.

The latest figure includes 3.5 million adults who have been officially diagnosed – up 119,965 on the previous year and an increase of 65 per cent in 10 years.

The trend has been driven by soaring rates of obesity, which have left Britain the second fattest nation in Europe, second only to Hungary.

Almost two thirds of men and women in Britain are overweight or obese, with the figures rising with age.

Last month the country’s chief medical officer suggested that obesity poses such a threat to the country that it should be treated as a “national risk” alongside terrorism.

The four million people with diabetes means about eight per cent of adults are suffering from the disease.

But the figure rises sharply with age, with analysis of the latest figures suggesting that between 15 and 20 per cent of those in their 60s and 70s are now suffering from diabetes.

Experts warned that worsening lifestyles mean those numbers are set to continue rising, while the proportion of people succumbing to the condition earlier is also expected to soar.

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “With four million people in the UK now living with diabetes, the need to tackle this serious health condition has never been so stark or so urgent.”

He said there was a need for a “concerted effort led by the Government to take active steps to address the fact that almost two in every three people in the UK are overweight or obese and are therefore at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

“Basic measures such as making healthy food cheaper and more accessible, introducing clearer food labelling and making it easier for people to build physical activity into their daily lives would have a profound influence.”

The charity said more than 24,000 people with diabetes die prematurely every year due to failures in accessing the best type of care.

This includes receiving eight annual checks in areas such as foot care and eyesight.

The checks – which only 60 per cent of people with diabetes currently receive – are designed to prevent complications which can lead to limb amputation, blindness, kidney failure and even death.

The charity also warned that people are missing out on education courses designed to help them best manage their condition, with more than a third of regions in England still not running them.

Furthermore, hospital care for people with diabetes is consistently poor and puts some lives at risk, it said.

Some 80 per cent of the £10 billion spent on diabetes every year by the NHS goes on treating complications that may have been preventable.

Mr Askew said: “Tragically, we are continuing to see too many people with diabetes suffering serious complications, and even dying before their time, and we know that key reasons for this are that they are being denied both the care and access to education that would help them to manage their condition well.

“It is vital that we start to see people with diabetes receive good quality care wherever they live rather than them being at the mercy of a postcode lottery.”

He added: “With a record number of people living with diabetes, there is no time to waste in getting serious about providing better care and diabetes education.

“Until this happens, the rising number of people with diabetes will continue to be denied the best chance of living long and healthy lives and the NHS will continue to be crippled under avoidable but escalating costs of treating poorly-managed diabetes.”

Putin to release an army of ‘cyborg rats’ with amazing sense of smell to sniff out ISIS explosives

Russian experts claim the rodents could be trained to find explosives and even human beings trapped in rubble

     

Bomb detecting rats could replace sniffer dogs in the battle against terrorism, scientists say.

Russian experts claim the rodents could be trained to find explosives – planted, perhaps, by ISIS militants – and even human beings planted booby bombs trapped in rubble like with the above rats used in Cambodia.

The creatures have keen senses of smell which could be harnessed for use by the police and military researchers believe.

Rats in Rostov-on-Don at the Laboratory of Olfactory Perception (LOP) have been shown with electrodes attached to their brains.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Head of the LOP, said, “Unlike a dog, a rat can get through the smallest crack where it seems it couldn’t go.

“This way it could find its way deep under rubble and by its brain activity one could understand if there are, for example, people who are still alive, if it’s worth clearing debris here or at another place, to rescue people more quickly”.

The scientists have discovered that rats differentiate between types of tea leaves through smell.

The experts admit, however, that it could be years before the rats are used for real-life work.

‘Sniffer rats’ are already used in parts of Africa to detect land mines and tuberculosis.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 3rd. January 2016

Credit union rules relaxed to allow investment in social housing

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has ordered a review into the limits on the sector

    

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan TD speaking to media at Government Buildings following Rent Certainty Proposals and Increased Housing Supports.

The Central Bank is scrapping a rule that prevents credit unions from investing in public projects, such as social housing.

The country’s credit unions have long campaigned to be allowed to invest in social housing. The Irish League of Credit Unions said in November that it had up to €8.5bn of members’ deposits available to help solve Ireland’s social housing crisis and that it could not understand why the Government was prohibiting this.

Department of Finance assistant secretary-general Ann Nolan confirmed to the country’s biggest credit unions that the prohibition is being scrapped last month.

“Following discussions with the Central Bank, I have been informed that regulations have been updated in relation to classes of investments for credit unions to specifically include investments in projects of a public nature, including investments in social housing,” Ms Nolan wrote on December 16.

