Tag Archives: tourism

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 12th January 2017

Irish Water spends €25m a year on billing alone an Oireachtas committee hears

Image result for Irish Water spends €25m a year on billing alone an Oireachtas committee hears  Image result for Irish Water spends €25m a year on billing alone an Oireachtas committee hears

Ervia chief executive also defends amount the water utility spent on consultants and Irish Water would save €25m a year if it stopped billing customers, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Irish Water would save €25 million a year if it stopped billing customers, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The Oireachtas committee is examining the future of water charges.

It was established last year to consider a report on the charges by an expert commission.

The report proposed that water services be funded by general taxation, rather than by a separate charge, and each household be given an average water allowance, to be determined by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) – Ireland’s water regulator.

On Thursday, Irish Water told TDs and Senators on the committee that the annual cost of billing customers for water charges is €25 million, which includes €13 million for processing bills, €10 million for the contact centre and €2 million in staff costs.

Meanwhile, Michael McNicholas, the chief executive of Ervia, which runs Irish Water, defended the amount the utility spent on consultants, insisting the consultants were “international experts”.

Mr McNicholas said the €73 million spent on consultants was not wasted and was necessary to establish Irish Water.

He said the experts were tasked with building the software and computer systems needed to establish a national water services company.

He said the cost of hiring the experts was “really efficient”.

Water meters.

On Wednesday, the CER told the committee that Irish Water should stop installing water meters in existing homes.

It warned that the cost of completion would cripple efforts to improve water quality and supply.

In a submission to the committee, the CER said finishing the programme was not a priority.

“If a decision was taken to complete further metering, then either significant additional funding would have to be made available or a significant level of necessary capital expenditure would have to be deferred from other priorities for water investment for the time period 2017-2018,” the CER said.

The CER also proposed that householders be given the option of installing a meter. The meter would then entitle them to a tax rebate, if they used less water than average.

It also said grants should be given to people who invest in water-saving measures and that the installation of water meters in new houses and estates should be mandatory.

In a separate submission on Wednesday, Irish Water said €13 billion must be invested in Ireland’s water and waste-water services to ensure safe drinking water and proper sewage treatment.

It said it does not believe water services should be funded wholly or largely through the exchequer, since this would put investment in competition with public spending demands. It said guaranteed funding was needed.

It confirmed it would need €714 million in funding this year, to include the annual €475 million subvention plus €239 million in replacement revenue, in lieu of its previous income from domestic billing.

X-Man star James McAvoy says life has ‘changed massively’ since his divorce

Related image  Related image

James McAvoy has revealed that his life has “changed massively” following his split from wife Anne-Marie Duff.

The acting couple, who met on the set of the Channel 4 show Shameless in 2004, announced that they were parting ways after ten years of marriage last May. They broke the news in a statement and asked for privacy for their six-year-old son Brendan.

McAvoy has now commented on the changes in his life over the past 12 months, which include moving into his own place near the family home in north London.

“My life has changed massively”, he told Mr Porter magazine: “At the same time, so much has stayed the same.

“One of the things that’s stayed the same is that I still don’t talk about my personal life, really. Me and Anne-Marie, when we were together, it was our policy not to speak about each other in public. We rarely broke that and if we did, it was for tiny things – ‘Yes, we are cooking turkey for Christmas’ and that policy still stands.

“Even separated, we’re still respectful of each other and committed to doing that publicly and personally. But yeah, things are really good.”

“Which is a rubbish, pat answer”, he added jokingly.

The X-Men star, who plays Charles Xavier/Professor X in the superhero franchise, also said he gave up drinking whiskey because it made him aggressive.

“That used to be my drink – a peaty Talisker, or a Laphroaig,” he said. “But I find that I can’t drink too much whisky any more. More than one or two now and I get a bit leery, a wee bit fighty, a bit chippy, looking for an argument. And I didn’t like that. So I mostly stopped drinking it. My problem is, if I have it in the house, I’ll tan the lot.

“I’m a consumer. If it’s in front of me, I’ll f***ing do it. I’ll consume it. I’ll take it, whatever it is. I’ll have a go… And I don’t know what that is. I still drink, and sometimes have a lot of drink. But I just don’t want to have alcohol in the house any more.”

McAvoy can next be seen on the big screen in Split, Submergence and The Coldest City this year. The Scottish actor said he is unsure if he will appear in a new X-Men installment, as neither he nor his co-stars, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, are contracted for a new film.

“They certainly haven’t asked me to do another yet,” he said. “I know they’re writing another [original] X-Men movie. Whether they’re gonna make it or not, I don’t know. And I know they’re looking at doing some spin-offs as well, that I may or may not be involved in.

“It’s all up in the air at the moment,” he added. “I may end up being in f***ing 20 X-Men movies in the next five years. And I may end up being in none.”

The actor’s new thriller, Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan goes on release in Ireland next week.

BT Young Scientist students find Left-handed people are more ambidextrous, 

The study is one of dozens of class projects at this year’s RDS Primary Science Fair

Image result for BT Young Scientist students find Left-handed people are more ambidextrous  Image result for BT Young Scientist students find Left-handed people are more ambidextrous  Related image

Students at the 2017 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition seek to reduce waste, save energy, bring alternative energy sources to market and close the STEM gender gap.

Left-handed people have a chance to shine at the RDS Primary Science Fair, thanks to a research project on whether, with training, someone can become ambidextrous.

The project, from Ballapousta National School, Drogheda, Co Louth, was one of dozens of primary school entries to the fair, which opened on Thursday morning and will run until Saturday afternoon.

The fair is a non-competitive event that aims to promote science, technology, engineering and maths projects undertaken by primary school pupils.

On Thursday, Minister for Education Richard Bruton visited the fair, chatting with the excited fourth-, fifth- and sixth-class pupils as they described their discoveries.

The research projects covered a multitude of subjects, from finding what liquids make your hands go wrinkly to testing what kind of cup keeps a teacher’s coffee warm for the longest period.

Image result for Left-handed people are more ambidextrous  Ronan Tallon, a fifth-class pupil at Ballapousta National School, described what he and his class found with their project, “Ambidextrous! Can I train my other hand? That would be handy!”

“We wanted to find out if we could train our non-dominant hand to be as good as our dominant hand,” he explained, alongside his teacher, Louise McGivern.

The class worked on the project for two months and discovered a number of things, including that left-handed people could train their right hands more quickly than a right-hander could train their left hand.

Girls were also quicker than boys at picking up skills such as cutting with a scissors and catching a ball.

The class put their data into graphs for the fair. They are also offering visitors a chance to test their ambidextrousness.

Daniella Údra, a fifth-class student at Bunscoil Loreto, Gorey, Co Wexford, described what she and her classmates got up to with their project, “Which parachute can land an egg best?”

The project turned out badly for the eggs, but they were hard-boiled before being tossed off a staircase to test the parachutes so there was very little mess.

The group’s teacher is Claire Thompson.

“We used different kinds of parachutes,” Daniella explained.

The class tested square-, round- and octagon-shaped parachutes made of light-weight dishcloths, paper, felt and a plastic bag.

She said the class timed each test and assessed whether the egg passenger had survived the fall.

They found that the best results were with the dishcloth parachute, despite its tiny holes.

‘Human lie detector’

William Lin and Danny Howlin were two of the 37 sixth-class pupils from Kilrane National School, Co Wexford, who presented the project, “Can you become a human lie detector?”

Their teachers are Bobby Kenny and Emma Hore.

“We started with a game that we got from a book with five maths questions and five direction questions,” Danny explained.

The project then shifted towards trying to understand how the human brain worked and then by extension whether the class could use the brain to develop a lie detector that could catch a fib.

In the end, the class managed to produce a lie detector using a Hot Wires electronics kit.

Mr Bruton praised the hard work of the pupils, and said they were learning skills that would be important in their future, technological lives.

He noted the fair involved about 7,500 pupils overall and said that he would like to see that number growing every year.

The RDS has run the fair along side the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for some years, but last year expanded its primary science programme to include a separate event in Limerick.

This year’s Limerick fair will take place next week.

On Thursday, it announced a third location for its primary science programme, in Belfast.

The first Belfast fair will take place this June, said Karen Sheeran, the science and technology programme manager for the RDS.

“There is a huge appetite for it and we are trying to increase access and capacity,” she said.

European Volunteering Capital Sligo for 2017 looking forward to the opportunity of a big year

Image result for European Volunteering Capital Sligo for 2017 looking forward to the opportunity of a big year  Image result for European Volunteering Capital Sligo for 2017 looking forward to the opportunity of a big year

Mayor of Sligo Municipal District, Cllr Marie Casserly pictured with Commissioner Draghi.

Mayor of Sligo Municipal District, Cllr Marie Casserly, says 2017 will be a significant one for Sligo, as it holds the title of European Volunteering Capital. In her New Year message, the Mayor said: “2017 will be a big year for Sligo as we continue to punch above our weight taking on the title as European Volunteering Capital.

Thank you to the army of different types of volunteers who care for our community and those that need their help. I have been astonished and delighted to see that there is a huge amount of good work taking place across County Sligo.” She said having this title is a major thing for Sligo.

