Tag Archives: tax returns

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 13th April 2016

Martin urges the Independents to show their hand and declare one way or the other?

Move comes after scheduled talks between FG and FF are cancelled.


Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin contacted Independent TDs and urged them to vote for either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led Government.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told Independent TDs the time has come for them to declare their support for either him or Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Mr Martin contacted all 15 Independents in talks with both parties Wednesday evening and urged them to vote for either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led Government.

His move came after a scheduled discussion on policy between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was cancelled.

It is understood, however, both parties are still open to further negotiations.

No further meetings have been planned but it is anticipated contact will be made between the two parties on Thursday.

Mr Martin has told Independents that, in the absence of a commitment from Fine Gael that it will support a Fianna Fáil-led minority government, he is not willing to continue in discussions with non-party deputies.

A Fianna Fáil source said Mr Martin will give up on pursuing a Fianna Fáil minority government if he does not secure an additional seven or eight TDs in the vote on Thursday.

Similarily, a significant shift to Mr Kenny would allow Fianna Fáil to acknowledge Fine Gael can form a minority government which Mr Martin will facilitate from the opposition.

Sources in both parties said the process of forming a government had dragged on for too long and needed to come to a swift conclusion.

The possibility of a second election in the absence of enough Independent TDs declaring for Mr Martin or Mr Kenny was being speculated upon in Leinster House.

A Fianna Fáil source said: “It would require a significant number of Independents to vote for Micheal Martin as taoiseach. One or two will not be enough.

“If they want to support a fine Gael minority government that is their choice but we need to know. We are on a roundabout with no exits so the time has come. This is their final opportunity.”

A Fine Gael source said the talks with Fianna Fáil would resume after the vote for Taoiseach on Thursday.

“Fianna Fáil want to allow any Independnets who want to jump in their favour one last chance to do so,” the source said.

The Independent Alliance will meet on Thursday at 11.30 am to decide whether to vote for Mr Kenny or Mr Martin.

However, members of the group said they saw no reason to declare for either party and are likely to abstain in the vote.

Waterford TD John Halligan has opted out of the discussions with both parties.

The five rural TDs of Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Michael Harty, Michael Collins and Noel Grealish will also meet on Thursday to discuss what they should do.

It is expected they will vote against both candidates as will Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae.

Mr Kenny had been hopeful the vote on Taoiseach could be deferred but he needed the support of Fianna Fáil and said this was not forthcoming.

The two parties only met for an hour on Wednesday to discuss the mechanics of a minority government with a meeting scheduled for 8pm to exchange policy papers.

However, it was cancelled at short notice by Fianna Fáil in a move described as frustrating and disappointing by Fine Gael.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party had earlier passed a motion urging the leadership not to compromise on Irish Water in discussions with Fianna Fáil.

It is understood legislation prepared by Fianna Fáil to abolish Irish Water has been agreed by the party and is expected to be handed to Fine Gael within days.

The proposed legislation will suspend the charges for five years and abolish the utility in favour of a slimmed down firm.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan met with senior figures in the Labour party on Tuesday to secure their support for a Fine Gael minority Government.

The meeting, which was attended by Tánaiste Joan Burton, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, took place in Government Buildings.

It is understood Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan encouraged Labour to re-enter Government but the Labour figures rejected the proposal.

Fine Gael also requested the party support them from the opposition benches.

The three Labour Ministers insisted they could make no decision until the outcome of discussions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were known.

International Tax officials plan to take action following the Panama Papers?

International representatives meet at OECD to discuss response to controversy


An activist clutching a suitcase stuffed with fake money demands greater transparency in new legislation following the Panama Papers in Berlin, Germany.

Senior international tax officials met at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Wednesday to discuss responses to the Panama Papers.

Tax authorities are notoriously reluctant to share information, but the sheer scale of the Panama Papers – 11.5 million documents covering 210,000 companies in 21 offshore jurisdictions – has forced them to co-operate.

Nearly everything about the meeting was secret. The OECD would not reveal the number of participants, though press reports estimated that there were 28 officials in attendance.

The Irish Revenue Commissioners sent one or more representatives, but would not divulge numbers or identities.

“Some of the countries coming here do not even want their presence known,” said an informed source.

“If you’re doing an investigation, maybe there’s a big fish in a given country who feels personally threatened or at risk.

“You wouldn’t want to say, ‘Hey, we’re at the OECD getting the Panama Papers information.’”

The meeting was organised by the Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration (Jitsic) network.

The 46 countries who belong to the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration are potential members of any Jitsic “project”.

They include the 34 members of the OECD, plus members of the G20 who are not in the club for the world’s most developed countries.

The number of participants in a given Jitsic “project” can range from two to 46.

