Tag Archives: Sean FitzPatrick

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

The shredding of documents played a key role in downfall of FitzPatrick inquiry

Legal adviser ‘taken aback’ by Garda Commissioner’s note about witness statements

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The former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has been acquitted on all charges against him at the Circuit Criminal Court.

The spectacular ending of the trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has come about in part because documents relevant to the case were shredded by a solicitor investigating the alleged offences.

The extraordinary shredding of documents led to a collapse of an earlier trial and contributed to the decision by the judge on Tuesday that he would direct the jury to acquit in this trial.

Kevin O’Connell, a legal adviser with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, took on a lead role in the investigation but, according to evidence he gave in the absence of the jury, shredded documents during a “panic attack” in his office in May 2015.

He informed the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what he had done, then sought psychiatric help. The first trial of FitzPatrick, then ongoing, collapsed as a result.

The collapse of one of the most significant white-collar crime cases to come before the courts in the wake of the Irish banking crisis is a huge blow to the reputation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the agency established to investigate corporate crime. It led the inquiry. It is also a blow to the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the Companies Acts relating to giving false or misleading information to Anglo’s auditors Ernst & Young (now EY).

In announcing his decision on Tuesday, Judge John Aylmer referred to O’Connell’s evidence that the documents he shredded were notes of phone conversations similar to other such notes he had discovered to the DPP.

However, the judge said the fact was we didn’t know what was in them and there must be a doubt about why they were singled out.

O’Connell had given evidence to the first trial of FitzPatrick, over six days, in the absence of the jury, as it was becoming evident that the investigation had been mishandled in relation to the taking of statements from two key witnesses.

In evidence heard by the court in the absence of the jury it emerged that O’Connell feared last year, at the time of the shredding, that he was going to be “hung out to dry” if the case collapsed.

Garda correspondence.

More recently, internal Garda correspondence, released to the trial by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, showed senior Garda officers being advised in the wake of the shredding that no members of the force were connected with the destruction of documents or with the taking of witness statements from two key witnesses.

O’Connell, in the witness box in the absence of the jury, said he was “taken aback” by the latter claim, given that Garda colleagues in the ODCE had been involved in the inquiry alongside him and had been copied in email correspondence and had attended meetings concerned with the taking of statements from the two witnesses.

Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC commented to the court that the Garda were “attempting to find a bus to put him [O’Connell] under.” An assistant Garda commissioner, the correspondence revealed, had been warned that the case might produce “adverse publicity” for the force.

Extended legal argument heard in the absence of the jury outlined how the inquiry was handled as if it was a civil case before the High Court rather than a criminal case. The process of taking witness statements from two key witnesses, the court heard, was “lawyer led”.

The two key witnesses, EY partners Kieran Kelly and Vincent Bergin, were “coached” and their witness statements contaminated, with some of the wording in both statements having been actually written by the former Director of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, the court was told. The interference included the suggested changing of key phrases in the statements. The taking of statements occurred as if they were affidavits being prepared for a civil case.

The two key witnesses, both former auditors of Anglo’s books, signed witness statements that were the product of a long engagement involving a number of individuals in the ODCE, as well as lawyers in EY and in the law firm that acts for EY, A&L Goodbody.

It was “statement by committee”, Condon told the judge, during the extended legal argument.

Potential conflict?

There was also an issue of potential conflict. Some of the lawyers acting for EY in the drafting of the statements were also acting for EY in a €50 million damages claim from the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation(IBRC). The State-owned body’s case includes matters relevant to the FitzPatrick trial.

The lawyers were also acting for EY in relation to an inquiry by the firm’s regulatory body, the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb), which is investigating the adequacy of the audit work done by EY on Anglo’s books. Condon said the Carb inquiry could potentially lead to EY losing its licence.

One of the complaints from FitzPatrick’s defence team was that the ODCE did not seek out information that went to their client’s potential innocence as well as his potential guilt, a point that has now been accepted by the judge. The ODCE had been trying to “build” a case, the judge said.

FitzPatrick walks away an innocent man. It is the second time he has faced charges that came to trial and from which he has emerged with his innocence intact. In 2014 a jury found him innocent of charges of providing unlawful financial assistance to 10 individuals known as the Maple 10, in July 2008, so that they could buy shares in Anglo Irish Bank.

During that trial, Judge Martin Nolan directed that FitzPatrick be found not guilty of other charges relating to loans issued to members of the family of the businessman Seán Quinn.

The charges on which FitzPatrick is now to be acquitted related to the treatment of loans from the bank which were transferred each year end to the Irish Nationwide Building Society, before being transferred back to the bank. This meant they did not have to be disclosed in Anglo’s end of year accounts.

The so-called “warehousing” of the loans led to FitzPatrick’s resignation when it emerged in December 2008, and contributed to the loss in confidence in the bank that in turn led to it being nationalised in January 2009. The ODCE began investigating the matter in December 2008.

O’Connell said the documents he shredded had been overlooked when disclosure was being made to the FitzPatrick defence, and when he discovered them on a tray on the floor of his office, he realised he was going to have to go back to the witness box and give more evidence. After he informed the State legal team of what he had done, he sought psychiatric help.

Bizarre and dramatic development.

The bizarre and dramatic development turned a crisis caused by how the investigation had been conducted, into a full-blown catastrophe. Although O’Connell said he wasn’t sure what the documents he shredded were, he said he believed they were notes taken in meetings or during phone calls associated with the case. Complaints about disclosure had featured during his giving of evidence in 2015, and when he returned to the office and found more documents that had not been disclosed, he panicked, he said.

In 2015 he referred to eight or nine pages of notes, while this year he said he thought about three or four pages may have been involved. He refused to let the court have access to reports concerning his mental health.

O’Connell had played a key role in gathering evidence against FitzPatrick even though he had never played a role in investigating an indictable offence before.

The court heard that, as problems with the investigation emerged during the trial, the new Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, who had taken over from Appleby in August 2012, informed his staff that only Garda officers were to henceforth take witness statements.

He also said that when the details of what had happened in the FitzPatrick case emerged, it was likely that the agency would suffer “very severe reputational damage” as well as “parliamentary scrutiny”.

All of the interviews with the EY partners occurred in the presence of the solicitors from A&L Goodbody, including partner Liam Kennedy, with whom O’Connell was in regular contact.

There were up to 40 versions of the Kelly and Bergin statements in the huge discovery of documents released to the defence last year. It was after the multiple drafts were received that the defence learned of the flaws it argued existed in relation to how the investigation had been conducted.

Some of the drafts had been going “back and forth” between the ODCE and A&L Goodbody, some within the ODCE, and some within A&L Goodbody. It was “statement by committee”, Condon said. “Conspicuous by their absence were the guards.” He said standards in investigating a suspected crime could not be lowered just because it was an alleged white-collar crime. “Everyone goes to the same prison.”

The FG leadership battle & the candidates Simon Coveney v Leo Varadkar

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Simon CoveneyPersonal: Aged 44. Son of former Fine Gael TD and minister Hugh Coveney, who died in an accident in 1998.

As well as being a politician, his father was a successful surveyor and wealthy farmer. Married to Ruth Furney, an IDA executive in Cork. They have three young daughters.

Education: Clongowes Wood College. UCC, Gurteen Agricultural College, Tipperary, Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire, England. Holds a BSc in agriculture and land management.

Political: First elected a Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central in 1998 by-election caused by his father’s death. Was an MEP 2000-2007 but gave up Euro seat for Dáil politics. Appointed agriculture minister in 2011, took on additional defence portfolio in 2014. Housing Minister since May 2016.

