Tag Archives: Supervalu

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 7th June 2016

Average age of first time buyers in Ireland rises to 34

Buyers in their 20’s and early 30’s absent from the market for properties over €160k


The average age of first-time buyers in Ireland has risen by five years to 34 over the past decade, according to Real Estate Alliance (REA).

In 2006 the average first-time buyer in Ireland was approximately 29 years old, according REA, but this figure has since increased by 17% cent and is still rising.

The estate agency group said agents around Ireland are reporting that first-time buyers in their twenties and early thirties are now mainly absent from the market for properties priced over €160,000.

“A definite two-tier system has emerged over the past year nationwide, with €160,000 emerging as the breaking point for interest from buyers in that age group – ruling out most properties in Dublin,” REA chairman Michael O’Connor said.

Mr O’Connor said the introduction of the Central Bank’s requirements, combined with higher rents, has made it increasingly difficult for young people to save deposits, especially in Dublin.

“House ownership is now off the table for many couples earning average salaries, with their only hope of purchase now coming from an injection of outside help, usually from close relatives.”

He said a couple on a combined average industrial wage income of €74,000 can borrow 3.5 times their income, making a total of €259,000.

“From a Dublin price perspective, the rules don’t make sense, with the combination of the deposit rates and the multiplier falling far short of our average three-bed semi price in Dublin city and county of €334,000.”

The group said another huge factor in the first-time buyer market has been the recent strength of buyers from outside Ireland who have been typically living and working here for over a decade now putting down roots and buying houses.

“In areas such as Carlow, REA agents are reporting that 30 per cent of first-time buyers are now from Eastern Europe, a percentage that has grown rapidly over the past two years,” said Mr O’Connor.

With some flair & a push, Ireland can attract the prized Chinese tourists this year?


When it comes to attracting the prized Chinese tourist, the task is complex and the potential is really huge.

Up to 140m Chinese are predicted to travel overseas in 2016, spending upwards of €300bn, marking a 15% upward spike from 2015. By 2020, it is expected that 235m Chinese tourists will splurge €400bn across the globe.

With travel enshrined as the preferred activity for the burgeoning Chinese middle class, Europe figures prominently on their overseas wish list.

France is a consistent top choice for this new breed of traveller, attracted by its cultural romance, vintage wines and luxury fashion labels. Despite the terrorist attacks, Paris and other historic sites welcomed over 2m Chinese last year, a growth of over 50%.

Two weeks ago, Tourism Ireland led its largest ever sales mission to China in a bid to increase our share of this rapidly growing market.

Ireland attracted 45,000 Chinese visitors in 2015 — a figure expected to grow by 10% annually to 2020.

The Tourism Ireland delegation was joined by a number of key agencies – including the Dublin Airport Authority, exploring the possibility of direct flights from China to Ireland.

Last year, Shi Boli, general manager of Beijing Airport, indicated that a Dublin route was on his radar, in tandem with an additional direct service to Manchester.

Irish visa offices continue to highlight the British-Irish Visa Scheme, which enables leisure and business travellers from China to visit Ireland and the UK on a single visa.

Tourism Ireland has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. The organisation’s activity in China involves establishing and building relationships with influential intermediaries, such as the travel trade, airlines and media — highlighting Ireland’s natural attractions, cities, castles, and proximity to Britain.

The sales mission included representatives from Guinness Storehouse, Kildare Village, Manor House & Irish Country Hotels, National Trust Giant’s Causeway, The Merrion Hotel, and Titanic Belfast.

“Our sales mission is to win a greater share of the 4m Chinese visitors who travel to Europe each year,” says Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland. “We are committed to growing Chinese visitors to Ireland to 50,000 per year by 2017, and our sales mission will play a significant role in helping us achieve this target.”

Ireland has featured prominently in the Chinese news spotlight recently, following the visit last year of Chinese premier Li Keqiang to the west of Ireland, and the state visit of China’s president, Xi Jinping, in 2012.

An episode of a popular reality TV show, Exploration of the World, recently aired to more than 6m viewers as it tracked eight Chinese celebrities attempting to master hurling, Gaelic football, and handball.

The celebrities also took on the challenge of learning Irish dancing and traditional music.

China Central Television, the predominant state broadcaster, also visited Ireland in 2015, filming a documentary entitled Glamorous Ireland, highlighting the scenic landscape, arts and crafts and family life, for an audience of over 100m Chinese around the world.

Opening to the theme music of Riverdance, Ireland was described as a “dream destination” and one of “Europe’s most popular places to live”.

The week-long shoot around Dublin, Wicklow, Cork, and Clare featured a tour of Dublin Castle, scenes from President Michael D Higgins’s inauguration, the Guinness Storehouse, and a visit to the Museum of Irish Whiskey.

The warmth and sincerity of the Irish people hits a very positive note with Chinese visitors, says Fiona O’Sullivan of Custom Ireland, which organises tailor-made travel itineraries.

“Despite the language difficulties, Chinese visitors clearly love interacting with Irish people on every level,” she says. “They feel a genuine connection and are very happy and comfortable with Irish people. The welcome and the scenery are, without a doubt, amongst the top things they love.”

Paula Cogan, director of sales and marketing at Cork’s River Lee Hotel, says Chinese guests expect a very high level of service in hotels and are not afraid to voice their criticism.

“They like genuine Chinese food as part of the menu and appreciate it when items such as green tea, slippers, bath robes, and toothpaste are provided,” says Ms Cogan. “They would be mid price spenders when it comes to accommodation, and they expect value for money. ”

Along with golf and historic sites, Chinese visitors are keen shoppers — with the emphasis on brand name goods.

“They love to shop, specifically for luxury goods,” says Ms Cogan. “In many countries, like Switzerland, hotels and retailers work together, and some shops will subsidise accommodation costs just to get Chinese visitors to spend on luxury goods.”

A 3.8% growth in Irish retail grocery market, SuperValu retains largest share

The ever increasing competition among the main grocery retailers sees shoppers visiting stores more often


The Irish retail grocery market has grown by 3.8% in the last year, while SuperValu retains the largest share of any supermarket.

New figures from Kantar Worldpanel – covering the 12 weeks up to 24 April – show increasing competition among the main grocery retailers as shoppers are visiting stores more often.

In the three months to the end of April the average household made 63 separate trips for grocery items, an additional four trips compared with the same time in 2015.

Kantar Worldpanel said this trend is linked to a reduction in the overall size of the average grocery trip which has dropped from €22.40 last year to €21.60 so far in 2016.

Meanwhile, SuperValu remains the largest supermarket in Ireland, with a 23% share of the market after recording a year-on-year sales increase of 2.8%.

Commenting on SuperValu’s growth, Director at Kantar Worldpanel David Berry said: “Most recently the retailer has launched its ‘Good Food Karma’ campaign, which aims to inspire the general public to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients.

“The retailer saw strong growth across fresh staples in the past 12 weeks as a result: sales of fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry all saw healthy increases.”

Tesco is in second place, with the retailer’s share of the market standing at 22.2%.

Tesco has managed to sell more items so far this year but at a lower average price point – investing in low prices in a bid to win back customers.

This has led to a dip in the value of sales of 0.7%, however, volume sales have remained more positive, increasing by 2.7%.

Dunnes Stores has continued its recent strong performance, with sales growth of 8% helping it to a market share of 21.5% (third place).

Mr Berry said “bigger trips have been the main driver of this growth, with an additional €2.50 spent each time the tills ring compared with the same time last year”.

The retailer’s ongoing ‘Shop and Save’ campaign – where it incentivises shoppers to spend more each visit in return for money off next time – is attributed as a main driver of this growth.

According to Kantar World Panel, Lidl has maintained its position as the fastest growing retailer with an additional 43,000 shoppers visiting the grocer in the 12 weeks to 24 April.

Lidl’s market share now stands at 11.2%, while Aldi has seen growth of 1% to bring its market share in Ireland to 10.9%.

Fish can recognise human faces, a research now shows

Archerfish (below pic) are able to identify faces they have seen before, according to new study


A study from Oxford University finds that archerfish can learn to recognise human faces.

Fish do not get much credit for memory skills, but new research shows they can learn to recognise human faces.

Far from having a three-second memory, the study found that tropical archerfish were able to pick out a face they had seen before from a group of 45 faces.

Researchers from Oxford University and the University of Queensland trained their fish to recognise one human face, and then tested them by putting that face in a group with 44 new faces.

Archerfish are so named because they spit streams of water to knock bugs out of the sky.

The researchers used this novel trick and trained the fish to spit water at the face they recognised and disregard all others in the group.

Although this sounds like a fishy tale, it was no fluke. The fish managed to get the right face more than 80 per cent of the time.

When the job was made more challenging, with the faces standardised for brightness and colour, the fish did even better, with 86 per cent accuracy.

Being able to recognise faces “is a surprisingly difficult task”, mainly because we must all look the same to a fish, said Dr Cait Newport of the department of zoology at Oxford University.

The assumption has always been that only primates with their large complex brains could accomplish such a thing, she said.

Humans even have a special section of the brain, the neocortex, given over to the recognition of faces, which fish do not have.


The researchers published their findings on Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

They positioned a camera underneath a clear-glass aquarium so that viewers could watch as their fish learned to recognise a face and then chose it again and again even when other faces were shown.

The proof was in the spitting.

“In all cases the fish continued to spit at the face they had been trained to recognise, proving that they were capable of telling the two apart,” Dr Newport said.

The experiments show you do not need a neocortex to recognise a face, the researchers said.

The research suggests there are probably plenty of fish in the sea with similar visual skills.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 3rd. May 2016

Trinity Treaty blueprint dictates the limits of a minority ruled Government by Fine Gael


The so-called ‘Trinity Treaty’ and its eight pages, which will be the glue that keeps this minority Fine Gael government from falling apart at the seams, was debated at party meetings last night.

This is essentially a blueprint for the next few years and the ‘rules of play’, as agreed between Fine Gael, who will run the country, and Fianna Fáil, who will watch owl-eyed from the opposition benches.