“We are only aware of what has been reported in the press,” the OECD said, denying it had access to the Panama Papers.

Revenue authorities from at least 10 countries, including the State, have reportedly approached members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in relation to the papers but were told: “The ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government.”

However, a source at the OECD insisted data-sharing had motivated the meeting.

“Somebody has the data. That’s the whole reason they had the meeting,” the source said.

The OECD’s one-page, post-meeting statement said it discussed “opportunites for obtaining data, co-operation and information-sharing.”

An G20 mandate?

The G20 gave the OECD a mandate to fight tax evasion in 2009.

It was subsequently invested with another mission, to thwart corporations shifting profits to avoid tax.

But the OECD is not privy to taxpayer specific information.

“If one of the Jitsic countries says, ‘Let me show you what we’ve got so far,’ that’s when OECD officials leave the room,” an OECD source explained.

Jitsic is headed by Chris Jordan, commissioner for the Australian tax office.

He says Jitsic members share “a global mindset for tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance”.

Mark Konza, head of international tax in Australia, chaired Wednesday’s meeting.

Mr Jordan told the Australian Financial Review that the objective of the meeting was “to get the bigger picture . . . A number of countries have got slices or pieces of the data and that’s been very useful, but really, the start of the conversation is to work out who’s got what, how we can pool that information and start to work together”.

The OECD said follow-up action will be ensured by national tax administrations.

“It will be devolved to more operational people in the Jitsic network,” Mr Jordan said. “It’s data analytics people we need.”

Meanwhile, the French finance minister Michel Sapin told a press conference the Panama Papers have prompted “a burst of generosity” amongst tax evaders, who are coming forward to the STDR, the service set up nearly three years ago by the French to encourage those with offshore accounts to confess and negotiate settlements.

A spokesperson at the Revenue Commissioners said it was not yet clear whether the Panama Papers will have a similar effect in the State.

“Our message is: ‘Come to us before we come to you, because we will,’” she said.

Acting Tánaiste Joan Burton wants to stay on as Labour Party leader

Acting Tánaiste may face party’s deputy leader Alan Kelly in a leadership contest


The demise of Joan as depicted above?

The Tánaiste Joan Burton has told senior Labour Party figures she wants to stay on as party leader and has discussed a campaign to retain the leadership, even though many in the party believed she would step down.

Labour’s rules require a leadership election after an unsuccessful election and Ms Burton – who remains acting Tánaiste – said she would announce her intention after a government is formed.

The Irish Times has been told by usually reliable sources that they believe that Ms Burton and deputy leader Alan Kelly would both seek the post.

Extraordinarily, it is also suggested that Ms Burton and Mr Kelly may second each other’s nomination for the leadership, as neither is certain of attracting a seconder from the parliamentary party, as party rules require.

Several high-ranking party sources confirmed the prospect had been raised internally in recent days, though some played down the likelihood of an exchange of nomination papers. All expressed unhappiness at the idea.

Mr Kelly, Minister for the Environment, is thought certain to stand.

But if Ms Burton stood for the leadership it would take the party by surprise.

One nominee

Some senior Labour figures, including some members of the parliamentary party, favoured an agreement to have just one nominee with acting Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin going for the leadership, avoiding a protracted and potentially divisive election.

Ms Burton and Mr Kelly are thought to be vehemently opposed to a coronation for Mr Howlin.

A spokesman for Ms Burton said she had “consistently made clear that government formation remains the most important issue” and that all other issues “can be addressed once a new government is in place”.

New UK scanning project could lead to breakthroughs in spotting risk factors for most diseases


An “exciting” new UK study could unlock information on risk factors for diseases, detect the earliest signs of illnesses, and help develop new kinds of treatments, experts have said.

Scientists in Britain are hoping to create the world’s biggest collection of scans of internal organs.

Experts said the project will see 100,000 people scanned by MRI machines and other state-of-the-art imaging methods. And it could lead to “new breakthroughs faster”.

100,000 people will be scanned in machines like this MRI one (Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/PA)It’s hoped the research study could lead to findings on a par with the study that first linked smoking to lung cancer.

Studies using scans have in the past only used hundreds of participants. Having a new large database will expand the “scope and quality” of research, the chairman of the UK Biobank Imaging Expert Working Group said.

Professor Paul Matthews also said the “exciting” project will help scientists “view health holistically”.

Discovering a link between smoking and lung cancer was a huge breakthrough (Gareth Fuller/PA)He added: “This imaging is going to help us understand risk factors that could help prevent future diseases, just as the discovery between smoking and the link to lung cancers helped to change the entire prevalence of that disease in this country.

“We may also find out the earliest changes in diseases, discovering for example, markers for diseases like Alzheimer’s years before they ever happen to allow doctors in the future to think about treating people before the disease really starts to express itself.

