Tag Archives: United Ireland

News Ireland daily blog by Donie

Thursday 8th September 2016.

Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland’s claim costs

Motorists more concerned about price of cover than road safety, committee hears

Image result for Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland's claim costs  Image result for Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland's claim costs

Motor insurance premiums have risen dramatically and could rise by a further fifth, says Conor Faughnan of the Automobile Association.

Insurance companies are pulling out of Ireland because of the lack of information about the costs of meeting claims, the Automobile Association warned on Thursday.

“Competition should be attracted into our market, but, in fact, insurers are in active retreat from Ireland,’’ Mr Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs of the Automobile Association (AA Ireland) told an Oireachtas committee.

The “book of quantum’’, the document that describes in detail the appropriate level of financial compensation for injuries of a given severity, is hopelessly outdated and is effectively useless as a guideline to the courts, he said.

Meanwhile, the courts are not bound to abide by it. Seven out of every 10 cases are settled directly by the insurance companies to avoid a court case, but the detail of settlements are not shared.

Motorists are now more concerned about the cost of insurance than road safety, fuel costs, taxation and road maintenance, Mr Faughnan told the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

Premiums have risen dramatically and could rise by a further fifth, he warned, adding that new car sales have themselves jumped by 20 per cent so far this year.

Motorists who had made an insurance claim, or acquired penalty points, were unable to shop around and had to absorb whatever increases there were with their insurance company.

Mr Faughnan said there was a lack of clear information and data on issues surrounding proper claims’ costs. “So if you are a foreign insurance company, and you want to come into Ireland, you are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the people already here because our data is so murky and so difficult to understand,’’ he added.

Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association Mark Fielding said there was a continuous line of complaints from members on the handling of what they would regard as questionable claims.

Members complained insurance companies continued to settle without the consent and knowledge of the insured businesses, he added.

Director of the Small Firms Association Patricia Callan said rising costs and competitiveness were issues for her members, ranking second only to labour costs.

Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years

 Image result for Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years  Image result for Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years  Finance Minister Michael Noonan (left) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) are 73 and 65 years old respectively. Most workers must retire at 65.

(Right pic above) Finance Minister Michael Noonan (left) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) are 73 and 65 years old respectively. Most workers must retire at 65?

This is not the kind of news that any young professional in Ireland wants to hear.

Ireland’s pension gap is now the second largest in Europe, according to Aviva, behind only that of the UK.

Aviva’s report on the Irish pension system has advised that people hoping for an adequate income post-retirement must save an additional €1,000 per month – something that virtually anyone who is earning anything like the average wage in Ireland will tell you is utterly impossible.

The news gets worse the older you are, with people in their 60s being told they need to save an extra €28,000 a year. Short of winning the lottery, it’s hard to see where that is going to come from for most.

The report notes that there has been a decline in pension savings, meaning that a pushback on the age of retirement or an increase in state pensions would not entirely alleviate the problem.

According to media sources, two of the biggest factors that have widened that pension gap are longer life expectancy and lower returns on investments.

The number of workers with pensions has dropped by 5% since the start of the economic crash in late 2008.

5% increase in support for a united Ireland

A five-point increase in backing for unification, now at 22% which is up from 17% in 2013.

Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland  Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland  Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland

According to the data there is still a significant percentage of people in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

There has been a significant statistical increase in support for a united Ireland among people in the North, according to a new survey conducted by Ipsos Mori.

The face-to-face survey of more than 1,000 people carried out across Northern Ireland on behalf of BBC political programme The View, between August 16th and September 2nd, indicates a five-point increase in support for a United Ireland (22%), from 17% in 2013 . This is regarded as a significant change.

More than four out of 10 people with a Catholic background (43 per cent) would back a United Ireland, up from 35% in 2013, an increase regarded as statistically significant.

When respondents from across the North were asked if the government should call a referendum on the Border, 33% of people said No and 52% said Yes, while 15% were don’t know.

A majority of Protestants were against the idea, with 72% No and 53% of Catholics Yes.

According to the data there is still a significant percentage of people in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

A referendum.

When asked how they would vote if there was a referendum on the Border, 63% of respondents said they would vote to stay in the UK, down 2% on 2013.

From 2013 there has been a 5% increase to 22% among those who said the would vote to join the Republic of Ireland.

When the 2016 results are broken down by religion, 88% of Protestants and 37% of Catholics said they would vote to stay in the UK, while 5% of Protestants and 43% of Catholics said they would vote to join the Republic of Ireland.

Some 83% said the Brexit decision had not altered their position, while 17% indicated it had changed their thinking.

Those whose views had been influenced by the EU result were slightly more likely to be female, from a Catholic background and drawn from the affluent AB social classes.

Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’

Irish research now shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health condition.

Image result for Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’  Image result for Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’

The Tilda study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

“The saying” You really are as old as you feel, a leading expert on ageing has confirmed.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator with the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) said their research shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health.

Uncovering the Secrets of Successful Ageing is an analysis by Tilda of 10 years of its study of older people.

Its findings, published today, include health, social, and economic factors.

The study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, life circumstances and other health changes were accounted for. Negative attitudes towards ageing also seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted.

Hundreds of participants from all over Ireland gathered at Trinity College Dublin today for the 10th birthday of Tilda.

Sattie Sharkey said she volunteered herself to be part of the study because she tended to fall.

“It is very important this research has taken place as it will play such a large role in policy and decision-making, and researchers have gained a real insight into the issues facing older people in Ireland,” she said.

“I used to fall regularly in my home. Falls are debilitating. They not only hurt you physically but they take your confidence away too. My falls were due to a tumour in the back of my head and I had to have an operation.”

Living independently?

Ms Sharkey said she enjoyed being interviewed by the Tilda researchers and has more confidence living independently.

“I’d also like to say, I’m younger than the two people who want to be the president of the United States,” she said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Dr Colm O’Reardon, deputy secretary for strategy and policy at the Department of Health, said Tilda’s findings will help to dispel myths about older people and ageing.

“The common portrayal of older people in our society is often that people over 65 have no meaningful contribution to society and it becomes part of the myths about ageing,” he said. “This study will change the assumptions decision-makers will bring when it comes to making policy.”

Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the Health Research Board, said “the time has come to stop HSE-bashing” and to focus on how to improve our health service.

He said the recent RTÉ documentary on the HSE called Keeping Ireland Alive had a positive reaction on social media and from the general public.

“It’s a small turning point in the collective ambition for our health service at a time when collective energies are switched from HSE-bashing to actually defining what ambition we have for our health service here,” said Dr Love.

“I believe that through initiatives like Tilda we can turn our health service into a national treasure.”

Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe

Discovery of genetic differences, using DNA analysis, could boost efforts to save declining populations.

Image result for Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe  Image result for Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe  A Masai giraffe, one of the four newly recognised species, grazing inside Nairobi national park

Four giraffe species: top left: reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), top right: west African giraffe.

Researchers have discovered there are not just one but four distinct species of giraffe, overturning two centuries of accepted wisdom in a finding that could boost efforts to save the last dwindling populations.

Analysis of DNA evidence from all of the currently recognised nine sub-species found that there is not just one species of giraffe but enough genetic differences to recognise four distinct species. Experts said the differences are as large as those between brown bears and polar bears.

Giraffe have suffered a decline in number from around 150,000 across Africa three decades ago to 100,000 today, as their habitat has been turned over to agriculture. But as a single species the giraffe is currently listed as of least concern on the red list of endangered species, leaving the tallest living animals a relatively low conservation focus compared to rhino and elephant.

“People need to really figure out that giraffes are in danger. There are only 100,000 giraffes left in Africa. We’ll be working closely with governments and big NGOs to put giraffes on the radar,” said Dr Julian Fennessy, lead author of the new study which saw genetic testing in Germany on 190 giraffe.

The four recommended new species are the southern giraffe, with two subspecies, the Angolan giraffe and South African giraffe; the Masai giraffe; the reticulated giraffe; and the northern giraffe including the Kordofan giraffe and west African giraffe as subspecies.

