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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

Three Irish bank execs jailed (not before time) for ‘dishonest, corrupt’ and Anglo Irish fraud

David Drumm described by judge as the ‘driving force’ behind €7.2bn banking conspiracy

   

A judge has said the former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm appeared to be the driving force behind the €7.2bn conspiracy that led to three banking executives being jailed yesterday.

Judge Martin Nolan made the comments as he sent the men to jail for terms ranging between two and three-and-a-half years.

Former Anglo chief risk officer Willie McAteer (66), ex-Anglo treasury executive John Bowe (52) and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey (56) showed little emotion as the sentences were handed down.

Their first night in jail was spent at Mountjoy among all of Ireland’s criminals, where they were processed and kept under close observation, as is the practice with new inmates.

A decision will be made in the coming days on where each man will serve out his sentence.

McAteer, of Greenrath, Tipperary town, was sentenced to three and-a-half years; Bowe, of Glasnevin, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and Casey, from Raheny, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and nine months.

All three were convicted in June of conspiring with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme in September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. They had denied the charges.

The verdicts followed an 89-day trial, the longest criminal trial in the history of the State and the jury spent a total of 65 hours deliberating.

The case came to trial following a lengthy investigation, which began in 2009.

The judge said that the scheme was “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”, as it gave a distorted impression of Anglo’s accounts to shareholders and depositors.

“From the evidence, it appears to me the driving force was Mr Drumm,” he said during the sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the three defendants were involved in the scheme and knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

Drumm was not a defendant in this trial, but is due to face similar conspiracy charges next year.

 Sentencing McAteer to three-and-half years, Judge Nolan said he had held a senior position in the bank.

Although it appeared that Drumm was driving the scheme, McAteer was seen as a leader within the bank and he could have objected.

“It is grossly reprehensible what he did and a great shame on him,” said the judge.

McAteer authorised these transfers when he knew that what he was doing was “deceitful, underhand and corrupt”.

Sentencing Bowe to two years, the judge said he was “a lesser functionary in the bank”.

The judge described him as the “de facto treasurer”. He was a man of considerable experience and should have known what he was doing was wrong.

“In law, following orders is not a defence,” the judge said.

Bowe “failed to act with integrity and honesty in these matters” and had behaved reprehensibly by going along with it.

Sentencing Casey to two years and nine months, Judge Nolan acknowledged that he had become involved in the scheme as part of the so-called ‘Green Jersey’ agenda, where Irish banks were encouraged to assist others in a time of crisis.

Although Anglo was the author of the scheme, Casey authorised Irish Life & Permanent’s involvement and had behaved “disgracefully”.

“This was a grave error of judgment,” the judge said. “He should have known and did know that this was a sham transaction.”

Earlier, the judge said the crime had arisen during a period when people in the banking sector “were operating under great stress”.

The judge had taken into account submissions on behalf of the defendants that they had made no direct profit or reward from their crimes. He said all had acted in what they believed was the best interest of the companies they worked for.

A conspiracy? 

Judge Nolan had taken into account their background, what each man had achieved in life, their contribution to the community and that they had been good family men.

Each of them had been the subject of odium and ridicule, had endured a lot of stress and had lost their jobs. However, they were involved in a conspiracy where two blue-chip publicly quoted companies conspired to manipulate the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

It was decided in Anglo that it needed to hit a certain “corporate number” for banking deposits.

“It seemed Mr Drumm and the top management at Anglo decided this corporate number was important,” said the judge.

When this could not be achieved legitimately, a “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt scheme” was entered into.

The public, he said, was entitled to probity from blue-chip companies. “If we cannot rely on probity, then we lose all trust in such institutions,” he said.

“People are entitled to rely on the integrity and honesty of top firms. In this case, honesty and integrity were sorely lacking.”

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

The scheme at the centre of the case was designed so that the books of Anglo Irish Bank could look much healthier than they actually were amid the global financial crisis in 2008.

The court heard that following the so-called ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’, when Anglo’s shares slumped by 20pc, the bank’s executive directors decided Anglo should show “a good corporate number to the market”, meaning that it needed to increase its corporate deposits.

Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) was approached and a back-to-back transaction was arranged whereby Anglo placed €750m with IL&P and the IL&P group gave Anglo a corporate deposit from its Irish Life Assurance Corporation, a non-banking entity managed by IL&P.

In June, another deal took place, with Anglo transferring €3bn to IL&P and IL&P transferring a portfolio of home mortgages to Anglo.

Over that summer, Anglo drew up a list of 50 funding initiatives, but by September most of these had fallen away. The trial heard evidence that David Drumm asked a manager in Anglo’s treasury department if IL&P would do another set of transactions worth up to €7bn that month. These were to be included in Anglo’s year-end figures.

What resulted was a series of nine ‘rotational transactions’ between September 26 and 30, with €7.2bn moved from Anglo to IL&P, with IL&P sending the money back, via Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo. The trial heard that the transactions were arranged “with considerable difficulty”.

Judge Martin Nolan described the dishonest scheme as a “conspiracy on the public”. Shareholders and depositors were entitled to rely on public accounts, but were instead given a distorted view of the financial strength of Anglo, he said.

Does the Irish Government really have the bottle that it takes to handle the Brexit fallout? 

‘The position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it’

   

NI First Minister Arlene Foster, British PM Theresa May, and NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Monday.

As the Dáil rose for the summer recess last week, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in Leinster House – and not only on the Government side.

It has been a tumultuous six months which has seen an arduous election campaign, an inconclusive result that necessitated some serious improvisation by the major parties to enable a government to be formed after a tense 10-week stalemate, and some serious hiccups as the new Government finally got down to work.

By far, however, the most dramatic event happened outside of Leinster House’s remit – namely the British vote to leave the European Union. How the Government responds to this will be the biggest challenge in the next Dáil term and perhaps in modern day Irish politics, and the interests of the EU will now play a key part in the approach Ireland takes to the Brexit negotiations.

The biggest task facing the Government is to juggle two now competing interests – our relationships with the UK and the EU. No two countries within the EU have a closer relationship than Ireland and the UK – strong cultural ties, a history of Irish emigration to the UK, and huge volumes of trade and movement of people in both directions.

Despite various changes over the past century – independence in 1922, the adoption of the new Constitution in 1937, the declaration of the Republic in 1949, the break with sterling in 1979, and Ireland joining the euro without Britain in 1999 – these ties have remained very strong. On top of all of this there is the position of Northern Ireland, which looks likely to play a central role in the post-Brexit fallout.

Given all of this, it is little wonder the two countries joined the then EEC on the same day in 1973. Back then it was inconceivable that Ireland would take a different approach to the UK on the question of membership. In the 43 years which have followed it is fair to say that Ireland has been a far more enthusiastic member than the UK, and indeed in many respects, it has enabled it to detach itself from the UK’s bosom and assert its independence.

Yet there is no doubt that the Republic would much rather not be faced with this split with the UK and there is a palpable sense of dismay – resentment even – at the UK for leaving us in the lurch. What then are the major faultlines as Ireland attempts to juggle these two competing interests?

The border with Northern Ireland

Without doubt, the biggest issue facing us is the position of the border. One cannot underestimate the positive impact that the opening of border roads has had; it was one of the most important practical impacts of the peace process during the 1990s. The reintroduction of a hard border would be unacceptable to communities in the area, not to mention the costs and complexity of enforcing it.

Yet on the other hand a desire to impose greater restrictions on immigration from the EU was one of the main motivating factors in Britain voting for Brexit. It is difficult to reconcile this with an open border. There have been some suggestions that a compromise may be reached that will entail free movement across the border but with passport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This however is hardly something Unionists will welcome.

Insider senses that the proponents of Brexit wholly overlooked this conundrum and their response to it has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. It is only now beginning to dawn on them that the position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it.