Career trajectory: Began in the shadow of his late father’s reputation and later for a time dubbed “light weight”. But seen as a potential Fine Gael leader for almost a decade. Viewed as earnest and policy-driven – he has been cultivating personal support in recent years.

Strengths: Unfailingly polite, extremely hard-working and pays keen attention to policy details. A dealmaker, capable of standing his ground as well as compromising. Did heavy-lifting on Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal to underpin this Government.

Weaknesses: More focused on policy than people. Knockabout politics does not come naturally to him.

Lucky general? In his first job as agriculture minister in 2011, he presided over the only Irish sector doing well. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet.

Unlucky general? He landed the toughest Cabinet job in May 2016, leaving him a housing and homelessness crisis and the future of water charges. These just as he was trying to become taoiseach.

To be expected: From Cork’s wealthy section of society, he sails and played rugby.

A surprise: Was expelled from the elite Clongowes Wood secondary boarding school for partying and drinking, much to the anger of his parents. Specialised in human rights as an MEP.

Soundbite winner: “Whatever ministry I have, whether it’s defence, whether it’s marine, whether it’s agriculture, I’ve tried to make as big a mark as I can in taking on some big challenges and trying to overcome them. I’ve got some very big challenges at the moment to take on and overcome, and there’s a lot of people relying on me to do it,” in December 2016 on facing up to challenge of being the Housing Minister.

Soundbite gaffe: On March 1, 2016, he “dropped the ball” by suggesting abolition of Irish Water could be part of Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government-making talks. “We need to take on board within reason, what they are looking for,” he said on RTÉ.

Unique Selling Point: Total commitment to policy achievements in whatever job he takes on.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Stated hobbies: Sailing, rugby, GAA and following all sports.

Coveney’s policies

TAXATION: He would change Fine Gael’s current stance on scrapping USC. Also wants to raise bands so workers don’t hit the 40pc rate at €33,800.

INFRASTRUCTURE: A long-term strategic infrastructure plan as part of ‘Ireland 2040’. Ring-fence up to €20bn for infrastructure, mostly focused on transport.

BREXIT: With his experience as an MEP and agriculture minister, says he is best-placed to represent Ireland in talks.

HOUSING: Sticking to his ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan. Has committed more than 20,000 new homes a year being built.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: From a policy point of view, says he agrees with Varadkar.

ABORTION: The Citizens’ Assembly recommendations go “too far” but the current laws need to be changed to recognise crisis pregnancies.

EDUCATION: ‘Action Plan for Education’ and produce specific annual targets.

HEALTH: Also cites the Oireachtas committee as an important process and plans “to substantially reduce health inequalities in Ireland”.

UNITED IRELAND: Committed to immediately drafting a white paper on possible reunification.

Leo Varadkar

Personal: Aged 38 and a qualified medical doctor. His father, Ashok, is an Indian-born medical doctor and his mother, Miriam, a nurse originally from Co Waterford. His parents met while working in England. He has two sisters – Sophia is a doctor in the neurology department of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, while Sonia is a nurse at the Coombe in Dublin. Lived most of his life in the prosperous west Dublin suburb of Castleknock. Is unmarried and in January 2015 became Ireland’s first openly gay government minister.

Education: The King’s Hospital, Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.

Political: Schoolboy and student Fine Gael activist. Unsuccessfully contested 1999 local elections, elected to Fingal County Council in 2004. TD for Dublin West since 2007. Minister for transport and tourism 2011-2014; health 2014-2016; Social Protection 2016 to date.

Career trajectory: Has been talked about as a potential Fine Gael leader since his arrival at Leinster House in June 2007. One of the party’s young Turks, once dubbed “Tory Boy” in his youth – has been busy dumping the right-wing rhetoric and gravitating to the middle.

Strengths: Quick-thinking and dynamic. Does a refreshingly candid “honesty-in-dishonesty line” and usually gets away with it. Very hard-working.

Weaknesses: More style than substance. For all his talk, was a “manager rather than a doer” as transport, health and finally Social Protection Minister.

Lucky general? His two full winters as health minister, 2014/15 and 2015/16, were mild and did not have a full-blown “trolley crisis”. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet in 2011.

Unlucky general? As tourism and transport minister, his two junior ministers were Michael Ring and Alan Kelly, two of the Dáil’s toughest characters. Had fretful two years in health when he faced high expectations as a doctor.

To be expected: As a medical student in TCD, social life was all about Young Fine Gael.

A surprise: Has been busy brushing up on his Gaeilge – came to this week’s decisive Fine Gael meeting directly after sitting a civil service Irish exam.

Soundbite winner: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me,” his summation as he announced he was gay in January 2015.

Best howler: “I really can’t wait to get the keys to one of those government jets. My bowels aren’t feeling the Mae West today.” An over-sharing blog, as an opposition TD in 2009, recounting a marathon journey home from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, involving long waits in Moscow and Heathrow.

Unique Selling Point: Can still claim to be “an outsider” carrying a certain air of mystery and intrigue.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Michael Collins.

Stated hobbies: Fitness, good food and wine, and good company.

Varadkar’s policies

TAXATION: Cut high marginal income tax rates.Tax equality for self-employed. Merge USC and PRSI.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Increase capital spending over 10 years, focusing on the Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick and motorway access to the west and north-west.

BREXIT: Five Brexit principles, including trying to keep Northern Ireland in the single market.

HOUSING: Scrap the ‘Help-To-Buy’ scheme if it is inflating prices, and spend on ‘Housing with Care’ for older people.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Essentially strikes will be banned after a Labour Court judgment has been made.

ABORTION: Would support access to a termination in cases of rape but not on demand.

EDUCATION: Increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. He will also provide subsidised school books/tablets to all children.

HEALTH: “The health service of the future needs to be patient centred and about better access and outcomes”.

UNITED IRELAND: Prepare that it might happen in our lifetime but won’t agitate for it.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members’ votes worth 0.9% of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10%, while the remaining 25% is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney
Total: 45
Total: 19
Ministers: 17
Ministers: 5
TDs: 16
TDs: 5
Senators: 11
Senators: 8
MEPs: 1
MEPs: 1
Richard Bruton -Minister
Simon Harris – Minister
Frances Fitzgerald – Minister
Damien English – Minister
Michael Ring – Minister
Dara Murphy – Minister
Eoghan Murphy – Minister
David Stanton – Minister
Sean Kyne – Minister
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy – Minister
Joe McHugh – Minister
Kate O’Connell – TD
Helen McEntee – Minister
Maria Bailey – TD
Charlie Flanagan – Minister
Sean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -Minister
Hildegard Naughton – TD
Patrick O’Donovan – Minister
Peter Fitzpatrick – TD
Regina Doherty – Minister
Tim Lombard – Senator
Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Minister
Jerry Buttimer – Senator
Paschal Donohoe – Minister
Paudie Coffey – Senator
Heather Humphreys – Minister
James Reilly – Senator
Pat Breen – Minister
Colm Burke – Senator
Catherine Byrne – Minister
John O’Mahony – Senator
Andrew Doyle – Minister
Paul Coghlan – Senator
John Paul Phelan – TD
Gabrielle McFadden – Senator
Noel Rock – TD
Deirdre Clune – MEP
Tony McLoughlin – TD
Alan Farrell – TD
Michael D’Arcy – TD
Tom Neville – TD
Josepha Madigan – TD
Pat Deering – TD
Jim Daly – TD
Brendan Griffin – TD
Ciaran Cannon – TD
Colm Brophy – TD
Peter Burke – TD
Fergus O’Dowd – TD
John Deasy – TD
Joe Carey – TD
Neale Richmond – Senator
Catherine Noone – Senator
Paddy Burke – Senator
Martin Conway – Senator
Michelle Mulherin – Senator
Maura Hopkins – Senator
Ray Butler – Senator
Frank Feighan – Senator
Maria Byrne – Senator
Joe O’Reilly – Senator
Kieran O’Donnell – Senator
Brian Hayes – MEP

Undeclared

Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *

Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *

Michael Noonan – Minister  Michael Creed – Minister
Bernard Durkan – TD Sean Kelly – MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement  

Irish unemployment hits nine-year low as full-time jobs up 84,000 in first quarter

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said full-time employment had increased by more than 84,000 in the first quarter

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Ireland’s unemployment figures has fallen to levels not seen since the recession and economic collapse hit the country in early 2008.