If formally recognised as four separate species, three of those four would suddenly be deemed more seriously threatened by the red list, Fennessay said, which would hopefully catalyse greater efforts to protect them.

A Masai giraffe, one of the four newly recognised species, grazing inside Nairobi national park.

While the southern giraffe was increasing markedly in number, populations in east and central Africa were in trouble, he said.

“It’s all habitat loss, fragmentation and a lot of that is, let’s be honest, linked to human population growth – increasing land for agricultural needs, whether for commercial or for subsistence farming,” he said, speaking from Windhoek, Namibia. “In some of these countries though there is illegal hunting or poaching causing the decline.”

Co-author Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Germany, said: “This has huge implications for conservation. It’s also significant from an evolutionary aspect: the giraffe is a very young species and we see evolution, becoming species, in real time, happening in front of our eyes.”

Both said they were surprised at the number of genetically distinct species, because the currently recognised nine subspecies are relatively similar-looking. The most obvious differences are in the shape of their patterns and how far they extend, and how many horns the creatures have.

The study also suggested that the four species do not mate with each other in the wild, an unexpected finding given giraffe move far and wide, and have been shown to interbreed in captivity.

The historically accepted definition of one species of giraffe was based on a description in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, who examined a Nubian giraffe (now to be considered as a northern giraffe). The new study’s discovery that there are in fact four will not come as a a total surprise to those who study giraffe closely – previous research has suggested some subspecies appeared genetically distinct enough to be considered separate species.

The conclusions of the study, which took five years, will be now be reviewed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s specialist group on giraffes.

West African giraffe, a subspecies of northern giraffe, in southern Niger.

In a statement, the IUCN said: “The number of species of giraffes has come in for much discussion and debate in recent years. The findings of this latest study will need to be carefully evaluated, as it could – as the authors note – have considerable implications for their conservation. We know that giraffes, while widely distributed, are declining nearly across their range, with some narrowly distributed populations in serious trouble.

“If the findings of the current study are accepted, then it may well be that some species would be listed in threatened categories on the IUCN red list. This would hopefully flag the need for increased attention on a species that is otherwise normally considered common.”

Fennessy, who is also co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said: “I would just hope that as the IUCN reviews this, they look at the fact 200 years ago people looked at giraffe coat patterns from samples sent from Africa and made a decision to call it one species and nine subspecies. And now, using nuclear mitochondrial and genomic DNA, I think more science can help us answer the mystery.”

The new study, Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of One, was published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 11th August 2016

Gerry Adams says it is time for a united Ireland

Gerry Adams says all parties should come together to talk about Irish unity.

   

The issue of Irish unity has been absent from official Ireland’s centenary celebrations to mark 1916.

Parades and TV specials were seen, books were written, and reams of newspaper articles published. Songs of the period have been sung and debates held. But the fracture of the island by partition, the abandonment of the 1916 Proclamation as a declaration of freedom and justice for all of Ireland, has been ignored.

The Republic envisaged by the leaders of 1916 and by the Proclamation was to be a rejection of all that was bad, divisive and elitist in British imperialism and colonisation. It was to be an Ireland of equal citizens. A republic for all.

Today those of us who desire that outcome are told by some that we are being divisive. We are told that there will be a united Ireland at some undefined time in the future. But it will not happen through wishful thinking or sitting in a bar singing songs – not that there is anything wrong with singing songs of freedom – or simply talking about it.

It needs a political strategy with clear objectives and actions.

Failure to honour commitments

Those who advocate the wishful thinking approach to Irish unity point to the enhanced relationships between London and Dublin. They praise the ‘special’ relationship between the Irish and British governments as evidence of change. And while it is true that much progress has been made, the reality is that the British government has failed to honour key commitments within the Good Friday and other agreements.

It has unilaterally set aside elements of the various agreements, with barely a whimper of protest, especially from the Irish establishment. It has failed to deliver on a range of important issues, including:

  • A Civic Forum in the north
  • An All-Ireland Civic Forum
  • A Bill of Rights for the North
  • A joint north/south committee of the two Human Rights Commissions
  • An All-Ireland Charter of Rights
  • Honouring its obligations in compliance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
  • The introduction of Acht na Gaeilge

The British have also obstructed efforts to resolve the legacy of the past by refusing to honour its commitments under the Haass agreement, failing to provide information on the Dublin/Monaghan and Dundalk bombs, and reneging on its Weston Park commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

Brexit

The real value of the special relationship between the Irish and British governments was demonstrated in the recent Brexit campaign. It is clear the economic interests of the island of Ireland are collateral damage in a fight between factions of the right wing of British politics.

The implications of Brexit are becoming increasingly apparent. It is a real threat to the economy, imposing barriers to trade and a possible EU frontier across Ireland, creating a fundamental crisis in North-South co-operation.

At no time in the Brexit debate was the impact on Ireland, North or South, considered. Our national concerns were dismissed.

The people of the North voted against Brexit. Just as they did in the Good Friday Agreement referendum, all sections of the community, republican and unionist, voted in the best interest of all. They voted to remain in the EU. Yet the British Government say they will impose Brexit on the North against the expressed will of the majority.

The economies north and south are interlinked and interdependent. It has been estimated that 200,000 jobs depend on all-Ireland trade. A recent report on economic modelling of Irish unity demonstrated a dividend and growth in a united Ireland.

The aftermath of the Brexit vote is a clear demonstration of the injustice of partition. It is fundamentally undemocratic and economically wrong. Partition makes no sense. Yet it continues.

Unity

A mechanism exists to end partition and bring about Irish unity, through a border poll.

The vast majority of people across Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement. It is worth remembering that 94% of people in the south and 74% of people in the North voted for the agreement.

It included a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity that provided for concurrent referendums north and south. It obliged the two governments to legislate on the basis of referendums for Irish unity.

National unity is in the national interest. Wishful thinking will not bring about unity. We have a mechanism to achieve unity. We need all of those in favour of unity to act together to bring it about.

This is the time to plan and to build the maximum support for unity. The leadership of those parties which support Irish unity, acting together, could be the leadership which delivers it.

Eighteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we should not need to convince the leaders of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to become persuaders for Irish unity.

The Irish government should have a plan for unity. A first step in the next term of the Oireachtas would be the development of an all-party group to bring forward a green paper for unity.

In addition, we need to develop plans for an all island health service; for public services in a united Ireland, through a united Ireland investment and prosperity plan.

Now is the time

The New Ireland Forum in its time created a space for discussion on constitutional options of change and developed a comprehensive economic options paper on the cost of partition.

It failed because it excluded Sinn Féín and operated at a time of a British veto on change – given voice by Margaret Thatcher with her “out, out, out” rejection. Thatcher is gone and so is the British veto.

Constitutional change is in the hands of the people of Ireland, North and South. The politics of exclusion failed, and Sinn Féin is jointly leading the government in the North.

We have the opportunity to end partition and build support for a new and united Ireland. A new Ireland that is built on equality and which is citizen centred and inclusive. The shape of that new Ireland remains to be drawn.

Now is the time for all parties who support Irish unity to come together to design the pathway to a new and united Ireland.

Big concern over €300,000 reduction in Mental Health services

     

The news that the HSE are looking to cut funding and find savings in Mental Health Services in Sligo Leitrim has caused anger and upset locally.

According to minutes from the May meeting of the HSE’s Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Area, privatisation of a residential service in Mohill is being considered.

The meeting revealed that savings of €30million had to be generated across all services in the Community Health Organisation which covers Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo. As a result of this, €300,000 will need to be saved from Sligo Leitrim Mental Health services before the end of 2016.

As well as cost reductions there were proposals to cut down spending. One of the proposals is looking at the future of Ard na Drise in Mohill as well as exploring possibilities for the Garden Centre and Dochas Clubhouse in Sligo.

Fenagh Councillor and HSE Regional Health Forum member Caillian Ellis said, details of these savings had not been mentioned at the June HSE Regional Forum meeting.

He commented “it is a total disgrace that there would be cuts from the most vulnerable people in society.” He said €300,000 is a “huge cutback” to find before the end of the year.