In the five weeks since the referendum, the our Government has focused heavily on the impact on the peace process. This is widely seen by observers as a clever move – at an EU level the peace process is seen as one of the European project’s successes and there is a real sense in Brussels that the EU played a positive role in it. The view is that stressing the impact on the peace process is likely to carry more weight in Brussels than in, for instance focusing on trade along the border, important and all as that is to people residing in the area too.

Making Brexit work for Britain

Another conundrum for the Government in Dublin is how to square the need to maintain free trading relations with the UK, with the likelihood that the EU will seek to conclude a single EU/UK trade agreement. The level of business done between the UK and Ireland is huge with each counting the other among its main trading partners; indeed trade with Ireland is more important to the UK than trade with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

To have restrictions imposed in this area would be potentially calamitous for Ireland. For virtually our entire history free trade with the UK has been taken for granted and trading restrictions between the two countries would be an alien concept. Our Government must take a firm line at EU level on this point. Of course the free movement of people between the two countries and the Common Travel Area is a key part of this.

There is also a sense of urgency on this point for the Government, even ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. There is a huge degree of investment made by businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A period of uncertainty ahead of Brexit runs the risk of businesses postponing investment decisions – there are already signs of this – as they wait to see what happens, thereby running the risk of an economic slowdown in Ireland.

Leaving aside the key aspects of British/Irish relations that need to be weighed, at a broader level, the issue that carries most importance for Ireland, and an area of potential division with other EU member states, is whether Brexit works for the UK. From an Irish perspective, notwithstanding the disagreement with the stance Britain has taken and the sense of disappointment or betrayal even that Insider referred to earlier, it is important that it does.

At an EU level there will be a desire not to be seen to reward Britain for leaving and a sense that it needs to be seen to suffer some negative consequences from its decision. While obviously not wanting to damage its own interests by overly hampering the UK, the EU will wish to be seen flexing its muscles. From an Irish perspective however, in light of the close relations between the nations and the importance of the UK economy to the Irish economy, it is important that Britain does well outside the EU. This will be a tough circle to square.

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

The Brexit negotiations, and protecting Ireland’s interests in, among others the areas that Insider has referenced, will be the Government’s primary objective for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some consideration must be given to a vision for Ireland’s future in the changed circumstances that will follow Britain’s eventual exit.

As Insider noted there have been several breaks with Britain over the years, many of them resulting from EU membership. Indeed many Irish politicians – in particular from FG over the years – have viewed EU membership as a means of Ireland broadening its horizons beyond the UK. Arguably Brexit offers proponents of this a golden opportunity to put this further into practice.

On the other hand, for a considerable number of Irish people, relations with the UK will always be of paramount importance and so this is another balancing act that needs to be managed. Then there is the question of the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Recent talk of a border poll may have been premature but nevertheless reflects an acceptance that things could be about to change radically and that in the medium term everything is on the table.

Finally, we must return to events earlier this year, namely the inconclusive result thrown up by the General Election and the advent of ‘new politics’. This is a topic Insider hopes to return to in greater detail in the autumn – assuming a General Election has not derailed it all by then! – but for the time being will note that it changes the context in which we approach the challenges of Brexit and the negotiations to follow.

Clearly it will not be the Government side alone that will have an input when it comes to determining the strategy to be followed. Dáil arithmetic dictates that the Opposition parties will also have an input, but given the strategic importance of this matter, that was likely to be the way in any case. The Opposition parties have some interesting contributions to make, with FF leader Micheál Martin being an experienced former foreign affairs minister and Sinn Féin bringing some interesting perspective to the North/South dimension in particular, with its role in the Northern Executive.

Theoretically this is one area where the ‘new politics’ should thrive. Insider expects a reasonable degree of consensus but there may be some rancour about whether the Government is pushing Ireland’s interests aggressively enough on those occasions where the EU/UK tradeoffs that Insider has mentioned come to the fore.

It will be a tumultuous period ahead and a real test of the political system and the diplomatic corps. Even in the context of our changed politics it promises to leave the day-to-political dramas in the shade.

Irish car insurance premiums said to have gone up 70% since 2013

   

Concerns are being raised about the continued rise in the cost of insuring your car.

Insurance companies are said to be clamping down on the types of drivers and cars that they are willing to provide cover for.

Premiums are reported to have gone up by more than 70% since 2013.

The motor industry has issued a warning saying the rise in costs is showing no signs of easing.

Broker Jonathan Hehir says the sector is haemorrhaging money: “We’ll have to take the reports they give us on face value because they weren’t afraid to publish when they were making money.

“So I went through the reports recently and if we go back to 2007 they weren’t afraid to show profit in motoring insurance of around €500m at that time.

“That figure has gradually gone down over the ten years and the last time they are shown to be making money was back in 2012 and there was a slight profit on it and since then they have shown losses of hundreds of millions of losses in the motoring insurance sector.”

An hour of Exercise a day may offset a sitting’s toll on your health

   

An hour of Exercise a Day May Offset Sitting’s Toll on Health?

Just one hour of physical activity a day — something as simple as a brisk walk or a bicycle ride — may undo the increased risk of early death that comes with sitting eight hours or more on a daily basis, a new study suggests.

“These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work or commuting,” said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund. He is a professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

“Unfortunately, only 25% of our sample exercised an hour a day or more,” he said.

The study also found that watching TV for three hours or more a day was linked with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity except among those who were the most physically active.

However, even among those who exercised the most, the risk of premature death was significantly increased if they watched five hours of TV a day or more, the researchers added.

It’s not TV, per se, that is associated with an increased risk of dying early; rather, TV is a marker for sitting and not being active, Ekelund said.

In their review of 16 previously published studies that included more than one million people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups: those who got about 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day; 25 to 35 minutes a day; 50 to 65 minutes a’ day; and 60 to 75 minutes a day.

The increased risk of early death ranged from 12% to 59%, depending on how much exercise the participants got, the findings showed.

“Indeed, those belonging to the most active group, and who are active about 60 to 75 minutes per day, seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day,” Ekelund said.

“Sit less, move more, and the more you move the better,” he suggested.

The report, which did not prove that inactivity caused early death, was published online July 27 in The Lancet.

According to Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “This important analysis fortifies the increasingly clear verdict from a large and growing body of evidence addressing physical activity and health: all movement is good movement.”

Evidence is clear that moderately vigorous exercise has an array of health benefits, Katz said.

“If you don’t exercise but can stand often, do. If you can’t stand often but can exercise, do,” he added. “Better still, do both. It’s clear: all movement is good movement.”

Not only does physical inactivity increase the risk of early death, it’s expensive, according to another study published in the same journal issue.

In that study, researchers estimated the cost of being physically inactive based on the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer. In 2013 dollars, the study authors estimated that inactivity costs the United States about $28 billion annually.

“The current economic cost of physical inactivity is borne mainly by high-income countries. However, as low- and middle-income countries develop, and if the current trajectory of inactivity continues, so too will the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries who are currently poorly equipped to deal with chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Melody Ding, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a statement.

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?

    

Biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish (above) has tried out her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy with, she says, amazing results. Too good to be true?

‘We’re trying to hit the biggest point of suffering in the industrialised world.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Elizabeth Parrish is CEO of BioViva, a Seattle-based biotech company working to develop treatments to slow the ageing process. In April, the company revealed that Parrish herself had undergone “the first gene therapy successful against human ageing”. The treatment, it claimed, had reversed the biological age of her immune cells by 20 years.

“There are a lot of fantastic conclusions that [people] can jump to,” says Parrish – “defeating death, or people becoming immortal, or things like that. What we’re trying to do is hit the biggest point of suffering right now in the industrialised world, which is the diseases of ageing.”

In September 2015, Parrish, then 44, flew to Colombia to receive two experimental gene therapies. One was a myostatin inhibitor, a drug that is being tested as a treatment for muscle loss. The other was a telomerase gene therapy – the drug that BioViva claims has reversed her cells’ biological age, by lengthening parts of her genetic material called telomeres.

Genes are held in twisted molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of these chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres protect the important genetic material from damage that can lead to disease-causing malfunction or cell death. Telomeres also allow the cell and its DNA to divide, but as cells divide a portion of the telomeres is lost until, after a finite number of divisions, the cell dies, a process that might contribute to the human ageing process.

