Tag Archives: Vincent Browne

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 16th August 2016

Simon Coveney is the most impressive Government Minister so far

A rundown of how Ministers performed over Government’s first 100 days in office


M. D. Higgins and Enday Kenny with Simon Coveney.

  Minster for Health Simon Harris:  The Department of Health has put an end to many a political ambition.

How many new ministers have started full of ideas, ambition and reform, and have been stretchered off, desperately staunching the damage?

Who has emerged from there stronger than when they went in? Michael Noonan? Brian Cowen? Micheál Martin? Mary Harney? James Reilly? Even Leo Varadkar?

Step forward Simon Harris. At 29 he is the youngest Minister for Health in the history of the State.

Yet there is no evidence of youthful callowness here. Harris has been a star performer for Fine Gael since 2014. He is hard working, street smart, always well-briefed, practical and has a bucket-load of ideas. And he is brimful with confidence too.

It is hard to keep up with his energetic start. He scored an extra €500 million for a winter initiative, and this week published a “five-point” plan, with a €50 million lure, to reduce record waiting lists. He has reactivated the National Treatment Purchase Fund, and has been active on the legislation front.

He waffled a bit this week when Cathal Mac Coille pressed him on public hospital resources, resorting to political vagueness and inexactitude.

A good start. But too many of his predecessors have stumbled after a promising start. The real test will inevitably come next year when we will see if he has made meaningful inroads.

Marks: 7.5


  The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan

If “trucking away” does not offend the ears of the mandarins in Iveagh House, that’s what Flanagan has been doing. And we don’t mean it in a pejorative sense.

His year has been dominated by Brexit, both before and after the June referendum.

Once it became clear the referendum could be lost, he threw himself into the campaign, speaking to as many Irish groups in Britain as he could.

Since the defeat he has been equally busy. Last week he completed his last of 27 one-on-one session with foreign ministers, arguing Ireland’s unique position.

Its concerns: the Border, trade between Britain and ourselves and the Common Travel Area.

There was some criticism of the lack of a contingency plan. But, in fairness, some scenarios had been set out by the ESRI and others, and it is hard to set out a full plan or strategy ahead of negotiations starting.

Marks: 6


 The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor

Her appointment was the biggest surprise of Kenny’s Fine Gael picks. Not only did she leap-frog from the backbenches, she was handed the plum job of Jobs and Enterprise. Some of her colleagues scratched their heads as to why she had gained preferment over others. She has been careful since being appointed, and has fulfilled all the duties if not really laying out her views on on the way forward for enterprise and jobs policies. As such she has inherited Richard Bruton’s annual “Action Plan for Jobs”. She has done little yet to show divergence from her predecessor. The judgment on that will have to be made in time.

Marks: 4


  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Frances Fitzgerald

Frances Fitzgerald should be mentioned more as a possible successor to Kenny. She is the Tánaiste, and in a powerful position in Government, close to Kenny and in charge of a key ministry.

As Minister for Justice she is everything that Alan Shatter was not. After his very dramatic tenure, she provided a safe pair of hands.

The down side is that she does not have his reforming zeal and it is unlikely we will see far-reaching initiatives during her time in Justice.

Fitzgerald made her name as an equality campaigner, but most of her record in Justice has been as a traditional Fine Gael law-and-order minister.

In the first week she had to weather a controversy as to whether Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s instructions during the O’Higgins’ commission were to challenge the integrity of whistleblower Maurice McCabe. Her response was not wholly convincing.

Her tenure has been party governed by “events”, notably the appalling violence of the feud between the Kinahan and Hutch gangs.

Tougher bail legislation, an electronic tagging Bill and a new armed support unit for Dublin have all featured.

She has shown signs she will be more amenable to a more open approach to asylum seekers in the State, including recently supporting their right to cook in their accommodation. Solid, safe if not spectacular.

Marks: 5


The Minister for Children Katherine Zappone

An Independent TD, she said part of the reason she entered Government was to ensure women’s rights and inequalities were tackled.

She also specifically said her presence would ensure the requisite ambition to pursue a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Moving into Government with a party you opposed for four years is a tough proposition and involves compromise and also invites claims of betrayal.