“And maybe this kind of imaging could help us find new kinds of treatments.”

A radiographer views images on a computer from a new MRI scanner (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)Officials said the UK Biobank project – funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation – could transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases. These include dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

Experts will image the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat of 100,000 people who are current participants of UK Biobank – a research resource tracking half a million people across the UK.

The participants already provide detailed information on themselves, including their lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity and cognitive function.

Inky the Octopus slips out of aquarium tank, crawls across floor and escapes down a pipe to his home in the Pacific ocean


Inky the octopus, the escapee from New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Inky the octopus didn’t even try to cover his tracks.

By the time the staff at New Zealand’s National Aquarium noticed that he was missing, tell tale suction cup prints were the main clue to an easily solved mystery.

Inky had said see ya to his tank-mate, slipped through a gap left by maintenance workers at the top of his enclosure and, as evidenced by the tracks, made his way across the floor to a six-inch-wide drain. He squeezed his football-sized body in — octopuses are very malleable, aquarium manager Rob Yarrall told the New Zealand website Stuff — and made a break for the Pacific.

“He managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean. And off he went,” Yarrall told Radio New Zealand. “And he didn’t even leave us a message.”

The cephalopod version of “Shawshank Redemption” took place three months ago, but it only became public Tuesday. Inky, who already had some local renown in the coastal city of Napier, quickly became a global celebrity cheered on by strangers.

Inky had resided at the aquarium since 2014, when he was taken in after being caught in a crayfish pot, his body scarred and his arms injured. The octopus’s name was chosen from nominations submitted to a contest run by the Napier City Council.

Kerry Hewitt, the aquarium’s curator of exhibits, said at the time that Inky was “getting used to being at the aquarium” but added that staff would “have to keep Inky amused or he will get bored.”

Guess that happened.

This isn’t the first time a captive octopus decided to take matters into its own hands — er, tentacles. In 2009, after a two-spotted octopus at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California took apart a water recycling valve, directed a tube to shoot water out of the tank for 10 hours and caused a massive flood, Scientific American asked octopus expert Jennifer Mather about the animals’ intelligence and previous such hijinks at aquariums.

“They are very strong, and it is practically impossible to keep an octopus in a tank unless you are very lucky. … Octopuses simply take things apart,” Mather said. “I recall reading about someone who had built a robot submarine to putter around in a large aquarium tank. The octopus got a hold of it and took it apart piece by piece. There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning.”

Yarrall said the aquarium has no plans to replace Inky, but it does intend to better secure the tank where now just one octopus remains.

“They are always exploring and they are great escape artists,” Yarrall said, according to Hawke’s Bay Today. “We’ll be watching the other one.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 4th November 2014

Ireland’s tax returns running an astonishing €1.1bn ahead of target


Exchequer figures show State collected €3.1bn in tax in October

The exchequer deficit at end October 2014 stood at €8.51 billion compared to €10.521 billion in 2013. The figure represents an €1.76 billion improvement on the official target, thanks to rising tax receipts, an increase in Central Bank surplus income and reduced interest expenditure.

Tax returns this year are running almost €1.1 billion ahead of target after a surge in revenues last month, new figures show.

Exchequer returns for October show the Government collected €3.1 billion in tax, €389 million or 14.3 per cent more than targeted at the outset of the year.

However, some €220 million reflected revenues delayed from the pension fund levy in September. Tax revenues for the month were up €169 million or 6.2 per cent, with VAT, corporation tax and excise duties each ahead of target

The figures, released this afternoon by the Department of Finance, show that the revenues since the start of the year now stand at €31.98 billion, €1.09 billion or 3.5 per cent ahead of profile.

The exchequer deficit at end October 2014 stood at €8.51 billion compared to €10.521 billion in 2013. The figure represents an €1.76 billion improvement on the official target, thanks to rising tax receipts, an increase in Central Bank surplus income and reduced interest expenditure

Rape victim Mairia CahillI says it feels like she is being publicly abused all over again by the IRA


RAPE victim Mairia Cahill has accused members of the republican movement of actively trying to undermine her attempts to highlight the issue of sex offenders being exiled from the North.

The Belfast woman was responding to the release of two letters by Breige Wright, who is one of four people said to have been involved in the kangaroo court.

The letters, released through Madden and Finucane solicitors, appear to show that Ms Wright supported Ms Cahill in dealing with her abuse ordeal.

In a statement accompanying the letters, Ms Wright claims that she was subject to a “media onslaught” since Mairia’s claims were aired on the BBC Spotlight programme last month.

“There has been a deluge of inaccurate, prejudiced and selective reporting of all aspects of this case.”

“Particularly, my relationship with Máiría Cahill and in terms of the support that I offered her,” the statement said.