“Sligo as European Volunteering Capital is a major opportunity for Sligo to project itself not only in Ireland but also in Europe and further afield as a holiday destination and as a quality of life region to live, work, study and invest in. Sligo in recent years as host to European Town of Sport, National Fleadh Cheoil, Yeats, Armada and 1916 Commemorations is now beyond doubt a major sporting, cultural, tourism and transport hub in Ireland. Many of these social and economic accolades are attributed to the work of our volunteers who work tirelessly in their local communities and via our Diaspora networks.”

The Mayor said it’s important Sligo embraces the year ahead.  “Sligo like many progressive regions is going to be affected by Brexit, no one knows yet what will a Hard or Soft Brexit mean.

“What is of direct concern to Sligo is to be aware now of the potential scale of difficulty and scale of opportunity that will affect our economy. We must in the meantime act on the basis of greatest difficulty and opportunity at our doorstep. We have an over dependence on markets in the UK and we must engage more with Europe and in it’s Internal Market of 500 million consumers.

All the benefits from UK relocating firms should not accrue to Dublin. Being European Capital of Volunteering is the rally call for our Sligo Volunteers and our Sligo Diaspora to reach out to investors and start -up companies in the UK to help us grow our creative commercial base, and to contribute to job creation and in turn strengthening purchasing power in our county. The events that I have attended and been involved with since becoming Mayor of Sligo have been varied and diverse but without exception, each one has involved people who want to improve the area they live in, either economically or socially.

“To all those who, in Sligo, through their business, their action or work, have developed projects which contribute to the economic and social life of our country, I hope that their efforts thrive in this achievement. Our county will be a place to be proud of which is more prosperous, vibrant, healthy, sustainable and where people enjoy a better quality of life. I look forward this year as we continue to make the region a better place to live, work, visit and invest. Together we can do it! Most importantly I would like to thank everyone for your continued support and for those who support the local economy through choosing local produce in the supermarkets, butchers, local shops and when eating out. Sligo is a great county. I invite you to join me in anticipating what we will accomplish together in the year to come.

Scientists use light to trigger the killer instinct in mice

Technique called optogenetics used to pinpoint and take control of brain circuits involved in predatory behaviour.

Image result for Scientists use light to trigger the killer instinct in mice  Image result for Scientists use light to trigger the killer instinct in mice  The researchers also observed increased anxiety,  repetitive behaviour and impaired ability to communicate with others in the mice and noted their symptoms are similar to those of autism in humans (illustrated)

A mouse demonstrating instinctual predatory behaviour with a cricket. The researchers also observed increased anxiety, repetitive behaviour and impaired ability to communicate with others in the mice and noted their symptoms are similar to those of autism in humans

It has all the trappings of a classic horror plot: a group of normally timid individuals are transformed by scientists into instinctive killers, programmed to pursue and sink their jaws into almost anything that crosses their path.

However, this hair-raising scenario was recently played out in a study of laboratory mice, designed to uncover the brain circuits behind the predatory instinct.

The research revealed that one set of neurons triggers the pursuit of prey, while another prompts the animal to clench its jaws and neck muscles to bite and kill. The study relied on the technique optogenetics, in which neurons can be artificially activated using light, effectively allowing scientists to switch the killer instinct on and off at will.

Light switches memories on and off

When the laser was off in the experiment, the animals behaved normally, but at the flick of a switch they assumed qualities of “walkers” from The Walking Dead.

Ivan de Araujo, a psychiatry researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine and lead author said: “We’d turn the laser on and they’d jump on an object, hold it with their paws and intensively bite it as if they were trying to capture and kill it.”

In the study, the mice were seen to pursue almost anything in their path, including insects, robot insects and even inanimate objects such as bottle caps and wooden sticks.

However, De Araujo said the mice stopped short of displaying aggression towards fellow mice or the researchers, and seemed only to target objects that were smaller than themselves. “It had to be something that could be grabbed and contained, something they want to capture and subdue” he said. “It’s not that they got out of control and tried to kill everything. It had to be something that looks like food to them.”

In the study, published in the journal Cell, the scientists used a technique called optogenetics to pinpoint and eventually take control of the neuronal circuits involved in predation. The mice were genetically engineered so that specific groups of neurons were light-sensitive, meaning that these could be switched on and off by shining a laser into the mouse brain.

The scientists identified two separate clusters of neurons in the central amygdala, a brain area normally linked to emotion and motivation. These were shown to be communicating with other neurons in two motor areas – in one case, a region linked to the ability to run and change speed and, in the other, a region known to control jaw and neck movements.

In real life sensory cues, such as a small animal scurrying across the predator’s field of view, would trigger activity in the amygdala setting off this “chase and kill” neuronal chain of command, the scientists said.

Rodent recall: false but happy memories implanted in sleeping mice.

In the experiment, they were able to bypass the usual sensory requirements and could trigger the predation circuits artificially using lasers.

They found that the two clusters operated independently: if they only activated the “hunting” neurons, the animals would chase the prey, but the biting force of the jaw was decreased by 50%. “They fail to deliver the killing bite,” said De Araujo.

When they only activated the “biting” neurons, mice in empty cages would display “fictive feeding” behaviours, raising their paws as though they were chomping on something.

Hunger had a powerful influence on predatory behaviour – hungry mice were much more aggressive in their pursuit. “The system is not just generalised aggression,” said De Araujo. “It seems to be related to the animal’s interest in obtaining food.”

The same circuits are thought to be closely conserved in the human brain, although De Araujo said that the circuitry is more likely to be associated with our drive to find food, rather than with anger or the instinct to attack.

“My take on this is that predatory behaviour is more related to food intake itself,” he said. “I would be a little hesitant to associate this with aggression.”

Professor Candy Rowe, a zoologist at the University of Newcastle, said that the research provided a valuable insight into predation, although said it was unsurprising that mice have effective predation circuitry in the brain. “Mice are often represented as prey – take Tom and Jerry as an example – but in fact they are predators themselves, particularly of invertebrates. At this time of year, that might include worms or hibernating butterflies,” she said.

Rowe added that in future, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of what sensory information triggers pursuit and capture behaviours, and how prey might evolve strategies to evade this.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 17th June 2016

Enda Kenny promises to extend voting rights to Irish living abroad


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised he will prioritise extending voting rights to Irish people living abroad.

Speaking at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester this morning Mr Kenny again expressed condolences to the family of murdered British Labour MP Jo Cox.

“It’s appropriate to pay tribute to the life and times of Jo Cox who was murdered on the street in West Yorkshire, a mother of two young children going about her business as any councillor or MP or public representative would do and to be shot down and taken away from her family and children is an appalling crime,” Mr Kenny said.

He said he would not be campaigning on Brexit as a mark of respect.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the media outside the Irish centre in Liverpool yesterday. Picture: PA

However, he told members of the Irish community in Manchester that the government is now looking at giving a vote in the presidential elections to Irish emigrants.

“One of the priorities that I have asked the minister to look at and hopefully to be able to implement is the situation as far as emigrant voting is concerned in presidential elections.

“This is an issue that has been around for a very long time but there have been quite sophisticated advances made in terms of voting from abroad and we need to set out a terms of reference as to the conditions that would apply in terms of who should be eligible to vote.

“That will be a priority for the Minister for the Diaspora,” Mr Kenny said adding that he would be seeking the input from Irish living abroad on the issue.

He said: “We will work towards assisting emigrant communities and situations abroad from Ireland in England, in America, in Australia and other areas.

“That means that we want to work in a closer way with the emigrant communities in Manchester, Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Scotland and so on.”

FF to reconsider Government support if housing plan inadequate

Barry Cowen says solutions to crisis crucial part of deal between his party and Fine Gael


Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has insisted his party will reconsider its support for a Fine Gael minority Government if ‘adequate action’ is not taken on housing.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has insisted his party will reconsider its support for the Fine Gael minority Government if “adequate action” is not taken on housing.

Mr Cowen said the report on housing by the Oireachtas committee must be accepted by Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, and implemented without delay.

He said housing was the biggest crisis facing the State and the Government needed to move to address it.

“The housing committee was set the challenge of finding solutions to the housing crisis,” Mr Cowen said. “TDs from every party worked extremely hard to meet the deadline set. The challenge for Minister Coveney is to implement these recommendations without delay.”

Mr Cowen, who was part of the negotiations between his party and Fine Gael, said action on housing was crucial to the deal struck between the two sides.

“We facilitated a Fine Gael Government, so action could be taken on this issue, which is the biggest challenge,” he said. “Fianna Fail is adamant the housing situation has to be addressed. And if adequate action is not taken, our support cannot be guaranteed.”

Mr Coveney’s spokesman said the Minister would study the report in detail before deciding how to proceed.

It is understood the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance,Michael Noonan, have already warned against the introduction of rent certainty measures.

Mr Coveney is expected not to accept the report’s proposals to link rent increases to the Consumer Price Index. He is currently compiling an action plan for housing, with a draft expected by the end of the month.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the Minister must now move to introduce the committee’s recommendations, calling them ambitious but necessary to tackle the crisis .

Sick of talk

Independent TD for Dublin Central Maureen O’Sullivan said she had been speaking about housing for seven years and was sick of talking about the problems. Action was now needed .

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger declined to sign off on the committee’s housing report, saying it was not ambitious enough and that targets set on social housing were disappointing.

The TD for Dublin West, who has issued her own minority report, said the committee does not locate the cause of the crisis or identify how the measures can be funded.