Any dereliction from this deal between the rival parties would likely collapse a government and cause fresh elections. So, here’s a quick digest of the rules of engagement between Enda Kenny’s team and Micheál Martin’s for the next three years, plus an idea about what is planned for water charges. Expect the rules to be referred to religiously by both leaders during the lifetime of this Dáil.

The eight-page, 2,000 word, document includes a three-part deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The first focuses on the mechanics of the minority government deal between the two rival parties.

It includes a commitment by Fianna Fáil to abstain in the election of Taoiseach, nomination of ministers and any reshuffles.

Fianna Fáil will also facilitate budgets in line with the policies it wants. It has also committed to voting against or abstaining on any motions of no confidence in the government, ministers or money bills. Crucially, the deal allows for both leaders to personally resolve differences arising between both parties if an event arises that could “undermine” the deal.

The document also shows that Fine Gael will publish all agreements with Independent TDs or other parties “in full”. This compares to secrete sweetheart deals made by previous Fianna Fáil governments with Independents over the years which were never published. The deal also allows Fine Gael to seek separate policy commitments from other parties for a programme for government. The later could prove useful for Fine Gael if its support fell mid-way through the minority government, and it was forced to turn to others, such as Labour or the Greens, to be propped up.

Another section outlines the changes agreed to water charges. Charges will now be suspended within six weeks of a government being formed, which means bills may be halted from mid-June.

The incoming Fine Gael Government, though, have committed to possibly “abolishing” water charges if the Oireachtas recommends so after the whole system is reviewed by a special commission. This is the first written commitment of this option.

Changes under the deal will also see the €100 water conservation grant scrapped and more funds instead injected into group water schemes and the refurbishment of wells.

The document says that the Oireachtas will — six weeks after the government is formed — introduce legislation to suspend charges for a period of nine months.

The suspension period can be extended, the document adds, by the incoming government.

The expert commission will be set up within eight weeks of the new government and report within five months.

Crucially, the document states commission recommendations will go to a committee and then be voted upon by the Oireachtas.

It adds: “The Government will facilitate the passage of legislation (whether it be a money bill or otherwise) the implementation of the recommendations in relation to domestic water charges supported by the Oireachtas including abolition, a reformed charging regime or other options.”

  The Independent Alliance

However, on the contentious issue of the near million customers who are thought to have paid their water bills so far and whether any refunds will be made, the deal between the two is vague.

It says: “We affirm that those who have paid their water bills to date will be treated no less favourably than those who have not.”

This seems to suggest that those who paid will be no less-off than those who have not, but the agreement does not suggest that non-payers will be pursued or refunds provided.

Fine Gael sources last night said this left the option open for the party to continue to insist that non-payers will still be pursued, but that refunds could be granted down the line, if charges are abolished.

The next move will be for Independent TDs to agree to the ‘Trinity Treaty’ document, especially the points on policy. If not, the decision of a new government will be postponed again.

While TDs own concerns were listened to by Fine Gael during 70 hours of talks, it is likely Independents will want their moment, and are sure to stall an end to the talks until their own demands are well voiced.

Prediction for Ireland to be EU’s fastest-growing economy for 2016

The European Commission revises its growth forecast for Ireland upwards to 4.9%


Ireland is predicted to be the fastest-growing economy in Europe this year according to new figures from the European Commission, with the EU’s executive arm expecting the economy to grow by 4.9% this year.

The predicted GDP growth rate is higher than the figure of 4.5% for 2016 estimated three months ago. The Commission also revised upwards its estimates for 2017 to 3.7%, up slightly from the growth rate of 3.5% predicted in February.

The 4.9% GDP growth rate contrasts with the euro zone average of 1.6% growth expected this year, down slightly from the 1.7% growth forecast in February. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is expected to grow by 1.6% in 2016 with a 1.3% growth rate expected for France. Among the other countries expected to above-average levels of growth are  Romania and Malta, which are expected to grow by 4.2% and 4.1% respectively.

In its analysis of the Irish economy, the Commission states while Ireland appears resilient to the recent deceleration in world output, “the uncertainty surrounding external economic and policy developments invite some caution.” While it does not cite specific external threats to the economy, it states that Ireland is particularly exposed to external factors such as a deceleration in demand from trading partners due to its status as an open economy.

Regarding the housing market, the Commission expects that house price increases in Ireland will moderate as government measures to boost supply kick-in.

It also sounds a cautious note on employment trends. Noting that employment growth decelerated in the final quarter of last year, it says that unemployment is expected to decrease at a slower pace in Ireland than in earlier phases of the recovery.

The reduction in the deficit is welcomed by the Commission, which notes that the government’s deficit fell sharply to 2.3% of GDP in 2015, compared to 3.8% in 2014. It notes that the deficit would have fallen further to 1.3%, but for the accounting treatment of the conversion of some of the state’s preference shares in Allied Irish Banks to ordinary stock in preparation for the bank’s sale.

But it notes that the strong deficit figures reflect the fact that tax revenues increased by 9.3% last year, fuelled by an “unprecedented surge in corporate tax receipts,” which were 50% higher than the previous year.

Overall, the European Commission is cautious about the economic performance of the bloc, revising downwards its economic growth estimates for the year to 1.6% compared to the figure of 1.7% forecast just three months ago. Similarly it expects the euro zone economy to grow by 1.7% in 2017, compared to the figure of 1.9% expected in February.

“Economic growth in Europe is expected to remain modest as key trading partners’ performance has slowed and some of the so far supportive factors start to wane,” the Commission states in its Spring Economic Forecast.

It warns that the expected rebound in oil prices and the single currency’s recent appreciation could affect the economic picture

European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said that, while the economic recovery in Europe is continuing, the global context is less conducive than it was. “Future growth will increasingly depend on the opportunities we create for ourselves. That means stepping up our structural reform efforts to address long-standing problems in many countries – high levels of public and private debt, vulnerabilities in the financial sector or declining competitiveness.”

HSE unable to pay the €10m emergency nurses pay deal?

Cost of deal set to be added to executive’s financial overrun which may hit €300m


Under the deal nurses in emergency departments are to receive an extra two days’ leave this year and in 2017 in lieu of missed meal breaks.

The HSE has told the Government it does not have the money to pay for a €10 million deal agreed with nurses to avoid strikes in hospital emergency departments before the general election.

However, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has told the HSE that agreements made by public sector employers and unions at the Workplace Relations Commission were “binding and must be honoured”.

The cost of the deal with the nurses and it has already led to knock-on claims from other healthcare staff and is now expected to be added to the HSE’s already growing financial overrun for 2016. This could reach €300 million by the end of the year.

Under the deal nurses in emergency departments are to receive an extra two days’ leave this year and in 2017 in lieu of missed meal breaks.

In addition, a €1,500 educational bursary is to be put in place for personnel who stay in their post for one year.

Additional promotional positions for nurses in emergency departments are also to be established.

Additional costs

HSE director general Tony O’Brien told the Department of Health in March the deal involved additional costs which were over and above those covered by the State’s allocation to the HSE.

Mr Varadkar took responsibility for the deal in a replying letter to Mr O’Brien on March 16th. “I appreciate that provision was not made for this when the national service plan 2016 (the HSE’s agreement with the Government on how its budget will be spent) was approved. The Workplace Relations Commission agreement was made subsequently with my full knowledge and support.

“For this reason I am asking that you proceed to implement it in full as soon as practicable and to inform the Workplace Relations Commission of the same.”

“I understand that implementation will cost up to €10 million in 2016,” the Minster said.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged the HSE earlier this year proposed financial incentives to encourage 8,000 nurses currently working on flexible arrangements to work additional hours.

Pay policy: However, this was rejected by the Department of Health, which feared the impact of such a development on broader public service pay policy.

The HSE told the department in late January that there was evidence that the existing terms and conditions were not sufficiently attractive to encourage nurses on flexible arrangements to work additional hours.

It said nurses who did not work full hours could not be paid overtime under existing terms and conditions.

“While it is not within the capacity of the HSE to change the terms and conditions of public sector staff, this initiative could be assisted by the provision of incentivised terms,” the HSE said.

Overtime arrangements?

Within days the Department of Health replied, stating: “There can be no question of overtime arrangements or other financial incentives applying to staff members who work less than full-time hours or any departure from existing overtime arrangements.”

Details of the HSE proposals have emerged as nurses are expected to demand improvements in their terms and conditions at the annual conference of theIrish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which gets under way in Co Kerry today.

SuperValu group set for global expansion as Musgrave eyes export markets


Musgrave chief executive (left) Chris Martin

The SuperValu brand could start making an appearance on shop shelves around the world, as Cork-based retail group Musgrave plots a targeted internationalisation of its products.

Musgrave chief executive Chris Martin said that while its plans are at a very early stage, the group is looking at how it might emulate retailers such as UK-based Waitrose, which sells its products to other retailers around the globe.

“We believe there is a real opportunity, particularly with our own-brand, that we can create export opportunities,” said Mr Martin. “It’s early days. We’re investigating it.”

He cited Waitrose as an example of a retailer that exports branded goods around the world.

Dunnes Stores, for example, has stocked Waitrose products in the past. Waitrose sells its products in about 60 countries.

“The appetite for the sorts of product that we’re developing and working with our suppliers on, is unique,” said Mr Martin, pointing to hundreds of products that have been launched under its own-brand ‘Signature Tastes’ label.

He said SuperValu’s Food Academy initiative – a programme developed in conjunction with Bord Bia and local enterprises offices – has been successful in helping to drive sales at the retailer’s stores.

The programme supports hundreds of small businesses in developing their products and getting them on shelves.

“The opportunity we’re looking at is working with distributors and talking directly with retailers about how we can sell our product in (to their networks),” said Mr Martin. “It plays partly to the Irish diaspora, but more importantly, it places the quality that we are developing (in focus),” he added. He said healthy products developed for SuperValu could present a good opportunity for the retailer.