Zappone was nominated to the Seanad by Labour yet opposed many of the government’s measures. Even the act of joining Government would have alienated some supporters.

She did not help her cause by tweeting in the morning she was abstaining in the vote for Kenny as Taoiseach, and then voting for him in the afternoon.

Mick Wallace’s Private Member’s motion on the Eighth Amendment presented her with a quandary. How she fared depends on what side of the fence you were.

Shane Ross and John Halligan defied collective Cabinet responsibility to support the motion. She would not go there.

In one sense it was brave because she knew she would get flak for it.

Her comment that a referendum would not succeed at this moment infuriated some campaigners.

An academic, she will be a good technocratic Minister. She has established a forum on childcare, and launched a pilot programme in Dublin’s inner city aimed at giving children a voice.

Marks: 4


  The Minister for Communications, the Environment and Climate Change Denis Naughten

He has been the most effective Independent Minister. Despite that status, he is really a Fine Gael Minister, comfortable in this environment, though not wearing the official badge.

He has not put a foot wrong since realising there might be a way back for him to take a ministry he rightly felt should have been his in 2011. He and Kenny have returned to civil terms, and Naughten has focused on what he is best at: policy.

He has an impressive list of ticks in the first three months, including a mobile reception and broadband taskforce, steering an Energy Bill through theOireachtas, and has big plans for a domestic energy efficiency scheme with the same funding idea as the Bike-to-Work scheme.

Makes the right noises on climate change but has yet to be tested on it. Wind farms (opposed fiercely in the midlands) might pose a problem near his own backyard.

Marks: 7.


The Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar

Varadkar is the most intriguing, compelling, enigmatic, frustrating and infuriating Minister of them all. There is no doubt that if the public were to decide who the next taoiseach might be, he would win hands down.

But there have been a few moments that have given some colleagues pause for thought. His time in Health in particular will be seen, at best, as a plateau for him.

Varadkar brings a dispassionate bearing and his analysis is always good. He thinks broadly, imaginatively at times.

His public thoughts often stray into the areas of his colleagues – not always appreciated by them.

Implementation has been a bit of a problem for him. He did not endear himself to non-Fine Gaelers during Government negotiations – seen as a bit distant and detached.

There is no doubt Varadkar is talented and he has certainly hit the ground running at Social Protection. He has already got paternity benefit through, set up a survey on PRSI for the self-employed, and started tackling the scary pensions shortfall coming down the tracks.

The first Fine Gael Minister for decades in a traditional Labour portfolio, his big thoughts on welfare, social protection and job-activation will be interesting when fully propounded. But will he translate them in to action?

Marks: 5


  The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney

Seen as Varadkar’s main rival in the succession stakes, Coveney has been by far the busiest Minister since taking on Housing and Local Government.

He has had to deal almost simultaneously with three of the knottiest political problems that loomed during the election – water charges, a waste dispute, and housing and homelessness.

Early in the Government he put through legislation to suspend water charges for nine months.

His choice of Joe O’Toole as chair of the expert group backfired a little, though.

He also had to sort out the mess over changes to domestic waste charges, managing to put it all off for a year.

His third big ask was the Action Plan on Housing, to be published within 100 days of Government.

The €5 billion plan is ambitious but so was Alan Kelly’s plan in late 2014.

The big problem for Coveney is that housing takes forever to deliver, with planning and ossified processes in councils.

Coveney is now pressurising local authorities to deliver and fast-track social housing. It will be next year before we know if he is going anywhere with his plans.

For the moment he has been the most impressive.

Marks: 8. 


  The Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath

The TD for Dublin Bay North, along with Seán Canney, has been the most impressive of the Independent Alliance members in Cabinet.

McGrath has a happy-go-lucky kind of personality and there were some who were sceptical about him cutting the mustard when responsibility came knocking.

What has helped his cause tremendously is his portfolio. It is in an area he cares passionately about. He has an adult daughter with Down syndrome and has been campaigning in this area and on behalf of those with cystic fibrosis for many years.

His approach has been simple. He is not going to expound any big philosophy or set out new thinking.

He has a list of things he wants to do, and he says he is intent on getting them done.

McGrath has set about it in a simple way, with direct approaches to the two Ministers who matter, Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe. His demands are seldom extravagant.