“Neither does the report grapple with the major issue of the day – rocketing rents,” Ms Coppinger said. “While there were some welcome reforms, the report is missing most of what is needed to really solve the housing crisis.”

Artwork exhibition dedicated to WB Yeats unveiled in Sligo

Artwork exhibition dedicated to WB Yeats unveiled in Sligo    Artwork exhibition dedicated to WB Yeats unveiled in Sligo

The Yeats-themed gallery was opened by WB Yeats’s granddaughter Caitríona Yeats 

An open-air gallery of artwork dedicated to Irish poet WB Yeats has been unveiled in Sligo.

His granddaughter Caitríona Yeats unveiled the first of five pieces of art, which are being permanently installed on the outside of buildings linked to the Yeats family in Sligo town.

The poet, who born in Dublin but spent much of his childhood in Co Sligo and is buried there, was regarded as the driving force behind Ireland’s literary revival and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

The artwork will be securely fixed to the outside facade of five premises with protective glass and will be illuminated for night-time viewing.

The exhibition was launched over the weekend during celebrations to mark Yeats Day, which took place on Monday.

Each piece is a collaboration between an established artist and an internationally-noted appreciator of Yeats.

The poet’s granddaughter was a collaborator in the first piece of art installed along with artist Jane Murtagh.

Their artwork was unveiled on Sunday at Pollexfen House – the home of Yeats’s grandparents – and is based on the poem Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

“I am delighted to have been asked to be the first collaborator in this project which brings the work of my grandfather to the public in such an accessible manner,” said Ms Yeats.

“Pollexfen House is a fitting place to locate the work and for him to be remembered and celebrated.

“Jane was a pleasure to work with and I am delighted with the unique art piece she has produced from our discussions.”

The idea for the open-air gallery came from local business owners, Suzy McCanny, Keville Burns and Tom Ford.

“With the strong connection between Yeats and Wine Street, we felt it would be an appropriate location to honour the legacy of Yeats in some way,” said Mr Ford.

“We had the idea that it might be the world’s first free permanent open-air art gallery and it would bring the poetry of Yeats to the public in a unique way.”

Spending by British tourists in Ireland increases by 18% for first quarter of 2016

2015 marks record-breaking year for tourism with 8.6 million trips made to Ireland


Tourists browsing the Guinness Store house in Dublin (middle picture).

Spending by British tourists visiting Ireland rose by as much as 18% in the first three months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures.

The latest travel data shows that increasing numbers of European and non-EU tourists continue to visit Ireland, with spending on the rise among all nationalities.

Tourists visiting Ireland from Great Britain spent €33 million more between January and March 2016 than during the same period in 2015, marking a rise of 18.2%.

British tourists spent €214 million in the first three months of this year compared to €181 million during the same period last year. Visitors from Great Britain spent a total of €971 million last year.

Spending by tourists from France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, Australiaand New Zealand also rose between January and March of this year, with North Americans spending €144 million, a rise of of €19 million on the same period last year.

The overall number of overseas trips to Ireland by non-residents rose by more than 15%, with 1,785 million trips in the first three months of the year, up 254 million on last year.


The duration of visitors’ stay in Ireland remained the same as last year, with people opting to spend an average of 6.5 nights.

Ireland’s total tourism and travel earnings during the first three months of 2016 rose by 18.7% on the same period last year, increasing from €780 million to €926 million.

Meanwhile, the number of Irish people travelling overseas increased by 13.1% from 1.306 million between January and March 2015 to 1.478 million during the first three months of this year. The CSO figures also reveal Irish people are spending more nights abroad than last year.

2015 marked a record-breaking year for tourism with 8.6 million trips made to Ireland.

The latest travel data follows news earlier this week that Dublin is facing a shortage in visitor accommodation options over the next two years, limiting the potential for tourism growth in the longer term.

A report commissioned by Fáilte Ireland found that while additional bedrooms are due to be created for visitors, most will not be available until after 2018 or later.

The report also warned that most of the new accommodation stock was not guaranteed and said the capital was facing “a capacity challenge” over the next two years.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of tourists visiting Dublin rose by 33% while the availability of accommodation fell by 6%, according to Fáilte Ireland.

Antarctic observatories register 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide for the first time ever


An iceberg is pictured in the western Antarctic peninsula, on March 04, 2016.

One by one, the observatories sounded the alarm in the past few yearsfrom the peak of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and the top of the Greenland ice sheet as the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere crept above 400 parts per million (ppm). 

The last alarm bells went off this week, when scientists announced that the Halley Research Station in Antarctica, as well as a monitoring post at the geographic South Pole, both located amid the most pristine air on the planet, have now passed the 400 ppm mark.

In other words, at every location on Earth where scientists routinely monitor carbon dioxide levels, we are now entering uncharted territory for humanity.

For reference, carbon dioxide levels were at about 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels for energy. They have marched upward at increasing rates ever since.

According to Pieter Tans, the lead scientist for the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, 400 ppm is the highest level that carbon dioxide levels have reached in at least 4 million years.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the northern hemisphere have already eclipsed the 400 ppm milestone. These observatories are located closer to pollution sources, and this elevates the observed carbon dioxide levels.

However, it takes a while for carbon dioxide to reach Antarctica.

“This is the first time a sustained reading of 400 ppm, over the period of a day, has been recorded at a research station on the ice,” according to a press release from the British Antarctic Survey.

Keeling Curve of carbon dioxide concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

“The remoteness of the Antarctic continent means it is one of the last places on Earth to see the effects of human activities, but the news that even here the milestone of carbon dioxide levels reaching 400 parts per million has been reached shows that no part of the planet is spared from the impacts of human activity,” said David Vaughan, director of science at the Antarctic Survey, in a press release.

Today at Halley Station, CO2 is rising faster than it was when we began measurements in the 1980s. We have changed our planet to the very poles.”

A separate press release from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the South Pole observation occurred on May 23, but was announced on June 15.

In 2015, the global average carbon dioxide level was 399 ppm, and it’s expected that each month in 2016 will likely see carbon dioxide levels remain above 400 ppm for the first time.

“We know from abundant and solid evidence that the CO2 increase is caused entirely by human activities,” Tans said. “Since emissions from fossil fuel burning have been at a record high during the last several years, the rate of CO2 increase has also been at a record high.”

“We have changed our planet to the very poles.”

While scientists have ice core samples of carbon dioxide levels and temperatures dating back to about 800,000 years ago, they also have evidence from seafloor sediment of what Earth’s conditions were like dating back to about 4 million years ago, Tans told Mashable via email.

However, those measurements are not as precise as the ice core records, Tans said.

Because of the long atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide, it is not likely to fall below this level again in most of our lifetimes, even if the most aggressive emissions reduction plans are pursued.

A single molecule of carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 9th August 2015

Greece hopes to conclude bailout talks by Aug. 11


Greece hopes to conclude negotiations with international creditors by early Tuesday at the latest, a Greek official said as talks continued in Athens on a new multi-billion euro bailout.

Greece’s finance and economy ministers were locked in negotiations with representatives of creditors on Sunday. Greek officials have previously said they expect the bailout accord to go to the country’s parliament for approval by Aug. 18.

“Efforts are being made to conclude the negotiations, the horizon is by Monday night or early Tuesday,” said a Greek official who declined to be named.

“When the new bailout comes to parliament for a vote it will be one bill with two articles – one article will be the loan agreement and the MoU (memorandum of understanding) and the second article will be the prior actions,” the official said, referring to measures Greece needs to take for the bailout accord to take effect.

The negotiations began on July 20. A senior Greek finance official told Reuters the aim was for a meeting of euro zone finance ministers to review the accord on Friday, Aug. 14.

Athens is negotiating with European Union institutions and the International Monetary Fund for up to 86 billion euros ($94 billion) in fresh loans to stave off economic collapse and stay in the euro zone. The bailout must be in place by Aug. 20, when Greece has a repayment falling due to the European Central Bank.

Twenty Irish care centres facing closure


Some twenty care centres across the country face closure, affecting hundreds of people with intellectual disabilities.

The Sunday Business Post reports that health watchdog Hiqa has issued 20 HSE-run care homes with notices to cancel or refuse applications for registration unless they make drastic improvements or immediate changes.

According to the newspaper, only two of the residential homes said they were resolving the issues.

The Áras Attracta care home in Swinford, Co Mayo (pictured), which was at the centre of a Prime Time investigation, is one of the affected 20 centres.

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on disability and mental health deputy Colm Keaveny said the closure notices could have been prevented, and claimed the situation was much worse than had been reported.

He said there had been a lack of investment over a number of years.

“The Government has secretly and silently warehoused people with intellectual disabilities (in a) most blatant abuse of equality,” he said.

“It’s an absolute scandal (and) the situation is much worse than has been reported. The Government has, if any thing, deprioritised disability.”

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015: ‘biggest Irish trad music festival’ launched in Sligo on Sunday

 Sligo is set to shine during the Fleadh 

The Sligo event is a magnet for ‘larger Irish family’ and those with no Irish links, says President Higgins.

  The website of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2015, taking place in Sligo.

Sligo was full of people dragging wheelie suitcases and musical instruments through its streets on Sunday as Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann , “the biggest traditional Irish music festival on the planet”, was launched by PresidentMichael D Higgins.