He added that Musgrave now has an executive examining the potential for exports, but that they have only taken on the task within the past few weeks.

“We’ll wait and see, but it’s about looking at different ways in which we can extend our offer,” the chief executive said.

He said it’s not clear yet though whether the SuperValu name would be used for any exports.

“It’s too early to say. The reality is that you’ve got to make your product work in the local market. But the fact is, you can go into markets. It’s about looking at the catalogue of products, seeing who’s interested, seeing what retailers want, and the products absolutely reinforce the sorts of quality that some of the markets are looking for.”

SuperValu is the country’s biggest grocery retailer, with most of the stores operated by franchisees.

Family-owned Musgrave also owns the Centra and Daybreak brands here.

Musgrave generated revenue of €3.7bn and a pre-tax profit of €52.8m from continuing operations last year.

New planets found boost search for life beyond our Earth


The discovery of three planets that circle a small, dim star could bolster the chances of finding life beyond Earth, astronomers now say.

The Earth-sized planets are orbiting their parent star, located in the constellation Aquarius relatively close to Earth at 40 light years away, at a distance that provides the right amount of heat for there to be liquid water on their surface, a condition scientists believe may be critical for fostering life.

The discovery marked the first time that planets were found orbiting a common type of star known as an ultra-cool dwarf, the scientists said.

“If we want to find life elsewhere in the universe, this is where we should start to look,” Michael Gillon, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature, said.

The discovery was made using Europe’s Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, located in Chile.

Though the planets are about the size of Earth, their host star is just 8% of the size of the sun and less than a half a percent as bright.

So far, astronomers have found more than 2,000 planets beyond the solar system and are developing techniques to scan planets’ atmospheres for gases related to biological activities.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 26th May 2015

Some 150 small Irish food firms win listings with 221 SuperValu stores

Ice-cream, nettle syrup and spices among products to hit shelves


SuperValu Food Academy suppliers The Happy Pear, Nobo and Cool Beans help launch Food Academy 2015. More than 150 small food companies are to have their products stocked in 221 SuperValu stores as part of the retailer’s Food Academy programme run with Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Office Network.

Over the past 12 months, hundreds of small food producers have had their products in trials in their local SuperValu stores as part of the programme.

  The successful firms are selling diverse food and drink products, including nettle syrup, granola cups, black and white pudding and spices.

SuperValu’s trading director Eamon Howell said the fact SuperValu stores were independently owned and operated meant owners could purchase directly from local suppliers.

He said the supermarket chain was working with an additional 250 small food producers, and there would be trials of their products in local stores.

Walt Disney asked to meet Eamon de Valera – to talk about leprechauns


Walt Disney was keen to learn about ‘leprechauns’ and ‘little people’ from Eamon de Valera, a newly uncovered letter reveals.

A letter from the Irish Consulate in San Francisco to the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1946 suggests Disney hoped to discuss plans to produce a film about “Irish life and folklore” with the then-Taoiseach.

The meeting could have formed part of Disney’s research for the 1959 film ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’, starring Sean Connery.

The letter, dated September 18, 1946, says that “Mr Walt Disney and a party of six, including himself, will sail from New York on November 14 on the SS Queen Elizabeth for Southampton, and will go directly from there to Dublin.

“The party intends to tour Ireland on a research mission, with the intention of making cartoon motion pictures dealing with Irish life and folklore.”

The author says Mr Disney wanted to meet “parties such as the president of the Irish Tourist Association. Mr Disney would also like to meet An Taoiseach.”

Before he departed for Ireland, Mr Disney, whose great-grandfather emigrated to the US from Kilkenny in 1834, also wrote to his sister Ruth outlining his plans.

“We are starting a picture on the Leprechauns or ‘little people’ as they are called in Ireland, so we plan to spend most of our time gathering background material and learning all we can about Irish folklore,” he said.

Psychiatric nurses to begin industrial action at UCH Galway


Union members concerned over staffing levels, assults and safety issues at hospital

Psychiatric nurses at University College Hospital Galway are due to take industrial action on Tuesday over staffing and safety issues.

Psychiatric nurses at the biggest hospital in the west are due to take industrial action on Tuesday over staffing and safety issues.

The nurses at the acute psychiatric unit of University College Hospital (UCHG) in Galway said they had been forced to take industrial action following “the failure of HSE management” to address the issues at the heart of a long-running dispute.

More than 90% of the nurses voted a fortnight ago to step up their action following 36 assaults on staff so far this year.

On April 22nd, 10 nurses refused to take up duty in the unit on health and safety grounds. They said they were doing so out of concern for both staff and patients. The 10 returned to work later that day after an agreement was reached to enter talks at the Labour Relations Commission.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association’s industrial officer, Peter Hughes, said it was time for Minister of State for Disability and Mental Health Kathleen Lynch to demand that the HSE address the health and safety issues of staff and patients at UCHG and avert industrial action.

“The PNA has been left with no option but to proceed to industrial action,” Mr Hughes said, “in an effort to get serious engagement on these issues from HSE management.”

Cold weather kills more people than hot weather


Cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather, according to an international study analysing more than 74 million deaths in 384 locations across 13 countries.

The findings, published in The Lancet, also reveal that deaths due to moderately hot or cold weather substantially exceed those resulting from extreme heat waves or cold spells.

“It’s often assumed that extreme weather causes the majority of deaths, with most previous research focusing on the effects of extreme heat waves,” according to lead author Dr Antonio Gasparrini from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK. “Our findings, from an analysis of the largest dataset of temperature-related deaths ever collected, show that the majority of these deaths actually happen on moderately hot and cold days, with most deaths caused by moderately cold temperatures.”

The study analysed more than 74 million deaths between 1985 and 2012 in 13 countries with a wide range of climates, from cold to subtropical.

Data on daily average temperature, death rates, and confounding variables (e.g. humidity and air pollution) were used to calculate the temperature of minimum mortality (the optimal temperature), and to quantify total deaths due to non-optimal ambient temperature in each location. The researchers then estimated the relative contributions of heat and cold, from moderate to extreme temperatures.

Some 7.71% of all deaths were caused by non-optimal temperatures, with substantial differences between countries, ranging from around 3% in Thailand, Brazil, and Sweden to about 11 per cent in China, Italy, and Japan. Cold was responsible for the majority of these deaths (7.29% of all deaths), while just 0.42 per cent of all deaths were attributable to heat.

The study also found that extreme temperatures were responsible for less than 1% of all deaths, while mildly sub-optimal temperatures accounted for around 7% of all deaths — with most (6.66%) related to moderate cold.

According to Dr Gasparrini, current public-health policies focus almost exclusively on minimising the health consequences of heatwaves. “Our findings suggest that these measures need to be refocused and extended to take account of a whole range of effects associated with temperature.”

Your stomach rumbling doesn’t mean you’re very hungry


We associate a large growl in our stomachs as a war cry for food – but it actually means your gut is cleaning itself.

Tummy rumbling comes at a time when we feel hungry, but it isn’t a biological mechanism to remind us to eat.

Around an hour after we finish digesting our system undergoes a muscular contraction to sweep any remaining food from the stomach into our intestines, says Guilia Enders, author of Germany’s hit book Gut: The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.

In her punchy guide to our body, the 25-year-old explains the gut cleaning takes place some time in between meals. Nutritional scientists recommend we leave a five hour gap from one meal to another.

Snacking will stop the cleaning process immediately (Picture: Getty)

Snacking at any time will stop the process.

Guilia also makes the interesting point that our stomach starts just below our left nipple and ends at the bottom of the ribcage – generally much higher than we think.

So when people complain of a stomach ache the pain is more than likely happening in our intestine.

The poo chart: Types 3 or 4 are considered healthy. Experiencing any other type on a regular basis is good grounds to consult your GP.

Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).

Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy.

Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.

Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.

Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges, passed easily.

Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.

Type 7: Entirely liquid.

Berkeley Robot Learns Through Trial and Error (Like Us Humans)

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a robot capable of learning new skills through trial and error.


The robot, named BRETT (or Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks), taught itself to complete a series of motor tasks without pre-programmed details about its surroundings. Its assignments included stacking Lego blocks, screwing a cap on a water bottle, and assembling a toy plane.

The robot uses a camera, which allows it to survey its hands and the objects in front of it, and an algorithm coded to provide real-time feedback on its efforts. The algorithm responds to a pre-programmed scoring system, which provides BRETT with hot/cold-style clues about the task at hand.

Without any information about its surroundings, BRETT was able to learn new abilities in about three hours. When given beginning and end coordinates for a task, however, that dropped to just 10 minutes. Ultimately, researchers hope to empower robots to adapt to constantly changing environments without the need for reprogramming.

This breakthrough in artificial intelligence involves applying the same “deep learning” techniques used in technology like Google Street View or Apple’s Siri to problem solving in 3D. Loosely inspired by the human brain’s own neurological structure, deep learning involves the processing of vast amounts of data. As such, the capabilities of robots like BRETT will increase as this processing becomes easier. Though BRETT is far from able to wash dishes or do laundry, researchers expect advances in computing speed to drive progress toward such a goal in the coming decades.

The team will present its findings on May 28 at Seattle’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA).

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 29th April 2015

Troika to meet Irish officials for third post-bailout review of our economy


  1. State’s ‘unquestionable’ ability to repay loans is only assessment issue, say Irish officials

Under the terms of Ireland’s bailout, officials will undertake two post-programme surveillance missions each year until 75 per cent of Ireland’s bailout loans are repaid.

Troika officials are due to meet officials from theDepartment of Finance and the Central Bank over the coming days as part of the third post-bailout programme review of the Irish economy.

Representatives from Ireland’s three main lenders during its bailout – the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – arrived in Dublin on Monday as part of a week-long mission to assess Ireland’s adherence to its commitments under its bailout programme, which ended in December 2013.

Under the terms of Ireland’s bailout, officials will undertake two post-programme surveillance missions each year until 75 per cent of Ireland’s bailout loans are repaid.