He has secured an extra €28 million to give emergency support to adults with intellectual disabilities who are middle-aged and whose parents are very elderly or who have died.

He also announced a further €3 million to help school-leavers with disabilities to bridge the gap to find employment.

Next on the list is ratification of the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities, a Bill to help disabled people meet their high transport costs, and a cystic fibrosis unit for north Dublin.

Marks: 7. 


Sterling drops to a three-year low against the Euro

Downward pressure weighs on pound ahead of key data being released


Sterling symbols on the Bank of England floor: the currency fell below $1.29 on Monday, the lowest level since July 11th and down 0.2% on the day.

Sterling has hit a three-year low against the euro, with the UK currency trading above 87p against the euro on Monday. A string of key UK economic data – including July inflation figures due on Tuesday – are expected to determine the short-term direction of the currency.

The sterling weakness will put further pressure on Irish exporters to the UK. Ibec warned earlier this month that if the euro approached 90p sterling, some 7,500 jobs and €700 million in exports from the agri-food sector would be at risk. The organisation has called for Government intervention to support affected companies.

Sterling lost some 0.7 per cent against the euro on Monday, trading at about 87p against the euro in New York on Monday night. Market data showed that significant speculative positions had been taken against the UK currency, though many analysts also expect the euro to remain weak in the months ahead.

Sterling dropped before reports this week on July UK inflation, retail sales and jobless claims, which are forecast to show the British economy is struggling in the wake of the June 23rd referendum. The pound dropped to a 31-year low against the US dollar after the Brexit vote, and resumed its decline following the Bank of England’s decision this month to cut interest rates and boost monetary stimulus.

The currency fell below $1.29 on Monday, the lowest since July 11th and down 0.2% on the day. It has dropped more than 13% against the US currency since the Brexit vote.

“[There is] no point over-thinking. Sterling is prone to short-covering but is also trending lower over time,” Société Générale strategist Kit Juckes said.

Further sterling weakness would put pressure on forecasters to reduce their Irish growth forecasts for 2017. Ibec calculates that every 1% drop in the value of sterling against the euro translates to a 0.7% decline in exports to the UK. Slower UK economic growth will also affect Irish exporters by slowing demand

Manufacturing contractions

While surveys have already signalled contractions in manufacturing, construction and services since the EU referendum, this week’s data will provide more concrete evidence of the state of the economy.

The Bank of England cut interest rates to a record low and restarted its quantitative-easing programme on August 4th in an attempt to shield Britain from the effects of its decision to quit the world’s biggest single market.The reports will provide “the first real numbers” on the nation’s economy since the vote, said Richard Falkenhall, a strategist at SEB in Stockholm.

Market forecasters expect Tuesday’s July inflation data to show a 0.5% annual rise. The inflation figures will have an influence on Bank of England policy. The central bank acted to boost the economy following the Brexit vote, but if inflation rises too quickly, then it may be limited in what further measures it takes.

For the moment, investors expect central bank stimulus to continue in the UK, US and the euro zone, which helped to drive equity markets to new highs yesterday.

Better-than-estimated corporate earnings have also helped lift stocks in the past month, boosting valuations.While the S&P500’s price relative to future earnings has climbed to the highest since 2002, volatility with American shares remained near all-time lows. “Stocks have retained a hot pitch and there’s a lot of demand for equities,” said Andrew Brenner, the head of international fixed income for National Alliance Capital Markets.

The good, the bad and the ugly of Vincent Browne

“And maybe now retired host of “Tonight with Vincent Browne”


Rumours that Vincent Browne had retired may have been premature, but maybe it’s time he did?

Vincent Browne will be back on his eponymous late-night TV3 show in the autumn

There will no doubt be relief among TV3 viewers at the news that the eponymous host will be returning to his chair on Tonight With Vincent Browne in the autumn, because, let’s face it, Tonight Without Vincent Browne can be a rather dull affair.

For better and worse, it’s Browne’s personality that pulls the late-night political chatshow together.

Better means it’s watchable. There’s no one more formidable than Browne when he has a mood on him. In the right frame of mind, the irascible curmudgeon is as likely to flay someone who shares his unwaveringly orthodox left-wing views of the world as he is to attack a Government minister on the centre right.