Many other rules governing credit unions are also being reviewed, following the surprise move by Finance Minister Michael Noonan in December to order a statutory committee to probe the limits imposed on the sector, such as limitations on the nature and term of lending.

Many of these rules were originally introduced by the Central Bank, based on a 2012 report by the Commission on Credit Unions, another statutory group.

The Central Bank has been accused of implementing the Commission’s recommendations in a manner inconsistent with their spirit and intent. Some credit unions deem them onerous.

The new review, to be conducted by the Credit Union Advisory Committee, will begin this month and is expected to report by the end of June.

The Sunday Independent has seen its terms of reference and among the things the committee must take into account is “the need for credit unions to develop their business model and grow income in a prudent manner”.

The contentious €100,000 savings cap for credit unions has already been relaxed. Credit unions with more than €100m in assets may apply to the regulator to accept more than €100,000 from individual savers.

The Credit Union Development Association, which represents some of the country’s largest credit unions, wants the regulator to go further. Writing in the Sunday Independent today, CUDA chief executive Kevin Johnson called for the introduction of tiered regulation, whereby larger credit unions would be given more freedom than smaller credit unions.

“Tiered regulation, done properly, will allow some credit unions to continue to offer basic savings and loans, while allowing other credit unions to develop and offer a greater range of services, as long as they have what is necessary to manage the additional risks,” he writes.

“Credit unions need to be allowed to compete with banks… Fundamentally, credit unions offering a full range of services will drive great competition – something that is sorely lacking in Ireland at the moment.”

House prices outside Dublin up 13% as supply at decade low

  

House prices outside of Dublin soared in 2015, while the national housing supply now stands at its lowest point in almost a decade.

According to the latest Daft.ie house price report, prices rose by an average of 8.5% in 2015.

However, the national average hides a significant difference between Dublin,  where prices rose by just 2.7% — and the rest of the country, where the average asking price jumped by 13.1%.

The report found the national average asking price in the final quarter of 2015 was €204,000, compared to €188,000 a year ago and €164,000 at its lowest point in early 2013.

The different trends in Dublin and elsewhere mark a turnaround from 2014, when prices rose by 21% in the capital and by 9% elsewhere.

The Daft.ie report highlights that the slowdown in Dublin inflation occurred at a time when inflation in Ireland’s other cities accelerated.

For example, house prices rose by an average of 20.7% in Cork in 2015 compared to 14.7% in 2014, and by 19.7% in Galway compared to 16.3% in 2014.

In Waterford City the rate of inflation increased significantly, with prices up 18.6%, compared to 4.1% a year ago.

However, the most dramatic change in house prices has occurred in Limerick City.

A year ago, prices in the city were falling by 1.3% year-on-year, but in the last 12 months they have risen by 22.3%.

Prices in the city are now back at mid-2012 levels.

Elsewhere in the country, inflation has accelerated from 8.8% in 2014 to 12.1% in 2015. The Daft.ie study also pointed out that the total stock of properties for sale is now at its lowest point in nearly nine years, with just over 25,000 properties for sale nationwide.

A year ago, there were nearly 30,000 properties on the market, with the bulk of the reduction coming from outside of the five main cities.

Ronan Lyons, economist at Trinity College Dublin and author of the report, said the dramatic slowdown in Dublin house prices in 2015 shows how effective the Central Bank deposit rules have been there, but that this had not been replicated elsewhere.

“This has not been the case elsewhere in the country as house prices are lower relative to incomes and thus the new rules have not been as binding.

“Some have criticised the new rules as hindering new housing supply, but the solution to a lack of supply is not stimulating demand even more.

“If supply is lacking, the solution to this must be found in reducing construction costs, not in giving borrowers access to potentially dangerous levels of mortgage credit,” he said.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald says miscarriage’s are one of Ireland’s main taboos

Minister recalls her miscarriages, says families having miscarriages at older age as they wait to have children

   

‘A lot of people are having miscarriages at an older age because they want to have babies at an older age,’ Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said of a subject that still remains a taboo in Ireland she says.

Miscarriages are one of Irish society’s main taboos in an era where couples are choosing to have children later in life, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgeraldhas said.

Ms Fitzgerald, who spoke about having had two miscarriages, said it has become an issue for an older demographic.

“A lot of people are having miscarriages at an older age because they want to have babies at an older age, so it is more stressful. Then they think: ‘Am I going to get pregnant again?’” she said in an interview with the Irish Examiner.

