Tag Archives: Smoking

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 5th January 2017.

“The Government winter plan” as some extra 60 beds to open in attempt to tackle HSE trolley crisis

Staff needed to cover extra work, while some patients taken to private hospitals

Image result for The Government winter plan as some extra 60 beds to open in attempt to tackle HSE trolley crisis   Image result for The Government winter plan as some extra 60 beds to open in attempt to tackle HSE trolley crisis

The latest measures are an expansion of the previously announced €40 million “winter plan” but no extra funding has been allocated from the Government.

Any extra funding will have to be found from existing HSE resources.

Some extra beds are being opened immediately as Minister for Health Simon Harris and the Health Service Executive attempt to tackle the latest winter trolley crisis in hospital emergency departments.

An additional 60 beds are being made available immediately to 10 acute hospitals, with a further 63 coming onstream in the weeks ahead.

Other measures, such as a discharge lounge in Waterford Hospital, as well as identifying private hospitals that can take in public patients, such as in Kilkenny, Mullingar and Cork, were included in a list of measures from the HSE to tackle the crisis following a meeting with Mr Harris last night.

Some public patients have already been taken into private hospitals, with a number in private care in Cork last night.

Mr Harris and the HSE have been under pressure since the number of people on hospital trolleys peaked at a record 612 on Tuesday. The numbers on trolleys remained at 578 early yesterday, with the HSE saying a flu outbreak was partly to blame.

It is unclear if the latest announcement will have a significant effect on the hospital overcrowding crisis, as extra staff will also have to found to man whatever new beds come onstream.

The latest measures are an expansion of the previously announced €40 million “winter plan” but no extra funding has been allocated from the Government. Any extra funding will have to be found from existing HSE resources.

Step-down beds

The 60 “transitional care beds” or step-down beds that are to be made available immediately to hospitals in Galway, Clonmel, Wexford, Drogheda, as well as St Vincent’s, St James’s, Tallaght, the Mater, Connolly and Beaumont in Dublin are for those who would otherwise be in an acute bed while their nursing home applications are being finalised.

Another 63 acute beds will be available in the weeks ahead, with 28 in Galway University Hospital, 15 in the Mater, eight in Kilkenny and 12 in Tullamore. Hospital groups and community healthcare organisations will also work with nursing homes in their local areas to manage outbreaks of the flu.

Additional diagnostic services, such as ultrasound and X-ray, will be made immediately available to GPs in Wexford, Portlaoise, Waterford, Limerick and Letterkenny.

Mr Harris, who said yesterday he was sorry for patients and what they had to put up with at present, said last night he is “pleased the HSE has come back with the additional measures which I sought on Tuesday”, adding that he now expects the “HSE to get with these measures”.

Mr Harris will attend a meeting of the Emergency Department taskforce on Friday morning.

Apollo House activists urge Nama to house homeless

Demonstrators to meet Simon Coveney after launching emergency housing plan

Image result for Apollo House activists urge Nama to house the homeless  Image result for Apollo House activists urge Nama to house the homeless  Image result for Apollo House activists urge Nama to house the homeless

Organisers of the Apollo House occupation in Dublin say they will not vacate the building unless property controlled by Nama is used to house the homeless. The group has released a four-page emergency housing plan and it wants it’s implemented.

Organisers of the Apollo House occupation in Dublin have said they will not vacate the building unless property owned by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) is used to house the homeless.

The occupiers of the Apollo House office building, which is being used to house up to 40 homeless people, have been told by the High Court to vacate the building by midday on January 11th.

Brendan Ogle of the Unite trade union, who is one of the organisers of the Home Sweet Home campaign, said a delegation would meet Minister for Housing Simon Coveney on Friday afternoon, having been invited by the Minister.

Asked what might happen that would cause the campaigners to vacate the previously empty office block, he said the Government could “with the stroke of a pen” instruct Nama to provide housing to suitable homeless people staying in Apollo House and other emergency accommodation.

However Nama chairman Frank Daly told an Oireachtas committee last year that it could not offer more homes for social housing than it already has because the rest of the portfolio is occupied.

To have offered more “would have simply displaced one group of people by giving their homes to another group,” he said. “It would have made no sense.”

Offers of commercial property made some years ago by Nama to housing agencies were turned down as they were not deemed suitable for housing.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Ogle said the political leaders of Germany, the UK and France did not have the advantage the State had when it came to solving homelessness as “they don’t have Nama”.

He said that when considering the deadline set by the courts the organisers of the campaign would be taking into account the talks with the Minister, legal considerations and the use of public pressure to support the Home Sweet Home campaign.

A Ministerial instruction

Section 14 of the act that established Nama allows for the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, to instruct the agency to provide property under its control for the housing of homeless people, Mr Ogle said.

“We want the Minister to use Nama to address the homelessness emergency,” he told a press conference at the Unite offices in Dublin at which the group released a four-page emergency housing plan it wants implemented.

Mr Ogle said he wanted to praise the artists who had come forward to support the Home Sweet Home campaign and said they had fulfilled a vital role in raising awareness about the homelessness issue. The Apollo House occupation was “totemic” rather than a solution to the problem.

He said the group was not advocating further occupations. He also said the group, which has raised about €170,000, would not be registering as a charity but would be publishing financial accounts.

David Gibney of Mandate trade union, said the plan being launched for resolving homelessness was an alternative to the “neoliberal, ideology-driven” plan of the Government, which aimed to increase the supply of houses by driving up prices.

Film-maker Terence McMahon said he had been homeless for a year and a half years and had to deal with the banks in relation to his family home. “I’ve seen the kind of scum they are,” he said.

Fire insurance on Apollo House runs out on January 11th, and public liability insurance five days’ later.

Figures from Nama show that it identified 6,900 residential properties associated with it debtors over the past number of years that might be suitable for social housing, 2,748 of which have since been delivered to housing bodies.

The bulk of the rest were deemed unsuitable by the housing agencies because of location, the fact that they would not fit with plans for mixed housing, or because they did not have the number of bedrooms required.

Most of these properties have since been sold or let, and the number of finished properties vacant is understood to be close to zero.

The State-owned agency has spent €200 million by way of a purposely-established vehicle, National Asset Residential Property Services Ltd, to speed up the process of providing social housing to housing agencies. It has also spent more than €100 million finishing off properties that housing agencies wanted to buy or lease from Nama debtors.

Last year the Nama chairman, Frank Daly, told an Oireachtas committee that the bulk of the houses that secure its loans are occupied.

“So, there is really no hidden supply of houses that NAMA is keeping from the market,” he said. “And those that are not occupied are for sale to people who want to live in them or people who want to rent them to tenants.”

Mr Daly said the only way Nama could have increased the number of homes it was offering to local authorities, was by moving out the tenants that were in them.

And meanwhile in Sligo: –

The homeless in Sligo and couch surfing hides the true extent of the crisis

Over 1,000 on housing list while numbers contacting Focus Ireland up 50%.

Image result for The homeless in Sligo and couch surfing hides the true extent of the crisis  Image result for The homeless in Sligo and couch surfing hides the true extent of the crisis  Some of the 1,000 empty houses in the Borough (not Nama stock). Photo:SligoToday.ie

Mary Jameson left pic. says: “Five years ago banks were not repossessing homes. We never had to deal with people in that category but that has all changed now”

Two men recently spent a night in the trolley bay at Sligo’s Tesco store.

It is not clear why they ended up taking shelter there but local councillor Gino O’Boyle (People Before Profit) said it was not the first-time people had been forced by circumstances to sleep beside the stacked trollies.

“It is cramped but at least it is dry,” he said.

Homelessness in the State’s major urban centres repeatedly made the news in 2016 but the problem is not confined to Dublin and Cork.

The numbers accessing Focus Ireland’s services in Sligo jumped by 50% last year, with the majority (172 people) looking for advice or information on accommodation options.

The northwest Simon Community branch assisted 44 people in crisis situations in Sligo last year, most facing imminent eviction. No social housing has been built in Co Sligo since 2009/10 and there are more than 1,000 households on the county council’s housing list.

Mary Jameson, Focus Ireland project leader in Sligo, said couch surfing was a growing phenomenon in the county.

Hidden homeless couch surfing?

“It is definitely getting worse. There are ‘hidden homeless’ out there, people who are couch surfing, staying temporarily with different relatives. That puts stresses on a family,” she said.

Ms Jameson estimated that two or three homeless people regularly slept on the streets of Sligo but said emergency beds were available for anyone in need.

However, Cllr O’Boyle believes that up to a dozen people, some with addiction issues, often sleep rough. Others may have shelter but are being traumatised by their living arrangements.

“One couple who between them have four children from previous relationships, are living in a two-bedroom house,” he said. “When all the kids are there, the couple sleep downstairs in the sitting room. If his children are with their mother, the couple get a bed.”

Cllr O’Boyle has advocated for a young woman with four children, two with special needs, who lost her home when her landlord returned from the US and wanted to move back in.

“She got a month’s notice and the council put her up in a hotel for three weeks which was hard going when the children had challenges.”

He said a Traveller family of 11 people, including nine children, was living in a caravan with no outlet for running water. “If you are a Traveller you have even more obstacles to overcome.”

Both Cllr O’Boyle and Ms Jameson believe a reluctance among landlords to accept tenants on Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is keeping people in substandard and unsuitable accommodation.

Chimney fires

“I am dealing with a family who have had three chimney fires in their rented house. Even when it’s freezing they can’t light the fire because the mother is afraid of a tragedy,” said Cllr O’Boyle . “The landlord won’t do anything as he says the rent they pay would not cover the costs”.

Focus Ireland has been operating in Sligo for 10 years.

“Five years ago banks were not repossessing homes. We never had to deal with people in that category but that has all changed,” said Ms Jameson, who says her clients include families opting to hand the keys to their homes back as well as those facing repossession.

Emma Dolan, head of client services with Simon in the area, said people were being forced to move to rural areas with poor infrastructure due to lack of accommodation in Sligo.

“If there is no public transport and you don’t have a car to bring your children to school or to get to work, that’s an issue but people have no choice,” she said.

Sligo County Council said the 1,045 households on the housing list included 120 who were availing of HAP, and 97 who had been approved for a transfer to alternative accommodation. The numbers availing of emergency beds in hostels or B&B accommodation in Sligo fluctuated between 20 and 30, it said.

The council said anyone who presented seeking emergency accommodation was being facilitated, but Cllr O’Boyle said some people with complex needs were not equipped to “present”.

“To be fair, the council does its best to accommodate people, but there are some with addiction issues and other problems,” he said.

Through his job as a bouncer in a late night venue in the town, Cllr O’Boyle said he got to know many of these people. Some stay in a car park in an unfinished apartment block in the town centre or sometimes they bed down in a vacant building not too far away where rats are an issue when the door is left open.

Sligo Social housing funding?

Sligo County Council received a €6.5 million allocation for social housing last January and plans to build 28 housing units on the Knappagh Road but it’s a lengthy process, with four approval stages to negotiate before construction can begin.

Those working with homeless families are frustrated by the delays.

Councillors were also infuriated last year by news that 95 local authority houses were boarded up, awaiting refurbishment, at a time when more than 1,000 households are waiting for a home. The council said 38 of these properties had since been refurbished and allocated and the remainder would be dealt with this year.

Focus Ireland has 14 apartments in Sligo town for single people and has accommodation for two families. “We are in the process of buying three houses,” said Ms Jameson, who is concerned for women who are forced to remain in dysfunctional relationships. “They have nowhere to go.”

Ms Dolan said women and children in refuges “are not counted but are part of the hidden homeless” problem.

“Rough sleeping should not be the indicator for homelessness. By the time that happens something is broken.”

Ms Dolan said house building was the key to ending the homeless crisis in Sligo as everywhere else in the State.

“We all need to work harder, and to work faster.”

HIQA says E-cigarettes are most likely to increase the number of smokers who quit cigarettes?

Irish report is the first in Europe to examine the cost effectiveness of e-cigarettes

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“While the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes have not yet been established, data from Healthy Ireland reveals that 29% of smokers currently use e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking.”

Greater uptake of e-cigarettes by smokers is likely to increase the number of people who successfully give up smoking, according to an independent analysis of health interventions.

A health technology assessment (HTA), published by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) on Thursday, is the first in Europe to examine the cost effectiveness of e-cigarettes. It was carried out on foot of a request from Dr Fenton Howell, the national tobacco control adviser at the Department of Health.

The agency’s director of health technology assessment, Dr Máirín Ryan said: “This HTA found a high level of uncertainty surrounding both the clinical and cost-effectiveness of e-cigarettes. While the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes have not yet been established, data from Healthy Ireland reveals that 29 per cent of smokers currently use e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking.

“Hiqa’s analysis shows that increased uptake of e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting would increase the number of people who successfully quit compared with the existing situation in Ireland, and would be cost-effective provided that the currently available evidence on their effectiveness is confirmed by further studies.”

The report found that the most cost-effective quit strategy is to maximise the combined use of the drug varenicline and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Varenicline is a prescription-only medication which helps people to stop smoking by reducing withdrawal symptoms and reducing the satisfaction that can be gained from smoking. NRT is available in a number of formulations, including skin patches and inhalers.

Cessation support cost?

Currently the overall cost of smoking cessation in Ireland is estimated to be over €40 million annually. This figure includes the cost to the HSE of providing smoking-cessation support though the HSE tobacco control programme, the costs of GP services and pharmacological treatment to those with a medical card, as well as out-of-pocket expenditure by smokers on various smoking-cessation products.

If e-cigarette use in Ireland rose to maximum levels currently reported in England (45 per cent), and smokers choose this option without seeking medical advice, the number of prescriptions required could fall by nearly 40%, the report notes.

“Given the increasing use of e-cigarettes it is of vital importance that their potential benefit and harms continue to be discussed with smokers to ensure informed decision-making in relation to their use,” it says.

The Irish Vape Vendors Association welcomed the publication of the health technology assessment, noting its acknowledgment of the wider public health potential of tobacco harm reduction through smokers switching to vaping.

“This report found that all publicly funded smoking cessation interventions can be considered clinically effective when compared with doing nothing, and cost-effective when compared with unassisted quitting,” Dr Ryan concluded.

Second-hand smoke?

The prevalence of smoking in the Republic is 22.7 per cent in people aged 15 years and over. The prevalence is higher in men (24.3 per cent) than women (21.2 per cent), and has been in decline since 2008.

Approximately 20 per cent of deaths each year can be attributed to smoking, including deaths due to second-hand smoke.

A public consultation seeking feedback on the report is open until February 3rd, 2017. Following this, a final report will be prepared for consideration by the Hiqa board, before being submitted to the Minister for Health and the HSE.

The report, along with details on how to take part in the consultation, is available at http://www.hiqa.iewww.hiqa.ie.

Why Vicky Kavanagh (A producer with TV3) now 26 years old is saying no to alcohol and how you can too

Vicky Kavanagh: ‘I went to work with a happy face but I was bottling up my emotions and not dealing with anything. I don’t know if I really wanted to end my life or just put it all on pause for a while.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill No to Image result for Why Vicky Kavanagh is saying no to alcohol and how you can too  Image result for Why Vicky Kavanagh is saying no to alcohol and how you can too

Vicky Kavanagh from Dublin finally realised her drinking was a problem after she passed out drunk in a field and was rescued by a friend.

She was only 17 then.

Now an assistant TV producer with TV3 who rarely drinks alcohol, Kavanagh recalls how she and her friends started drinking around the age of 14.

Alcopops and vodka were the drinks of choice and by the time they hit 16, she says, getting drunk was the norm.

“We’d drink in people’s houses or outside with my peers and I was doing it as well as people outside my immediate social group,” she says.

“Typically, you’d start off the evening with an alcopop if you had the money. Then you’d go on to a naggin of vodka or a shoulder of vodka, which is slightly bigger.

“We could end up throwing up because we were ill from it. Then, sometimes, if you had been sick you’d have a beer or even more alcopops.”

Now 26, the Killiney, Co Dublin, woman rarely drinks, and views her drinking past with dismay.

“I was so silly, so foolish. I woke up about alcohol when I was 17 after I passed out drunk in a field and was found by a friend.

“Anything could have happened to me! I realised that this was a problem and that I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”

Kavanagh cut out alcohol completely for six months after that incident, though she later allowed herself the odd drink. In college, she’d occasionally get “caught up” in the drink culture and drink heavily, but even this was rare, and since her early 20s, she says, she’s had no interest in drinking and rarely indulges in it.

“Now I might go out for a social drink twice a month with a friend. I don’t drink at home or after work.”

There is, Kavanagh believes, an epidemic of binge-drinking among people in their early teens. “They’re becoming normalised. It’s seen as a normal part of adolescence and it’s not.”

Her concern is substantiated by figures showing Ireland is one of the world’s top binge-drinking nations — 75% of all alcohol consumed in Ireland is drunk as part of binge-drinking sessions, according to the Irish Heart Foundation, which kicks off its ‘On The Dry’ campaign this month.

The organisation says 64% of people who registered for the campaign over the last two years were female.

“There is a pressure to get wasted,” says Kavanagh, who believes the pressures on young women to drink are enormous.

“Drinking or prinking (pre-drinking) is the norm now.

“It’s an absolutely necessity for a night out — alcohol is a social lubricant and there’s a lot of pressure for young women about how they look.

“You have a drink before going out to build up your confidence. You think it’s absolutely OK to get drunk because everyone else around you is doing the same thing,” she says, adding that in some cases, the pre-drinking session at a house can go on and on, and girls will end up not going out at all.

Kavanagh stopped because she no longer wanted to wake up with “a banging hangover” and is “focused on other things now”.

Giving up alcohol, according to the experts, means you sleep better, lose weight, eat less, your skin looks better because you’re more hydrated, plus you have more money in your pocket and a lower risk of getting cancer — so what’s not to like?

Yet it’s hard to get this message across in a culture where ‘laddish’ young women expect to match guys drink for drink while at the same time, the availability of sweet alcoholic drinks such as alcopops, designer gins, and ‘on-tap’ Prosecco makes it ever-easier for girls to drink to extremes.

“It’s hard to get through to people in their 20s and 30s about their consumption of alcohol because the habit has become so ingrained,” explains Kavanagh.

“Young people know it’s not good but they don’t care — it’s a problem for another day. If they put on weight they just drink alcohol that has fewer calories — for example, they might have a gin and tonic instead of wine, but that’s just vanity, it’s not being health-conscious.”

According to Alcohol Action Ireland, teenage girls here are drinking as much, and sometimes more, than their male counterparts.

The result: A rise in the number of young women presenting with serious alcohol-related conditions such as liver cirrhosis. In fact, although women now account for a quarter of all alcohol-related discharges, this rises to an eye-watering 47% among women aged 15 and under.