Officials are expected to complete their mission by Thursday. As it stands, representatives of the troika are not scheduled to meet Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, although an informal meeting is possible.

Fiscal consolidation

“The mission will take stock of Ireland’s fiscal consolidation and financial repair, as sustained financing conditions are essential for the full recovery of the Irish economy,” a spokeswoman for the commission said today.

“To this end, programme partners’ staff are discussing with the Irish authorities the latest developments in the financial sector, the fiscal and macroeconomic outlook and progress on the structural reforms agreed under the programme.”

Government officials played down the significance of the timing of the visit on the week the government unveiled its inaugural spring economic statement. “The representatives of the troika are completing a post-programme surveillance visit which is part of the post-bailout process. In terms of assessment, the only issue is Ireland’s ability to repay its loans. This is unquestionable,” a Department of Finance spokesman said.

In addition to the three main lenders, a representative of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is also participating in the mission. ESM director Klaus Reglinghas consistently argued that the ESM – which manages the euro area’s bailout fund – has an obligation to ensure its members are fully repaid.

The ESM manages the eurogroup’s loans that were offered to Ireland and other bailout countries during the financial crisis.

The Government successfully secured a commitment by the commission to reassess the formulae used to calculate Ireland’s growth projections, in advance of this week’s spring statement.

Mr Noonan raised the issue at a March 9th eurogroup meeting in Brussels at which ministers agreed to grant France, Italy and Belgium greater leeway on reaching budget targets.

Mr. Noonan is understood to have been supported in his call for flexibility for all member states by a number of smaller EU member states, including Portugal.

Heart disease is Ireland’s biggest killer with 27 dying every day,

  • new figures reveal


More people losing their lives to it than from cancer or alcohol-related illnesses.

Heart disease is Ireland’s biggest killer with 27 dying every day, new figures have revealed.

More people losing their lives to it than from cancer or alcohol-related illnesses.

The Irish Heart Foundation released a fact sheet about the dreaded disease yesterday (WED) ahead of their annual Happy Heart Appeal next week.

The IHF said many people don’t realise stroke and premature heart attacks are both cardiovascular diseases, which are caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in our arteries.

IHF Medical Director Caroline Cullen commented: “It is well known by medical professionals that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability in Ireland.

“Coronary disease can be treated more easily now than in the past with medication and stenting so fewer individuals require bypass grafting, there is a perception by the general public that it’s not so bad.

“But it’s important to remember that a stroke can have severe consequences leading to high levels of disability and a heart attack can lead to development of heart failure, a chronic condition which also has high levels of mortality and morbidity.”

Ms Cullen added: “Prevention is crucial and we strongly advocate healthier lifestyles and a less toxic environment.”

Cardiovascular disease begins at birth, when our body starts collecting these lumps. The effect they have on our arteries is influenced by factors such as genetics, age, gender and lifestyle.

The IHF warned that 20% of people will have a stroke.

They debunked the myth that stroke is an older person’s illness, saying it can strike at any age, with children as young as two being affected.

Women are also seven times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than from breast cancer.

There is good news though, as the IHF said 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable.

They are encouraging us to make lifestyle changes- such as eating healthily, not smoking, being active and keeping an eye on our cholesterol and blood pressure- to avoid getting these diseases young.

Furthermore, we should regularly monitor our blood pressure, as high levels can be deadly.

The top thing we can do to improve our heart health is to quit smoking.

It has been proven that a year after stubbing out, the risk of having a heart of stroke is slashed to half of that of a smoker.

When it comes to warning signs of a heart attack, chest pains are not the only one to look out for.

Men should be aware of indigestion, jaw or neck pain, while women may experience nausea, sweating and vomiting.

There are 90,000 people living with heart failure in Ireland right now and 50,000 who have been left with a disability after a stroke.

The IHF is urging the public to get behind their Happy Heart Appeal, which runs from May 7-9.

Pin badges will be available for E2 from street volunteers and Shaws and Supervalu branches.

All money raised will go towards helping fight heart disease and stroke, through care, prevention and research.

Having a challenging job could protect your brain in later life,

  • A study says


  • Jobs that require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues are key
  • Can protect against memory and thinking decline in old age

Having a tough job could protect your brain in later life, researchers have found.

They say professionals whose jobs require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues, could be better off.

Having managerial reponsibilities may even give you better protection against memory and thinking decline in old age than co-workers.

Professionals whose jobs require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues, could be better off.


Examples of executive tasks are scheduling work and activities, developing strategies and resolving conflicts.

Examples of verbal tasks are evaluating and interpreting information and fluid tasks were considered to be those which included selective attention and analyzing data.

Memory and thinking abilities were also studied.

‘Our study is important because it suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does,’ said study author Francisca S. Then, PhD, with the University of Leipzig in Germany.

The new study published in the April 29, 2015, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

‘Education is a well-known factor that influences dementia risk.’

For the study, 1,054 people over the age of 75 were given tests that measured their memory and thinking abilities every one-and-a-half years for eight years.

The researchers also asked the participants about their work history and categorized the tasks they completed into three groups: executive, verbal and fluid.


Dublin Zoo announces birth of baby monkey


Dublin Zoo is delighted to announce the birth of a Goeldi’s monkey baby to the South American House, proudly sponsored by Kellogg’s Coco Pops.

The new arrival was born on the 3rd March and weighs approximately 30 grams.

The baby joins its parents and older sister, Yari, who is 10 months old.

Commenting on the new arrival zookeeper Susan O’Brien said, “We’re delighted with the new addition. Inca, the mother, arrived to Dublin Zoo in 2012 from Banham Zoo in the UK and is a fantastic mother.

She is keeping the newborn very close to her at the moment and swinging around the habitat with her new baby on her back.”

“The baby is feeding very well on a diet of crickets, mealworms and waxworms.

This may not sound so tasty to us humans, but the insects are fed a high-vitamin diet which in-turn gets passed onto the Goeldi – a perfect diet for a newborn.”

“In a couple of weeks we should be able to get close enough to determine the gender but for now we are happy for the family to bond and get to know each other.

Goeldi’s monkeys blend into the forest so well that they were only first described in 1904.

These dark-haired monkeys, from western regions of South America’s tropical rainforests, mainly feed on fruit, vegetables, insects and bird eggs.

Don’t miss this week’s episode of The Zoo, which will be aired at 7pm on Thursday April 30th on RTÉ One, where footage of the Goeldi’s monkey baby can be seen!

Tesco to play the green card as it seeks to win back its crown

  • Retailer named as biggest buyer of Irish food and drink as it launches Tastebud initiative


SuperValu, which recently deposed Tesco Ireland as the largest grocer in the State by market share, makes much in its marketing of its relationship with local food suppliers. It sounds as if Tesco is not yet prepared to cede this turf to its rival.

Tesco on Wednesday launched its annual Tastebud initiative in conjunction with Bord Bia. This is a mentoring programme with the ultimate aim of getting Irish suppliers listed with Tesco.

The supermarket giant also launched a detailed report by Indecon economic consultants on its contribution to the Irish food industry.

The Indecon report concludes that the wider Tesco group is the largest buyer of Irish food and drink in the world, with purchases of €1.57 billion. This puts it well ahead of other big buyers of Irish food products, such as McDonalds, which sources beef here.

Alan Gray of Indecon says that Tesco Ireland accounts for close to €600 million of the purchases. Referencing the remaining €980 million sold to Tesco stores abroad, Gray reckons Tesco accounts for more than 11 per cent of all Irish food and drink exports.

Tesco Ireland’s commercial director, John Paul O’Reilly, insisted that the local operation of the group acts as a promoter of Irish food and drink exports to its sister operations in other countries, predominantly the UK.

With the relative weakness of the euro against sterling, the attractiveness of Irish products to Tesco’s buyers in Britain is likely to increase for as long as the currency remains undervalued versus the pound.

It’s another opportunity for Ireland Food Corporation?

O’Reilly suggested that Tesco plans to make more noise about its contribution to the Irish food and drink industry.

“We’re going to talk to our customers more about this, and about the Indecon report,” he said.

Tesco, which is beginning to find its feet at a corporate level after an annus horribilis due to an accounting scandal and lost market share, was never likely to take its toppling by Super-Valu in Ireland lying down.

As one of the planks of its strategy, shouting that “we are the biggest buyer of Irish food and drink in the world” isn’t a bad option.

Progress M-27M Russian space cargo ship could crash to Earth


Russia’s Mission Control has failed to stabilise a cargo ship spinning out of control in orbit and it is plunging back to Earth.

However, Mission Control says it has not yet given up on saving the unmanned spacecraft. The Progress M-27M was launched on Tuesday and was scheduled to dock at the International Space Station six hours later to deliver 2.5 tons of supplies, including food and fuel.

However, flight controllers were unable to receive data from the spacecraft, which had entered the wrong orbit. Mission Control spokesman Sergei Talalasov told the Interfax news agency that flight controllers were still trying to restore communication with the Progress.

However, an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency that the cargo ship will plunge back to earth. “It has started descending. It has nowhere else to go,” the official said. “It is clear that absolutely uncontrollable reactions have begun.”

“We have scheduled two more communication sessions to soothe our conscience,” said the official. The vessel would fall back to Earth anytime over the next week. Mark Matney, a scientist in the Orbital Debris Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, said the odds that any of the 7 billion people on Earth will be struck by a piece that makes it back through the atmosphere is 1 in 3,200.

“The odds you will be hit are 1 in several trillion,” Matney said. TASS news agency quoted an unnamed space official as saying the Progress, carrying supplies such as food and fuel, had missed its intended orbit and could be lost if it is not corrected.

Other officials told Russian news agencies there had been a problem opening two antennae on the craft.

Space exploration is a subject of national pride in Russia, rooted in the Cold War space race with the US, but the collapse of the Soviet Union starved the space programme of funds and it has been beset by problems in recent years.