“My intent was to try to help Máiría. I believe that these letters demonstrate that Máiría accepted and valued that support,” it added.

The letters were sent by Ms Cahill to Ms Wright in 2005 and 2008. Her raped is alleged to have taken place in 1998.

But in a statement to independent.ie, Ms Cahill today said the letters “corroborate” her account.

She added that they illustrate she was in “turmoil” following her ordeal and that Ms Wright was present during the interrogation. And Ms Cahill accused Ms Wright of “hiding” behind her solicitor and called on her to answer questions from the media.

Mairia cahill speaking to media following a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD outside Government Buildings, Dublin.360p high

“This selective drip feeding of information without context is designed to frighten me to go away. It will not work. Although I feel like I am being abused all over again by the IRA in a very public manner,  it will not deter me from continuing to deal with the serious issue of Republican perpetrators of abuse being moved around this country and covered for by Sinn Fein,” Ms Cahill said.

While Ms Wright was one of four people alleged to have been involved in the interrogation, all charges against her and three other individuals were dropped in May.

Their solicitor, Peter Madden, complained that their acquittals have been “ignored or devalued” as they have been subjected to “trial by the media”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last month that he would be happy to meet with the four individuals to discuss their alleged role in the Kangaroo court.

But Mr Madden told RTE that a meeting would undermine the review currently being carried out by the prosecution service in the North.

A Kremlin award for Irish charity worker Fiona Corcoran


Greater Chernobyl Cause was set up to help victims of 1986 nuclear incident but has since widened activities

Vladimir Putin has presented an award to Fiona Corcoran, the Irish charity worker, in acknowledgement of the work of her Greater Chernobyl Cause in Russia.

Vladimir Putin has presented an award to Irish charity worker Fiona Corcoran in acknowledgement of the work of her Greater Chernobyl Cause in Russia.

The Russian president handed M/s Corcoran the Order of Friendship medal at a ceremony in the Kremlin today to thank her for her “outstanding humanitarian work in Russia.”

The Greater Chernobyl Cause was originally founded to help victims of the 1986 incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine that was then part of the Soviet Union.

The Cork-based charity has since broadened its mission to work with children, the homeless and the elderly in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Mr Putin was accompanied by Patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Christian Orthodox Church at the award ceremony in the Kremlin’s gilded Saint George’s Hall.

In a speech of thanks, M/s Corcoran told the Russian president she was accepting the award “on behalf of the people of Ireland and other supporters who have helped us in our very long journey.”

Ireland, like the countries where the Greater Chernobyl Cause works, had endured terrible tragedies in the past. Historic memories of the Great Famine of 1845 have fostered a tradition of charitable giving in Ireland, she said.

“The award which you have bestowed on us today will bring our work forward for the very needy. As we say in Ireland ‘go raibh mine maith agat,” she said.

Supported by Oscar winning actor Jeremy Irons, among others, the Greater Chernobyl Cause works on projects such as rebuilding dilapidated orphanages and hospices, shipping humanitarian aid, organizing food programs and supplying medical equipment.

In Russia the charity runs a hospice in the remote village of Ivanskoye, 200 miles north east of Moscow and organizes a soup kitchen for the poor and homeless.

Charitable giving was frowned upon in Russia during the Soviet era when the communist authorities took responsibility for citizens’ needs. Many Russians have grown fabulously wealthy since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and a culture of philanthropy is beginning to take hold.

M/s Corcoran becomes the first Irish citizen to be decorated with the Russian Order of Friendship which is bestowed on individuals for their “outstanding contributions to strengthening friendship and co-operation between nations.”

Irish homeowners get mortgage writedown’s in AIB scheme


More than 1,300 distressed mortgage-holders have secured debt writedowns with AIB thanks to a pilot scheme.

The scheme came about when the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) entered into an arrangement to act as a third-party broker to advise distressed borrowers in their dealings with the AIB group.

The IMHO outlined figures today that show that in its first year it agreed 1,330 long-term resolutions for people in mortgage arrears.


It said between 75 and 100 of those deals involved debt write-down on family home mortgages of €1,000-€190,000, where the families were allowed to continue living in their homes.

A further 279 resolutions included debt write-down involving properties that were then voluntarily sold, with most of these in the buy-to-let sector.

The IMHO said that the initiative is available free of charge to all AIB Group customers – including EBS and Haven – experiencing residential mortgage difficulties.

In 30% of the cases they examined, customers who were facing repossession proceedings managed to achieve a long-term sustainable solution.

Some 43% of clients needed assistance completing the standard financial statement.

David Hall, CEO of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, said: “The pilot with AIB has resulted in a very significant number of families and individual homeowners having their mortgage challenges resolved.