Maebh Leahy, chief executive of the Rutland Centre, which treats addiction of all kinds, says she is seeing an increasing number of women in their late 20s and early 30s with alcohol problems.

“Years ago it was nearly all men who came to us, but now it is close to 50/50,” says Leahy, adding that cultural changes have seen women gather for a chat over a bottle of wine instead of a teapot and a plate of cake as their mothers and grandmothers would have done.

“Women are drinking more alcohol, more often, and they’re drinking different kinds of alcohol — spirits and pints. Years ago you didn’t see women drinking pints as often.”

On top of that, she believes that the demands of modern life mean many women lead much busier lives, coping with demanding careers and young families — and it’s become the norm for many in their late 20s or early 30s to end a challenging day with a glass of wine or two or even three as a ‘reward’.

“This generation of women in their 20s and 30s have grown up with alcopops and easy access to alcohol,” says Leahy, adding that for this generation, drinking is normal and binge-drinking is a major issue. The habit is giving rise to serious problems.

“We’re seeing liver damage in women in their 20s and 30s that you wouldn’t expect to see until much later in life. It’s testament to the fact that we are drinking so much more now and that drinking starts so very young — we’ve had young women at 18, 19, or 20 coming in with full-blown alcohol addiction who may have started drinking as young as 13 or 14.”

Designer gin and on-tap Prosecco, as well as vodka, are seen as “sophisticated” drinks, says nutritionist Gaye Godkin — but over-consumption, she warns, comes with a significant health cost.

“They are drinking so much more than girls drank years ago,” she says, warning that one of the biggest, and possibly least known problems caused by alcohol is that it destroys a B vitamin called folate, which is equivalent to folic acid, linked with both fertility and brain health.

Godkin worries about the effect on fertility levels by the casual binge-drinking in this age group and younger.

“The ovaries are where all the eggs are. One has to consider what damage is being done to the equipment in the ovaries by this tsunami of alcohol that a lot of young girls and women assault their bodies with. These are long-term issues,” she says.

Alcohol also affects your blood sugar balance. “When you drink alcohol and go to bed, your body is literally up all night detoxing through your liver. This affects your sleep, and going to bed with a tankful of gin or vodka is not conducive to restorative sleep. Most young people are sleep deprived.”

Not only are many alcoholic drinks high in sugar, but alcohol also stimulates us to eat more.

“Alcohol dysregulates the appetite and satiety hormones, stimulating you to eat more — if you don’t hit the chipper that night, the next day you will eat the fry-up for breakfast or drink Lucozade to get your blood sugar up because alcohol lowers your blood sugars and makes you hungry for carbohydrates,” says Godkin.

“You’re looking for energy because you feel fatigued — alcohol also dehydrates you, which affects brain function.

“Even the ‘lite’ alcohols are packed full of sugar so will affect the waistline while pints are very fattening.”

Alcohol is packed with calories. The Irish Heart Foundation points out that just one standard drink contains 10g of alcohol, which amounts to 70 calories.

If you down five standard drinks of a spirit with cola, you’ll consume 765 calories or 11 digestive biscuits worth of calories. Knock back five standard drinks of a spirit with a diet cola or a diet mineral and your calorie consumption is still high — 420 calories or five digestive biscuits worth of calories.

However, there are far more long-term and even riskier implications of over-consumption of alcohol.

Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which are caused by the over-consumption of alcohol, are increasingly prevalent among young women, warns Dr Mark Murphy, a lecturer with the Royal College of Surgeons.

“Our hepatology and gastroenterology colleagues have seen a rise in the prevalence of this,” he says, adding that liver disease is a deeply destructive condition which can be fatal.

“Chronic liver disease results in a shrunken scarred liver which doesn’t make the normal proteins that it should make.”

The result, he warns, is an individual who appears perfectly healthy — but only until the liver very quietly reaches its tipping point.

“People can feel very well and very healthy even though their liver is extremely damaged,” says Dr Murphy, though often it’s too late and the effects on the liver of over-consumption of alcohol are irreversible.

“This could manifest in a large amount of blood, a very swollen abdomen, or a person exhibiting mental confusion.

“When this happens it is a sign that the liver is damaged to such an extent that the person’s risk of death in the next few years is very high and unfortunately that cannot be reversed.”

So even though drinking in moderation may have a protective effect, he says, drinking excessive amount of alcohol is very dangerous — it’s also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease as well as cancers of the stomach, the colon, or the oesophagus.

Alcohol can also have a depressive effect, he warns, with evidence also suggesting that excessive alcohol consumption is associated with reduced fertility rates.

Cutting down on alcohol

Now the season of good cheer is officially over, how about cutting down on your alcohol consumption and reducing the effect it has on your body?

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach – always have it with food. Research has shown ingesting food before drinking doesn’t just slow the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, but also lowers the peak concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream.
  • Buy a measure says the IHF — if you drink spirits at home make sure you’re not overfilling your glass
  • Alternate your drinks between alcoholic and non-alcoholic
  • Avoid rounds or opt for a non-alcoholic drink on your round
  • Pace yourself — Small sips and savour the drink
  • Rehydrate when you are drinking, for example, alternative a glass of wine with a glass of water – this slows down your consumption and rehydrates your body
  • Stop drinking early in the night so that you are not going to bed with an overloaded, overtaxed liver
  • Understand that you cannot save up your units for a night and avoid binge-drinking because you are assaulting your body with toxins
  • Educate yourself about the negative effects of over-consumption of alcohol
  • Remember the biology – women simply cannot drink the same amount as men because we don’t have the capacity to detox the same amount of alcohol as men do.
  • Space out your drinking advises the Irish Heart Foundation – keep at least three days a week alcohol-free

Mysterious radio waves traced to distant galaxy

Scientists make breakthrough in the study of the Fast Radio Burst phenomenon

Image result for Mysterious radio waves traced to distant galaxy  Image result for Mysterious radio waves traced to distant galaxy  Image result for Mysterious radio waves traced to distant galaxy

The Very Large Array (VLA), the astronomical radio observatory in New Mexico, US.

A mysterious short pulse of radio energy picked up by astronomers has been traced to a dwarf galaxy more than three billion light years away.

Dubbed a Fast Radio Burst (FRB), it is one of just 18 known examples of a phenomenon that has puzzled scientists since 2007.

FRBs are highly energetic but very short-lived bursts of radio waves lasting no more than a millisecond.

The first was discovered in 2007 by scientists scouring archived data from Australia’s Parkes radio telescope.

Since then , 17 more FRBs have been identified but only one, spotted in 2012 by astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, has recurred repeatedly.

By studying nine bursts from this FRB over a period of six months, astronomers were able to home in on its exact position in the sky.

FRB 121102 was pinpointed using the Very Large Array (VLA), a multi-antenna radio telescope operated by the US National Science Foundation.

Its location coincided with that of a faint dwarf galaxy far, far away – a distance of more than three billion light years from Earth.

Dr Shriharsh Tendulkar, a member of the team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, said: “Before we knew the distance to any FRBs, several proposed explanations for their origins said they could be coming from within or near our own Milky Way galaxy.

“We now have ruled out those explanations, at least for this FRB.”

Adding to the mystery, the FRB appeared to be accompanied by a stream of ongoing, persistent weaker radio emissions.

Further high precision observations showed that the two emission sources could not be more than 100 light years apart, said the scientists, whose findings appear in the journals Nature and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Dr Benito Marcote, from the Joint Institute for VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands, said: “We think that the bursts and the continuous source are likely to be either the same object or that they are somehow physically associated with each other.”

Questions still remain?

However, what produced the FRB remains unknown.

One likely candidate is a super-dense neutron star – possibly a “magnetar”, a neutron star with a very powerful magnetic field – surrounded by debris from a stellar explosion.

Alternatively, the source could be jets of material shooting out from the rim of a supermassive black hole.

Co-author Dr Shami Chatterjee, from Cornell University in the US, said: “Finding the host galaxy of this FRB, and its distance, is a big step forward, but we still have much more to do before we fully understand what these things are.”

The research was presented at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 3rd. November 2016

Garda call off strike action planned for Friday,

Both the AGSI and GRA suspend strike action ‘pending the result of the ballot’

Image result for Garda call off strike action planned for Friday  Image result for Garda call off strike action planned for Friday  Image result for Garda call off strike action planned for Friday

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and Garda Representative Association (GRA) have suspended its strike action planned for Friday.

AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham said: “As a result of proposal received which will be put to a ballot of our membership, [the] AGSI will be calling off its day of industrial action pending the result of the ballot. AGSI are delighted a fundamental right in gaining access to the industrial relations mechanisms, the WRC and the Labour Court for our membership. AGSI are delighted to announce we have gained an uplift in income for all of our members.”

The GRA decision was late Friday night, after they met to discuss the Labour Court recommendations, which said that Gardaí should receive a new €15 payment for every day of annual leave, as well as more money in rent allowance.

It has also proposed that plans to integrate rent allowance into core pay for all Gardaí – which will have a knock-on impact on premium payments and overtime – should be brought forward to the beginning of January 2017.

It says that rent allowance should be restored for recently-recruited Gardaí immediately on the acceptance of the new proposals.

It also recommended that the new €1,459 payment for Gardaí to attend briefings prior to starting their shifts should also be introduced in January, earlier than previously anticipated.

Under Government proposals rejected by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) earlier this week, rent allowance was to be phased in in two parts, half in January 2017 and the other half in January 2018.

The proposed briefing payment had been envisaged originally to commence by April.

The Labour Court has effectively suggested amendments to the original proposals rejected by the GRA earlier this week as well as some new measures.

The court says that a new premium payment should be introduced to Gardaí to reflect uncertainty over the taking of annual leave.

This would provide for an additional €15 for each day of leave they receive.

“The court understands that the operation of the system of administration of justice has the effect of diminishing the certainty of approved annual leave for Gardaí in consequence of their necessary attendance at court hearings even at short notice when on approved leave.”

“The court recommends that this uncertainty should be acknowledged by payment to Gardaí of a €15 premium payment per annual leave day eg a Garda with a leave allowance of 30 days should receive a premium payment per annual leave payment of 30 x €15 per annum. The parties to agree the manner of implementation of this provision. This provision should take effect from the commencement of the next leave year.”

The Labour Court says it accepts that the value of rent allowance has diminished as a result of the evolving rental market. “The court, on the basis of submissions made & recommends that rent allowance should be increased by €500 with effect from 1 January 2017.”

The Labour Court did not make any recommendation in relation to “pay restoration” for Gardaí as this was being addressed in a separate process due to be completed in December.

Tánaiste Fitzgerald hopes legislative move ends cycle of charity scandals

Frances Fitzgerald says regulating sector an ‘absolute priority’ for Government

Image result for Tánaiste Fitzgerald hopes legislative move ends cycle of charity scandals  Image result for legislative move ends cycle of Irish charity scandals  Image result for legislative move ends cycle of Irish charity scandals

A damaging cycle of scandals relating to charities must come to an end, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said.

Alluding to the controversy involving suicide charity Console, Ms Fitzgerald said there was a time during the summer when issues surrounding charities dominated the news cycle.

She said the full implementation of the Charities Act 2009 would ensure the sector is no longer clouded by controversy.

Ms Fitzgerald was speaking at the launch of the Charities Institute Irelandwhich has been formed from the merger of Fundraising Ireland and the Irish Charities Taxation Research LTD (ICTR) which represents 180 charities in Ireland.

The institute will deal with issues related to charity taxation, regulation, fundraising standards and overall governance.

Ms Fitzgerald, the Minister for Justice, described the merger as a “brave, practical and thoughtful decision”.

She hoped the CII would work with the Charities Regulatory Authority which she said now has the necessary staff and financial resources required to achieve its goals. An additional €1.7 million was announced in the budget to give the authority the specialist skills to regulate the sector.

Absolute priority

Ms Fitzgerald said the regulation of the charities sector was “an absolute priority” for the Government.

“It will reassure the many thousands of people who generously volunteer their time, energy and money to charitable causes that their efforts serve a noble purpose, which is to assist the most vulnerable citizens in our society.”

CII chief executive Lucy Masterson said the purpose of the institute is to restore “trust and confidence” in the causes and charities people in Ireland support.

“That they know that the money that they are giving is going to the cause that they have a deep connection with,” she said.

Alone, the charity that supports older people to age at home, welcomed the creation of the CII.

Its chief executive Seán Moynihan said: “We hope that this initiative will encourage other charities to get serious about quality and transparency in order to restore public trust and confidence in the sector.”

Some Irish public transport fares to rise by up to 18%,

Authority announces savings of 50% for commuters from some Kildare towns

Image result for Some Irish public transport fares to rise by up to 18% Image result for Some Irish public transport fares to rise by up to 18%

Those travelling on some Irish Rail services within the short hop zone – such as Leixlip to Dublin – face an 18% price increase.

Many public transport users face significant fare hikes under a National Transport Authority reorganisation of fares.

Within the Dublin area “short hop zones”, some rail fares will rise sharply, including the Leixlip to city centre fare which will increase by up to 18%.

Meanwhile, the cost of an annual adult Luas all-zones ticket, currently €910, will rise to €1,000, before the permitted tax deductions are made. This is a 9.9% rise, far higher than the 3.3% requested.

Currently, a monthly Luas ticket costs €91. A rise to €94 had been requested. However, the NTA approved a rise to €100 per month.

However, it’s not all bad news for commuters, as some will see reductions by as much as 50% in their fares.

Among the winners are residents of Co Kildare, where Sallins and Kilcock stations have been brought into Iarnród Éireann’s Dublin area “short hop zone”. The large savings will also be available to residents of Naas, which is also served by Sallins station.

Outside Dublin, intercity rail tax saver fares will rise by 4%, Cork commuter rail fares will rise by up to 2%, and intercity adult and child weekly tickets will rise by 2%.

Intercity tickets

In many cases, the intercity rail increases actually exceed those requested by Iarnród Éireann – which, in the case of intercity annual tickets for example, tended to be about 2%. The authority set no fare increase on any single or return intercity fares in 2017.

Bus fares outside Dublin will rise by 10 cent for adults and five cent for children when paying by cash on Bus Éireann services. There will, however, be no increase in Leap card fares. One-day, seven-day, monthly and annual bus fares will be adjusted to reflect distance travelled, with some dropping by as much as 5.9% as others rise by up to 2.8%.

Dublin Bus annual tax-saver cards – for journeys on Dublin Bus only – will not change. Dublin Bus monthly and annual tickets – for complex journeys involving other providers such as Luas or Dart – will rise by up to 2.3%.

Tax saver tickets for Bus Éireann vary, with some distances dropping in cost by as much as 5.8% while others rise by up to 2.8%. Iarnród Éireann annual and monthly tickets will rise by 2%, while under the rationalisation of Luas zones, notably merging zones three and four, some student pre-paid Leap cards will actually drop by 3.8% while some zones will rise by 5.9%.

Dublin Bus

* Pre-paid Rambler tickets rise by up to 2.9%

* Adult cash fares and Leap card fares will see no change

* Schoolchild Leap bus fares will rise by 2% on Irish Rail

Iarnród Éireann

* Dublin short hop zone and intercity fares to increase by 4%

* Cork commuter fares up by up to 2%

* Change to the distance-based fares, pulling in towns to the short hop zone around Dublin, but increasing some fares within that zone

Bus Éireann

* Cash fares up 10 cent for adults, five cent for children

* Daily, seven-day, monthly and annual tickets vary from a drop of 5.9% to a rise of 2.8%

* No increase in child or student returns


* Merge zones three and four resulting in fare changes from minus 4.2 per cent to plus 7.4 per cent

* 10 to 20 cent increase in adult single journey cash fares

* Adult prepaid daily, seven-day and 30-day adjusted from minus 4.2% to plus 6.3% The fares will apply from January.

The NTA said the aims of the reorganisation were to better link the distance travelled to the fare price and to offer reductions to children and students.

Smoking causes hundreds of DNA mutation changes

Image result for Smoking causes hundreds of DNA mutation changes  Image result for Smoking causes hundreds of DNA mutation changes  Image result for Smoking causes hundreds of DNA mutation changes

Smoking leaves an “archaeological record” of the hundreds of DNA mutations it causes, scientists have discovered.

Having sequenced thousands of tumour genomes, they found a 20-a-day smoker would rack up an average of 150 mutations in every lung cell each year.

The changes are permanent, and persist even if someone gives up smoking.

Researchers say analysing tumour DNA may help explain the underlying causes of other cancers.

Pamela Pugh, 69, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. She started smoking aged 17 and quit in her early 50s.

But she said: “Even though I gave up many years ago, the effects of smoking caught up with me.

“Had I known as a teenager that smoking caused mutations which would stay with me for life then I would never had started”.

‘Mysterious and complex’

The study, in the journal Science, was carried out by an international group, including the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The analysis shows a direct link between the number of cigarettes smoked in a lifetime and the number of mutations in tumour DNA.

The authors found that, on average, smoking a packet of cigarettes a day led to:

  1. 150 mutations in each lung cell every year

  2. 97 in the larynx or voice box

  3. 23 in the mouth

  4. 18 in the bladder

  5. six in the liver

Joint lead author Prof Sir Mike Stratton, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “The more mutations there are, the higher the chance that these will occur in the key genes that we call cancer genes, which convert a normal cell into a cancer cell.”

The researchers said that in tissues such as the lung, which are directly exposed to smoke, they could find the mutational signature of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 60 are carcinogens.

However, they could not find this same pattern in tissues such as the bladder, which are not directly exposed.

Prof Stratton said in these organs smoking seemed to be accelerating a natural mutational process, but how it did this was “mysterious and complex”.

He said the same investigative approach could be used with other cancers where the underlying causes were less well understood.

“By looking in the genomes of the cancers, we will find the archaeological traces of past exposures which have been responsible for generating the cancers and that may potentially lead to prevention,” he said.

Genetic disruption

Dr David Gilligan, consultant oncologist at Papworth Hospital and Roy Castle Lung Foundation trustee, said: “For every 150 mutations in the cell each year, that is 150 opportunities for lung cancer to develop.

“Lung cancer has been at the bottom of the survival league for many years, but there are many exciting developments, including immunotherapy and genetically targeted drug treatments.”

Ms Pugh has received treatment at Papworth and Addenbrooke’s Hospitals in Cambridgeshire.

She has just spent six months on a trial of a drug that aims to disrupt the genes that drive the growth of lung cancer.

Participants in the Matrix trial have DNA from their tumours examined to check they have genes that may respond to the drug.

But a scan has shown the tumour in Ms Pugh’s right lung is growing, and she has had to leave the trial.