“Younger generations of men and women have gotten into the mindset, and that is obviously linked to the availability of contraception, there is a belief that you can plan a pregnancy.

“Of course, first of all, there are fertility issues as you get older. Secondly, the fact is a lot of pregnancies end in miscarriage, there is a shock and disbelief for people.”

More than one in five pregnancies result in miscarriage. Ms Fitzgerald said the availability of contraception had impacted on people’s perceptions around having children.

Of her own experience she recalled the shock of being told by doctors but that going on to have subsequent successful pregnancies had helped her.

“For me, I went on to have a second and a third pregnancy afterward, so you can recover from it.

“And you can kind of accept, well there was something wrong and there is a reason for it.”

First there was no shaving, then no booze and now meat and dairy face the chop

Veganuary campaign expects 50,000 people to join the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Romesh Ranganathan and Sara Pascoe for a month free of animal products

     

L-R Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Sara Pascoe, Romesh Ranganathan Composite: REX Shutterstock & Graeme Robertson

In the beginning, there was Movember. Then there was Stoptober. Now prepare yourself for Veganuary.

Those who have overindulged this festive period may be tempted to turn vegan for January. If so, they will not be alone. Organisers of Veganuary, now in its third year, predict that 50,000 people will take part this month, of whom around half will stay vegan.

About 3,000 people participated in the first Veganuary. Last year the figure rose to 12,800. But eschewing meat, fish and dairy products is now becoming increasingly fashionable thanks to a number of high-profile advocates.

Famous names who have tried vegan diets in the past include Bill Clinton and actor Anne Hathaway. Committed vegans include Brad Pitt, Ellie Goulding and Gwyneth Paltrow. Kat Von D, an American tattoo artist and model, crashed theVeganuary website earlier this year when she encouraged people to register.

Among the celebrities taking part this month are comedians Romesh Ranganathan and Sara Pascoe. Actor Peter Egan of Downton Abbey fame and designer Vivienne Westwood have also signed up.

Organisers of the event claim the surge in support for veganism reflects a growing awareness that it can help alleviate the world’s food crisis.

Rearing animals for consumption and dairy production produces significantly more carbon dioxide than plant-based food. In addition, animal farming is the leading producer of methane gas, a major contributor to global warming. However, organisers said that a concern for animals was still the primary motivation for people becoming vegan.

“We ask about motivation when people sign up to Veganuary and, for the past two years, animals are the primary reason by a large majority, with health coming second, and the environment third,” said Clea Grady, marketing manager of Veganuary.

“There is an increasing awareness and concern at how we treat, use and abuse animals, and this is growing year on year. Anecdotally, we know that, for whatever reason an individual approaches veganism, the lines begin to blur once education has taken place.”

The business world is now waking up to the growing vegan market. Companies such as VBites, Violife and Fry’s market products such as vegan cheese, ice-cream, “fish” fingers, burgers, sausages, schnitzels and “chicken” nuggets.

Pret a Manger has been expanding its range of vegan sandwiches; Caffè Nero labels its mince pies as vegan; and Pizza Express has a vegan pizza on its regular menu. Both Yo! Sushi and the Handmade Burger Company are doing special promotions in support of Veganuary.

“There has been a marked increase in enthusiasm in the UK over the past 12 to 18 months, and that’s extremely exciting to see,” Grady said.

“This has resulted in more media coverage, many more vegan products on our shelves, and ever-increasing numbers of Veganuary participants. We are starting to catch up with the States, but they continue to pave the way.”

Some nutritionists argue that humans cannot derive all the minerals and vitamins they need from a pure vegan diet. Both Clinton and Hathaway famously turned their backs on veganism. “I just didn’t feel good or healthy,” Hathaway once explained.

However, Grady said veganism could provide a balanced diet. “All it requires is a little knowledge and guidance, and that’s what Veganuary specialises in,” she said. “The Health and Nutrition sections of Veganuary.com were co-authored by a GP and a qualified nutritionist, so we are confident in the information we provide. We follow this up with practical guides on what to eat, and what to replace, demonstrating how easy getting the right nutrition can be.”

Which planets are habitable? Astrophysicists have a fresh insight

By looking at slight variations in the brightness of distant stars, scientists say they can determine their surface gravity, a technique that provides important clues to life-hosting properties of the planets that orbit them.

     

An international team of astrophysicists has devised a way to measure the surface gravity of distant stars to help determine if the planets in their orbit are hospitable to life.