Cllr Ellis stated mental health services need “more funding, especially in rural Leitrim with many people living alone with financial pressures.”

Sinn Féin TD for Sligo-Leitrim Martin Kenny, speaking said that he was horrified to read in the minutes of a HSE meeting, that far from prioritising mental health, the Executive has plans to slash services in order to balance the books. Minutes of the meeting, which took place in May, of the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Service Area Mental Health Management Team.

Deputy Kenny said, “When I call on behalf of the people I represent for restoration or even maintenance of services, I am told one thing and then I see this report of an internal meeting and find that the HSE’s plan B, is to slash services to the most vulnerable, those with mental health problems. This meeting discusses ways to knock €300,000 off the mental health budget in Sligo Leitrim between now and the end of the year.

“It is a shocking reflection on the HSE that its priorities are based on budgets and not on patients. The list of proposed cuts in horrifying and at a time when every community in Ireland is becoming more aware of the vulnerability of people to taking their lives by suicide, it is nothing short of outrageous.

““I have written to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for reassurance that this scenario will not be allowed to unfold here in this constituency or anywhere else.”

The Psychiatric Nurses Association in Sligo and Leitrim have since threatened to ballot its members over the prospect of cutbacks. The local spokesperson said the service is already under resourced.

A spokesperson for the HSE told the paper, “All services in Community Health Organisation Area 1 (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan & Sligo) have been asked to consider potential cost savings and that is what the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Management Team Minutes reflect.”

The spokesperson stressed, “None of the proposals have been actioned and Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services is well within budget, year to date in 2016.”

The HSE explained, “Ard na Drise was an Independent Living House, it was a private rental to clients of Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services, who provided them with support while they waited for Leitrim County Council houses. This was not a HSE facility and is no longer in use. It was a private rental.

“The clients who lived there have now successfully moved to their own council homes.”

The HSE stated, “There has been no change to the clinical care and treatment that the clients are receiving from the HSE. These clients are still being cared for and supported on a daily basis by their clinical team.”

The minutes for the meeting earlier this Summer reported there “was discussion about reducing service capacity to meet potentially more stringent cutbacks in 2017.”

615 points leaving cert Trinity College asylum student wins right to remain in Ireland

     

Tatiana Prochukhan with her daughter Nadezda Nadia and St Mary’s School Principle John Michael Porter, said she loves Ireland

An asylum seeker who received anonymous donations amounting to €20,000 to pay for her first year at Trinity College Dublin has been granted a right to remain in Ireland.

Nadezda (Nadia) Prochukhan, 20, shot to national acclaim in 2014 when she achieved 615 points in her Leaving Certificate.

Anonymous donors enabled her to fulfil her dream of studying chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.

Her case was one of two which helped lead to a change in Irish law last year when ex-education minister Jan O’Sullivan announced that third-level student grants would be available to asylum seekers.

Nadia thanked everyone for their support: “People I never met donated money for me to attend my first year of college and that is why I’ve been able to get where I am today. I am so grateful to everyone.”

Nadia, her mother Tatiana, and her younger sister Maria were sent a letter recently informing them their application for asylum, submitted in September 2011, was finally approved.

Tatiana said the family spent the past five years living with no income due to their asylum-seeker status.

The mother had led a campaign for her daughter to be treated like her Irish peers.

Tatiana said being approved to stay in Ireland was one of the greatest moments in her life. She had feared the family would have to survive indefinitely through donations and support from locals in New Ross and her 78-year-old mother in Russia.

“The letter said we have permission to stay in Ireland for three years so we are entitled to everything an Irish citizen is entitled to, apart from being able to vote.

“We can become Irish citizens in five years which would be amazing. We love New Ross and Ireland and I can’t imagine living in anywhere else. The people are so good here.”

She said her family endured five years of suffering from a constant threat of deportation.

“I have been fighting for my children’s lives. Often there was no bread on the table. All our money was stolen before we arrived here. We had to wait for the decision because the Government changed the law twice. We were another cog in the wheel.

“When we got the letter and saw the words we were overjoyed. We were hugging each other.”

She added: “We have been through hell. We had no work permits and no means to make money.

“Someone stole a lot of money from us but we are strong and we remained positive and the people of New Ross and Ireland were amazing to us.’”

Her daughter Nadia is one of the top performers in her class at Trinity College Dublin, where she completed 10 exams in May in her second year of a four-year course.

The Prochukhans are hopeful Nadia will be awarded a grant for her third and fourth years, as the fees come to €8,000 per year at Trinity.

“We have completed all the forms and we are waiting word from the social welfare office.

“My mother Nina has been paying our rent. She is 78 and works three jobs.”

She said the most difficult thing to witness over recent years was her daughters never felt equal to their Irish peers.

Tatiana moved to Ireland with her daughters Nadia and Maria in 2006, living here until 2009 when they had to return to Russia as her father was very ill.

“They returned in 2011 and several business people and townspeople have been helping them since as they have no income.

“They do now. As a mother all you want to see is your children happy.

“Nadia is an example to everyone. Even though she didn’t have the native language and even through she went through a lot of hardship with no money in her family, she was able to achieve her dream.

“She showed what you get when you fight for your rights. We are really proud of her.”

Younger daughter Maria, meanwhile, completed her Leaving Certificate in June and is hoping to study art at the National University of Galway, where she has been offered free tuition and assistance once she achieves more than 450 points.

Tatiana thanked the people of New Ross for their support.

“Without the kindness of the people of New Ross and the New Ross Standard we would never have won these rights.

“People were so good. One lady put €600 through our door. Nobody forced her to do this, it was her good heart. We also got so many kind words on the street and still do and that keeps you going.

Refilling your drinking water bottle is just as gross as licking your dog’s toy

      

Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure, new research has found.

A new study involved the analysis of 12 plastic water bottles, which were each used by an athlete for one week without being washed. The bottles varied in type, from screw-tops, slide-tops, squeeze-tops and straw tops.

Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure

The result of the lab tests commissioned by Treadmill Reviews, a US website, found that the top of the water-bottles were crawling in potentially harmful bacteria by the week’s end. More than 300,000 colony-forming units were found on each square centimetre of the bottles on average. The average pet toy has 2,937 CFU.

Gram-positive cocci was found on many of the bottles, which can lead to skin infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning.

The study revealed that drinking from reusable bottles without washing them exposes you to more bacteria than if you ate dinner from your dog’s bowl.

Researchers said: “Drinking from these bottles can still be worse than eating a meal from your pet’s dish.

“Based on the 12 water bottles we tested, we found that reusable drinking containers may be crawling with an alarming number of viable bacteria cells: more than 300,000 colony-forming units per square centimeter (CFU/sq cm).”

The study found that bottles which you have to slide open with your fingers are the worst offenders, followed by squeeze tops.

The researchers suggested investing in a water bottle that can be placed in the dish washer every evening, and to keep an eye out for stainless steel options.

“We know that when it comes to water bottles and bacteria, stainless steel is a better choice than plastic. Additionally, water bottles without crevices and tough-to-clean spots are less likely to host germs.”

A 400 year old Greenland shark is the oldest vertebrate animal

  

Shark, which would have reached sexual maturity at around 150 years, sets new record for longevity as biologists finally develop method to determine age

The oldest Greenland shark found by researchers was most likely around 392 years old, although the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

She was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars. Living to an estimated age of nearly 400 years, a female Greenland shark has set a new record for longevity, scientists have revealed.

The discovery places the lifespan of the Greenland shark far ahead of even the oldest elephant in captivity, Lin Wang, who died aged 86. It is also far longer than the official record for humans, held by 122-year-old Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment.

“It kicks off the bowhead whale as the oldest vertebrate animal,” said Julius Nielsen, lead author of the research from the University of Copenhagen, pointing out that bowhead whales have been known to live for 211 years.

But the Greenland shark doesn’t scoop all the gongs – the title of the world’s longest-lived animal is held by Ming, an Icelandic clam known as an ocean quahog, that made it to 507 years before scientists bumped it off.