“Those involved often appeared to be trapped in intractable cases. The relief to clients has been invaluable, allowing them to move on with their lives, making affordable mortgage payments.

“We welcome the Oireachtas Finance Committee’s recommendation in their report on mortgage arrears in July, which recommended that this project be rolled out nationally involving all banks.”

AIB said the scheme, which is free, has delivered significantly for customers who might not otherwise have engaged with the bank.

It has now decided to extend the scheme for another 12 months. The IMHO team is now receiving over 125 calls per day.

The extension of the scheme means that, in many of these distressed-mortgage cases, a resolution can now be achieved within eight weeks.

Mothers who drink while pregnant could face legal proceedings following test case


A test case will decide whether a mother who drank during pregnancy should pay compensation to her disabled daughter

Mothers-to-be who harm their unborn child by drinking alcohol could be committing a criminal act.

Mothers who drink during pregnancy could face legal proceedings following a test case which will decide whether a child born with foetal alcohol syndrome can be awarded compensation.

On Wednesday a council in the North West of England will argue at London’s Court of Appeal that a child born with serious health defects as a result of her mother’s drinking habits should be considered a victim of crime.

If successful, it could pave the way for drinking during pregnancy becoming a criminal offense.

The child, who cannot be named, was diagnosed with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) at birth, a condition which can cause which facial deformities, problems with physical and emotional development, and poor memory or a short attention span.

She is now six years old and living with foster parents.

Her mother has never been convicted of any offence, but during an earlier tribunal hearing she was alleged to have “maliciously administered poison so as to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm” – a crime under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

However the charities The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and Birthrights say finding in favour of the council would seriously undermine women’s autonomy while pregnant and their freedom to make decisions for themselves.

“Viewing these cases as potential criminal offences will do nothing for the health of women and their babies,” said Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas.

“There is a strong public interest in promoting the good health of pregnant women and babies, but, as long-standing government policy recognises, this interest is best served by treating addiction and substance abuse in pregnancy as a public health, not criminal, issue.

“Both the immediate and broader implications of this case are troubling. Making one particular form of behaviour during pregnancy into a criminal offence would lay the ground for criminalising a wide range of other behaviours because they may too pose a risk to the health of the baby.

“When we consider that the taking of necessary medication, such as treatment for epilepsy or depression, or the refusal of a caesarean section could be seen to fall into the category of maternal behaviours that may damage the foetus, the trajectory of such an approach is deeply worrying.”

The case has been going on for four years and it the council are successful it could set a precedent. The solicitor for the council are also representing 80 other children nationally who have suffered physical and mental damage because of their mother’s drinking.

In 2011, a hearing ruled that the mother’s drinking was “directly attributable to a crime of violence” and so the child was eligible for a payout.

However, this decision was overturned in December by the upper tribunal of the Administration Appeals Chamber, after the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority challenged the judgement. On Wednesday the council will appeal that decision.

Department of Health guidance says that “women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether”.

But then it goes on to say that “if they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, we recommend they should not drink more than 1-2 units once or twice a week, and pregnant women should not get drunk”.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also concedes there is “uncertainty about how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy”.

In the case of the six-year-old, the mother is said to have “consumed grossly excessive quantities of alcohol” and had been “using drugs”.

Alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy because levels of alcohol in the baby’s blood stream rise as high as the mother’s, yet its liver is not developed enough to break down the toxins.

Astronomers identify mysterious object at heart of Milky Way

 Schwarzschild black hole

A mysterious astronomical object known simply as G2 has intrigued and confounded researchers ever since it was found to be on a near-collision course with the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

When it failed to produce the predicted celestial fireworks over the past few months, astronomers were left scratching their heads. Now, one team thinks it has figured out why nothing happened: G2 is not a gas cloud but a strange, more stable object formed from a pair of recently merged stars.

Clouds of gas and dust near the center of our Milky Way galaxy make it extremely difficult to observe things there. When astronomers calculated G2’s trajectory in 2012, they thought it was a cloud of gas in an orbit that would take it very close to the Milky Way’s central black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Researchers predicted that, as G2 neared the center, the black hole’s intense gravity would tear the object apart and drag it toward the hole’s surface, producing a shower of radiation that could reveal much about the environment close to Sgr A*. But as G2 passed by this summer, the galactic center was conspicuously quiet.

A team led by Andrea Ghez of the University of California, Los Angeles, used the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii to observe G2 between March and August—spanning its expected closest approach and the months that followed. Viewing at the infrared wavelength of 3 micrometers, which can penetrate the fog around Sgr A*, the team found that G2 “continues to survive in orbit—it has not changed,” Ghez says.