If a cat has nine lives, then a dividing human cell has about 50 to 70 – unless, the thinking goes, you lengthen the telomeres to extend the cell’s lifespan and increase its ability to withstand damage. The gene therapy that Parrish received is designed to do just that by encouraging the cell to produce telomerase, a protein that repairs telomeres.

The treatment is highly controversial. Because BioViva had not done the necessary pre-clinical work to progress to human studies, the US Food and Drug Administration did not authorise Parrish’s experiment – hence her trip to an unnamed clinic in Colombia.

BioViva claims that six months after treatment the telomeres in Parrish’s white blood cells had lengthened by 9%. It was an announcement met by a mixture of derision and incredulity by many scientists, who cited the lack of proper scientific procedure. “We used third-party testing for everything,” asserts Parrish. “We used a standard telomere testing system that doctors sell and patients can buy over the internet. By that test, it said my telomeres in my [white blood cells] extended by the equivalent of 20 years.”

The scientists’ scepticism goes further than the reliability of the company’s testing systems. On its website, BioViva claims that its work builds on that of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. In a 2012 study, Blasco’s findings suggested that a similar telomerase gene therapy could increase the median lifespan of mice by around 20%. Her work since has focused on assessing whether the technology can improve outcomes in mice with heart and blood diseases that originate in very short telomeres.

Blasco does not associate herself with BioViva’s work and she has no relation with the company or with Parrish. “Clinical validation of our telomerase gene therapy strategy, as with any other therapies, should be achieved through rigorous trials validated and backed by the regulatory agencies,” she says.

We should be able to say: This didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells – let’s just run a test

On her company profile Parrish describes herself as a “humanitarian, entrepreneur and innovator” and “a leading voice for genetic cures”. Absent from that list is the word “scientist”. She also describes herself as “patient zero” for these treatments – a term some would take issue with. “Patient zero” is a typically used to describe the first patient in an infectious disease outbreak, rather than the first patient to have received a treatment. A better description, some would argue, is that hers was an n = 1 study (a study on only one person).

“Perhaps she is patient zero, but only for the spread of the pseudoscience that’s going to grow from her story,” says Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Caulfield is concerned that Parrish’s work lacks scientific rigour and is at risk of being picked up by unscrupulous practitioners aware of the selling power of anti-ageing treatments. “People forget that most clinical trials don’t pan out,” he says. “Drugs often look really promising in mice but don’t pan out in people – they’re different animals.”

But Parrish, who says she has already had people contact her to ask if they can try her anti-ageing gene therapy, argues that enough animal studies have been conducted to move to humans. “I think we are doing things wrong. We should be able to say, ‘This looks promising, it didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells.’ So what we said [when deciding to test her company’s treatments] was, ‘Let’s just run a test; let’s see if this stuff is safe.’”

Parrish and her team say they plan to explore the effects of the gene therapy in other cells in her body, and to assess the effect of the muscle-loss treatment. Meanwhile, they are looking to test the treatments in more people, but first they need to find a country with less stringent requirements than the US. “We are still looking for a faster route,” says Parrish. “We have gone from country to country, with groups who are asking these countries to re-regulate. They will come in with new regulatory standards… with a fast track to get the most life-saving therapeutics to humans as fast as possible.”

While Caulfield admits that the drug development process is strict, he argues that it needs to be to maintain scientific rigour. “Sure, we’re all looking at ways to get effective drugs to clinics quicker but this idea of foreign shopping until you can find the regulatory framework that is most friendly to your idea about how science should be done is a terrible mistake,” he says. “Good science should be universal.”

Quick to distance himself from BioViva was George M Martin, professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Martin had agreed to be an adviser to the company after being visited at his university by Parrish but relinquished that role on hearing the news of Parrish’s self-experiment. “I resigned only weeks after accepting the invitation, I never attended a board meeting and I certainly had no inkling of her plans to carry out human interventions without any pre-clinical work,” he says.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and another of the BioViva’s advisers, is wary of the idea that he has “ties” with the company. “I wouldn’t call them ties,” he says. “I advise people who need advice and they clearly need advice.” Church says he advised the company to go through proper regulatory channels and to do the required pre-clinical work. “If you just let people run loose without any advice, especially if they don’t have training in medical research, then you’re inviting consequences.”

It’s a point, he notes, that was tragically highlighted by a gene therapy trial in France that is believed to have caused cancer in two participants in 2003, and the 1999 death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first person to die in a clinical trial for the therapy. Both failures, he says, set back the whole field. “Since then, the field has improved tremendously and is much safer but new drugs have to be tested in placebo controlled trials with animal testing first.”

And it’s not just scientists who are cautious about how advanced therapeutics such as gene therapies or those that use stem cells are handled. The public and policymakers, whose attitudes can either help or hinder potential medical advances, are also twitchy about science that tinkers with the inner workings of life. If the debate around the powerful new genome-editing tool, Crispr/Cas9, is anything to go by, Parrish’s approach to combating ageing won’t roll out without significant scrutiny.

Duncan Baird is a professor of Cancer and Genetics at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. He urges caution over Parrish’s impatient approach to unearthing treatments. “Life and ageing are too biologically complicated to start boiling it all down to these entities at the ends of chromosomes [telomeres],” he says. “To pick out one particular phenomenon of telomere length as a key determinant of ageing and say that if you’re going to lengthen telomeres you’re magically going to cure ageing, I think that’s fanciful.”

Without a much greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie ageing, such tampering can be dangerous, says Baird. One of the reasons telomeres have evolved to be the length they are, he says, is to limit the number of times a cell can proliferate and thus to limit its potential to be cancerous. “Meddling with a fundamentally important tumour-suppressive mechanism that has evolved in long-lived species like ours doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea.”

Attempts to combat ageing, and its myriad manifestations, do not belong to Parrish alone. Around the world, teams of dedicated researchers are doing the painstakingly thorough work needed to unpick the biological mysteries of ageing and, maybe one day, figure out how to tackle it. But, as so often with science, it seems success might lie in the very thing that Parrish refuses to accept: time itself.

 

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 18th September 2015

Noonan’s core theme is: no return to boom and bust follies of the past

Minister for Finance’s economic vision is for even growth, balanced budgets and rules-based policies

   

The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan says: “I am laying plans out that extend beyond the election – so the next minister can take them up if I’m not here. It’s continuity of planning rather than continuity of personnel I’m primarily interested in.”

After years in fiscal death/debt valley, Michael Noonan finds himself in something of a sweet spot as he steps up preparations for the budget next month.

With the economy growing speedily, the Minister for Finance is in the unusual position of having his outline plan for the budget endorsed by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. After all, the council tends to say no. Yet its informal blessing follows tacit support for the budget plan from the OECD.

This pleases Noonan. “It’s always good in the political system to get outside endorsement for what you’re doing.”

At Merrion Street yesterday – in the middle of pre-budget meetings with business lobbies, farmers, trade unionists and social campaigners – he set out his vision for the recovering economy. His is an argument for even growth, balanced budgets and rules-based policy-making.

There’s no avoiding the looming election, of course. Noonan says a 25 per cent stake in AIB would be floated next year on the Dublin and London markets if the Government is returned to office.

Of the property market right now, he says the Central Bank should examine whether to ease mortgage caps for first-time buyers. “What I’m saying is that market conditions are changing rapidly and there are aspects of it now which, according to the construction industry, are inhibiting starter homes.

“All I’m saying is the bank should review. If the bank say we’re not changing anything then, of course, I’ll accept that.”

Noonan’s core theme is familiar enough: no return to the boom and bust follies of the past.

Yet he and Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure, face a cascade of spending demands from their own colleagues in Cabinet to go well beyond the agreed €1.5 billion limit on the 2016 budgetary expansion. Have they not learned?

At issue are fiscal constraints set out in domestic and European law. Are spending Ministers now seized of these rules?