Led by a researcher at the University of Vienna, the team calculated the surface gravity of stars that are too distant to study with conventional methods by looking at the slight variations in their brightness, which is caused by convection and surface turbulence, the same forces behind a pot of boiling soup, explains the Vancouver Sun.

Gravity is crucial to many aspects of astrophysics, say the researchers in a paper published on January 1 in the journal Science Advances, as it provides clues to the properties of stars, such as their mass and radius, and to the properties of planets in their orbits that might make them habitable.

“Our technique can tell you how big and bright is the star, and if a planet around it is the right size and temperature to have water oceans, and maybe life,” said study co-author Jaymie Matthews, a professor of astrophysics at the University of British Columbia, in a study announcement.

“If you don’t know the star, you don’t know the planet,” explained Prof. Matthews. “The size of an exoplanet is measured relative to the size of its parent star. If you find a planet around a star that you think is Sun-like but is actually a giant, you may have fooled yourself into thinking you’ve found a habitable Earth-sized world.”

To determine the gravitational pull of distant stars, the researchers used data of star brightness collected from Canada’s MOST and NASA’s Kepler satellites.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has alreadydiscovered more than 1,000 planets, a dozen of them less than twice the size of Earth and residing in the habitable zone of their host stars, which means these planets orbit their host stars at the right distance to make them neither too hot nor too cold to harbor liquid water. Astronomers believe the presence of water on planets is critical to life.

The team of astrophysicists behind the latest gravity-measuring technique believes that it will help future exoplanet surveys to correctly characterize the planets they find.

“I expect someone will announce the discovery of life on an exoplanet within about 20 years,” Matthews told the Vancouver Sun.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 30th December 2015

Government ministers insist Enda Kenny has interest in flood hit areas

Enda Kenny not ‘doing the Bertie Ahern’ puddle photocall?

   

Two Government Ministers have defended Taoiseach Enda Kenny amid Opposition claims he has not taken enough interest in areas seriously affected by recent flooding.

Two Government Ministers have defended the Taoiseach Enda Kenny amid Opposition claims he has not shown enough interest in areas seriously affected by recent flooding.

Simon Harris, the Fine Gael Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, said Mr Kenny had visited some affected areas and would visit more in the coming days.

He said Mr Kenny will not be “doing the Bertie Ahern, standing in a puddle of water saying: ‘Look at me taking action’” photocall.

“While understandably the media like to see politicians doing photocalls and getting out and about, the Taoiseach will visit areas – already has visited a number of areas in the west -and will visit a number of areas in the coming days,” Mr Harris said.

“I have been in daily contact with him. I will have visited four towns by the end of today. The Taoiseach isn’t just putting on the wellies and doing the Bertie Ahern, standing in a puddle of water saying ‘look at me taking action’. He is taking action.”

Capital investment.

Mr Harris pointed to the €430 million capital investment in flooding protection announced in recent weeks, as well other relief funds.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said he had a long conference call with Mr Kenny on Wednesday morning and that other Government ministers would be visiting affected areas also.

“Obviously this is a top priority and it is being dealt with as the main issue the country is facing at the moment,” Mr Kelly said. “I am sure the Taoiseach has shown his face on the ground already. He has visited areas up around the west and I am sure he will be out and about.

“This is a whole of Government issue, it is a whole of country issue and there are a number of ministers out and about today and will be for the rest of the week.

“This isn’t an issue that is going to be closed off today or tomorrow. This is an issue that we are going to be dealing with as a Government for the next three or four weeks.”

Mr Kelly urged people to be safe on the roads, with driving conditions treacherous in places.

“We really do need people to take care and plan when they are driving,” Mr Kelly said. He also asked organisers of New Year’s events in the coming days to consider safety measures and if, in some cases the events should go ahead.

A Dáil recall?

Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney has called for the Dáil to be recalled to discuss the flooding, but Mr Kelly rejected this. Barry Cowen, also a Fianna Fáil TD, called on the Taoiseach to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting but Mr Kelly said the Cabinet is meeting next week and the flooding will be top of the agenda.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said the Government had displayed “ineptitude in preparing flood defences” and that “ more hollow promises” from the Coalition were no substitute for action.

“The risk of flooding is increasing and will continue to increase. People across this island need to know that our political leaders have a plan to prevent this happening in the future,” she said.

Mr Harris said all agencies with some involvement with the river Shannon – such as the ESB, Bord na Móna, Waterways Ireland and local authorities – will meet next week in an attempt to come up with interim measures to prevent and alleviate flooding.

Out of a total of 300 areas in a national plan to tackle flooding, 66 are along the Shannon, Mr Harris said, adding that next week’s meeting will examine possible interim measures.