Grey, plump and growing to lengths of around five metres, the Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest carnivores. With a reported growth rate of less than one centimetre a year, they were already thought to be long-lived creatures, but just how long they lived for was something of a mystery.

“Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success.” said Steven Campana, a shark expert from the University of Iceland. “Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1000 years.”

The new research, he says, is the first hard evidence of just how long these creatures can live.

“It definitely tells us that this creature is extraordinary and it should be considered among the absolute oldest animals in the world,” said Nielsen.

Writing in the journal Science, Nielsen and an international team of researchers describe how they set about determining the age of 28 female Greenland sharks, collected as by-catch during scientific surveys between 2010 and 2013.

While the ages of many fish can be determined by counting the growth layers of calcium carbonate “stones” found in their ears – in a manner somewhat similar to counting tree rings – sharks do not have such earstones. What’s more, the Greenland shark lacks other calcium-rich tissues suitable for this type of analysis.

Instead the team had to rely on a different approach: scrutiny of the lenses in their eyes.

The lens of the eye is made of proteins that build up over time, with the proteins at the very centre of the lens laid down while the shark is developing in its mother’s womb. Work out the date of these proteins, the scientists say, and it is possible to achieve an estimate of the shark’s age.

In order to determine when the proteins were laid down, the scientists turned to radiocarbon dating – a method that relies on determining within a material the levels of a type of carbon, known as carbon-14, that undergoes radioactive decay over time.

By applying this technique to the proteins at the centre of each lens, the scientists deduced a broad range of ages for each shark.

The scientists then made use of a side-effect of atomic bomb tests which took place in the 1950s: when the bombs were detonated, they increased the levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. The spike, or pulse, in carbon-14 entered the marine food web across the North Atlantic no later than the early 1960s.

That provides a useful time-stamp, says Nielsen. “I want to know when I see the bomb-pulse in my sharks, what time does that mean,” he said. “Does it mean they are 50 years old, or 10 years old?”

Nielsen and the team found that the eye lens proteins of the two smallest of their 28 Greenland sharks had the highest levels of carbon-14, suggesting that they were born after the early 1960s. The third smallest shark, however, had carbon-14 levels only slightly above those of the 25 larger sharks, hinting that it was actually born in the early 1960s, just as bomb-related carbon-14 began to be incorporated in marine food webs.

A Greenland shark returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland. The sharks were part of a tag-and- release program in Norway and Greenland. Photograph: Julius Nielsen/Science

“That indicates that most of our analysed sharks were actually older than the time mark, meaning that they were older than 50 years,” said Nielsen.

The scientists then combined the carbon dating results with estimations of how Greenland sharks grow, to create a model that allowed them to probe the age of the 25 sharks born before the 1960s.

Their findings revealed that the largest shark of the group, a female measuring just over five metres in length, was most likely around 392 years old, although, as Nielsen points out, the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

“The Greenland shark is now the best candidate for the longest living vertebrate animal,” he said.

What’s more, with adult female Greenland sharks known hit sexual maturity only once they reach more than four metres in length, the scientists found that females have to clock up an age of around 150 years before they can produce young.

But not everyone is convinced that Greenland sharks can live for four centuries. “I am convinced by the idea of there being long lifespans for these kinds of sharks, [but] I take the absolute numbers with a pinch of salt,” said Clive Trueman, associate professor in marine ecology at the University of Southampton.

Trueman agrees that it is possible to get a record of the early life of a vertebrate from eye lens proteins. However, the fact that the proteins in the centre of the eye lenses, and hence the carbon-14 within them, came from nutrients taken in by the shark’s mother adds a number of uncertainties to the calculations, he says.

Campana says while the approach taken by the researchers is sound, he remains unconvinced that Greenland sharks live for almost 400 years. But, he adds, “future research should be able to nail the age down with greater certainty.”

Nielsen is also looking forward to further research, saying that he hopes the Greenland shark’s new found fame will boost awareness of the animal, as well as conservation efforts and attempts to unravel other aspects of its physiology. “There are other aspects of their biology which are super-interesting to know more about and to shed light upon,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 29th July 2016

AIB performs poorly in latest European bank stress test

   

Andrea Enria, chairman of the European Banking Authority: “Whilst we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health.”

Italy’s Monte dei Paschi, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and AIB emerged as the biggest losers in the EU’s banking stress tests, which largely found that the region’s top 51 banks had enough capital to withstand another financial crisis.

While the tests abandoned their previous pass or fail marks, Italy’s embattled Monte dei Paschi was the clear failure – its key capital ratio turned negative by the end of the three-year adverse scenario of the test, indicating the bank would be insolvent.

Immediately before the results were published, the bank said it would raise €5 billion of capital and offload €9.2 billion of bad loans. Earlier yesterday, it rejected a rescue proposal from Corrado Passera, the veteran Italian executive and former minister, in partnership with Swiss bank UBS.

As well as the worst end-point capital position, Monte dei Paschi had the biggest deterioration in its key capital ratio – known as its fully loaded common equity tier one (CET1) ratio, which takes into account new regulations due to come in soon.

That ratio fell 14.51 percentage points for the stricken Italian bank – more than four times the average 340 basis-points deterioration – leaving it with a ratio of -2.44%. The ratio across the sector was 9.2%.

Headline figures?

AIB had the second biggest fall in its fully loaded CET1 ratio, losing 880 basis points to leave it at just 4.31%. That makes the Irish government’s hopes of reprivatising the bank over the coming years more distant because the headline figure is likely to spook investors, even though it penalises the banks under some rules that will not come into effect until 2022.

On a country-by-country basis, Ireland’s two tested banks – AIB and Bank of Ireland – averaged the lowest CET1 ratio on a fully loaded basis, with an average of 5.21%. On a transitional basis, the Irish banks have a fully loaded ratio of 7.54%, the second weakest in the group, after Austria’s 7.32%.

The UK government also faces questions as RBS had the third biggest fall in CET1 ratio, losing 745 basis points to leave it at 8.08%, still the 13th best in the group. Barclays also emerged in a relatively weak position with a fully loaded CET1 ratio that fell from 11.4% to 7.3% in the adverse scenario.

The overall results were less dramatic than those of the ECB’s inaugural analysis in 2014, which revalued the balance sheets of almost 130 banks and ordered the sector to raise €25 billion. Those tests were widely discredited by the market as not harsh enough. The latest tests, while less closely watched, are expected to face similar criticism.

Brexit effect?

“Whilst we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health,” Andrea Enria, chairman of the European Banking Authority said. “There remains work to do, which supervisors will undertake in the SREP [regulatory engagement] process.”

Europe’s banks have raised €180 billion since the end of 2013. Several issued statements stressing that even though the tests were tougher, their results were better than in 2014.

The latest tests have already come under fire for not capturing shocks such as the UK’s unexpected decision to leave the EU, and negative interest rates. While they do include market shocks that are more severe than those seen in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the scenario does not capture the outsize risk for certain banks.

The adverse scenario included falls in real EU gross domestic product of 1.2% in 2016, 1.3% in 2017 and 0.7% in 2018 – a progression that is 7.1% worse than the expected ‘baseline’ scenario. The stress tests also do not include the likely impact of some regulations that have not yet been finalised, known as ‘Basel IV’.

Two-thirds of the Republic of Irl. ‘would vote for an united Ireland’

   

Voters in Dublin were less likely to vote in favour of a united Ireland

Two out of three people in the Irish Republic would vote for a united Ireland, a major opinion poll has found.

Pollster Red C said its latest national survey – weeks after the Brexit result – shows a sharp rise in support for reunification since a similar opinion poll six years ago.

Asked how they would vote if a referendum was held tomorrow, 65% of the sample electorate said they would vote in favour of a united Ireland.

Some 30% said they would vote against it, while 5% said they were undecided.

The findings show an 8% jump in support for a united Ireland since Red C posed the same question in a poll carried out for the Sunday Times in 2010.

The shock Brexit result last month has sparked a renewed debate about a potential referendum on the Irish border. A majority of voters in Northern Ireland want to remain as part of the European Union.

Remain campaigners, including Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, have insisted their wishes must be respected.