Just a few hundred enthusiasts attended the first Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar in 1951 when, according to President Higgins, “Ireland’s traditional culture was at a low ebb”.

  On Sunday, when he launched the eight-day 2015 Fleadh at the “Wild Atlantic Way gig rig” in the centre of Sligo, the President pointed out that over 350,000 people are expected to attend this year.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú was predicting closer to 400,000, and as someone who has attended “probably about 50” fleadhanna he is something of an expert.

Comhaltas praised

Praising the “heroic” work of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann in reviving Irish music, the President pointed out that the Fleadh was a magnet for the “larger Irish family” and also for people with no links to Ireland.

Mr Higgins welcomed visitors with “ neither ancestral nor geographic links to Ireland but who, with a curiosity that we all welcome, have developed a kinship with the Irish through culture and our folk traditions”.

A lot has changed since 1951. Fleadh hoodies and T-shirts are the attire of choice for many young musicians in Sligo. The official Fleadh cheoil website is encouraging them to “play music, make new friends and take music selfies (tweeted using #sligofleadh2015)”.

The elite of the traditional music world will arrive in the coming days and will be warmly welcomed, judging from the number of signs outside pubs declaring “musicians welcome”. “Sterling welcome” was another popular notice.

If people thought WB Yeats was going to even briefly step out of the limelight for the week of the Fleadh, they reckoned without the Drumcliffe-based Cos Cos dance group.

Under Bare BenBulben’s Head

They presented a pageant entitled “Under Bare BenBulben’s Head” billed as “an artistic interpretation of an imaginary meeting between two of Sligo’s best known historical figures, WB Yeats and St Colmcille”.

It was an apt pairing. Not only has the 6th century missionary close links with Drumcliffe, but the history books show that after being buried on the island of Iona off Scotland, his remains were disinterred many years later and moved to Downpatrick where he was laid alongside St Patrick and St Brigid.

With the serious business of Scoil Eige now getting into gear for thousands of young competitors, Irish Rail has laid on extra services between Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon for those staying in outlying towns and villages .

The company is also mindful of those hoping to enjoy “a good evening out without the stresses of driving home afterwards”.

Another popular transport initiative is the John LennonEducational Tour Bus, which Music Generation Sligo and the Fleadh Cheoil have organised .

Supported by Yoko Ono Lennon, the bus boasts a fully equipped music studio and on Wednesday a lucky group of young musicians will be aboard for a masterclass in how to record and produce original music and make a video.

For others there will be busking opportunities on every corner.

The “Wild Atlantic Way” is a big success for Irish tourism


Projects such as the Wild Atlantic Way have led to a significant boost to tourism here according to Tourism Ireland.

They also say that more people now consider Ireland good value for money.

Figures released this week show that over 400,000 more visitors came to Ireland in the first half of the year.

CEO of Tourism Ireland Niall Gibbons said projects including the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East were proving to be a big draw for tourists.

“It really worked in the international marketplace,” he said. “We have a very compelling story to tell (but) it’s important we don’t get complacent.”

Anti-smoking breakthrough drug eats nicotine like Pac-man!


A new breakthrough research reveals a promising enzyme therapy that would help smokers quit for good.

A new study reveals a nicotine-eating bacteria that takes mental high and fun out of smoking.

The research was conducted at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) who were searching for an alternate, and effective, solution for people who wanted to quit smoking but needed help, according to NYC Today.

The nicotine-eating bacteria has an enzyme that would prevent the nicotine from ever reaching the brain, which in turn, who rob the smoker of any mental pleasure in the activity. The bacterial enzyme is called NicA2 is geared to make smoking less rewarding for smokers, in turn, internally encouraging them to quit.

The lead of the study, Kim Janda, is a chemistry professor and member of the Skaggs Institute for chemical biology at TSRI. Janda said that the experiment is promising, but still in the early stages. They hope that it will soon become one of the most successful therapies for smoking cessation.

The study to create this breakthrough therapy has been under the microscope for many years in the lab. The process has proven to work as they have been able to extract the enzyme from bacterium Pseudomonas putida.

The therapy is predicted to help about 80-90 percent of smokers who choose to use it. When used, the enzyme has effectively dropped the half-life of nicotine from hours down to minutes once added into the bloodstream. They also predict that at higher doses, the effect could be even more powerful.

Janda added, “The bacterium is like a little Pac-Man. It goes along and eats nicotine. Our research is in the early phase of drug development process, but the study tells us the enzyme has the right properties to eventually become a successful therapeutic.”

The enzyme was originally discovered in the soil from a tobacco field. The bacterium naturally consumes nicotine as a main source of nitrogen and carbon. The testing continued there in the lab where researches happily found the enzyme to be stable, which Janda says was an amazing sign.

“The enzyme is also relatively stable in serum, which is important for a therapeutic candidate,” said Song Xue, a TSRI graduate student.

NASA releases two Online tools for exploring Mars to the public


On the three-year anniversary of the Mars landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover, NASA is unveiling two new online tools that open the mysterious terrain of the Red Planet to a new generation of explorers, inviting the public to help with its journey to Mars.

Mars Trek is a free, Web-based application that provides high-quality, detailed visualizations of the planet using real data from 50 years of NASA exploration and allowing astronomers, citizen scientists and students to study the Red Planet’s features.

Experience Curiosity allows viewers to journey along with the one-ton rover on its Martian expeditions. The program simulates Mars in 3-D based on actual data from Curiosity and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), giving users first-hand experience in a day in the life of a Mars rover.

A NASA team already is using Mars Trek to aid in the selection of possible landing sites for the agency’s Mars 2020 rover, and the application will be used as part of NASA’s newly announced process to examine and select candidate sites for the first human exploration mission to Mars in the 2030s.

“This tool has opened my eyes as to how we should first approach roaming on another world, and now the public can join in on the fun,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “Our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way, making great progress on the journey to Mars. Together, humans and robots will pioneer Mars and the solar system.”

Mars Trek has interactive maps, which include the ability to overlay a range of data sets generated from instruments aboard spacecraft orbiting Mars, and analysis tools for measuring surface features. Standard keyboard gaming controls are used to maneuver the users across Mars’ surface, and 3-D printer-exportable topography allows users to print physical models of surface features.

Mars Trek was developed by NASA’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project, which provides mission planners, lunar scientists and the public with analysis and data visualization tools for our moon.

Experience Curiosity also uses real science data to create a realistic and game-ready rover model based entirely on real mechanisms and executed commands. Users can manipulate the rover’s tools and view Mars through each of its cameras.

“We’ve done a lot of heavy 3-D processing to make Experience Curiosity work in a browser. Anybody with access to the Web can take a journey to Mars,” said Kevin Hussey, manager of the Visualization Applications and Development group at NASA’sJet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages and operates the Curiosity rover.

Curiosity’s adventures on the Red Planet began in the early morning hours of August 6th, 2012, Eastern time (evening of August 5th, Pacific time), when a landing technique called the sky-crane maneuver deposited the rover in the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) Gale Crater. From there, the rover began investigating its new home, discovering it had landed near an ancient lakebed sprinkled with organic material. Billions of years ago, fresh water would have flowed into this lake, offering conditions favorable for microbial life.

“At three years old, Curiosity already has had a rich and fascinating life. This new program lets the public experience some of the rover’s adventures first-hand,” said Jim Erickson, the project manager for the mission at JPL.

NASA has been on Mars for five decades with robotic explorers, and August traditionally has been a busy month for exploration of the planet. Viking 2 was put into orbit around Mars 39 years ago on August 7th, 1976, making NASA’s second successful landing on the Martian surface weeks later.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched on August 12th, 2005, and still is in operation orbiting Mars. And Tuesday, August 4th, marked the eight-year anniversary of the launch of the Phoenix mission to the north polar region of the Red Planet.

NASA’s orbiters and rovers have changed the way we look at Mars and enable continued scientific discoveries that one day will pave the way for astronauts to explore the Red Planet.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 8th July 2015

A third of Irish parents expect to fall into debt over back-to-school costs


Parents of secondary school children are spending an average €258 on a new uniform for September.

Mothers and fathers of youngsters in national school are also feeling the financial stress, having to fork out an average of €166 for each child.

The figures were released by the Irish League of Credit Unions, which warned that almost a third of parents expect to get into debt when preparing their children for the new school year, with loans averaging €360.

Aine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council, said while costs have come down and new book rental schemes are in place, concerns remain over the annual hit families have to take.

“I think ultimately the costs are too high,” she said.

“Children go to schools all over the country and they have no uniform and they have no difficulty getting a good education, so I think it is important that uniforms are not imposed.”

The credit union survey of 1,000 parents also revealed the pressure to make voluntary contributions to schools – seven out of 10 parents expect to make these payments, an average of €112 per child, down from €119 last year.

The survey showed the cost of books for secondary school pupils is €213 for this September, a huge jump from €166 last year, while for national school children it was €162, up from €140.

Ms Lynch hit out at the practice of parents being asked to make voluntary payments.

“Our concern is when the arrangement is defined as financial, when the first engagement is around asking for voluntary contributions, that can impact on the child-teacher relationship,” she said.

“The parents might resent it or it might be that the parents can’t afford it. There could be an embarrassment, pressure, stress.”

She added: “In some instances parents have been asked for this on enrolling. Therefore there’s an implication around enrolling.”

The ILCU said a quarter of parents will use savings and 12% will use credit cards to cover back-to-school costs.

