Tag Archives: transparency

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 13th April 2016

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International representatives meet at OECD to discuss response to controversy

      

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An G20 mandate?

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

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

But the OECD is not privy to taxpayer specific information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

The demise of Joan as depicted above?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One nominee

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess that happened.

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

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

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

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

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 6th April 2015

Most Irish fires start in bedrooms and cigarettes are the main cause

 

Ten years of data, of 366 deaths from 326 fires, shows often the cause is unknown.

Cigarettes were the suspected cause in a quarter of cases, electrical appliances were suspected in 18 per cent of cases and electric blankets in 3 per cent. Matches, candles and chip pan fires were the next most likely causes

Cigarettes were the suspected cause of a quarter of fatal fires an analysis of a decade of statistics shows.

A total of 366 deaths connected to 326 fires were recorded across Ireland from 2005 to 2014, according to statisticsprovided by fire services across the countryand published by the Department of the Environment.

In many cases, the cause of the fire is unknown or was passed on to the Garda to investigate. However, in the 158 instances where the cause of the fire was identified, cigarettes were the suspected cause in a quarter of cases. Electrical appliances were suspected in 18 per cent of cases, while a further 3 per cent were attributed to electric blankets.

Chip pan fires

Matches, candles and chip pan fires were the next most likely causes of fire fatalities during the time. Four people died after falling into an open fire, one of whom was a man thought to have had a heart attack beforehand. Self-immolation using petrol was recorded in one fatality which occurred in 2013.

More fires began in a bedroom than any other room of the home. Bedrooms were the suspected place a fire started in 99 incidents, or three in 10 fires.

The livingroom was the second most likely site of a fatal fire, with over a quarter starting there, with cigarettes again the most likely cause.

Irish primary schools class sizes largest in the EU

  

Irish primary schools have some of the largest class sizes in Europe, with almost one quarter of pupils enrolled in classes of 30 or more.

The average class size in Ireland is 25, which compares with an average of 21 across the developed world, the Irish Independent reports.

A new survey studying the number of enrolments by local authority areas based on data by the Department of Education, revealed that almost one in four (24%) of 532,993 pupils are in classes of 30 or more.

The most crowded classrooms are found in the Dublin commuter regions of Carlow, Meath, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Wicklow.

The survey also found that just 10% of students are in a class with 20 or less.

The new findings are set to be one of the main topics of discussion at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) which opened in Ennis, Co Clare on Monday.

Over 850 delegates representing 32,000 primary teachers are expected to attend the three-day event at the West County Hotel.

Teachers’ pay, funding of schools, class sizes, special education, school leadership, lack of promotion and increasing workload top the conditions on the agenda.

Speaking to delegates on Monday, director of the economic think tank NERI, Tom Healy, cited data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) which found that in 2012, Irish teachers were paid less well than higher education graduates.

“Although the comparison is for teachers at what OECD calls ‘lower secondary level’, the comparison holds true at primary level as well given the common pay scale in operation at first and second levels.

“Moreover, the ratio of salaries of Irish teachers to higher education graduates in Ireland is significantly lower than is the case on average across OECD,” he said.

He said that while primary schools are “brighter, better and possibly happier than was the case a few generations ago”, the “democratic revolution and programme promised and believed in 100 years ago was never born or delivered”.

“THE COMING GENERATIONS WILL NOT THANK THIS GENERATION IF WE FAIL TO PROVIDE A HOME AND SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT THAT IS WORTHY OF 21ST CENTURY IRELAND”

He also suggested three “fundamental and non-negotiable principles” in order to achieve this:

  • No further cuts to public services and goods including health and education
  • Protection of living standards of households and the beginning of a gradual process of reversal of wage cuts in the past with priority for the young, the vulnerable, the precarious and those working but still in poverty.
  • The protection of children from the ravages of the tax-cutting mania.

NUI Galway ‘out of step’ on gender equality, say internal reports

Greater transparency called for in appointing professorships

  

University management should give “serious consideration” to the “very disappointing” outcome for women seeking senior lecturerships, noted a report by a group representing NUIG’s arts, business and law faculties last September.

Two internal reports on NUI Galway’s (NUIG) promotion systems warned last year the university was “out of step” in advancing women, and that greater transparency was required in appointing professorships.