Official figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed 33,200 fewer people out of work at the start of this year, compared with the same time last year.

The unemployment rate is now down to 6.4%, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said, with 148,800 people classed as out of work, the lowest number in nine years.

“The labour market has begun the year in a very positive manner and I welcome the very strong employment growth that was recorded in the first quarter,” Mr Noonan said.

“Employment gains of 68,600 (3.5%) clearly demonstrate that economic growth is generating significant dividends in the labour market. Indeed, it is noteworthy that full-time employment increased by over 84,000 in the first quarter and I particularly welcome this development.

“The policies that have been implemented by the Government continue to bear fruit. The objective in the months and years ahead is to enhance the resilience of the economy in order to protect these gains and generate more jobs in the future.”

A breakdown of the labour market figures recorded in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey showed an 18.5% fall in the number of unemployed people in the year to the end of March.

It said that people who are classed as long- term unemployed after being out of work for a year or more now account for just over half the total number of jobless.

The CSO also said there are 2,191,400 people in the labour market.

As many as 460,000 may be exposed to unsafe radon levels in Ireland

Irish householders urged to test their homes?

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As many as 460,000 people in Ireland may be exposed to radon levels that are deemed to be unsafe, new research has found.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in all rocks and soils. When it surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, leading to an potentially dangerous health risk.

Globally, radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, coming after smoking. The gas is linked to around 250 cancer deaths in Ireland every year.

A research team led by geologists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has produced a new ‘risk map’ using indoor radon concentration measurements and relevant geological information.

They found that including more geological data, such as bedrock and glacial geology, provided a more detailed picture of the risks posed by radon.

According to this map, around 10% of Ireland’s population is exposed to radon levels that exceed the references safe level – that is around 460,000 people who may currently be at risk.

This new analysis divides the country into three risk categories – high, medium and low. This is based on the probability of having an indoor radon concentration level above the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

The map shows that the probability of living in a home with a concentration above this is calculated to be 19% in high risk areas (around 265,000 people), 8% in medium risk areas (160,000) and 3% in low risk areas (35,000).

This map now needs to be validated using new annually available indoor radon data.

“EU member states need to translate European radiation protection legislation into national law, and this requires an accurate definition of radon-prone areas. Our research provides one example of how national-scale radon risk maps can be produced, which is especially relevant to countries developing their national radon programmes,” explained Quentin Crowley, assistant professor in isotopes and the environment at TCD’s School of Natural Sciences.

The researchers emphasised that according to the map, even some homes in the low risk category ‘will have elevated radon levels’.

“No model, no matter how sophisticated, can substitute for having indoor radon levels tested. For this reason we advise all householders to test their homes for radon and, if high levels are found, to have their houses fixed. Further information is available on radon.ie,” commented Barbara Rafferty of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Large study uncovers genes are linked to our intelligence

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Exactly what constitutes intelligence, and to what extent it is genetic, are some of the most controversial questions in science. But now a new study of nearly 80,000 people, published in Nature Genetics, has managed to identify a number of genes that seem to be involved in intelligence.

According to a dictionary definition, intelligence is “the ability to learn, understand or deal with new situations” or “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly”.

This is obviously quite broad. Indeed, even animals display a number of different forms of intelligence, typically critical for survival. These range from reaching or gathering sources of food and escaping predators to the sharing of duties within a group (such as in ant communities). Elephants or monkeys also possess forms of empathy and care, which strengthen their relationships and chances to survive.

Human intelligence started out as “reactive”, enabling us to find solutions to the challenges of nature. But it later became “proactive”, so that we could use the resources of nature to develop preventive measures aimed at solving problems. Ultimately, what makes human intelligence different from that of other animals is our ability to shape the environment, for example through farming. This became possible as we developed communities and started delegating tasks on the basis of talents. When the acute problem of survival was controlled, we could dedicate our intelligence to the development of arts or other higher skills.

There are many factors that enable us to shape and nurture our intelligence – ranging from access to resources and information to skills acquired through experience and repetition. But, like with most human traits, there is also a genetic basis.

The experiment?

The method used to measure intelligence in the new study was the so-called “g-factor” – a measure of analytical intelligence. Although it might appear reductive to catalogue all types of intelligence through a single test, the g-factor is often used in scientific research as being among the most unbiased methods. The authors looked at such scores in 78,000 people of European descent to search for genetic factors and genes that potentially influence human intelligence.

They carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS). This assesses connections between a trait and a multitude of DNA markers called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which might determine an individual’s likelihood to develop a specific trait. The test enabled the researchers to identify 336 significant SNPs.

Generally, the vast majority of significant SNPs that result in this way fall in non-coding regions of the DNA. In other words, they indicate portions of the DNA that may regulate gene expression even though the actual regulated gene is unknown. This makes the SNPs from GWAS hard to interpret. So the authors then complemented their analysis with a so called genome-wide gene association analysis (or GWGAS), which calculates the effect of multiple SNPs within genes and can identify actual associated genes. They then combined both kinds of study to strengthen their confidence in naming the genes associated with intelligence.

This work led to isolating 52 candidate genes linked to intelligence. Although 12 of these had been previously associated with “intelligence”, the study needs to be replicated in future studies.

What do we gather?

The researchers discovered that the genes that were the strongest linked to intelligence are ones involved in pathways that play a part in the regulation of the nervous system’s development and apoptosis (a normal form of cell death that is needed in development). The most significant SNP was found within FOXO3, a gene involved in insulin signalling that might trigger apoptosis. The strongest associated gene was CSE1L, a gene involved in apoptosis and cell proliferation.

Does this all mean that intelligence in humans depends on the molecular mechanisms that support the development and preservation of the nervous system throughout an person’s lifespan? It’s possible.

And is it possible to explain intelligence through genetics? This paper suggests it is. Nevertheless, it might be warranted to consider that intelligence is a very complex trait and even if genetics did play a role, environmental factors such as education, healthy living, access to higher education, exposure to stimulating circumstances or environments might play an equally or even stronger role in nurturing and shaping intelligence.

It is also worth considering that the meaning of “intelligence” rather falls within a grey area. There might be different types of intelligence or even intelligence might be interpreted differently: in which category would for example a genius physicist – unable to remember their way home (Albert Einstein) – fall? Selective intelligence? Mozart nearly failed his admission tests to Philharmonic Academy in Bologna because his genius was too wide and innovative to be assessed by rigid tests. Is that another form of selective intelligence? And if so, what’s the genetic basis of this kind of intelligence?