A gas cloud alone could not have survived a pass so close to the black hole, she says; she concludes that G2 must have a star at its heart, surrounded by a shell of dust. “It’s an unusual star, large, calculated from its brightness,” she says. The star is twice the mass of our sun but 100 times its size, the team reports this week inThe Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Ghez thinks her group has caught a pair of binary stars in the act of merging. Binary systems are common throughout the galaxy, she says; near the center, the black hole’s gravity encourages them to spiral together. The result is a new star so hot that it swells up like a freshly ignited young protostar. Studying how such objects form might help scientists solve mysteries surrounding Sgr A*’s close neighborhood, such as why it contains many more young-looking stars than expected but almost no older giant stars.

Not all researchers agree on the nature of G2. A team led by Stefan Gillessen of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, which originally identified G2’s trajectory in 2012, observed it in spring 2014 using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and published the results in July. They said their observations showed that G2 was behaving just as a cloud of gas should: stretching out before the close approach and pulling together again after it.

The lack of fireworks was no problem, they said, because any gas stripped off G2 during the flyby might take months or years to fall onto the surface. “So far there are no fireworks, but the gas is doing what was expected,” Gillessen told Science in August. “It’s fun to see how it is unfolding in front of our eyes.” His team noticed that another apparent gas cloud, dubbed G1, had followed a similar path 13 years ago and suggested that both clouds could be individual “knots” of denser material in a continuous gas streamer in orbit around Sgr A*.

Theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is amused by the differing interpretations, because he published two theoretical papers providing possible explanations for the source of G2: one, that it surrounded a star that was shedding gas; and the other, that a giant star situated elsewhere shed its outer layer producing a stream of gas with clumps in it.

Both are plausible, he says, “but I don’t think we have enough data to decide.” He doesn’t think it will take long to settle it: If it’s the latter scenario then the giant star should be easy to find.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 20th November 2013

Irish Government U-turn on early tax returns


No changes to the pay and file regime for 2014

There will be no change to next year’s deadline of the end of October, with those who file on line having two weeks more time to file.

Pressure from Irish farmers and the self-employed has forced the Government to drop plans to make them file their tax returns earlier than normal next year.

There will be no change to next year’s deadline of the end of October, with those who file on line having two weeks more time to file.

But the Department of Finance no decision had been made yet for the date for paying and filing in 2015.

In a statement it said: “Following a consultation process in relation to changes required to the pay-and-file dates, the Minister for Finance has decided not to introduce any changes to the pay and file regime for 2014.

“The minister’s intention to bring annual pay and file dates forward remains, in order to provide increased certainty around the annual tax take and forecasting process following the move to an earlier Budget day.

The department wanted to bring the pay-and-file date forward so that officials have all the information needed to finalise the earlier Budget.

Budgets are now in October instead of December, as part of new EU rules.

Because of this, the department has proposed moving the pay-and-file deadline to either the end of June or mid-September.

Irish DNA results show half of pigs meat produced here & tested is not of Irish origin 


IFA accuses bacon produces of confusing consumers with labels

Some bacon producers have been accused by the Irish Farmers Association of confusing consumers by using labels that suggest they are using Irish pigmeat when tests results showed that non-Irish product had been used in some cases.

The IFA commissioned DNA testing company Identigen to test 300 pigmeat samples and compare the results against a complete DNA database of Irish boars.

The results showed 52 per cent of the rashers and bacon joints tested were not from Irish pigs. The IFA said no illegal activity had taken place and retailers were entitled to label non-Irish products as being “Produced in Ireland” if they had processed them further. But it said that customers had a right to know if items were actually Irish products.

IFA president John Bryan said the products “masquerading as Irish” were undermining the huge investment Irish farmers have put into traceability and quality control.

The IFA DNA certified programme for pigmeat was established to deal with labelling issues and to provide reassurance for producers and consumers on the origin of pigmeat on the Irish market.

Brands using the Love Irish Food label must manufacture in the Republic of Ireland and a minimum of 80 per cent of the brand must be made in the Republic.

The Love Irish Food organisation said member companies undertake in their licensing agreements that the source of the raw material they use originates and is produced in Ireland.

Dunnes Stores fared poorly in the test results with only half of its own brand St Bernard rashers and bacon joints matching the Irish database. Dunnes Stores was unavailable for comment.

IFA Pigs and Pigmeat chairman Pat O’Flaherty criticised Dunnes Stores for using the slogan “better because we’re Irish” while failing to support Irish pig farmers.

“The idea behind this pilot campaign is to help consumers make informed decisions when buying pigmeat products and to increase the sales of Irish product in the domestic and export markets,” he said.

He added he had no problem with Spanish, Danish or British pork being sold in Ireland but questioned why these products were marketed as “Irish” when put on supermarket shelves here.