She will now undergo more chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

There are 35,000 deaths a year in the UK from lung cancer, and it is estimated that nine out of 10 cases are preventable.

More & more Women dying of Cancer. Here’s why

Image result for Worldwide, cancer will kill 5.5 million women a year by 2030  Image result for Worldwide, cancer will kill 5.5 million women a year by 2030  Image result for “The Global Burden of Cancer in Women,”

The number of women dying from cancer around the world keeps rising, and it will take a global response to reverse the trend.

Worldwide, cancer will kill 5.5 million women a year by 2030. That’s an increase of 57% from 2012 when 3.5 million women died from cancer.

Many of these deaths can be prevented, according to a new report, “The Global Burden of Cancer in Women,” presented at the World Cancer Congress in Paris.

Released by The American Cancer Society and Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, the report examines the physical, societal, and financial impact of cancer in women around the globe.

Cancer rates continue to rise along with world population. It is now the second leading cause of death among women.

It’s a major health and economic threat across the globe. Cancer rates are generally greater in wealthier countries. Now they’re on the rise in developing countries.

One reason is that improved healthcare in those countries is increasing life span.

Another is that as economies improve there are some added risk factors for cancer. These include physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and having a first child at an older age.

Some of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among women are breast, lung, cervical, and colorectal.

In less affluent countries, these cancers can often go undiagnosed or untreated, leading to a higher mortality rate.

Societal, economic cost

Women with cancer face considerable physical and emotional challenges. So do their families.

Cancer treatment, if you can get it, is expensive. In addition, patients may require the assistance of family or other caregivers as well as transportation to treatment centres.

Indirect costs also include loss of productivity and income, especially when young and middle-aged women are involved.

According to the report, the global economic burden of cancer in 2009 was about $286 billion. Much of that is attributed to premature death of women in the workforce.

In the United States, years of productive life lost to cancer in women were estimated at $82 billion in 2008.

Where you live matters.

Cancer mortality rates for women are highest in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Mongolia, and Papua New Guinea.

Mortality rates are lowest in northern and western Africa, Central America, select islands of Oceania, and south-central Asia.

Many cancers can be prevented

According to the report, about one-third to one-half of cancer cases could be avoided based on what we already know about risk factors.

Several common cancers in women have known means of prevention or early detection. Screening and early detection often mean patients have better treatment options and more favourable outcomes.

The report highlights the potential to reduce suffering and loss of life while easing the family and societal economic burden.

Dr. Homayoon Sanati is medical director of breast oncology at the Memorial Care Breast Centre at Long Beach Memorial and Orange Coast Memorial medical centre’s.

In an interview with Healthline, Sanati said there are no real surprises in the report. He is particularly concerned with mortality rates for lung cancer in women.

It surprises me, with all information we have, to see younger women smoking.

He said the problem can be attributed to the rise in women smokers. It’s a trend that began in the 1970s when ads started targeting young women.

“It surprises me, with all information we have, to see younger women smoking,” said Sanati.

“It’s a warning sign that we need to educate patients to stop smoking. We do have screening modalities right now for lung cancer that can reduce mortality,” he said.

Sanati said there’s a low-dose CT scan that can be done once a year in patients who have a history of smoking and are older than 50 years of age. Earlier diagnosis increases the chances of stopping the disease before it spreads.

“There’s also an increase in smoking in China,” he continued. “The effects of smoking show up 20 years later, so it will be a large problem for them pretty soon.”

Preventing breast cancer?

Image result for healthy diet, good body mass index (BMI), and physical activity are important in preventing breast cancer. Sanati said a healthy diet, good body mass index (BMI), and physical activity are important in preventing breast cancer.

“I think these are some of the main issues that can be improved. But some subsets of breast cancer are genetically driven. Patients should be aware of those,” he said.

Sanati doesn’t agree with current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force screening guidelines for breast cancer. Although the United States has good screening modalities and good treatments, he believes less screening may lead to increased mortality five or 10 years down the road.

“Current guidelines recommend a mammogram every other year for women aged 50 to 74. Every other year works for slow growing cancer, but it won’t pick up on fast growing cancers,” he said. “Those are the ones you want to diagnose sooner rather than later.”

Sanati also sees the benefit of self and clinical breast examinations.

“I see patients get diagnosed because they found the mass themselves or their doctor found the mass. There are women alive today because of that,” he said.

Cervical & liver cancer

When it comes to cervical cancer, Sanati expects rates to go down in countries where the HPV vaccine is widely available.

“South American countries are actively promoting vaccinations because the cost of the vaccine is much cheaper than managing cervical cancer. For that reason, the trend should be going down,” said Sanati.

Decline is unlikely in countries that don’t have or promote the vaccine.

In addition, cervical cancer screening, starting with the Pap test, can lower incidence and mortality.

Sanati said we should also pay more attention to liver cancer.

“In certain countries, there’s an increase in liver cancer mostly due to chronic infection with hepatitis B,” he said. “I think we would see a lowering of this trend in those countries as they get more access to hepatitis vaccines.”

“In the United States, liver cancer will become more prominent in the near future,” warned Sanati.

That’s due to diet, a factor well within our control.

“A high sugar diet leads to a condition called ‘fatty liver.’ Sugar gets converted into fat and is stored in the liver. In time, it damages the liver and increases the risk of liver cancer,” explained Sanati.

It’s not inevitable?

The report concluded that the burden of disease, loss of life, and economic hardship is not inevitable.

There are known means of prevention and early detection for the most common cancers among women.

The report suggests that countries need to prioritize cancer education and prevention. It will require support and commitment from the global community.

“We are proud to partner with the American Cancer Society to address the impact cancer has on women worldwide,” Belén Garijo, member of the Executive Board and CEO Healthcare at Merck KGaA, said in a press release. “This collaboration is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership that recognizes that no one sector can tackle this challenge alone. Improving women’s health and well-being has an uplifting ripple effect on our world, and we know when women do better, our communities do better.”

We are about to see the biggest and the brightest super moon of the 21st century on November 14th

We are about to see the biggest and the brightest supermoon of the 21st century  Image result for We are about to see the biggest and the brightest super moon of the 21st century on November 14th  Image result for We are about to see the biggest and the brightest super moon of the 21st century

Forget all the other super-moons you’ve seen in the past. Or even meteor showers, blood moons and lunar eclipses. Because on November 14, your night sky is going to light up with the biggest full moon you’ll see in a long time.

Super-moons aren’t all that uncommon, but this one’s going to be pretty special because for the first time since 1948, the full moon will be nearest to Earth. And it won’t get this close again until November 25 2034.

If you want to see the astronomical event this year – it’s the supermoon in November. Here’s everything you need to know:

How does a supermoon happen?

A supermoon is a full moon or a new moon (yes a new moon is also classed as supermoon, even if you can’t see it) at its closest point to Earth. The moon orbits Earth in an elliptical plane so sometimes it can come quite close to our planet (which is called a perigee) and at other times, it can be at the furthest point from Earth (which is called an apogee).

The perigee distances can vary but at its closest, the moon is about 30,000 miles (48,000 km) closer to Earth than during apogee. When the sun, the moon, and Earth line up – the occurrence is known as syzygy.

As Nasa explains: “When perigee-syzygy of the Earth-moon-sun system occurs and the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, we get a perigee moon or more commonly, a supermoon!”

This occurrence causes the moon to appear much bigger and brighter in our sky than usual.

Why is this supermoon so special?

Supermoons aren’t unusual – we just had one on October 16 and there’s going to be another one on December 14.

But on November 14, the moon’s orbit is also going to bring it even closer to Earth than previous perigee occurrences. To be precise, the distance between Earth and the moon will be a mere 221,524 miles (356,509 km). On average, the moon is about 239,000 miles (384,000 km) away from the Earth.

“On November 14, it becomes full within about two hours of perigee – arguably making it an extra-supermoon,” says Nasa.

“The full moon of November 14 is not only the closest full moon of 2016, but also the closest full moon to date in the 21st century. The full moon won’t come this close to Earth again until November 25 2034.”

How will we be able to see it?

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether the moon is a supermoon or not. This is because the moon is too far away for our eyes to perceive the change in distance.

But if you have buildings, trees or the horizon to compare it to, it might appear larger than usual – this is known as “moon illusion”.

“When the moon is near the horizon, it can look unnaturally large when viewed through trees, buildings, or other foreground objects,” says Nasa.

“The effect is an optical illusion, but that fact doesn’t take away from the experience.”

When can you see it?

The moon will become full at 1.52pm GMT on November 14. If you live in the UK, you should be able to see the moon later that evening.

Be sure to get somewhere nice and dark, away from the city lights, if possible, and try and look for reference points which you can use to gaze at the moon – like the horizon or trees.

Let’s just hope the weather holds up its end of the bargain.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 17th May 2016

Irish Government will not initially oppose the Fianna Fáil bill to tackle mortgage rates

Concerns have been raised about the constitutionality of the proposal


The government has said it will not initially oppose a Fianna Fáil bill that would give the Central Bank greater powers to tackle mortgage interest rates.

This is despite concerns raised about the constitutionality of the proposal, which would give the Central Bank powers to force banks to reduce their standard variable rates (SVRs).

In a sign of the new political reality facing the minority government, Finance Minister Michael Noonan will attempt to move a motion in the Dáil this evening to send the bill back to pre-legislative scrutiny stage in the Oireachtas. But with Sinn Féin supporting the Fianna Fáil bill, the government could be defeated on this at which point it says it will accept the bill at second stage.

This would move it into committee stage where the various provisions of the Central Bank Variable Rate Mortgages Bill 2016 would be discussed at length by TDs and Senators. A government spokesperson said this morning that this was a sign of new politics in action.

Earlier, Noonan told reporters outside Government Buildings why he disagreed with the proposal from Fianna Fáil.

“If you have a central bank that doesn’t want the power and it is not mandatory that they should use the power it seems to me to be destined to be a very ineffective piece of legislation that would go on the statue books but would never be used,” he said.

Fianna Fáil says that the bill would effectively reduce the monthly repayments of some 300,000 people on standard variable rates. SVRs in Ireland are among the highest in the euro zone.

Hundreds of senior Gardaí protest about pay restoration

The President of AGSI says Government must ‘sit up and take notice’ of Garda concerns?


Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors marched to Government buildings to protest over pay and conditions.

Several hundred senior Gardaí marched to Government Buildings on Tuesday in a protest over stalled progress on the restoration of their pay to 2008 levels.

Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, dressed not in uniform but wearing blue t-shirts, marched from Dublin Castle to highlight what they say is a lack of engagement by the Government in dealing with their pay issue.

The large group gathered near Dublin Castle from 11am and traffic came to a standstill about an hour later as they walked in near silence down Dame Street, up Suffolk Street and continuing down Nassau Street and up Merrion Street to Government Buildings.

They were briefly addressed by the organisation’s general secretary John Jacob and its president Antoinette Cunningham, who handed in a letter for the attention of Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

“I think Government need to sit up and take notice of the 650 people that have taken to the streets today in protest at Garda pay negotiations,” Ms Cunningham said.

Group solidarity

She said she appreciated the support and solidarity of the members and their families on the march, as well as their Garda Representative Associationcolleagues and retired members who also joined them.

“We will continue this long and sustained campaign as long as it takes to get meaningful negotiation around pay,” Ms Cunningham said.

Paul McDermott of the AGSI executive said members had rejected the Lansdowne Road agreement last November because the then government had not abided by the terms of the previous Haddington Road deal.

“We brought in all the new practices they wanted on the transformation agenda. Everything was done. We have engaged with the two chairmen – one covering pay and one covering structures and the chairman covering pay resigned from it last week. We’re not sure why. We have not delayed this process at all.”

Mr McDermott said members wanted the increment freeze stopped as it had “hit members hard”.

“If we can get into meaningful talks we will be constructive and we want to see a pathway to having our money restored. Obviously it’s going to be over a period of time. But through negotiation and not through emergency financial legislation and threats. Basically it’s intimidatory – you sign up to this deal or we freeze your pay.”

Mortgages and bills.

Mr McDermott said there were members in difficulty. “We are the same as the rest of society. We live in the community and we reflect it – we have the same mortgages and bills and childcare and some of them have difficulty with their homes under threat. Not everybody, but it reflects what happens in society and there are members in difficulty and they would like to see a pathway.”

Mr McDermott said the mid-ranking roles in the force had “a lot of responsibilities”.

“We are under supervision ourselves. And we have all the different structures such as GSOC and inspectorates looking at us over our shoulders. Our members are doing an awful lot they haven’t done before.”

Separately, uniformed gardaí were policing an anti-water charges protest outside Leinster House on Kildare Street. The AGSI protest did not come into contact with that event and the members dispersed down Merrion Street shortly after 1pm.

Protesting Voices:

Sgt Donal Smyth, who is stationed in Navan, Co Meath, and who has been in the force for 34 years, said he was opposing the financial emergency measures being imposed on members from July 1st.

“We have nowhere else to go. You can’t really impose a new agreement on people where the original one is not completed yet.

“I’m in a lucky position that I’m 9 to 5, but the people on the shifts are really struggling out there and it’s not only that, it’s the extra responsibilities on Garda sergeants. The transformation agenda is coming down the line since Croke Park. We have complied with everything and it’s come to the point now that we are really struggling.”

He said there were 15 new probationer gardaí in his area earning €23,000 per annum.

“I see them coming to try and get accommodation in Navan and things are so difficult. I remember when I joined the job back in 1982 and it’s now 34 years later and we are now back to the same situation we were in when we started back then.”

Sgt Smyth said he was lucky to be at the “tail end” as two of his boys were in college and one was working.

“But I remember going back to 1991 where our job sold out the pensionability of some allowances that we sold on some young people. It’s not going to happen again – it’s unfair.”

He said 275 new sergeants who had been newly promoted this year would be on the same salaries for two years from July 1st without increments.

Sgt Paul Wallace (Letterkenny)

“I’m a former member of the executive and the last term and have been a member of AGSI for 23 years.

“We could be accused of being irresponsible or blocking up Dublin town, but we are actually being responsible and we’d ask the government to be the same.

“It’s no longer one for Garda management – the game has moved on. But it’s sad to see on a nice day in the middle of May passing Trinity College you have mid-ranking gardaí who basically are out to be responsible towards our younger people – the people who have been asked to go forward for promotion but won’t receive an increment.

“It’s a misnomer as well that people will say the guards are looking for a pay increase. “We’re not; they promised to give it back and now it’s time to start. We are not looking for the full 25 per cent and I’m not speaking on behalf of the executive but we need to have something meaningful.”

Padraig Costello

“We hope that it will bring home to Government what is happening in AnGarda Síochána.

John Moloney

“We are coming towards the end game and we need to be listened to like a lot of other groups in the country. We will do it peacefully and quietly and with dignity and we will stick together for as long as this takes. And we’ll be back here again and again.”

Arthur O’Hara

Mr O’Hara, a retired member, said he did not agree with how gardaí were being deployed, particularly with regard to policing Irish Water installations.

“I think that’s radically wrong and again we have always had the support of the vast majority of the community at large.”

“We are not there for any special cause. We are there to serve the community. And I think we have done under very difficult circumstances and with totally inadequate resources, I think we do a bloody good job.

“I lost very close to 29% of my pension. That drove all kinds of things wrong. How could you budget for something like that?”

Irish Prisons now a dumping ground for mentally ill young men

We have amongst the lowest number of secure psychiatric beds per head of population in Europe


The great majority of young men and women remanded to Irish prisons while actively unwell with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illnesses have fallen through the net of a public mental health system which is not designed to meet their needs. 

Despite having one of the highest levels of severe mental illness when compared with other advanced European nations, Ireland has fewer adult psychiatric beds than almost any other country in Europe.

New research looking at the number of beds across the EU shows we have even fewer secure (forensic) psychiatric beds compared with other countries.

Psychiatric bed numbers in Ireland have fallen drastically, and since 2011 beds have fallen to below 20 per 100,000 people, where the European average is still over 40 per 100,000.

The beds that remain are on wards open to the public and to other wards in the same hospital. It is often difficult to care safely for young people with disturbed and challenging behaviour due to acute delusions and hallucinations in such wards.

With the closing of the old-style asylums across Europe, many countries recognised that, even with the development of community mental health services, there would always remain a significant need for some inpatient beds. They are required so the most unwell and difficult to treat patients could receive the help they need in a stable and safe therapeutic environment.

Unfortunately we have failed to plan for the needs of such patients in this country, and the most unwell and difficult to treat patients increasingly find themselves either homeless or placed in prison rather than treated in hospital and supported in the community. Strangely, these well known facts are regarded as neither a failure of policy nor a cause for shame.

In 2016 the current 10-year plan, A Vision for Change will have run its course. It is timely to wonder what policy reforms will come next. A Vision for Changehas led to considerable positive achievements. The experts who drafted the policy should be congratulated for the universal adoption of the ethos and language of recovery. However, while recovery is a commendable policy priority, it is not the same as cure, and it is increasingly obvious that people with severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses have lost out in the recent changes that our mental health service has undergone.

Replaced asylums?

People who have complex and difficult to treat problems are excluded from a “mental health” model that struggles to include the needs of those with severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses.

Many of the acute inpatient psychiatric units which replaced asylums lack the short-term high observation units that could provide for the complex needs of such patients. Across the modern world, such patients are provided for in acute local psychiatric intensive care units.

Typically, in other European countries there are 10-15 beds serving every 250,000 people. This contrasts with Ireland, which has only 30 such beds in the entire country. Again, in other European countries the closure of the old asylums has been compensated for by opening high quality, therapeutically secure, forensic psychiatric hospital beds.

Ireland has not developed any such system and the number of forensic psychiatric beds at the Central Mental Hospital has stayed static at about two beds per 100,000 people.

In England and Wales, by contrast, asylum closures over the last 30 years have been associated with the development of a system of more secure forensic hospital beds so that there are now 7.5 secure forensic beds per 100,000 for the mentally ill.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and many other modern mental health services provide between eight and 10 forensic secure beds per 100,000 population. Not surprisingly, Irish prisons have increasingly become the emergency department “trolleys” for young men with any form of psychotic mental illness. The great majority of young people remanded to Irish prisons, while actively unwell with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illnesses, are charged with very minor offences.

These patients have fallen through the net of a public mental health system which is not designed to meet their needs. Mental health legislation has reformed the rights of people detained for care and treatment, and further reform is needed. But reforms that exclude mentally incapable people from access to care, treatment and protection do them a disservice – it is already too difficult to intervene when a person with a severe mental illness is obviously relapsing and at risk of self-harm and neglect.

Violence is rare occurrence? 