Studies like this are extremely interesting and they do show we are starting to scratch the surface of what the biological basis of intelligence really is.

Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

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An artist’s reconstruction of Graecopithecus freybergi, left, with the jawbone and tooth found in Bulgaria and Greece.

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa.

Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield.

But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.

The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid.

An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region.

At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe.

“This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps of the humankind,” said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo.

“The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike that of the recent great apes which are living in forests.  Therefore, like humans, he has wide molars and thick enamel.

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist?

“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably  El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.”

The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria.

Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and show that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans,”, said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen.

The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid.

The tooth of Graecopithecus. Image result for Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents.

The jawbone of Graecopithecus.  

The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years ago and pushed species further North.

They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today.

Professor Böhme added: “Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity. I personally don’t think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean – not in Africa.

“If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history.” However some experts were more skeptical about the findings.

Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls.

“I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence from Africa.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 6th August 2015

Hundreds of survivors from capsized fishing boat taken by Irish navy vessel LÉ Naimh to Italy

  Surviving migrants are brought aboard Irish and Italian Navy life-boats in the area where their wooden vessel capsized and sank off the coast of Libya on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

Hundreds of people who survived the capsizing of a smugglers’ fishing boat have been brought to Italy.

Among those rescued was a Palestinian man who saved his wife by giving her his life jacket, then diving below the surface to grab their toddler daughter as she disappeared.

Military vessels and aircraft from a multi-nation operation were searching waters off Libya, a day after the 20-metre (66-foot) boat overturned as rescuers were approaching.

With seas warm and calm, rescuers expressed hopes others might be alive.

In the first hours after the accident on Wednesday, 367 survivors were rescued and 25 bodies recovered.

Military officials from the Republic of Ireland, whose navy vessel the LÉ Niamh was among those at the scene, said they were given an initial estimate of 600 migrants aboard the smugglers’ boat.

If that estimate holds, as many as 200 migrants might have drowned.

At least 367 survivors were taken aboard the LÉ Naimh, which was approaching the dock at Palermo, Sicily, by late afternoon.

The Italian Navy, which had two ships in the rescue operation, said three survivors were flown by helicopter for medical treatment aboard the Doctors Without Borders ship Dignity1.

One was a man with a fractured leg. The other was a mother, with one-year-old son, who needed dialysis.

Three other injured survivors were flown out by another navy helicopter to a hospital on the tiny Italian island, Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

When the Dignity1 arrived at the capsizing site, it was hard to tell how many were in the water, Juan Matias Gil, a Doctors Without Borders search and rescue operations field co-ordinator, said.

“All in all, there were no more than 50 people” in the water, Mr Gil said.

“There were some bodies floating, so it was quite a shocking scene.”

During the rescue, crew of Dignity1 tossed life vests and life preservers as survivors swam frantically to boats.

Video made aboard Dignity1 and released by Doctors Without Borders showed the Palestinian family.

The mother caressed the hand of her daughter Azeel, a little more than one year old, as the father, Mohammed, sat next to them.

“They all went into the water, with only one life jacket,” Mr Gil said.

“So this life jacket was with the father, who gave the life jacket to his wife, because she didn’t know how to swim. “After that he saw that the baby was getting deep in the water” and in danger of drowning.

“After he came out with the baby, they were seen, they were rescued and they were brought aboard” Dignity1, Mr Gil said.

Several Syrians were among those rescued, including a pregnant woman who at first appeared in danger of miscarriage.

Ireland set to record a good year in tourism this year

\"Dingle,    

But industry warned not to blow boom by overcharging holidaymakers like in the past

Ireland is on target for a record year in terms of tourist numbers, according to latest figures

Ireland is on target for a record year in terms of tourist numbers but the industry has been warned by Government not to “make the mistakes of the past” by overcharging.

CSO figures for the first half of 2015 show almost 12% growth in overseas visitors North and South – an additional 407,100 when compared with January to June 2014.

Minister for Tourism Paschal Donohoe said the figures showed Ireland was on track for earnings of €5 billion per year in 10 years’ time.

But in a strongly worded message to the industry he said the special nine per cent rate of Vat was dependent on the industry offering value for money. He warned the Government would keep this in mind, when deciding whether to renew the special rate.

“We must be mindful of the mistakes that were made in the past and ensure they are not repeated. Our value for money rating has improved dramatically in recent years” he said, noting that the latest figures represented “out best half year performance ever”.

According to tourism Ireland, growth this year has come from all key markets especially Britain, North America and Mainland Europe. Key factors that aided the boom were value for money – especially for sterling and dollar holidaymakers – the attraction of the Wild Atlantic Way, air access and the abolition of travel tax in the South.

Mr Donohoe said he would like to see another US city added to the list of destinations flying to Ireland, but he did not specify which one.

Niall Gibbons CEO of Tourism Ireland, which is a North/South body set up to promote the whole island, said the nine% vat rate and zero rated air travel tax were not available in Northern Ireland. This was because taxes in the North were a function of the Westminster Parliament, but he said there was considerable enthusiasm for the adoption of such measures within the legislative assembly in Northern Ireland.

Mr Gibbons said Tourism Ireland was determined to maximise the number of new year-round and winter air routes into Ireland which included new CityJet flights from London to Cork and Aer Lingus from Dusseldorf to Cork.

Additional capacity is to be installed this winter on Aer Lingus routes from Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich and Geneva . Lufthansa is increasing capacity on its Munich–Dublin route; Ryanair on its routes from Copenhagen and Venice, Barcelona, Berlin and Madrid. In addition Aer Lingus will increase capacity on transatlantic routes while Delta is increasing capacity from JFK New York to Dublin.

Mr Donohoe said the tourism sector was on track to meet Government targets for 2025 which included €5 billion in overseas tourism revenue, an extra 50,000 jobs in the sector and 10 million overseas visits to Ireland, compared to 7.6 million in 2014.

The increased traffic into Ireland in the first six months of 2015 came from Germany (+12%); France (+13%; Spain (+15%); Italy (+32%); Benelux (+11%) and the Nordic region (+ 5%).

The increase from Britain was 9.4%, while from North America it was 15%.

Seán FitzPatrick’s vain attempt to adjourn his trial is denied

Former Anglo chairman had sought the adjournment due to recent publicity

  

An application to adjourn the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick has been denied.

The trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick is to proceed in October after an application for adjournment by his defence was denied.

Lawyers for Mr FitzPatrick (66) – who has pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the 1990 Companies Act – made the application due to concerns over the publicity surrounding a recent, separate trial of three Anglo officials.

Bernard Condon SC, defending, had told the Dublin CircuitCriminal Court “a cascade of sludge” was visited on the head of his client during those proceedings.

However, in his ruling on Thursday, Judge Martin Nolan declined the application pointing out that the defendant had been the subject of attention for years.

“Anybody living in this country has to be aware of the huge amount of adverse publicity that has been directed toward Sean FitzPatrick since 2008,” he said.

He believes a jury can deal with the case impartially, he said, and that Mr Fitzpatrick’s acquittal at a separate recent criminal trial underscored his confidence in this regard, in that the jury arrived at a verdict based on the facts of the case.

“Mr Fitzpatrick’s reputation is negative at this stage,” he said. “It seems to me the trial should go on.”

In a brief outline of his decision, Judge Nolan said it was his job to ensure the defendant had a fair trial and an impartial jury.