University management should give “serious consideration” to the “very disappointing” outcome for women seeking senior lecturerships, a report by a group representing NUIG’s arts, business and law (ABL) faculties said last September.

Its report was completed two months before the university became embroiled in controversy over gender equality among academic staff, due to the publication of Equality Tribunal findings in favour of Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington, a respected botanist, had taken a discrimination case against the university after she was turned down for promotion in 2009. She was awarded €70,000 by the tribunal.

In what is described as a “feedback report” on NUIG’s senior lecturer promotion scheme, the ABL group noted that several women who had been unsuccessful in applying for higher posts were “truly altruistic and dedicated to the areas of university business that are not show-stopping headlines, but essential bricks and mortar”.

“There is something unenlightened about a university process that does not capture more of these essential abilities,” the report said.

It noted that this had led to situations where there were several male professors and just one senior woman, or none at all, in some departments.

Two months later, the university’s promotion system was described as “ramshackle” in the Equality Tribunal ruling in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington.

The Higher Education Authority also found NUIG late last year to have the most pronounced gender divide among Irish universities, with almost four in every five (79 per cent) senior academic staff members being male and with women accounting for just 13 per cent of associate professorships and 14 per cent of professorships.

A separate internal study by a working group for the NUIG governing authority on the operation of the personal professorship scheme at NUIG dated December 2014, notes that “men report that they are encouraged more than women to make an application for promotion”.

Men also “plan to apply sooner than women” for professorships, even though a substantial proportion of women believed they were close to meeting requirements, this report says.

An analysis of six rounds of promotion to personal professor from October 30th, 2009 to March 23rd, 2013, found that 34 men and seven women applied, with 18 successful male applicants and two successful female applicants.

A survey conducted among staff for the report elicited calls for greater transparency and clearer guidance on measurement of achievement.

The report notes that several women surveyed felt “discouraged by a range of factors”, citing the “gargantuan effort” required to achieving senior lecturer promotion.

The women also cited previous unsuccessful efforts at promotion, “feelings of tiredness” with the politics of the university, and “zero expectation of success after a challenging and time-consuming process”.

A big disappointment: 

The university has set up a task force on gender equality, which has promised to report no later than Spring 2016, but Siptu has criticised what it describes as its lack of independence. The union has directed its members not to co-operate with the task force on these grounds.

In a related development, Dr Sheehy Skeffington has expressed disappointment at what she describes as a “threatening” letter sent to her by NUIG in relation to her use of data.

The university warns that it will take “any appropriate action” if she does not give assurances that she will “no longer reference data relating to other employees of the university in future”.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington says she drew on information already available on the university’s website to highlight gender discrimination.

NUIG said in a statement that “it is standard practice in the university to review a promotion scheme once a promotions round has been completed, as part of a continuous process of change and enhancement”.

“The review of the 2013-14 senior lecturer promotion round is currently taking place,”it said.

“Both boards of assessors provided feedback on the scheme ahead of an initial feedback meeting, which was held at the end of February 2015. Follow up meetings are due to be held shortly to finalise feedback on the 2013-14 scheme before announcing a new scheme for 2016.”

“In a completely separate process, the appeals board for the 2013-14 senior lecturer promotion round made recommendations to the governing authority on the outcome of appeals made by a number of candidates,”it said, and it “did not have sight of the feedback from the ABL panel, which came after the appeals process”.

“The appeals board’s report included recommendations for future promotion schemes, relating to procedural aspects of the scheme. These recommendations have been included in the currently ongoing review of the scheme,”it said.

‘Equality’

It said that NUIG “considers the 2013-14 senior lecturer scheme to be a fair and robust scheme in respect of gender equality.”

“Between 2008 and 2013, the university made a number of very significant changes to its senior lecturer promotion scheme to ensure greater gender equality including making provision for affirmative action, whereby at least one third of all promotions were guaranteed to go to women, gender awareness training for all board members and gender balanced boards of assessors,”it said.

“ The outcome of the 2013-14 senior lecturer promotion scheme was that 39 per cent of promotions went to female candidates,”it said.

“ NUI Galway is completely committed to achieve gender equality across all of its processes and procedures,” it concluded.