The current crew on the International Space Station is made up of Americans Terry Virts and Scott Kelly, Russians Anton Shkaplerov, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti.

NASA said none of the equipment on board was critical for the US section of the ISS, and that the astronauts have enough provisions for months.

Tuesday 18th March 2014

Super-Valu now breathes down Tesco’s neck in Irish supermarket share


Aldi and Lidl increase market share in Ireland while overall grocery sales are down.

Superquinn in Blackrock was one of 24 supermarkets rebranded as SuperValu last month

Tesco is perilously close to losing its pre-eminent position in the Irish supermarket sector with the latest figures from retail analysts Kantar Worldpanel indicating that its market share has fallen again while both Aldi and Lidl outperform the market.

The research published this morning, shows that Aldi and Lidl are growing while the market as a whole is shrinking. The German discounters have seen their market share increase by 1.4 and 0.8 percentage points respectively.

SuperValu is now the State’s Ireland’s second largest grocer after last month’s rebranding of 24 Superquinn stores to SuperValu’s fascia. The supermarket share figures cover the 12 weeks ending up to March 2nd and show that it now accounts for just over 25 per cent of the total market. Tesco remains the most popular retailer although the gap between first and second is now little more than 1 per cent.

“Bringing 24 Superquinn stores under the SuperValu banner has enhanced the retailer’s position as a major player in the grocery market,” said Kantar Worldpanel’s commercial director David Berry. “SuperValu now accounts for 25.3%t of Irish shoppers’ grocery market spend, just 1.1 percentage points behind Tesco. Its sales have remained broadly in line with the market, which shows that it has been able to retain its market share while acquiring assets.”

He said the main challenge for SuperValu was to convince previously loyal Superquinn shoppers of the merits of its brand and “ultimately hold onto their custom”.

Although the overall grocery market has declined for the fifth successive month, Aldi and Lidl continue to impress with retailers are delivering double digit sales growth and increasing their overall market shares by 1.4 and 0.8 percentage points respectively.

“Over the past three years Aldi and Lidl have captured a combined 3.8 share points from the competition, and have grown sales by 37 per cent in an overall grocery market which has grown by just 1 per cent,” Mr Berry said. “Conversely, Tesco and Dunnes have both experienced declines in market share and actual sales as the result of the pressure exerted by the increasingly competitive market place.”

Last month saw the grocery market’s weakest performance since September 2011 with sales declining by 0.6 per cent. Falling inflation has played a significant part in this as vegetables and bread, two important staple items, are now cheaper than they were last year.

Grocery inflation stands at 1.7 per cent for the 12 week period ending March 2nd down from 2.9 per cent over the previous 12 weeks and the lowest level since April 2012.

Galway consultants highlight a lack of intensive care resources

  The Mid Western Regional Hospital

Two Galway hospital consultants are among a group from around the country who are expressing concern about intensive care resources.

Dr. Patrick Neligan and Dr. Michael Scully, both consultants in Intensive Care Medicine at UHG have joined their counterparts from other hospitals to highlight the issue.

In a letter to an Irish Newspaper, the consultants, who are members of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland, highlight a 2008 report which showed that intensive care was below standard in Ireland.

However half way through that timeframe, the bed capacity has been significantly reduced.

The consultants feel that more resources need to be poured into intensive care facilities, otherwise there is concern that patients who are seriously ill would not be allocated a bed.


Ireland’s state consultants warn on intensive care facilities


‘Real danger’ that road traffic victims may not get an intensive-care bed, say doctors

Consultants said for any patient faced with an acute life-threatening illness, “delay in accessing intensive care units demonstrably reduces the prospect of survival”.

The State’s foremost intensive care consultants have expressed concern over the availability of resources for treating patients who need emergency medicine.

In a letter in The Irish Times today the president and the council of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland draw attention to a 2008 report, Towards Excellence in Critical Care , which found standards of care fell short of those required.

The president, Dr Patrick Seigne, a consultant with Cork University Hospital, yesterday told this newspaper the consultants who signed the letter had been reluctant “to go to the media” on the issue.

However, he said since 2008 resources in intensive care units had suffered further cuts and the situation had deteriorated. The situation was now at the point where consultants in all the main hospitals who signed the letter had “reasons to have concern for the care of patients”.

Centralised hospitals

He said intensive care facilities in “peripheral” hospitals have been closed in a centralisation move which saw no increase in resources in centralised hospitals.

Dr Seigne said there was now “a real danger” that someone seriously injured in a road traffic incident, for example, would not be allocated a bed in an intensive care unit.

He said intensive care units across the State were using resuscitation rooms in casualty departments and recovery rooms for patients who should be cared for in fully-staffed intensive care units.

In his own base of Cork University Hospital there were just 10 “general” intensive care unit beds and a further six “cardiac” intensive care unit beds. There were a further 22 intensive care beds at the hospital which were closed.

Specialist nursing staff

A significant factor in the difficulty was the availability of specialist nursing staff. He said each intensive care bed required five to six nurses to provide cover during a 24-hour period. This meant there was a very strong need for resources at a time when nurses were leaving the country for well-paid jobs in places like Bahrain. “We are training nurses for Bahrain,” he said.

Dr Seigne said part of the solution would be to immediately set up educational programmes to encourage more nurses into the field, but “salary has to be looked at”.

In the letter the consultants said the recommendation to double bed capacity by 2020 is not on track. “Half way through this timeframe bed capacity has actually been actively reduced.”

The consultants said for any patient faced with an acute life-threatening illness, “delay in accessing intensive care units demonstrably reduces the prospect of survival”.

The letter is signed by consultants at Beaumont, St James’s, the Mater, Tallaght, St Vincent’s, James Connolly, UCH Galway, the Mid-Western, CUH Cork, and Waterford Regional hospitals.

Scientists finally find what makes dark chocolate healthy


After decades of scientific inquiry, John Finley from Louisiana State University (Pic. above right) and colleagues have found what makes dark chocolate good for you according to their presentation on March 18, 2014, at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas, Texas.

The researchers fund that Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria in the lower digestive tract love dark chocolate.

The bacteriametabolize chemical components in dark chocolate into anti-inflammatory agents that reduce cardiovascular inflammation and the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The researchers proved their concept using cocoa powder and human fecal bacteria in a glass digestive tract that simulated the human lower gut.

Cocoa powder contains antioxidants and fiber that are not acted on by digestive enzymes or digestive secretions in the upper digestive tract and are not absorbed in the upper digestive tract.

Lower digestive tract bacteria convert the antioxidants and fiber into smaller molecules that can be absorbed and used as anti-inflammatory agents and digestive regulators in the lower digestive tract.

The researchers add that eating a prebiotic like garlic can assist the bacteria that metabolize dark chocolate by increasing the rate and of conversion of anti-inflammatory agents in dark chocolate to compounds the human body can absorb.

We should keep to six teaspoons of sugar per day says Prof. O’Shea


Ireland’s top obesity expert Prof Donal O’Shea has welcomed the recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that an adult should consume a maximum of 10% of their total energy intake from sugar with added benefits if this is reduced to 5%.

He said that 5% is equivalent to around 25 grams (around six teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index (BMI). For children, the amount would be much lower.

Prof Donal O’Shea, co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians’s Policy Group on on obesity said: “I am very pleased with the WHO draft guidelines. The consumption of free sugars – those added to food and drink – has soared in the last three decades and is a key target for tackling the obesity epidemic.”

He pointed out that “the amount of sugar in a standard can of coke, for example, is well in excess of this recommended intake. Energy drink and sports drinks often contain even higher levels of sugar. For example flavoured Lucozade Energy (380ml) contains 47.5 grams of sugar (approx 12 teaspoons)”.

“Free sugars are a key culprit in our current obesity epidemic. Consumption of free sugars increases overall energy intake and reduces the intake of foods containing more nutritionally adequate calories. Excess sugar also increases the risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and dental diseases especially dental care.

“As a policy group we have previously called for the introduction of a tax on sugar sweetened drinks.

“Today’s announcement highlights the serious health issue posed by these drinks, and others products containing high levels of added sugar. The Government needs to take action on this to safeguard the health of the nation and to realise its vision of a healthy Ireland”.

It is disappointing too that such products are actively promoted by sportspeople in their capacity as role models to adults and children alike.

“Sports drinks especially are designed for athletes and sports people expending high levels of energy.

“For the rest of us, they are not recommended due to the high sugar content,” said Prof O’Shea, an endocrinologist in St Vincent’s and St Columcilles hospitals in Dublin.

Meanwhile, the Irish Dental Association has warned that a diet high in sugary, energy-dense foods has serious implications not alone for dental health but can also lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

According to its President, Dr Sean Malone, half of all Irish 12-year-olds and three quarters of all 15-year-olds have some decay in their permanent teeth. This makes it the most common chronic disease children experience in Ireland.

“According to figures from the Department of Health 37pc of Irish children consume sweets once a day or more while 21pc report drinking soft drinks daily.

“There is overwhelming evidence that sugars in food and beverages are the main dietary cause of tooth decay and erosion in children and adults.

“In addition to dental decay, people who consume excess sugar suffer higher rates of heart disease and diabetes.”

How to quickly cut down on sugar in your diet

•           Cereal bar – despite their healthy image, many cereal bars can be high in sugar and fat. Look out for bars that are lower in sugar, fat and salt.

•           Chocolate – swap for a lower-calorie hot instant chocolate drink. You can also get chocolate with coffee, and chocolate with malt varieties.

•           Biscuits – swap for oatcakes, oat biscuits or unsalted rice cakes, which also provide fibre.

•           Sweets – try dried fruit such as raisins, dates, apricots or figs, which all count towards your five a day.

•           Nearly one-quarter of our added sugar in our diets comes from sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, sweetened juices, squashes and cordials. A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar. Try sugar-free varieties or, better yet, water, lower-fat milk, or soda water with a splash of fruit juice.

•           If you take sugar in tea or coffee, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether or try swapping to sweeteners instead.