He said his decision must also take into account whether an adjournment would allow the “odium and ridicule” heaped upon Mr Fitzpatrick to fade over a period of time from the public memory.

Prosecuting counsel Paul O’Higgins, he said, had previously argued that two months would suffice in this regard.

In the meantime, “villains and heroes” will be produced in the media alongside other distractions like the forthcomingRugby World Cup, All-Irelands and the pending general election.

The recently-concluded case regarding former Anglo officials, which formed the basis of the defence’s application, had taken its own course and heard comments from counsel, witnesses and the judge.

“I have no doubt these comments were proper,” in relation to the case being tried, Judge Nolan said.

Mr FitzPatrick’s charges include 21 of making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors and six of furnishing false information from 2002 to 2007. The trial will begin on October 5th.

The use of Irish language in Northern Ireland differs from the Republic

   

Linda Irvine, wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, pictured in east Belfast as she helps bring the Irish Language to the community

People in the Republic learn Irish “to pass exams” but in Northern Ireland they are motivated by the love of it, an official study has found.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said the stark cross border differences also showed that people who are passionate about their native tongue for reasons of identity are more likely to use it.

The state think-tank warned Irish will not flourish unless ways are found to encourage people to learn it and use it in everyday life.

Using data from a number of studies the ESRI reported that in the Republic 30% of people who learned the language for “its own sake” used it every week, compared to 19% who learned it for another reason.

ESRI author Dr Merike Darmody said research suggested that activists need to be encouraged in order to bring Irish into everyday mainstream use.

“People in the Republic seem to have a much more pragmatic attitude. They say we need it to pass exams,” she said.

“Many people who are positive about the language don’t actively speak it – that’s similar to the experience seen in Wales.

“Particularly in Northern Ireland, considering that it was much more prevalent – you learn the language for it’s own sake so it shows that issues around identity and national identity are more prevalent.”

The ESRI said about half of those who learned Irish in school in the Republic did so to pass exams while almost nine out of 10 people surveyed in Northern Ireland said they wanted to know and have Irish and were drawn to it for reasons of identity.

It said that while school children in the Republic often have a bad attitude towards the language their parents feel more positive about it but it does not translate into significant use.

Vodafone ordered to tell Irish customers how to cancel their contracts

  

Mobile giant Vodafone has been ordered to tell Irish customers how they can cancel their contracts.

A state watchdog said the telecoms company was not complying with consumer protection legislation.

In an enforcement order, Vodafone was told to change its website to make sure customers are fully advised on their legal rights to drop their subscription before they make a purchase.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission said Vodafone “was not complying with consumer law” over the information that should be provided to customers.

Anyone who bought goods or services from the company online over the last year can get details on how to cancel.

Isolde Goggin, chairwoman of the commission, said: “Customers of Vodafone will in the future be given the correct information as required by law.

“In addition, customers who bought goods or services online from Vodafone in the past 12 months and who now wish to cancel their contract can find details of how to do so in the customer notices section of the Vodafone website.”

Earlier this year, compliance notices were issued to eircom, eMobile, Meteor, Three and UPC over consumer protection laws.

UPDATE 3.55pm: Vodafone Ireland have released the following statement on the matter:

Vodafone acknowledges the findings of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) in relation to customers purchasing products and services through its online sales channel.

The CCPC asked Vodafone to clarify a customer’s rights to cancel a contract pursuant to the European Union (Consumer Information, Cancellation and Other Rights) Regulations 2013 (the ‘Consumer Information Regulations’) and specifically to clarify their rights to a fourteen day “cooling off period” and the cancellation procedure to be used in doing so.

Vodafone has now clarified this information on its website for customers who have purchased a product/service online through their e-shop, to ensure that the customer’s cancellation rights are clearly outlined and easy to understand.

Vodafone apologises to its online customers in relation to this matter. It has worked with the CCPC in relation to this issue and is confident that these matters have been fully dealt with and that the company’s e-shop is now compliant with these requirements set out by the CCPC.

Flesh-eating ‘piranhas’ found in south west coast of Irish waters

 

Piranha have been discovered prowling off the south-west coast

The tiny sea crustaceans – which are the same size as just three grains of salt – have been discovered prowling off the south-west coast

The world’s smallest flesh-eating piranha-like creature is lurking in the sea off the Irish coast.

And don’t be fooled by its tiny 3mm length – the deep-sea creature can take on whales and Great White sharks and strip the flesh from dead pigs and other livestock within hours.

The tiny sea crustaceans – which are the same size as just three grains of salt – have been discovered prowling off the south-west coast.

Called amphipods and incredibly tiny, they are like mini-piranha because they have teeth sharp enough to tear through the carcasses of dead whales and sharks which sink to the ocean bed.

A team of scientists from Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre also revealed the miniature sea beasties have been known to devour pig corpses within a few hours.

Billions of the terrifying crustaceans live in depths of down to 4,500m in the North Atlantic and hunt in huge shoals to eat the remains of dead marine animals, from whales to seabirds.

NOC scientists set out to catch them using a trap filled with mackerel bait, and were shocked to discover they snared 40,000 of the creatures, which have since been named after late biologist Roger Bamber.

Lead author Dr Tammy Horton revealed: “Amphipods are incredibly diverse and adaptable – there are currently around 10,000 known species.

“They live in all marine environments, from shallow waters to the oceans deepest trenches, on land and in fresh water.

“I gave the species name ‘lemarete’ to one of the amphipods because it translates from Greek to ‘bold and excellent’, which is the motto on Roger Bamber’s coat of arms.

“Roger always put a lot of thought into the names he gave species, such as the tanaid species he named after a creature in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.”

The research forms part of the NOCs ongoing deep-sea study, linking with the oil and gas industry on how their work affects the environment.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 2nd June 2015

An October trial for ex-bank chairman Sean Fitzpatrick

  

Sean Fitzpatrick, the former chairman and one-time chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank. 

The trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank over alleged failures to disclose bank loans will not take place until later in the year.

Evidence against Sean FitzPatrick, 66, of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow was due to start seven weeks ago but the case has been dogged by legal argument since mid-April.

The ex-banker has pleaded not guilty to 27 offences under the Companies Act, 1990 including 21 counts of making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors Ernst and Young and six charges of furnishing false information.

At the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Mary Ellen Ring discharged the jury of six women and five men.

The case is due back before the court in October when a new jury is expected to be sworn in.

Judge Ring told the jury the courts system was working with procedures that were out of date.

“It is unfortunate as I said that in the 21st century we have not come up with a way of dealing with procedures,” she said.

But she thanked them for their service and said the issues raised during legal argument could not have been aired without them being empanelled.

“It’s clearly a trial that’s not going to last an estimated eight weeks,” she said.

“It’s hard to believe but by being empanelled on April 14 you have played a vital role. What has transpired could only have transpired when a jury was empanelled.”

The judge added: “It may seem to you an odd way to run a business or run a procedure, you may not be alone.”

The case will be back before the court on October 5.

Mr FitzPatrick was chief executive of Anglo from 1986 to January 2005 when he took up the role of chairman until his resignation in 2008.

Following prolonged legal argument in the trial the foreman of the jury was excused last week while a second juror revealed the delays were interfering with his ability to get a job.

Two weeks before that the jury was told that an illness was causing a delay in proceedings.

Jurors had initially been told at the outset that the trial would last eight weeks.