Blood test using sound to detect cancer could replace biopsies

 

The device uses acoustic waves to separate circulating blood-borne tumour cells from white blood cells

A simple blood test using sound to detect cancer could soon make biopsies a thing of the past, new research found

The device uses acoustic waves to separate circulating blood-borne tumour cells from white blood cells.

Currently oncologists wanting to know if a tumour is malignant taken cell samples from the tumour which can be painful, require a stay in hospital for a few hours and stitches or a dressing.

But a new prototype has an advanced microfluidic chip that uses sound waves to separate circulating tumour cells (CTC) from white blood cells, to be up to 20 times faster than prior attempts.

And for the first time in experiments on breast cancer samples found it to be as effective as current approved technique to detect CTCs.

Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh said: “Using computer modelling, we were able to significantly improve the chip’s throughput. With further refinements, this device could enhance our ability to diagnose and treat cancer.

“The current gold-standard for finding CTCs requires scientists to tag the cells using antibodies.

“Our technique has the added advantage of being label-free, without the need for any tagging that could chemically alter the cells.

“Our new approach would allow scientists and clinicians to gain more information on cell pathology and cancer metastasis than is currently possible.”

CTCs offer the promise of a much less invasive option, often referred to as a “liquid biopsy” as they can provide more information about metastasis, treatment response and the genetic nature of a patient’s cancer than cells taken directly from a tumour.

But in many cases CTCs are too rare to be detectable because there might be only one CTC among hundreds of thousands of white blood cells.

Currently, most researchers find and isolate the travelling tumour cells either by using fluorescence and magnetic techniques or by mechanical means which might damage cells.

While the techniques allow researchers to count the number of CTCs they cannot use the altered cells to reliably perform any additional functional tests.

The refined device uses gentle mechanical force created by sound waves to recover whole, unaltered CTCs that can be used for further testing, somewhat similar to the gentle way in which ultrasound has long been used in medical imaging and diagnostics.

Although the new prototype is faster than previous attempts, it still takes five hours to process a 5-milliliter sample.

Researchers hope to get it down to half an hour and not need to take out red blood cells first so it can be used in surgeries.

Currently red blood cells are removed and the remaining blood passes through a channel in a chip.

Sound waves angled across the channel creates a gauntlet of pressure nodes that push the cells away from the centre of the channel.

Since cancer cells have different size and compressibility than normal white blood cells, they are propelled at different trajectories by the sound waves allowing them to be siphoned off.

Fear of spiders became part of our DNA during evolution, say scientists

 

Arachnophobia could be a product of human evolution, according to new research.

Spiders presented such a great danger to humans during the early evolutionary stages that a fear of the species became part of our DNA.

In Africa, early in human evolution, those with a keen ability to spot the creatures outlived their less wary counterparts, according to The Sunday Times.

Joshua New of Columbia University in New York said:  “A number of spider species with potent, vertebrate-specific venoms populated Africa long before hominoids… and have co-existed there for tens of millions of years.”

“Humans were at perennial, unpredictable and significant risk of encountering highly venomous spiders in their ancestral environments.

“Even when not fatal, a black widow spider bite in the ancestral world could leave one incapacitated for days or even weeks, terribly exposed to dangers.”

The study tested how quickly people could spot a spider when presented with a number of other images.

Of the 252 people reviewed in the study, most recognised the spiders much quicker than other images known to induce fear, such as flies and needles.

There are, however, other theories that have been suggested to explain human fear of spiders.

Plymouth University Psychology professor, Jon May, suggested that it is their angular legs, dark colours and unpredictable movements that make archnids so unpalatable to humans.

Professor May said: “Spiders just tick all these boxes, and like any phobia, when it builds up in someone’s mind they can become scared even seeing a picture.

”We like bright-coloured butterflies and ladybirds, but spiders are dark coloured with long angular legs – and the shape and colour both have strong negative associations.

“We are also very sensitive to seeing things moving out of the corner of our eye and immediately notice it, and insects move quickly and unpredictably.”

In contrast to the research from Columbia University, May has also suggested that this fear is developed through social conditioning , as children are much more likely to become arachnophobic if they see parents or siblings reacting to the creatures in a certain way.