“I think they are. But I think at things like the think-in in Adare it would have been explained, and the parliamentary party is seized of it. But Government departments always bid for additional money, you know.”

Asked whether the magnitude of the bids came as a disappointment, he says that is in line with historic practise.

“It’s the job of line Ministers to ask and it’s the job of central Ministers like Brendan and myself to refuse them.”

A Selection

Noonan smiles as he acknowledges his selection to contest the election in the renamed Limerick City constituency.

Yet he will not say whether he plans to return to the Department of Finance if Fine Gael prevails. That would be a matter for Enda Kenny, he insists.

“I’m laying plans out that extend beyond the election – so the next minister can take them up if I’m not here. It’s continuity of planning rather than continuity of personnel I’m primarily interested in.”

As for the timing of the election, this is a matter for Kenny. “It’s his call. When he asks me for advice I give him advice.”

But is it true that Noonan would not be in favour of going to the country immediately after the budget? “It won’t be my decision, and we’ll see. The economy is driving on all the time, and things are improving all the time. It’ll be the Taoiseach’s decision. It won’t be a collective decision.”

The budget next month will be predicated on the achievement this year of a budget deficit amounting to 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product. Budget planning for 2016 assumes a deficit in the region of 1.5 per cent of GDP. “1.5 will get us well into the space our projection for the debt next year will be, well below 100 per cent [of GDP]\, he says,.

Can he be more specific? Noonan replies that the figure could come in at “95ish” per cent of GDP at the end of 2016.

“We’re not factoring in there any money from the sale of AIB. We’re going to get quite a lot of money this year and next year – without any sale of AIB – from preference shares and from CoCos and so on.

“We’ll sell 25 per cent of AIB if we’re back in government. All that will come off the debt then.”

Would this be by way of an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market?

Top three

“Yes. It will be jointly Dublin and London. It will actually be the biggest IPO in London. I think it will be kind of in the top three historically, so we’re talking about very big money. It has to be carefully managed.”

How much roughly? “I don’t know. It was valued at over €13 billion or so. A quarter of it? It’s a good lump of money anyway.

“If it doesn’t happen until this time next year we’ll have another half year. We’ll have full-year returns and we’ll have half-year returns for 2016 – and everything is very positive, so values are going up, there’s no doubt about that.

“But you always have external factors, whether it’s China or Europe or America or interest rates rising or whatever, so I don’t want to get into precise figures.”

Using bank sale proceeds to pay down debt reflects concern – expressed most recently by debt rating agency Moody’s, as well as by the Fiscal Council and the OECD – that Ireland’s high debt level makes the State vulnerable to external shock. “Beyond that there isn’t another internal risk. So I am looking forward to making this budget the first budget of what I regard as the new business cycle,” Noonan says.

The recovery is a “work in progress” but plans for the budget assume annual growth rates between 3.25 per cent and 3.5 per cent until 2020.

“The only reason we’re stopping at 2020 is that it’s the forecasting period. I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t go on for a decade.

“The primary policy plank on which I’m building is that we mustn’t let it happen again. We mustn’t go from boom to bust again, and there are ways to stop that…In future interventions for this Government – and its successor government if we can get back again after that – it will be quite clear that interventions will have to be countercyclical because we’ll have balanced the budget.”

The spring economic statement in April assumed the State would balance the books in 2019. However, Noonan says this will be within grasp a year earlier than that. So Fine Gael will promise in the election to balance the budget within three years? “We have to revisit the figures, but I think we can do better than the spring statement. Everything is moving forward with the very rapid growth.”

Noonan attaches high importance to the budget rules. “You know the theory that if we didn’t have the fiscal rules, Noonan and Howlin would go crazy. We’re not, no,” he says.

“We negotiated the fiscal rules. We brought them home, and we put them to the people by way of referendum. We’re committed to this model. But it goes back to the opening position. We need pieces in place that prevent that boom and bust cycle that bedevilled us for so many years. Three times in my political career the country has gone from boom to bust.”

Lowest income

Of the budget itself, he reveals little of the plan to cut tax but stresses that the benefit will be concentrated on people earning up to €70,000 from the lowest income.

“We think low and middle-income people are the target for reduction because they’re overtaxed. We’ll be operating in that space… But the purpose will be to give relief to people we identified in the tranche we had last year as kind of middle Ireland.”

On the question of whether the universal social charge might be dismantled or overhauled, Noonan insists he will say whatever he has to say on budget day.

“Whether you take it one way or another, the way most people look at it as at the bottom line. Now, the USC is quite unpopular because it’s new. People see it as the added imposition and the sacrifice that was made to take the country out of crisis.

“So now that the crisis is over the public perception is: well, if you’re removing a tax it should be USC. But from an economic point of view in terms of tax as a policy lever to drive the economy…well then it doesn’t really matter where you make the move. It depends on the impact on the individual taxpayer.”

Is he saying the USC is here to stay in one form or another?

“No I’m not. I’m not saying anything either way. I’m saying that under the rules of the game I can’t give you more accurate information in advance of the budget.”

Last election

Then there is the election. Noonan indicates he is unperturbed by the strength of Independents and others. This cohort was at 24 per cent in the most recent poll, down from roughly 30 per cent in previous surveys but up form 17 per cent in the 2011 election. “What I’m saying is that if you look at the changes from the last election, it’s moving back to where it was. That’s the trend.”

What would be the implications of a surge for Independents and others next time out?

“In my view political instability always leads to economic instability. It’s the last thing we need now, just as we’re getting out of the major crisis and growing at the fastest rate in Europe. We don’t want that knocked back by political instability.”

We can expect to hear a lot more of that once the campaign begins in earnest. He recognises, however, that the Government will lose votes over the water debacle. So what went wrong there?

“In the teeth of very strong opposition it’s always difficult to get acceptance for a new tax. I think there’s acceptance now, I find anyway

“ They’d be quite critical of the way the issue was handled, but there’s acceptance of the principle that water is a scarce and it should be paid for. There’d be an argument about how much, but I think it’s moving in the right direction. Of course there were difficulties, and I presume there’ll be electoral cost attached to those difficulties, but it was a difficult time, we had a lot of very difficult decisions to make.”

Water, of course, became the beacon around which anti-establishment political forces of all stripes rallied.

“The surprise I had, and the surprise Europe had, was that the protests didn’t begin earlier with all the tough things we had to do,” Noonan says.

Water is far from the only difficulty the Government has encountered. He has nothing to say of the inquiry into IBRC, which is under the responsibility of the Taoiseach’s department.

Of corruption allegations surrounding the disposal of Nama’s Northern properties, he says there is no case to answer for the bad bank.

“The sale was conducted absolutely properly. If there was any impropriety it was on the purchasing side, not on the sell side, and I don’t know whether there was impropriety or not.”

Asked whether UK or US investigators have approached Dublin for information, he says “not to me”. Nama has published 300 pages of data it made available to the Stormont committee which is investigating the affair, he says. “There mightn’t even be a committee in Northern Ireland the way things are going.”

Asked for his observations on all that, Noonan launches into a forthright attack on Sinn Féin. “Sinn Féin are incapable of running a government.”

So what exactly is the problem? Sinn Féin as a political party or movement? Or the individuals within it? Or is it a policy deficit? “It’s populism. The inability to make a decision which will cause Sinn Féin any potential loss. If they can’t handle a budget with a couple of hundred million around social welfare, how are they going to handle a national budget down here with all the things we have to do and the decisions we have to make every year? ”

None of this takes account of naysaying unionists. But is Noonan saying Sinn Féin is not ready for government? He laughs.

“If I said they’re not ready they I’d be saying they’d be ready some time in the future. I’m not saying that. I’m not analysing Sinn Féin. A legitimate way of continuing political debate is to look at the record of different parties. The record of Fine Gael and Labour for five years is that we have been very good at handling an economy that was in the greatest crisis ever since the State was founded.

“Then we can look at the only Sinn Féin experience in government in the Assembly in Northern Ireland and in their role up there. And in terms of economic management it’s been dire.”