But Leave backers, among them Democratic Unionist First Minister Arlene Foster, have insisted the EU referendum result is a UK-wide decision.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he hoped the Brexit result would lead to a united Ireland.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has in recent days retreated from his earlier talk of a border referendum.

The latest Red C poll also shows Mr Martin’s Fianna Fail is the most popular party in the Republic. Arch-rivals Fine Gael rely on his support for their minority government, formed after weeks of negotiations following a huge split in the vote earlier this year.

In a cross border survey last year by broadcasters RTE and BBC Northern Ireland, 66% of people in the Irish Republic said they would like to see a united Ireland in their lifetime.

But only 30% in Northern Ireland held the same view, with 43% saying they would not like to see reunification.

For the latest poll, carried out for bookmaker Paddy Power, Red C interviewed a sample of 1,000 voters in the Irish Republic between July 25 and 27.

Support for a united Ireland was equal at 65% among both men and women.

More (69%) in less well-off social groups than better-off groups (59%) said they would vote for reunification.

Voters living in Dublin (56%) were less likely to vote in favour of a united Ireland than those living outside the capital (68% to 69%).

Sinn Fein (79%) and Fianna Fail (71%) supporters were most likely to back reunification, while Fine Gael (58%) voters were least likely.

There was a clear majority in favour among all age groups, particularly among those aged 55 to 64 (70%).

Mortgage lending on the up as property prices rise to 6.6%

House prices dropped slightly in Dublin last month but were up elsewhere in Ireland

    

Nationally, residential prices are 35.4% lower than at their highest point since 2007.

Mortgage lending by Irish banks rose €105 million in June, the largest increase since early 2010, new figures from the Central Bank reveal.

However, in annual terms, lending for house purchased declined by 2% with household repaying €1.6 billion more than was advanced in new loans.

The figures comes as new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show residential property prices across the country rose 6.6% in the year to June .

While prices dipped last month in Dublin, they rose everywhere else, according to the data.

Overall, prices in the capital are now 33.5% lower than their zenith in early 2007. In the same time frame, apartments in Dublin are 41.8% lower.

The Residential Property Price Index for June showed the 6.6% increase for the year to June compared with 6.9% for May and by 10.7% in the year to June 2015.

A June decrease.

Prices decreased by 0.1% during the month and by 0.7% in Dublin, but were 4.5% higher than a year ago.

Dublin house prices decreased by 1% during the month and were 5% higher compared with a year earlier, while apartment prices were 0.5% lower when compared with the same month in 2015.

“However, it should be noted that the sub-indices for apartments are based on low volumes of observed transactions and consequently suffer from greater volatility than other series,” the CSO said in a statement.

Nationally, residential prices are 35.4% lower than at their highest point in 2007.

Housing market crisis not reflected?

Property Industry Ireland (PII), an-Ibec affiliated group that represents businesses working in the property and construction sector, said house price data did not properly reflect the crisis occurring in the housing market.

“While house prices increased by 6.6% in the last year, rents grew by 10% in the same period. The displacement of the housing crisis into the rented sector is largely driven by the continued exodus of landlords and an increased cohort of tenants, many of whom are renting longer than they expected because of the deposit rules introduced by the Central Bank last year,” said PII director Peter Stafford.

Merrion chief economist Alan McQuaid said that after average house price rises of 12.9% in 2014 and 10.6% last year we would likely see a more modest increase of between 6% and 6.5% for 2016, based on current data.

Elsewhere, Davy analyst David McNamara said Brexit brings a potential headwind in the near term for property demand but the stockbrokers still expect house price inflation to settle at 5% by year end.

Irish consumers facing higher electricity bills as PSO levy to rise

   

Irish homeowners and businesses are facing higher electricity bills after a decision to raise the levy on their bills to support renewable energy and to ensure security of energy supply.

The Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy is to go up by 20%, the Commission for Energy Regulation has decided.

The move will mean the levy on domestic bills will rise by almost €14 to €82 a year, once value added tax is applied, according to calculations by Simon Moynihan ofBonkers.ie.

For commercial electricity users, the levy is going from €214.5 this year to €254.16 – an increase of €39.66, or 18.5%. This figure excludes VAT as business can reclaim the tax.

Mr Moynihan said: “The energy regulator had initially proposed an increase of 32% in May, so there is some relief with today’s news.”

The higher levy will apply from October.

The PSO levy is a subsidy charged to all electricity customers to support national policy objectives related to renewable energy, indigenous fuels (peat) and security of energy supply

The higher levy is despite a 35% drop in wholesale gas prices, the main input for electricity generation.

Lower wholesale energy prices mean that more financial support has to be paid to ensure security of electricity supply.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the energy regulator shows that almost 80,000 customers have switched electricity supplier and 25,000 customers have switched gas supplier since last year.

It said while customer switching continues to be a key indicator of competition, an increasing number of customers are negotiating better terms and prices with their existing suppliers.

Herbs can act as a natural pain relief property

Rosemary and thyme have been praised for their pain-relief properties.

    

Herbs have been found to help tackle the pain of cancer and other diseases.

Next time you cook a meal you may want to chuck in some rosemary and thyme, as the ingredients not only add aroma and taste but they act as natural painkillers, a new study has found. Chemical components diterpenoids act as an analgesic to pain and inflammation, even those that stem from cancer and other serious illnesses. Diterpenoids – which come in two kinds, carnosol and carnosic acid – are found in fungi and select plants,

German and Italian scientists have noted. But rosemary and thyme hold some of the highest levels, and therefore may work wonders when included in cooking. Experiments on human cells and mice discovered the chemical components block enzymes that cause inflammation and pain in the body, and Dr Giuseppe Bifulco of Italy’s Salerno University is keen to promote herbs as a means of pain relief.

“Two key enzymes of inflammation, are primary targets of carnosol and carnosic acid which are major bioactive ingredients of herbs that are used as spices – namely sage and rosemary,” he said of the findings, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. “Our study provides comprehensive insights into their anti-inflammatory mechanism.”

These results follow on from a discovery in March (16) that rosemary was a common ingredient used in an Italian village, where a majority of residents lived to be over 100.

But the herbs aren’t the only natural means of pain relief, and if you want to go further down the scented route you can try turmeric and cloves too.

Or, a good soak in a hot bath and acupuncture are good options for those whose palettes aren’t acquainted to such fragrant flavours.

Cockroach milk a potential new Superfood

An new study now suggests? 

   

 

Cockroaches aren’t exactly the most favored of insects, and all kinds of methods are used to get rid of the bugs often dwelling in the kitchens and bathrooms of the world. However, a recent study has shown that cockroach milk can serve as a superfood for humans.

IUCrJ, a journal from the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr), recently published a paper studying the milk from the viviparous cockroach named Diploptera punctata. Statistics in the paper indicate that cockroach milk is estimated to contain over three times the energy of cow milk of the same mass.

Cockroach milk is different from what we call milk in daily life. It is a crystal of proteins, fats and sugars, which are important for the growth of baby cockroaches. “The protein crystals are milk for the cockroach infant. It is important for its growth and development,” said Leonard Chavas, one of the project’s researchers.

Sanchari Banerjee, one of the main authors of the paper, told Times of India that “the crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”

Cockroach milk may serve as a superfood for human but it is not expected to be found in supermarkets any time soon.

In the research, the milk was extracted from the gut of the Diploptera punctata, which is not an efficient way for massive production. There are still some obstacles before scientists. “For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production,” Chavas explained to CNN.

The research can’t ensure you the opportunity to enjoy cockroach milk, but it does offer the hope of turning what is often seen as an unsightful creature into something more.

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Thursday 21st July 2016

Ireland aims to end housing shortage by doubling buildings purchase/output by 2019

    

Ireland was left with a surplus of houses after a 2008 property crash that cut values in half but while some out-of-town housing estates lie empty.

Ireland will aim to at least double its housing output by 2019, the government said on Tuesday, announcing a raft of measures to tackle a chronic shortage that is raising living costs and homelessness.

Ireland was left with a surplus of houses after a 2008 property crash that cut values in half but while some out-of-town housing estates lie empty, property has become scarce in cities like Dublin where the population is growing rapidly.