Warning of the difficulties of running a household when extra bills hit home, the survey found 72% of parents admit the costs will hurt their ability to pay bills and keep family plans, and 70% – compared with 80% last year – sacrificed this year’s family holiday or children’s summer camps to cover the costs.

More shockingly, 16% of parents said they will sacrifice spending on food to meet the expense.

Some 2% reported they would use a moneylender to pay the back-to-school bills.

Founder of the Irish Financial Review Frank Conway said: “As the findings of this study reveal, many families across Ireland struggle to cover the cost of a child, or even several children, going back to school and college.

“Costs can run into thousands and for some families the only way of closing the financial gap is through debt, including the use of moneylenders. Where debt is used, the cost of items, including school uniforms can double when expensive interest charges are factored in.”

Irish GP’s will struggle with demands of the under 6’s scheme


A survey of pharmacists reveals that they think GPs will not be able to cope with the extra demands of free GP care for under 6s.

The survey shows 24% of pharmacists do not believe GPs can cope with the extra workload that will come about as a result of the introduction of the scheme, while 59% say GPs will only be able to cope with the demands with difficulty.

It comes as it emerges more than 100,000 children across the country have been registered for the scheme.

The pharmacy survey was undertaken by healthcare software provider, Helix Health ahead of the 2015 Helix Health Pharmacist Awards.

Dublin pharmacist and Chair of the Helix Health Pharmacist Awards Committee, Fintan Moore said: “GPs are already struggling to cope with their existing workloads and many will find it difficult to cope with the extra demands of the free GP care scheme. Pharmacists could be doing much more, which would both ease the workload on GPs and improve patient care and accessibility to services.

“We should be delivering a minor ailments scheme, a new medicines scheme, chronic illness management, further health screening initiatives and expanding the existing vaccination service to include travel vaccinations as is the case with pharmacists in other countries.

“We are ready and able to do more. It’s time for the Minister to work with us to expand our professional role for patient care in our communities.”

The survey also revealed that more than 90% of pharmacists believe they should get enhanced roles at primary care level.

Mr Moore said: “Pharmacists have demonstrated their abilities to take on enhanced roles, as seen with the roll-out of the flu vaccination service, and we would urge the Government to realise pharmacists’ potential and allow us to further improve the health and wellbeing of the Irish people.

“Last year pharmacists delivered more than 50,000 flu vaccinations, a figure that is rising every year. We are willing and able to expand this service and to deliver more vaccines.”

It is time we cut the pensions of our politicians who led Ireland to the brink


The revelations that the lavish pensions of ex-ministers and Taoiseach are to be boosted have caused widespread public anger and consternation.

Politicians like Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, who are already in receipt of inflated pensions, are to have them further enriched, some by €1,680 per year.

This is due to a provision in the Lansdowne Road Agreement on public sector pay.

When questioned on this Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin pleaded that he had no option under the law but to allow the pension hike go ahead.

Nonetheless, ordinary people who are struggling under the pension levy will be dismayed by this turn of events. As will many workers whose taxes fund the retirement of Ahern, Cowen et al.

Enormous pensions?

These ex-politicians may have had their pensions reduced in recent years but let’s not forget that they are already in receipt of enormous pensions anyway.

Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen the two men who led our country to the brink of ruin, headed governments whose actions caused huge financial suffering to citizens.

It is extraordinarily unfair then that, in a country where the fruits of recovery are still trickling down very slowly, a pension boost of this nature should take place.

Frankly, former politicians should have their pensions reduced across the board – a move which would bring them in line with ordinary citizens who lack the benefit of publicly-funded pensions.

Former ministers Mary Hanafin and Mary O’Rourke view the payments as being “wrong” at this time, it’s reported.

But “wrong” is not enough. These pensions must be reduced.

New genealogy resource will boost tourism, Taoiseach Kenny says


Kenny commends National Library’s website for parish records from 18th-19th centuries.

Ciara Kerrigan, project manager of the National Library’s digitisation of parish registers, showing the new website to Enda Kenny and Heather Humphreys.

An online resource for researching family history from the 18th and 19th centuries will prompt a wave of genealogical tourists to visit Ireland in the coming years, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Mr Kenny was speaking at the announcement of the National Library of Ireland’s parish records website, which contains digitised details of births, deaths and marriages in almost every Catholic parish during the 1700s and 1800s.

The three-year project saw researchers create 370,000 digital images from microfilms of parish records, which were initially collated in the 1950s and 1960s.

Previously, anyone seeking to find information on their Irish ancestry had to go to the National Library on Dublin’s Kildare Street and physically access the microfilms.

The website allows the free perusal of the records from anywhere in the world.

“What you’re doing here in the National Library, I absolutely applaud it because you are giving a facility to the Irish diaspora all over the world to connect, and in a world that is changing so rapidly isn’t it important to have a sense of place, a sense of who we are,” Mr Kenny said.

“It is about us, about our Irishness, and I think that’s so important.”

Tourism boost

Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and US ambassador Kevin O’Malley were present for the event, as was Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys, who spoke of a potential boost for genealogy tourism as a result of the website.

She said a concerted effort was being made to digitise as much historical material as possible ahead of the 1916 centenary.

Out of more than 1,000 parishes nationwide, 56 were omitted from the original microfilms.

People searching for information on relatives are advised to have prior knowledge of the parish and year in which their family member was born for optimum results.

Handwriting and Latin insertions can also make some of the records hard to decipher.

Project manager Ciara Kerrigan said the details available through the website provide an invaluable stepping stone for anyone attempting to complete a family tree, given the destruction of all census records predating 1901 during the Four Courts fire in 1922.

“If you’re looking for records of Irish people in the 18th and 19th centuries, no other records for them exist apart from these church records.

“It provides an absolutely critical step in the road because unless you can pinpoint when and where people were baptised, you’re not going to be able to build up a very comprehensive family tree.

“It can lead on to other records like valuations of property in Ireland from the 1840s to 1860s. You could look at estate records, records relating to how local communities lived, such as land and property records, which would give a flavour of the kind of lives people had.”


While very intuitive to navigate, prospective users should note that the search mechanism on the new registers.nli.ie website is subject to some legacy limitations.

Rather than look for their ancestors solely by name, family history enthusiasts must first identify the parish in which their relative was born/married/died in, along with the year of the event. Without this basic prior knowledge, it can be a bit of a ‘needle in a hay stack’ exercise.

If you do happen to isolate the place, year and month in question, inconsistent methods of data input – i.e. a priest’s unintelligible handwriting or sporadic insertions of Latin – can sometimes make the task more difficult.

Around 95 per cent of parishes submitted their registries for microfilming during the 1950s and 1960s, however, 56 parishes were either omitted from the process or did not come into existence until after the cut-off point for records in 1880. Where this is the case, users are advised to contact the parish in question directly for missing information.

Finally, while families with Dublin origins have the best of it with records extending back to the early 18th century, lists of events from counties including Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny cover a shorter period from around the 1780s to the 1880s, while records from areas along the western seaboard generally don’t begin until the latter half of the 19th century.

Eight food businesses shut down in June for safety violations


Dublin cash and carry to pay almost €6,000 for breaching food hygiene regulation

Pearl River take away in Phibsborough, Dublin 7 which was issued a closure order last month.

Eight businesses were served with closure orders last month for violations of food safety regulations.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) serves such orders when inspectors deem there to be a grave and immediate danger to public health at a premises.

Bimdoc Cash and Carry on Jamestown Road in Finglas, Dublin 11 was convicted on six counts and ordered to pay € 5,560. This included a fine of €1,000 and costs of € 4,560 awarded to the Health Service Executive (HSE) which prosecuted the case under hygiene of foodstuffs regulations.

Pearl River in Phibsborough, D Limit African & European Restaurant on Ballybough Road in Dublin and ShanghaiHouse in Cork were served closure orders.

Posh Nosh take away in Ardee, Co Louthwas closed twice during the month. The other closure orders related to food businesses in Cavan, Mayo and Wexford.

In addition, a prohibition order was issued to Cumiskey’s public house on Blackhorse Avenue in Dublin.

This order is issued if the activities, such as handling and preparation of food, or the condition of the premises could pose a risk to public health.

Six of the orders have since been lifted. May saw the highest monthly number of closures so far this year with a total of 14. In total, 45 closure orders have been issued this year.

Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of the FSAI, said the violations had “serious negative implications” for the premises and the wider food industry.

“There can be no justification for these breaches, which can endanger consumers’ health and undermine the confidence they should expect to have in the safety of the food they eat,” she said.

Full list of businesses that were served closure orders:

  1. Shanghai House restaurant, 13 Upper Cork Street,Mitchelstown, Co Cork
  2. Mr Wong take away, 81 Main Street, Co Cavan
  3. D Limit African & European restaurant, 61A Ballybough Road, Dublin 3
  4. Posh Nosh take away, 1 Millstream, Moorehall, Ardee, Co Louth (two closure orders)
  5. “Fish & Chips” catering trailer (chip van), Main Street, Roundfort, Hollymount, Co Mayo
  6. Pearl River take away, 62 Phibsborough Road, Phibsborough, Dublin 7
  7. Hotel Curracloe (activity closed: all food preparation and service activities in and from the kitchen and ancillary areas), Curracloe, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

The burning question of global carbon reduction


The world’s last climate conference demonstrated in vivid terms the difficulty of agreeing binding emissions targets among countries at different stages of economic development.