Audit work on Irish banks in 2008 was “satisfactory”,

A report finds

Regulatory body says rules that governed 2008 bank audits were found “wanting”

    

The auditing of the 2008 accounts of the six banks and buildings societies that were the subject of the Government guarantee of that year was “satisfactory”, the regulatory body that oversees the profession has concluded following a major review.

However the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb) report also concluded that the international standards governing the audits were “wanting” and has recommended a shift towards a more “principles based” regime.

The in-depth review, conducted by six Carb staff and headed by a senior Scottish expert, chartered accountant David Spence, took a number of years and involved a detailed examination of the records of the auditing firms involved and a questioning of the relevant personnel.

KMPG audited the 2008 accounts of AIB, Irish Life and Irish Nationwide, while EY audited those of Anglo Irish Bank and EBS, and PwC those of the Bank of Ireland. However the report does not mention particular banks or firms and is more general in content. Carb director Heather Briers said this was because it can only name firms if there is a sanction against them, and has no authority to regulate or name banks.

The report focused on the issue of loan impairments, which was the dominant topic for auditors working on the 2008 accounts. The Carb investigation found that the firms involved all devoted substantial resources to the issue and substantially more time than was the case with the 2007 accounts. The work included input from colleagues in foreign branches of the global firms.

However a new international rule, enshrined in law within the EU, and which had been introduced in 2005, dictated that provisions could not be made for loan losses deemed likely to occur in the future, and that this applied “no matter how likely” the losses were. Rule IAS 39 ensured that impairments could only be recognised in respect of circumstances existing at the balance sheet date.

The effect of the rule, which was designed to stop banks trying to “smooth out” their profitability over an extended period, using the level of impairments held on the books, meant that some auditors began to question whether the rules were “fit for purpose”.

Some banks tried to compensate for the effect of the rule by issuing statements warning that loan losses might increase significantly depending on how the then crisis in the property market developed.

However the report said more emphasis should be put on the “true and fair” stipulation for audited accounts, as against the qualification that was so in relation to the relevant accountanting standards.

“Carb believes that all interested stakeholders should discuss how a principles-based framework for the future could be developed,” the report said.

Carb chairman Don Thornhill said no member of the Carb board who might have had a perceived conflict in relation to the report, was involved with its production.

TCD’s Alzheimer’s breakthrough could have ‘tremendous potential’

The disease is most common form of dementia globally and affects up to 40,000 people in Ireland

      

Alzheimer’s is the fourth leading cause of death in individuals over 65. 

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin say a discovery they have made on the cause of Alzheimer’s disease could hold “tremendous potential” for new therapies.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia globally and affects up to 40,000 people in Ireland. It is the fourth leading cause of death in individuals over 65 and it is the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised, in part, by the build-up of a small protein in the brains of patients. Failure to clear this protein “appears to be a major factor” in the build-up of plaques, and then in the disease process itself, according to the research.

Delicate tissue

While the mode by which the protein is cleared “remains unclear”, it is “evident” that it needs to be removed from the brain via the bloodstream.

“Unlike blood vessels anywhere else in the body, those in the brain have properties that strictly regulate what gets in and out of the delicate tissue – this is what is known as the blood-brain barrier,” according to the research.

The scientists believe “periodic clearance” of the protein across the blood brain barrier could lead to new treatments.

“The next steps are to consider how this might be achieved,” they said.

The research, published in international journal Science Advances, was supported by Science Foundation Ireland and the US-based charity, Brightfocus Foundation.

Drinking beetroot juice could be key to getting more out of your workout

      

The key to getting the most out of your workout and succeeding on the playing field could be down to one unlikely super food, new scientific research claims.

According to scientists at the University of Exeter, drinking high nitrate beetroot juice improves both sprint performance and decision-making during intermittent exercise such as rugby and football.

In their latest study, 16 male team sport players drank 140ml of Beet It Sport – a high nitrate beetroot juice – for seven days.

On the final day, the men – who were all players in rugby, hockey or football teams – completed an intermittent sprint test.

This consisted of two 40-minute sessions of repeated two-minute blocks – a six second all-out sprint, 100 seconds active recovery and 20 seconds of rest, on an exercise bike.

At the same time, they were given cognitive tasks designed to test how accurately and quickly they made decisions.

The players completed the same tests after drinking the nitrate-rich beetroot juice and after consuming a placebo version with the nitrate stripped out.

Those who had taken the nitrate-rich version saw a 3.5% improvement in sprint performance and a 3% increase in their speed of making decisions without hindering accuracy.

Chris Thompson, of the University of Exeter, led the study – which is published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and available on PubMed.

“This research is a really exciting landmark in the work conducted on nitrate supplementation so far,” he said.

“The improvement we found may seem small, but it’s likely to provide a meaningful advantage to the athlete on the sports field.

“It could mean that team sport players are able to make those important decisions faster and cover more ground than their opponents in the seconds when it matters most.”

The Beet It shots are being used in research by 150 universities across the world who are examining the benefits of natural dietary nitrate supplementation.

The research has identified that their naturally high dietary nitrate content – 400mg per shot – interacts with enzymes in saliva to generate nitric oxide in the blood system.

Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that increases the flow of blood and oxygen in the muscles to boost strength and endurance.

Professor Andrew Jones PhD, associate dean for research at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the university, said beetroot juice “could make all the difference”.

“These new results suggest that beetroot juice could improve both physical performance and decision-making during team sports such as rugby and football,” he said.

“In events like the Rugby World Cup, every second counts in those crucial moments, so this improvement could make all the difference”.

The first creature to walk on four legs revealed by pre-reptile fossils found,

Researchers say

    

After closely examining the forelimbs of a pre-reptile fossil species known as Bunostegos akokanensis, Brown University researchers concluded that it is the oldest known creature to walk upright on all four legs.

Bunostegos is a 260-million-year-old pre-reptile that roamed the supercontinent Pangea munching on plants. According to a news release, scientists previously thought that all Permian herbivores had a sprawling body type — where their limbs would extend from the sides of their body and slant downward from their elbows, similar to some modern lizards. However, Bunostegos fossils, which were originally found in Niger, Africa, in 2003 and 2006, paint a different picture.

“A lot of the animals that lived around the time had a similar upright or semi-upright hind limb posture, but what’s interesting and special about Bunostegos is the forelimb, in that it’s anatomy is sprawling-precluding and seemingly directed underneath its body–unlike anything else at the time,” Morgan Turner, lead author and graduate student at Brown University, said in the release. “The elements and features within the forelimb bones won’t allow a sprawling posture. That is unique.”

From their recent analysis, the researchers concluded that the Bunostegos resembled modern cows in both size and posture. However, unlike grass-grazing cows today, this pre-reptile was also suited with boney armor down his back and a knobby skull, according to Linda Tsuji, co-author from the Royal Ontario Museum.

In their study, the researchers explained how Bunostegos was able to stand tall. The answers lie in the pre-reptiles’ shoulder joint, humerus, elbow and ulna. Its shoulder faced down so that the humerus, the bone running from the shoulder to the elbow, was directly underneath its body. This is different than sprawlers, where the humerus sticks out toward the side of the body. The pre-reptile’s elbow also differed from sprawler’s in that it was more like a human knee — with a limited range of motion, capable of only swinging back and forth. In contrast, sprawlers were able to swing their forearms out to the side. Finally, the researchers noted that the Bunostegos’ ulna is longer than the humerus, a common characteristic among non-sprawlers.

According to the release, the Bunostegos’s posture suggests that it was an outlier. This makes sense based on the natural habitat it would have lived in 260 million years ago, where food sources would have been spread out. Being able to walk on all fours was necessary for the Bunostegos to travel long distances for food.