News Ireland daily BLOG Tuesday

Tuesday 14th January 2014

ECB to simplify European bad loan definition in health check

 

Fireworks illuminate the sky around a huge euro sculpture, designed by German artist Ottmar Hoerl, in front of the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, January 1, 2002. UNICS

(Reuters) – The ECB is set to allow the euro zone’s top banks to meet less stringent definitions for bad loans than previously planned when it makes an unprecedented review of lenders’ balance sheets this year.

The 128 lenders under scrutiny by the European Central Bank were allowed to apply the softer “simplified definitions” for bad loans in their first data submissions for the asset quality review (AQR).

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said the banks, which will come under ECB supervision later in 2014, will be able to use the easier definitions for the rest of the assessment too.

An ECB spokeswoman said the issue was still being discussed and a decision was expected soon.

Some at the ECB had hoped to apply the full definitions rolled out by the European Banking Authority (EBA) in October, for assessing when loans go bad and the impact of restructured loans. However, many banks cannot adapt to the new guidelines in time for the review.

The compromise takes some shine off the ECB’s exercise, which is meant to show investors that euro zone banks have cleaned up their balance sheets after years of crisis and are now fit to support economic recovery.

Even so, applying a minimum standard is still more rigorous than using national definitions, which make it hard to draw up cross-border comparisons and raise the risk that banks could hide problems behind domestic obscurities.

The EBA defines a loan as non-performing when a repayment is more than 90 days overdue or when repayment is unlikely. A second rule defines when forbearance on a loan has taken place, meaning the bank has allowed the borrower to skip or reduce payments. The rules will become binding at the end of the year.

A simpler version of them would mean skipping certain criteria for the time being, such as accounting for the wider impact once a company defaults on a loan.

The ECB will publish more details of the AQR and the EBA’s stress test at the end of January or early February.

Only 18% of Irish firms allow their employees unrestricted access to social platforms like Twitter etc

 

Just 18% of Irish firms allow unfettered access to social services such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook at work, according to new research from Amarach and McCann Fitzgerald.

The survey of 250 firms found that 48% of companies in Ireland allow limited access to social media at work, while a further 18pc block it altogether.

Among ‘business leaders’, Facebookis the social media channel of choice, with 37% using it daily. This compares to just 14% using LinkedIn daily and 15% using Twitter daily. Twitter is the least used major social media service among Irish business leaders, with 50% reporting no account.

Despite the moderate access to social media for staff, Irish companies are starting to take social media seriously as a business channel. According to the Amarach research, 63% of firms here categorise social media as “very relevant” or “somewhat relevant”. Asked why, almost half said it was useful for advertising, while a quarter said it could be used for communicating directly with customers. Just 20% regard social media as “irrelevant”, according to the research.

Meanwhile, a majority of Irish companies expect to move sales online this year, with over half predicting at least 10pc of their revenue from internet trade in 2014.

The online sales trend marks a shift in attitudes from Irish companies, which have been reluctant to invest in internet trade channels up to now.

In 2013, 69% of Irish companies recorded less than 10% of sales online, according to the Amarach. However, that figure is set to fall to just 49% this year, according to the same companies.

And while 47% of Irish companies took in no sales at all online last year, just 35% of Irish firms intend to stay away from internet sales this year.

Meanwhile, the number of Irish companies measuring between 10pc and 50pc of sales online will jump from 23% to 31% this year, according to the research. 7% of Irish firms will record over 70pc of their sales online this year.

Among business sectors, smaller companies expect to see a larger share of online sales than corporate firms. A third of hospitality sector sales will be online, according to the research, while 40% of sales from firms selling mostly overseas will be over the internet.

Irish Health Service will struggle to meet demands says Minister Reilly

  

Health Minister James Reilly has said the HSE’s budget restrictions for 2014 represented an unprecedented challenge for the Irish health system.

He told the Oireachtas Health Committee this evening that significant improvements had taken place in productivity and services in health against a background of a 20% cut in health spending in recent years.

At the Committee hearing, HSE Director General Tony O’Brien denied that there was provision for €1 billion in health cuts this year, even though the two deficit and savings figures stated amount to well over this amount.