Fortunately, Ireland is an inherently peaceful country where violence is rare and we are very tolerant of the mentally ill. Tolerance, however, is not enough when young people with the most severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses are ill-served by policies that fail to meet their needs. To be able to engage with community services, it is almost always necessary to first have the benefit of the acute treatment needed to restore the basics of mental health.

The next Vision for Change should help to direct resources towards services that are demonstrably effective in engaging and retaining severely mentally ill people to prevent homelessness and imprisonment. Should we fail to do this we are at risk of repeating the kind of discrimination and inhumane treatment which the closure of the asylums and the development of community mental health teams were designed to remedy. Harry Kennedy is clinical professor of forensic psychiatry at the Central Mental Hospital. He is writing in a private capacity

Smoking laws will not be relaxed says new health Minister Simon Harris

Minister for Health fully committed to making Ireland tobacco free by 2025


The Minister for Health Simon Harris said the smoking ban had been a real success and he has insisted there will be no relaxation of the smoking ban legislation.

Mr Harris said he was totally committed to the Programme for Government pledge to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025.

He said the smoking ban had been a real success and it was his and the Department of Health’s position that it should remain in place.

Mr Harris was speaking after Minister of State at the Department of HealthFinian McGrath called for an easing of the workplace smoking ban to allow indoor smoking areas in pubs and restaurants.

Asked at Beaumont Hospital on Monday whether Mr McGrath said he supported Government policy on making Ireland tobacco-free by 2025, he said he had his own personal view but “of course” he would support the policy on health.

He said he also supported proposals in the Programme for Government to increase the price of cigarettes, despite having opposed previous excise hikes.

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the comments from Mr Harris and said Ireland had “led the way in tobacco control measures, showing courage in tackling smoking rates and the tobacco industry”.

“We hope our strong record on progressive public health policies continues well into the future,” it said.

Maternity Hospital row?

Mr Harris also confirmed he would be meeting St Vincent’s Hospital and Holles Street management to dissolve the row over the location of the new National Maternity Hospital.

He said he would be asking both sides to “lower the tempo” a bit and bring a timely conclusion to the row. The expertise is excellent but the conditions were “absolutely deplorable”, he added.

“I would ask both sides to make one last push to get this resolved.”

The National Maternity Hospital is currently struggling to maintain a service in Holles Street, while St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4 is seeing an increase in waiting lists and dangerous levels of emergency overcrowding.

It is proposed a new facility be built at St Vincent’s. However St Vincent’s is adamant that it must take over the governance of the facility, which has been rejected by the board of the National Maternity Hospital.

Mr Harris said governance was important but it should not prevent the facility being built.

“I will not let this hospital be lost over a bureaucratic row.”

Genetic clues reveal how Giraffes got their long necks

  Researchers discover clues on how giraffe neck evolved   

Fighting giraffes (above left) in Ithala Game Reserve, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

For the first time ever, scientists have sequenced the genome of the world’s tallest land species, the giraffe. Surprisingly, this majestic creature required only a small handful of mutations to attain its remarkable physical stature and physiology—but these mutations packed an evolutionary punch.

With their long necks and elegant strides, giraffes have captivated humanity for thousands of years. But there’s more to these animals than their height, which can reach upwards of 19 feet (6 meters).

Adult male Masai giraffe in the Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (Image: Doug Cavener)

Giraffes are surprisingly swift runners, capable of sprinting 37 miles per hour (60 km/h). They also need to pump blood nearly seven feet (two meters) straight up in order to supply their brains with an ample oxygen supply. To that end, giraffes have evolved a rather large left ventricle, and a blood pressure that’s about twice as high as other mammals. They’re also capable of digesting acacia leaves and seed-pods highly nutritious foods that are poisonous to most other animals.

The reasons for the giraffe’s long legs and neck are fairly obvious, and have been discussed since before the time of Darwin. Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck famously argued that giraffe necks needed to get longer so they could reach food way up high (i.e. “Lamarckian evolution”). He was almost correct. As Darwin later pointed out, their necks were the result of selectional processes; only those animals with necks long enough to reach the tallest branches thrived and survived.

This much we knew, but scientists weren’t sure about the exact biology involved, and how giraffes, from a genetic perspective, evolved their panoply of characteristics. Its closest living relative, the okapi, looks more like a zebra than its lanky cousin, so there aren’t other “intermediate” species to go by.

In an effort to learn more about the genetic constitution of the giraffe—and to paint a clearer picture of its evolutionary history—scientists from Penn State University sequenced the entire giraffe genome (along with the okapi genome), making them the first to do so. The results, which now appear in Nature Communications, are offering intriguing insights into how the giraffe’s unique body shape evolved.

To isolate the genes responsible for the giraffe’s unique characteristics, a research team led by Douglas Cavener and Morris Agaba compared the gene-coding sequences of the giraffe and the okapi to more than 40 other animals, including cows, sheep, goats, camels, and humans. Despite the giraffe’s unique appearance and physiology, the researchers came up with just 70 genes that were responsible for some of the giraffe’s most distinctive adaptations.

As noted, the giraffe and okapi feature genetic sequences that are quite similar. The two species are very closely related, having only diverged from a common ancestor about 11 to 12 million years ago. Aside from their heads and hooves, these animals look almost nothing alike, but genetically, there’s very little to distinguish the two species. By studying the okapi genome, the researchers were able to use it as a kind of genetic filter to pinpoint the genes that make a giraffe a giraffe.

The researchers sequenced the whole genomes of two female Masai giraffes from the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya and the Nashville Zoo in the United States, and one male okapi from the White Oak Holdings in the United States. Among the 70 distinctive genetic mutations discovered, over half of them coded for proteins that regulate development of the giraffe’s skeletal, cardiovascular, and nervous system. Interestingly, several of these genes showed signs of multiple adaptations, meaning they confer more than one benefit, or characteristic. For example, some genes control both cardiovascularand skeletal development. The researchers speculate that the giraffe’s stature and “turbocharged” cardiovascular system evolved together through changes in a small number of genes.

An adult male Masai giraffe in Ndarakwai – West Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Image: Doug Cavener)

Cavener and Agaba discovered genetic clues that explain how the giraffe evolved such a long neck and legs which, despite their length, feature the same number of bones as the neck and legs of humans and other mammals.

“To achieve their extraordinary length, giraffe cervical vertebrae and leg bones have evolved to be greatly extended,” said Cavener in a release. “At least two genes are required—one gene to specify the region of the skeleton to grow more and another gene to stimulate increased growth.”

One of these two genes is called FGFRL1, and it plays an important role in the early development of an embryo. It also contributes to the rapid bone-growth phase after a giraffe is born. In fact, this gene has been associated with severe skeletal and cardiovascular defects in both humans and mice when it fails to express properly. This gene, in conjunction with four homeobox genes—which are involved in the development of body structures—provides two of the required elements for the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck and legs.

“What we think has occurred then, is the giraffe evolved a long neck, which occurred over roughly a 15 to 20 million year period, and as its neck extended out, its cardiovascular system was also changing in tandem—and that some of the same genes were actually controlling both processes in concert,” noted Cavner in an accompanying video.

Finally, the researchers also discovered a group of genes that regulates metabolism and growth. These are genes that are likely responsible for the giraffe’s ability to metabolize acacia leaves and seedpods, which many other mammals find toxic.

Moving forward, the researchers would like to fuse the FGFRL1 gene into the mice genome to see how it affects their growth, particularly in its spine and legs. This could eventually lead to treatments in humans who are suffering from skeletal abnormalities and other physiological ailments. The sequencing of the giraffe genome, it would appear, is a scientific effort that’s extending beyond the scope of just zoology and evolutionary biology.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 7th October 2015

November general election most likely as Kenny set to reveal party’s key pledge

Radical welfare changes on payments to benefit working families, says Taoiseach Kenny.

 Enda & Joan joined at the hips?   

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is leaning strongly towards calling a November general election, will tonight unveil a key element of Fine Gael’s manifesto by pledging no one will receive more in welfare payments than they could earn at work.

Mr Kenny’s decision to announce the “working family payment” plan at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner will further fuel speculation he intends to call a general election shortly after the budget.

It means a November election is now very much on the cards but the precise date will depend on the timetable for getting the Finance Bill and the Social Welfare Bill through the Dáil.

Officials in the Department of Finance have already been told to draw up a slimmed down version of the Finance Bill giving effect to the budget changes that can be passed quickly through the Dáil.

Kenny’s speech?

In his speech tonight Mr Kenny will pledge to change the welfare system to ensure people at work can be sure of being better off than if they were on welfare. A similar commitment was included in the British Conservative Party’s successful general election platform earlier this year.

A new “working family payment” will be aimed in particular at families with one or more children.

Mr Kenny will outline how it will be targeted at low-income families by supplementing, on a graduated basis, the income of a household while at the same time incentivising more hours and full-time work.

A key feature of the payment will be to better align it with existing jobseeker supports aimed at creating a seamless transition from welfare to work for families while removing many of the welfare traps facing families with existing schemes such as the family income supplement.

The Taoiseach will outline why, in his opinion, such a scheme is needed.

“It is clear that the lack of a job in Ireland is by far and away the leading cause of inequality in our society. There are still far too many traps that lock parents in particular into welfare dependency. In many cases for couples with children work simply does not pay.

A radical approach.

“This is why the next government needs to adopt a far more radical approach if we are to successfully help jobless households back into work.

“For these reasons I expect the theme of radical welfare reform, along with lowering the tax burden on low- and middle-income workers, to make work pay will be a key election issue,” he is due to say.

The Taoiseach will also outline why he believes the next government needs to do more for households trapped in a cycle of poverty in which nobody is working. He will claim the “working family payment” will be the helping hand up on to the career ladder for many unemployed parents.

Tánaiste Joan Burton is strongly opposed to an early election. A meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last night heard a “unanimous” preference from TDs and Senators for an election next spring.

At the meeting, Ms Burton repeated her position that the election should be held next year. TDs and Senators told the meeting it was imperative the banking inquiry complete its work and the legislation to give effect to public sector pay rises agreement was passed.

“There was a real sense of frustration that there is a feeding frenzy around November,” said one TD.

“It is starting to undermine the image of a unified and coherent Government. There is a real feeling the Taoiseach should come out and talk to Joan. It is starting to look embarrassing to us at this stage.”

Thousands apply for grant without paying their water bills

Alan Kelly asks Irish people not to ‘pull a fast one’ over the new water conservation payment


At least tens of thousands of people have applied for the water conservation grant without having paid their water bills, an analysis of the figures shows.

The water conservation grant amounts to €100 and was introduced by the Government to enable households to “adopt a more environmentally friendly approach” to water usage in the home.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has urged people not to “pull a fast one” by applying for the grant without paying their bills..

As of tonight, 732,800 grant applications had been received, while the number of people who registered with Irish Water by the deadline of June 30th stands at 1.3 million.

This amounts to an overall application rate of 56%.

Speaking on Wednesday, Michael McNicholas, chief executive of Ervia, the parent company forIrish Water, said that almost 54 per cent of those who have registered have paid their bills.

That percentile amounts to 702,000 people.

This figure means that at least 30,800 people have applied for the conservation grant without paying their bill.

The deadline?

The deadline to apply for the grant expires at midnight on Thursday night.

The Department of Social Protection released a statement on Wednesday urging those who have paid their water bills to apply for the grant.

The statement said a total of 395,000 households have already received their grant payment.

It is expected that all payments will be made by the end of October.

Approximately 363,000 calls on the subject have been received by the department’s helpline to date, with about 50,000 of those coming in the last two days.

Due to the high volume of calls, an additional helpline has been made available.

The numbers are: 076-1087890, 02-12065880, or 1890-100043. The lines will be open from 8.30am until midnight.

Electric Ireland to reduce home electricity prices by 2%

Move comes after Bord Gáis Energy shaved 2.5% off its residential gas prices


Electric Ireland is to reduce its standard electricity prices for residential customers by an average of 2%.

Electric Ireland has announced it will reduce its standard electricity prices for residential customers by an average of 2% from next month.

The reduction, which comes into effect on November 16th, will benefit the average residential customer with a saving of €24.11 (including VAT) per year.

Must shop around’

Minister for Energy Alex White welcomed the move and said customers should “shop around” to ensure they are getting the best deal possible.

“Electric Ireland’s welcome move on prices, which comes in advance of increased winter energy demand, will be welcomed by families and businesses,” he said.

“It is the second such move by a major energy supplier in recent weeks, which suggests that conditions are right for other companies to follow. This is good news and I would encourage all consumers to shop around to ensure that they get the best price available.

“Even if consumers don’t want to change supplier they can call their supplier and ensure they have the best package on offer.”

In September, Bord Gáis Energy announced plans to shave 2.5% off its residential gas prices in a move which saw the average consumer make an annual saving of just over €20.

It also announced its intention to cut its unit rate of electricity by a further 2 per cent which would lead to electricity bill savings of €24.34 a year.

Household bills

Earlier this year, Mr White held a series of meetings with the energy suppliers to discuss the speed with which wholesale energy price reductions were being reflected in household bills.

Electric Ireland executive director Jim Dollard said the company was “happy to be able to continue to reduce prices for our electricity customers again this winter”.

“This reduction, combined with last year’s reduction, means the average residential bill will have reduced by almost €50,” he said.

“We are committed to offering the best value products in a very competitive marketplace and I believe today’s announcement will be good news for our 1.2 million residential customers.”

Irish men drink and smoke more than women,

says a health survey

Healthy Ireland study raises concerns over risky sex, snacking and low levels of exercise


While smoking is in decline, drinking alcohol remains a majority pursuit, engaged in by 76% of the population. Just over half of us drink at least weekly.

Significant variations in wellbeing between men and women and across social classes emerge from the first national survey of people’s health in almost a decade.

Men drink, binge drink and smoke more, but are also more likely to be highly active, and heavier, than women, according to the Healthy Ireland survey.

Wealthier groups smoke less but drink more alcohol in general than people in the most deprived areas, where binge drinking is higher.

The survey published by the Department of Health carries encouraging signs for the nation’s health, including falling smoking rates, a levelling off in obesity and positive levels of good mental health and social connectedness.

There are also numerous areas of concern, including high levels of risky sexual activity, binge drinking and snacking, and low levels of physical exercise.

Smoking is twice as common in deprived areas compared to more affluent groups, and levels of obesity among young women are twice those among male 15- to 24-year-olds.

More than 7,500 interviews were carried out for the survey, the first study of this size since 2007.

A reason for optimism?

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the findings provided some reason for optimism but also highlighted risks such as the prospect of a dramatic risk in chronic diseases.

The survey expresses concern that a majority of men who recently had sex with men did not use a condom. However, the study presents evidence of “more widespread risky behaviour”, with 17% of all those having sex with someone outside of a steady relationship not using any form of contraception.

“The exposure to risk for these individuals is significant,” it says.

Most of us describe our health in positive terms, with 85 per cent saying it is good or very good. Yet one-quarter of the population has a long-standing illness, and over half of this group experience limitations in everyday activities.

High blood pressure and back pain are the most common ailments, both experienced by one in eight people. One in 10 of us suffer from arthritis or an allergy, according to the survey.

On average we visit the GP 4.3 times a year, and women are more frequent attenders than men.

However, the overall figure masks a substantial variation between people with medical cards (6.3 visits a year) and those without any card (2.9 visits).

Smoking prevalence is falling, and Ireland is on the way to being tobacco-free, according to the survey. The proportion of regular smokers has dropped from 24% in the last national survey in 2007 to 19%.

Occasional smoking is also down, from 5 per cent to 4%.

People in the most deprived areas are over twice as likely to be smokers compared to the most affluent group – 35% against 16%.

While smoking is in decline, drinking alcohol remains a majority pursuit, engaged in by 76% of the population. Just over half of us drink at least weekly.

Men drink more frequently than women, and more over-55s drink weekly than among other age groups.

Drinking to excess

The survey says drinking is a core part of Irish life and “more worryingly” drinking to excess on a regular basis is also commonplace.

Four out of 10 drinkers in Ireland drink to harmful levels on a monthly basis, and one-fifth do so on a weekly basis.

“Given that one in six of those drinking at harmful levels felt in the past 12 months that their drinking harmed their health, it is likely that many of those drinking in that way are unaware of the risks associated with it.”

Alcohol consumption rises with social class but binge drinking is highest in the most deprived areas, the survey also finds.

It uses the WHO definition of binge drinking as six or more standard drinks on a single occasion, equivalent to three pints of beer. The drinks industry considers this threshold too low.

Two-thirds of the population are not sufficiently active, a negative finding compounded by the fact that people spend on average more than five hours a day sitting. Four in 10 men are highly active, but only 24% of women are.

Physical activity is not a cure-all for weight issues, however; 23% of those who are obese are highly active.

On diet, one in four people say they eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while 22% say they don’t eat fruit or vegetables daily. Snacking is widespread, with 62% saying they eat an average of two snacks a day.

Sugared drinks.

Some 15% drink sugar-sweetened drinks but, worrying, consumption is twice this level among young people aged 15-24 years.

Men are more likely to be overweight than women and overall, 37% of the population has a normal weight, 37% are overweight and 23% are obese. Obesity is highest in more deprived areas.

The report finds encouraging levels of good mental health and reasonable levels of social connectedness in the population. Rubbish or litter lying around, and house break-ins, emerged as major sources of concern in this respect.

Rare Wood house-harmless spider discovered in Co Antrim cliffs


The funnel-web spider prefers the outdoors compared its relative the house spider.

A rare spider has been found in Northern Ireland for the first time – but fear not, it is completely harmless.

The Wood house-spider, or malthonica silvestris, discovered on cliffs at Whitehead in Co Antrim, is a close relative of house spiders that people are complaining about bugging their homes at the moment.

However, it is normally half the size of the eight-legged creepy crawlies that send many of us into histrionics.

And unlike the typical house spider, this spider – which has only been recorded in Cork so far on the island – prefers to live in crooks and crevices in natural outdoor surroundings rather than in the warmth of your home.

One theory on the creature’s movements may be that it is venturing north because of the warmer weather.

Adam Mantell, Buglife’s Northern Ireland Officer is the entomologist who found and identified the spider during a survey said: “This is a really exciting discovery.

“Not only is this the first record for Northern Ireland, but it is very rare across the rest of Ireland too.

“With two out of three of our bugs in decline and so much wildlife disappearing from our countryside, it’s brilliant to have some good news for once, and add another spider to the list of species found in Northern Ireland.”

Sneezing Monkeys & ‘Walking Fish’ are a fascinating new species discovered


A monkey that sneezes whenever it rains, a fish that can survive out of water for four days and a venomous pit viper that is as lovely to look at as a piece of jewelry: These are just a few of the hundreds of new species discovered over the past few years in the diverse but highly threatened region of the east Himalayas.