It can be deliciously excruciating to watch as his victims stumble and falter under his rhetorical assault.

His greatest moment was probably when he confronted Klaus Masuch of the European Central Bank at a press conference in Dublin as the Troika flew in to survey the ruins of their own monetary policy. If Klaus had expected gratitude from a fawning Irish peasantry, delighted that someone clever and European had arrived to save us from ourselves, he was quickly disabused of the notion, as Browne demanded to know why we had to pay unguaranteed bondholders billions of euro that we didn’t even owe. It was a reasonable question, but Masuch had no answer.

In that moment, Browne was what his breathless admirers, steeped in fantasies of what the news business should be all about ever since they first saw All The President’s Men at an impressionable age, always imagined him to be – a journalistic white knight speaking truth to power.

At its worst, however, this side of Browne does have the tendency to turn into… well, the word “bullying” has been used in the past by those who fell foul of his temper. Former Tanaiste Joan Burton said as much, as did Irish Independent editor Fionnan Sheahan when he had a legendary row with the broadcaster over his long-standing hostility to Independent News and Media.

The charge of bullying may be unfair, but he does have what former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore called a “macho style” of confrontation that lays him open to the charge of bulldozing guests rather than giving them a chance to explain themselves in an atmosphere of reasonable debate. There are times, watching Tonight, when one does get the uncomfortable impression that the whole edifice is a sort of temple to the presenter, and that none may challenge him there.

He also unashamedly uses that platform to advance a very narrow political and economic agenda, one reinforced in his newspaper columns, which can be fearsomely tedious as they pile statistics on statistics to prove the world has gone to hell in a handcart and that his way alone can save us from perdition.

For years now, Browne has pushed the idea that Ireland, far from being broken by the recession, remains a fabulously rich country that could easily afford a socialist paradise if only we stopped being silly and took the money needed to build it off the rich.

It’s such an enticing idea that it almost seems like bad manners to suggest that it might not be quite as simple as that – and anyone foolish enough to try is buried under another avalanche of Browne’s minutiae. He’s great at tangling up guests in their own contradictions, and he invariably “wins” the argument, without ever quite convincing those who don’t share his assumptions that he’s right.

It’s a very lawyerly skill; he is, after all, a trained barrister. But this approach is more impressive than persuasive. Those who tussle with him may give up, but they don’t go away with a belief that he is right, just that there’s no point fighting with him.

This is a common fault among those on the left. They often come out top in debates, but the audience remains stubbornly unconvinced that what they heard actually makes any sense.

The epitome of Browne’s approach was the long series of People’s Debates, which he ran on TV3 in the run-up to the election. Browne travelled the country, visiting every constituency, inviting TDs and other candidates to answer questions from an audience of voters. These often descended into ugly and undignified scenes, with politicians being harangued from the floor. It felt some nights like a circus, with Browne as the ringmaster, and it highlighted his increasing populism.

He reflects a widespread hostility to politicians, which is an understandable mood, but where does that lead, ultimately? Someone has to run the country, and it often seems that none of them would be good enough for him.

It’s not surprising that many decide a visit to the TV3 studios isn’t worth the bother, because they’d just be playing second fiddle to another grandstanding performance. It’s his gaffe, his rules, they’d only come out second best.

His own prickliness doesn’t reflect well on him either. A man who makes a living from putting others on the spot shouldn’t himself be over-sensitive, and Browne does often give off the impression, as Sheehan put it after that row a few years ago, that “he can give it, but he can’t take it”.

The news that he will play a part in TV3’s autumn schedule, despite persistent rumours of retirement, could be a sign Browne still needs to work, either because he’s been at the centre of Irish media and political life for decades and is not ready to give it up, or simply because he needs the money – he’s been refreshingly honest about his finances.

But one can’t help wondering whether it’s a good idea. His once-terrifying technique has been reduced to a series of trademark rhetorical tics and tricks, with ever-diminishing returns. Jeremy Paxman hung up his own arsenal of frowns and sighs two years ago and he’s younger than Browne. Maybe it’s time Vincent did the same. There’s only so long you can flog a dead horse before the viewers start feeling sorry for the nag.