He admitted that some service priorities and demographic pressures may not be met, and it would not be possible this year to meet fully all of the growing demands on our health services.

Mr O’Brien said the planned €108 million in unspecified pay savings would be brought about through flexibility measures under the Haddington Road pay agreement, and there would be no additional measures other than those already agreed under Haddington Road.

The Committee was told there there was a savings target of €619 million identified for the HSE this year, in addition to an underlying projected deficit of €419 million.

The original savings target for the medical card scheme had been reduced from €133 million to €23 million, the Minister said.

He said following a review he had initiated, it was found that the original probity target had not taken into account the extent of savings that already had been achieved or could be achieved through medical card applications scheme centralisation and probity measures without changing the current guidelines for medical cards.

He said the previously quoted probity savings figure of €113 million had been based on an estimate in a PWC consultants’ report of €65 million to €210 million in possible savings, but this figure had been ‘indicative and speculative’.

Minister Reilly denied that medical cards were being indiscriminately withdrawn.

He admitted the wording of the draft HSE service plan had been changed prior to its publication before Christmas, but this was because it had been possible to agree additional funding of €47 million at cabinet committee level.

Mr O’Brien also admitted the version of the introduction of the draft service plan that existed prior to it going to the cabinet committee had been changed. He said the reference he had made in the draft plan to critical service pressures had been deleted after it emerged that this risk no longer existed following decisions made on the health budget at cabinet committee.

Minister Reilly said a number of reform measures would be progressed this year, including ‘money follows the patient’, where hospitals would be funded based on activity levels, the interim establishment of a patient safety agency, and the reorganisation of hospitals into groups.

Mr O’Brien said there was an underlying projected deficit of €419 million for the HSE in 2014, in addition to the €619 million savings target for this year. The key message is that patient safety isparamount, he said.

Fianna Fail Health spokesperson Billy Kelleher told the Committee that the health service was facing an overall reduction of over €1 billion this year. However, Mr O’Brien denied there were cuts of €1 billion, but there would be a ‘swing’ of this amount.

“The health service is facing a very significant financial challenge in 2014. This challenge comes at a time when the demand for health services is increasing every year, which in turn is driving up costs,” Mr O’Brien told the Committee.

He told the Committee hearing on the HSE’s 2014 service plan that said savings measures to be implemented included:

  1.  A reduction in the lump sum provision for pensions which will be used to offset, in part, theincoming deficits from 2013.
  2.  Making use of savings which will accrue from the phased implementation of new developmentsduring 2014.
  3.  Additional savings targets of €129 million in areas such as procurement (€30 million), shared services (€10 million), value for money initiatives (€10 million), hospitalreconfiguration (€7.5 million), energy efficiency savings (€15 million) and ‘full delivery of costcontainment plans of €56.5 million for hospitals’. Hospitals also have to deal with a ‘run-over’ deficit of €190 million from last year.

Mr O’Brien said other measures would include pay and flexibility reductions totaling €268 million, of which Haddington Road would facilitate up to €140 million – €108 million of this related to ‘unspecified savings’.

He said if the unspecified savings figure was not achieved, there was no mechanism in Haddington Roadd to seek cuts elsewhere. If the pay savings were not acheived, there was a process within Government to have those issues addressed.

Sinn Fein Health spokesperson Caoimhghin O ‘Caolain said there had been no additional fundingmade available this year for nursing home places.

Mr O’Brien said the reduction in the health service budget between 2008 and 2013 amounted to €3.3 billion and when coupled with reductions in 2014, the total budget reduction over six years amounted to almost €4 billion.

What is the secret to the Human beings longevity?

  

Human beings and other primates have an extremely slow metabolism rate. They burn almost 50 percent fewer calories each day than other mammals, which is why they have a longer lifespan, say scientists.

The key to longevity is a slow metabolism rate, say scientists.

Humans and other primates burn 50 percent fewer calories each day than other mammals and due to their low metabolism rate, they have a longer life span, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Overall, 17 primate species, such as humans, gorillas, and mouse lemurs were examined for the purpose of the study.

The international group of scientists who carried out the study worked with animals in zoos, sanctuaries in Africa, and in the wild.