The snowbound Copenhagen gathering six years ago foundered over how to share the burden between the developed and developing worlds of the cost of combating global warming. By the time it disbanded, it had generated lots of bad will between participants — but few commitments of substance.

As the world prepares for this year’s follow-up in Paris, many national governments seem commendably keen to avoid a re-run. Less happily, this determination is allied to a lack of ambition. The sense among leaders is that action remains too expensive to be politically viable. So to deliver a deal, they are paring back the commitments they will give or expect others to make.

Now a group of academics, businessmen and policy makers have stepped forward to challenge official defeatism. In their New Climate Economy report, they argue that halting global warming without denting economic growth can be done more easily than many realise. Volatile oil prices, falling renewable energy costs and other global trends have set the stage for economies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep growing, the study says.

The cost of solar power has fallen by 75% since 2000, and that of power storage systems by 60% over the past decade. According to a report from Deutsche Bank, solar is now competitive with retail electricity prices in 39 countries. Meanwhile volatile oil prices are encouraging more governments to withdraw fuel subsidies. This has lowered the cost of political interventions to drive the shift to cleaner power.

The report is right to note that in some areas the pace of clean energy adoption is accelerating. While there must be doubts about the causal link it implies, encouragement can be drawn from the fact that the global economy grew last year while emissions remained broadly flat. De-linkage is to be welcomed, even if only achieved by consumers switching from polluting sources to transitional, cleaner technologies. Even a short term environmental dividend is better than none.

In the end, however, the problem of achieving a binding global deal remains. The report’s authors rightly argue that cities and countries should work collaboratively on measures such as raising energy efficiency standards, cutting aircraft pollution and boosting investment in clean energy.

But such initiatives will avail the world little unless backed up by states setting tough emissions targets and giving hard commitments to meet them. While costs may be falling, that still means kick-starting huge investments in global urban infrastructure.

Governments also need to spend far more on research into new forms of renewable energy. Only 2% of the world’s public R&D goes into this area, according to the global Apollo programme. That is not enough.

Lastly they must back up binding targets by sticking a higher price tag on carbon. The practical and political obstacles to widespread carbon pricing are daunting. Nearly every tradeable good includes a carbon component. Make it more expensive to produce things in one place and activity simply leaks abroad.

The falling cost of renewables is something to celebrate. It lowers the price of political action. But it does not absolve the delegates to Paris from taking the hard political decisions necessary to de-carbonise. If they duck them, the conference will enjoy no more success than the last.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 23rd February 2015

Where Irish Government ministers are going to drown the shamrock on St Patrick’s Day


The full list has just been confirmed.

The Government has confirmed where ministers are going for trade & tourism trips this St Patrick’s Day.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be making his traditional trip to the States including a visit to the White House where he will meet President Barack Obama.

Tánaiste Joan Burton will be on US duty this year – with her tour taking in Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelpia.

Also heading to North America are Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan (Canada & New York), and ministers of state Paul Kehoe (Houston, Savannah), Jimmy Deenihan(Chicago & Milwaukee), Michael Ring (Phoenix, LA) and Paudie Coffey (St Louis, Indianapolis).

Only Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, is staying in Ireland to mind the shop along with the Attorney General Máire Whelan.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is heading to Mexico.

Speaking today, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan insisted that the tips abroad represent “very, very good value”.

“Last year for example, as an immediate consequence of our ministerial visits €5 million was gained at a cost of €300,000 for the entire event.”This year, each department pays for its own ministerial engagement. I am quite satisfied that this is money really, really well spent.

“Every minister and minister of state will report directly back to the Taoiseach on the number of meetings, type of meetings, who they met and follow-up engagements. No other country has an opportunity like St Patrick’s Day.”

Elsewhere – Alex White and junior minister Tom Hayes will be racking up the most air miles, with trips to New Zealand and Australia respectively.

On the European front – jobs minister Richard Bruton is heading to Paris, arts minister Heather Humphreys goes to London, and agriculture/defence minister Simon Coveney is Italy-bound.

Junior minister Ged Nash will be off to Sweden. His colleagues in the minister of state ranks,Joe McHugh, Simon Harris, Dara Murphy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Kevin Humphreys, Ann Phelan and Damien English will  also be heading on relatively short-haul trips.

Elsewhere, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch will be off to Russia, minister of stateSean Sherlock will go to Ethiopia, Children’s Minister James Reilly will go to India, Environment Minister Alan Kelly to China, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan to Brazil, and Brendan Howlin to South Korea and Japan.

Full details were disclosed at a press event at the headquarters of ding*, an international mobile phone top-up service, in Dublin this afternoon.

60% of Irish people still think the economy is in bad shape,

Eurobarometer survey finds

The survey also found that 53% of Irish people say they have a ‘positive’ image of the EU


60% of the Irish public think that the economy is still in bad shape.

That is according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out in November last year, which shows that women and the working class are much more likely to say the economy is heading in the wrong direction. Men and the upper class are more likely to say it is improving.

Professor Richard Sinnott helped to carry out the study. He says that despite almost two-thirds of the public saying the economy is yet to recover – with 20% saying it is in a ‘very bad’ state – that is much improved on the depths of the crisis.

The study also found that 53% of Irish people say they have a ‘positive’ image of the EU – the highest percentage since 2009, and an increase of 12 points since spring 2014.

16% of respondents said they had a negative view of the EU, with 29% have a neutral image.

However the study also found that 61% of Irish people say they have difficulty in paying their bills from ‘time to time’ or ‘most of the time’ – well above the EU average of 37%.

The survey did pick up some optimism about the future state of the economy. 51% said Ireland is going in the right direction – up almost 10% on the previous year, and the highest number of people making that statement since the Celtic Tiger days back in March of 2006.

33% of hotels in Ireland will not make a profit this year 2015, says IHF


Strong growth to €6.45bn masks regional differences, says Irish Hotels Federation

IHF president Stephen McNally and chief executive Tim Fenn: occupancy rates in Dublin rose by 3% in 2014 but hoteliers in other areas said they had not done so well.

Hotels and guesthouses generated €6.45 billion in 2014 and are expecting a third consecutive year of strong growth – but the positive figures mask huge regional differences.

One third of hoteliers will not make a profit in 2015, according to members of the Irish Hotels Federation, who claim overhanging debt, commercial rates and lack of incentives to entice tourists beyond traditional “hotspots” are still threatening profitability.

Speaking at the opening of their annual conference at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, a number of hoteliers said they had deals with suppliers and staff to cut costs following the economic collapse in 2008.

While occupancy rates in Dublin rose by 3% in 2014, and are set to grow by at least that much again this year, hoteliers in other areas said they had not done so well and were now facing calls for “pay back” from staff and suppliers.

But while occupancy rates in Dublin are in the order of 73%, occupancy rates in the northwest have remained static at just 54%.

A number of speakers at the conference said the recovery was fragile and the reduced 9% VAT rate continued to be vital to the industry.

Hotels Federation chief executive Tim Fenn said regional tourism required greater Government support as the slower pace of recovery in some areas is a “major challenge for many hotels and guesthouses”.

He said hoteliers continue to face a significant skills shortage in the sector, with 83% of those surveyed by the federation citing difficulties hiring trained workers to fill craft and entry-level positions.

The cost of doing business in Ireland was also identified by the survey as a major challenge, with hoteliers citing excessive local authority rates as the single most pressing issue stifling cost competitiveness within the sector.

But the survey, which was carried out earlier this month, found federation members were more optimistic about 2015 – as long as the economic recovery continues. Barring economic mishaps, some seven out of every 10 hotels said they plan to take on additional staff over the next 12 months.

Federation president Stephen McNally told delegates: “We’re seeing an upturn across most rural areas – which is very welcome. There is a long road ahead, however, particularly for regions such as the northwest, east and midlands, where occupancy levels continue to lag at only 54%, compared to a national average of 64%.”

Addressing the debt issue, Mr McNally said it remained “a serious challenge. This is weighing heavily on many hotels with some 34% saying they remain concerned about the viability of their business – notwithstanding the upturn in Irish tourism.”

In relation to the outlook for the coming year, compared to 2014, some 73% of respondents said they were seeing an increase in business from the island of Ireland in the first couple of months of 2015.

This contrasts with 20% who are experiencing static business levels and 7% who are seeing a decrease in business from the domestic market.

Some 55% of those who took the survey said they expected an increase in bednights from Britain, while 26% reported an increase in bookings from Germany and just 18% reporting an increase in bookings from France, so far this year.

In their own words: The delegates speak up

Colin Neville, managing director, Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Colin Neville discounted prices hugely in 2008 as the recession hit, but quickly realised it was the wrong way to go. The theory that more guests would lead to more business in the bar and restaurant – which worked for a number of hoteliers – did not work out for the Riverside. “People were eating pizza in their rooms and not patronising the bar. In six months we would have had to close down.”

Neville did a deal with his staff which saw the wage bill drop by 10%. It was, he says, vital to the business surviving. “I am only starting to plan repaying the staff some of the help they gave me, and I am at a significant disadvantage to surrounding venues.”

Philip Gavin, group managing director, Talbot Hotels

Talbot Hotels has operations in Wexford, Carlow, Waterford and Cork. Philip Gavin says the group rode out the recession by doing deals with suppliers and discounting on rates in a bid to get people in.