Tetley brewing up future trends in tea drinking

Tetley has looked into the tea leaves and predicted future trends for the country’s favourite brew


A brand of “super” tea will be among new versions of the beverage launched in future years, including some pledging to reduce tiredness or improve concentration and one for hangovers, says a report.

Tetley has looked into the tea leaves and predicted future trends for the country’s favourite brew, with help from the Future Foundation.

Ideas included “remedy” teas – enriched with medicines, from painkillers to antibiotics – tea tablets and personalised blends.

Laurent Sagarra of Tetley said: “Britain’s love affair with tea is enduring. The way we consume tea has gradually evolved since the 17th century, but now we are entering a period of rapid change.

“Significant advances are being made to meet consumer demand and our Super Tea range of functional blends with clinical health benefits already represents the biggest innovation in tea since the tea bag.

“We’re constantly innovating, grading, blending and tasting and now’s the time to see what’s next for the iconic British cuppa.”

Nick Chiarelli, director of the Future Foundation, said: “We’ve blended the consumer trends we are predicting for 2026, with input from Tetley experts and elsewhere to develop a very compelling vision of tea in the future.

“Our report predicts that exciting and satisfying new tea formats will develop, and that tea will evolve to deliver personalised health benefits.”

Schizophrenia patients may benefit from exercise


Research shows that nearly 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve Schizophrenic patients’ ability to understand social situations.

The study presents the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia. (Representational image)

Aerobic exercise can significantly help individuals improve the ‘cognitive deficits,’ especially loss of working memory linked with schizophrenia, finds a study. Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition and its acute phase is typified by hallucinations and delusions, which are usually treatable with medication. However, current medications for schizophrenia do not treat the cognitive deficits including poor memory, impaired information processing and loss of concentration linked with schizophrenia.

“Cognitive deficits are one aspect of schizophrenia which is particularly problematic. They hinder recovery and impact negatively upon people’s ability to function in work and social situations,” said Joseph Firth from the University of Manchester in Britain. The findings showed that nearly 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve patients’ ability to understand social situations, their attention spans and their ‘working memory’ – or how much information they can hold in mind at one time.

Patients who are treated with aerobic exercise programmes, such as treadmills and exercise bikes, in combination with their medication, will improve their overall brain functioning more than those treated with medications alone. Further, the study also found evidence that programmes which used greater amount of exercise, and those which were most successful for improving fitness, had the greatest effects on cognitive functioning, the researchers said.

“The study presents the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia,” Firth added. “Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long-term disability, and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients,” Firth said. For the study, published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, the team combined data from 10 independent clinical trials with a total of 385 patients with schizophrenia.

Scientists identify brain’s ‘generosity centre’

Holding hands.      Photo credit: biologycorner/Flickr

The area of the brain appears to control pro-social, generous behaviour, the study said

Whether you are a saint or a sinner may depend on a specific part of the brain, new research suggests.

Scientists have identified a region of the cerebral cortex they have dubbed the brain’s “generosity centre”.

Brain scans show that it is especially active in people with a more generous or “pro-social” mindset. These individuals also appear to have higher levels of empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

Participants who are naturally more selfish and less empathic show a lower degree of activity in the “generosity centre”.

Lead scientist Dr Patricia Lockwood, from Oxford University, said: “This the first time anyone has shown a particular brain process for learning pro-social behaviours – and a possible link from empathy to learning to help others.

“By understanding what the brain does when we do things for other people, and individual differences in this ability, we are better placed to understand what is going wrong in those whose psychological conditions are characterised by anti-social disregard for others.”

Pro-social, “generous”, behaviour is a fundamental part of being human and essential to community living.

But while most people show a natural inclination to be pro-social, some individuals are more giving than others. Why this should be so is still not fully understood, although empathy is thought to play a central role.

To investigate links between empathy and generosity the Oxford team set up an experiment in which 31 male volunteers played a computer game that involved learning to associate abstract symbols with money rewards.

Participants, who were all aged between 19 and 32, were given opportunities either to win cash for themselves or for another player.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that while people readily learned to make choices that benefited others, they were quicker at identifying symbols that rewarded themselves.