Daily energy expenditure of the primates was calculated using a technique called “doubly labeled water,” Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Hunter College in New York and the lead author of the study, told The Monitor.

Water contains hydrogen and oxygen. Some of the hydrogen and oxygen in the water were being replaced with their variants, also called isotopes, Dr. Pontzer says. After animals drink water, these isotopes would then act as tracers and their presence could be found in their urine. By determining the concentration of isotopes from the urine sample, Pontzer and his team determined how much carbon dioxide the body produced. Over a 10-day period, scientists measured the number of calories primates burned, says Pontzer.

Comparing the results of the experiment with similar data from other studies, the team compared daily energy expenditure among primates to that of other mammals, according to a press release by Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Chimpanzees and gorillas from the zoo were examined for the study.

“The results were a real surprise,” said Pontzer. “Humans, chimpanzees, baboons, and other primates expend only half the calories we’d expect for a mammal. To put that in perspective, a human – even someone with a very physically active lifestyle – would need to run a marathon each day just to approach the average daily energy expenditure of a mammal their size.”

The findings present an alternative explanation and help to look at the slow life history of primates differently, Steve Ross, coauthor of the paper and the Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, told The Monitor.

It was earlier believed that primates have a slow life history because they do not invest their energy in growth; instead they allocate energy towards development and maintenance of their brain, Dr. Ross says.

“The environmental conditions favoring reduced energy expenditures may hold a key to understanding why primates, including humans, evolved this slower pace of life,” said David Raichlen, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona and a coauthor of the study in a press release by Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

The study has major implications for understanding how evolution has shaped human metabolism and why human beings differ from their ancestors, says Pontzer. He added, “It can also help us to better understand obesity and other metabolic diseases.”

How transparent is Irish Water?

 

The Fianna Fáil party makes a strong argument in its latest video offering on the controversy.

Fianna Fail has produced a video to highlight its concerns about how Irish Water established itself within Bord Gáis.

Uploading the clip to YouTube, the Opposition party described it as “random selection from the document released to explain why Bord Gáis was chosen as home for Irish Water despite advice from independent experts”. The 39-second video shows a number of almost-completely redacted pages of text.

Earlier today, the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin confirmed that the new State utility will be brought “fully” into Freedom of Information.

“All the documents pertaining to Irish Water should be available to public scrutiny,” he said at a press briefing.

Information can still be redacted for commercial sensitivity purposes.

Irish Water today insisted that it awarded all of its contracts in line with EU rules on procurement. It also noted that it wanted to ensure transparency and value for money throughout the setting up process.

CEO John Tierney is due to face questions from the joint Oireachtas Environment Committee this afternoon. Irish Water has been subject to scrutiny over the past week after it emerged that it had spent €50 million on consultancies. That figure is now expected to jump to €86 million of its entire €180 million set-up budget.

Scientists brace themselves for the incredible sight of a black hole swallowing a gas cloud

  

Scientists around the globe are bracing themselves for what could be the best view yet of the black hole ahead of its collision with a gas cloud.

The black hole, called “Sagittarius A*”, could provide a stunning series of galactic fireworks if it collides with the gas cloud – which has a mass about three times that of Earth – currently heading in its direction.

First identified by German scientists three years ago, they originally believed the collision would occur last year. However, astronomers have predicted that the collision will now happen sometime in March.

The gas cloud, dubbed “G2”, is expected to travel so close to the black hole that it will cause it to heat up and create a chain of sensational bright lights.

Many scientists are eagerly anticipating the event due to the educational value of the experience, with information about the gravitational effects of the hole and the extent of its power likely to be revealed.

Sagittarius A* is one of the dimmest black holes of the supermassive variety – which are much less visible than other black holes – so the event could provide the opportunity for a better viewing for scientists in the future.

Jon Miller, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan, said: “I would be delighted if Sagittarius A* suddenly became 10,000 times brighter. However, it is possible that it will not react much – like a horse that won’t drink when led to water.”

He added: “If Sagittarius A* consumes some of G2, we can learn about black holes accreting at low levels – sneaking midnight snacks. It is potentially a unique window into how most black holes in the present-day universe accrete.”

To give interested viewers a taste of what they can expect, astronomers have created a simulation of the events which they predict will happen in the spring.