•           Try some new flavours with herbal teas or make your own with hot water and a slice of lemon or ginger.

•           Don’t drink all your fruit. Like fizzy drinks, fruit juice can be high in sugar. When juice is extracted from the whole fruit to make fruit juice, sugar is released and this can cause damage to our teeth.

•           Drinking fruit juice doesn’t fill you up as much as eating fruit.

•           It takes about two-and-a-half oranges to make a glass of juice.

•           But a glass of juice isn’t as filling as eating two-and-a-half oranges because the fibre in the fruit makes you feel fuller for longer.

Ireland ranks fourth out of 30 countries for pancreatic cancer care treatment


Pancreatic cancer is known as a ‘silent killer’ as it is both difficult to detect and treat.

Ireland has been ranked fourth out of 30 surveyed countries in the first ever comparison of pancreatic cancer treatment across Europe.

The Euro Pancreatic Cancer Index (EPCI), published today by the Sweden-based research organisation Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP), covers 30 indicators, including patient rights, information and accessibility to care, prevention, treatment outcomes, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and palliative care.

The Netherlands comes out top with 879 of a possible 1,000 points, followed by Denmark (872), France (812), Ireland (807) and the UK in fifth position (786). Bulgaria is the lowest rated country in the index at 470 points.

In spite of causing almost as many deaths as breast cancer, pancreatic cancer is neglected by most European healthcare systems, contends the EPCI. In four out of five countries, treatment outcomes data are not monitored and there are no agreed best practice protocols in place.

There are about 370 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed annually in Ireland and it is the ninth most commonly diagnosed cancer here.

Ireland is one of few countries offering many of the necessary elements of relevant pancreatic cancer care, confirmed Dr Arne Bjornberg, head of HCP Index production.

Patients here are empowered and can inform themselves about treatment options, while diagnostics, outcomes, documentation and access to medicines are among the best in the surveyed countries, the index found. Despite this, however, in Ireland the average five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is only 5-6 per cent, though this matches the European and US average.

Welcoming Ireland’s positive ranking, Dr Brian Bird, consultant medical oncologist, Bon Secours Hospital Cork, said Irish patients had better access to multidisciplinary teams (in Cork and Dublin) that specialise in treating pancreatic cancer than patients in the UK. “In addition, in Irish medicine we are allowed cross refer so if a patient having a scan for back pain is found to have pancreatic cancer, they can be referred to an appropriate consultant as opposed to having to be referred back to the GP which entails delays,

Pancreatic cancer is known as a “silent killer” as it is both difficult to detect and treat. Because it causes few symptoms in its early stages, and some symptoms are quite vague (such as abdominal pain, weight loss and fatigue), correct diagnosis is frequently not made until the cancer is very advanced.

While detection remains a serious issue, recent advances in chemotherapy treatment are improving outcomes, and immunotherapy could offer patients more encouraging survival chances in the future, Dr Bird said.

Endangered primate born at Animal park zoo in England


Francois’ langurs are an endangered species native to Vietnam and China.

One of the world’s rarest primates, both in the wild and in captivity, has been born at a British zoo.

The newborn Francois’ langur is the first ever of its species be born at Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury, Kent, and is a step towards the conservation of the endangered species.

Francois’ langurs, which are listed as endangered, are born with striking red fur, which will gradually darken until they are one year old and turn black, a spokeswoman for the zoo said.

The primates live in a matriarchal group that is led by females, who share parenting duties between them.

The species is native to north-east Vietnam and southern China, where they live at a slightly higher altitude than most langurs, the spokeswoman said.

They inhabit semi-tropical monsoon forest and well-sheltered areas in limestone ranges, but because of major changes in land use the population of Francois’ langurs has diminished.

Their population in the Guangxi Province in China alone has decreased by 85% as a result of hunting and habitat loss, the zoo said.

Matt Ford, head of primates, said: “This is the first time that we have bred Francois’ langurs at Howletts so it is a very exciting and important time for us.

“We are still trying to work out the sex of the newborn Francois’ langur, as the female is a first time mother and will therefore keep the infant tucked away out of view for longer.”

News Ireland daily BLOG

Wednesday 12th February 2014

Enda Kenny claim Irish Income tax is too high


Taoiseach hints at rate cut in Budget for 2015

Income tax here is too high and a cut could be on the way in the next Budget, it was revealed today.

The Taoiseach has conceded the amount of cash docked from worker’s wages is excessive.

Mr Kenny’s admission could herald the first tax cuts since the recession struck in 2008.

He said: “We recognise that income tax levels are too high here. This is a priority for government, but you can only deliver it if you can actually pay for it.

“All of this will be taken into account as we prepare for the Budget for 2015.” The Coalition, especially the Labour party, has been coming under increasing pressure to help struggling middle-income families.

The disclosure this week that US multi-nationals might be paying less than 3% corporation tax will turn up the heat to deliver tax cuts.

Mr Kenny was speaking before an address to Ibec’s Chief Executive Officers conference at the Convention Centre in Dublin.

The Taoiseach told the American CNBC cable channel that creating new jobs was his Government’s top priority. He said he was hopeful 50,000 positions will be created this year and in 2015.

Ibec chief Danny McCoy called for the tax-cutting agenda to be fast-tracked.

He said: “Up to half the companies expect that they will be paying pay increases in 2014, but half still need wage freezes.

“We can’t have across-the-board wage demands, but we can certainly get disposable income increased by reducing those taxes.”

“At 52% we now have one of the highest marginal tax rates in the OECD, well above the average of 36%.”

Younger Irish children presenting with anorexia “Now more boys”


Children are presenting to hospital with anorexia nervosa at an earlier age and the condition is affecting an increasing number of boys, a new Irish study has found.

According to researchers, anorexia is a serious mental health illness that is best treated in the community. However if a person’s weight reaches a critically low level, they will require hospitalisation.

The 2002 Census estimated that some 2,400 teenage girls were affected. The average age of onset among them was 14. However other than this, there is very little published Irish data on the condition, so the researchers decided to investigate further.

They looked at all inpatients admitted to Temple Street Children’s Hospital with anorexia between 2005 and 2011.

They found that the average age of onset of the condition was 13.5 years, six months younger than the 2002 figures – this indicates that anorexia is presenting at an earlier age.

All of the patients came into hospital via the emergency department (ED). Almost two in three were self-referred, while the rest were referred by a GP.

Boys accounted for almost one in three admissions. However on admission, girls were found to be more underweight than boys even though they tended to present to hospital sooner than boys.

The most common features of the illness after low weight were over-exercising and food restriction. One in four patients were also known to have been vomiting. All of the girls who had reached puberty had amenorrhea (an absence of menstrual periods).

Overall, the hospital noted a big increase in the number of children presenting with anorexia over the last 10 years and this mirrors UK figures.

The high number of boys presenting is also in line with recent research which indicates a higher prevalence among males.

The fact that girls tend to present to hospital sooner suggests that there is better awareness and detection in girls.

The researchers expressed concern that ‘the overall mean age of onset was estimated at six months prior to seeking treatment’. They pointed out that the longer it takes to get treated, the worse the prognosis.

Early detection and treatment within the community is more preferable to hospitalisation later, they said.

Meanwhile, the study also noted that the average length of stay in hospital is over five weeks. This is expensive and requires many resources, such as specialist staff training.

The researchers added that the increase in children presenting with anorexia has important implications for community and hospital services. They emphasised that the new national children’s hospital, which is to be built on the grounds of St James’s Hospital in Dublin, will require dedicated beds and specialist staff to deal with this serious issue.

Superquinn stores to be renamed SuperValu by Musgrave’s


Musgraves are to merge 24 Superquinn shops with SuperValu from tomorrow.

It has been in business for 54 years, but the Superquinn brand will be checking out of the Irish grocery market for good tomorrow.

Cork wholesale group Musgrave, which acquired the business for €229 million in October 2011, has decided to ditch the Superquinn name and rebrand its supermarkets under the SuperValu banner.

All 24 Superquinn stores will be renamed as SuperValu from tomorrow, consigning the Superquinn name to grocery chain heaven.

SuperValu managing director Martin Kelleher said the name change follows an “excellent performance” by SuperValu over the Christmas period when it was the top performing supermarket with its market share increasing to 20.1 per cent for the last 12 weeks of 2013.

“Since announcing our plans to rename Superquinn as SuperValu in August, the consumer response has been very positive demonstrating that both brands are better together,” he added.

The expanded SuperValu network will now consist of 223 stores with a turnover of €2.6 billion and 14,500 employees.

SuperValu is also currently implementing a €20 million in-store investment programme which will see the former Superquinn network upgraded with a new focus on service, range, quality and value. This is in addition to €10 million invested during 2013.

Retire your robots and free the poor people


The prospect of far better lives depends on how the gains are produced and distributed

In 1955, Walter Reuther, head of the US car workers’ union, told of a visit to a new automatically operated Ford plant.

Pointing to all the robots, his host asked: “How are you going to collect union dues from those guys?” Mr Reuther replied: “And how are you going to get them to buy Fords?” Automation is not new. Neither is the debate about its effects. How far, then, does what Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call The Second Machine Age alter the questions or the answers?

I laid out the core argument last week. I noted that the rise of information technology coincides with increasing income inequality. Lawrence Mishel of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute challenges the notion that the former has been the principal cause of the latter.

Mishel notes: “Rising executive pay and the expansion of, and better pay in, the financial sector can account for two-thirds of increased incomes at the top.”

Changing social norms, the rise of stock-based remuneration and the extraordinary expansion of the financial sector also contributed. While it was a factor, technology has not determined economic outcomes.

Yet technology could become far more important. Brynjolfsson and McAfee also argue that it will make us more prosperous; and it will shift the distribution of opportunities among workers and between workers and owners of capital.