The government will speed up the planning process, assist first-time buyers and boost social housing to address the failure for the last six years to build half the 25,000 homes analysts say are needed nationwide each year to meet demand.

“We want to get to 25,000 by 2019, and I agree with many that we need to go well beyond 25,000 in terms of making up for the deficit that has been there now for a decade. In many ways, we need to get to between 30,000 to 35,000,” Irish housing minister Simon Coveney told a news conference.

While property prices are recovering and are now a third below peak, the cost of a building a new house exceeds the sale price in many instances and Coveney said government would help cut the cost by funding infrastructure projects on key sites and by freeing up state-owned land for residential development.

A Help to Buy scheme similar to the British government’s mortgage guarantee programme will be introduced in October’s budget to help boost demand among first-time buyers, alongside supply side measure to try to stop the scheme just resulting in higher house prices.

Coveney said the government would discuss the scheme with Ireland’s Central Bank which introduced strict new deposit rules to curb excessive mortgage lending last year. The scheme will be back-dated to ensure activity does not stall in the meantime.

The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), the ‘bad bank’ set up in 2009 to mop up toxic assets in the financial system, will also be put under pressure to see if it can deliver more than the 20,000 new homes it has promised to build by 2020, Coveney said.

Rents have soared as a result of the shortages and are above peaks hit during the property boom in Dublin, damaging Ireland’s competitiveness and driving an increasing number of families still suffering from the financial crisis into homelessness.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood echoes Enda Kenny’s call to look again at vote for united Ireland

   

The leader of the SDLP has followed the Taoiseach in suggesting a united Ireland must now be looked at in the wake of Brexit, 

Colum Eastwood has said that the reunification of Ireland is “the biggest and best idea around” adding that it would be a “natural” way forward in the context of Britain leaving the EU.

His comments come after Enda Kenny this week opened up the possibility of a border poll in the context of Brexit negotiations.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal earlier this week Mr Kenny said: “If there is a clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic that that should be catered for in the discussions that take place.”

Mr Eastwood, who was speaking in Glenties this morning said: “Much of the headline talk at MacGill this week has focused on the prospect of a further constitutional change through the calling of a border poll.

“This is a natural and welcome development.”

He told those attending the summer school that the events of the past few months have proven that “political life can no longer afford to presume the permanence of anything”.

“The SDLP, as a party, continues to believe that the reunification of Ireland is the biggest and the best idea around.

“However if the Brexit result and the demise of David Cameron has also taught us, it is that we should make sure to fight referenda that we are confident of winning”.

He added: “Scottish independence campaigners produced a 670-page document outlining the path to independent nationhood and how it would operate.

“It was credible and detailed. Irish nationalism now needs to start on its page one.”

Speaking about growth figures released last week which were described as “leprechaun economics” after they showed a 26.5% jump in projections Mr Eastwood said these figures made us realise that statistics do not always reflect reality.

“I think the CSO did us all an inadvertent favour last week in releasing their revised growth rate of 26%.

“The absurdity of those figures made us all sit up for a moment and realise that statistical facts do not necessarily correspond with reality. Sometimes ridicule manifests the most lasting realisations.

“If we are to reignite the European project we must escape from the culture of a distant centralism which has ceaselessly enveloped modern political thinking.

“A renewal of the European vision is therefore badly needed,” Mr Eastwood said.

Irish navy rescues another 60 migrants from Mediterranean total now over 10,000 since 2015

    

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny inspects a Guard of Honour drawn from the LÉ James Joyce’s company before the naming and commissioning ceremony for the Irish naval vessel in Dún Laoghaire.

An Irish navy vessel rescued more than 60 more migrants from rubber crafts near Tripoli on Wednesday.

This brings the total number of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the Irish Naval Service since May 2015 to over 10,000.

The LÉ James Joyce was deployed to assist in the rescue following a request from the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe praised the Irish Naval Service for its assistance with the current migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

“I wish to congratulate the Naval Service for the excellent role they have played in saving the lives of so many migrants since Naval Service vessels were first deployed in May 2015. The Government and I are very proud of [their] efforts,” Minister Kehoe said.

He added: “The deployment of Irish Naval vessels to the Mediterranean to engage in humanitarian search and rescue tasks is an important element in Ireland’s response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean.

“The success of these operations demonstrates clearly the value of Ireland’s participation in this important work.

“Unfortunately thousands of people continue to make the very dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.”

He concluded: “The requirement for humanitarian search and rescue operations in this part of the world remains and Ireland will continue to play its part.”

The LÉ James Joyce set out just after 9am on Wednesday morning and the 63 rescued people were then transferred from two rubber crafts to the ship.

The 63 people were then given food and water, as well as receiving any required medical treatment.

They were then transferred to the MV Phoenix, which transported the migrants to a designated port of safety.

The Department of Defence has said 8,592 people were previously rescued by the Irish Naval Service in the Mediterranean from May to November 2015.

It said that since May this year, another Irish ship, the LÉ Róisín had rescued a further 1,264 people.

The LÉ James Joyce replaced the LÉ Róisín earlier this month, with a further 162 people being rescued on Tuesday this week.

Ireland’s drug pricing deal not a panacea for increasing costs

The Government can expect savings on healthcare and ‘Big Pharma’ now has clarity

    

The introduction of annual pricing reviews – rather than the price being locked in at the start of a four-year deal – after which prices can only fall, makes sense.

It went down to the wire but eventually the Government and the big drug companies have crafted a deal with which both sides can live.

For the Government and the Health Service Executive, the Framework Agreement on the Supply and Pricing of Medicines delivers sufficient savings for them to accept it as they struggle to keep the lid on healthcare costs. For “Big Pharma”, there is clarity on the process for approval of new drugs and on the price they can expect for supplying the Irish market.

Certain features in the new accord mark a significant improvement of previous such deals. The introduction of annual pricing reviews – rather than the price being locked in at the start of a four-year deal – makes sense. The provision that prices can only fall, not rise, in those reviews is also welcome from the perspective of those managing the healthcare budget.

The formalisation of the “horizon scan” where companies will indicate drugs that are likely to be available in the coming year or two should, in theory, facilitate the provision of budgetary “headroom” to use Minister for Education Simon Harris’s term to allow their introduction.

Complaints

A common complaint of drug pricing in Ireland is that the basket of European countries used to set the Irish price was artificially weighted towards countries with higher drug costs. On that basis, the addition of five new countries to that basket – Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Sweden and Portugal – is a positive step.

However, drugs are priced only against countries in the basket where that identical product is sold. That allows the pharma companies manage prices by initially supplying only better off countries where they can achieve a better price.

Also, the “price” for drugs in the basket is the list price. In many markets, health purchasers can strike deals for discounts or rebates on those prices, reducing the effective cost but without lowering the basket price that affects the cost of such drugs elsewhere, including Ireland.

There are also uncertainties. Chief among those is managing the burgeoning bill for newer-generation biopharmaceutical drugs: biologics. This is the fastest-growing sector of the drug market but, in many cases, these are therapies that target less pervasive, niche conditions. Part of the trend towards “personalised medicine”, the smaller patient pool for such drugs means they are of necessity more expensive.

Lookalikes

Also, unlike traditional drugs, where precise copies of formulation can be made and marketed as generics once patent protection has expired, you cannot make a precise copy of a biologic. Instead, biosimilars are lookalikes that act in the same way as the original branded biologic.

But as the first of the biologics are only recently coming to an end of their patented life, it is too early to assess accurately how much cheaper it will be to produce biosimilars. Initial expectations of discounts of up to 40 per cent have not materialised in the US and elsewhere. The Irish deal effectively forces biosimilar entrants to undercut the original branded product by more than 30 per cent. They say that makes it uneconomic.

If biosimilars are deterred, a portion of the savings projected in the four-year deal will not materialise and that will mean less money available to sanction new drugs offering wonder cures or health improvements.