Some 80% of Ireland’s hotels expect a rise in business for 2015

    

Global travel trends on the rise and Irish tourism has a spring in its step again, says Fáilte Ireland

Eight out of 10 hotels expect an increase in business this year — and tourism companies’ sentiment is at its highest since the downturn began.

According to Fáilte Ireland’s barometer, tourism businesses are thriving, with more than three quarters (77%) expecting growth for the coming year.

The barometer is a survey of businesses from hotels and B&Bs and restaurants to tourist attractions. It seeks to gauge tourism performance for the year to date and prospects for the year ahead.

The majority of paid serviced accommodation providers (60%) are reporting business is up this year to date compared to the same period in 2014 rising to two thirds (66%) among hoteliers.

Almost seven out of 10 paid accommodation providers said they expected both domestic and overseas markets to generate growth in the coming season.

For the majority of such businesses, Britain (68%) and North America (67%) in particular are expected to deliver growth. The optimism for the latter two markets seems to be driven by the anticipation that exchange rates will remain favourable — mentioned by 75% of businesses.

Other factors influencing an optimistic outlook for the year ahead include the impact of repeat visitors (indicated by 72% of respondents), businesses’ own marketing efforts (54%) and a strengthening domestic economy (53%) which are also expected to help bolster performance for the majority of businesses.

With regard to Ireland’s value for money, the survey picked up a strong belief among respondents that the country’s reputation as a destination is improving overseas and that visitors and potential visitors consider Ireland to provide better value for money than it did in previous years.

This mirrors the very positive value for money ratings in recent visitor surveys.

Fáilte’s recent Ireland Visitor Attitudes Survey pointed out satisfaction levels among visitors continues to improve with 54% of tourists saying they found good or very good value for money here — up from 51% in 2014.

While last year only 6% of visitors found value for money to be poor or very poor, in 2007 this figure was 41%. When asked about their overall opinion of an Irish holiday, 55% of respondents said their trip met all expectations, while a further 44% said their holiday exceeded all expectations.

Commenting on the barometer results, the CEO of Fáilte Ireland, Shaun Quinn, said the tourism sector was going “from strength to strength” thanks to initiatives such as the lower Vat rate for the sector.

“With global travel trends on the rise, some favourable currency exchange rates and significant new Fáilte Ireland initiatives, such as the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East, tourism has a spring in its step again.

“That’s good for the economy and for jobs — particularly in those many rural regions where tourism is one of the main economic drivers,” he said.

Here’s how to get rid of a phobia in three days?

   

Facing your fears can be an effective way of overcoming them.

Taking your children to the park to feed the ducks is a normal and pleasurable activity for most parents. But for Kelly Phillips, a mother of two, it posed a terrifying challenge. Kelly, 31, has had a crippling fear of birds since childhood. Even seeing a pigeon perched on the roof or flying high above her would throw her into a blind panic. The disorder, called ornithophobia, had blighted her life. She relied on her parents and husband for help if ever she encountered a bird, and struggled to run errands or travel alone. Even a leisurely walk around her home town of Cambridge would be fraught with anxiety.

Kelly is one of 60 people suffering from severe phobias who feature in a new television series, Fright Club. Along with fellow psychologist and therapist Dr Becky Spelman, I had only three days to help them confront their fears with some extreme treatments that would make most of us quake. Among them was deep-sea fishing to treat a fear of water, lying in coffins to treat a fear of confined spaces and, for Kelly, handling a live turkey. As with so many of the others I met, she showed phenomenal courage.

Phobias affect some 10 million people in the UK, from all ages and walks of life. They are distressing disorders that can restrict life to an unimaginable degree: one agoraphobic woman I treated several years ago had not left the house for 23 years, for fear something terrible might happen. In her fifties she was still getting relatives to do her shopping, or ordering goods online. (It’s a sad fact that well-meaning family and friends can collude with the sufferer and make matters worse, while the internet has not helped those with a fear of public spaces.)

But what lies behind such fears? People with phobias have a pure, irrational terror of an object or situation and often “catastrophise”, or fixate on the worst case scenario. So people afraid of spiders (arachnophobes) may fear they will be lethally poisoned by a bite, while those with claustrophobia imagine that if they get in a lift it will break and they will be left to die. This fear then provokes physical symptoms such as shallow, rapid breathing, sweating, palpitations and a feeling of being disconnected from one’s environment. It doesn’t take much to bring these on: Kelly had a full-blown panic attack the evening she joined the programme, before filming had even started.

Such reactions are part of the “fight or flight” response, which can be useful for life and death situations, such as if there is a lion nearby. In the case of phobias, however, the evolutionary response has become inappropriate. But it’s no use telling people to think more rationally: they already know they are being irrational.

It wasn’t clear what had triggered Kelly’s ornithophobia. It might well have been a reaction to a bird flying at her as a child, as traumatic incidents in childhood can spark such fears. Overly anxious parents giving off signals that certain objects or situations are dangerous can also be responsible. In other cases, the sufferer projects their general anxiety on to a specific phobia, meaning they may overcome one fear, only for it to be replaced by another. There is also some evidence genetic factors play a part.

Tackling such conditions is a gradual process, but our challenge was to do so in just three days. In the first film, Kelly and others with ornithophobia are exposed to their fear object – birds – in small, incremental steps; this is called the exposure ladder and is an effective treatment for many phobias.

So first our subjects went to a park to feed the birds. Even coming into contact with bird food left quite a few in tears and threatening to walk off, but one or two in the group managed to help the others through it. The next step was visiting an aviary, where each had to handle a dove. (The birds were used for weddings, so were quite tame.) They then had to catch and weigh turkeys on a farm – no mean feat, for seeing hundreds of these ugly birds advance towards you in a field would be tough for anyone.

At the same time, the sufferers were taught to deal with their anxiety symptoms by focusing on breathing and relaxation, and also through “mindfulness” – a buzzword these days, but in fact a technique that has been used by therapists for many years. Mindfulness distracts people from their negative thoughts by focusing on something in the here and now; it could be the wallpaper, or even your own feet.

On the third and final day, the group had to handle birds of prey – falcons, hawks, owls and vultures. For this, they were given some training by experts. Even to look at the sharp claws and beaks of these birds can be terrifying, but it was an important exercise, as phobics tend to generalise, believing all birds – or all dogs or all spiders – are dangerous. Kelly chose a small South African owl that looked cute and was flightless. It hopped on to her head, from where she had to pull it on to her hand.

Did these extreme exposures help? Actually, yes. We revisited those who took part in the programme and all reported having overcome their fears. One man, Rick, who had a terrific fear of birds, is due to get married in a few months and has booked the owl he handled to carry the wedding ring.

Another programme in the series deals with fear of heights (acrophobia), featuring sufferers such as Peter, who couldn’t even scale the first rung of a ladder to change a light bulb, never mind take a flight. He’d been afflicted by this phobia since suffering a panic attack on the Blackpool Tower aged six or seven. Now in his fifties, he has been on a major journey: after starting by looking at pictures of high buildings, he managed to climb a stepladder, ascend scaffolding, and finally make it to the top ledge of the UK’s tallest sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London’s Olympic Park. At the weekend, he and another ex-sufferer, Sarah, abseiled down the side of the Orbit for charity.

So yes, you can cure a phobia in three days, though you do need to follow up with regular exposure and reinforcement, rather than retreat. But in real life, of course, you wouldn’t undergo such an intensive course or such extreme exposure. Phobias are usually treated by cognitive behavioural therapy, generally in between six and 12 one?hour sessions. In these, the sufferer is gradually exposed to the object or situation they fear, with steps along the way repeated if necessary. Exposure can be done with the therapist if practical, or otherwise with a friend, and the client then discusses their reaction in the next therapy session.