The economic impacts of new technologies are many and complex. They include: new services, such as Facebook; disintermediation of old systems of distribution via iTunes or Amazon; new products, such as smartphones; and new machines, such as robots. The latter awaken fears that intelligent machines will render a vast number of people redundant. A recent paper by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University concludes that 47 per cent of US jobs are at high risk from automation.

Computer capital

In the 19th century, they argue, machines replaced artisans and benefited unskilled labour. In the 20th century, computers replaced middle-income jobs, creating a polarised labour market. Over the next decades, however, “most workers in transport and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are likely to be substituted by computer capital”.

Moreover, “computerisation will mainly substitute for low-skill and low-wage jobs in the near future. By contrast, high-skill and high-wage occupations are the least susceptible to computer capital.” This, then, would exacerbate inequality.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University even argue that the rise in productivity might make future generations worse off in aggregate.

The replacement of workers by robots could shift income from the former to the robots’ owners, most of whom will be retired and are assumed to save less than the young. This would lower investment in human capital because the young could no longer afford to pay for it; and in machines because savings in this economy would fall.

The argument that a rise in potential productivity would make us permanently worse off is ingenious. More plausible, to me at least, are other possibilities: there could be a large adjustment shock as workers are laid off; the market wages of unskilled people might fall far below a socially acceptable minimum; and, combined with other new technologies, robots might make the distribution of income far more unequal than it is already.

Is water flowing on the red planet Mars? Maybe say scientists.


A NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars has spotted signs that water might be flowing just below the Red Planet’s surface.

New clues are emerging about the mysterious streaks that appear on Mars’ surface during warm weather, though scientists still can’t say for sure that they’re caused by flowing water.

The marks, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), snake down some crater walls and other inclines when the mercury rises on the Red Planet. New research finds seasonal changes in iron minerals at RSL sites, suggesting that brines containing an iron antifreeze may flow there from time to time — but direct evidence of water remains elusive.

“We still don’t have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL, although we’re not sure how this process would take place without water,” Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, lead author of two recent RSL studies, said in a statement. (Ojha discovered the RSL in 2011, while an undergraduate at the University of Arizona.) [Photos: The Search for Water on Mars]

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Ojha and his colleagues studied images of 13 RSL sites taken by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). They saw relatively high concentrations of iron minerals at most of the sites.

“Just like the RSL themselves, the strength of the spectral signatures varies according to the seasons,” Ojha said. “They’re stronger when it’s warmer and less significant when it’s colder.”

Many scientists think the recurring slope lineae are created by water flowing just beneath the Martian surface. This water — which would leave the iron antifreezes and other minerals in its wake — likely contains salts that lower its freezing point significantly, allowing it to stay liquid despite frigid Red Planet temperatures.

While the researchers didn’t see any spectral signatures of water in the CRISM images, that doesn’t rule out the substance’s presence at RSL sites, scientists said.

For example, the observations were made exclusively in the afternoon and thus could have missed surface water appearing in the morning. Further, each CRISM image observed a large area, possibly making it tough to spot signs of water in the narrow RSL streaks.

The researchers reported these results late last year in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. In another study, due out next month in the journal Icarus, a team led by Ojha analyzed pictures snapped by MRO and NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, looking for patterns in RSL formation on the Red Planet.

The team found 200 locations where conditions seemed ideal for seasonal streaks — areas in the southern mid-latitudes with rocky cliffs — but found only 13 with actual RSL marks.

“The fact that RSL occur in a few sites and not others indicates additional unknown factors such as availability of water or salts may play a crucial role in RSL formation,” Ojha said.

News Ireland daily BLOG update Tuesday

Tuesday 12th November 2013

Is the Philippines Haiyan Typhoon   the result of our climate change?


Yeb Sano has told delegates at the UN climate change talks that Typhoon Haiyan is the result of global warming – but meteorologists say that it is not possible to pinpoint specific events and blame them on climate change

Survivors pass through the debris in Leyte province following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan

The Filipino delegate at the UN Climate Change talks that began on Monday has blamed Typhoon Haiyan on climate change, and urged sceptics to “get off their ivory towers” and come to see the evidence for themselves.

But climate experts have said that Yeb Sano, who made an emotional plea for action at the beginning of the talks in Warsaw, could not say for definite that climate change caused the storm that ravaged the Philippines.

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness,” said Mr Sano, whose family is from the devastated city of Tacloban. He has vowed to continue a hunger strike “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”

He said: “We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now, right here. Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms.”

He then dared “anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change” to visit his homeland – and other areas seen as being on the front line of climate change.

But meteorologists maintain that it is not possible to say with certainty that specific events are caused by climate change.

The most violent storm before Typhoon Haiyan was Hurricane Camille – a hurricane is the term for the storm in the Atlantic, Caribbean and northeast Pacific, while in the northwest Pacific they are called typhoons. In the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea they are called cyclones.

Hurricane Camille formed in August 1969 in Mississippi, claiming the lives of 259 people with winds which reached speeds of 190mph.

The third biggest storm ever recorded was in 1935, when the Labor Day Hurricane hit the Florida Keys.

The fourth and fifth biggest were also in the Philippines, however – with Typhoon Megi reaching speeds of 145mph in 2010, and Typhoon Zeb in 1998.

“The impact of climate change on tropical cyclones is difficult to measure in individual cases – or even across whole seasons,” said Julian Heming, a tropical storm prediction scientist at the Met Office.

“We have to be patient to know whether the storms are caused by climate change or whether they are just usual peaks and troughs in weather patterns – and we are unlikely to have robust detectable signals before the end of this century.”

Mr Heming pointed out that 2005 was what he termed “a hyperactive season,” with more frequent and more intense storms than ever before – Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma among them.

But following that season the frequency of such storms dropped to a 30-year low.

He added that this year in the Atlantic has been exceptionally quiet – one of the quietest on record – and that in the northern hemisphere the number of storms was only 75 per cent of what you would usually expect for this time of year. The last six weeks, however, have seen a surge in activity in the west Pacific.

“We need to look at long-term climate models before we can be certain,” he said.

“But the indications are that the frequency of the storms may decrease – but their intensity will increase.”

Bob Ward, from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, agreed that it was impossible to wholly blame climate change for specific events.

“But it could have made the storms more intense,” he said. “By how much, we don’t yet know. The evidence is pretty mixed so far.

“It is safe to say, however, that the storms will decrease in number but increase in intensity. Global warming is increasing the temperature of the seas – and the warmer the seas, the rougher the storms.”

Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), said that Typhoon Haiyan served as a backdrop of “sobering reality” to the fortnight-long negotiations, which are being held in a football stadium in the Polish capital.

“We must stay focused, exert maximum effort for the full time and produce a positive result, because what happens in this stadium is not a game,” she said. “There are not two sides, but the whole of humanity. There are no winners and losers, we all either win or lose in the future we make for ourselves.”

And as Haiyan bore down, Belle Segayo, a member of the Philippine Climate Change Commission, dashed to the airport in Tacloban city to try to get back to Manila – but instead found herself trapped in the airport, unable to make the talks.

“It sounded like a pig being slaughtered,” Ms Segayo said, referring to the noise of the city being torn apart and inundated with surging seawater.

Economist warns that Dublin property prices are being ‘talked up’


Early signs of recovery in the Dublin property market are being exploited by those interested in talking up the market as a whole, it has been warned.

Friends First economist Jim Power said the increase in prices in the capital are not reflective of the market across the country.

And he warned there was a risk of talking ourselves into another bubble.

“A housing shortage and rising prices in certain areas of Dublin does not constitute a recovery in the housing market,” Mr Power said, at the launch of Friends First’s latest economic commentary.

“There is a large bank of housing stock and development lands which are still tied up in NAMA and elsewhere  and it is only when this supply comes back onto the market in Dublin and in other regions that we will have a more accurate picture of where the true market lies. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Mr Power said efforts should be made to ensure there is no repeat of the past.

He said the Government should be looking at policies such as limiting income multiples, controlling Loan-to-Value ratios and introducing mandatory mortgage insurance.

“Furthermore, with clear signs of a lack of supply in Dublin in particular, a levy on development land that is being hoarded would make sense,” he said.

He said the economy was likely to grow 0.3pc this year, strengthening to 2.1pc in 2014. This is broadly in line with the projections from the Department of Finance.

Friends First said unemployment would fall this year 13.3pc, and drop to 12.5pc next year.

Supervalu credit card security breach takes a sinister twist


Has enough been done to protect those affected?

Nearly 70,000 people potentially affected by the breach have been urged to go through their credit card statements to look for any rogue or unexplained transactions.

What started out as a routine investigation after unexplained code was found on a computer in a Clare-based company processing financial data of over 70,000  Supervalu and Axa customers has taken a sinister twist .It emerged yesterday the security breach was far more dangerous and widespread than was previously thought.Last Tuesday the story broke that 39,000 Supervalu customers who bought its “getaway breaks” were potentially exposed to a computer hack at the US-owned company Loyalty build, while a further 4,000 people with the insurance company’s loyalty reward programme had also been affected.

Everything changed yesterday when Loyaltybuild contacted the DPC again to say financial details of more than 62,000 Supervalu customers and 8,000 Axa customers who had paid for breaks between January 2011 and February 2012 had been seriously compromised and could now be used by a third party to make purchases or – worse again – clone credit or debit cards.

When the breach first emerged, the three companies insisted there was no sign that any personal or financial data had been extracted or compromised. Both Axa and Supervalu urged those who had booked breaks through their reward schemes to do no more than review their accounts and report any unusual activity or unsolicited communication connected with the deal to their bank.

The Data Protection Commission was informed but the investigation was still relatively low key.

When the DPC recieved confirmation the security breach had worsened yesterday, it dispatched two of its investigators to Co Clare to go through Loyaltybuild’s computer systems. Supervalu was also sending its people to the site.

“We now know that the criminals involved have all the information that they need to use the credit cards of the people concerned to make purchases and that’s why we required both companies to issue the statements they have issued.,” Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said this morning.

It has taken a long time for information to come to light. It has been nearly three weeks since signs of the breach were first detected. It affects customers who bought holidays up to three years ago.