It would also be foolish to expect that savings under the deal will ensure all efficacious, value-for-money drugs that come to market could be afforded by the Irish health service. Inevitably, some patients will be disappointed. That will mean a continuation of the scenario where political pressure is applied to politicians and ministers to sanction treatments for which no budget is available.

As with all these things, the bottom line is money.  

Updated map of the human brain hailed as a scientific tour de force

   

Researchers reveal that human brain has at least 180 different regions, confirming the existence of 83 known regions and adding 97 new ones

The image showing the 180 different regions important for language, perception, consciousness, thought, attention and sensation.

When the German neurologist Korbinian Brodmann first sliced and mapped the human brain more than a century ago he identified 50 distinct regions in the crinkly surface called the cerebral cortex that governs much of what makes us human.

Now researchers have updated the 100-year-old map in a scientific tour de force which reveals that the human brain has at least 180 different regions that are important for language, perception, consciousness, thought, attention and sensation.

The landmark achievement hands neuroscientists their most comprehensive map of the cortex so far, one that is expected to supersede Brodmann’s as the standard researchers use to talk about the various areas of the brain.

Scientists at Washington University in St Louis created the map by combining highly-detailed MRI scans from 210 healthy young adults who had agreed to take part in the Human Connectome Project, a massive effort that aims to understand how neurons in the brain are connected.

The image shows the pattern of brain activation (red, yellow) and deactivation (blue, green) in the brain’s left hemisphere when listening to stories while in an MRI scanner.

Most previous maps of the human brain have been created by looking at only one aspect of the tissues, such as how the cells look under a microscope, or how active areas become when a person performs a certain task. But maps made in different ways do not always look the same, which casts doubt on where one part of the brain stops and another starts.

Writing in the journal Nature, Matthew Glasser and others describe how they combined scans of brain structure, function and connectivity to produce the new map, which confirmed the existence of 83 known brain regions and added 97 new ones. Some scans were taken while patients simply rested in the machine, while others were recorded as they performed maths tasks, listened to stories, or categorised objects, for example by stating whether an image was of a tool or an animal.

A new map of the human brain could be the most accurate yet, as it combines all sorts of different kinds of data. This might finally solve a century of disagreements over the shapes and positions of different brain areas.

The more detailed map, which will be made freely available for all, should help scientists working in the field of neuroimaging be more certain about the areas of the brain they see activity in, or notice problems with, when scanning patients and healthy volunteers.

The map will have an immediate impact on fundamental brain research, but will also quickly be taken up by neurosurgeons who can use the scientists’ computer algorithm to identify all of the different brain regions in patients they are about to operate on. “That will help in surgical planning to avoid areas that are involved in movement, and in understanding and producing language,” Glasser said.

A map of myelin content (red, yellow are high myelin; indigo and blue are low myelin) in the left hemisphere of the brain.

In the longer term, and potentially many years away, detailed brain maps are expected to help neuroscientists to understand how things go wrong in people with a range of disorders, such as dementia and schizophrenia.

Simon Eickhoff, a neuroscientist at the Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine at Jülich in Germany said the work was a “seminal step” towards reliable and comprehensive maps of the human brain and to understanding brain organisation.

Timothy Behrens, a professor of computational neuroscience at Oxford University added: “The extraordinary amount of effort in doing this and doing this so beautifully makes it an outstanding piece of work. It will lead to a profound change in how people think about the brain, and become the default way of describing human brain activity for years to come.”

Quack-Quack we ducklings are smarter than you think we are?

   

A study finds that baby birds are capable of understanding abstract concepts such as “same” and “different”

You better watch who you’re calling “bird brain to.”? A new study in the journal Science suggests that some birds are smarter than we had realised.

The study, which was conducted by zoologists Antone Martinho III and Alex Kacelnik at Oxford University, found that new born ducklings are capable of comprehending complex concepts such as “same” and “different” – abstractions that we typically think are beyond the capacity of most animals.

“The claim that abstract relational thinking is a unique ability of human beings can no longer be supported,” University of Iowa experimental psychologist Edward Wasserman wrote in an accompanying analysis. “Although animals may not be able to speak, studying their behaviour may be a suitable substitute for assaying their thoughts, and this in turn may allow us to jettison the stale canard that thought without language is impossible.”

To interpret ducklings’ thoughts, Martinho and Kacelnik tossed them into an experiment the day they were born. The experiment relied on the animals’ ability to imprint – to identify such significant figures as their mothers, very soon after birth. Once a duckling imprints, it sticks with that “mother” steadfastly, trailing her as the ones in “Make Way for Ducklings” do.

This is true even when that object is not actually a duck. In Martinho and Kalcelnik’s study, the ducklings were introduced 24 hours after hatching to a pair of small, brightly coloured shapes that circled above their pens like objects on a mobile. Some pairs had identical shapes – two spheres, for example – while others had mismatched ones. This was the “priming period” for what the researchers termed a “same-different” test.

Next, the baby birds were exposed to two new pairs of objects, one with the same shapes, the other with different ones. The majority of ducklings followed the pair of shapes that had the same relationship as the pair with which they were primed. The same principle held when the researchers tweaked the experiment, alternating the color of the two objects in the pairing rather than the shapes. Ducklings that had been primed with objects of the same colour opted to follow a different one-color pair later in the experiment; those that had been primed to recognize a pair with two colors did the same.

The results suggest that ducklings are able to recognize not only shape and colour but also sameness and difference – abstract concepts that require a complex understanding of the way things relate to one another. That the objects were in motion makes interpreting these relationships even more difficult.

“Even in a seemingly rigid and very rapid form of learning such as filial imprinting,” the researchers wrote, “the brain operates with abstract conceptual reasoning, a faculty often assumed to be reserved to highly intelligent organisms.”

According to Martinho and Kacelnik, previous studies have found that other animals, such as primates and crows, can understand these concepts. But they have to be taught.

“To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a non-human organism learning to discriminate between abstract relational concepts without any reinforcement training,” Kacelnik said in a statement.

It’s an impressive ability, Martinho added, but it also makes biological sense that ducklings would have it.

“Ducks walk, swim and fly and are constantly changing their exact shape and appearance as they extend their wings or become partially submerged. If the ducklings just had a visual ‘snapshot’ of their mother, they would lose her,” he said. “They need to be able to flexibly and reliably identify her, and a library of concepts and characteristics describing her is a much more efficient way to do so, compared with a visual memory of every possible configuration of the mother and her environment.”

Wasserman has said abstract thinking is far more widespread in the animal kingdom than we give other creatures credit for. He has done research with rats showing they’re capable of learning to understand sameness and difference and with crows suggesting they can be taught to match stimuli by color, shape and number of objects. Other examples are mounting: In one study, honeybees were taught to distinguish between paintings by Monet and Picasso.

“Our research and others suggest abstract concepts, as tools for thought, are not a luxury,” Martinho told PBS. “A lot of vertebrates are going to need them if they’re going to have a flexible, robust understanding of the world around them.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 4th November 2015

Labour Minister and TD absent for vote on Traveller ethnicity

Aodháin Ó Ríordáin and Ciara Conway absent as the Government rejects a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to grant ethnic minority status to Travellers

      

Labour Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Ciara Conway, who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin proposal, were absent for the vote.

The Government last night rejected a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to grant ethnic minority status to Travellers by 58 to 39 votes.

Labour Minister of State Aodháin Ó Ríordáin and party colleague Ciara Conway who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin proposal were absent for the vote.

Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said afterwards that theirs was an “agreed absence” and those who were required to be present for the vote attended.

Representatives of the Travelling community were in the public gallery for the debate and one shouted “shame on you” after the vote denying them ethnic minority status.

In an impassioned speech on the first night of the two-night debate, Mr Ó Ríordáin said that everyone in the Dáil should stand by truth and “the truth is that the Travelling community in this Republic are a distinct ethnic group” and they deserved recognition.

Human rights

Ms Conway, said all that was required was for the Taoiseach to make a statement to the Dáil, write a letter to the relevant international human rights agencies that it was granting ethnicity and speak to Traveller representatives about relevant legislation.