“People have been talking about solving problems with flooding on the Shannon since De Valera was in power,” he said. “We will have 66 plans for the Shannon by next summer. Our priority here is what we can do in the short term.”

More than a third of Irish motorists hit with insurance hike of up to 50%

    

Premiums are up by 35% since January 2014.

MORE than one third of motorists have seen the cost of their insurance rise by up to 50% this year.

This has prompted thousands of drivers to reduce their levels of insurance cover in an attempt to manage costs, says the AA.

A rise of this amount means that someone paying €500 last year is now being quoted €750.

And the motoring  body warned that premiums for the State’s two million drivers are set to continue to rise into next year unless major reforms are put in place by insurers and the Government.

An AA motor Insurance survey of over 5,000 motorists reveals that 34% have seen their insurance premiums rise by between 20% and 50% when compared with 2014.

Another third of motorists surveyed said they are forking out up to an extra 20% this year.

A quarter of policyholders saw no change in the cost of their premiums.

A tiny minority of just 5% of drivers witnessed a cost reduction.

Chief executive of AA Ireland Brendan Nevin said ordinary drivers were being asked to carry an unacceptable burden.

“After a long period of cost stability, average prices have risen by almost 40pc since January 2014,” he said.

“If the root causes we’ve identified are tackled head on, we can quickly create a stable and sustainable market for motor insurance. If they are not, then we will continue to suffer uncertainty, market failures and unacceptably high prices.”

Fraudulent activity, high legal and claims costs, poorly resourced regulation, low levels of enforcement as well as a lack of industry transparency have cost motorists dearly, according to the AA.

Irish drivers will collectively pay €300m in extra premium costs this year, the motoring body said.

The AA Motor Insurance survey indicates that the premium hike has motorists scrambling for ways to help drive down the cost of their policies.

Over one in four motorists say they were forced to purchase lesser cover and risk facing heavier financial consequences from a potential accident.

Almost 40 percent are adding a “responsible partner” to their policy in the hope of minimising costs.

Other attempts at cost-saving measures include increasing the insurance excess fee, improving vehicle security, driving less to reduce mileage, and using a garage to park a car.

Most motorists are having to spend time shopping around in an attempt to get the best price.

“The problem is that motor insurance is a legal obligation, which essentially leaves motorists with no choice but to stump up the costs,” added Mr Nevin.

The AA wants to see an independently chaired task force to tackle reforms, including representatives from the Insurance industry, the Departments of Justice, Transport, and Finance, An Garda Síochána, and legal industry.

First gas flows from Shell terminal in Mayo as protest group calls action ‘disgraceful’

Shell and the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association welcomed the news.

   

GAS HAS BEGUN to flow through the controversial Corrib gas line off the west coast, with protest groups calling the development “desperate and disgraceful”.

The Shell to Sea protest group, which has been strongly opposed to the development, said that Minister Alex White was wrong to give final permission yesterday for the pipeline to operate between the gas subsea facilities and the terminal at Bellanaboy, Co Mayo.

However, Shell, who built and operate the gas line, said that gas starting to flow from the pipeline was “an important milestone for the country and Shell’s upstream operations.”

Shell issued a statement detailing how the gas will flow from the Corrib gas field through a 20-inch pipeline to the terminal in Bellanaboy, where it will be processed before being transferred to the Gas Networks Ireland network.

Andy Brown, Shell’s upstream international director, said that today’s announcement was a “positive step for our gas portfolio”.

He also said that the development that delivering the gas from Corrib would “bring many long term benefits to the Irish economy and consumers.”

“Economic and infrastructural benefits”

Also supporting the pipeline was the the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA), which today welcomed Shell’s announcement.

In a statement the organisation said that the development had already “brought significant economic and infrastructural benefits to the local community in Co. Mayo.”

“This is the first commercial gas field in the Atlantic Margin basins west of Ireland,” the organisation. “It is a milestone in Ireland’s energy security.”

Drones to help Irish Rail spot damage on tracks

   

Irish Rail is to use high-tech drones to map the railway network for damage and coordinate responses to major incidents including flooding.

Irish Rail is to use high-tech drones to map the railway network for damage and coordinate responses to major incidents including flooding.

The company will go to the market in the new year seeking a ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (UAV) which is capable of taking high-definition images and provide a live video feed to operators.

The move comes after the company contracted an outside company to provide drone photography to assess flood levels around sections of track near Carrick-on-Shannon, which were closed for 16 days following Storm Desmond, and which were inaccessible by road and rail.