The MRI scans revealed one particular brain area that seemed to be involved in thinking generously by prioritising a good result for someone else.

Dr Lockwood said: “A specific part of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) was the only part of the brain that was activated when learning to help other people. Put another way, the subgenual anterior cingulate seems to be especially tuned to benefiting other people.”

However, the scans showed that the sgACC was not equally active in every volunteer.

“People who rated themselves as having higher levels of empathy learned to benefit others faster than those who reported having lower levels of empathy,” Dr Lockwood added.

“They also showed increased signalling in their subgenual anterior cingulate cortex when benefiting others.”

The research may have implications for understanding what drives psychopaths and anti-social or criminal behaviour.

The scientists wrote: “Taken together, our findings reveal a computational link between pro-social learning and empathy in humans and therefore pave the way to characterise atypical pro-social interactions in those with disorders of social cognition and behaviour.”


News Ireland daily BLOG

Friday 30th May 2014

Phil Hogan suing TV3 over alleged defamation on Vincent Browne Tonight programme


Minister hogan claims remarks made on tv broadcast damaged his reputation

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan claims comments made on Tonight with Vincent Browne damaged his reputation and caused him extreme stress.

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Phil Hogan, is suing TV3 alleging defamation arising out of comments made by the broadcaster Vincent Browne, the High Court has heard.

The Minister claims he was defamed on the Tonight with Vincent Browne on May 20th 2013 in an exchange between Mr Browne and Fine Gael TD, now Minister for Children, Charlie Flanagan, who was a panelist on the show.

It is alleged Mr Browne described Minister Hogan as a “bigoted racist” arising out of representations made by Mr Hogan on behalf of a constituent relating to the suitability of housing for a Traveller family in a vacant council property in Co Kilkenny.

The Minister claims the remarks had meanings including he was prejudiced towards Travellers, had sought to prevent the housing of members of the Travelling community, had breached the Incitement to Hatred Act and was not suitable for his role as Minister or a TD.

He claims the allegedly defamatory remarks have damaged his reputation and caused him extreme stress. He is seeking damages and a correction order and an order directing TV3 remove the broadcast from its website.

TV3 denies the Minister’s claims on grounds including that Mr Browne’s statements consisted of an opinion honestly held by him. This opinion was based on grounds including the Minister made a number of public statements, including that he had contacted Kilkenny County Council about the matter, it claims.

In a pre-trial application yesterday, Mr Hogan, represented by Rossa Fanning BL, asked the High Court for an order amending his original statement of claim.

A hearing date for the action has yet to be fixed.

Number of deaths in Ireland by suicide fell by 32 last year on previous year


 CSO figures indicate a significant increase of 45 to 54-year-olds taking own lives

The charity Console said significant changes and investment in research were required to properly understand and respond to the tragedy of suicide in a timely fashion.

Suicide among young people dropped by more than 20% last year, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

And overall deaths by suicide fell by more than 6%. But among older people, suicides have increased by more than a quarter.

The CSO vital statistics show there were 475 suicides registered in 2013 compared with 507 in 2012.

The number of deaths by suicide in people aged 15-24 was 57 last year, down by more than 20% on 2012, when there were 74 such deaths.

But the suicide figures for people aged 45 to 54 years increased from 86 in 2012, to 108 last year. This age group had the highest number of registered suicides for both men and women, with male deaths making up 80% of the total.

People living in some areas of the country also seemed more vulnerable to suicide than others, according to the statistics.

While the average rate across the State was 10.3 per 100,000 people, Cavan had a 20.4 rate, the figure was 20 for Carlow and 19.4 for Kerry. The lowest rate of recorded suicide was nil in Leitrim and 2.1 in Waterford City. However, there may also be variations in how suicides are registered.

The national suicide prevention and bereavement charity Console said it was concerned at the rise in suicides in the older age group.

Director of services Ciarán Austin said it mirrored a rise in calls to the charity’s helpline from people in the 45-54 age category.

“In particular, we saw a huge increase in calls to our rural helpline in 2013 due to the fodder crisis,” he said.

He described the regional data as alarming and said the charity also examines deaths categorised as of undetermined intent when looking at suicide. These have shown a drop from 82 in 2012 to 65 in 2013.