“Posture, from sprawling to upright, is not black or white, but instead is a gradient of forms,” Turner explained in a statement. “There are many complexities about the evolution of posture and locomotion we are working to better understand every day. The anatomy of Bunostegos is unexpected, illuminating, and tells us we still have much to learn.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 10th May 2015

Ex-FF TD and sons among 126 repossession cases in Limerick

PTSB pursuing Noel O’Flynn and two sons in connection with Limerick buy-to-let property

  

Former Fianna Fáil TD Noel O’Flynn and his sons Gary and Kenneth O’Flynn have a mortgage debt of almost €117,000 on a buy-to- let property in Limerick, the court heard

Members of a well-known Cork political family were among the 126 repossession cases heard before the Limerick County Registrar’s Court yesterday.

Former Fianna Fáil TD Noel O’Flynn and his sons Gary and Kenneth O’Flynn have a total mortgage debt of almost €117,000 on a buy-to- let property in Limerick, the court heard.

Mr O’Flynn was a TD for the Cork North Central constituency from 1997 until 2011. Gary O’Flynn, a former Cork city councillor, was jailed last month for three years for soliciting someone to kill a garda, a Revenue official and an accountant. Kenneth O’Flynn was co-opted on toCork City Council in December 2008, and is the current deputy Lord Mayor of Cork.

A solicitor representing Permanent TSB told Limerick County Registrar’s Court the initiation of proceedings had been halted because the bank had difficulty serving notice on the parties.

She also claimed that “various games were being played” by the borrowers.

Solicitor Conn Barry told the court the defendants were from a “well-known family in Cork”.

Mr Barry, who was acting as agent for a Cork solicitors’ firm, said it was the first time the case had come before the court.

County registrar Pat Wallace was told the last repayment on the buy-to-let property was in July 2013. No member of the O’Flynn family was present in court and the case was adjourned by consent until July 3rd.

Eleven homes were repossessed at the sitting of the court, many of them primary residences.

Among the orders granted by the registrar included a mother who told the court she could not meet the full amount of her monthly payments after separating from her husband.

Single mother

She said she was able to afford only half the mortgage and she had just returned to health from a three-month illness.

The Lithuanian mother of one said she could not claim from her home insurance to repair dampness and mould that was causing her sickness because the insurance company required her ex-husband’s signature on documents.

In excess of €191,000 was owing on the mortgage, with more than €60,000 in payments in arrears.

Mr Wallace granted the repossession order but put a stay on the bank executing it for 12 months.

“No one will throw you out in the street yet,” he told the woman. “Given your predicament, this might not be a bad outcome.”

In two cases, orders for repossession were granted to Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB after the borrowers had failed to turn up for any court hearing or engage with their lenders.

In one case, the borrower owed more than €301,000 and had not made a payment in 51 months.

Thousands take part in Darkness into Light walks in Ireland & worldwide

 

12,000 people turned up at 4.15am in Phoenix Park to walk 5km for suicide prevention

The 5km Darkness into Light walk/run, which kicked off at 4.15am on Saturday, was held at 80 locations in Ireland and around the world, and is believed to have attracted an estimated 100,000 participants.

More than 12,000 early risers descended on Phoenix Park this morning to take part in the annual Pieta House Darkness into Light mental health awareness event.

The 5km walk/run, which kicked off at 4.15am on Saturday, was held at 80 locations in Ireland and around the world, and is believed to have attracted an estimated 100,000 participants.

The first Darkness into Light walk was held in 2009 with just 400 participants.

“Pieta House’s intention has always been to save lives and to change the social fabric and the conversation around suicide and self-harm,” said Joan Freeman, founder of Pieta House, this morning in Phoenix Park. “It’s been nine years and we’ve come a long way towards reaching that goal. However, people are still afraid to face the reality that they may know someone who’s at risk of suicide or self-harm.

“You, the people, are the most important component of all in the fight against suicide.”

From Wicklow to Washington, Chicago to Perth, friends, families, children and pets turned out to walk together for suicide prevention. An estimated 4,000 people walked in Melbourne and Perth, which were among the first cities to kick the morning off, followed by almost 1,500 people walking in London, Manchester and Glasgow. The final walks of the day will take place in New York, Toronto and Chicago where 1,700 people are expected to turn up in support of Pieta House.

In celebration of the theme ‘connecting’ for this year’s Darkness into Light walk, Dublin Bus provided a free shuttle service connecting Heuston Station to the flagship walk in Phoenix Park in the early hours of Saturday morning. Elsewhere around Ireland, local businesses showed their support by opening early and providing weary walkers with complimentary teas, coffees and refreshments.

Jim Dollard, executive director of Electric Ireland which supported this year’s walks, congratulated all participants around the globe, thanking them for their support.

“This year has been the biggest year yet and there’s no doubt that it has captured the imagination of Irish people at home and abroad, including in Electric Ireland, where a large number of our staff walked with thousands of other people in venues across the country this morning.”

Pieta House is a suicide and self-harm crisis organisation and works with ten centres across the State. Pieta House is set to open its first overseas centre in Queens, New York this summer as it begins to reach out to members of the Irish diaspora who may be in need of support.

Europe’s Digital Single Market needs to foster tech startups and a global view

   

Europe has launched its strategy for a Digital Single Market throughout its member countries. The success of this strategy relies on the ability of European lawmakers and politicians removing barriers to digital trade and creating an environment to foster the growth in digital platforms and skills necessary to support a fast growing digital economy.

It is easy for others, especially the US, to see the Digital Single Market strategy as a pretext to regulate and restrict the popularity and pervasiveness of foreign companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix. Certainly, the European Commission will need to demonstrate that its focus is more on enabling rather than simply protecting a future industry.

However, one of the central “pillars” of the strategy is to remove barriers to international online trade. This means removing the practice of “geo-blocking” which restricts content to certain countries, or places extra costs on those accessing these services from outside those boundaries. Achieving this will require a levelling between countries of their different regimes of value added tax, laws for consumer protection and copyright, and a host of other legislative and commercial idiosyncrasies.

Setting aside the hurdles of the Digital Single Market outlined in the agenda document, the largest real challenge is in the fact that 54% of e-commerce traffic in Europe is with services based in the US whereas only 4% of traffic in one European country is for a service in another European country. Creating a Digital Single Market is all well and good but if it mainly benefits US companies it is going to be far less strategic for Europe.

In the light of the dominance of US services in Europe, the fear held by the US that Europe’s Digital Single Market will essentially try and restrict this dominance are possibly not unfounded. The simple fact is that those firms succeed because that is what European consumers want. Making it simpler for those services to operate in Europe still has advantages to the EU because it enables firms like Amazon and Apple to operate more seamlessly across all of Europe, helping to keep costs down.

To truly benefit from the efficiencies of opening up the digital markets in Europe, what actually needs to happen is to apply this strategy globally. All of the points made within the Digital Single Market strategy are valid steps to removing barriers to online trade. The limitation of the strategy is that it stops at Europe’s borders, when the Internet that underpins the online world recognises no such boundary.

For a global Digital Single Market to be successful, in addition to the goals outlined in Europe’s strategy, there would need to be agreement on tax avoidance schemes that US companies in particular are carrying out when doing business globally. Ironically, these practices operate in Europe by leveraging different transfer pricing schemes between parts of their company set up in different countries. Allowing foreign multi-nationals to dominate in a local market is one thing but it adds insult to injury that tax revenue from business carried out in one particular country could be lost to another, or not collected at all.

Of course, the main aim of the European Commission in proposing the Digital Single Market agenda is to provide a platform that is conducive to surfacing digital entrepreneurs and growing new companies based in Europe. The entire world outside of Silicon Valley wants to emulate the success of that area by creating innovation centers that foster startups and the next Google or Uber. The trouble is that despite cities around the world trying to do this, they have so-far largely failed to bring together the ingredients that exist in California. At the heart of this though, it may simply be a case of not enough money being invested in seeding startups. Startups in London, which is considered the most successful of European startup locations, still only attract 6% of the funding amounts that startups in Silicon Valley do.