The drones will be used to conduct boundary and topographic surveys, structural inspections and monitoring and vegetation surveys. It will also allow for incident response and to track risks to the network from climate change.

“Our main climate change challenges are coastal erosion on the Wexford line and flood events throughout the network and their increasing prevalence,” a spokesman said.

“We would have historically flown the Wexford line from time to time with aerial photography by helicopter, but drone technology is so much more affordable and useful.

I was afraid we would topple over Passenger’s fear as Irish Rail train tilts close to flood waters

“We envisage greater effectiveness and flexibility in monitoring our infrastructure, and a lot of potential savings with the use of this technology.”

The rail network includes 2,400km of track and a wide range of infrastructure including bridges, viaducts, cuttings and embankments and coastal defences.

The company will seek tenders in January to supply a multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and training for up to 10 staff.

The drone must include a 30 mega-pixel camera capable of taking high-definition images and video.

Tim Peake will lead an out-of-this-world Hogmanay celebration

   

A message from space will welcome in the New Year for revellers at Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay street party.

British astronaut Tim Peake will send the message from the International Space Station, beaming onto screens at the event just before midnight on Thursday.

Peter Irvine, director of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, said: “This is a truly global event with revellers joining us from around the world. This year we’ve gone one better and will be visited from space.”

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay will be working with the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring Major Peake’s message to the masses.

Dr Simon Gage, director of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, said: “In the few hours that revellers enjoy the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party, the International Space Station, travelling at five miles per second, will orbit the Earth three times.

“With UK astronaut Tim Peake aboard, 2016 will be a remarkable year for UK space science, with more for us all to follow and be inspired by.”

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is produced by Unique Events on behalf of Edinburgh City Council and the events are estimated to bring the city of Edinburgh around £42 million.

Former Army Air Corps officer and helicopter test pilot Major Peake, 43, is the first Briton aboard the space station and the first fully British professional astronaut employed by a space agency.

The decision to send him into space came after the UK Government started to contribute funds to Esa’s ISS operations in 2012.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 8th December 2015

Exposed ‘political misconduct’ utterly unacceptable says Enda Kenny

   

Enda Kenny said the “kind of behaviour” highlighted by an RTE programme on Monday night last had no place in public life.

Alleged political misconduct exposed by undercover reporters is “utterly unacceptable”, Enda Kenny has told the Dail.

The Taoiseach said the “kind of behaviour” highlighted by an RTE programme on Monday night had “no place in public life”.

In the Standards in Public Life expose a number of councillors were approached by undercover reporters claiming to be from a company developing a wind farm.

Three politicians were filmed allegedly offering to lobby for the company in exchange for money, the promise of a loan or an investment in a private business.

One of the councillors filmed – Sligo’s Fianna Fail councillor Joe Queenan – has resigned from the party in the wake of the documentary.

During leaders’ questions in the Dail, Mr Kenny commented on the content of the TV investigation.

“It is utterly unacceptable for any public representative to use their position for financial and personal gain,” he said.

“There can be no place in public life for the kind of behaviour that was witnessed on the RTE programme last evening.

“Public representatives are required to comply fully with the codes of conduct governing their duties.”

Mr Kenny was responding to a question from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

Mr Adams highlighted the RTE disclosures as evidence the Government had done little to crack down on misconduct in public life, claiming planned new regulatory measures lacked independence.

“You have had five years to deal with this Taoiseach – five wasted years,” said Mr Adams.

Irish Government plans to establish flood warning system

Simon Coveney says business people affected by flooding facing real financial difficulties

    

(Above let) Rescue teams evacuate people from their homes after Storm Desmond caused flooding in Carlisle, England.

The Cabinet is to announce plans to establish a new flood warning system.

The Minister for the Office of Public Works Simon Harris is to discuss a number of new measures at today’s meeting.

The proposals include allocating 15 members of staff to Met Eireann to establish a new flood warning system at a cost of €2.5 million.

Ireland is the only country not to have such a forecasting system in place.

The Cabinet will also discuss distributing funds to the Irish Red Cross to give to businesses damaged by the floods.

The money, which will be capped, will be given to businesses in towns identified by the OPW as being at risk of flooding.

It is also expected to consider a review of the flood insurance.

Speaking on his way into Government Buildings on Tuesday morning, Minister for Defence and Agriculture Simon Coveney said business people affected by flooding were facing real financial difficulties as Christmas approached.

“The problem in relation to businesses has always been that the legislation actually dealing with humanitarian flood relief doesn’t actually cater for businesses,” he said.