“However, we need significant changes and investment in research as the lack of accurate up-to-date information is impeding our ability to understand and respond to the awful tragedy of suicide in a timely fashion,” he said.

The charity welcomed the drop in suicides in the 15-24 age group but said Ireland still had the fourth highest suicide rate in the EU in that category.

“Console is calling for a real-time register of suicide data so that resources can be targeted at areas to prevent clustering,” Mr Austin said.

The console 24-hour helpline is 1800 247 247.

In other data released by the CSO today, the number of births to teenagers continued to decline, down from 1,639 in 2012 to 1,381 last year. Since 2001, the rate of teenage births has almost halved.

Many low-fat foods ‘have same amount of calories as their regular equivalents


  • Study shows one in ten low-fat foods has more or same calories as regular
  • Manufacturers often use sugar to boost the taste of lower-fat foodstuffs
  • Rotherham Institute for Obesity gives findings to European obesity congress
  • Institute’s Dr Matthew Capehorn says dieters should read nutritional info 

Dieters choosing low-fat foods in the hope of cutting calories should beware: they can contain even more calories than regular foods, research has found.

A new study found that while most low-fat supermarket products contain a third fewer calories than their regular fat version, ten per cent actually have more or the same calories, mainly due to added sugars.

Obesity specialist Dr Matthew Capehorn said weight-conscious shoppers should realise that choosing low-fat products made by brands including Weight Watchers could hamper their efforts to cut calories.

Low-fat bread and other foods can contain more calories than their regular counterparts, research shows

The study by the Rotherham Institute for Obesity, where Dr Capehorn is clinical director, found that Weight Watchers wholemeal thick slice bread had more calories than any own label, regular fat equivalent, while Weight Watchers sliced cheese also had more calories than own label equivalents.

Weight Watchers wholemeal thick slice bread had more calories than any own label, regular fat equivalent.

Weight Watchers sliced cheese also had more calories than own label equivalents.

Asda natural low-fat yoghurt had more calories than Asda natural yoghurt.

Birdseye light and crunchy breaded chicken had more calories than Birdseye crispy chicken.

Sainsbury’s low fat custard had the same calories as Sainsbury’s custard.

Asda own brand low fat Italian dressing had more fat than the regular fat alternative.

It also found that Asda natural low-fat yoghurt had more calories than Asda natural yoghurt, Birdseye light and crunchy breaded chicken had more calories than Birdseye crispy chicken, and Sainsbury’s low fat custard had the same calories as Sainsbury’s custard.

Often, extra sugar was added to boost the taste of the lower-fat foods.

Dr Capehorn said: ‘Low-fat foods do appear on average to help reduce calorie intake…however appropriate food choices may still require reading nutritional information on the food labels, as ten per cent of low fat foods still have more calories, and 40 per cent have more sugar, than their regular fat counterparts.’

He began the study to establish whether low-fat versions of products were nutritionally healthier than their regular counterparts, mainly in terms of sugar and overall calories.

Of the ten most popular UK supermarkets, four provided enough information online for researchers to complete the study in November: Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose and Tesco.

Fat, sugar and calorie content for any low fat food that had a directly comparable regular fat product made by the same brand were recorded.

Of 62 products that matched these criteria found in the four supermarkets, 56 low-fat products had fewer calories, and on average overall the low-fat products had 31 per cent less calories.

However, ten per cent of low fat foods analysed still had more or the same calories than the regular fat version, while 37 of the 62 products (60 per cent) had less sugar than the regular fat alternatives.

One low-fat product, Asda own brand low fat Italian dressing, had more fat than the regular fat alternative.

An example of where there was an obvious calorie saving with the lower fat version was Benecol light spread, which saved 216 kcals/100g compared with Benecol buttery spread.

Weight Watchers said it was redeveloping its wholemeal thick sliced bread after research found it had more calories than any ‘own label’ supermarket brand.

A spokesperson said: ‘Weight Watchers continues to strive to provide customers with high quality Weight Watchers Foods and we are constantly evolving our products to ensure this.

‘As such, we are redeveloping the Weight Watchers Thick Sliced Wholemeal Bread to ensure it is the best choice for our consumers.’

The findings by the Rotherham Institute for Obesity were presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Sofia, Bulgaria, yesterday.