“It is unacceptable that companies and retailers are using imported pigmeat in their products. In addition, some companies and retailers are relying heavily on imagery and branding that would lead the consumer to believe they are buying Irish when the reality is they are being conned into believing a product is Irish when our DNA testing has proved this is not the case,” said Mr O’Flaherty.

In a statement, Lidl Ireland said its Glensallagh own brand was produced exclusively for the chain by a number of Irish suppliers. “We have developed two distinct logos for packaging of our ow- label products – Produce of Ireland and Produced in Ireland. Many Glensallagh products carry the Bord Bia and Produce of Ireland logos as they contain 100 per cent Irish pig meat. Products that are made by Irish suppliers, but that do not contain 100 per cent Irish pig meat, do not carry the Bord Bia logo but instead have a ‘Produced in Ireland’ logo,” the statement said.

A spokewoman for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) insisted the Irish legislation is very clear.

“Pigmeat products do not have to display the country of origin on the label, unless the absence of this information could mislead consumers as to the true origin of the food,” she said.

Children now are not as fast at running as their parents were


Study of global fitness shows children today cannot run as far or as fast as their parents did

Most children today cannot run as far or as fast as their parents did, according to a study of global fitness.

Most children today cannot run as far or as fast as their parents did, according to a study of global fitness.The decline, which may indicate worse health in adulthood, was discovered following an international study of running fitness in children over the last 50 years.

It found that children’s cardiovascular fitness had dropped markedly worldwide since about 1975.

Over a mile run, youngsters today would be about a minute and a half slower than children 30 years ago.

Dr Grant Tomkinson, the study’s lead author from the University of South Australia, said: “If a young person is generally unfit now, then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life.

“Young people can be fit in different ways. They can be strong like a weightlifter, or flexible like a gymnast, or skillful like a tennis player. But not all of these types of fitness relate well to health.

“The most important type of fitness for good health is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time, like running multiple laps around an oval track.”

Researchers analysed 50 studies on running fitness between 1964 and 2010 of more than 25 million children aged nine to 17 in 28 countries.

They gauged cardiovascular endurance by how far they could run in a set time or how long it took to run a set distance, typically lasted five to 15 minutes or covering half a mile to two miles.

Cardiovascular endurance declined significantly within the 46 years, the researchers revealed at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting yesterday.

On average, endurance has declined consistently by about 5 per cent every decade, while children are about 15 per cent less fit on a cardiovascular measure than their parents were at their age.

In the US, children’s cardiovascular endurance fell by an average of 6 per cent per decade between 1970 and 2000.

The problem is largely one of Western countries, but some parts of Asia like South Korea, mainland China and Hong Kong are also seeing this phenomenon.

To stay healthy, children and young people need to do at least an hour of physical activity – such as walking or cycling to school and running in the playground – every day. It can be done in small chunks rather than one session

The average changes were similar between boys and girls, younger and older children, and across different regions, although they varied country to country.

The decline in cardiovascular endurance performance was probably caused by social, behavioural, physical, psychosocial and physiological factors, Dr Tomkinson said.

The fitness findings were mirrored by measurements of being overweight or obesity and body fat, suggesting one factor may cause the other.

“In fact, about 30 per cent to 60 per cent of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass,” Dr Tomkinson said.

He added that children should take part in at least 60 minutes of daily activities that use the body’s big muscles, such as running, swimming or cycling.

“We need to help to inspire children and youth to develop fitness habits that will keep them healthy now and into the future,” Dr Tomkinson said. “They need to choose a range of physical activities they like or think they might like to try, and they need to get moving.”

Significant changes suggested for Irish climate change Bill


Committee on the Environment finds targets for Ireland will effectively be set by EU

A report on climate change by an Oireachtas Committee has made no cast-iron recommendations to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan but does suggest a number of courses of action that might be followed.

The report of a parliamentary committee on a draft climate change Bill has made a number of significant suggestions for change in the legislation but has made no recommendations over the controversial absence of 2050 targets for emissions reductions.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, chaired byLabour TD Michael McCarthy, this morning issued its report following a nine-month scrutiny of the Outline Heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2013.

The committee received over 45 submissions and heard evidence from 30 individuals and groups during the course of its deliberations.

The committee makes no cast-iron recommendations to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan but does suggest a number of courses of action that might be followed, that differ from the draft legislation and from the document that formed its basis, a report from the secretariat of the National Economic and Social Council which concluded the emphasis should not be on ‘how much’ emissions reduction, rather on ‘how to’ achieve a low carbon society.

In relation to the issue of targets, the committee has said that Ireland abiding by targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 set by the EU Roadmap will “satisfy the objectives of the Bill”. Essentially, the targets for Ireland will be those set by the EU.