As for Kelly, she is a changed woman. Despite some minor panic attacks, she has learnt to handle her anxiety and has come through the experience with flying colours. Only the other day, she sent us a fabulous photograph of herself with her two children – a happy family shot of them feeding the ducks in the park.

Richard Reid’s forthcoming book on phobias is to be published by Random House early next year.

Here are five phobias and how to overcome them:

These exercises can be done with support from a friend or relative and eventually, alone. Every time you think you have reached your limit, go beyond it: people with phobias often underestimate what they can achieve.

  • • Fear of heights (acrophobia): Begin by standing on the first rung of a ladder, gradually working your way up. Next, look out of the window from the second storey of a house. Then go to a tall building and look at it from the ground, before taking the elevator and looking out of the top floor window.
  • Fear of spiders (arachnophobia): Begin by looking at pictures of spiders, then films of moving spiders, then look at a spider inside a jar. Try holding a small spider in your hand, then try a variety of sizes.
  • Fear of flying: Many people try to overcome this with alcohol or tranquillisers, but that means they never get to grips with the fear. Programmes to combat it, which are offered by several airlines, may start with watching a film of flights, getting comfortable with being at an airport and trying a shorter flight.
  • Fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia): Try going up one floor in an elevator with a friend, then go it alone. Or try taking the Tube, one stop at a time.
  • Fear of being in public spaces (agoraphobia): Look out of the window before stepping outside your front door. Next, go to the end of the street with a friend, before going to a local shop. Then go to the town centre.

Alzheimer’s-Linked Brain Proteins Tied to Poor Sleep in Study

     

Poor sleep in old age may be linked to the brain-clogging plaques thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

“Sleep appears to be a missing piece in the Alzheimer’s puzzle, and enhancing sleep may lessen the cognitive burden that Alzheimer’s disease imparts,” said study author Bryce Mander, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s not clear how sleep and memory affect — or are affected by — the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques, believed to interfere with mental functioning. Still, the study findings hint at a major message regarding Alzheimer’s, said Mander, who works at the university’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory.

For the new study, Mander and colleagues recruited 26 mentally healthy adults ages 70 to 79. They underwent brain imaging to assess plaque buildup, and were asked to remember pairs of words before and after a night’s sleep. Overnight, researchers measured their brain waves, and the next day they conducted MRI scans during the memory testing.

Those patients with the highest levels of amyloid plaques in one part of the brain — the medial prefrontal cortex — had lighter sleep and higher levels of memory problems, the researchers found.

“It is not so much that memory after sleep is important, but that sleep after initial learning is important to help us retain memory for a longer period of time,” Mander said.

The study suggests — but does not prove — that insufficient deep sleep contributes to “a reduced ability to cement memories in the brain over the long-term, resulting in greater memory loss,” he noted.

However, he added, it’s not known for sure “whether this link between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease can explain memory loss in older adults” with higher levels of the plaques.

In particular, disrupted sleep can lead to impairment of “episodic memory,” which helps people remember events, Mander said.

“For example, what we had for breakfast last Tuesday and who we were with, and what that person’s name is. This is a critical form of memory that helps us navigate our daily lives. Without it, we quickly become lost, and our interaction with our world disjointed,” Mander explained.

Sleep disorders are frequently reported in Alzheimer’s patients, noted one expert.

Dr. Ricardo Osorio, research assistant professor of psychiatry with the Center for Brain Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said sleep disorders “have a significant impact on caregivers and are a common cause for early institutionalization.”

In recent years, Osorio said, research has suggested a connection between sleep problems in early life and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

But which comes first, poor sleep or accumulation of the brain plaques? Mander thinks they contribute to each other, creating a “vicious cycle” that leads toward Alzheimer’s disease.

Osorio said the study does point to this possibility.

Is it possible that elderly people don’t sleep as well as younger people, boosting their risk of Alzheimer’s? Maybe not. Osorio said that “in healthy elderly individuals, the rate of normal sleep is quite high.”

But poorer sleep throughout life appears to boost the risk of Alzheimer’s, he said, and better sleep lowers the risk.

“Insomnia has been shown to promote cognitive decline in the elderly, and sleep apnea both increases the risk for developing Alzheimer’s and reduces the age of onset of Alzheimer’s,” Orsio said. (Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated breathing disruptions.)

In the big picture, both experts agreed, sleep matters, and better sleep can likely help on the Alzheimer’s front.

Five pairs of white-tailed eagles in four locations hatch chicks successfully 

      

Left a white-tailed eagle chick in a nest in Co Clare.

The programme to re-introduce white-tailed eagles inIreland has been given a boost following the successful hatching of five chicks.

Eight pairs of eagles nested and laid eggs with five of these hatching chicks in counties Cork, Clare, Kerry and Galway. Three other pairs proved unsuccessful in Kerry.

One hundred young white-tailed eagles were released between 2007 and 2011 in Killarney National Park, Co Kerry following the re-introduction of the endangered species from Norway.

Twenty-nine of these have been found dead, with 13 believed to have been poisoned.

White-tailed eagles can live for 25 to 30 years and generally mate for life, with adult pairs remaining within their home range throughout the year.

Golden Eagle Trust project manager, DrAllan Mee, welcomed the arrival of the chicks but warned that poisoning remains the biggest threat to the endangered species.

Poisoning mainly results from farmers leaving traps for foxes and crows, especially during the lambing season, he said.

Dr Mee warned the public to only observe the eagle nests from a distance.

“We are very conscious of the risk of disturbing the birds especially at this stage of nesting. Disturbance could result in the birds leaving the small chicks unguarded for a period during which they could be predated or be chilled or the birds could desert the site,” he said.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, described the birth of the eagles as a “positive sign” for the recovery of the species.

“The white tailed eagle is an iconic bird, which is very popular in local communities and of course attracts interest from visitors,” she said.

The chicks will remain in their nests for the first 11-12 weeks following the hatch when they will then attempt their first flight.

News Ireland daily BLOG Saturday

Saturday 2nd March 2013

Sean FitzPatrick is to go on trial for under-declaring loans by €139m

    

Former Anglo Irish chairman and chief executive Sean FitzPatrick has been returned for trial accused of hiding the true value of multi-million euro loans from auditors of the toxic bank.

Boxes of evidence were served by a fraud squad detective in a Dublin court yesterday morning as Mr FitzPatrick was sent forward for trial on 12 counts of breaking company law.

Now bankrupt, he has not yet indicated how he will plead. He will remain on bail, but was told he cannot leave the country unless he gives 48 hours’ notice to gardai.

Mr FitzPatrick, who will be tried on indictment before a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, will face his next hearing on March 22, Judge Patricia McNamara ordered. It is likely that it will be several months before the trial gets under way.

The former banker was charged last December 21 at Dublin District Court with 12 counts in connection with financial irregularities at Anglo over a six-year period.

Misleading: Mr FitzPatrick, of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, stepped down in December 2008 and left with a €3m pension pot. Anglo was subsequently nationalised and rebranded the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), with its collapse costing Irish taxpayers around €30bn.

In this set of proceedings, Mr FitzPatrick is accused of committing 12 offences contrary to the Companies Act.

He faces six counts stating that as an officer of the bank he knowingly or recklessly made false, misleading or deceptive statements to Anglo’s auditors, Ernst & Young, between 2002 and 2007 by under-declaring the balance on loans by at least €139m.