“So we’re looking at whether we can find a way to provide some financial assistance to small businesses who in the build-up to Christmas, most of them retail outlets, have found themselves looking forward to probably the best Christmas in 10 years.”

He said they were now dealing with throwing carpets out on the street and lifting water-damaged wooden floors.

“We’ll try to be as helpful as we can but I don’t want to over-promise until we have a Cabinet discussion on it.”

Mr Coveney said he understood why people affected by flooding were feeling worried, angry and frustrated. He said he understood Department of Social Protection officials were “knocking on doors” telling people how they could avail of financial supports.

Former singer dies in Monagan floods as “Desmond” causes damage over Ireland

70-year-old performed with Plattermen in 1960s and 70s

      

Ivan Vaughan (above left who played with the Platermen under the name Simon Scott) died during a storm at the weekend in Co Monaghan.

The body of a man, believed to have been trapped in his car on a flooded road, has been found in Co Monaghan.

Singer Ivan Vaughan – who performed with the Plattermen under the name Simon Scott in the 1960s and 70s – was driving home from a gig in Glaslough in the county when he’s believe to have become trapped in a dipped part of a flooded road.

Mr Vaughan (70) was reported missing yesterday morning and a post mortem is due to take place in today.

Meanwhile, a number of weather-related fatalies took place over the past few days in Britain.

A body, thought to be that of an elderly man, was discovered in the swollen River Kent in Cumbria.

A 90-year-old man, Ernie Crouch, died after he was apparently blown into the side of a moving bus by strong winds near Finchley Central Tube station in London on Saturday.

Some rivers across the country remain in a “perilous” state following Storm Desmond, and the flood risk may persist for more than a week according to the National Emergency Co-ordination Council.

Local authorities have warned more flooding is probable in the first half of this week, with councils in Westmeath, Limerick and Clare all informing residents of potential risks to property.

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Houses in the low-lying areas of Athlone such as Deerpark and Carrickobrien/Clonbonny may be susceptible to rising water levels on the river Shannon, according to Westmeath County Council, while a “significant release of water” from Parteen Weir by the ESB could affect properties in southeast Clare and Co Limerick as well as the University of Limerickgrounds.

The ESB has also warned there may be flooding of roads and lands upstream of Cork city over the coming days as it increases discharges from its dams at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid on the River Lee.

Members of the National Emergency Coordination Council met on Monday afternoon to discuss severe weather events over the weekend. Chairman Seán Hogan said the rivers Shannon and Moy are “particularly on edge” with further flooding expected along the upper Shannon later this week.

Towns such as Ballybofey in Donegal, Crossmolina in Mayo, Ballinasloe inGalway and Bandon in Cork were worst affected as an unprecedented 100mm of rain fell over a 24-hour period across parts of the west on Friday and Saturday.

Some ESB substations, water and wastewater treatment plants were also affected, and boil water notices have been issued in some areas as a precautionary measure.

“We have seen the images of nature in action over the weekend, and despite the warnings and the efforts of all involved, properties were affected by flood waters in Cork, Kerry, Clare, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal and indeed in other areas,” Mr Hogan said.

“This is terrible in the run up to Christmas. For some, this is a repeat of previous experiences of flooding, so they know what the pain is and it’s worse for that.

“Some rivers remain at critical level and the Shannon is still rising. There may well be further episodes of flooding, and experience tells us that waters will not recede for days and indeed for weeks in some parts of the country,” he said.

The country was already saturated following higher than average amounts of rainfall during November, and further inclement weather up until Wednesday may exacerbate the situation and make relief efforts more difficult.

Traders and residents in Bandon are continuing the clean-up effort after about 30 businesses were flooded on Saturday, with many unhappy about delays in implementing a €10 million flood relief scheme for the area.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio on Monday, Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works Simon Harris said “shovels will be in the ground” for the scheme by the middle of 2016.

Elsewhere, 48 elderly residents had to be evacuated from a nursing home in Foxford during a rescue operation which lasted until 3.30am on Monday morning. A similar scene unfolded in Ballytivnan, Co Sligo, where 13 nursing home residents were evacuated amid rising flood waters.

The Civil Defence was called on to help move residents from parts of Athleague where the River Suck burst its banks.

The Irish Farmers’ Association said thousands of acres of farmland have been “devastated” following the weekend’s deluge, and has called on Government ministers to visit the worst-affected areas.

Prostate cancer therapy now linked to Alzheimer’s risk

       

Men taking a treatment for prostate cancer known as androgen deprivation therapy may be almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men not taking ADT, a study has found.