In the normal tech company life-cycle, successful companies produce a large number of wealthy individuals who not only have a specific set of skills in creating tech startups but have the money to invest either in their own projects or others. The conditions for this were driven by the opportunities created by stock markets and the insatiable appetite for tech stocks. Reproducing this elsewhere, is going to take time, money, an appetite for risk and the acceptance of failure. Unfortunately, none of that is part of the European Digital Single Market strategy. Whilst the aims of their agenda may be a good start, even if successful, it is still a long way from actually seeing any benefits result from it.

Craft Butchers of Ireland ambassador to make world’s largest gluten free pancake

   

Chef Adrian Martin is pictured on the left with Ethne Reynolds, Stephen Schmidt and championships organiser Brid Torrades at the World Irish Stew Championship, St Angela’s College, Co Sligo.

Adrian Martin, Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland ambassador, plans to break a world-record in association with the Irish Coeliac Society by making the world’s largest gluten free potato pancake.

The ambassador of the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, chef Adrian Martin, who has trained and worked under chef Neven Maguire for six years, is planning to make the world’s largest gluten-free potato pancake at an event held in Smithfield in Dublin on Monday, 11 May.

The event is being held to mark the beginning of Coeliac Awareness Week, organised by the Coeliac Society of Ireland.

Chef Adrian is planning to break a world record at the event at Smithfield, which is open to the public from 10.30 am on Monday morning.

Sonya Shiels from the Coeliac Society of Ireland said the pancake, if it is to break the world-record, will measure a metre and a half and will help raise the profile of the rest of the week’s events.

These events include a series of cookery demonstrations held in certified craft butchers in Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick and Galway where chef Adrian will cook gluten free recipes involving meat.

Adrian, 23, has been the Craft Butchers of Ireland ambassador for the past two years and said he is “hopeful” about breaking the world record on Monday.

“I’ve never baked one of that size before obviously, so I’m going to have a practice run on the Sunday in my own kitchen to see how it goes,” he said.

If the pancake is made to the specified world-record breaking requirements of five feet, Adrian says it will be able to feed between 150 and 200 mouths.

“So if you know anyone who wants to try a gluten-free potato pancake, send them down here on Monday,” he said.

Coeliac Awareness Week

Coeliac Awareness Week is being promoted by the Coeliac Society of Ireland nationwide from 11 to 17 May. In particular the society wishes to encourage anyone who thinks they may be affected by coeliac disease to contact their GP.

Commenting in advance of Coeliac Awareness Week, Gráinne Denning, CEO of the Coeliac Society of Ireland, said, “When people are diagnosed with coeliac disease, they may feel overwhelmed. We’re encouraging people with coeliac disease to come along to the events we have organised during Awareness Week to meet the wider gluten-free community, learn some new recipes, and enjoy healthy walks and delicious food.

“For anyone with coeliac disease, or with a family member or friend affected by the disease, we hope Awareness Week events will help them embrace and live their gluten-free life to the full.”

The auto-immune disease is estimated to affect 46,000 people in Ireland and it can manifest itself at any stage in a person’s lifetime. The only treatment for the disease is a gluten-free diet.

Spectacular Martian sunset in a blue-tinged sky recorded by Curiosity’s Mast Camera

  Watch The Sun Go Down On Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mascam (Mast Camera) to record the sun dipping to the horizon in a blue-tinged sky. The spectacular images, that were captured on 15 April, 2015, were sent home to Earth this week.

The photographs were taken between dust storms, but some dust was still floating high in the red planet’s atmosphere.

Scientists say the sunset observations help them assess the vertical distribution of dust in the atmosphere.

Mastcam sees colors very similarly to what our eyes do, although it is actually slightly less sensitive to blue than humans are.

Curiosity science team member, Mark Lemmon, of Texas A&M University, College Station, who planned the observations, said:

“The colors come from the fact that the very fine dust is the right size so that blue light penetrates the atmosphere slightly more efficiently.”

“When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the sun than light of other colors does. The rest of the sky is yellow to orange, as yellow and red light scatter all over the sky instead of being absorbed or staying close to the sun.”

Martian sunset blue, daytime rusty

Just as with sunsets on Earth, when reddish colours are made more dramatic, on the red planet sunsets make the blue near the Sun’s part of the sky stand out much more, while normal daylight makes the dust’s rusty colour more prominent.

The Mars Curiosity Rover has been studying the planet’s ancient and modern environments since it landed inside the Gale Crater in August 2012.

Curiosity’s Mastcam was built and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, California. NASA”s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Friday 17th April 2015

Aer Lingus talks to conclude within weeks

  • Says Pascal Donohoe

Claims that IAG and Government close to deal on Heathrow guarantees

  

Shares in Aer Lingus rose 5.5% to €2.42 at lunchtime yesterday in Dublin

Discussions about the takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG should be concluded within coming weeks, the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe has indicated.

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Minister said that the Government’s steering group on the takeover proposal and its advisers had engaged further over recent weeks and that this engagement had been “useful”.

He said talks had focused on matters previously outlined by him and that IAG had provided further details on “issues of concern” to the Government. In earlier statements on the proposed deal, Mr Donohue has highlighted employment prospects, expansion plans and commitments on the Aer Lingus Heathrow slots as being particularly significant.

“ Discussions are progressing and as I have indicated previously I do not want this process to be drawn out unnecessarily and I expect that it can be brought to a conclusion in the coming weeks,” he said on Thursday.

Shares in Aer Lingus surged in trading on Thursday following reports of a rapprochement between IAG and the Government, which controls 25% of the Irish airline. A deal on the Heathrow slots is seen as being most significant in the talks.

IAG is proposing to pay close to €1.4 billion for Aer Lingus. The stock was up almost 4% at €2.38 on Thursday afternoon, having climbed higher earlier in the day.

Youthful Ireland top country in Europe for stats on young people

     

Ireland is the most youthful country in Europe, according to new figures from Eurostat.

We have the largest proportion of children under the age of 15, at 22%.

France is next on almost 19%, followed by the UK.

Ruth Deasy of the EU office in Dublin, says the number of people in Ireland under the age of 30 is exceptional.

“Ireland stands out in this study as the most youthful country in the EU, where four out of 10 Irish people are aged less than 30 and this is really quite exceptional,” said Deasy.

“We also have the largest proportion of under-16s in the EU and by quite a large margin.

“Ireland’s fertility rate is high, it is the highest in the EU but it is still slightly below replacement level,” said Deasy.

12 months extension granted for charities to register with CRA

 

Only 200 of the estimated 4,000-plus charities in Ireland required to register with the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) have registered, despite the threat of stiff fines for non-compliance.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald has announced a 12 month extension to the deadline after discussions with the Charities Regulatory Authority.

The one-year extension of the deadline risks undermining confidence in a sector which has been working to regain public trust after the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC)  scandal 18 months ago.

In a statement Minister Fitzgerald said only 200 charities had registered when the original deadline expired.

NOT AFFECTED

The Minister said the move does not affect 8,500 other charities which have been automatically registered with the authority by virtue of the charitable tax status granted to them by the Revenue Commissioners before mid-October 2014.

The Authority was established by the Government last October almost a year after a series of financial scandals at the CRC involving a gold-plated pension for its retired Chief Executive, Paul Kiely, top-up payments to some executives and cross-directorships with a related company.

This and subsequent revelations about finances at the Rehab organisation led to a significant decline in public donations to most of the Republic’s charities.

A SCANDAL?

Responding to the Minister’s announcement, the Irish Charities Tax Reform group (ICTR) has expressed concern that the announcement of an extension of the registration deadline for certain charities risks undermining confidence in the sector which has been trying to regain public trust after the CRC scandal of 18 months ago.

During that scandal it was revealed that the board of the long-established disability charity had approved the use of charitable donations to help fund a €740,000 annual pension for its former chief executive, Paul Kiely.

OVER-AMBITIOUS

A spokesperson for the ICTR group told RTÉ News it was “over-ambitious” of the 2009 Charities Act to set a deadline of six months for unregistered to register with the new Charities Regulatory Authority, as the law had not been fully enacted until 16 October last year.