Ms Conway said “essentially we’re waiting on someone to make a speech or write a letter while people’s lives are hanging in the balance”.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who introduced the motion, said Mr Ó Ríordáin and Ms Conway had used powerful words.

He had expected them to vote with the Government, even though they had expressed their frustration and anger with their Government colleagues.

He would not attack them for that but wanted to say to those Government colleagues that “it is time to be on the right side of history”.

Bigotry:–

Mr Mac Lochlainn said he hoped next year Traveller representatives would also be in the Dáil when the taoiseach of the next government would make the belated announcement granting ethnicity.

His party colleague Dessie Ellis also called for the next taoiseach to appoint a Traveller to the Seanad.

He said it would be very important and encouraging to see that change, adding that it was time to stand up at institutional level to bigotry against Travellers, Mr Ellis said. “They are every bit as Irish as you or me.”

Fine Gael TD Tom Barry said, however, they should remove emotive language such as “racism” from the debate. He said that with rights came responsibility.

He said Travellers wanted different things and had different visions and that was fine.

Would you like to see a United Ireland?

People north and south had their say tonight

    

A Prime Special tonight looked at the issue of Irish Unity.

TWO-THIRDS OF people from the Republic of Ireland would like to see a United Ireland in their lifetime, but it’s a different story north of the border.

The results are part of a joint RTÉ-BBC TV production screened this evening that show very similar viewpoints between people in Northern Ireland and the Republic on many issues, except Irish unity.

Compared to 66% in the Republic, 30% of people in Northern Ireland said they wanted a United Ireland in their lifetime. Among those surveyed in Northern Ireland from a Catholic background, 57% answered Yes and 29% answered Don’t know.

In the Republic, the overall support for a reunited Ireland dropped to 31% “if it meant paying more tax”

People both north and south of the border were less likely to favour reunification in the short to medium term, but it was still the most favoured single option among people in the Republic.

The other three together though, represented a larger proportion favouring Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom in the short to medium term.

Social issues

The Behaviour and Attitudes survey was conducted by face-to-face interviews with over 2,000 people also looked a number of social issues.

On abortion, results on both sides of the border were strikingly similar.  It found that 22% of respondents in the Republic and 23% in Northern Ireland said abortion should be available in all circumstances.

On the question of whether abortion should be available in some circumstances, 64% in the Republic supported this with a figure of 56% in Northern Ireland.

This week same-sex marriage was again blocked in Northern Ireland, making it the only part of Ireland and Britain where it is outlawed, but tonight’s survey suggests that people in Northern Ireland support the concept.

The DUP MLA Arlene Foster was grilled on this issue by BBC presenter Stephen Nolan, who asked her several times whether she would attend the (hypothetical) same-sex marriage of one of her children.

Despite his efforts, Foster refused to answer in the affirmative or negative.

Tonight’s joint production by RTÉ’s Prime Time and the BBC Nolan Show was conducted as part of RTÉ’s 1916 commemorations.

Those surveyed were asked about 1916 and found that almost three quarters of those surveyed in the Republic believe that the 1916 Leaders played a very or fairly positive role in our history compared to only 25% in Northern Ireland.

AA calls for action on insurance hikes

      

The cost of car insurance is rising dramatically and urgent action will be required to stem future steep increases, the AA, one of the country’s largest insurance brokers, has said.

Unveiling the findings of its analysis on government, legal and industry failings that are driving car insurance costs, prices have risen almost 35% since the start of 2014 and are up 27% in the last 12 months alone, the AA says that the Government can no longer ignore the problem.

Its advice would save the industry €214m each year, equivalent to €107 off the average car insurance premium.

Reasons the insurance industry give for rocketing prices are mostly true or partly true, it says.

A marked spike in injury claims since late 2015, which are not matched by other figures for the numbers of road injuries, is true.

It is partly true that court compensation awards are rocketing, but not by as much as the industry claims, while the claim that more cars on the road is leading to more accidents holds little water, it says, because the increase in traffic volumes is not that great.

It says industry claims that Irish awards are too generous are true, especially for whiplash, and legal costs are also very high.

“The end result is that the industry is loss-making,” said Conor Faughnan, AA director of consumer affairs. “We have seen a number of (firms) pulling back, and we do not see others coming into the market, which will be very bad for Irish consumers.”

The AA says that the level of uninsured driving here is 8% of all drivers, double the number in the UK, and drink driving remains a big problem. Among its major recommendations, the AA wants:

  • To abolish the 6.5m windscreen discs printed for 2.4m cars, saving €10m a year.
  • The industry to complete its so-called Integrated Information Data Service, to provide deeper understanding of fraudulent claims and fake documentation.
  • To standardise the so-called Book of Quantum; reduce compensation claims to UK levels, where whiplash compensation at €5,000 compares with a €14,000 payout here.
  • Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to strike a “discount rate”. “No justice minister has done so; she has the power to do so,” says the AA.
  • To give resources to the Central Bank to regulate insurers. The combined bill for the Quinn Insurance and Setanta Insurance debacles came to “an “unacceptable” €200m. And the Government ought to pursue the Maltese government for the €94m losses linked to Setanta Insurance.

Amazing Facebook app answers verbal queries about images

    

Facebook has revealed its latest AI project, with a new app that can answer verbal questions about what appears in pictures.

Speaking at an event in the US, Yann LeCun, director of Facebook’s artificial intelligence research group, showed off the new tool.

Showing a number of photos, the app answered several questions about what was going on, what animals were involved, what they were doing, what colour were they etc.

One example was a dog with a toy in its mouth, with the app correctly answering a question about what game the dog was playing: frisbee.

By using deep learning, which combines software programming with knowledge of how our brains fire up, LeCun – and many others – believe things are going to get a whole lot more accurate quite soon.

Interestingly, it’s almost a year since two major papers were written on technology like this, with Google involved in one of them.

At the time, similar problems were put forward for technology to address – in a basic sense, captioning images.

Google claimed that it had developed the requisite machine-learning to automatically and accurately caption images.

That wasn’t the case, the results were not flawless.

Though they did point to where we would soon find ourselves, with machines describing settings, something which I, at the time, noted could be a major step forward in the art of surveillance.

I still think that, but it’s interesting to note the use of verbal cues with Facebook’s latest tool.

By answering spoken questions, this could genuinely help those who are visually impaired. It seems so simple, but it could prove extraordinarily beneficial to people’s lives.

“What you’re seeing is not fake; it’s a real system, and it’s able to answer basic questions about images,” said LeCun, at EmTech.

“A system that actually describes an image could be a very useful thing for the visually impaired.”

This app is experimental, as is most of the work Facebook’s artificial intelligence lab gets involved in, but it could, one day, complement another task undertaken earlier this year by the social media giant.

During the summer, the lab developed an algorithm that can recognise faces of people in photos even when their faces are hidden from view.

Hilarious pictures of polar bear beating the chill as she tries on a pair of trousers

  

This polar bear has found a novel way to beat the chill – a pair of trousers so let me try them on & the polar bear and her cub have fun with the trousers.

The female polar bear discovered the frozen pants and could resist trying to cover up her ‘bear bum’

Clothes problems: The polar bear is determined she’ll squeeze into the trousers

The female polar bear discovered the frozen pants and could resist trying to cover up her ‘bear bum’.

The hilarious moment was captured near a small Eskimo settlement in the Arctic circle by African professional wildlife photographer Daryl Balfour.

The frolicking polar bear had an inquisitive cub in her company, who was fascinated by his mother’s antics, constantly attempting to steal the strange object from her.

Although it seems like an unusual thing to be lying around in the Arctic, Daryl, 63, assumed it was left there by the natives who use the island for drying fish caught during the summer months.

Daryl said: “This polar bear mum and her cub were frolicking about like it was a balmy day on the Costa do Sol.

They’re mine: It seems the trousers are popular with the polar bear community

“I found the whole episode truly amusing and entertaining.

“While photographing I was imagining the universal question ladies seem to ask: “Does this make me look fat?”

“Polar bears are very inquisitive by nature, playing with foreign items they might find, including driftwood and other items that could wash up in the Beaufort Sea.”