Between 2009 and 2014, scientists discovered a total of 211 new species in the region, which stretches from central Nepal in the west to Myanmar in the east and includes the kingdom of Bhutan, as well as parts of northeast India and southern Tibet.

An average of 34 new plant and animal species have been discovered annually in the region for the past six years, according to a newly released report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“I am excited that the region — home to a staggering number of species including some of the most charismatic fauna — continues to surprise the world with the nature and pace of species discovery,” Ravi Singh, CEO of WWF-India and chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in a statement. [101 Animal Shots You’ll Go Wild Over]

‘Charismatic fauna’

Among the most impressive new species included in the WWF’s report is the sneezing monkey, which scientists nicknamed “Snubby.” The unusual critter lives in a remote region in northern Myanmar, an area of rugged mountains and dense forests. Snubby has an upturned nose (hence its nickname) that has a tendency to collect rainwater, causing the black-and-white–hued monkey to sneeze when it rains. To avoid sneezing fits, the animals spend rainy days with their heads tucked between their knees, according to the WWF.

Northern Myanmar is also home to a tiny but terrifying new species of fish, Danionella dracula, which is the size of a minnow but has pointy fangs jutting out from its jaws. Another strange fish from the eastern Himalayas is Channa andrao, a snakehead fish with some truly strange qualities. The vibrant blue fish can “walk” on land by wriggling around on its belly. The fish’s ability to breath air means it can live on land for a few days before returning to its freshwater habitat.

The only new reptile discovered in the eastern Himalayas since 2009, the bejeweled lance-headed pit viper (Protobothrops himalayansus), is also something special. Even if you don’t like snakes, it’s hard to deny this venomous serpent’s beauty. The reptile’s striking, diamondlike pattern and red-brown coloration give the snake a bejeweled quality.

‘At a crossroads’

All of these newly discovered species may sound like great news to anyone who appreciates biodiversity, but the WWF report also highlights the many threats facing the east Himalayas. Perhaps the most pressing is climate change, with the threat of habitat loss caused by deforestation, development and overgrazing not far behind.

Only 25 percent of the original habitats in the region remain intact, according to the WWF report, which found that rapid development has affected the vast majority of the region’s lands.

“The eastern Himalayas is at a crossroads. Governments can decide whether to follow the current path towards fragile economies that do not fully account for environmental impacts, or take an alternative path towards greener, more sustainable economic development,” Sami Tornikoski, leader of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in a statement.

In total, the Himalayas are home to an estimated 10,000 plant species and 300 mammal species. Nearly 1,000 different species of birds call the region home, along with hundreds of species of reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish. In the new WWF report alone, more than 130 new species of plants were discovered in the area.

The challenge that organizations like the WWF face is to both conserve the species that scientists have already identified and protect a region that likely shelters even more creatures and plants waiting to be discovered.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 6th October 2015

Ireland’s Nurses to vote on industrial action in A&E units

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation says hospital staff are ‘beyond breaking point’


A patient on a trolley in a hospital corridor.

Nurses will be balloted next month on industrial action in hospital emergency departments across the State, unless independent safety reviews of each unit are carried out.

The number of patients waiting on trolleys or in wards for admission to hospital broke through the 400 barrier this morning.

A total of 434 patients were waiting on trolleys or in wards, including 48 patients in Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda and 41 patients in University Hospital Limerick.

The union says it wants the immediate introduction of recruitment and retention initiatives to address unsafe staffing levels.

It is also seeking greater support for staff, including an immediate health and safety review of A&E units by an independent expert, to report within four weeks, and a review of hospital escalation policies.

The union also wants clinical decision-makers to be more present, throughout an extended work day and seven days a week, to ensure patients are assessed.

Progress is also being sought in providing nursing staff with increased access to diagnostics on the same extended, 7/7 basis.

The INMO executive council, which met today to decide whether to sanction industrial action over persistent overcrowding in hospital emergency departments, wants discussions to start immediately with the HSE on its demands.

Breaking point’

Speaking today, INMO general secretary Liam Doran said ED nurses were “beyond breaking point” and feared constantly for their patients and their own health and well-being.

“The four critical areas identified must now be the subject of immediate, positive and constructive engagement, which will address the critical issues of staffing, enhanced supports, senior clinical decision-making and access to diagnostics.”

Mr Doran said industrial action should be used only as a last resort: “However, after 12 years of waiting for improvements, and unfulfilled promises, the time for action is now.”

Smoking in Ireland is among dementia high risk factors


Smoking, heart disease, and high blood pressure contribute to dementia but most people still regard the condition as a normal part of aging, a study shows.

Women are more informed than men, and better-educated people have higher levels of knowledge, according to research conducted at Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital’s Dementia Services Centre.

In a review of 40 studies from 15 different countries including the North, published over the last 20 years, researchers at Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy found the general public have a limited understanding of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

There was also an absence of awareness of the role that modifiable risk factors played in the development of the disease, pointing to the need for governments to incorporate risk reduction programmes on dementia into all aspects of public health campaigns.

Dementia is a costly illness and a leading cause of disability and dependence worldwide, said Suzanne Cahill, director of the Dementia Services Information and Development Centre, and Associate Professor of Social Work and Aging at the School of Social Work and Social Policy at Trinity, who led the research team.

Most of these costs are incurred by family members who generally provide the main bulk of care services free of charge. The worldwide cost of dementia for 2015 has recently been estimated to be €818bn.

“Lack of public understanding of dementia has negative consequences for both the individual coping with the symptoms and for family caregivers,” said Prof Cahill.

“The individual may experience stigma, embarrassment and ridicule due to negative societal attitudes and retreat from activities once enjoyed and the caregiver may experience social isolation since neighbours, friends and family gradually withdraw, not knowing how to behave.”

The research, published in the journal Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders, also found that knowledge of dementia was particularly poor among racial and ethnic minority groups.

In almost half of the studies reviewed, poor to very limited levels of knowledge of dementia were reported.

In a 2012 Irish study, where random sampling was used, 42% of those aged 65 and above, compared with 28% of middle-aged and younger people, believed that dementia was normal in older people.

Another common misconception identified by the research team was that individuals have no control over whether or not they develop dementia. Knowledge about modifiable risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol was poor.

In one UK study in 2012, only about a quarter of respondents were aware that hypertension and high cholesterol increase an individual’s risk of developing dementia and in another French study just over one third identified smoking as a risk factor.

“Increasingly, the research evidence is pointing to the role cardiovascular risk factors play in contributing to dementia,” said Prof Cahill. “It demonstrates that brain health and cognitive functioning in later life are deeply embedded in physical and mental health in early life and governments need to incorporate risk reduction programmes on dementia into all aspects of public health policies.”

Northern deaths?

The number of younger people with Alzheimer’s disease who die in the North and Britain rises by more than half in winter but by less than 10% in the Republic, according to the HSE.

The extraordinary disparity between the north and south of Ireland has emerged from a new UK study which shows that 40% more people with Alzheimer’s Disease or Related Dementia (ADRD) die in winter there than at other times of year, with the figure rising to 56% among ADRD patients aged under 75.

Although excess winter deaths from ADRD were evident in the Republic, the rates were dramatically lower at 27% in the over 75 year olds and even lower at 9% among those under 75.

Anne O’Farrell of the HSE’s Health and Wellbeing Directorate told the Energy Action conference on fuel poverty in Dublin yesterday that further research into the reasons for the much lower incidence of excess winter deaths from dementia in the Republic of Ireland is necessary.

While figures for the Republic are lower than the North, they are still twice those of Norway where homes are better insulated.

Irish Government literally cannot give away €100 subsidy for water charges


The low take-up of the water-conservation grant is an indication that opposition to water charges is so strong the Government “literally cannot give away €100”, according to an opposition party.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance made the claim after it emerged that fewer than 600,000 households have applied for the €100 grant ahead of the deadline at midnight on Thursday.

The Department of Social Protection sent about 1.3m letters to households with instructions on how those who have registered with Irish Water can receive the grant. Fewer than 600,000 households had applied as of yesterday.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance said the figures point to a sustained opposition to water charges.

“This is another PR stunt from Irish Water and the Government that was an attempt to bribe people into acceptance of Irish Water that has backfired on them,” said Dublin City councillor Michael O’Brien.

“You have a situation where Irish Water is now so hated, and opposition to the water charges is so strong, that they literally cannot give away €100.

“The numbers who have applied for the grant roughly mirror the number of people who paid the first bill; however, when you factor in that this figure excludes over 400,000 houses who haven’t registered with Irish Water and includes people who are not eligible to pay water charges the figures read even worse for Irish Water.

“So despite there being no onus on people to pay the bill to claim the grant, the majority of people are refusing to even engage with Irish Water to claim a free €100 because they see it as a bribe.”

Cork City councillor Mick Barry said that the figures for Irish Water’s second billing are due to be released soon.

“Whether the numbers for the second bill show the boycott going up or down, it will be bad news for the Government and for Irish Water as they will show that there is still a strong and numerous boycott of the water charge,” he said.

“Irish Water must release the figures this week. They must not be allowed to hold back the figures till next week in an attempt to bury the bad news during budget week.”

Meanwhile, Irish Water has claimed the installation of water meters has saved an estimated 18m litres of water every day through the identification of previously undetected leaks at households.

The utility said that under its ‘first fix free’ scheme, it has repaired almost 1,300 leaks, saving over 11m litres of water every day, while a further 2,200 households that Irish Water has alerted have undertaken their own repairs, saving a further 7m litres every day.

“Repairing leaks on household water pipes whether inside or outside the house will save water and save money, in both the short and long term, and will help to secure a sustainable water supply to Irish Water customers,” said Jerry Grant, head of assets at Irish Water, adding that “repairing a leak can help to prevent reduced water pressure or supply interruptions in customers’ homes”.

Should our supermarkets be legally forced to sell more Irish food?


That’s what Romania is hoping for.

Supermarkets sell products from all over the world. But how much of it is Irish, and do we care anyway?

AP reports today that Romanian senators have adopted draft legislation that would oblige supermarkets to sell more meat and produce from the country.

They want 51% of meat, fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets to be produced or grown in Romania.

Here in Ireland, supermarkets aren’t legally obliged to sell a percentage of Irish food, though some go to lengths to ensure customers know they can buy Irish products there.

What do you think: Should our supermarkets be legally forced to sell more Irish food?
Poll Results.

End of the world on Wednesday, says a religious group


Do you have any plans for Wednesday, Oct. 7?

You better cancel them. That’s because the eBible Fellowship website, based in Sharon Hill, Penn., is predicting the world will be annihilated on Wednesday.

“According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away,” church founder Chris McCann told the Guardian.

“It’ll be gone forever. Annihilated,” he said.

McCann claims to have studied the Bible and extrapolated from a previous claim that the world was ending on May 21, 2011, that the correct date is actually October 7.

It’s based partly on the blood moon – a lunar eclipse combined with a super moon – which occurred on Sept. 27.

“God destroyed the first Earth with water, by a flood, in the days of Noah. And he says he’ll not do that again, not by water. But he does say in 2nd Peter 3 that he’ll destroy it by fire,” McCann said.

Don’t worry, there’s still some wiggle room for redemption — or a day after tomorrow.

“There’s a strong likelihood that this will happen,” McCann said. “Which means there’s an unlikely possibility that it will not.”

A look inside Ireland’s historical newspapers

The Sligo Champion first published 1836.


Findmypast is working in partnership with IrishCentral to share fascinating insights into your Irish ancestors. 

The Champion and Sligo News or The Sligo Champion, as it became, was first published in 1836, and is still published today. The paper offers a fascinating insight into life in the north-west of Ireland in the nineteenth century.

A typical nineteenth century weekly paper, The Sligo Champion was initially published on Saturdays at a price of 7 pence. By the 1850s the paper had expanded to eight pages and the price had dropped to 6d. At twice the size of most other newspapers of the day it offered relative value for money (6d was half a day’s wage for a farm laborer).

A typical edition carried an array of news stories from around the world as well as extensive local news. The paper offered entertainment alongside serious news including poetry, serialized novels and even jokes. In a time of low literacy (in rural areas up to half the population could not read or write) the newspaper would be passed around many houses and read aloud for those who could not read it for themselves.

The first edition was published on June 4th, 1836 and, as might be expected from a paper printed a hundred and seventy-seven years ago, it shows some signs of wear and tear. Digitization is helping to preserve these fragile objects and is bringing them to a global audience. These stories from the first edition give a real flavor of life a decade before The Great Famine.

Not unsurprizingly as a newly established publication the first edition of The Sligo Champion is a little light on advertisements and ordinary news but passionate in its politics. Parliamentary debates are published, the first edition of the paper features O’Connell calling for a reform of the House of Lords.

The layout of early newspapers can seem a little odd to the modern reader. The text is small and cramped and not separated with ‘headlines’ or even spaces between stories. A snippet about unusual vegetables can suddenly turn into a tip about preventing creaking shoes which in turn leads into an announcement about a judicial appointment, which is then followed by a report on a ‘hostile meeting’ (which turns out to be a duel, one of those involved is ‘shot very slightly’ and the other ‘severely but not dangerously’!) and finally a story of the court-martial of a soldier. It can leave the reader a bit breathless!

1836 was the year the national police force was inaugurated in Ireland. Previously policing was organized at a local or regional level and their structures and uniforms (where they existed) had a military overtone. The numbers of police, about 7,500, for a population of approximately eight million was roughly half of what it is today (about 14,000) for a population of about five million, not counting the horses!

The newspaper has stories from all over the country and includes one about a gala fete held at Dublin Zoo which had opened just five years previously. Admission to the Zoo was 6d. Four years after this article appeared (in 1840) that the Zoo made the ground-breaking decision to charge 1d on Sundays allowing many more people to enjoy the sights and sounds of the exotic animals it housed, animals that the people would have never have seen before, not even in ‘picture books’.

Among the notices one that catches your attention is a public declaration of the insolvency of one Edward Casey. With the loss of records relating to insolvents & debtors in the explosion at the Four Courts in 1922 notices such as this one are invaluable for piecing together parts of our ancestors’ lives that would otherwise be forgotten.

Newspapers offer up amazing genealogical gems and incredible insights into life in nineteenth century Ireland so explore them today and see what you can discover.

Water flow on rivers affected by volcanic eruptions,

A study suggests


Major volcanic eruptions do not only affect the air’s environment, it also influences the flow of some of the biggest rivers in the world, a study shows. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh analyzed 50 major rivers and volcanic eruptions from Krakatoa in 1883 to Pinatubo in 1991.

Scientists expect to predict the levels of water that affect directly on the rainfall on future major eruptions. They discovered that the flows of these rivers decreased after a one or two year period following the volcano’s eruption, a process that may be explained due to the amounts of debris the volcano expels, creating a partial sunscreen. This could cause shortage on rainfall, less sunlight means less evaporation, messing with the water cycle.

According to the study, two of the world’s largest rivers like the Nile and the Amazon showed an important reducement of about 10 percent, due to major volcanic eruptions. Credit: 7 Themes

“It was known that volcanic eruptions affect global rainfall, but it was previously unclear to what extent this translated into changes in river flow,” said Dr Carley Iles, co-author of the study, according to ABC News.

Although the study does not specify data on the water volume, two of the world’s largest rivers like the Nile and the Amazon showed an important reducement of about 10 percent. This could mean serious impact on agriculture and the life of people that live near those rivers, Iles suggested. These types of results were found generally in tropical regions, including northern Asia and the Congo.

“Our findings reveal the indirect effect that volcanoes can have on rivers, and could be very valuable in the event of a major volcanic eruption in future,” Isle adds. The paper was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Researchers wanted to warn about the side effects that could bring geoengineering as a solution to this issue. Volcanoes are a natural way of cooling the planet and using this type of technology to replicate its effects on large scales could have terrible consequences, scientists conclude.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday/Thursday 19th & 20th August 2015

Irish household debt falls by 2.3% on 1st quarter & most in five years

Central Bank figures show total household debt fell to €154.6 billion or €33,530 per capita


Irish household debt fell by the most in five years during the first quarter of 2015, according to the Central Bank.

Its latest Quarterly Financial Accounts show debt total household debt fell to €154.6 billion or €33,530 per capita during the period, representing a fall of €3.7 billion or 2.3% on the previous quarter.

This was the largest decline in debt since the second quarter of 2010.

Though Irish household debt has decreased significantly in recent years in tandem with recovery elsewhere in the economy, it still remains high relative to other countries, the Central Bank said.

It noted that only Denmark and the Netherlands had higher household debt relative to disposable income during the first quarter of 2015.

The figures also indicated that non-financial corporation debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell from 205 per cent in the final quarter of 2014 to 194 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

“However, the decline reflected both an increase in the value of annualised GDP, as well as, a €10.4 billion fall in the stock of debt.

New Irish mobile operator iD launches today


iD, Ireland’s newest mobile operator, goes live across Ireland today.

Irish customers will be able to build their own plans, picking and choosing elements that suit their needs. Customers can choose anywhere from 100 to 5,000 minutes, 100 to 5,000 texts, and a data cap of 125MB to 20GB. 4G is included in all plans by default.

There will be no roaming packages initially. iD says that its roaming prices will be competitive with the market.

Not only will customers be able to tailor a plan to suit themselves, but they’ll also be able to decide how much to pay for a new phone upfront and how long to pay the handset off for.

These costs are separate, so once a customer pays off the phone their monthly bill will be cheaper.

iD will offer 20 handsets initially, the majority of which will be 4G-enabled. Apple fans will have to wait to make the move to this new operator; the iPhone is not being offered at launch.

The average SIM-only plan will cost €20.81 per month. Analysts expect that iD’s launch will lead to price reductions across the board as other mobile operators react to lower prices.

iD is operated by Dixon’s Carphone and is piggybacking on Three Ireland’s network. The new mobile operator is aiming to secure around 6% of the Irish market within five years.

AIB’s credit card redress bill likely to be small


AIB yesterday launched a redress scheme for 110,000 credit card customers who paid for insurance they didn’t need.

However, it is likely the Government-owned bank will pay less than half of the estimated bill of up to €7m owing to affected users.

The Central Bank said it had been working with AIB for the lender to pay back insurance to credit card customers who had bought credit card protection insurance from Pinnacle Insurance because the card holders were already covered for parts of any losses.

AIB had been selling the insurance cover at an annual premium of €16 since August 2006, and repayments will therefore be calculated on the number of years customers have paid out for the insurance cover.

It believes the average payment per customer will be €66 and the total cost, if every customer were to apply, would reach over €6.6m.