The spokesperson for the 160-strong umbrella group, which represents some of the country’s largest charities, said that a shortage of resources in the newly-established Charities Regulator’s office compounded the problem.

The CRA website apologises to readers that “due to the high volume of queries we receive, it may take us some time to respond to your query”.

STAFFING

The ICTR has said that only four new additional full-time staff equivalents were allocated to the regulator last year.

It conceded that the regulator also inherited a further five full-time staff from the Commission for Charity Regulation and Bequests but said they continued to fulfill their established functions.

The group said a crunch meeting is scheduled soon with the Department of Justice and Equality on a request from the Charities Regulatory Authority for additional staff.

It said the Scottish regulator was given 50 staff a decade ago to service a population similar to the Republic of Ireland’s

The group estimates that the Republic of Ireland’s regulator needs approximately 11 extra staff to boost its complement to about 20.

AWARENESS RAISING

Meanwhile, an organisation representing over 1,000 charities, The Wheel, has called for big awareness raising initiative to ensure unregistered charities understand their obligation to register.

Welcoming Minister Fitzgerald’s 12 month extension of the deadline for unregistered charities to make themselves known to the Charities Regulator, The Wheel Director of Advocacy Ivan Cooper, said many of the mostly smaller organisations concerned seem to be unaware of their obligation.

The Wheel also called on the minister to ensure that the CRA is sufficiently resourced to communicate with, educate and support charitable organisations that have yet to apply to it for registration.

Mr Cooper also called on the Department to ensure that the CRA is given enough resources to support the other 9,000 or so registered charities that are currently completing their entry in the CRA’s Register.

He said it will be working closely with the CRA and other partners in the charity sector to raise awareness of the requirements facing unregistered charities.

Applications for inclusion on the Register of Charities can be made through the CRA’s website at the CRA’s website at www.charitiesregulatoryauthority.ie

24,000 Irish people could have un-diagnosed diabetes

   

The largest ever study into diabetes risk and cardiovascular risk, conducted by VHI Healthcare, has revealed that 24,000 people in Ireland could have un-diagnosed diabetes.

The research was conducted in VHI Healthcare’s medical centres in Cork and Dublin.

Almost 30,000 people took part in the study from 2009 to 2013.

Of those, nearly 5,000 people (17%) were found to have abnormal initial fasting blood sugar levels.

Men were up to three times more likely to have undiagnosed diabetes.

Research was conducted in VHI Healthcare’s medical centres in Cork and Dublin.

Those with abnormal blood sugar levels were most likely to be older, men, smokers, with abdominal obesity, higher BMI and higher blood pressure.

Study findings included that the risk of undiagnosed diabetes went up by 89% for every 5kg increase in body mass index.

The author of the report and medical director at VHI Healthcare, Dr Bernadette Carr, said: “The results of our research suggest that the rate of undiagnosed type two diabetes and pre-diabetes is higher in Ireland than in similar European countries such as Britain and Holland.

“THESE RESULTS DEMONSTRATE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR INDIVIDUALS TO UNDERSTAND AND MANAGE THEIR OWN HEALTH RISKS.”

Dr Bernadette Carr, The author of the VHI diabetes report said “By making some very simple lifestyle changes, people can improve their outcomes and, in the case of pre-diabetes, can even delay or prevent progression to diabetes,”

Fitness apps will not improve your health  

And it could be harmful?

 

They are the latest health and fitness ‘revolution’, beloved of the fad dieters and the pilates obsessives and not to mention some of our leading politicians.

But what use, really, are increasingly popular health apps like Fitbit and Jawbone that monitor our activity levels, heart rate and even sleep patterns? None at all, according to one leading GP – and they could even end up doing harm.

Writing in the BMJ, Glasgow GP and health commentator Dr Des Spence warns that the products, which increasingly include wearable devices that link to computers and smartphones, providing 24-hour health monitoring, are “untested and unscientific” and could ignite “extreme anxiety” in a new generation of the “worried well”.

Warning that such apps could soon be “ubiquitous”, Dr Spence said that devices that could offer perpetual health monitoring risked giving rise to ‘over-diagnosis’ of health problems, with people unable to distinguish harmless variation or faulty readings from genuine signs of ill health.

“The truth is that these apps and devices are untested and unscientific, and they will open the door of uncertainty,” he writes. “Make no mistake: diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people. We must reflect on what we might lose here, rather than what we might gain.”

Thousands of health apps are now available and some are even endorsed by the NHS.

George Osborne raised eyebrows when he was seen wearing one – a Jawbone ‘UP’ wristband – at a committee hearing two years ago. It is unclear whether the device played an important part in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s subsequent weight loss, but he did confirm at the time that former Education Secretary Michael Gove was also using one.

George Osborne sporting the Jawbone wristband
Despite their rising popularity, there is no evidence that smartphone-connected health apps can actually improve health, although two randomised trials of weight loss apps for old-style ‘handheld PC’ devices did show they worked better than paper or web-based fitness programmes.

Not all doctors are convinced health apps are a cause for concern. Also writing in the BMJ, Iltifat Husain, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, USA, said that apps which encouraged more exercise and a better diet could well carry benefits.

He said that while tests of Fitbit and Jawbone devices had not found evidence they could improve health outcomes or exercise compliance, there was also no evidence they could do harm.

“Healthy people may well benefit from using some health apps…but doctors need to be proactive about telling people which metrics matter and which apps they should buy,” he writes.

Daily brisk walking good for prostate cancer survivors

 

Brisk walking a key for prostate cancer survivors.

Brisk walking for about three hours a week is enough to help prostate cancer survivors reduce damaging side effects of their treatment, according to a promising study.

“Non-vigorous walking for three hours per week seems to improve the fatigue, depression and body weight issues that affect many men post-treatment,” said Siobhan Phillips, lead author from the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“If you walk even more briskly, for only 90 minutes a week, you could also see similar benefits in these areas,” he added.

Phillips used data from the health professionals follow-up Study. She focused on prostate cancer survivors who were diagnosed with non-advanced disease prior to 2008 and responded to a health-related quality of life (HRQOL) questionnaire.

Common HRQOL symptoms included urinary and bowel problems, sexual function issues, fatigue, depression, increased body weight and erectile dysfunction.

The men reported the average time spent during a week walking to work or for exercise as well as time spent jogging, running, cycling, swimming and playing sports.

They also reported their usual outdoor walking pace as easy, average, brisk or very brisk.

The findings indicate that higher duration of brisk walking were associated with better hormone/vitality functioning (affecting fatigue, depression and body weight).

“Those who are able to walk should be encouraged to start an easy walking routine or engage in other non-vigorous activities soon after a prostate cancer diagnosis,” Phillips noted.

The benefits could help manage symptoms such as fatigue, depression and body weight – and improve overall health.

Walking may also potentially increase survival and impact their quality of life by preventing the onset of those other conditions.

The only surviving male northern white rhino is put under armed guard 24 hours a day

  

Rangers in Kenya risking their lives to keep the above 43-year-old rhino safe.

Sudan is the last hope for this Rhino species now on the verge of being wiped out for ever.

But ivory is now fetching as much as £47,000 per kilo as demand grows

Animal sanctuary Ol Pejeta trying to raise money to help pay for guards

The world’s last surviving male northern white rhino – stripped of his horn for his own safety – is now under 24-hour armed guard in a desperate final bid to save the species.

Sudan is guarded day and night by a group of rangers who risk their lives on a daily basis as they try to keep the rhino from poachers lured by the rising price of ivory.

But even without his horn, keepers in the Kenyan reserve of Ol Pojeta in fear for his safety.

Guard: The rangers keep an armed watch around Sudan at all times to deter poachers after his horn

Northern white rhinos at the Ol Pojeta reserve in 2012

The 43-year-old rhino – who could live until his 50s – is the last chance for any future northern white rhino calves.

Sudan was moved, along with two female rhinos, from a zoo in the Czech Republic in December 2009.

The reserve, which specialises in the conservation of rhinos, was chosen because of its successful breeding programme with black rhinos.