Rates dropped as low as €99 per person sharing for three nights and three dinners – an offer he says was put in place across all the hotels and which will be in effect until the end of this month.

His hotels in Wexford and Carlow are seeing growth in volume of 2.5 to 3% –but not in rates per room, he says.

Elaina Fitzgerald-Kane, general manager , Woodlands House Hotel, Adare, Co Limerick

Elaina Fitzgerald-Kane is convinced the recovery in the hotel industry is a two-speed thing. Dublin, she says, is a destination in itself, but Limerick is “just another small city” for tour operators. This year the hotel rate in January was the same as in January 2014, but occupancy was up “marginally”.

“We are not seeing what Dublin saw,” she says, but adds that being 10 minutes outside Limerick is a help.

In relation to visitors from North America, she regrets there is not a more focused marketing drive to point out the recent exchange rate benefits to US travellers.

Patrick Curran, managing director, Knightsbrook Hotel, Trim, Co Meath

Knightsbrook Hotel is operating with the blessing of the National Asset Management Agency. It is owned by the Cusack family who operate four hotels between Trim and Navan. While there is obviously overhanging debt, “the hotel is a very profitable business”, says Curran.

The business model of the four-star hotel was strictly weddings, conferences and golf, but in recent years they “say no to no one”.

Concerts are now a big part of the business, with Daniel O’Donnell, Christy Moore, and old-time dancing all featuring at the weekend.

Doctor under ‘considerable pressure’ prior to clipping patient’s Fallopian tubes,


A consultant Gynaecologist told a medical fitness to practice hearing that despite clipping a patient’s Fallopian tubes, this was not a sterilisation operation because “infection had blocked these tubes before I got to them.”

Dr Declan Egan told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing that medical cutbacks meant that he was under considerable pressure on the day he operated patient Lorna McKeogh (36), clipping both of her fallopian tubes though he only had consent to clip one.

The consultant gynecologist, who recently retired from his practise at UHG and runs a private Galway Fertility Unit at Rahoon in the city, said day beds in the Hospital had been cut from ten to just four and this had a knock on effect on waiting lists.

He believed the consent form “covered” him to clip both tubes and claimed he carried out the procedure on patient Lorna McKeogh (36) in her “best interests”, in a bid to improve her chances of getting pregnant through IVF.

Finding a problem with both Fallopian tubes rather than just one as suspected, had left him with “a dilemma”, he told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing today.

He believed she would not be able to get pregnant other than through IVF and explained that clipping the tubes improved her chances of becoming pregnant in this way.

He claimed that he believed a line in the consent form covered him to carry out an additional procedure if something else was found necessary.

Dr Egan is before the fitness to practise committee of the council, where he faces an allegation that he performed a clipping of both left and right hydrosalpinges (fluid-filled fallopian tubes) “in circumstances where this was not consistent with the consent form dated June 2nd, 2010”.

Arising from this, he is accused of failing to meet the standards of competence that could reasonably be expected of a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist.

Ms McKeogh was 32 when she was referred by her GP for gynaecological treatment after suffering a number of miscarriages. She was first seen by a doctor, Dr Eithne Lowe at the Bon Secours hospital in Galway but it was unable to carry out a tubal ligation because of its Catholic ethos, the inquiry was told.

Ms McKeogh was referred to Dr Egan in UHG, who performed the bilateral tubal ligation under total anaesthetic.

Doctors had suspected hydrosalpinx or water filled sacs on the right hand Fallopian tube.

However Dr Egan told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing today that when he examined the patient during surgery found hydrosalpinx also on the left hand side and so had taken the decision to clip both..

After the surgery, Dr Egan said he had told Mrs McKeogh that he had informed her what had happened in a four bedded gynaecology ward, with only a curtain screening them so it was not a setting for a detailed consultation.

Mrs McKeogh has told the hearing that she was upset by this conversation.

“I was the messenger and the message was not good,” he agreed today.

However he told the hearing that he had just come from another patient and had delivered her baby that had died at 33 weeks, so: “I might be been not as focused on her problem as I would otherwise have been.”

And Dr Egan said he would have assumed that the patients’ own doctor, Dr Lowe would have covered all the scenarios in clipping Fallopian tubes because “women will intuitively think hanging onto the tubes is the best answer” when in fact it is not, in the case of IVF, he claimed.

He told his counsel, Eileen Barrington SC that Ms McKeogh and her husband had both continued to smoke around 15-20 cigarettes a day, saying this was a very significant feature in her case as smoking caused miscarriage by damaging the DNA in sperm, can bring on the menopause up to four years early.

He also claimed there was “a lot of smoking and a lot of drinking” on both sides.

Coupled with Mr McKeogh’s low sperm count, Dr Egan said: “That combination screams IVF to me,” he said.

Dr Egan acknowledged his note of the operation was “rather rushed” but said this was due to pressure he was under on the day, with seven c-sections on the list. He was unable to consult with colleagues during the operation as none nearby had reproductive experience. He would have found it “odd” to consult with Mr McKeogh, who was in legal terms a third party.

He said consent forms for tubal ligation in Galway Hospital used to provide for the husband’s signature but this practise ceased in 2009.

When it was put to him that Ms McKeogh suffered distress when she received invitations to attend  IVF meetings at Dr Egan’s private clinic,  Dr Egan said was due to the “efficiency”of secretaries in noticing that she hadn’t attended an initial meeting on IVF.

Meanwhile Dr Egan claimed most of the stress Ms MsKeogh said she experienced over the IVF process arose from the fact she had “turned her back” on the local clinic to undertake treatment “miles away” in Dublin.

Questioned by the panel from the medical council, Dr Egan explained that he had clipped the tubes because “free oxygen radicals” within infected fluid can damage sperm and eggs and prevent a pregnancy.

He said his clinic had the best IVF success rate in the country and deals with approximately 1,000 patients a year, with around 350 in his public practise, from which he retired last month, and 670 between three consultants at the private clinic.

He said that in “99% of cases” tubal disease is bilateral, or on both side.

He also said the reason IVF was invented is because tubal surgery “isn’t that great.”

Dr Egan said his decision to clip both tubes had been “well thought out” to give her both options of subsequent tubal surgery as well as IVF but said “I think she was deeply upset by this and for that I am truly sorry.”

The case is due to resume at the end of March.

Curious pre-teenagers have greater brain connectivity in decision-making regions


Researchers have found that the brains of curious preteens show greater connectivity between regions associated with decision making and “state of the body” compared to their less daring peers.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in April.

Adolescence is often associated with a period of seeking new experiences and exploratory behavior, but little research has explored the source of this increase in behavior. Previous studies have linked willingness to explore to the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain that is responsible for high-level decision making.

After completing a reward-based task, researchers from the University of California San Francisco split a group of 62 girls aged 11 through 13 into two groups, explorers and non-explorers, and performed MRI scans. Those in the explorer group had a stronger connection between the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior insula and putamen regions compared to non-explorers. The posterior insula and putamen seemed to influence the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex.

The research may eventually help identify teens at risk of engaging in risky or unsafe behaviors.

Curious Pre-teenagers Have Greater Brain Connectivity in Decision-Making Regions

At the forthcoming American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco will present results from a study that suggests different brain processes are at work in preteens who are open to experimenting and exploring new things, compared with their more reticent peers.

Study author Dr. Andrew Kayser, who is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, says that “the beginning of adolescence is associated with seeking new experiences and increasing exploratory behaviors,” but that little research has been conducted to measure that increase, or examine what processes are involved in this experience-seeking behavior.

“Studies with adults have begun to look at individual differences in willingness to seek new experiences,” says Kayser, “and some studies have tied willingness to explore with an area of the brain called the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher level decision making.”

News Ireland daily Blog on Sunday

Sunday 12th August 2012

The decline in Ireland’s ‘friendly’ B&Bs is a blow to tourism

The treatment of our B&Bs by controlling interests is a scandal, says Felim O’Rourke


B&Bs, which played a major role in Irish tourism in recent years, have suffered a massive decline, losing a huge share of both the overseas and domestic markets.

B&Bs are small businesses, enterprises with no voice and no access to the corridors of power, and the decimation of the sector has passed almost unnoticed by media and policy-makers.

In 2001 B&Bs provided 6.3 million bed-nights for overseas holiday visitors. B&Bs held a 30 per cent market share of the accommodation market and provided more bed-nights than the hotel sector. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of bed-nights sold by the B&Bs to overseas holiday visitors fell to 2.6 million and the market share fell to 14 per cent.

In 2001 B&Bs provided 2.2 million bed-nights to domestic visitors. B&Bs held 9.6 per cent market share of the domestic visitor accommodation market but provided only 40 per cent of the bed-nights that were provided by hotels. Between 2001 and 2010 the number of bed-nights sold to domestic visitors fell to 717,000 and the market share fell to 2.3 per cent.

Effectively the B&B has ceased to be an accommodation option for domestic visitors. In 2010, of the 3.3 million bed-nights sold by the B&B sector only 22 per cent went to domestic visitors. We can summarise the situation by saying that 80 per cent of the bed-nights sold by B&Bs go to overseas visitors and only 20 per cent go to domestic visitors.