Lost in space, 3 decades-old probe brought back into action with crowd funding


Three decades after it drifted away, millions of kilometres from Earth, a vintage space probe has returned and is being revived, to be put back in service through a crowdfunded initiative by space science enthusiasts.

It is the latest chapter in the remarkable story of the ISEE-3 scientific spacecraft. It was launched nearly 36 years ago, was reconfigured into a comet-chasing platform, then sailed out of radio contact with Earth for a decade until it re-emerged in 2008, when its orbital path dragged it back towards our planet.

On Thursday, a group of scientists gathered at their own initiative at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico re-established two-way communications with the spacecraft and started to command it to send data about the state of its onboard systems.

“SUCCESS! We are now in command of the ISEE-3 spacecraft!” the team tweeted at 4 p.m.before confirming by Thursday evening that ISEE-3 was transmitting telemetry again.

To resurrect ISEE-3, they had raised nearly $160,000 from 2,238 online donors, pored over old NASA documents and programmed software-defined radio devices to link up with a spacecraft whose communications hardware had long been retired from service on Earth.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had agreed to let the private group – which calls itself the ISEE-3 Reboot Project – take control of its wayward spacecraft.

“We have a chance to engage a new generation of citizen scientists through this creative effort,” astrophysicist John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut who is now associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a communiqué announcing the agreement.

The ranks of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project include Dennis Wingo, president of the aerospace engineering company SkyCorp, and Keith Cowing, a former NASA astrobiologist.

The group has engineering students in their 20s and a space guru, 81-year-old retired NASA mission designer Bob Farquhar.

Dr. Farquhar, an expert in orbital mechanics, has been a key character in ISEE-3’s storied life.

The ISEE (International Sun-Earth Explorer) program was an international 1970’s project to study solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere.

The ISEE-3 spacecraft was launched on Aug. 12, 1978, in the days when disco still dominated the airwaves and the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup every spring.

It travelled to the Lagrangian 1 libration point – a stable spot where the gravitational pull of the sun is balanced by that of the Earth and its moon – about 1.5 million to 1.6 million kilometres from our planet.

By 1982, with ISEE-3 having completed its prime observation mission, Dr. Farquhar came up with a new goal for the spacecraft.

The famous Halley’s Comet, which revisits the solar system every 75 to 76 years, was expected back in 1986. The Soviet Union, the European Space Agency and Japan had readied missions to study Halley but a cash-strapped NASA had no planned flights to the comet.

Dr. Farquhar devised a way to steer ISEE-3 through a complex trajectory (on a graphic it looks like a tangle of noodles) towards another approaching comet, Giacobini-Zinner.

During an 18-minute pass in 1985, ISEE-3, which had been renamed ICE (International Cometary Explorer), crossed the Giacobini-Zinner comet’s tail, collecting data that could be used as a benchmark for the Halley missions of the following year.

After being directed upstream of Halley to gather more observations, ISEE-3 moved increasingly far away and eventually drifted out of reach for reliable radio reception. The last contact was in 1999.

Nearly a decade later, in the fall of 2008, one of the antennas of NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, in California’s Mojave Desert, picked up a signal from ISEE-3.

The spacecraft’s orbit was taking it closer to Earth again and now Dr. Farquhar suggested that, in the summer of 2014, when the probe would be close to the moon, it could be redirected back to its original mission, observing the sun from the Lagrangian 1 libration point.

However, in a case of history repeating itself, NASA is again going through budgetary hard times. In April, senior NASA officials decided they could not fund a revival of the ISEE-3 project. Four days later, a private initiative began.

It wasn’t the first time outsiders came to rescue a NASA deep-space project. In 1980-81, a grassroots campaign called the Viking Fund collected $100,000 to make sure NASA would have enough money to keep analyzing the data from its Viking 1 Mars lander.

This time, it was even more challenging because the project only had a month to start raising money and try to find a way to recontact ISEE-3.

Earlier this month, they reached their initial $125,000 fundraising target. Ten days ago, they started getting beacon signals from the approaching spacecraft.

Now, they will test its systems so that later this summer they will refire its thrusters, swing it by the moon and send it on to a new mission.