The committee did suggest a number of significant changes. The first relates to sectoral roadmaps, the building-blocks envisaged for Ireland achieving its low-carbon objectives. It has concluded that a national roadmap is needed first and no sectoral roadmaps be drawn up until that is achieved. It also recommends that intervals between national roadmaps be no greater than five years.

There is also a bigger emphasis on the Expert Advisory Body, with the committee’s language suggesting there should be an insistence on full independence, regular and robust reporting mechanism, as well as an operation and structural model based on the composition of the Fiscal Advisory Council.

The committee also gives strong backing to the case that has been made by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveneythat Ireland’s agricultural situation is unusual in Europeand the current requirements for emissions reduction in that sector are disproportionate, unjust, unfair and make little sense.

  The report supports rain-fed and grass-based agriculture as opposed to less sustainable forms and recommends the creation of a Europe-wide agriculture emissions trading scheme, which would award efficient and sustainable Irish agricultural practices.

It puts the emphasis on carbon-neutrality in agriculture by 2050 with a bigger focus on the use of carbon sinks from forestry and other land-use change initiatives.

Mr McCarthy emphasised the non-partisan approach of the committee members and accepted there were different views from TDs and Senators from Government and opposition. He said it was more useful to produce a document without recommendations but with consensus views in relation to courses of action and reference to where there were divisions.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy said it was the best that could be hoped for: “Ideally we wanted to see targets. The [setting of 2030 targets for the EU] in 2015 will change the scenario,” she said.

“We will have to scrutinise what is in those plans. If we do not have practical measures it is going to run into serious difficulties.”

The initial reaction to the report was that it was broadly welcomed although some bodies expressed reservation. Both the IFA and Ibec congratulated the committee for the report and its inclusive nature.

Stop Climate Chaos, which represents 28 civil society organisations, said the committee had missed an opportunity by not suggesting specific carbon emissions reduction targets should be set for 2050.

While welcoming the strengthening of the independent advisory body its spokesman Oisin Coghlan said “one disappointing aspect of the report is that it falls shy of proposing that specific carbon emissions reductions targets should be set for 2050”.

Ancient Siberian Skeletons Confirm Native American Origins

Humerus from Mal'ta  Malta boy, map of Beringia

DNA was extracted from a boy’s arm bone

The DNA gleaned from two ancient Siberian skeletons is related to that of modern-day Native Americans and western Eurasians, new research suggests.

The genetic material from the ancient Siberians provides additional evidence that the ancestors of Native Americans made the arduous trek from Siberia across the Bering Strait into the Americas.

But it also reveals there were multiple waves of migrations in Asia around this time, said Mark Hubbe, a biological anthropologist at The Ohio State University who was not involved in the study.

This brings a new level of complexity to what we think happened in Asia

Several genetic clues indicate that Native Americans came from a population that once inhabited Siberia and crossed the Bering Strait between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago.

Between 1928 and 1958, Russian scientists excavated a Siberian site in Mal’ta, Russia, near Lake Baikal, and unearthed a trove of Venus figurines along with the skeleton of a juvenile, all dating back approximately 24,000 years. The figurines were intriguing, because they were similar in style to ones made by European hunter-gatherers.

European relatives: To trace the ancestry of these ancient people, Maanasa Raghavan, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and colleagues managed to extract DNA from the ancient skeleton.

The team found that the mitochondrial DNA, or genetic material carried in the cytoplasm of cells that is passed through the maternal line, came from a lineage known as U, which is rare or extinct now, but was once common in hunter-gatherers from Europe during the Paleolithic Period.

 The team also sequenced the male sex chromosome (Y chromosome), which traces the paternal lineage of the skeleton. On the paternal side, the ancient boy came from a lineage known as R, which is now found in southern Siberia and western Eurasia. The R lineage is also a sister group to one common in Native Americans.

The researchers estimate that between 14 and 38 percent of Native American ancestry could come from this ancestral population, with the remaining portion coming from ancient East Asians.

DNA from a 17,000-year-old skeleton found in south central Siberia showed signs of being from the same genetic lineage as the Ma’lta specimen.

Previously, researchers had thought that people migrated from Europe into east Asia, and then entered Siberia from the south in a fairly linear expansion, Hubbe said. But the new results suggest the Siberian inhabitants may have come from the West, he said. That suggests Asia experienced multiple, crisscrossing waves of migration, he said.

However, because the skeletons are so old, it’s important to rule out the possibility that the DNA was contaminated, Theodore Schurr, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

And having so few ancient samples paints a very limited picture of a complicated genetic history.

“Although these results are intriguing and important, we should be cautious in inferring too much from just two genomes,” said Jennifer Raff, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the study. “I would certainly like to see a more geographically and temporally widespread sampling of Siberian genomes in order to better understand their population history.”