  All surveys of Irish tourism have indicated that the friendliness of the people is a key strength of the industry. The B&B gave an opportunity to overseas visitors to experience this at first hand. The decline of the B&Bs is therefore a major loss to Irish tourism.

The decline of the B&B sector was gradual and steady over the decade, so the Department of Tourism, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC) and Failte Ireland must have been aware of what was happening.

The graph above shows the trend in B&B bed-nights over the decade. It shows a decline of 60 per cent in overseas bed-nights and 68 per cent in domestic bed-nights over the decade.

The only reasonable explanation for the lack of concern by the Department of Tourism is that the B&B operators were not considered important.

The ITIC styles itself as the representative body for the tourism industry and was a part of the disastrous Social Partnership process. The ITIC has not done enough, however, for the B&B sector

Failte Ireland could not draw attention to the decline in B&Bs because that would be an admission of failure.

The other reason that the B&Bs have lost market share is that successive Fianna Fail governments allowed the hotel sector to be dominated by property speculation while, in Bertie Ahern’s words, “the boom is getting boomier”. There was no role for B&Bs in a tourism industry which was dominated by property speculation.

The B&B sector could have been the basis for a new approach to Irish tourism. We

could have used the B&B sector to pioneer activity holidays, generate community support for tourism and evolve a network of high quality small family hotels which would have combined friendliness with better standards. Instead our policy-makers presided over the decimation of the sector.

The treatment of the humble B&B by the controlling interests in Irish tourism is a scandal. The loss of the B&B sector has been a disaster for Irish tourism.

Felim O’Rourke is an Economist who has written extensively on tourism. He was joint author, with Jerome Casey of the Dublin City Business Association, of the report ‘Rejuvenating Dublin’s Tourism Product’

JNRS (joint national research survey) figures show 80% of adults regularly read a paper


Eighty per cent (80%) of adults are regular newspaper readers, a 2 per cent decline on the same period last year, according to the latest Joint National Readership Survey figures.

The JNRS’s 2011-12 report shows that 2.88 million adults here read a newspaper regularly between June 2011 and May 2012.

This compared with 2.94 million in the previous year, which represented 82 per cent of the population.

The Irish Times had an average daily readership of 287,000 in the 2011-12 report. This was down 37,000, or 11 per cent, on the previous year. These readership figures do not include visitors to the Irish Times website.

The Irish Independent recorded a decline in readership of 35,000 or 7 per cent to 465,000, while readership for the Irish Examiner remained the same at 169,000.

Among other daily newspapers, the Irish Daily Star recorded a readership of 348,000, down 24,000 or 6 per cent, while the Irish Mirror’s readership was up slightly by 1,000 to 208,000.

Two daily newspapers recorded more significant gains. The Irish Sun had a readership of 297,000, up 21,000 or 8 per cent, while the Irish Daily Mail recorded a readership of 159,000, up 18,000 or 13 per cent.

The Irish Times had an ABC1 profile – a key demographic for advertisers – of 80 per cent. This compared with 53 per cent at the Irish Independent and 42 per cent at the Irish Examiner.

While readership for the main section of The Irish Times was down, readership for the newspaper’s supplements remained broadly the same or grew slightly, such as the newspaper’s Saturday Magazine (367,000), Healthplus (273,000) and the Ticket (234,000).

Overall, just under half of adults – 49 per cent, or 1,774,000 people – read a daily title, according to JNRS figures.

A total of 59 per cent, or 2,118,000 people, read a Sunday title. This represented a decline of 8 per cent compared to the previous year, possibly due to the closure of the News of the World.

Overall, the National Newspapers of Ireland said the latest figures showed that newspaper readership remained strong, despite factors such as the recession and proliferation of other media.

“As an industry I would say we are encouraged but not surprised by the findings of the latest JNRS,” said NNI’s Frank Cullen said.

“Newspapers invest more in journalism than any other medium so it’s natural that more people come to us when they are looking for high quality, original news content.”

He added that readership among young people was impressive, with almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of 19- to 24-year-olds regularly reading a print title.

Mr Cullen said figures also showed people were dedicating more time to reading newspapers, with one in five readers spending more than six hours a week reading their papers.

Among the Sunday newspapers, most titles recorded a decline.

The Sunday Independent had a readership of 914,000, down 57,999 or 5.9 per cent, while the Sunday Times saw its readership decline by 33,000 or 8.2 per cent, to 367,000.

The Sunday Business Post’s readership fell by 2,000 to 162,000, while the Sunday World posted a small decline of 5,000, or less than 1 per cent, to 802,000.

The Irish Sunday Mirror recorded a significant readership increase of 13,000, or 8.9 per cent, to 195,000.

In addition, the Irish Mail on Sunday readership rose by 15,000 readers, up 5 per cent, to 345,000 readers.

Eating Grapes protects men’s heart health


Eating grapes may help protect the heart health of men with metabolic syndrome, according to a new study in the US.

Scientists have discovered that the fruit lowered several key risk factors for heart disease in men with metabolic syndrome. These benefits included reduced blood pressure, improved blood flow and reduced inflammation.

Natural components found in grapes, known as polyphenols, are thought to be responsible for these positive effects.

  Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together – increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist or low HDL (the good cholesterol) and increased blood triglycerides – significantly increasing the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a major public health concern,

The researchers studied a group of men between 30 and 70 years of age with metabolic syndrome.

The study is believed to be the first to look at the impact of grapes on metabolic syndrome.

In this study, participants were randomly assigned to consume grapes, in the form of a freeze-dried whole grape powder, or a placebo powder, for four weeks.

Then, following a three-week “washout” period where neither grapes nor placebo were consumed, individuals were allocated to the alternate treatment. This powerful study design allowed investigators to compare the response of each individual to consumption of both the placebo and grapes.

The study results showed that for each of the study’s subjects, grape consumption resulted in significant decreases in blood pressure, improved blood flow (greater vasodilation), and decreases in a compound associated with inflammation.

“These results suggest that consuming grapes can improve important risk factors associated with heart disease, in a population that is already at higher risk,” said Dr Maria Luz Fernandez, who led the study, which was carried out at the Department of Nutritional Sciences of the University of Connecticut.

“This further supports the accumulating evidence that grapes can positively influence heart health, and extends it to men with metabolic syndrome.”

Scientists find master stem cells that drive human creativity


  • Researcher find master cells also key for abstract thought and planning ahead
  • Breakthrough could lead to new treatments for autism

A newly-discovered type of stem cell could be the key to higher thinking in humans, research suggests.

Scientists have identified a family of stem cells that may give birth to neurons responsible for abstract thought and creativity.

The cells were found in embryonic mice, where they formed the upper layers of the brain’s cerebral cortex.

Dr Santos Franco, a member of the US team from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, said: ‘Advanced functions like consciousness, thought and creativity require quite a lot of different neuronal cell types and a central question has been how all this diversity is produced in the cortex.

‘Our study shows this diversity already exists in the progenitor cells.’

In mammals, the cerebral cortex is built in onion-like layers of varying thickness.

The thinner inside layers host neurons that connect to the brain stem and spinal cord to regulate essential functions such as breathing and movement.

The larger upper layers, close to the brain’s outer surface, contain neurons that integrate information from the senses and connect across the two halves of the brain.

Higher thinking functions are seated in the upper layers, which in evolutionary terms are the “newest” parts of the brain.

The new research is reported today in the journal Science.

Growing the stem cells in the laboratory could pave the way to better treatments for brain disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Red Planet soil  ‘what else is ahead’


After a spectacular landing on Mars, the rover Curiosity wasted no time embracing its inner shutterbug, delighting scientists with vistas of Gale Crater complete with sand dunes, mountain views and even haze.

What is next?

The nuclear-powered, six-wheel Curiosity is on a quest to learn whether the Martian environment could have been favorable for microbial life. Before it can drive, it has to slog through weeks of health checkups. Since it’s the most complex spacecraft ever sent to the red planet, engineers want to make sure it’s in tip-top shape before they hand over the keys to scientists. It already has done a cursory check of its 10 science tools, but more tests are needed. This weekend, its computers get a software update — a process that will last several days.

Will we see a movie of the touchdown?

The footage is recorded and stored on board Curiosity and will be downloaded as time allows. It sent back a low-quality video and several high-resolution frames that captured the last few minutes of the descent, providing a sense of a spacecraft landing on another planet. In the video, the protective heat shield pops off and tumbles away. It ends with billowing plumes of dust as Curiosity was safely delivered to the surface.

The first impressions of the Gale Crater?

The mission’s chief scientist John Grotzinger said it was like staring at California’s Mojave Desert. The landing site is pebbly with sand dunes nearby and mountains off in the distance. A curtain of haze hung over the site. Curiosity’s destination is Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising from the center of the crater floor near the equator. Observations from space reveal the base of the mountain shows signs of past water — a good place to hunt for the chemical ingredients of life.

Curiosity’s performance was pretty much on target with expectations. Because it weighed nearly 2,000 pounds, it had to be gently lowered to the surface — a routine NASA had never tried before. A preliminary reconstruction indicates it landed 1 1/2 miles downrange from the bull’s-eye.

How many rovers are now on Mars?

Curiosity joins the long-running Opportunity, which has been exploring craters in Mars’ southern hemisphere since 2004. Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, fell silent in 2010 after getting stuck in a sand trap. Curiosity’s prime mission lasts two years.