AIB says it will be contacting affected customers and explaining to them how they can apply to get their money back under the redress scheme.

But experience of other redress schemes involving excessive credit card insurance payments show that at most 40% of affected customers will end up applying.

In recent months, the Central Bank had issued guidance to 161,000 customers affected by a separate redress scheme for credit card customers at Bank of Ireland, MBNA, and Ulster Bank.

Affected customers at these banks had been sold insurance cover through Homecare Insurance Ltd (HIL), but again parts of the insurance were already covered by the card providers.

Only €9m was claimed under the three banks’ redress scheme, meaning that around €10m was left unclaimed by card users.

It is believed that the Central Bank will continue to urge customers of the three banks to seek compensation even though the deadline for applying under the redress scheme has officially passed.

“We require all firms to make full disclosure to consumers of all relevant material information when selling any financial product,” said Bernard Sheridan, director of consumer protection at the Central Bank.

“It is important that consumers can have confidence that firms are acting in their best interests and that they are not sold any cover which they do not need,” he said.

“Where this has occurred it is our priority to ensure that consumers receive full redress. We encourage all affected consumers to make a claim.”

An AIB spokeswoman said that it was following procedures used in earlier schemes to compensate customers.

Study shows prolonged sitting as bad as smoking for health


Researchers find sitting for long periods linked to an increased risk of heart disease and early death

Sitting for long periods of time is just as dangerous for your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

Sitting for long periods of time is just as dangerous for your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

Researchers from the university found prolonged sitting was linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and an early death.

They said it was as big a threat to public health as smoking.

Dr Mark Tully, from the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s, said most people sit for an “inordinate” amount of time at work, driving or at home watching television.

“One of the biggest threats to health is the amount of time spent sitting. On average people spend over nine hours, or up to 80 per cent of their waking day, sitting down,” he said.

Dr Tully said levels of sedentary behaviour increased as peopled aged.

“Public health scientists have recognised the need to develop effective interventions to address the high levels of inactivity across ages, with sitting regarded as ‘the new smoking’,” he said.

The four-year-study, which is being carried out in conjunction with researchers in Scotland, Germany,France, Denmark and Spain, is looking at developing new ways to help older adults be more active and will test the new methods on 1,300 people in Europe.

Carbon nano-fibres made from CO2 in the air


Out of thin air we get carbon nanofibres

Scientists in the US have found a way to take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and make carbon nano-fibres, a valuable manufacturing material.

Their solar-powered system runs just a few volts of electricity through a vat full of a hot, molten salt; CO2 is absorbed and the nano-fibres gradually assemble at one of the electrodes.

It currently produces 10g in an hour.

The team suggests it could be scaled up and make an impact on CO2 emissions, but other researchers are unsure.

Nonetheless, it could offer a cheaper way of making carbon nano-fibres than existing methods.

“Until now, carbon nano-fibres have been too expensive for many applications,” said Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University. He was speaking at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Carbon nano-fibres are already used in high-end applications such as electronic components and batteries, and if costs came down they could be used more extensively – improving the strong, lightweight carbon composites used in aircraft and car components, for example.

The question is whether the “one-pot” reaction demonstrated by Prof Licht and his team could help to drop that cost.

At the moment 10g of nano-fibres – like this sample Dr Licht brought to the conference – can be made per hour

The idea of turning CO2 from the air into useful products is a popular one, and the field is strewn with many more unfulfilled promises than success stories.

But Prof Licht is confident his design can succeed. “It scales up very easily – the entire process is quite low energy.”

He also suggested that the system could provide “a reasonable path to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere”.

This would involve adopting the reactors on a colossal scale and the idea has raised some eyebrows.

Dr Katy Armstrong, a chemical engineer at the University of Sheffield, said the process was “promising and very interesting on a lab scale” but that Prof Licht’s bigger vision might be problematic.

“As they are capturing CO2 from the air, the process will need to deal with huge volumes of gas to collect the required amount of carbon, which could increase process costs when scaled up,” she told the BBC.

Dr Paul Fennell, a chemical engineer and clean energy researcher at Imperial College London, said: “If they can make carbon nano-fibres, that is a laudable aim and they’re a worthwhile product to have.

“But if your idea is to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce so many carbon nano-fibres that you make a difference to climate change – I’d be extremely surprised if you could do that.” Prof Licht insists it is worth trying.

“There aren’t any catches; there’s a necessity to work together, to test this on a larger scale, to apply some societal resources to do that.”

Meanwhile, other chemists were impressed by the simple fact that Prof Licht’s team had produced nano-fibres from atmospheric carbon.

The carbon nano-fibres gradually build up on one of the device’s electrodes

Dr Dario Corradini was also at the American Chemical Society meeting, presenting his theoretical work on absorbing CO2 with a similar type of electrochemical cell.

“These cells are relatively inexpensive in terms of energy consumption – it’s definitely a realistic approach to producing the nano-fibres,” he said.

Humans would have had chicken brains (literally) if it weren’t for one tiny molecular change


Scientists may have finally uncovered the reason why us humans aren’t birdbrains (literally!).

We kid you not, researchers believe the reason why the human brain is much more powerful than a chicken is all down to a single molecular event.

Losing a tiny fragment of protein is thought to have spurred the evolution of the complex mammalian central nervous system, and without that change we could all literally be birdbrains.

A tiny fragment of protein (a lack of it, to be precise) is the reason why our brains aren’t like those of chickens.

The reason why mammals are so brainy compared with other vertebrates such as birds, lizards and frogs is a mystery since all these groups share similar genes.

The answer could lie in a biological process called alternative splicing (AS), part of the assembly system that attaches together the building blocks of proteins from genetic instructions.

During AS in mammals, a small fragment of a protein found in all vertebrates called PTBP1 is left off – like a single brick omitted from a Lego model.

Scientists believe that a biological process called alternative splicing is the reason why the human brain evolved.

Scientists found that in mammalian cells, the new shorter version of PTBP1 unleashed a cascade of events leading to the generation of neurons.

When chicken cells were genetically engineered to produce the mammalian form of PTBP1, similar events were triggered.

When scientists genetically engineered chicken cells to produce the mammalian form of PTBP1, they noticed a more complex brain development.

“One interesting implication of our work is that this particular switch between the two versions of PTBP1 could have affected the timing of when neurons are made in the embryo in a way that creates differences in morphological complexity and brain size,” said Professor Benjamin Blencowe, lead scientist from the University of Toronto in Canada.

News Ireland daily BOG by Donie

Tuesday 7th July 2015

The living wage must GO UP to a rate of €11.50 per hour


The Living Wage Technical Group in Ireland believes the current hourly rate of pay should be €11.45 increased by 5cents

Soaring rents and the rise in the cost of car insurance means the “living wage” must be increased to €11.50 per hour, according to an expert group.

The Living Wage Technical Group – which consists of trade unions, think-tanks such as TASC and NERI, as well as Social Justice Ireland and the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice – believes the current hourly rate of €11.45 should be increased by 5c to match the rising costs of living.

The group, which was established last year, believes workers should be paid at least €11.50 per hour to make “a minimum acceptable standard of living” possible. They said the increase in housing costs, household goods and services, car insurance and rising rents are the main drivers for the need of an increase.

This rate is 33% higher than the minimum wage of €8.65 per hour currently paid.

Irish consumers need new insurance legislation,

A new report says


The Law Reform Commission warns of ‘vicious devices and traps’ in existing contracts and recommends that new legislation on insurance contracts is needed.

New consumer legislation designed to remove “vicious devices and traps for the unwary” from insurance contracts has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission.

In a report published today, the commission recommends warranties should be abolished from insurance contracts, changes should be made to the duty of disclosure and there should be proportionate remedies for innocent or negligent mistakes by consumers.

The aim of the Report on Consumer Insurance Contracts, part of the commission’s third programme of law reform, is to “reform and re-balance” the duties of insurers and consumers, including small businesses, the commission has said.

The commission president, retired High Court judge Mr Justice John Quirke, told The Irish Times it was “ridiculous” that an insurance company could refuse to pay out household insurance after a fire on the basis, for example, that the householder did not have a burglar alarm.

Abolished law.

Under current legislation, this is permitted where the requirement to have the alarm was a “warranty” or condition of the contract, but should be abolished.

“A number of English courts have described warranties as ‘vicious devices and traps for the unwary’; they are not very popular in the courts,” Mr Justice Quirke said.

He said insurance contract law caused problems for consumers mainly because most laws had their origins in the 16th and 17th centuries, when sailing ships were crossing the Atlantic and the contents were being insured.

They were “hammered out between people who had equal bargaining powers”, he said.

But in modern times, contracts are between multinational conglomerates and ordinary people, and there are not equal bargaining rights or bargaining capacities.

“We want to ensure these problems don’t cause injustice,” Mr Justice Quirke said.

The commission makes 105 recommendations, including changes to the law on disclosure, which dates back to 1776.

It imposes a duty on a consumer to disclose information that a hypothetical “prudent insurer” might rely on in deciding whether to insure that consumer.

If it is not disclosed, the insurer can refuse to pay a claim.

Mr Justice Quirke said the obligation of identifying this information should be placed on the insurer, and there should also be proportionate remedies for consumers if they fail to disclose.

“There can be an absolutely innocent failure to disclose something and if that is the case, then instead of the insurer being able to refuse completely to honour the agreement, the misrepresentation should be examined and investigated to discover whether it is innocent, negligent or fraudulent,” he said.

“If it is fraudulent, the contract should be voided completely, but if it is innocent or negligent, the insurer shouldn’t be allowed to just simply walk away and say we won’t cover this; they should be required to apply proportionate remedies for the consumer.”

The commission also recommends the abolition of a requirement of a consumer to have an “insurable interest” in what is being insured, which dates back to 1774, when gambling was disapproved of and people took out insurance policies on, for example, the life of King George III.

Mr Justice Quirke said that nowadays it referred to situations where, for example, a son or daughter took out a policy on their father’s home when the father was unable to.

The insurance company could accept the payment for such a policy. However, if a claim is made, the company may say the son or daughter has no “insurable interest” in the house and they can refuse to pay.


The commission also recommends third parties, who were intended to be the beneficiaries under an insurance contract, should be permitted to make a direct claim against the insurer.

This could benefit, for example, a person injured at work when the employer had an insurance policy, but where the business has since gone into liquidation.

The commission has included a proposed draft Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill in its report, which will be published this evening by Mr Justice Ronan Keane.

Acne scarring is ‘worse in smokers’

Scientists say? 


Smoking not only causes wrinkles — it can worsen the effects of acne, scientists have found.

Scarring associated with the condition is more severe in smokers, research shows.

The findings provide another reason for people, especially teenagers prone to acne, to stay clear of tobacco, say experts.

Acne results in unsightly spots that can burst and damage the skin, leaving scars in the form of craters, ‘ice-pick’ holes, or an uneven lumpy surface. Scarring also occurs when people pick or squeeze their spots.

The study looked at 992 sufferers afflicted by severe acne who were referred to a hospital dermatology department over an eight year period.

Scarring was observed in 91% of patients, and while smokers were not more likely to have acne scars, the damage to their skin was significantly more severe.

More than half (53.7%) of smokers had moderate to severe scarring compared with just over a third (35%) of non-smokers.

Dr Raman Bhutani, a member of the research team from Harrogate District Foundation Trust, said: “The correlation seen between smoking and severity of facial scarring could suggest that smoking can increase the severity of scarring in a susceptible person with acne.

“Further work is required to confirm this finding and to understand the mechanisms by which this may occur.”

The findings were presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference in Manchester.

Nina Goad, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “Acne affects a huge proportion of the population, with 80% of teenagers affected at some point. While for most people the disorder will eventually clear, some are left with scarring which can be for life. This can be hard to treat and can make people feel self-conscious and affect their self-esteem.

“We already know that smoking is bad for our health, so perhaps this latest finding will provide an extra impetus for people to quit.”

Acne occurs when oil-producing glands in the skin become over-stimulated by certain hormones. The build-up of oil creates an ideal environment for acne bacteria to flourish, producing inflammation and spots.

Ireland has the highest alcohol consumption during pregnancy


Alcohol use during pregnancy is “prevalent and socially pervasive” in Ireland and the UK, health experts have warned after carrying out a large-scale study.

Women across all socio-demographic groups were likely to drink – but those who smoked were up to 50% more likely to consume alcohol while pregnant, research led by the University of Cambridge found.

Researchers described the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy as a “significant public health concern”.

Their analysis of almost 18,000 women in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia found drinking during pregnancy was commonplace in all four countries, ranging from 20% to 80% in Ireland and from 40% upwards in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Ireland had the highest prevalence of any alcohol consumption pre-pregnancy (90%) and during pregnancy (82%), and the highest reported binge consumption before (59%) and during (45%) pregnancy.

Habits and guidelines

The amount of alcohol consumed dropped substantially for all countries in the second trimester, along with the level of binge drinking.

Non-white women were less likely to drink, along with younger women, those who were more highly educated, obese or already had children.

Researchers said the findings show there is low adherence to alcohol guidelines advising complete abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

Although most women who drink during pregnancy do so at low levels, those who drink heavily are putting their unborn baby at risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which affects their physical and mental development.

The team added that since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels, where the effects on the foetus are less well understood, the “widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern”.

Their analysis did not include women who miscarried or who had stillborn babies – and they said this meant they could have excluded the heaviest drinkers of all, and participants may also be more advantaged than the general population, which could have affected the results.

“The findings of this study have direct application to policy and practice,” the study authors concluded.

“Although low proportions of women engaged in heavy drinking, the adverse consequences of heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy on birth outcomes, long-term gross motor function, and social, cognitive, emotional and behavioural outcomes in offspring make heavy gestational alcohol consumption a high public health priority.

“Additionally, since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood, the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern.”

They added that healthcare professionals should advise pregnant women to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, while dual targeting of smoking and alcohol consumption should potentially be increased.

“New policy and interventions are also required to reduce alcohol prevalence both prior to and during pregnancy,” they added.

The 52-year-old woman who really does look like she is in her twenties


This mother says sunscreen and coconut oil are the secrets to her very youthful looks. Pamela Jacobs, from Leeds, is 52 but appears to be in her late twenties

  • She says her secret is healthy eating and using coconut oil for everything
  • Mrs Jacobs, who has 21-year-old son, also exercises once a week

With her clear skin, enviable figure and thick, dark hair, Pamela Jacobs looks every inch the yummy mummy. But while she might look like someone in her late twenties or early thirties, Pamela Jacobs is 52 – and has a 21-year-old son.

So young does she appear, she has been offered student rail fares and is told she must be lying when she reveals her real age.

Much to her son’s horror, she also gets attention from younger men – and embarrassingly, has been mistaken for his girlfriend in the past.

‘A while ago someone my son knows thought I was his girlfriend,’ she chuckles. ‘And some people I know have thought the same in reverse.’

But Marley need not worry about her dating any of his friends because Mrs Jacobs, who is currently single after marrying and divorcing in her twenties, says she has no intention of dating a younger man.

‘It’s flattering but I prefer men of a similar age to me,’ she explains, pointing out that a 21-year-old son ‘puts that [dating a twenty-something] into perspective’.

Nicknamed Pharrell by family members after the enduringly youthful singer, Mrs Jacobs says the odd embarrassing situation notwithstanding, there are no real downsides to looking younger.

‘I can’t remember the last time I was ID’d  but a few years ago I was buying ticket to London and the cashier asked if I had my student rail card so I said I didn’t have one.

‘He then asked if I wanted to apply for one so I had to tell him that I wasn’t a student and what my real age is. He went a bit red.’

Another incident came during a health screening two years ago when a nurse refused to believe that she was 50 until seeing her medical notes.

‘She said she was amazed at how young I looked – and also that I still had a waist,’ she remembers.

Despite her youthful looks, Mrs Jacobs, who turns 53 next month, says she is starting to notice some signs of ageing such as being more tired than before.

Nevertheless, she continues to do a weekly body conditioning class and eats a healthy diet packed with leafy greens and coconut oil – crediting the latter with her glowing complexion.

‘I’m a big coconut oil lover,’ she explains. ‘My mother used it on our hair and skin when we were younger and I’ve carried on.

‘I use Biona Organic Coconut Oil for cooking, in coffee, for removing make-up, for hair treatments and on my body twice a day as a moisturiser.’

She avoids wheat products such as bread and pasta because of the bloating they cause and doesn’t eat fruit because of the high sugar content but says everything else is allowed.

‘I follow the 80/20 rule,’ she reveals. ’80 per cent eating well and 20 per cent sneaking in the odd pudding, a little alcohol or organic dark chocolate.’

Other tips include avoiding chemicals wherever possible and using pink Himalayan salt in the bath once a week to help banish toxins.

Regular body brushing – and lavish application of coconut oil – keeps her skin soft, as does an overnight mask once a week.

She has also begun investing in better quality cosmetics which, she says, work better and last for longer.

‘I use a little Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser in Golden which gives a dewy effect and By Terry Terribly Densiliss concealer because contains an eye treatment,’ she explains.

‘I love Nars Taos or Orgasm blusher, Sephora black or blue liquid eyeliner and By Terry Growth Booster Mascara which helps lashes grow and doesn’t clump up and a Bobbi Brown Long Wear Brow pencil.

‘Then for lips, I like Stila lip gloss in Cranberry, Nars lip glosses and also Lipstick Queen’s coral lipstick. Putting it all on takes about five minutes.’

Ultimately, Mrs Jacobs says looking young is all about outlook and says nothing beats a big smile when it comes to knocking 10 years off.

‘I think the secret of eternal youth is to smile every day,’ she says. ‘The best thing about looking young is that it makes me feel good and gives me confidence.

‘I’m not perfect and have flaws like everyone else but I am grateful for what I do have.’



Pamela, who is of South Asian origin, eats a super-healthy diet based largely on vegetables and topped up with good proteins such as salmon.

Fresh-faced: Pamela eats a daily handful of almonds and eats a vegetable-based diet

Many of the dishes she makes are Asian and are spiced up with ginger, cumin and turmeric, among others, which she says act a bit like food supplements in terms of the health benefits.

Breakfast is usually an organic boiled egg served with gluten-free toast or organic oatcakes and coconut yoghurt with fresh berries and nuts.

To finish off the meal, she has a glass of coconut water with added liquid iron, which she says is key for stopping her iron levels plummeting as she ages.

Lunch comes in the shape of a salad prepared at home in the morning and usually contains a mixture of organic spinach, kale, rocket, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, red peppers, advocado, beansprouts and sauerkraut [pickled cabbage].