This has prompted questions as to why such a serious incident can remain undetected for so long.

“To be fair, cyber-criminals have become extremely sophisticated and it can become quite difficult to actually identify that your systems have been penetrated,” Mr Hawkes said today. “Nevertheless it is extremely serious that it was possible for these criminals to access unencrypted data on credit cards which was sufficient to basically use these credit cards as if they were the people concerned.”

Loyaltybuild says it is working “around the clock with our security experts to get to the bottom of this and to further enhance our security in order to protect our valued customers”. On legal advice, it has declined to shed any light on the nature of the investigation or those behind it.

The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation has also received a report on the security breach from the company. Informed sources say any such inquiry could be hampered by the fact the perpetrators could be based outside of this jurisdiction.

Nearly 70,000 people potentially affected by the breach have been urged to go through their credit card statements to look for any rogue or unexplained transactions. They will be able to take some comfort from the fact that they are unlikely to lose out as a result of any fraud perpetrated on their account as unless the card hold can be shown to be at fault – which they would clearly not be in this case – the money will be refunded.

Who pays the ultimate price is what remains to be seen.

Use of language linked to young peoples relationship with alcohol


Young people’s drinking habits can escalate if introduced to alcohol at home

The trend towards “prinks” – pre-drinks – by young people at home before a function is another example of denial, says sociologist Dr Mark Garavan.

Use of words such as craic and “prinks” (pre-drinks) shows a level of denial and dysfunctionality around our approach to alcohol, a conference in Galway has heard.And Irish parents who believe they can inculcate a sensible Mediterranean approach to alcohol in teenagers by introducing them to wine at home are only “hurtling them faster” into the heavy-drinking culture, the Western Region Drugs Task Force conference was told yesterday.‘Hold the line’
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smith said parents should “hold the line” with their teenagers on not drinking alcohol for as long as possible, as long-term epidemiological studies in North America, Australia and New Zealand had found that young people’s drinking habits only “escalated” when the brake was removed.

Dr Smyth was one of several speakers addressing the theme of “the culture of alcohol in homes” as part of the task force’s drug and alcohol awareness week, which was opened by Minister of State for Health Alex White. Dr Smyth also advised parents not to verbalise their “need” for a glass of wine at home, as this was giving children the message that this is how adults deal with stress.

“Parents may feel they have little influence any more, due to the multitude of influences on teenagers from social networks, but the biggest single influence is still parental,” he said, even if teenagers did not care to admit same.

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) sociologist Dr Mark Garavan said there was an “enormous denial” about how we mediated our experiences through alcohol, and one example of this was the use of the word craic.

Defining craic
“The term ‘craic’ is so coded around alcohol,” he said. Just as the Inuits had so many different words for snow, so Irish people had the choice of very many “aggressive” terms to describe getting drunk, he noted, from getting hammered to smashed to out of our heads.

The trend towards “prinks” by young people at home before a function was another example of denial, Dr Garavan said, in that it suggested the practice of drinking at home before going out “wasn’t really drinking at all”.

“If we are to switch our language and refer to it as self-harming, the majority of people who drink in Ireland are self-harmers,” Dr Garavan said. The use of the term “self medicate” also allowed the “dysfunctionality to become more visible”, he said.

Alcohol abuse
The tendency to categorise issues such as alcohol abuse and mental illness in “silos” meant we were failing to make the link between alcohol abuse and child abuse, Dr Garavan said. Perhaps it was time to ask why we need alcohol to “celebrate, mourn, gather and endure each other’s presence”, he said.

Trinity College Dublin research associate Dr Ann Hope said poor public policy had contributed to the current situation. Research in Australia and New Zealand on the impact of drinking at home had shown that harm caused to others by heavy drinkers was as detrimental as harm caused to themselves. In an Irish context, this would mean that the €3.5 billion cost of alcohol abuse could be doubled to €7 billion, she said. See wrdtf.ie.

NUI Galway Trials with innovative falls detection system for elderly people

Pictured (l to r) NUI Galway researchers Mary Rose Mulry (Occupational Therapy and Dean Sweeney (Electronic & Electrical Engineering) who will be working with those interested in taking part in the study on the falls detection system for elderly fallers.   

Pictured (l to r) NUI Galway researchers Mary Rose Mulry (Occupational Therapy and Dean Sweeney (Electronic &Electrical Engineering) who will be working with those interested in taking part in the study on the falls detection system for elderly people fallers.

The project aims to tackle early falls detection both inside and outside the home for elderly people.

NUI Galway is testing a wearable sensor and home wireless network to detect falls in the elderly, as part of a €2.25 million EU project called FATE. The project is actively recruiting participants aged 64 and over to test the system in their own homes.

The FATE system is made up of a highly sensitive, portable fall detector, a wireless home network and a smart phone. The portable fall detector incorporates accelerometers which are capable of running complex falls detection algorithms. Unique features of this system include a bed sensor for night-time monitoring and the ability to monitor falls even outside the home.

THE FATE – FAll deTector for the Elderly is an EU Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) funded project involving 10 partners across Europe including a multidisciplinary team from NUI Galway, Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Physiology, Occupational Therapy, Nursing, Gerontology and Podiatry.

  The project aims to test and validate this innovative ICT-based solution to improve the quality of life of the elderly population, both at home and outdoors. Falls in the aging population are a very significant problem, an economic burden for care providers and are associated with significant deterioration in the person’s quality of life often resulting in hospitalisation.

Professor Gearóid Ó Laighin, Professor of Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway and FATE Principal Investigator for NUI Galway says “one of the key issues with falls in the elderly is the so called “long lie” where fallers remain on the floor for more hour after the fall due to lack of detection. This system has the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of undetected falls and drastically improve outcomes after a fall”.

Dr Leo Quinlan from the Discipline of Physiology, School of Medicine at NUI Galway and project leader for FATE describes the potential impact of the system as very significant and explains “Falls can lead to a restriction in normal activity levels for the older person, due to developing a fear of falling leading to a social isolation and reduced quality of life. This system has the potential to give confidence and security to both the older person and their carers.”

Recruitment for the study is on-going and Mary Rose Mulry (Occupational Therapy) and Dean Sweeney (Electronic &Electrical Engineering, NUI Galway) will visit interested candidates to discuss taking part in the study and what is involved for those that do.

For more information visit www.fate.upc.edu

Dogs needed for interaction study in laboratory


Dog owners are being urged to take their pets to a unique laboratory dedicated to studying man’s best friend.

Scientists at the Dog Cognition Centre will test dogs with games and tasks to discover more about how they interact with their environment, other dogs, and humans.

The findings will help people who work with and rely on dogs, such as the blind and disabled, as well as the police and military, say the researchers.

Owners will also be helped to understand their pets a little better.

Dog facial expressions and human-dog communication are two of the topics to be investigated by the scientists, from the University of Portsmouth’s department of psychology.

The centre is headed by dog intelligence expert Dr Juliane Kaminski, who has studied dog cognition for more than a decade.

She said: “Research has shown us that dogs have some understanding of their world and are flexible problem solvers. Some of their abilities equal those of young children.

“We know dogs are sensitive to humans and that they understand our communication cues, such as pointing and looking at something, for example, in a way even our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, or dogs’ closest living relative, the wolf, can’t.

“The minds of dogs are complex, but more research is needed to identify what mechanisms are controlling their behaviour and how much they really understand versus how much we think they understand.”

Dogs have been living with humans for 15,000 years but scientists have only recently started studying their behaviour seriously.

In the past two decades, experts have begun to learn more about how and why dogs have successfully become the closest animal companions to humans.

Dogs of any gender, age or breed can take part in the studies. The tests are purely observational and involve rewarding dogs with food or play, the scientists point out.

Owners can apply to have their pets included in the research at the website http://www.port.ac.uk/dogcognition.

New invisibility cloak designed by researchers at University of Texas


Scientists show the limitations of current ‘passive’ designs and points the way towards new, ‘actively’ powered metamaterials

Artist Liu Bolin, also known as the ‘Vanishing Artist,’ demonstrates an art installation by blending in with vegetables displayed on the shelves at a supermarket in Beijing.

A new type of “active” invisibility cloak that could operate over a broad range of frequencies has been developed by researchers at the University of Texas in Austin.

By employing a “superconducting thin film” that is electrically powered the cloak could overcome the limitations of current “passive” designs.

Scientists have previously created small-scale invisibility cloaks that work only in response to very limited types of light. The researchers at the University of Texas give the example of an object that is made invisible to red light, but becomes bright blue as a result, “increasing its overall visibility”.

“Our active cloak is a completely new concept and design, aimed at beating the limits of [current cloaks] and we show that it indeed does,” Professor Andrea Alù, a lead author on the study, told the BBC.

“If you want to make an object transparent at all angles and over broad bandwidths, this is a good solution […] We are looking into realising this technology at the moment, but we are still at the early stages.”

The Austin team began their research by surveying current designs, concluding that achieving complete invisibility is “impossible” using current designs that rely on “passive” metamaterials.

Metamaterials are manmade and have physical properties unknown in nature.  They redirect types of radiation so that they bend around an object and make it invisible. However, they can only be ‘set’ to work at specific frequencies at any one time, and can actually become more visible to other portions of the spectrum.

“When you add material around an object to cloak it, you can’t avoid the fact that you are adding matter, and that this matter still responds to electromagnetic waves,” said Professor Alù.

The solution proposed by the University of Texas team is to create “active” invisibility cloaks that are electrically powered, dispersing small amounts of electrical current across a metamaterial surface to effectively cloak a range of frequencies “orders of magnitude broader” than current designs.

The technology proposed in the paper would also allow cloaks to be thinner and lighter than current designs, opening forward the possibility of invisibility being deployed outside of the lab.

Whilst active invisibility cloaks of the type proposed in the paper have yet to be built, the research of Professor Alù’s team has been greeted as a tentative step forward for the technology’s development.