He also faces six more charges for failing to disclose an arrangement between Anglo and Irish Nationwide under which the building society loaned him money between 2002 and 2007.

If convicted, he could face fines of up to €12,697 and/or a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison for each offence.

The 64-year-old had replied “no comment” to each count when he was charged in December, when he was remanded on bail to appear again yesterday at Dublin District Court where the case was listed for the State to serve him with a book of evidence – it turned out to be boxes of evidence.

IP-TSB raises €400m in deal secured against its UK portfolio

   

State-owned Permanent TSB (PTSB) borrowed €400m this week, raising the cash in a deal secured against a share of its stock of UK mortgages.

Permanent TSB is the last of the bailed-out banks that is still not borrowing on the bond markets, but the recent deal shows it can raise cash from private deals where UK mortgage assets are pledged as security.

The latest deal brings to €1bn the amount of new debt raised by the bank so far this year. The bank has raised €3.6bn this year when refinancing of some debt is included.

Financial details, including the cost of the new borrowing have not been revealed, but the banks says the debt is being raised at market rates.

Last week ratings agency Moody’s downgraded PTSB, citing “uncertainty and risks”, to B3 from B1.

Losses

PTSB became the last and smallest of the Irish-owned bank to survive the banking crisis after the EU and IMF approved the Government’s decision not to shut it down last year.

Earlier this year the bank announced its intention to dramatically increase lending including for home loans in 2013 for the first time since the property crash.

Meanwhile, the UK-based Lloyds Banking Group said it set aside £1.2bn (€1.4bn) to cover loan losses in Ireland last year, just a third of the amount set aside in 2011.

The loans are mainly a legacy of Lloyds’ takeover of Bank of Scotland (Ireland), which no longer does business here but was a major lender during the property bubble.

Lloyds said the pace of new impairments on Irish loans has slowed to 1.6pc in 2012 from 4.1pc a year earlier.

The bank has a reputation for dealing with its Irish losses.

Last year it sold €1.8bn of Irish property loans for just €149m to US investor Apollo Global Management.

IRELAND’S MANUFACTURING GROWTH INCREASES IN FEBRUARY

      

Growth in the country’s manufacturing activity recovered from a nine-month low in February, extending the expansion in the sector to 12 months even as most of the Eurozone continues to contract, a survey showed yesterday.

The economy returned to growth in 2011, while the slump seen elsewhere in the Eurozone likely saw the export-led expansion slow to just 0.9% last year.

In February, the NCB Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 51.5 from 50.3 in January, back to the level of growth seen at the end of last year, and well above the 50 line that divides expansion from contraction.

According to World Bank figures, manufacturing contributes around one quarter of Ireland’s gross domestic product.

The growth here stands in stark contrast to the contraction in factory activity for the eurozone as a whole, as seen in flash PMI data.

February’s rise was driven by a return to growth in new orders, which had slipped into negative territory for the first time in a year in January, while new export orders also climbed, albeit marginally, for a fifth successive month.

The positive momentum also filtered through to the number of new jobs in the sector, with the subindex measuring employment up to 52.7 from 49.6 in January, when it contacted for the first time in 11 months.

“Encouragingly, the improvement was partly attributed to expectations of higher production requirements over the coming months,” Philip O’Sullivan, chief economist at NCB Stockbrokers, said of the bump in employment.

“In all, with the headline PMI reading pointing to a 12th successive month of growth for the Irish manufacturing sector, and the rate of expansion improving from the nine-month low in January, this is a solid outturn.”

Data released this week showed the unemployment rate here fell to 14.2% in the fourth quarter of last year, a more than two-year low.

Plans for reducing the Government debt set to peak above 120% of gross domestic product this year depend on the domestic side of the economy improving from next year and GDP growth accelerating to above 2% in 2015.

The five most deadly parasites that affect 200,000 people worldwide

        

We’ll be doing something special on this week’s Future-proof – some very special guests will be joining us to discuss this week’s announcement of the first planned manned mission to Mars – but we’ll also be talking parasites with Phillip Newmark from the University of Illinois. Phillip’s group has just published a paper on Schistosoma mansoni, the blood fluke.

These parasites affect over 200 million people worldwide… they also ave incredible regenerative properties. Jonathan will be speaking to Phillip about the stem cells that make this possible and the lifecycle of these strange parasites. In the meantime, here are five of the weirdest parasites we could find:

The Horsehair Worm:

Fortunately the Horsehair Worm only attacks insects. It infiltrates its host through contaminated water and will then fester its way through the body cavity. After it had grown to a foot long, it will go in search of a mate. It does this by confusing the host into thinking that it’s thirsty, before drowning it in the nearest contaminated water source it can find before escaping through its anus.

The Guinea Worm:

As thick as a noodle and almost one metre long. Its eggs can be found in contaminated water and when ingested, travels under the skin and resurfaces through a blister which can be excruciating for the host. It must be slowly teased out over a number of weeks.

The Entomophthora Fungus:

Another parasite that attacks the brain. This fungus can be found in the common housefly and is consumed through the ingestion of contaminated food. It takes residence in the fly and begins to eat it alive from the inside for almost a week. Just before it is about to die, it tricks the host by making it fly to a height where it explodes and trickles down onto a new one.

The Botfly:

Infested within the mosquito, it gets passed onto the human host as a tiny maggot and burrows itself through the skin. It remains there and feeds off muscle tissue for eight weeks before making its escape through the same hole.

Schistosomes:

These parasitic flukes live in the bloodstream of humans and mainly children. Originally they develop in urine and faeces and infect snails. Once they have grown, they emerge and attack a human host by burying under the skin. It is common in developing countries where there is poor sanitation and currently infects over 200 million people.

Fishing is pushing sharks closer to extinction

A new study estimates that commercial fishing kills 100 million sharks annually

Commercial fishing kills roughly 100 million sharks a year, a toll that is pushing many of species of the fish closer to extinction, according to a study published Friday in the journal

The new estimate by Canadian and American researchers — the most comprehensive analysis yet of global shark mortality — is substantially higher than numbers found in previous studies, in part because it takes into account the impact of illegal catches and discarded sharks. It comes as international negotiators are about to gather in Bangkok starting Sunday to debate whether to impose new trade restrictions on several imperiled shark species.Sharks are being fished at an average rate that is 30 to 60 percent higher than they can sustain, the scientists conclude, noting that the animals take years to sexually mature and produce their small litters. Sharks are primarily targeted for their fins, which are used in the Asian delicacy shark’s fin soup, though they are also caught accidentally by vessels seeking tuna, swordfish and other species.

The analysis, based on a survey of roughly 100 papers, suggests that despite several efforts to curb shark finning worldwide, the total number of shark deaths has declined only slightly between 2000 to 2010, from 100 million to 97 million.

“It is not sustainable,” said Dalhousie University biology professor Boris Worm, the paper’s lead author, noting that sharks have roamed the seas for more than 400 million years. “Imagine we still had 500 species of dinosaurs around — every form and color from tiny critters to huge,whalelike creatures. Once they were everywhere, but then we started to chop off their tails to make soup from it, and now they are going extinct — not because a meteorite hit the planet, but because we ate their tails.” Elizabeth Wilson, manager of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group, said she hoped delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) over the next two weeks would act on the findings and restrict the trade of oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three types of hammerhead sharks. “The number of sharks being killed is too high,” Wilson said. “There’s an opportunity at CITES to do something to help shark species.”