Fresh basil and coriander add flavour while pumpkin and sunflower seeds add crunch. ‘For protein I’ll add some Arbroath salmon, eggs or chicken and dress the salad with organic olive oil and lemon juice,’ she adds.

‘I also add cayenne pepper and lots of black pepper.’

Dinner is equally healthy and usually consists of a portion of organic chicken, oily fish or a lamb steak served with a ‘mountain of vegetables’ – broccoli and courgettes are favourites.

She also eats a daily handful of almonds, snacks on celery and houmus and limits her coffee intake to one a day.

Most of what she eats is organic and she drinks water throughout the day, usually flavoured with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.


Pamela does a body conditioning class once a week and follows that with a fitness yoga session immediately afterwards.

While at the gym, she uses the sauna and steam room and does a whole body exfoliation. She also uses the time to use a hair mask – she likes Aveda’s Damage Remedy.

‘I’ll go in the sauna for 10 minutes then have a freezing cold shower until the water stops,’ she adds.

‘I love it – it makes me so feel invigorated and I’m convinced it has helped to tone my skin. Then I will have 10 minutes in the steam and repeat the cold shower.’


Pamela loves Aveda’s all-natural Damage Remedy range and alternates between that and the Inviati brand to keep her hair soft.

She protects her locks with Aveda’s Brilliant Hair protector and gets rid of flyaways with the help of Oribe Moisturising Cream and Moroccan Oil.

Cleansing is done either with Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish (‘It’s reasonably priced and effective’) or coconut oil.

To keep her skin in good shape, she uses Origins A Perfect World moisturiser which comes with SPF25 – a skincare essential according to Pamela.

She also uses Dermalogica Age Reversal eye cream and uses an Omorovicza deep cleansing facial mask once a week. Dermalogica’s Power Recovery Mask is another favourite.


Pamela moisturises her body with coconut oil twice a day and says it keeps her skin ‘incredibly soft and nourished’.

She also uses a body brush before showering and prefers paraben-free shower gel brands such as Sai Sei or Faith in Nature.

Once a week, she detoxes by soaking in a bath topped up with pink Himalayan salt crystals and scrubs her feet each day while showering.

Heatwaves are here to stay the summers will be warmer and drier for next 30 years


New research from the Met Office shows that summers are going to get hotter and drier over the next 30 years

If you’re loving the 35C temperatures we’ve had in the UK this summer then you’ll be pleased to hear that sweltering summers are here to stay.

Not only that, but winters are going to get less cold – although they’ll also be a lot wetter.
New research from the Met Office shows that summers are going to get hotter and drier over the next 30 years.

Lead scientist Dr David Sexton, head of scenarios development at the Met Office, said: “The future UK climate can now be described in terms of the extreme hot, cold, wet or dry seasons which could associate with floods, droughts, heatwaves and cold spells that impact society.’

While ice cold winters and wet summers are looking increasingly unlikely as each year passes, there is still the chance of them happening in individual years.

Still, while all this might be exciting news for sun worshippers, to really feel the affects you’ll have to live until at least the year 2100.
By the end of the century the likelihood of experiencing a blazing hot summer of the kind now seen every 20 years rises to 90%, making scorchers the norm.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows the odds of having a colder than average winter in the UK dropping from around 20% in 2020 to just 4% by the end of the century.
Very cold winters such as the one that occurred in 2009/10 will become almost non-existent. The chance of experiencing one of these is less than 1% by 2100.

Over the next two decades there was still a 35% to 40% likelihood of summers being wetter than average, but the odds fall to about 20% by 2100.

The chances of a very wet summer – defined as 20% more rain than the 1961-1990 average – were expected to fall from 18% in 2020 to 10% eight decades later.

The Met office senior scientist Dr Glen Harris, who co-authored the research, said: “While there is a trend towards warmer winters and drier summers, there will still be a lot of variations in weather from year to year.
‘Cold winters and wet summers just become less likely, and we will still have to be prepared for them.’
Anyone else wishing they were born in 2080?

Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Friday 15th May 2015

Ireland’s export values for March 2015 hit their highest level since 2002


Export-led sectors (such as technology, software, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and green technology) continue to show growth

The value of exports hit their highest levels since 2002 in March, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

A rebound in medical and pharmaceutical exports has helped largely drive the positive figures, along with the weaker euro.

Preliminary data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that Ireland’s crucial exports were valued at €9.1bn in March. The last time it broke through the €9bn barrier was in May 2002.

Analysts also hailed the fact that exports have surged since the start of the year, thanks in part to improved competitiveness gains from the weaker euro.

Davy Stockbrokers said good exports are up 17.4% in the first three months of this year compared with 2014, thanks to a rebound in pharmaceuticals, which are up 21% on the year.

“Nonetheless, excluding this sector, Irish goods exports are up 9.1% year-to-date,” said Davy economist Conall Mac Coille.

“This suggests that Irish export performance is benefitting from stronger demand and from the competitiveness gains, vis-à-vis the UK, from the weak euro.”

The CSO data shows that while exports decreased 2% in March and imports rose 4%, the trade surplus narrowed by 10% to €3.43bn.

The value of exports for March was €9. 1bn representing an increase of €1.6bn, or 21%, when compared with March of last year.

The last time the value of exports was above €9bn was in May 2002 when it reached €9.1bn.

The CSO said the main driver behind the increase was a 58% surge in exports of medical and pharmaceutical products.

“The underlying narrative is one of broad based growth in exports, propelled by favourable currency moves and the improved economic performance of a number of Ireland’s key trading partners,” said Philip O’Sullivan, economist with specialist bank Investec.

“Elsewhere, the upturn in investment and personal consumption here has led to an increased appetite for imports. We expect to see more of the same in the months

€10m Irish Government funding announced for start-ups


The Jobs Minister said a €10 million initiative to support more start-up businesses will be led by people in local and regional areas.

The initiative comprises of two funds, with the closing date in mid July.

A €5 million fund will be open to groups of Local Enterprise Offices, and another €5 million Community Enterprise Initiatives fund will be open to groups and organisations in every county who come together with ideas for projects to create employment.

Minister Richard Bruton said this new initiative will be driven from the bottom-up.

“They are aimed at the local enterprise offices, which are now embedded in the local authorities … there are many ways in which groups could collaborate within the regions to develop initiatives,” he said.

“This is about bottom-up growth – you can’t expect someone in government buildings at Merrion Street or Kildare Street to know the environment in Kerry, and get the best ideas and people to drive them forward.”

NTMA sells €750m of seven-year bonds


In February of this year, the NTMA raised €500m through the auction of a 15-year bond.

The National Treasury Management Agency has sold €750 million of seven year government bonds at a yield of 0.81%.

The total bids received amounted to €1.99bn, which was 2.7 times the amount on offer. The NTMA has raised €10.25bn in the bond markets so far this year.

In February, the NTMA raised €500m through the auction of a 15-year bond.

Some €4bn was raised by the NTMA the previous week with the issuing of the first 30-year bond. The NTMA is looking to raise €12bn-€15bn in long-term bonds this year.

Meanwhile, there was much movement on the currency front yesterday, with sterling regaining its losses in the week heading into the British general election, while the US currency has slid to its lowest levels in almost four months a day after stagnant retail sales became the latest data to undermine prospects for Federal Reserve interest-rate increase.

The greenback climbed nine straight months through March on speculation the first hike in almost a decade was looming.

The dollar’s decline brought it to the lowest level in almost three months against the Euro.

And yet across the Atlantic, not even a reduction in the Bank of England’s quarterly growth forecasts was enough to derail sterling’s rebound.

People don’t realise severe obesity is as dangerous as smoking

  •  The new study also said that 20% of people who describe themselves as healthy are in fact overweight.


An expert group that looks into how obesity impacts on health has said that “widespread misconceptions” about its danger persist.

The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), has released a new study entitled ‘Obesity: an underestimated threat’.

In it the group shows that obesity can reduce life expectancy at a comparable level to smoking tobacco.

What are the main points of the report?

Speaking about the report, Chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI), Dr Grace O’Malley, highlights seven key findings within the report.

These include the fact that less than 50% of the population realise that it is a disease; that many people are unaware of the link between obesity and serious illness; that over 60% do not think obesity surgery should be paid for by the national health system; and that over 80% of individuals underestimate the importance of an overall approach to maintaining a healthy weight.

It also mentions that more than half of people asked think that obesity is less dangerous than smoking. On this Dr O’Malley, said:

Studies have shown that moderate and severe obesity (BMI 30-35 kg/m2 and >40 kg/m2 respectively) can reduce life expectancy by between 5 and 20 years which is comparable to the impact of tobacco smoking (10 years). Despite this, less than 50% recognised obesity as being as dangerous as smoking.

Interestingly, it was also found that many people who consider themselves healthy are in fact overweight.

Dr O’Malley, said, “in this study 20% of those describing themselves as a healthy weight were technically overweight and 30% of those who described themselves as overweight were technically obese.”

One positive take away from the study was that most participants thought that diet and exercise were almost always the best way to treat obesity. Dr O’Malley does make the point however, that “in certain cases – particularly for people with severe obesity – additional treatments are needed.”

A growing problem in today’s society

Recent statistics have shown that obesity is a ‘growing threat’ – with a 2014 model estimating that 89% of of Irish men could be overweight by 2030, with 48% of these being obese.

The study released today carried out by the group looked at 14,000 people in seven European countries and aimed to build a better understanding of how the public perceives obesity.

Christopher an Irish student just got an asteroid named after him


This Irish student above just got an asteroid named after him

Of all the things that could happen in life, getting an asteroid named after you has to be one of the coolest.

Lucky sixth-year student Christopher Carragher from Our Lady’s Secondary School in Castleblaney can say just that, after winning a major $1,500 prize in the US.

The Co Monaghan student had an asteroid named after him after he came second in the world award in the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics category at ISEF 2015 which was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this week.

Carragher got to Pennsylvania after winning the SciFest 2014 national final last November. His project was about aiding people with memory loss.

Around 1,700 students from over 75 countries compete at Intel ISEF for a prize fund totaling $4million.

After becoming concerned about the signs of short-term memory loss in a family member, he decided to design an automated system called Memory Buddy.

Memory Buddy

Memory Buddy uses Google Calendar to alert the person about appointments and medication via flashing lights, sound and also via the TV.

It also includes a remotely controlled medicine drawer to give the appropriate medicine at a specific time – there’s even a feedback facility to notify a carer when medicine has or has not been taken.

An organiser for care rotas and appointments also comes with Memory Buddy.

Carragher said the whole experience has been “amazing”

I met students from all over the world, and heard speeches from famous scientists like Nobel laureates Sir Harold W Kroto and Martin Chalfie. It’s been great to see all the projects that other students from around the world have been working on and it has been brilliant to spend a week together sharing our ideas.

Sheila Porter of CEO of SciFest said that Christopher Carragher’s project “demonstrates that great science is characterised not by rote-learning and memorisation but by creativity and investigation”.

Christopher was representing Ireland at ISEF and come second in the world in his category is an impressive achievement not only for him, his teacher and school but for Ireland too, and it is testament to the very high quality of science education in Ireland. To continue producing the highest calibre of science students in Ireland, we need to celebrate their achievements more, to promote inquiry based learning and encourage students to take their learning beyond the classroom.

Music is being used to help sick children, who sometimes can’t speak, to express themselves

Huge ice shelf in Antarctica to collapse by year 2020


The last remaining section of Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely by 2020, said a new study out today.

Ice shelves are permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass, such as Antarctica, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

When it goes, the ice shelf will shatter into hundreds of icebergs. Since it’s already floating ice, the collapse of the ice shelf will not directly contribute to global sea-level rise.

However, ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean, according to NASA. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise.

The remaining section of the Larsen B ice shelf is roughly the size of 27 Manhattan islands.

“These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” said study lead author Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

“Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet,” he said. “This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”

The Larsen B Ice Shelf is on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, the part that looks like an arm reaching out toward South America. The peninsula has warmed 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, making it one of the fastest-warming places on Earth.

Scientists think that the recent ice shelf collapses in both the Arctic and Antarctica are related to climate change.

Ice shelves are different from ice sheets. An ice sheet, which covers more than 97% of Antarctica, has built up over thousands of years as snow falls but never melts. As ice piles up, it slides slowly toward the continent’s edge to form ice shelves attached to the ice sheet, but are floating in the ocean.

“This is certainly a warning,” said Khazendar.

The study appeared in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, and was written by researchers from NASA and the University of California at Irvine.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 25th February 2015

Estimated cost of universal health insurance will be known by April

says Leo Varadkar


Sinn Féin points to WHO warning that competition between insurers does not cut costs

Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin: “there is no evidence of any country in which a competitive insurance system has kept costs

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar expects to have an estimate of the cost of universal health insurance (UHI) in April.

He said the Department of Health was working with the ESRI and the Health Insurance Authority on a major costing exercise to establish costings for the Government’s plan to roll out universal health insurance.

The analysis will look at “alternative systems of financing” and will estimate the cost of insurance for individuals, households, employers and the exchequer.

“I expect to have the initial results from this exercise in April, following which I will revert to the Government with a roadmap on the next steps to UHI,” the Minister told Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Mr Ó Caoláin had pointed to the report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which raised concerns about the Government’s plans for insurance for all and highlighted examples across Europe where insurer competition proved ineffective in improving efficiency and controlling costs.

No magic prescription

Mr Varadkar said his department had provided information and observations on an early draft of the report. “The work of the WHO and others points to the fact that there is no magic prescription for all countries when it comes to health service reform,” he added.

But Mr Ó Caoláin said the WHO confirmed that “there is no evidence of any country in which a competitive insurance system has kept costs under control”.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland’s health system was the best example of keeping costs down. “We spend €1.5 billion less than we did seven years ago and more patients are seen.”

Cystic fibrosis discovery may lead to new treatment strategy and help patients breathe easier


A team led by UC San Francisco professor of medicine John Fahy, MD, has discovered why mucus in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) is thick, sticky and difficult to cough up, leaving these patients more vulnerable to lung infection.

Fahy and his team found that in CF – contrary to previous belief – inflammation causes new molecular bonds to form within mucus, transforming it from a liquid to an elastic sludge.

The scientists also made headway in the lab in exploring a potential new therapeutic approach to dissolve those bonds and return the mucus to a liquid that is easier for the lungs to clear.

CF is a lifelong inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure. About 30,000 children and adults in the United States have CF.

Fahy said that the research, a collaborative effort between UCSF, University College Dublin (UCD), in Ireland, and the Cleveland Clinic (CC), in Ohio, has implications for other lung conditions characterized by thickened mucus, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma.

The work was reported in the February 25 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Polymers – naturally-occurring molecules in mucus that form long chains – are the key to the discovery.

Until now, scientists had thought that CF mucus is thicker than healthy mucus because it has a greater concentration of DNA polymers. To test that idea, Fahy and his group exposed mucus samples taken from CF patients to two current CF medications: Pulmozyme, a drug that breaks up DNA polymers, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which targets disulfide bonds between mucin polymers. Mucin is a protein that is the major constituent of mucus.

“We thought Pulmozyme would be more effective than NAC in liquefying the mucus, because CF sputum contains lots of DNA,” said Fahy. “But to our surprise, NAC worked much better.”

Using confocal microscopy, the scientists learned why: CF mucus consists of a dense core of mucin with a layer of DNA wrapped around it, like a thin blanket draped over a solid pillow. Thus, while Pulmozyme makes mucus less stiff by eliminating DNA, NAC succeeds in liquefying it by breaking up the mucin.

Fahy and his team then investigated why mucin in CF is so compacted. They found that mucin polymers become linked together crosswise by newly-forged disulfide bonds. Fahy likened the polymers to logs floating down a river. “The logs can float down the river as long as they are floating independently,” he said. “But if you bolt them together side to side, they will clog the river.”

Homosexuality causes cancer, says an Irish anti-gay marriage group


An Irish family campaigning group claim that same-sex couples are more likely to get cancer.

An Irish family campaigning group has launched a series of extraordinary attacks against same-sex couples, including claims that same-sex couples die younger, are more prone to cancer, and are more likely to abuse and injure children,

The Alliance for the Defence of the Family and Marriage (ADFAM), an initiative based in Ireland which claims to “promote and defend the traditional family”, have been distributing the leaflets to spread their beliefs this week. Witnesses say they have been handed out outside churches and rugby matches among other venues. A journalist for the Irish website Her was handed one of the pamphlets outside a Divine Mercy event in Dublin. It comes in the run-up to the Irish Republic’s referendum in on same-sex marriage due to take place on May 22.

ADFAM have defended the pamphlet, which is titled ‘Why Should I Vote Against Same-Sex Marriage?’ and have listed reasons why readers should vote against the marriage equality referendum.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Séamas de Barra a member of the alliance said the claims are backed up by research undertaken in Denmark, where civil partnerships were legalised in 1989.

The group also defends its claim that same-sex marriage “is a confidence trick” which “tends to be very short-lived, and promiscuous” and that “frequently, same-sex pairs don’t even live together.”

In the past the group has stated that voting for same-sex marriage “is like voting for Islamic State-style sharia law. It is giving in to a very small minority. In this case, the very small minority will dictate what marriage means. Persecution of Christians surely will follow, and it will become a crime to teach and preach Christian morality.”

Tiernan Brady, policy director at the Irish Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), fiercely condemns the pamphlet’s content. “Most importantly, it’s not true,” he says. “It’s disrespectful, and an attack on the humanity of certain citizens of Ireland.

“Unfortunately there are those who will take us back to a time of intolerance. ADFAM don’t seem to care that the referendum is a vote about real people and real people’s rights. Lesbian and gay people will read that pamphlet, and the intent can be nothing other than to do as much damage to people. Their motivation is dark, dangerous and disgraceful. We have to remain positive.”

While Brady says that pamphlets like these are “poisonous” and believes they will increase in the run up to the referendum, he also thinks that the anti-gay sentiments expressed are “out of tune” with Irish popular opinion. Currently, the polls are showing that 77% are in favour of same-sex marriage and all the political parties support it.

However, Brady added that is is “desperately worrying” that there has been no official condemnation from a number of religious organisations and believes that if the Irish church were to openly condemn the pamphlets it would be a powerful move. “The polls are positive, but that doesn’t mean we should become complacent,” Brady added.

“Ireland has been a phenomenal success story in recent years, from the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity in 1993, to a referendum on equal marriage in just over 20 years. But this leaflet is an attempt to turn the clock back to a time when gays and lesbians lived in the shadows.”

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into a civil partnership in the Republic of Ireland since January 2011, but Ireland does not permit same-sex civil marriage. Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced last Thursday that his party Fine Gael, will support the referendum, declaring that Ireland is a “compassionate and tolerant nation”. Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail both announced last month they too will support the referendum.