While the research in the December 7 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology stopped short of showing any definitive cause-and-effect between ADT and Alzheimer’s, scientists said the association raises concern and merits further study.

“We wanted to contribute to the discussion regarding the relative risks and benefits of ADT, and no one had yet looked at the association between ADT and Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Kevin Nead, a doctor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Based on the results of our study, an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease is a potential adverse effect of ADT, but further research is needed before considering changes to clinical practice.”

The findings are based on two large sets of medical records, covering about five million patients, of whom 16,888 received a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Some 2,400 of the prostate cancer patients had received ADT, and had the necessary follow-up records for the data analysis, the study said.

Researchers compared the ADT patients with a control group of non-ADT prostate cancer patients, and found that the ADT group had significantly more Alzheimer’s diagnoses in the years following the initiation of androgen-lowering therapy.

“By the most sophisticated measure, members of the ADT group were about 88 percent more likely to get Alzheimer’s during the follow-up period,” said the study.

The longer patients took ADT, the greater their risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

About a half million men in the United States take ADT, a therapy that suppresses production of the male hormones known as androgens, which can play a key role in stimulating prostate cell growth.

Side-effects of reducing androgen activity can include low testosterone levels, impotence, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.

Previous studies have suggested that low levels of the hormone testosterone may weaken the aging brain’s resistance to Alzheimer’s.

New breakthrough on pain-killing patches with ibuprofen have been developed

   

A photo of the new pain-killing patch

University researchers have helped to devise and patent a “breakthrough” pain-killing patch delivering effective doses of ibuprofen directly through the skin.

The transparent adhesive patch, developed by a partnership between the University of Warwick and Coventry-based spin-out company Medherant, could pave the way for other “long-acting” treatments for back pain and arthritis.

Billed as a world first, the technology contained in the patch is able to deliver a prolonged high dose of ibuprofen at a consistent rate by incorporating the drug into a sticky polymer matrix.

University of Warwick research chemist Professor David Haddleton said: “Many commercial patches surprisingly don’t contain any pain relief agents at all, they simply soothe the body by a warming effect.

“Our technology now means that we can for the first time produce patches that contain effective doses of active ingredients such as ibuprofen for which no patches currently exist.”

The CEO of Medherant, Nigel Davis, believes the patches could lead to economic benefits for the healthcare system by delivering drugs more efficiently.

“Our first products will be over-the-counter pain relief patches and through partnering we would expect to have the first of those products on the market in around two years,

Ireland ranked the 12th best country in world survey on climate challenge

Europe ‘risks falling behind’ as other countries boost invest in renewables

     Delegates walk among poles bearing national flags at entrance to the COP21 world climate change conference. Photograph: EPA/Ian Langsdon

Delegates walk among poles bearing national flags at entrance to the COP21 world climate change conference.

Ireland is ranked in 12th place in a survey of the climate change performance of almost 60 countries worldwide, released by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (Can) Europe at COP21.

Given that the first three places are vacant, because none of the countries surveyed are said to be doing enough to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, Ireland’s position is effectively in ninth place on the list.

The highest place is still occupied by Denmark for the fifth consecutive year, even though its new conservative government has recently pulled back on the country’s drive to achieve independence from fossil fuels.

Next comes Britain, follow by Sweden, Belgium, France, Cyprus Morocco, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Malta and Latvia. Saudi Arabia, not for the first time, brings up the rear in 61st place.

Lurking down near the bottom of the list — based on data compiled by local NGOs — are Turkey, in 50th place, follow by Estonia, Taiwan, Russia, Iran, Singapore, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Kazakhstan.

For the first time, in this 11th edition of the Climate Change Performance Index, the authors applaud signs of a slowdown — and even a halt — in the growth of global emissions due to a rapid take-up of renewable energy.

Lead author Jan Burck, of Germanwatch, said: “The years 2013 and 2014 saw for the first time a higher amount of newly installed capacity from renewables than from all other energy sources combined.”

Although European countries still rank high, profiting from their early start in development of climate policies, the EU now “risks falling behind” as other countries “invest in renewable energy on a massive scale”.

The two largest emitters, the US (in 34th place) and China (in 47th), have both improved their rankings as a result of better policy evaluations, big investments in renewable energy and their start to shift away from coal.

One of the winners this year is France. Just in time for its COP21 presidency, the country climbed six places to arrive in the Top 10, mainly due the low level of per-capita emissions and a decreasing emission trend.