But the Catholic church in Ireland is campaigning against the introduction of same-sex marriage. Last December, Ireland’s Catholic bishops launched a 15-page pamphlet setting out its position, stating it would be “a grave injustice” if gay and lesbian couples were granted equality in marriage.

People in Connacht and Ulster are least likely to be smokers


People in Connacht and Ulster are the least likely to light up, but Dubliners smoke the most in the country, according to a new report.

The smoking rate in the west and north west is 17%, compared to 21.6% in Dublin and 19.8% for Leinster as a whole.

Munster is in the middle ground with a rate of 18.9%, less than the national figure showing 19.5% of people over the age of 15 years who smoke.

The HSE report which tracks smoking trends, and found 70,000 quit last year, confirms that 39% of smokers are in the lowest socio-economic groups, including the semi-skilled, unskilled and unemployed.

A nationally representative survey of 1,000 people is undertaken by Ipsos MRBI for the HSE every month to obtain data on smoking prevalence. It found:

1 A higher percentage of men, 21.6%, reported being smokers than women – 17.6%.

2  Smoking rates were highest among young adults aged 18-34 years, reaching 27.3% in the 25-34 year old age group.

3 Prevalence was lowest among the 15-17 age group at 7.9%.

4 Around 36% of all smokers light up 11-20 cigarettes per day. Some 59.2% describe themselves as occasional to light smokers at 10 or less cigarettes per day.

But 4.8% are heavy smokers. They smoke more than 21 cigarettes a day.

On average smokers have 12.71 cigarettes a day. Meanwhile, overall smoking prevalence has declined from 28.28% in June 2003 to 19.53% in December 2014.

Since the tracker began, a higher proportion of men have smoked every year.

Male and female smoking has declined to 21.55% and 17.59% respectively.

Commenting on the report, the Irish Cancer Society warned that a special, targeted effort needs to be made in disadvantaged communities so that the health divide between rich and poor does not widen.

“That drop in the smoking rate tells us that everything we’ve done to reduce the number of smokers is working,” said spokeswoman Kathleen O’Meara.

“However, we know that people from poorer communities are more likely to smoke and that smoking accounts for half the gap in life expectancy between a rich person and a poor person. Smoking has been identified as the single biggest cause of inequality in death rates.

“Therefore, when we see that the smoking rate is still much higher in disadvantaged areas, it indicates to us that more needs to be done to help people quit? For instance, the smoking rate amongst Traveller women and men was 52.5% in 2010 and for homeless people was 90% in 2013.

“Clearly, exceptional efforts need to be made to achieve the Governments ambitious goal of a 5% smoking rate by 2025, particularly in disadvantaged or marginalised communities.”

She pointed out that early findings from the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘We Can Quit’ pilot programme indicate that with help available in local communities, and designed to meet their particular needs, people have more success in giving up smoking.

‘We Can Quit’ is an initiative of the ICS in partnership with the Northside Partnership, the Blanchardstown Area Partnership, the HSE and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

“The service offers women a supportive environment in which to overcome the barriers to quitting smoking. The free 12-week programme is group based so that women can join forces with other women as they quit together. Such initiatives hit tobacco where prevalence rates are stubbornly high.

Mammal’s eyelashes are perfectly trimmed to protect eyes without obscuring vision


Mammals are pretty amazing. And now it turns out their eyelashes are more than just a nice addition.

Research has shown that mammalian eyelashes are the best length to protect against dust without hindering their sight.

Scientists who studied 22 species ranging from hedgehogs to giraffes found that in every case lash length was roughly a third of the width of the eye, just the right length to shield the eye without blocking out too much light.

The correct length of eyelashes reduced both evaporation rates – preventing dry eyes – and dust deposition by 50% compared with those that were too long or too short.

Dr David Hu, who led the experiment, concluded in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that: Our study demonstrates that eyelashes divert airflows, acting as a passive dust controlling system for the eyes.

“They reduce evaporation and particle deposition up to 50%, indicating the evolution of eyelashes may have played a role in reducing the frequency of endogenous blinks, which replenish and clean the tear film.”

Lashes are found in nearly all mammals, yet their function is not fully understood.

One theory is that they are dust catchers designed to protect the eye from falling particles and another is that they act as whisker-like sensors, triggering a protective blinking response when they are stimulated.

In humans, it has been said that their main function is to draw attention to the eyes and assist communication and expression.

Lessons learned from the research could lead to “eyelash-inspired” protection for optical sensors, the researchers added.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 18th January 2015

“Steady the Ship” A crucial week for Europe and the euro coming up


All the heavy hitters at the ECB are preparing for the announcement of Europe’s QE plan this week – but the markets have already priced in the play, says Investec’s Justin Doyle

Financial traders speak in their own language – one known for banal and gratingly cliched expressions or proverbs.

I avoid them where possible, but one that I unabashedly and unapologetically throw around when I see fit is: “Buy the rumour, sell the fact”.

I use it sparingly – but I use it because it is brilliantly descriptive and, more often than not, it’s a perfect fit for the foreign exchange market.

It describes an overstretched market that has fully priced in the result or outcome of a future event or events. When the result of said future events are realised and only just meets expectations (or, God forbid, disappoints), the rebound in price can be vicious and unforgiving.

So, as we approach the most eagerly-anticipated European Central Bank (ECB) meeting for months, if not years – in tandem with what could be a game-changing Greek election – I’m dusting off my handbook as I type.

After last month’s disappointing ECB meeting on December 4, with Eurozone inflation data continuing to worsen, ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank would adopt a wait-and-see approach – they would reassess the monetary stimulus situation early in the New Year.

Pressed on exactly when that would be, he alluded to the fact that it would probably be at the March 5 meeting.

At that time, the markets were expecting the ECB to unveil their landmark sovereign/corporate bond purchase (QE) programme at the upcoming January 22 meeting, at the latest. March 5 would have been a whole 13 weeks away.

Thirteen weeks is a very long time in FX markets. It didn’t take long for the ECB’s benchmark EUR/USD rate to turn heel from multi-year lows of around $1.22 and head back up towards $1.26 – and these were unacceptable levels for a Central Bank hell-bent on keeping the value of the single currency subdued.

Mr Draghi ordered his foot soldiers onto the streets, and ECB policy makers have been hogging the newswires since mid-December.

With the exception of some of the German contingent, most – if not all – of the ECB heavy hitters have been preparing the markets for a January 22 QE announcement. The first negative Eurozone inflation print in almost six years, due mostly to lower oil prices, has given the language added impetus.

Greece popped ominously back into the headlines in late December after Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras (of the New Democracy party) called a snap general election for January 25, after he failed to get enough votes to support his nomination for president.

While Greece isn’t the basket case it was at the height of the EZ debt crisis (2010-2012), a disillusioned, austerity-ravaged electorate are still dealing with close to 25pc employment.

As a result, Alexis Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party have enjoyed a comfortable lead of almost 3pc over Samaras’ party in the opinion polls for over a year now.

It is entirely possible that Syriza won’t enter government with an outright majority, but it does look like it will be the biggest party.

In the worst-case scenario it looks likely that Mr Tsipras will head up any coalition government that is formed after the election.

Markets are jittery again – and rightly so. Mr Tsipras is adamant that he wants Greece to stay in the euro -but he is also adamant that he wants to end austerity and kick-off debt negotiations with the Troika.

Much to the horror of the ECB and the delight of Irish exporters to the US, the growing expectations and the demands for a large Fed or Bank of Japan-style QE programme from the ECB – allied with the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Greek general election – have all formed a perfect storm.

It has helped to quickly push the EUR/USD rate to nine-year lows of just under $1.17 earlier in the week.

I fear, however, that these two major event risks are fully priced into an already stretched short euro market.

I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but my greatest concern is that the ECB may have overplayed its hand and lulled willing market players into what maybe yet another massively underwhelming announcement on January 22.

With expectations so high, the ECB must provide total clarity and transparency on the exact size, breakup (sovereign/corporate bonds) and a time line of the purchases.

Mr Draghi has pointed out on several occasions in recent months that he would like the ECB balance sheet to return to levels not seen since in the middle of the debt crisis.

At its highest level it was just over €3trn. Currently at just over €2trn, it figures that the ECB are eyeing a €1trn purchase programme. With the German voting members of the ECB still wary and the Greek election around the corner, I feel that seeking consensus on the full €1trn may be an ask too far – and an announcement of anything under €500bn will be massively disappointing.

The ECB has form in the disappointment arena – and if the Scottish referendum tells us anything, it is that polls are only polls and a swing of 6pc or 7pc on the day could hand the Greek election to the pro-Europe Samaras and his ND party.

The single currency is at multi-year lows against the currencies (USD and GBP) of our two largest non-euro denominated trading partners, a great opportunity to hedge short-term exposure ahead of what could be the first important ‘Buy the rumour, sell the fact’ event of 2015.

‘I miss that bit of lung they took away – but not badly, mind you’


Frank Cox got lung cancer at the same age his dad died from it.

FRANK COX kept getting chest infections in 2006 and 2007 – they just would not clear up.

Eventually his GP sent him for a chest X-ray which confirmed his worst fear: he had lung cancer. He was 66 years old at the time – the same age his father was when he died from the disease in 1961.

“You’re sort of in denial when you’re told, you think: ‘It’s not happening to me.’ I was off the cigarettes for 16 years at that stage, but the damage was done: I was on them since I was 16 or 17 years old.

“The doctor said I had given myself a chance by giving them up. He told me if I was still smoking we wouldn’t be doing surgery, we’d be doing chemo to prolong my life, not save it,” Frank recalls.

Luckily his cancer was detected at a very early stage. He successfully underwent surgery and three months of chemotherapy.

Frank (now 73) got the five-year all-clear in 2012.

“It was great, it really was … I was a bit nervous. It was a great relief, it’s always at the back of your mind.”

I miss that bit of lung they took away – not badly, mind you. I can climb stairs, but I would feel it if I was rushing or ran somewhere … If you saw a bus coming and you made a dart for it, that’s when you’d miss it.

Frank now does peer support with the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), where he talks to newly-diagnosed patients over the phone.

When I was diagnosed I didn’t know anything about it. I wanted to talk to somebody who had been diagnosed and had surgery and come out the other side. It’s different to hearing from doctors and nurses, you need to speak to somebody who has been through it.


Aoife McNamara is a Lung Cancer Information Nurse with the ICS. She said that increased awareness of the disease is needed as it is now the “biggest cancer killer in Ireland and worldwide”.

About 1,800 people die from lung cancer in Ireland each year.

Frank (far left) at an ICS awareness-raising event outside Leinster House.

Aoife said women are becoming more at risk of the disease than they once were.

The mortality rate of lung cancer among men has decreased in recent years while the rate in women has steadily increased. The mortality and incidence rates in Irish women are among the highest in Europe.

Lung cancer might have been seen as a man’s disease, but that’s not the case any more.

Aoife said this is directly linked to an increased number of women taking up smoking.

She said that thanks to various campaigns, women in Ireland are “very breast aware” when it comes to cancer symptoms.

“However, this is not the case when it comes to lung cancer, despite the fact that it overtook breast cancer as biggest cancer killer in women in 2011.”

Aoife said it’s important for people to know the symptoms of lung cancer and go to their GP if they’re concerned.

Symptoms include:

•           A cough that won’t go away

•           Shortness of breath

•           Repeated chest infections

•           Coughing up blood and phlegm

•           Unexpected weight loss

•           Swelling of the neck or face

•           Sore throat

Aoife said 90-95% of lung cancer cases are directly linked to smoking. She said anyone trying to give up cigarettes should contact the National Smoker Quitline on Freephone 1800 201 203.

Instructors on jobseeker schemes were JobBridge interns – An audit to happen


A Departmet of Social Protection report into a €6m Job Club schemes raises concerns.

The Department of Social Protection has said it will examine an audit on training schemes for jobseekers in which the instructors themselves were on JobBridge internship and Tús trainee schemes.

The Department of Social Protection has said it will examine an audit on training schemes for jobseekers in which the instructors themselves were on JobBridge internship and Tús trainee schemes.

An audit of Job Club schemes, carried out by an internal departmental audit unit last July, found some JobBridge interns were providing training workshops on their own to club participants.

The details of the audit were carried on RTÉ radio’s This Week programme.

Job Club schemes are run by private operators and financed by the Department of Social Protection at an average cost of €6 million a year. They aim to provide services to job seekers such as CV preparation and IT skills, through individualised supports, ‘drop in’ services and formal workshops of one to four weeks long.

There are 50 schemes countrywide and participants receive an additional €20 a week on top of their social welfare payment.

The audit, completed last July, examined Job Clubs in Dublin, mid-Leinster and in the South. It found some of the training and workshops were being delivered by instructors who were participants on Tús training and JobBridge programmes.

JobBridge is an internship scheme offered to unemployed people and Tús is a community employment scheme for unemployed people. Participants in both schemes receive a top-up on their social welfare payment similar to that paid to Job Club participants.

Auditors found on some Job Club schemes, JobBridge interns were delivering part of the workshops on their own. The job descriptions provided to the audit team said the roles of the JobBridge interns covered the entire duties of a Job Club leader and assistant, the two senior grades of staff working at Job Clubs.

They also found one private operator fell well below the minimum standard required for the scheme, but had still been allowed to continue to run clubs.

The report raised concerns that a lack of over sight of the clubs could lead to contracts being renewed where the minimum standard was not being met. It also had data protection concerns and noted inconsistencies in the awarding of the €20 allowance.

In a statement issued to The Irish Times, the Department of Social Protection said JobBridge had been very successful in providing work experience for participants to break the cycle of unemployment.

Independent evaluation showed “three in five participants secure employment after completing their internships”, the statement said.

It also said JobBridge was subject to strict control measures to ensure the internship did not displace an existing position and appropriate training and development was provided, with suitable mentoring and support.

“In practice, internships are, and can be offered, across all job types from basic entry level roles through to roles with greater responsibilities”.

It said the department would examine and respond as appropriate to the internal audit report.

Irish beef farmers eye stake in lucrative US market


Standing inside one of the sheds that are the winter homes for his 550-strong herd of Limousins and Belgian Blues, Robin Talbot recounts the cows daily routine with an almost paternal fondness. Among other things, his livestock and their autumn-born calves have a fresh bed every day and their diet is prepared with the help of a nutritionist.

“Everything they eat is grown on my farm,” he says, pointing to a group of about 50 heifers due to be slaughtered in a few weeks’ time. “I am pretty sure 90 per cent of them will meet the top market specifications.”

Mr Talbot, one of Ireland’s leading cattle farmers, produces prime beef steak for the domestic and European markets from his 600-acre farm outside the village of Ballacolla, the heartland of grazing country amid the flat fields of County Laois in Ireland’s midlands.

But the lucrative market in the US, the largest consumers of beef in the world, has been denied him — until now.

Following an deal agreed recently between Washington and Dublin, he and his fellow Irish beef farmers are gearing up to sell their product to the US for the first time since a 15-year ban was imposed on European beef in the wake of the “mad cow disease” outbreak in the 1990s.

As Europe’s biggest beef exporter — overseas sales of Irish beef in 2014 were worth €2.3bn, accounting for about a fifth of all Irish food and drink exports — the reopening of the US market offers a potential lifeline to farmers such as Mr Talbot at a tough time for the industry.

With prices at home and in Europe at a low, and with beef producers in seemingly perennial dispute with the meat processing industry, the higher prices that beef in the US can fetch — up to €1 a kilogramme extra by some estimates — could turn the battle for mere survival into something approaching a decent profit.

“It can be a game-changer, but it depends on how we respond,” says Mr Talbot. “There is high potential in it, but there is a lot of work to be done.”

Mr Talbot’s caution tempers some of the excitement with which the announcement of Ireland’s return to the US beef market was greeted locally.

Although the US market is vast — its consumers eat an estimated 11m tonnes of beef each year, of which just 10 per cent is imported from the likes of Mexico and Australia — cracking it will be tough for a small country such as Ireland.

The danger of putting too much faith in the fickle US consumer was captured in a recent cartoon in the Irish Farmers Journal, the industry bible. It depicted a conversation between an Irish farmer — sporting a Stetson, cowboy boots and spurs, a horse tethered nearby — and his sceptical wife, who asked: “Aren’t you going a bit far with this beef news from the USA?”

Jer Bergin, national treasurer of the Irish Farmers’ Association, also counsels caution. “There is a little bit of irrational exuberance about the US market,” he says.

But he agrees that Irish beef has a potentially unique selling point — the cattle are grazed on family farms set amid the lush green pastures of rural Ireland, a country with which the US has close emotional links.

This is in many ways a simplified view of Irish beef farming — many Irish cattle eat food supplements too, because grass alone is not always enough to “finish” them for food. But Irish food exporters have a template — the success of Kerrygold, the butter brand masterminded by business tycoon Tony O’Reilly. Kerrygold is the number one imported butter brand in the US, according to Bord Bia, the Irish food board.

However, unlike the dairy industry, relatively homogenous and which was for many years backed by the state, the Irish beef industry is private and disparate.

So without a co-ordinated approach by independent producers, cracking the US market will be a significant challenge. Indeed, before the US ban, Europe exported just 1,500 tonnes of beef there.

Still, if grass-reared beef is becoming increasingly popular in the US, as evidence suggests, Irish farmers would be in a prime position to capitalise. Mr Talbot believes it is a market where farmers such as him can succeed. “We have a story worth selling,” he says.

See the spaceX falcon 9 rocket crash land at sea

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Give it up for ambition. After an initial delay, Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station last week. In 2015, there’s nothing all that ambitious about an unmanned rocket launch. What was ambitious was what came afterwards—or what was supposed to come afterwards.

SpaceX intends to cut the cost of launching people and products into space in half. The company hopes to accomplish this by building stage-one rockets that are designed to not only survive reentry, but will land upright. If SpaceX can pull that trick off, then the rockets can be easily captured and rapidly reused, thus taking much of the cost out of space travel.

Last week’s mission was supposed to see the rocket land upright onto an unanchored floating barge (aka “drone spaceport ship”) in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This is no easy feat. SpaceX itself only pegged mission success at 50 percent (though Musk later said that hepulled those numbers out of the air). But let’s just agree that it’s a really hard engineering barrier to overcome.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work this time. The rocket did manage to land on the barge, but it couldn’t make the landing and exploded on impact. As Elon Musk tweeted shortly thereafter “Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.”

Musk then went on to tweet “Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.” But some new footage must have been found, because SpaceX just tweeted the following Vine footage taken at the point of impact explosion:

Yesterday, Musk himself tweeted out a number of spectacular stills from the crash: