Tag Archives: Water bills

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 11th April 2017

Bus Eireann Unions may halt strike when a  proposal issue is settled

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Bus Eireann unions may halt the strike when the industrial relations’ court as a last resort issues a proposal to end the dispute.

A Labour Court hearing began this afternoon after a third round of talks collapsed at the Workplace Relations Commission this morning.

It is unclear when the court will issue its recommendation, but it likely to try to do so as soon as possible.

When the recommendation is issued, a collective decision will be taken by all five unions on whether to suspend industrial action while a ballot on the proposal takes place. Sources indicated they are likely to lift the pickets.

A total of 1,900 workers have been on strike for over two weeks over payroll cuts as the company attempts to stave off the threat of insolvency next month.

Many passengers have turned to private operators and management fears that many may not return when the dispute is resolved.

Opportunity to strike a deal in Bus Eireann dispute ‘squandered’, says SIPTU representative.0:00 / 01:44

Speaking on his way into the hearing, Siptu Transport Division Organiser, Greg Ennis, said a decision had not been taken on whether industrial action would called off.

He said after the court issued its recommendation, the national committees of the five Bus Eireann unions will take a collective decision on “the best course of action”.

General Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, Dermot O’Leary, said unions would make a submission to the court today and it may decide to engage in talks with the parties this evening.

He claimed there are “forces at play” that would prefer to see the demise of Bus Éireann, rather than concentrate on securing its future.

Unions claimed they had agreed savings worth €18m through a voluntary redundancy scheme and efficiencies at last night’s talks.

It is understood that there were disagreements when management sought further savings by replacing basic pay, overtime and premium rates with a single rate.

They questioned why further savings were needed “to deal with a €9m problem”, which is the value of the company’s losses last year.

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that Bus Éireann faces insolvency next month.

In a statement, Bus Éireann said progress was made at talks and agreement reached to eliminated many inefficiencies in work practices.

However, it said “an offer” made by the company to help deliver “financial viability” was rejected by unions representing drivers.

“We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused as a result of the ongoing industrial action,” said a spokesperson. Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, Dermot O’Leary, said unions would make a submission to the court today and it may decide to engage in talks with the parties this evening.

He claimed there are “forces at play” that would prefer to see the demise of Bus Éireann, rather than concentrate on securing its future.

Unions claimed they had agreed savings worth €18m through a voluntary redundancy scheme and efficiencies at last night’s talks.

It is understood that there were disagreements when management sought further savings by replacing basic pay, overtime and premium rates with a single rate.

They questioned why further savings were needed “to deal with a €9m problem”, which is the value of the company’s losses last year.

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that Bus Éireann faces insolvency next month.

In a statement, Bus Éireann said progress was made at talks and agreement reached to eliminated many inefficiencies in work practices.

However, it said “an offer” made by the company to help deliver “financial viability” was rejected by unions representing drivers.

“We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused as a result of the ongoing industrial action,” said a spokesperson.

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland welcomes new HSE medication deal

Image result for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland welcomes new HSE medication deal  Image result for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland welcomes new HSE medication deal  Image result for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland welcomes new HSE medication deal

Health Minister Simon Harris right pic told the Dáil on Tuesday that agreement had been reached “ in principle” between the HSE and Vertex on the commercial terms for the supply of Orkambi and Kalydeco to patients from next month. And left pic Jillian McNulty, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, has fought long and hard to get the drug funded by the HSE.  

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland has welcomed the long-awaited deal completed by the HSE and drug manufacturer Vertex to make a wonder CF drug available.

Almost 600 patients will benefit from Orkambi and Kalydeco because of their particular CF genotype. These drugs slow the progression of the illness, reduce hospitalisation caused by sudden worsening of the condition, and reduce dependency on other drugs like expensive antibiotics.

CFI chief executive Philip Watt said there “ is a very innovative element to the agreement which is that it is inclusive of ‘pipeline drug therapies’ from the same company that are currently showing promise in the advance stages of clinical trials”.

“Even with Orkambi and Kalydeco, there will be around 30% of the CF population that still has no drug that treats the underlying cause of their condition in Ireland. This is why a pipeline deal is so important. There also may be better drugs for those on existing Vertex drugs coming down the line.”

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that agreement had been reached “ in principle” between the HSE and Vertex on the commercial terms for the supply of Orkambi and Kalydeco to patients from next month.

Orkambi can be used by patients aged 12 and over while Kalydeco can be used on children aged 2-5.

Mr Harris said: “Both parties are now working to finalise the contractual arrangements and complete approval processes in advance of May 1. I want to also especially acknowledge that this has been an extraordinarily difficult time for CF patients, their families, and friends as they have been waiting for this process to conclude.”

About 40 people with CF had been receiving the treatment on a trial or compassionate-use programme.

Once the deal has been scrutinised by HSE lawyers, it will go before Cabinet for final approval.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry said “while the agreement in principle is welcome, the fact that it has taken this long to get to this point is beyond reprehensible”.

Water charges refund’s now on the cards as FG and FF agrees a deal

Barry Cowen and Simon Coveney below left picture.

Image result for Water charges refund's now on the cards as FG and FF agrees a deal  Image result for Water refund's  Image result for Water charges refund's now on the cards as FG and FF agrees a deal

Water charges are now dead in the ground and Housing Minister Simon Coveney must begin work on issuing refunds to almost one million law-abiding households?

After 10 days of frantic negotiations Fianna Fáil performed yet another u-turn on its policy to finally vote through a report on the future funding of domestic water services.

But their water spokesman Barry Cowen denied capitulating to Housing Minister Simon Coveney, arguing the party had ensured the “failed regime is gone”.

Mr Coveney will now begin work on legislation that will see around 70,000 a year hit with levies for “excessive” usage of water.

Every person will be allowed use 226 litres of water per day before risking prosecution.

And builders will be required to install meters in all newly built homes.

Fianna Fáil had objected to the word “excessive” and the further rollout of meters but backtracked on foot of fresh legal advice provided to the Oireacthas water committee.

Asked if he accepted Mr Coveney had won the battle, Mr Cowen replied: “I don’t care about whether it’s 2-nil, 3-nil, 5-nil or 10-nil or 1-1 or whatever it might be.

“When the spin fades away the facts will remain that there are no changes and Fianna Fáil has honoured its commitments.”

He said 10 days had been wasted on foot of Fine Gael game-playing which he suggested was the result of the leadership battle between Mr Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

“Maybe you can ask Mr Varadkar if he’s happy now because it’s the same deal that was there 10 days ago,” he said.

Mr Cowen said if he expected others to abided by the legal advice then he would have to do so himself.

“Charges are gone, they are not coming back,” he said, adding that if households “wilfully abuse water I have no problem with them being fined”.

However, Solidary TD Paul Murphy who has led the anti-water charges movement last night urged people to start digging up water meters.

He noted that only houses with meters will be liable for excessive usage charges.

“So if people are out there and they currently have water meters that they don’t want to have, I’d suggest that if they get rid of those water meters then they can’t be faced with any charge whatsoever,” he said.

Mr Murphy said general charges were gone but they Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had done a “backroom dodgy deal”.

As tensions rose yesterday Taoiseach Enda Kenny told Mary Lou McDonald not to come into the Dáil “exuding righteousness” on water charges.

Mr Kenny claimed Sinn Féin’s view on paying for water was “sabotaged” by the by-election victory of Solidarity’s Paul Murphy in November 2014.

“Then the sound of marching feet in Tallaght changed your view,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader was responding to an attack from Ms McDonald who said the “bully boys” of Government were trying to sabotage the work of the Committee set up to decide on the future funding of domestic water services.

“You are now trying to bully your friends in Fianna Fáil into a U-turn,” she said, in reference to the fact that new legal advice appears to have persuaded Micheál Martin’s party to accept significant changes to the committee’s final report.

“The argument on water has been won on the streets by thousands of protesters who marched at countless demonstrations.

“Your refusal to accept defeat on the issue of water represents a real crisis for democratic representation,” Ms McDonald said.

Department of Finance figures suggest next Irish budget will be more moderate 

Pressure on the public finances is expected to increase in the run-up to Budget 2018

Image result for Pressure on the public finances is expected to increase in the run-up to Budget 2018   Image result for Pressure on the public finances is expected to increase in the run-up to Budget 2018  Image result for Theres room for tax cuts and spending increases in the Irish next budget of 2018 likely to be considerably smaller than the 2017 package

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (above left) who will present the latest forecasts to the Dáil Committee on Budget Oversight on next Thursday.

The room for tax cuts and spending increases in the next budget is likely to be considerably smaller than the 2017 package because of new spending commitments entered into last year, according to updated Department of Finance calculations.

While Budget 2018 is expected to allow for a €1.2 billion budgetary adjustment, the real room for manoeuvre could be as little as €570 million because of the carryover effects of measures contained in Budget 2017.

Pressure on spending from an ageing population and pay rises agreed under the Lansdowne Road deal have already limited the Government’s budgetary options.

Further concessions on public pay amid the threat of strike action from unions or a significant shift in the current tax trend could leave the Government with even less scope.

A spending review, scheduled to take place prior to Budget 2018, is expected, however, to generate “efficiency gains” within the system that will free up some additional money, albeit this is not expected to radically alter the Government’s position.

In a draft stability programme update, which will be submitted to the European Commission later this month, the department said the Irish economy is on target to create 55,000 additional jobs this year and a further 50,000 in 2018, bringing the unemployment rate below 6%.

Brexit threat.

It said the economy was growing strongly, but warned that the threat of Brexit and a changed policy stance in the US meant that “a continuation of robust economic expansion cannot be taken for granted”.

The department has reduced its projections for economic growth in 2019, 2020 and 2021 by roughly 0.5% each year on account of the greater likelihood of the UK opting for some form of hard Brexit.

However, the department upgraded Ireland’s growth outlook for this year amid a stronger-than-expected end to last year.

The department is now projecting that gross domestic product (GDP) will expand by 4.3% this year, from 3.5% at the time of the last budget. For 2018 a growth rate of 3.7% is projected.

A ‘Resilience’

The document says the key goal of budget policy is to improve the “resilience” of the economy so that any adverse developments can be absorbed “with minimal fallout”.

The documents forecast that Ireland will meet its borrowing forecasts of reducing the structural budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP by next year. This assumes that growth meets forecasts and that the scale of tax cuts and spending increases in the budget are in line with what was envisaged in earlier plans.

The department will finalise its pre-budget forecasts, including the amount of money it will have to spend on budget day, in a summer economic statement. Prior to that, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will present the latest forecasts to the Dáil Committee on Budget Oversight on Thursday.

A separate report from the National Competitiveness Council, meanwhile, has warned that Ireland’s failure to invest in infrastructure or to tackle under-resourcing in education would take it toll on the economy, particularly in the wake of Brexit.

Scientists unravel the knotted mystery of the loose shoelace

Image result for Scientists unravel the knotted mystery of the loose shoelace  Image result for tying your shoe with a knot  Image result for tying your shoe with a knot

Researchers discover how laces come undone and offer alternative way to tie them that does knot involve your granny

The lead research said his curiosity about why shoelaces came undone intensified when he began teaching his child how to tie them.

Things can start to unravel at any moment, but when failure occurs it is swift and catastrophic. This is the conclusion of a scientific investigation into what might be described as Sod’s law of shoelaces.

The study focused on the mysterious phenomenon by which a shoe is neatly and securely tied one moment, and the next a flapping lace is threatening to trip you up – possibly as you are running for the bus or striding with professional purpose across your open-plan office.

In a series of experiments involving a human runner on a treadmill and a mechanical leg designed to swing and stomp, the scientists revealed that shoelace knot failure happens in a matter of seconds, triggered by a complex interaction of forces.

Oliver O’Reilly, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California Berkeley and the study’s senior author, said: “It’s unpredictable but when it happens, it’s in two or three strides and it’s catastrophic. There’s no way of coming back from it.”

The study found that the stomping of the foot gradually loosens the knot while the whipping forces produced by the swing of the foot act like hands tugging on the ends of the laces. As the tension in the knot eases and the free ends start to slide, a runaway effect takes hold and the knot suddenly unravels.

The findings also revealed what knot experts, such as sailors and surgeons, have long suggested: that the granny knot many of us use to tie our laces comes undone far quicker than an alternative method that is no more complex.

Robert Matthews, a physicist at Aston University in Birmingham who was not involved in the latest work, said: “It’s provided hard scientific backing for what many people have long suspected: that the traditional way of tying shoelaces is pretty rubbish.”

O’Reilly said he was inspired to investigate after spending decades pondering why laces spontaneously unknot themselves – an intellectual niggle that intensified when he came to teach his daughter how to tie her laces.

The scientist enlisted a pair of PhD students and initial tests revealed that sitting on a chair and swinging your leg or stamping your foot does not generally cause a knot to come undone. It appeared to be a combination of both motions that conspired to unravel laces.

Next, the scientists captured slow-motion video of a runner on a treadmill. They found that the foot strikes the ground at seven times the force of gravity and as the fabric of the shoe squashes down on impact, extra lace is freed at the top of the shoe, causing the knot to loosen slightly with each stride. Meanwhile, the swinging leg causes the lace’s free ends to whip back and forth tugging them outwards. As the knot loosens, the friction holding the knot tight decreases, and as the free ends lengthen, the whipping force goes up, leading to an avalanche effect.

“The interesting thing about this mechanism is that your laces can be fine for a really long time, and it’s not until you get one little bit of motion to cause loosening that starts this avalanche effect leading to knot failure,” said Christine Gregg, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a co-author.

The scientists tested two basic versions of the standard knot and bow: the square knot and the weaker granny knot. In a square knot, you start by crossing the lace in your right hand in front of the one in your left hand and then threading it under the left one. For the bow you repeat the process, but crossing the end that’s now in your right hand behind the one in your left (with added loops to make the bow). In a granny knot the same overhand motion is repeated for both knot and bow.

According to the data, the lace slippage rate was cut by at least a factor of five using a square knot compared with a granny knot. “Simply reversing the way we form the final knot when tying laces makes a huge difference,” Matthews said.

O’Reilly said: “With the strong [square] knot you might be able to get through the day without it failing.” Although he admitted to still using the granny knot himself through habit.

The study suggests the square knot works better because the impact of the foot loosens the knot more slowly, but the scientists were not able to establish why this is the case.

Biggest asteroid in 13 years is going to fly past Earth on today Wednesday

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On Wednesday the 12th, our planet’s going to get a close shave from an alarmingly large chunk of space rock – as the biggest asteroid in 13 years sails past.

The asteroid, known as 2014 JO25, will sail safely past 1.1 million miles away – but NASA says, ‘this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size’.

There’s no chance the asteroid will hit Earth – and is roughly 2,000 feet wide.

It was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona

NASA says, ‘The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights before it fades as the distance from Earth rapidly increases.’

Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis, a 3.1-mile asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004.

News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Thursday 19th May 2016

The numbers paying Irish water bills fall in wake of election pledge

Cash from January-February bills down by almost €10m on the previous billing cycle


Irish Water could not provide the exact percentage of customers who had paid their bills so far this year.

The amount of money collected by Irish Water in water charges has dropped substantially following recent political controversies and the impending suspension of charges.

Irish Water released details on Thursday of the amount of money it collected for its fourth billing cycle, which covered the last three months of 2015.

The bills were sent out in January and February and the amount of money collected dropped by almost €10 million on the previous billing cycle – down to €33.4 million from €42.3 million.

Irish Water could not provide the exact percentage of customers who had paid their bills so far this year, but sources said the drop in revenue effectively brought the level of money collected back to where it was when water charges began.

Balances due for customers

A statement from the semi-State said 64% of “of customers paid water charges in first year of billing”.

“Following the recent government announcement of a suspension of domestic water charges with effect from the end of March 2016, charges for services provided apply up to that time and Irish Water is currently issuing bills to customers for services provided in January, February and March of this year,” the statemend added.

“Irish Water customers remain liable for balances due on any bills issued and Irish Water continues to accept payment and to deal with any billing queries in relation to outstanding balances. Legislation suspending water charges is due before the Dáil in June. Once this legislation is passed, we will update our customers.”

Water charges are to be suspended as a result of the recent minority government deal struck between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Right2Water reaction

Meanwhile, The Right2Water campaign said on Thursday said that Irish Water’s payment figures further illustrate the failure of the Government’s water policy. It called for a referendum to enshrine ownership of our water in public hands.

The group said that the utility’s figures reveal the level of non-payment for the first full year of its existence and show:

Brendan Ogle, Right2Water spokesperson said: “This meagre income should take account of the €80m spent on the so-called conservation grant, which was effectively a bribe to become a customer, leaving a net income of a mere €65 million in a full year.”

He added, “When the massive expenditure on the installation of water meters, consultants, advertising, legal costs and the billing process is considered, more than €1 billion has been spent on this failed project. This Government now needs to stop throwing good money after bad and scrap the whole project, saving taxpayers from more wastage.”

Pharmacy fees for medical card holders are costing the Irish State some €380 million

New figures seen by RTÉ show that pharmacy fees cost much more than the medicines themselves.


The cost to the State for pharmacies to dispense drugs to medical card holders was €380 million in 2014, according to new figures.

The new figures, seen by RTÉ Prime Time, show the cost of dispensing some drugs that are prescribed under the general medical services (GMS) scheme can be in some cases nearly five times higher than the actual costs of the drugs themselves.

In 2014, the State paid €3.3 million for Aspirin – the most commonly prescribed medicine under the GMS scheme.

On top of this cost, it paid pharmacists €14 million in dispensary fees to five out the drug – nearly four times the cost of the medication.

The second most commonly prescribed drug to medical card holders is the cholesterol medication Atorvastatin. In 2014, the total expenditure on the drug by the State was €22.3 million.

€11.3 million of this was the actual cost of the drug, while a further €11 million had to do with pharmacy fees.

The third most commonly prescribed drug, Eltroxin, cost the State €10.8 million in 2014 – with pharmacy fees making up €8.3 million of this amount.

In this case the pharmacy fees cost almost five times more than the actual medicine.

In 2014, 59 million drugs were dispensed under the GMS scheme. RTÉ found that pharmacists are paid a dispensing fee of €3.50 to €5.00 to give out a drug to a medical card patient.

This brings the total cost of dispensing the drugs to €380 million.

“We need to look at all aspects of pharmaceutical expenditure and pharmacy fees are no different,” said Prof Michael Barry Director of the Irish centre for Pharmaeconomics.

You may decide at the end of it all the fees we are paying are totally appropriate, however when you have such discrepancies where you have a drug price that is a fraction of what the HSE is paying then yes – it is legitimate to look at this.”

Frances Fitzgerald cannot open inquest into Mary Boyle case

Donegal schoolgirl’s relatives asked for case to be re-examined after 1977 disappearance


The Donegal schoolgirl Mary Boyle was six years old when she went missing in 1977 and also pictured above is Ann Doherty left with a picture of her twin sister Mary Boyle and centre former detective inspector Aidan Murray.

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said she cannot direct an inquest to be opened into Ireland’s oldest missing person case.

Commenting on the case of Mary Boyle, a Donegal schoolgirl who disappeared in March 1977, then aged six, Ms Fitzgerald said it is the role of the relevant coroner to schedule and conduct inquests.

She said her department has no role in this process.

The missing girl’s sister, Ann Doherty, has been meeting politicians and has given new statements to gardaí in an attempt to find out what happened to her twin sister nearly four decades ago.

Ms Doherty has alleged that her sister’s disappearance from her their grandparents’ home in Cashelard, Co Donegal has been subject of a cover-up, and that not all evidence was thoroughly reviewed by gardaí as part of the original investigation.

She has previously stated her belief that a prominent local politician was complicit in the alleged cover-up, and says she and her family know who kidnapped and murdered Mary Boyle, who is presumed dead.

In a response to a parliamentary question from Donegal TD Thomas Pringle, Ms Fitzgerald said the case is subject to an ongoing investigation and that she has asked gardaí to keep her updated on any further developments.

With the assistance of investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty and cousin Margo O’Donnell, Ms Doherty has met Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáilleader Mícheál Martin and other politicians to raise concerns about how the case has been handled.

A 64-year-old man was arrested and questioned in Mullingar in October 2014 in relation to the investigation, but was later released without charge.

‘Sunscreen’ gene might help protect against skin cancer through tumour suppression

Researchers from the University of Southern California have discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect damaged cells from developing into skin cancer.


Researchers from the University of Southern California have discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect damaged cells from developing into skin cancer.

Just in time for Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, a new University of Southern California (USC) study has discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect against skin cancer, revealing that the unique gene acts as a tumor suppressor for skin cancer.

“If we understand how this UV-resistant gene functions and the processes by which cells repair themselves after ultraviolet damage, then we could find targets for drugs to revert a misguided mechanism back to normal conditions,” said Chengyu Liang of USC and senior author of the study.

Over 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers stem from cell damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. The American Cancer society reports that melanoma kills approximately 10,130 people each year.

“People who have the mutated UV-resistant gene or low levels of the UV-resistant gene may be at higher risk of melanoma or other skin cancers, especially if they go sunbathing or tanning frequently,” Liang said. “Our study suggests that the UV-resistant gene may serve as a biomarker for skin cancer prevention.”

The team used data from 340 melanoma patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas, as well as two experimental groups that possessed either reduced levels of the UV-resistant sunscreen gene or a mutant copy of it in melanoma cells and 50 fly eyes; melanoma cells or fly eyes with normal copies of the sunscreen gene acted as the control groups.

After administering a UV shot to cells with the normal sunscreen gene and those carrying defective copies, the team waited for 24 hours before further examination. Subsequent analysis revealed that cells carrying normal versions of the gene had repaired over 50 percent of the UV-induced damage, whereas defective samples repaired less than 20 percent of the UV-damaged cells.

“That means when people sunbathe or go tanning, those who have the normal UV-resistant gene can repair most UV-induced DNA burns in a timely manner, whereas those with the defective UV-resistant gene will have more damage left unrepaired,” Liang said. “After daily accumulation, if they sunbathe or go tanning often, these people will have increased risk for developing skin cancers such as melanoma.”

In addition, the USC team found a correlation with increased cancer risk, although there is not yet any definitive evidence that lower levels or mutant copies of the sunscreen gene are directly connected to skin cancer development.

The findings were published in the May 19 issue of the journal Molecular Cell.

Scientists now find which genes help to shape our nose


Scientists found genes which help determine whether you have a neat nose or one to shame Cyrano de Bergerac, portrayed here by Anthony Sher

Four genes help determine whether you are blessed with the neatest of noses or a schnozzle that would shame Cyrano de Bergerac, research has shown.

Scientists analysed the DNA of more than 6,000 people to discover why some of us possess narrow, pointy noses while others have hooters that are broad and hefty.

They identified four genes that affect the width and pointiness of the nose, known as DCHS2, RUNX2, GLI3, and PAX1.

A fifth gene, EDAR, was found to influence the jut of the chin.

The genes are among those that regulate the growth of bone and cartilage, and the shape of the face.

GLI3, which drives cartilage growth, had the strongest effect on the breadth of the nostrils. DCHS2 was linked to pointiness, while the bone-growth gene RUNX2 modified nose bridge width.

Senior researcher Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, from University College London, said: “Few studies have looked at how normal facial features develop and those that have only looked at European populations, which show less diversity than the group we studied.

“What we’ve found are specific genes which influence the shape and size of individual features, which hasn’t been seen before.

“Finding out the role each gene plays helps us to piece together the evolutionary path from Neanderthal to modern humans.

“It brings us closer to understanding how genes influence the way we look, which is important for forensics applications.”

All the study participants came from South American countries with mixed ethnic populations. Half the population had European, 45% Native American and 5% African ancestry.

Photos of the volunteers were first examined to establish 14 different attributes, including nose bridge width, nose protrusion and the shape of the nose tip. Facial features were also measured using 3D computer simulations.

Genetic data was compared with each characteristic trait to see if there was an association.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Study leader Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares, also from University College London, said: “It has long been speculated that the shape of the nose reflects the environment in which humans evolved.

“For example, the comparatively narrower nose of Europeans has been proposed to represent an adaptation to a cold, dry climate.

“Identifying genes affecting nose shape provides us with new tools to examine this question, as well as the evolution of the face in other species.

“It may also help us understand what goes wrong in genetic disorders involving facial abnormalities.”

Cyrano de Bergerac, a 19th century play written by Edmond Rostand, depicts the life of a dashing French duellist and poet whose shockingly large nose stands between him and the woman he loves.

Asian hornets that behead bees and can kill humans could be heading for Ireland?

  DEADLY Asian hornets ARRIVE in BRITAIN – with bites which kill within MINUTES: https://t.co/zlCHcJ4ZC9

An Asian hornet feasts on a honey bee

Killer hornets that can wipe out bee colonies and have caused the death of several people may be heading for Ireland.

Sightings of Asian hornets have been reported in the UK and are currently being investigated by the country’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Firefighters battle giant hornets in China

Fears have now been raised that the invasive Vespa velutina, which is active between April and November, could arrive here this summer.

A small number of the vicious predators, which carry potent venom and are between 2.5cm and 3cm long, could wipe out entire bee colonies should they make their way to Ireland, according to Philip McCabe, president of the World Bee Keepers Federation.

“The Asian hornet is a very vicious wasp – around 60 of them could destroy whole colonies if they arrived here,” McCabe told independent.ie.

“It comes to the hive and identifies the larvae of bees…the queen uses this larvae to make a ‘stew’ for her young.

“Then she essentially goes into a killing frenzy and she simply beheads the bees.”

The terrifying insects are believed to have been inadvertently imported to France over two decades ago in a shipment of pottery from China.

At least six people have reportedly died in France from anaphylactic shock after being stung by the hornets.

The reported sightings of the hornet in the UK have yet to be confirmed and McCabe thinks “it’s unlikely a true Asian hornet came that far”.

However, bee keepers in the UK have now been put on high alert by the National Bee Unit (NBU) and members of the public have been asked to report nest sightings.

Unlike the European hornet, the Asian hornet is a day-flying species which ceases activity at dusk.

It nests in tall trees in urban and rural areas – but also in sheds, garages, under decking or in holes in the wall or ground.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 16th May 2016

Irish Water says households are still liable for bills to end of March

Utility states customers must pay outstanding balances despite suspension of charges


Householders are liable for water charges bills up to the end of March, Irish Water has said.

The statement follows inquiries by one customer who received a bill on May 10th.

Geraldine Hennessy said she was puzzled when she received a bill after the Government announced that water charges would be suspended for nine months.

When she rang up Irish Water to inquire as to whether or not she should pay her bill, she was told that they had received “no formal directive” from the Government on the subject.

Ms Hennessy, who lives in Donnybrook in Dublin, said she had paid all her water bills to date and was prepared to pay the latest one, which was €40 for the first quarter of 2016.

“I don’t have a problem paying for my water. It is an investment really to upgrade the system, but I don’t want to pay Irish Water €40 only to be told a week later that water rates are gone.

“I don’t see the logic of giving back money to people because, when they paid it, it was the law of the land.”

Suspension to end of March.

A spokeswoman for Irish Water said the Government announced the suspension of water charges with effect from the end of March 2016, but charges apply up to that time.

The spokeswoman said: “Irish Water is currently issuing bills to customers for services provided in January, February and March of this year. Billing will be completed in the first week in June.

“Irish Water customers remain liable for balances due on any bills issued for services provided up to the end of March 2016 and Irish Water continues to accept payment and to deal with any billing queries in relation to outstanding balances.”

Ireland’s cost of funding now less after Friday’s Moody’s upgrade

The yield on Ireland’s 10-year bonds dipped to below 0.8% following Moody’s upgrade of our sovereign


On Friday last, Moody’s upgraded Ireland back to an “A” grade, moving the sovereign by one notch to A3 from Baa1.

As a result Ireland’s cost of borrowing fell to its lowest level in over a month on Monday after the ratings upgrade from Moody’s at the end of last week.

Ireland’s 10-year yields fell below 0.77% for the first time since April 11th, down more than 3 basis points on the day.

On Friday, Moody’s upgraded Ireland back to an “A” grade, moving the sovereign by one notch to A3 from Baa1. However, rating agencies S&P and Fitch continue to rate Ireland higher, with S&P’s A+ and Fitch’s A rating two notches and one notch respectively above their Moody’s equivalent following the upgrade.

Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec in Dublin, said on Monday that the move “bolsters the already positive case for Irish sovereign yields”.

“We expect to see Irish yields move further towards core Eurozone levels from here,” he said.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s head of fixed-income strategy in Ireland, Ryan McGrath, said he was “happy to have been proved wrong” with Moody’s surprise upgrade. He was among eight out of 11 economists and analysts polled by the Irish Times who predicted before the announcement on Friday that Moody’s would hold off upgrading Ireland amid concerns over the UK’s referendum next month over EU membership.

“The upgrade was long overdue, as it was almost two years since Moody’s last Irish sovereign upgrade,” said Mr Ryan, nothing that while the ratings firm has narrowed the gap with rivals, it still lags Standard & Poor’s, which rates Ireland A+, and Fitch, which has an A stance on the country.

While German 10-year bond yields flirted once more with record lows of just 0.05%, on Monday they were yielding about 0.12% and French 10-year bonds are yielding about 0.47%. Yields on Spanish, Italian and Portuguese 10-year bonds remain above 1%.

Irish Naval ship LÉ Róisín rescues 125 migrants in the Mediterranean

Irish naval vessel joined search and rescue operations in the region earlier this month


The Irish naval vessel LÉ Róisín rescued 125 migrants in an operation in the Mediterranean on Monday.

The ship rescued the 107 men and 18 women from a rubber craft about 40 nautical miles northeast of Tripoli, Libya, following a request from the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre.

A Defence Forces statement said the operation began at 10.47am and finished at 2.45pm.

The rescued migrants are currently receiving food, water and medical treatment.

The LÉ Róisín departed Haulbowline, Co Cork, on May 1st to join humanitarian search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean as part of a bilateral agreement with Italy.

The vessel is the fourth Naval Service patrol ship to engage in operations in the region since May of last year, following the LÉ Eithne, LÉ Niamh and LÉ Samuel Beckett.

It is one of three naval ships that will be sent this year on 12-week rotations.

Last year, some 8,592 migrants and refugees were rescued by Irish Naval Service vessels.

Many Mediterranean deaths?

More than 700 migrants and refugees have died already this year attempting to cross into Europe via the Mediterranean, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

This is a 50% increase on the same period last year.

New Government strategy aims to tackle Irish obesity levels

Irish Government wants to ensure its citizens does not become the fattest country in Europe


The Irish Government plans to target a 5% reduction in the average weight of Irish people over the next 10 years.

Irish people face a new round of belt-tightening with Government plans to target a 5% reduction in our average weight over the next decade.

Disadvantaged areas will be encouraged to shed the most as the plan aims to reduce the gap in obesity levels between the richest and poorest sections of society by 10%.

The national obesity strategy, expected before Cabinet soon, aims to ensure Ireland does not become the fattest country in Europe, as predicted in international studies.

Implementation of the “A Healthy Weight for Ireland” strategy was identified as a health priority in the programme for government.

A sustained loss of 0.5% a year in excess weight (averaged across all adults) is targeted in the first five years of the plan,

A similar target has been set for reducing excess weight in children.

These overall targets will be reviewed every two years to take account of evidence on the likely impact of specific interventions to reduce obesity.

The way to achieve these objectives are set out as “Ten Steps Forward” in the plan.

These envisage a sugar levy this year as well as a “whole school” approach to health.

New calorie content Legislation.

Legislation requiring food establishments to post the calorie content of their meals is also planned for this year.

Other priorities include agreements with the food industry on reducing fat, sugar and salt in their products, and a code of practice for food and drink marketing.

Groups who need most support will be prioritised with an emphasis on families and children in the first 1,000 days of life.

One in four children, and six in 10 adults, are obese or overweight.

The real reason why you need to use your mobile phone ‘Flight Mode’ on airplanes?


Each time we take a flight and are asked to switch our phones to ‘Flight Mode,’ we assume it’s because leaving it on normal mode would cause the plane to break in half and plunge us to our watery death below.

Well, that’s not the case at all?

According to indy100, the reason it’s important to switch off your phone signal is a lot more banal than we thought.

It could cause the pilot to get a headache.

An anonymous pilot told the question and answer site Quora: ‘You may have heard that unpleasant noise from an audio system, that occasionally happens when a mobile phone is nearby.

‘I actually hear such noise on the radio while flying. It is not safety critical, but is annoying for sure.’

You probably know the sound he’s talking about – next time you’re beside a radio, put your phone next to it and get someone to call you. You’ll hear a buzzing noise that only goes away when the phone stops ringing.

Now, imagine that at 10,000 feet in your headphones while you’re trying to get clearance for landing.

The Sharks’ electricity sensing organs are even more powerful than scientists realised


A great white shark swims near Guadalupe Island off the coast of Mexico.

The most powerful proton conductor in the natural world is a weird, jelly-like substance that lives inside a shark’s head.

That’s according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances, which found that the material that makes up electricity-sensing shark organs called the ampullae of Lorenzini is almost as conductive as some of the most high-tech materials made by man.

Ampullae of Lorenzini were discovered in sharks more than 300 years ago — the sensory organs get their weird name from the 17th-century Italian doctor who first identified them — but scientists didn’t begin to understand what they were for until the past few decades.

Now, it’s clear that the dense networks of jelly-filled canals in the heads of sharks, rays and other cartilaginous fish end in highly sensitive electroreceptors, capable of sensing electric signals from miles away. With every twitch of muscle and flick of a fin, animals in the ocean — including humans — emit a faint electric field, and the ampullae help sharks detect that motion as they swim in search of food.

It’s a pretty neat trick, but scientists still aren’t sure how sharks do it. So they’ve been dissecting the ampullae of Lorenzini — AoL for short — to try to figure out what’s going on.

Researcher Marco Rolandi zeroed in on the jelly that fills the long tubes connecting sharks’ electro-sensitive cells to pores on their skin. He found that it is the best biological material yet for conducting positively charged hydrogen atoms, which scientists call protons. This conductivity allows the electric charge to flow easily from one end of the tube to the other. Other known natural proton conductors, like a protein found in squid skin and the pigment melanin in humans, are not nearly as strong.

The AoL jelly’s conductivity was not that much lower than that of Nafion, a state-of-the-art synthetic material used in things like batteries and fuel cells. Understanding how the jelly works could help researchers who are trying to build better versions of those technologies.

“Given that Nafion is a very carefully prepared material that’s very precisely made, it was interesting to see the shark had replicated something very close to that material just by nature,” said co-author Erik Josberger, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering who worked in Rolandi’s lab at the University of Washington.

Rolandi, now an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said it’s not clear what role the AoL’s proton conductivity plays in sharks’ electric sensing. It’s possible that the conductivity somehow boosts or preserves electric signals, but it could also have evolved out of a fluke. Until scientists investigate it further, it’s impossible to know for sure.

“I always say, if you have all the answers, then we’re out of a job,” Rolandi said. “So it’s rather exciting that we’re creating new questions rather than all the answers.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 7th May 2016

Simon Harris new health Minister urges an end to maternity hospital dispute

Minister calls on those involved in the row over St Vincent’s Hospital facility to ‘put egos to one side’


President Michael D Higgins with the new Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Aras an Uachtarain.

The new Minister for Health Simon Harris has called on those involved in the dispute over the governance of the National Maternity Hospital after its proposed relocation to “put their egos to one side”.

Mr Harris said on East Coast FM on Saturday morning: “The people of Ireland, the expectant mothers of Ireland, do not care about your bureaucratic row.”

Management at St Vincent’s Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street are at odds over the governance of the new facility.

Mr Harris said he will not allow the possibility of a new maternity hospital to be “jeopardised by rows over governance and fiefdom”.

The Wicklow/East Carlow TD said he was looking forward to taking on “the greatest challenge of my life” and called for a political consensus around health as “you cannot run the health service on a couple of years long policy”.

Transfer not demotion?

Meanwhile, Mr Harris’s predecessor Leo Varadkar has insisted his transfer from the Health portfolio is not a demotion.

Speaking after Taoiseach Enda Kenny opted on Friday to appoint Mr Harris to the Health portfolio and reassign Mr Varadkar to Social Protection, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t see it as a demotion, but it may be a sideways move”.

Mr Varadkar, who received his seal of office on Friday night, noted his new department had the largest budget and impacted on the lives of a huge number of people.

It is the first time in almost 30 years a Fine Gael minister has been in charge of Social Protection.

Mr Varadkar did admit that “in some ways I am sorry to be losing health”.

“In the period I was there we were able to increase the government by €1 billion and start delighted. And I was delighted to get the children’s hospital over the line at long last,” he told RTÉ Radio One on Saturday.

The new Cabinet is:

Department of Social Protection: Leo Varadkar

Finance: Michael Noonan

Public Expenditure and Reform: Paschal Donohoe

Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation: Mary Mitchell O’Connor

Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Michael Creed

Justice and Equality: Frances Fitzgerald (Tánaiste)

Children and Youth Affairs: Katherine Zappone

Health: Simon Harris

Foreign Affairs and Trade: Charlie Flanagan

Education and Skills: Richard Bruton

Housing, Planning and Local Government: Simon Coveney

Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources: Denis Naughten

Transport, Tourism and Sport: Shane Ross

Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht:Heather Humphreys

Defence: Enda Kenny

Minister of State at Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence with Special Responsibility for Defence: Paul Kehoe

‘Give us a chance,’ says new Minister of Transport Tourism and Sport Shane Ross?

This is first Government since 1948 with Independent members says new Minister Denis Naughten


The new Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said “We believe that in the last few weeks we have agreed a programme that would bring a radical change to Irish politics”.

The economic management council “is gone”, new Minister for Transport Shane Ross has told the Dáil.

In his maiden speech as a Cabinet Minister, Mr Ross said the Taoiseach had given a commitment that the council, a controversial Cabinet sub-committee of the Government’s most senior Ministers Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform – would no longer exist.

The Dublin Rathdown TD said the Independent Alliance made a decision that they would decide to enter government if they could extract or agree the terms they needed.

“We believe that in the last few weeks we have agreed a programme that would bring a radical change in Irish politics,” he said.

The Alliance had found it difficult to come down this road because they were so disparate to make things work.

He said people were sceptical about the new Government, but he said: “Let’s give it a chance. Let’s talk to each other.”

Mr Ross said he did not know what his powers were but he would try to introduce measures, including those suggested by the Opposition and he welcomed the idea of an anti-corruption agency, suggested by social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy during the Dáil debate on the new Cabinet.

He said the Government had done a U-turn on Seanad reform and there was already agreement within the all-party group on Dáil reform.

Mr Ross said: “There’s a certain amount of bankruptcy, not on this side of the House but on the opposition benches,” as he highlighted the sniping between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.

New Minister for Communications and Climate Change Denis Naughten pointed out that this was the first Government with Independents in the Cabinet, since 1948 when a fellow Co-Roscommon man James Dillon was a member.

In his first speech as Minister, he said the Cabinet would have to include all views “right from Eamon Ryan to Danny Healy-Rae and that’s not going to be easy”.

Mr Naughten said he spent more of his 19 years in the Dáil on the opposition benches and he said there were very few Ministers who were prepared to deal with opposition TDs, but this Government would.

He said the new Government’s focus would include bringing life back to small towns. Mr Naughten stressed: “Collectively these towns matter just as much as the cities.”

Mr Naughten said he wanted to thank those who had contributed to the programme for Government. “We have now a partnership agreement across this House. Let’s try and make it work.”

New Minister of State Finian McGrath in a “super junior” role said it was a great personal honour and privilege to be appointed as Minister of State for Disabilities.

He urged the opposition to “open your minds and look at the detail” of the programme for government.

And he repeatedly stressed that the arrangement “was no grubby deal”. He would not be taking any lectures from people who “sat on their hands”.

Government was about using power “to have the kind of change we need in our society”.

He insisted this was a “very diverse Dáil but it is not fragmented”.

Outlining some of the agreements he had reached, he said the medical card would be extended to all children on domiciliary care allowance in budget 2017, a total of 10,000 children. “Do not call that a grubby deal,” he said, adding that a new cystic fibrosis unit for Beaumont Hospital was “no grubby deal”.

Mr McGrath said “the rights of people with disabilities will be at the heart of this government” and he said “we’re going to be radical. We’re going to be progressive. We’re going to be responsible.”

Why is the price of car insurance in Ireland going up?

Is it down to more claims and bigger awards? or a race to get back to profitability?


A crash course? the cost of Irish car insurance rose by 32% in the year to March. 

While motor costs are going down around the world, here at home the cost of insuring your car has spiralled. According to the Central Statistics Office, the cost of car insurance rose by 32% in the year to March.

Insurance companies blame an increase in the number of personal-injury claims brought to court, and a jump in the size of awards given out, but the Injuries Board has quoted CSO figures showing fewer claims going to court and only a small increase in the size of awards.

Insurers have also blamed underpricing by rivals, which they say forced them to cut their prices, in order to compete.

When Quinn Insurance entered the car-insurance marketplace, in 1990, it did so with all engines revving, aggressively driving down premiums. This spurred other insurers to follow Quinn down discount alley, and the result was happy days for male drivers under the age of 25, who until then had been paying very high premiums. But when the global economy crashed, Quinn Insurance ran into the ditch.

The recent rise in prices, say insurers, is simply the industry going back to more realistic rates.

Although the Government and regulators might be buying that line, some say the insurers’ explanation is straight out of a car repairman’s garage.

The real explanation, according to a briefing document prepared for Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is that insurers are racing to get back to profitability after years of being forced by a competitive market to give car owners decent deals.

As safety technology powers forward, leading to fewer crashes and generally safer driving (or self-driving), we have been promised lower premiums – but, like those jet packs we were told about, we may be waiting a while yet.

Boeing 767 has been successfully beached in Enniscrone Co. Sligo.


The unusual scenes have been captured on the waters of the Atlantic ocean.

A Boeing 767, which is destined for a glamping site in Co Sligo, has been successfully beached at Enniscrone.

The aircraft left Shannon on a barge on Thursday on its way to its new home.

Preparations are being made this evening to lift the plane off the barge and bring it to a nearby site where it will be the accommodation center-piece in a glamping village.

Timber mats have been laid on the sand for a truck and trailer to get across the beach to the barge.

The plane will then be lifted by crane onto the trailer and driven to David McGowan’s Quirky Nights Glamping village in Enniscrone.

Mr McGowan already has a number of old London taxis and a double decker bus ready to be converted into accommodation on the site and is also planning to buy more buses and boats for the venture.

The operation to bring the plane to the site will continue into the night.

Thousands of people travelled to Enniscrone today to watch the plane coming in.

Speaking tonight, Mr McGowan joked: “If I don’t land it, I’ll be known as the biggest eejit in the whole country.”

Entrepreneur McGowan bought the plane, which was previously owned by Russian airline Transaero, last year for €20,000.

Transporting it back to Sligo has been a major logistical exercise after a transfer by road was ruled out.

Water charges should be refunded says?

The former tánaiste Joan Burton says Leo Varadkar will inherit a €2 million surplus


The former Labour party leader Joan Burton says I was very critical of some of the decisions that Phil Hogan made?

Labour leader and former Tánaiste Joan Burton has said people who paid water charges should now be refunded.

Ms Burton said the decision to suspend water charges was a mistake as costs were reduced to a “very affordable” level.

Ms Burton said today on RTÉ Radio 1: “People who paid the water charges…they’re going to have to be credited or refunded in some way.”

She said she was critical of former minister for the environment Phil Hogan and his role in the setting up of Irish Water.

“I think some of the decisions that were made at the beginning when Phil Hogan was minister…. I was very critical of them when I was a member of the Government. In particular I was concerned about people on low incomes.

“I was concerned that the charges could be at a much higher level than a family with say three of four children and particularly teenagers with long showers and playing GAA… that those bills would mount and mount,” she said.

Ms Burton said after having to “ravage social welfare” during her tenure as Minister for Social Protection as it faced a deficit “heading for €3 billion” when she took over.

She said newly appointed Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar will inherit a €2 million surplus for the first three months of 2016.

Ms Burton also said Irish people “should be proud of our social welfare system”.

Ms Burton would not be drawn on her future role in the Labour Party but said she will be active in the Labour party “no matter what”.

She said the Labour Parliamentary party will meet on Tuesday and that the party must decide who the new leader will be by the end of the summer.

Ms Burton was also critical of an RTÉ Late Late Show interview where British psychologist Peter Collett analysed her body language, saying it was “unncecessary and crude”.

“I thought the Late Late psychologist’s comments were odd, I haven’t heard those comments in relation to male politicians,” she said.

The psychologist said her body language could be attributed to rejection in early childhood.

Ms Burton said the comments were hurtful as she was adopted.

Stick insect found in southern China is declared world’s longest insect at 62.4 Cms = 24 Inches


A bug over half a meter long that was discovered in southern China has been declared the world’s longest insect, The Chinese media said last Thursday.

A stick insect measuring 62.4 centimeters (24 inches) long, found two years ago in the southern province of Guangxi, has broken the record for length among the world’s 807,625 known species of insects, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Insect Museum of West China.

The previous record-holder was a 56.7-cm-long (22.3-inch) Malaysian stick insect, discovered in 2008 and now on display in London’s Natural History Museum.

Tipped off by locals about a huge beast half a meter long but only as thick as a human index finger, scientist Zhao Li had been on the hunt for the bug for six years before he finally glimpsed and captured one.

“I was collecting insects on a 1,200-meter-tall (3,930-foot) mountain in Guangxi’s Liuzhou City on the night of Aug. 16, 2014, when a dark shadow appeared in the distance, which looked like a tree twig,” Zhao said, according to Xinhua. “As I went near, I was shocked to find the huge insect’s legs were as long as its body.”

The bug has been dubbed Phryganistria chinensis zhao in his honor, and a paper about it will soon be published.

More than 3,000 varieties of stick insects have been discovered so far, Xinhua said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 7th October 2015

November general election most likely as Kenny set to reveal party’s key pledge

Radical welfare changes on payments to benefit working families, says Taoiseach Kenny.

 Enda & Joan joined at the hips?   

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who is leaning strongly towards calling a November general election, will tonight unveil a key element of Fine Gael’s manifesto by pledging no one will receive more in welfare payments than they could earn at work.

Mr Kenny’s decision to announce the “working family payment” plan at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner will further fuel speculation he intends to call a general election shortly after the budget.

It means a November election is now very much on the cards but the precise date will depend on the timetable for getting the Finance Bill and the Social Welfare Bill through the Dáil.

Officials in the Department of Finance have already been told to draw up a slimmed down version of the Finance Bill giving effect to the budget changes that can be passed quickly through the Dáil.

Kenny’s speech?

In his speech tonight Mr Kenny will pledge to change the welfare system to ensure people at work can be sure of being better off than if they were on welfare. A similar commitment was included in the British Conservative Party’s successful general election platform earlier this year.

A new “working family payment” will be aimed in particular at families with one or more children.

Mr Kenny will outline how it will be targeted at low-income families by supplementing, on a graduated basis, the income of a household while at the same time incentivising more hours and full-time work.

A key feature of the payment will be to better align it with existing jobseeker supports aimed at creating a seamless transition from welfare to work for families while removing many of the welfare traps facing families with existing schemes such as the family income supplement.

The Taoiseach will outline why, in his opinion, such a scheme is needed.

“It is clear that the lack of a job in Ireland is by far and away the leading cause of inequality in our society. There are still far too many traps that lock parents in particular into welfare dependency. In many cases for couples with children work simply does not pay.

A radical approach.

“This is why the next government needs to adopt a far more radical approach if we are to successfully help jobless households back into work.

“For these reasons I expect the theme of radical welfare reform, along with lowering the tax burden on low- and middle-income workers, to make work pay will be a key election issue,” he is due to say.

The Taoiseach will also outline why he believes the next government needs to do more for households trapped in a cycle of poverty in which nobody is working. He will claim the “working family payment” will be the helping hand up on to the career ladder for many unemployed parents.

Tánaiste Joan Burton is strongly opposed to an early election. A meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last night heard a “unanimous” preference from TDs and Senators for an election next spring.

At the meeting, Ms Burton repeated her position that the election should be held next year. TDs and Senators told the meeting it was imperative the banking inquiry complete its work and the legislation to give effect to public sector pay rises agreement was passed.

“There was a real sense of frustration that there is a feeding frenzy around November,” said one TD.

“It is starting to undermine the image of a unified and coherent Government. There is a real feeling the Taoiseach should come out and talk to Joan. It is starting to look embarrassing to us at this stage.”

Thousands apply for grant without paying their water bills

Alan Kelly asks Irish people not to ‘pull a fast one’ over the new water conservation payment


At least tens of thousands of people have applied for the water conservation grant without having paid their water bills, an analysis of the figures shows.

The water conservation grant amounts to €100 and was introduced by the Government to enable households to “adopt a more environmentally friendly approach” to water usage in the home.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has urged people not to “pull a fast one” by applying for the grant without paying their bills..

As of tonight, 732,800 grant applications had been received, while the number of people who registered with Irish Water by the deadline of June 30th stands at 1.3 million.

This amounts to an overall application rate of 56%.

Speaking on Wednesday, Michael McNicholas, chief executive of Ervia, the parent company forIrish Water, said that almost 54 per cent of those who have registered have paid their bills.

That percentile amounts to 702,000 people.

This figure means that at least 30,800 people have applied for the conservation grant without paying their bill.

The deadline?

The deadline to apply for the grant expires at midnight on Thursday night.

The Department of Social Protection released a statement on Wednesday urging those who have paid their water bills to apply for the grant.

The statement said a total of 395,000 households have already received their grant payment.

It is expected that all payments will be made by the end of October.

Approximately 363,000 calls on the subject have been received by the department’s helpline to date, with about 50,000 of those coming in the last two days.

Due to the high volume of calls, an additional helpline has been made available.

The numbers are: 076-1087890, 02-12065880, or 1890-100043. The lines will be open from 8.30am until midnight.

Electric Ireland to reduce home electricity prices by 2%

Move comes after Bord Gáis Energy shaved 2.5% off its residential gas prices


Electric Ireland is to reduce its standard electricity prices for residential customers by an average of 2%.

Electric Ireland has announced it will reduce its standard electricity prices for residential customers by an average of 2% from next month.

The reduction, which comes into effect on November 16th, will benefit the average residential customer with a saving of €24.11 (including VAT) per year.

Must shop around’

Minister for Energy Alex White welcomed the move and said customers should “shop around” to ensure they are getting the best deal possible.

“Electric Ireland’s welcome move on prices, which comes in advance of increased winter energy demand, will be welcomed by families and businesses,” he said.

“It is the second such move by a major energy supplier in recent weeks, which suggests that conditions are right for other companies to follow. This is good news and I would encourage all consumers to shop around to ensure that they get the best price available.

“Even if consumers don’t want to change supplier they can call their supplier and ensure they have the best package on offer.”

In September, Bord Gáis Energy announced plans to shave 2.5% off its residential gas prices in a move which saw the average consumer make an annual saving of just over €20.

It also announced its intention to cut its unit rate of electricity by a further 2 per cent which would lead to electricity bill savings of €24.34 a year.

Household bills

Earlier this year, Mr White held a series of meetings with the energy suppliers to discuss the speed with which wholesale energy price reductions were being reflected in household bills.

Electric Ireland executive director Jim Dollard said the company was “happy to be able to continue to reduce prices for our electricity customers again this winter”.

“This reduction, combined with last year’s reduction, means the average residential bill will have reduced by almost €50,” he said.

“We are committed to offering the best value products in a very competitive marketplace and I believe today’s announcement will be good news for our 1.2 million residential customers.”

Irish men drink and smoke more than women,

says a health survey

Healthy Ireland study raises concerns over risky sex, snacking and low levels of exercise


While smoking is in decline, drinking alcohol remains a majority pursuit, engaged in by 76% of the population. Just over half of us drink at least weekly.

Significant variations in wellbeing between men and women and across social classes emerge from the first national survey of people’s health in almost a decade.

Men drink, binge drink and smoke more, but are also more likely to be highly active, and heavier, than women, according to the Healthy Ireland survey.

Wealthier groups smoke less but drink more alcohol in general than people in the most deprived areas, where binge drinking is higher.

The survey published by the Department of Health carries encouraging signs for the nation’s health, including falling smoking rates, a levelling off in obesity and positive levels of good mental health and social connectedness.

There are also numerous areas of concern, including high levels of risky sexual activity, binge drinking and snacking, and low levels of physical exercise.

Smoking is twice as common in deprived areas compared to more affluent groups, and levels of obesity among young women are twice those among male 15- to 24-year-olds.

More than 7,500 interviews were carried out for the survey, the first study of this size since 2007.

A reason for optimism?

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the findings provided some reason for optimism but also highlighted risks such as the prospect of a dramatic risk in chronic diseases.

The survey expresses concern that a majority of men who recently had sex with men did not use a condom. However, the study presents evidence of “more widespread risky behaviour”, with 17% of all those having sex with someone outside of a steady relationship not using any form of contraception.

“The exposure to risk for these individuals is significant,” it says.

Most of us describe our health in positive terms, with 85 per cent saying it is good or very good. Yet one-quarter of the population has a long-standing illness, and over half of this group experience limitations in everyday activities.

High blood pressure and back pain are the most common ailments, both experienced by one in eight people. One in 10 of us suffer from arthritis or an allergy, according to the survey.

On average we visit the GP 4.3 times a year, and women are more frequent attenders than men.

However, the overall figure masks a substantial variation between people with medical cards (6.3 visits a year) and those without any card (2.9 visits).

Smoking prevalence is falling, and Ireland is on the way to being tobacco-free, according to the survey. The proportion of regular smokers has dropped from 24% in the last national survey in 2007 to 19%.

Occasional smoking is also down, from 5 per cent to 4%.

People in the most deprived areas are over twice as likely to be smokers compared to the most affluent group – 35% against 16%.

While smoking is in decline, drinking alcohol remains a majority pursuit, engaged in by 76% of the population. Just over half of us drink at least weekly.

Men drink more frequently than women, and more over-55s drink weekly than among other age groups.

Drinking to excess

The survey says drinking is a core part of Irish life and “more worryingly” drinking to excess on a regular basis is also commonplace.

Four out of 10 drinkers in Ireland drink to harmful levels on a monthly basis, and one-fifth do so on a weekly basis.

“Given that one in six of those drinking at harmful levels felt in the past 12 months that their drinking harmed their health, it is likely that many of those drinking in that way are unaware of the risks associated with it.”

Alcohol consumption rises with social class but binge drinking is highest in the most deprived areas, the survey also finds.

It uses the WHO definition of binge drinking as six or more standard drinks on a single occasion, equivalent to three pints of beer. The drinks industry considers this threshold too low.

Two-thirds of the population are not sufficiently active, a negative finding compounded by the fact that people spend on average more than five hours a day sitting. Four in 10 men are highly active, but only 24% of women are.

Physical activity is not a cure-all for weight issues, however; 23% of those who are obese are highly active.

On diet, one in four people say they eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while 22% say they don’t eat fruit or vegetables daily. Snacking is widespread, with 62% saying they eat an average of two snacks a day.

Sugared drinks.

Some 15% drink sugar-sweetened drinks but, worrying, consumption is twice this level among young people aged 15-24 years.

Men are more likely to be overweight than women and overall, 37% of the population has a normal weight, 37% are overweight and 23% are obese. Obesity is highest in more deprived areas.

The report finds encouraging levels of good mental health and reasonable levels of social connectedness in the population. Rubbish or litter lying around, and house break-ins, emerged as major sources of concern in this respect.

Rare Wood house-harmless spider discovered in Co Antrim cliffs


The funnel-web spider prefers the outdoors compared its relative the house spider.

A rare spider has been found in Northern Ireland for the first time – but fear not, it is completely harmless.

The Wood house-spider, or malthonica silvestris, discovered on cliffs at Whitehead in Co Antrim, is a close relative of house spiders that people are complaining about bugging their homes at the moment.

However, it is normally half the size of the eight-legged creepy crawlies that send many of us into histrionics.

And unlike the typical house spider, this spider – which has only been recorded in Cork so far on the island – prefers to live in crooks and crevices in natural outdoor surroundings rather than in the warmth of your home.

One theory on the creature’s movements may be that it is venturing north because of the warmer weather.

Adam Mantell, Buglife’s Northern Ireland Officer is the entomologist who found and identified the spider during a survey said: “This is a really exciting discovery.

“Not only is this the first record for Northern Ireland, but it is very rare across the rest of Ireland too.

“With two out of three of our bugs in decline and so much wildlife disappearing from our countryside, it’s brilliant to have some good news for once, and add another spider to the list of species found in Northern Ireland.”

Sneezing Monkeys & ‘Walking Fish’ are a fascinating new species discovered


A monkey that sneezes whenever it rains, a fish that can survive out of water for four days and a venomous pit viper that is as lovely to look at as a piece of jewelry: These are just a few of the hundreds of new species discovered over the past few years in the diverse but highly threatened region of the east Himalayas.

Between 2009 and 2014, scientists discovered a total of 211 new species in the region, which stretches from central Nepal in the west to Myanmar in the east and includes the kingdom of Bhutan, as well as parts of northeast India and southern Tibet.

An average of 34 new plant and animal species have been discovered annually in the region for the past six years, according to a newly released report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“I am excited that the region — home to a staggering number of species including some of the most charismatic fauna — continues to surprise the world with the nature and pace of species discovery,” Ravi Singh, CEO of WWF-India and chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in a statement. [101 Animal Shots You’ll Go Wild Over]

‘Charismatic fauna’

Among the most impressive new species included in the WWF’s report is the sneezing monkey, which scientists nicknamed “Snubby.” The unusual critter lives in a remote region in northern Myanmar, an area of rugged mountains and dense forests. Snubby has an upturned nose (hence its nickname) that has a tendency to collect rainwater, causing the black-and-white–hued monkey to sneeze when it rains. To avoid sneezing fits, the animals spend rainy days with their heads tucked between their knees, according to the WWF.

Northern Myanmar is also home to a tiny but terrifying new species of fish, Danionella dracula, which is the size of a minnow but has pointy fangs jutting out from its jaws. Another strange fish from the eastern Himalayas is Channa andrao, a snakehead fish with some truly strange qualities. The vibrant blue fish can “walk” on land by wriggling around on its belly. The fish’s ability to breath air means it can live on land for a few days before returning to its freshwater habitat.

The only new reptile discovered in the eastern Himalayas since 2009, the bejeweled lance-headed pit viper (Protobothrops himalayansus), is also something special. Even if you don’t like snakes, it’s hard to deny this venomous serpent’s beauty. The reptile’s striking, diamondlike pattern and red-brown coloration give the snake a bejeweled quality.

‘At a crossroads’

All of these newly discovered species may sound like great news to anyone who appreciates biodiversity, but the WWF report also highlights the many threats facing the east Himalayas. Perhaps the most pressing is climate change, with the threat of habitat loss caused by deforestation, development and overgrazing not far behind.

Only 25 percent of the original habitats in the region remain intact, according to the WWF report, which found that rapid development has affected the vast majority of the region’s lands.

“The eastern Himalayas is at a crossroads. Governments can decide whether to follow the current path towards fragile economies that do not fully account for environmental impacts, or take an alternative path towards greener, more sustainable economic development,” Sami Tornikoski, leader of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in a statement.

In total, the Himalayas are home to an estimated 10,000 plant species and 300 mammal species. Nearly 1,000 different species of birds call the region home, along with hundreds of species of reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish. In the new WWF report alone, more than 130 new species of plants were discovered in the area.

The challenge that organizations like the WWF face is to both conserve the species that scientists have already identified and protect a region that likely shelters even more creatures and plants waiting to be discovered.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 15th September 2015

EU ministers fail to agree relocation scheme for growing numbers of refugees

Germany shifts stance as officials try to cope with large numbers crossing borders


French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve (left) and German interior minister Thomas de Maziere leave after an European Union interior and justice ministers emergency meeting on the migrants situation in Brussels.

EU immigration policy was in disarray on Monday night after ministers failed to reach agreement on a relocation scheme for refugees and countries began to introduce border checks within the union’s free travel area.

Following a prolonged meeting of justice minister in Brussels, member states failed to back a refugee relocation plan proposed by the European Commission last week. There was significant opposition from a number of central and east European countries to the idea of mandatory quotas.

Ministers will revisit the issue on October 8th but the development is a blow to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal to introduce the quotas, a move expected to set an important precedent for EU asylum policy.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday night after the meeting, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said she was “disappointed” at the failure to reach agreement but she stressed a majority of ministers did back the plan.

“There is a large majority in favour of the figure of 120,000, and the legal instrument was agreed today for the 40,000 [relocation plan], but there are some member states that are not in a position to commit to that figure today,” she said.

‘Urgent and dramatic’

Luxembourg’s minister for foreign affairs Jean Asselborn, who chaired the meeting, said the situation facing Europe was “urgent and dramatic” but it was”too early” for a decision to be taken as “procedures have to be respected”.

The ministers also considered new proposals to tighten the EU’s external borders, including a plan to detain and potentially tag illegal immigrants in centres in an effort to shore up support from countries opposing relocation measures.

While the justice ministers grappled with the migration crisis in Brussels, the Schengen free-travel zone appeared to be unravelling.

Germany’s decision on Sunday to introduce border checks on its borders with Austria has triggered a wave of similar moves by other EU countries – Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands have all followed suit.

The European Commission denied that the Schengen convention- the free-movement zone that has been a cornerstone of EU policy for two decades – was under threat, pointing out that existing legislation permits countries to introduce temporary border controls in emergency situations.

Germany saidon Monday it now expects to receive 1 million refugees this year, up from a figure of 800,000 cited last week. Berlin has shifted its stance in recent days as its authorities struggle to cope with the numbers crossing its borders.

While German chancellor Angela Merkel took a lead role in welcoming refugees to the European Union by promising refuge to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from Syria, vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said Germany is “reaching its limits” when it comes to migrants. There have been previous instances of countries introducing border checks within the common travel area, but Germany’s unexpected move is by far the biggest breach of EU free movement rules in its history.

Speaking from Jordan on Monday, British prime minister David Cameron defended his country’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, as he called on EU member states to increase aid to Syria. “Without British aid, hundreds of thousands more could be risking their lives seeking to get to Europe,” he said.

Meanwhile in Hungary, workers erected the final sections of a 4-metre-high steel fence topped with razor wire on the country’s frontier with Serbia, a centre-piece of prime minister Viktor Orban’s response to the migration crisis.

Police, backed by troops, stopped migrants walking into Hungary along a railway line from Serbia on Monday afternoon as the fence was completed.

From midnight to 4pm on Monday, 7,437 migrants entered Hungary from Serbia – beating a single-day record set on Sunday – and most were quickly put on trains and buses to the border with Austria, where they now face security checks.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency said each country had the right to protect its borders but warned that it was “very important” that people fleeing war and persecution could find protection; most migrants now arriving in Europe are from conflict zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

More than half of Irish homes pay water bills after the second cycle

Compliance with water charges now stands at 51%.


The number of homes paying their water charges has passed the 50 per cent mark, as Irish Water nears the end of its second billing cycle.

Initial results released earlier this summer for the first bills sent by the company showed that 43 per cent of homes had paid their water charges.

The figures were seized on by anti-water charges protesters, while Eurostat also cited poor compliance rates as a reason to classify Irish Water on the Government balance sheet earlier this year.

The first billing cycle covered usage for January, February and March and 675,000 households, out of a total of 1.52 million, paid. The second billing cycle applied for usage over April, May and June, with these bills sent from July.

Irish Water has yet to send out all bills for this period.

In a statement to The Irish Times, Irish Water said 100,000 more homes had so far paid their water bills than had initially done for the first three months of billing.

The company said the number of homes now paying bills is “at least” 775,000, which gives a compliance rate of 51 per cent. The company also said some people were paying their first bill at the same time as their second.

Government sources have expressed hope the compliance rate will rise to 60 per cent by the time of the general election.

During the second billing cycle, Irish Water issued reminders for the first time to homes which had not paid their bills. The reminders included letters, text messages and telephone calls.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey said the “momentum is building” on compliance. “We won’t have the full cycle until the end of October but the indications are good and as time will pass compliance will grow,” he said. “Obviously nobody likes new charges but there are no alternatives.”

Irish hospitals facing heavy penalty fines for failing to cut waiting lists

Penalties for non-performing hospitals expected to run into millions of euro


Heavy fines are to be imposed from this month on low-performing hospitals that fail to meet Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s targets for cutting waiting lists.

The fines are being levied in respect of almost 8,000 patients who were on waiting lists for over 18 months in August.

Mr Varadkar had previously promised there would be such no long-term waiters from the middle of this year.

As part of a carrot-and-stick approach, the Minister is also releasing €25 million to the HSE so that hospitals can meet his second target of nobody waiting for more than 15 months for appointments or treatment by the end of the year. This is in addition to the €26 million already provided this year to fund the 18-month target.

The level of fines to be imposed is currently being calculated based on the cost of the procedures and appointments involved, but are expected to run into millions of euro.

The money involved will be diverted from non-performing hospitals to other hospitals or clinics where the work can be performed.


Exceptions will be made for a small number of specialities where the targets could not be met because of a shortage of specialist staff or pre- and post-surgical supports.

Alternatives such as outsourcing to the private sector will be used in these cases.

Among the hospitals likely to be fined are Galway University Hospital, where 2,320 patients are waiting over 18 months, and Tallaght and Cork University hospitals, with 1,000 long-term waiters each. The mechanism for sanctioning hospitals that fail to meet targets was devised during discussions between the HSE and theDepartment of Health over the summer.

It is intended the fines will continue to be levied on a monthly basis until hospitals reach the targets set by the Minister.

Started to rise

The number of long waiters has started to rise again since the Minister’s target date of last June. Figures published by The Irish Times last weekend showed the number of patients waiting over 18 months for an outpatient appointment was up 465 per cent, while the number waiting for inpatient procedures soared by 7,100 per cent.

The fines are being put in place to stop the figures from slipping back.

In September, fines will be imposed in respect of 6,800 outpatients and 1,000 inpatients still on the list after 18 months. Fines are not being imposed where appointments have been made.

Specific action plans are being put in place for some procedures, such as removal of wisdom teeth, varicose veins, urology and some spinal surgeries. Eleven additional scoliosis patients will have been treated by the end of this month in the Blackrock Clinic and another 56 will be treated in Dublin or London by the end of the year.

Hospitals have been told to carry out urgent colonoscopies within the target time of four weeks, with a zero tolerance policy applying to breaches.

Separately, Mr Varadkar will today attend a meeting of the emergency department taskforce dealing with the trolley crisis.

Despite the provision of extra funding, trolley numbers were up 40 per cent last month compared to the previous August.

Archaeologists find bones of man killed about 1,000 years ago

Skeleton of teenager who suffered violent death discovered in tree roots in Co Sligo


The man’s lower leg bones in his grave left pic & right the fallen beech tree.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a young man who suffered a violent death almost a millennium ago at Collooney, Co Sligo.

The teenager had two stab wounds to the chest and one to his left hand, presumably from trying to ward off his attacker.

The skeletal remains were found among the roots of a massive beech tree which toppled over after more than 200 years.

The National Monuments Service commissioned a rescue excavation to recover the remains before further damage was caused.

“As excavations go, this was certainly an unusual situation,” said Dr Marion Dowd of Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services.

“The upper part of the skeleton was raised into the air trapped within the root system. The lower leg bones, however, remained intact in the ground. Effectively as the tree collapsed, it snapped the skeleton in two.”

Analysis of the bones by osteoarchaeologist Dr Linda Lynch revealed the remains were those of a 17-20 year old man. He was over 5ft 10in in height making him taller than the average medieval person. Mild spinal joint disease suggests he was involved in physical labour from a young age.

Radiocarbon dates indicate the young man died in the 11th or 12th century, between 1030 and 1200 AD.

He was given a Christian burial. While historical records state the presence of a church and graveyard in the area, no above-ground trace survives and no other skeletons were encountered during the excavations.

“This burial gives us an insight into the life and tragic death of a young man in medieval Sligo,” Dr Dowd said.

Emaciated polar bear pictures raise global warming concerns


Photographs of underweight polar bears have gone viral on social media and raised concerns about the effects of climate change

Photographs of emaciated polar bears have gone viral on social media, and raised concerns over the effects of global warming.

One, taken by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen, shows a dead polar bear lying on a pile of rocks in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Last summer I traveled with a group of friends to Svalbard, Norway in search of polar bears. We went to my favorite spot where I have always been able to find bears roaming around on sea ice throughout the summer. On this occasion, however, we didn’t find any sea ice and we never found any bears alive. We did find two dead bears in this location and other groups found more dead bears.

These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals. In all of my years of growing up in the Arctic and later, working as a biologist, I had never found a dead polar bear. It is now becoming much more common. Through @sea_legacy and @natgeo we will continue to shine a light on our changing planet to convince the unconvinced. Please follow me on @paulnicklen to learn more about the effects of climate change. #polarbear #nature #wildlife #arctic #seaice @thephotosociety

A photo posted by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on Sep 6, 2015 at 12:35pm PDT

Mr Nicklen is trained as a biologist and has worked in the Arctic for decades. He says that on a trip to Svalbard last summer he was unable to locate any live bears, but did find two that appeared to have starved to death.

“These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals,” he wrote in an Instagram post accompanying the photograph.

Paul Nicklen, a scientist at the University of Alberta who studies polar bears, agreed with the assessment that the bear had starved to death.

“You can’t say 100 per cent that it starved to death, but that’s probably what happened,” he told Mashable. “It certainly looks to me like it has starved to death.”

Another photograph taken on Svalbard, a Norwegian territory, has raised similar concerns.

It was taken by photographer Kersten Langengerger and shows an unusually thin polar bear floating on ice.

Ms Langenberger said it was just one of several underweight female bears she had spotted on Svalbard.

An estimated 3,000 polar bears live in the Barents Sea, of which many reside on Svalbard and are a primary source of tourism. A British student from Eton College was killed by a polar bear in 2011 in Svalbard.

Polar bear populations are believed to have declined in recent decades due in large part to global warming, though populations are difficult to track due to the bears’ remote habitats.

An assesment from the Norwegian government said that the loss of sea ice was of “great concern” for polar bears in the Berents Sea.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 15th July 2015

Only just 46% of Irish Water clients have paid their bill


Irish Water is expected to announce today that less than half of its customers have paid water charges.

Just 46% of households who must pay have done so, the company will say, almost eight months to the day since the Coalition announced the revised flat-rate charging scheme.

Government sources confirmed the figures yesterday and said the board of Irish Water was being notified of the payments before they are announced by the semi-state company today.

“They are quite good given the opposition to the charges,” said a Government source. “They will climb substantially with the new measures coming in too. The problem is a lot of people leave it until the last minute.”

Households were given until the end of June to register with Irish Water to be allowed apply for conservation grants, which will be given to customers in September. Under the revised charging structure announced by the Government last November, single adult households in receipt of the grant will pay a maximum €60 a year while multi-adult residences must pay €160 a year.

However, there is no official deadline for when households must pay their bills. Under legislation passed by the Coalition last week, customers cannot be taken to court and forced to pay their charges until at least seven unpaid bills have passed — by which time it would be 2017.

People must have unpaid water bills of at least €500 before they are taken to court for debts to be deducted from salary, welfare or pensions.

In May, the Irish Examiner revealed the average rate of registration up until February was 69%, with 10 of 26 counties having registration rates above 75%.

As of last month, more than 1.3m people had registered with Irish Water. It is expected the company will today say that 1m of these are customers who are required to pay charges. The rest include households which, while not paying for charges because they are on water schemes or have their own wells, will be entitled to the conservation grants. This means 540,000 households, having registered as customers, have yet to pay charges.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said he and colleagues had tried six times over two months to obtain figures from Irish Water about the numbers who had paid their bills.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny surprised the Dublin TD when the Fine Gael leader said that Irish Water would reveal the data today. A Government spokesman said the Cabinet did not discuss the figures at its weekly meeting yesterday.

Irish Water refused to answer questions on the payment figures last night and would only say they would be released today.

The first billing cycle for Irish Water has just finished after bills for the first quarter of the year were delivered between April and last month. It is understood the board of Ervia, Irish Water’s parent firm, is aware of the level of payments.

The Government came under pressure in recent weeks to publish the payment figures after introducing sanctions or compliance measures to force tenants to pay charges and deduct people’s wages or dole if bills remain unpaid.

Anti-water charge campaigners are expected to use the low payment levels to criticise Irish Water and raise questions about whether the project has worked.

Meanwhile, the Right2Water campaign has announced proposals for a further national demonstration against water charges on August 29. “It’s very clear this government believes the water charges issue has gone away,” the group said in a statement. “We’re saying very firmly that it hasn’t and this will be the biggest issue when it comes to the next general election.”

The payment rates may also raise questions as to whether Irish Water will pass a Eurostat test this year as an independent entity

No qualified pancreas transplant surgeon available in Ireland

Seanad asks Leo to explain?

Health Minister Leo Varadkar forced to appear before Seanad tonight to explain the issue.


Leo Varadkar and Surgeon David Hikey now retired.

The Government suffered two defeats in the Seanad today.

Coalition senators were outvoted by the Opposition who demanded that Health Minister Leo Varadkar appear to discuss the issue of pancreas transplants.

The Government was defeated by 24 to 23 following a Fianna Fáil motion tabled by Kerry senator Mark Daly.

Fianna Fáil Seanad leader Darragh O’Brien told the Upper House: “We have been trying to get answers from Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, for some time now, on behalf of patients whose lives are at risk, as Ireland remains without any surgeon qualified to carry out pancreas transplants.’’

Mr Varadkar was forced to then appear at 9pm tonight to discuss the issue.

Later, a Fianna Fáil motion calling for a reversal of cuts to lone parents was passed.

A Fine Gael source said they expect further defeats in the Seanad in the coming weeks due to the Government’s minority.

IAG-Aer Lingus take-over deal cleared for by the EU


Merged IAG-Aer Lingus will have to offer for sale five pairs of landing slots at London Gatwick

The proposed €1.36 billion takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, has cleared its last major obstacle after the European Commission conditionally approved the deal yesterday evening.

IAG has committed to offering for sale five pairs of landing slots at London Gatwick, specifically for flights to Dublin and Belfast, to get the deal over the line. IAG has also promised the commission it will enter into agreements with IAG’s long-haul rivals to maintain route link-ups with Aer Lingus’s network.

The commission said it had concerns that the original terms of the merger would have lead to “insufficient competition on several routes”, including Dublin-London, Belfast-London and Dublin-Chicago. It said it also feared that IAG might try to prevent Aer Lingus from connecting its flights with those of IAG’s long-haul rivals. Since the deal was first notified to the commission on May 27th, however, IAG returned with specific competition remedy proposals to sway Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner, to rubber stamp the merger.

“By obtaining significant concessions . . . the commission has ensured that air passengers will continue to have a choice of airlines at competitive prices,” said Ms Vestager.

Under the terms of the approval, the merged IAG-Aer Lingus will have to offer for sale the five Gatwick slot pairs, although it is understood these will not necessarily be existing Aer Lingus slots. Iberia and British Airways, both owned by IAG, also own Gatwick slots. The commission has stipulated that whoever buys the slots will have to commit to use them for flights to Dublin and Belfast.

Aer Lingus and IAG confirmed to the stock market last night that at least two of the slot pairs must be used for flights to Dublin, while one must be used for Belfast. Aer Lingus shareholders are to vote tomorrow to approve measures designed to facilitate a commitment to the Government that connectivity will be maintained between Dublin and London Heathrow.

An Post seeks permission to offer customers current accounts


Providing banking services through post offices was recommended in a report done for Communications Minister Alex White in May

An Post has applied for a licence to allow it to offer current accounts to customers.

The move is at an early stage, but could provide a threat to the major banks. It is understood An Post is seeking to operate full current accounts.

Taxpayer-rescued banks have reacted to the financial crash by gradually removing free banking options for householders.

Now the 1,000-plus post offices countrywide could challenge the dominance of the main banks by offering better-value current accounts.

An Post has been trying to get back into consumer banking since Belgium bank Fortis pulled out of a joint venture with it, called Postbank, in 2010.

Post offices currently offer banking services for customers of AIB and Ulster Bank.

An Post does not need a banking partner to offer current accounts – day-to-day payments servicing accounts. Providing banking services through post offices was recommended in a report done for Communications Minister Alex White in May by a committee headed up by entrepreneur Bobby Kerr.

Dail Independents launch Social Democrats political party

Group pledges to abolish water charges and repeal the eighth amendment


A new party called the Social Democrats has been launched by three prominent Independent TDs: Catherine Murphy from Kildare North, Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly and Róisín Shortall who represents Dublin North West. Mary Minihan reports.

The three prominent Independent TDs who launched the Social Democrats party said they would insist on the abolition of water charges if negotiating to take part in a new government.

Catherine Murphy from Kildare North, Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly and Róisín Shortall, who represents Dublin North West, will share the leadership of the new party until after the general election.

“If we are in a position to be negotiating a programme for government, our position is that water charges would immediately be abolished. Our position is that the public ownership of the utility would be absolutely guaranteed,” Mr Donnelly said at the launch of the party.

“Irish Water is set up for privatisation. We would immediately remove that as an option. We would immediately pause the water metering implementation.”

Mr Donnelly said his household had not paid water charges “to the best of my knowledge”.

He said his family, part of “the negative equity generation”, had moved house three times in seven months. However, he said he “probably would” pay water charges, while Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall confirmed they had not paid.

Making their announcement at the Civic Offices in Wood Quay in Dublin, the trio said they wanted to see a 2:1 investment in public services relative to tax cuts in the upcoming budget.

They were critical of the Government’s proposed 50-50 split between tax cuts and spending increases.

They also said they were committed to extending paid parental leave to move towards a system where children could be cared for at home for at least the first 12 months of their lives.

Ms Murphy said the party hoped to attract “people of conviction” to contest the election under its banner. “Our intention is to deliver a social democratic vision that is very much in the Nordic tradition,” she said.

Asked about the party’s stance on abortion, Ms Murphy said they all agreed the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution had to be repealed and replaced by legislation.

There were a variety of views in society that needed to be adequately consulted so the vast majority of people could subscribe to the legislation, she added.

Ms Shortall said the “policy-based” party hoped to contest the election in every constituency.

She said the party would make a decision about a leader after the election, when she hoped its Dáil representation would be much larger.

She said the party had done a lot of work on its proposals to enhance childcare. Quality of and access to pre-school services should be improved, she said.

The party is also proposing the establishment of “child clinics” in all communities, “so that we can practice that principle of prevention and early intervention when it comes to wellbeing, particularly in relation to children”.

Ms Shortall said nobody else had been approached to run for the party, but that would happen. She also hoped people would approach the party in the coming weeks and months.

Independent Senator Katherine Zappone, who was previously in talks with the TDs, announced last month she would contest the Dáil election as an Independent candidate in Dublin South West.

A document distributed by the party at the launch event said its key policy areas were “strong economy, open government and social vision”.

The party’s values were listed as: “progress; equality; democracy and sustainability”.

Mr Donnelly said the traditional Irish approach to planning, investment and public services was short-term. “The Irish people deserve more than this and are demanding more than this.”

There was a growing demand for better education, healthcare, jobs and society, he said.

“New vision, fresh ideas, better approaches, these are what need to be put in place and ultimately that is what today and the Social Democrats are about.”

Ms Murphy said the Social Democrats wanted to end the practice of judges being appointed by politicians.

She said they wanted to see the Official Secrets Act replaced because they believed that openness was the key to good governance.

“We’re not interested in getting into auction politics. We believe in option politics,” she said.

She said the “standard merry-go-round of scandal, inquiry and report, but no real lessons learned” had to stop. It was “corrosive and offensive” to the values of Irish people

Seaweed that tastes like bacon/rashers


Close up of dulse seaweed being grown and harvested at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport Oregon. Chris Langdon has been growing and studying it for decades and is now working with the Food Innovation Center in Portland on creating healthly and appealing dishes.

Oregon State University researcher Chris Langdon wasn’t looking for the next hipster snack when he started growing a special strain of seaweed 15 years ago. But he may have found it.

Dulse is a leafy red seaweed that grows along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It’s packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, and contains up to 16 percent protein by dry weight.

“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” Langdon said in a statement, referring to a slug-like mollusk popular on restaurant tables in some parts of the world.

But when he tried the dulse himself, he realized it was surprisingly delicious — at least his version of it.

“In Europe, they add [dulse] powder to smoothies, or add flakes onto food,” Langdon said. “There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

When he brought in the marketing savvy of OSU business school teacher Chuck Toombs and the expert taste buds of research chef Jason Ball, dulse’s potential as people food floated to the surface.

“Dulse is a super-food, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” Toombs said. “And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”

Currently there are no commercial dulse-growing operations in the U.S. harvesting the plant for human consumption. But Langdon has patented his strain and Toombs’ MBA students are preparing a marketing plan for a new line of specialty foods.

“The dulse grows using a water recirculation system,” Langdon said. “Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”

News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 30th June 2015

Ireland’s existing health system demands an extra €1bn to run it?

Says Leo Varadkar


The Minister for Health Leo Varadker says serious questions about health funding must be answered.

The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, says serious questions about the level of funding for current healthcare must be answered if the country aspires to an adequate health system.

The health service needs as much as another €1 billion of investment to simply meet existing demands, and even more is required to cope with a growing and ageing population, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar, writing in Wednesday’s Irish Times, also says serious questions about the level of funding for healthcare must be answered if the country aspires to an adequate health system.

“Questions remain, such as whether we are willing as a society to pay for it, and whether we are willing to embrace the major organisational changes required,” he says. “This will require courage and trust, but I am confident that with the right vision we can succeed.

“No form of universal healthcare is possible unless we are willing to find the resources needed to make it work.”

Underfunded service

He says an underfunded service will be a poor service, even if it is well organised.

“With the current staffing of specialist doctors, midwives and nurses, critical care beds and other capacity, no system of universal healthcare will be able to deal with unmet demand.

“What really matters is having adequate well-trained staff, sufficient capacity and infrastructure, good organisation, management and financial control, clinical governance, quality and safety systems.”

Meeting existing, unmet needs “would cost between €700 million and €1 billion, on top of the natural increase needed every year to cope with a rising and ageing population”, an amount he says seems like a lot but would only restore health budgets to where they were eight years ago.

Mr Varadkar also outlines how he believes primary care can be achieved over five years, effectively the duration of a second term in office.

Whether the funding for future health needs comes from the exchequer or an insurance-based system like Universal Health Insurance is secondary to whether enough money is made available, and whether it is correctly spent, he says.

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the annual cost of UHI, championed by Mr Varadkar’s predecessor Dr James Reilly, could be between €2,000 and €3,000 to cover a standard package of benefits for one adult.

External consultants also told the Government in a confidential report the estimated cost of a more comprehensive series of benefits could be between €3,000 and €4,000 per year, far higher than previously estimated

About 70% of Irish households register with Irish Water on time for grant

But we still do not know exactly how many people have paid their first bills to the semi-state body.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Ruth Coppinger TD, with activist Michella Russell (left), at a press conference announcing details of an anti-water charges protest outside the Dáil on Wednesday, July 1st, at 6pm

An estimated 70% of householders had registered with Irish Water by Tuesday’s deadline date to allow them claim a €100 water conservation grant from the Government.

It is still not known exactly how many people have paid their first bills to the new semi-state company.

The first quarterly billing cycle for Irish Water was for January, February and March, with the first bills landing in April. The second round of bills will be sent out from July onwards.

It is understood the board of Ervia, Irish Water’s parent company, has been informed of the level of payments but is not yet known when the figures will be released.

A Government spokesman said on Tuesday the figures will be published “in due course” and added the Coalition would have “no issue” with publication of the figures once they have been finalised by Irish Water.

Under severe pressure

The Government has come under severe pressure from the Opposition to publish the figures, and another anti-water charges protest is planned for outside the Dáil tonight.

An Irish Water spokeswoman said over 1.32 million people, or 70 per cent of those who can register with the semi-state, had done so as of earlier this week.

Registering with the company does not mean a householder has to pay their water charges, and they are entitled to claim the €100 grant even if they do not pay.

The grant will be administered and paid by the Department of Social Protection, and a separate application process for the payment of the €100 will open later this year.

Of the 1.32 million who have registered, about 80 per cent are customers who will be billed for their water, while the remaining 20 per cent have their own water services, such as group water schemes.

An estimated 1.5 million households are either connected to mains water or waste water services, which means they will be billed by Irish Water. Some 1.05 million of those – 70 per cent – have registered.

The spokeswoman said while Irish Water experienced a lot of activity on Tuesday, it was not enough to hugely change those figures.

Meanwhile, the lifting of boil water notices for thousands of people “would simply not be possible” without Irish Water, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said.

He was speaking after the company confirmed the HSE had lifted boil water notices for 11,300 customers in the Killeglan and Castlerea areas of Co Roscommon.

This came after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspections of related water treatment plants earlier this week.

A boil water notice for 6,000 customers in Boyle was lifted on May 1st.

“This now means that over 17,000 people can drink their water in Roscommon this year that couldn’t last year,” said Mr Kelly.

“This would simply not be possible without the creation of Irish Water. Irish Water was able to target and prioritise these vulnerable areas and bring to a close the sorry saga of boil water notices in quick fashion.

“I have no doubt that similar successes will be replicated throughout the country.”

John Tierney, Irish Water’s managing director, said dealing with the boil water notices had been a “top priority” since the utility came into existence.

“Irish Water as a national water utility has been able to fast-track and co-ordinate the completion of this and other projects in Co Roscommon so that boil water notices will be lifted for 22,700 customers in Roscommon by the end of this year,” he said.

“We acknowledge the work of the contractors and Roscommon County Council in helping us to achieve this.”

Ireland’s national house prices are up 1.7% in second quarter

Says Myhome.ie


The average asking price nationwide for a house is €202,000

House price growth continued in April, May and June with the national asking price rising by 1.7% in the three month period, while prices were up 6.1% on the year.

According to the latest house price survey from MyHome.ie, the rate of increase was higher in Dublin with prices up 2.3% over the three months, and 10.4% on the year.

The average asking price nationwide is €202,000, while in Dublin it is €282,000, according to today’s figures.

MyHome.ie also noted that cash buyers still account for over 50% of transactions in the housing market.

The author of today’s report, Conall MacCoille, chief economist at Davy, said the data pointed to a modest increase in house prices for the rest of the year.

The economist said that while the outlook remains uncertain, he believes house prices look set to rise by close to 10% for the calendar year.

“However as the figures for new instructions indicate, annual price inflation is likely to slow towards 5% by the end of the year. This is not a negative given that wages have not kept pace with house prices, stretching affordability,” he added.

Today’s report also found some evidence that the supply situation for housing was beginning to improve.

Angela Keegan, Managing Director of MyHome.ie, said the total number of homes listed on the site rose by 9.4% between the first quarter and the second quarter.

“The upward trend has been most marked in Dublin where we now have 5,550 properties listed, up 18.6% from March,” she added.

Ms Keegan also said that transaction levels remained strong early in 2015, but as with supply, they are coming off a low base.

In the first four months of the year for which the data is close to complete, transaction values are up 59% and by 48% in volume terms on the same time last year.

“While it is encouraging to see the market moving in the right direction the bigger picture continues to show that the Irish housing market remains illiquid. It’s clear we still have some way to go before we can say we have a properly functioning market,” Ms Keegan stated.

With a general election looming, Davy economist Conall MacCoille urged the Government to avoid introducing any measures aimed at relaxing credit constraints and inappropriately stimulating demand even further.

“The key to restoring a healthy Irish housing market is to implement sorely needed measures to alleviate planning and other bottlenecks that are holding back housing supply,” the economist stated.

BBC Three to be axed despite an outcry


The BBC’s director-general Tony Hall last week said the BBC needed to make some more cuts.

BBC3 has been the launchpad for hits such as Gavin and Stacey

BBC Three is to be axed from television despite evidence that moving the youth-oriented channel online will offer poor value for money.

The BBC Trust has given provisional approval to the plans, which, by its own analysis, are likely to limit the channel’s reach among young audiences and alienate viewers in ethnic-minority, lower-income and rural households.

The recommendations will disappoint actors such as Aidan Turner, Olivia Colman and Daniel Radcliffe, who joined the campaign to save the 12-year-old channel, praised as a seedbed of talent that has given many household names their first break.

The trust said the decision had

Children in Ireland who have been diagnosed with cancer

Will be issued with medical cards for five years


The change will apply automatically from tomorrow,

Children under 18 who have been diagnosed with cancer will be issued with a medical cards for five years.

The change will apply automatically from tomorrow, July 1st, according to Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke and TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

On a support page for Lucy O’Connor – a nine-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in September 2014, and was refused a medical card until February this year – her family writes “one of the positives of going public, with Lucy’s story, is that from July 1st 2015, all children under 18, diagnosed with cancer in Ireland, will receive a medical card for 5 years.”

“Delighted that no other family will have to go public with their story. In saying that, the support from you all has been amazing, so thank you,” the post adds.

Minister for Primary Care, Kathleen Lynch, says it is a key recommendation of the Clinical Advisory Group which was set up to look at medical card eligibility.

Deputy Lynch said, “this decision is welcome. It is in line with the more compassionate approach that we have adopted towards awarding discretionary medical cards.

“I support it and look forward to the HSE implementing it in an efficient and sensitive manner,” she adds.

The free GP care for children under six scheme is also set to commence tomorrow.

Northern Ireland firm 3fivetwo buys Sligo hospital 


A Northern Ireland’s large private healthcare firm is expanding into the Republic as part of its “multi-million pound” investment after buying a private hospital in Sligo.

3fivetwo is finalising a deal to acquire the 19-bed St Joseph’s Hospital, which is set to be rebranded as Kingsbridge Private Hospital Sligo, in a nod to the firm’s private business in Belfast.

The deal secures all 60 jobs at the hospital, and 3fivetwo has said it’s aiming to create new roles on the back of the deal.

The value has not been disclosed, but it is understood much of the “multi-million pound” figure will go towards the “expansion and development of services in the years ahead”.

And the final sale is expected to be agreed in the new few weeks.

Headquartered on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast, the group – which boasted increased turnover of more than £40m in its last set of published accounts – employs 240 staff. That’s alongside the services of a further of 400 consultants and 300 nursing staff.

St Joseph’s Hospital was founded in the 1950s and until early last year was part of the Mount Carmel Medical Group.

Mark Regan, 3fivetwo group development director, told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s a multi-million pound investment, not in the purchase alone but in the expansion and development of services in the years ahead. You can’t put a price on the provision of healthcare to a local community.

“In addition to obvious benefits for patients, the securing of hundreds of jobs at KPH Sligo and peripheral suppliers is priceless.”

And earlier this month the firm revealed it was adding another 20 jobs as part of a £3m investment.

The company said plans for growth were in response to increasing demand for private health due to budget cuts, soaring waiting lists and pressure on public services.

It now has three facilities in south Belfast, including cosmetic surgery, dental and fertility businesses.

It also operates the Chelsea Private Clinic on King’s Road, London.

And Kingsbridge Private Hospital on Belfast’s Lisburn Road is now being extended in a £2.5m project.

Signs of human-esque communication discovered in babbler birds

A key element of the human language has been discovered in the Australian babbler bird.


A key element of human language has been discovered in the babbler bird.

Stringing together meaningless sounds to create meaningful signals was previously thought to be the preserve of humans alone, but the new study has revealed that babbler birds are also able to communicate in this way.

Researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Zurich discovered that the chestnut-crowned babbler, a highly social bird found in the Australian Outback, has the ability to convey new meaning by rearranging the meaningless sounds in its calls.

This babbler bird communication is reminiscent of the way humans form meaningful words. The research findings, which are reveal a potential early step in the emergence of the elaborate language systems we use today.

Lead author Sabrina Engesser from the University of Zurich said that although previous studies indicate that animals, particularly birds, are capable of stringing different sounds together as part of a complex song, these songs generally lack a specific meaning and changing the arrangement of sounds within a song does not seem to alter its overall message.

In contrast to most songbirds, chestnut-crowned babblers do not sing. Instead its extensive vocal repertoire is characterised by discrete calls made up of smaller acoustically distinct individual sounds, she added.

Researcher think that babbler birds may choose to rearrange sounds to code new meaning because doing so through combining two existing sounds is quicker than evolving a new sound altogether, said co-author Andy Russell.

The researchers noticed that chestnut-crowned babblers reused two sounds “A” and “B” in different arrangements when performing specific behaviours. When flying, the birds produced a flight call “AB”, but when feeding chicks in the nest they emitted “BAB” prompt calls.

The authors report that in the chestnut-crowned babbler, the first sound element “B” is what seems to differentiate the meaning between flight and prompt vocalisations, akin to cat and at in English, where the c represents the meaning differentiating element, or phoneme.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 5th October 2014

Internet Woman who targeted Madeleine McCann’s parents found dead in hotel room


The woman who was this week exposed as one of the trolls accused of targeting Madeleine McCann’s parents on the internet has been found dead in a Leicestershire hotel, it has been reported.

Brenda Leyland (63) was accused of posting online hate messages aimed at the McCanns.

Madeleine McCann disappeared during a family holiday to Portugal in 2007.

The Daily Mail has reported that Leicestershire Police were called to a hotel in Smith Way, Grove Park in Enderby, Leicester today.

A police spokeswoman said the death was not being treated as suspicious.

Earlier this week, Sky News revealed that Mrs Leyland posted dozens of messages attacking the family using the Twitter handle @sweepyface.

It was reported a day later that Mrs Leyland had fled her Leicestershire home.

When asked why she was using her Twitter account to attack the McCanns, who live with their nine-year-old twins, in Rothley, Leicestershire, Mrs Leyland said: ‘I’m entitled to do that.’

A dossier of online abuse directed at the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann is being examined by police.

Members of the public have handed a file stretching to more than 80 pages of Tweets, Facebook posts and forum messages aimed at Kate and Gerry McCann to Scotland Yard, according to Sky News.

20% of  Irish households insist they will not pay their water bills


Research says 270,000 unlikely to pay charges

As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.

UP to 20% of households are unlikely to pay their water charges, research carried out by Irish Water has found.

The survey suggests as many as 270,000 eligible households are unlikely to pay the controversial charges when bills land next January.

This would leave the Government, which has said it will not cut off the water of those who don’t pay, in a nightmare scenario as their options to force people to pay are extremely limited.

The most common reason given for not paying was because respondents disagreed “in principle” with water charges, followed by affordability issues, poor water quality, a belief they were already paying for water, and water wastage through leaking pipes.

As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.

Unlike other utilities such as Electric Ireland or Bord Gais, Irish Water will not have the power to cut off the supply to any home. The most it can do is restrict the supply to a “trickle”. It has emerged that there is no legal minimum flow that Irish Water must continue to supply to homes even in a restriction scenario, as where a house is located on a certain supply pipe would impact on the water pressure.

It was reported that it will only be possible to restrict supply to homes with individual water lines off the main network. This raises the scenario that apartment owners or homes on a shared supply, even if they refuse to pay, are unlikely to ever see their supply restricted.

Irish Water is adamant that moving to a restriction of supply is a “last resort” and that it would hope that the incentive of the allowances will be sufficient to encourage as great a level of compliance as possible.

A couple with two children who would pay €278 under the assessed charge system will be charged €630 a year if they do not sign up when metering charges begin next July. This is because those who fail to provide details will lose their free allowances and will be asked to pay the full cost of drinking and waste water services.

However, anti-water charges groups have been stepping up their calls for the public to defy Irish Water and not pay.

Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger, speaking in the Dail last week, called on the public not to pay the water charges, in a bid to get enough people to refuse to comply as to make the system unworkable.

An Irish Water spokeswoman said that like other utility companies, Irish Water would be able to bring those who refuse to engage with them to court, but accepted that it was only for debt recovery. She said they would seek to find workable solutions for those people struggling to pay, but Irish Water must try and protect those customers who play by the rules.

“Of course, for those who are finding it difficult to meet the bills, we will ask them to engage with us to find a solution that works for everyone. But, for those who won’t pay, we have a range of options to try to ensure compliance. But we have to ensure we protect those customers who pay on time,” said the Irish Water spokeswoman.

Irish Water said last week that landlords would not be held liable for arrears of water charges built up by their tenants. The utility firm said landlords would be sent application packs for their rental properties, which they must forward to the tenants.

In the case of an owner-occupier, the full allowances in relation to water usage are allocated in the normal way and the occupier is liable for the bill.

A spokeswoman explained that if the property was unoccupied, the landlord could claim unoccupied-dwelling status and pay a set charge. The level of this is still under consideration by the regulator. In this case the landlord is liable for the charge. However, in the case of a rented property, Irish Water said: “The tenant is liable for the charge and is also eligible for the allowances, as the property is the principal primary residence of that household.”

Yesterday it emerged that those refusing to register with Irish Water by the end of the month will be hit with bills that are likely to be twice as much as they would pay if they provided the information. There has been a fall in numbers saying they would not pay. In 2012, a similar survey found 30pc were unlikely to pay. Earlier this summer, it emerged that Irish Water had identified political interference and customers not paying as the two biggest threats to its viability.

History of charges

Water charges have haunted the political ‘to-do’ list since domestic rates were abolished in 1977. In the 1990s, an attempt was made to introduce water charges.

This failed after widespread public protest. Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins, then chairman of the Dublin Anti Water Charges Campaign, forced the abolition of water charges in Dublin in 1996.

The same year then Environment Minister Brendan Howlin announced the water charge was going to be replaced by a new system whereby the road tax collected in each area would be the source for council funding

Slow broadband is ‘killing the progress of Irish businesses’


A Portarlington businessman has claimed that slow broadbandspeed is “killing businesses” in the town.

David Maher, an eCommerce businessman based in Port, said that the slow broadband speed has dissuaded new businesses from moving to the area.

“Eircom has declared Portarlington to be fibre enabled since May 2014 and can now offer 100Mbps to users who are lucky enough to get it. Yet in reality less than half of customers in the town can avail of the service and Eircom in their wisdom have excluded the two official industrial estates in the town – Botley Lane on the Offaly side and Canal Road in Laois – from getting fibre optic,” he said.

“This is simply a disaster in terms of getting businesses to move into Portarlington. Why Eircom have decided that businesses should be excluded from access to high speed broadband is hard to understand.”

The future does not seem to offer much in the way of hope as Eircom’s website indicates that it may not upgrade the rest of the town before the end of 2016. Many businesses are forced to use wireless solutions to get the speeds they need.

“We are in the process of expanding our online eCommerce businesses and we have just moved to our new building eCom Park in Portarlington. We hope to be able to use the new facility to create a technology hub in Portarlington to allow web based business, especially start ups, to get established and thrive. Online is the way of the future and locating in a town like Portarlington gives huge cost advantages,” he said.

Waiting on a trolley in a Irish hospital linked to 30% increase in mortality,


The consultants’ association has claimed that patients are dying unnecessarily

The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association has claimed that patients are dying unnecessarily because of having to wait on a trolley in emergency departments.

At the association’s annual conference in Cork, its President Dr Gerard Crotty said many acute hospital departments are in crisis.

Dr Crotty said waiting on a trolley is linked to a 30% increase in mortality, according to studies.

Speaking at the conference in Cork, Dr Crotty said the health service was in intensive care, after suffering the cumulative effects of six years of cuts, the most severe in history.

He said crude frontline budget cuts were having disastrous effects on patients.

Many acute hospital departments were in crisis, or on the brink of collapsing, because consultants who have left cannot be replaced, he said.

In contrast, he said the State was paying €1m a day using agency staff, mainly because of a shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants.

Dr Crotty said there was an opportunity to start the process of restoring trust with the appointment of new leadership in the Department of Health.

Newly-appointed Department of Health Secretary General Jim Breslin told the conference that even if the health budget discussions for 2015 are successful, funding cannot meet all the priorities advanced by people.

Mr Breslin said that co-operation with change should be part of normal business for health staff, rather than being dependent on extra pay.

Meanwhile, the IHCA has confirmed that a number of consultants are to take High Court action against the State alleging breach of contract in not applying a pay increase in June 2009.

The association’s secretary general, Martin Varley, said he could not quantify the sum of money involved due to the various types of contracts and other factors.

Reducing Antarctic ice messing up the Earth’s gravity

  • Blame linked to climate change


The Earth’s gravity is messing up and global warming appears to be responsible. The warming climate has caused massive ice loss in West Antarctica in recent years and this phenomenon has caused the Earth’s gravity to be weaker there.

The findings were based on measurements made by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite, which was developed to map the Earth’s gravitation field, and data from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, a collaboration between the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Center which aims to provide accurate mapping of variations in the gravity field of the Earth.

Changes in the earth’s mass cause the gravity to fluctuate in small ways but with the large scale melting of the ice sheets in West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012, the loss was large enough to result in changes in the Earth gravitational force pulling over the region, ESA revealed.

“Although not designed to map changes in Earth’s gravity over time, ESA’s extraordinary satellite has shown that the ice lost from West Antarctica over the last few years has left its signature,” ESA said in a statement.

By combining data from GOCE and GRACE, scientists learned that West Antarctica lose about 209 billion metric tons of ice from year 2009 to 2012, which could be largely blamed on the retreating glaciers. During this period, Pine Island Glacier shed 67 billion metric tons of ice annually. Thwaites Glacier and Getz Ice Shelf, on the other hand, lost 67 billion metric tons and 55 billion metric tons of ice respectively each year.

“Scientists can now look at changes in ice mass in small glacial systems,” ESA said. “They have found that the loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 caused a dip in the gravity field over the region.”

GOCE has already provided several observations in the past that showed how gravity on Earth changes overtime. The satellite, for instance, has revealed that the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 has left a mark in the gravity of the planet.

Besides messing with the Earth’s gravity, a number of extreme and unwanted phenomena that took place in recent years including the loss habitats, the declining population of wildlife and extreme weather events such as heat waves and storms are also largely attributed to climate change.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 31st July 2013

Economic Management Council (EMC) is too exclusive says Joan Burton


the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has claimed the EMC is not seeing the “big picture” of the Irish economy

Minister Burton claims economic council is under undue influence of advisers.

A senior Minister has reignited Government debate on the powerful Economic Management Council (EMC) by suggesting it may be dominated by a narrow cohort of civil servants and special advisers.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has claimed the EMC, whose membership is confined to the four most senior members of Government, is not seeing the “big picture” of the Irish economy because of its exclusive nature and the influence of non-elected officials from only four departments.

The EMC is comprised of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and decides on all key economic policy decisions. It has been criticised for being a “star chamber” that bypasses the collective decision-making of Cabinet and the Opposition has questioned its constitutionality

Joan Burton had previously criticised the EMC for excluding Ministers from the “big-beast” spending departments – social protection, health, education and justice.

Now, in an interview yesterday, she has expressed fears about the influence of advisers and senior civil servants.

“My major fear about the EMC, to be honest, is not the four Ministers who are there even though I think there could be a broader participation.

“I certainly would be concerned that given the more limited participation of the number of Ministers in it that it would be dominated by civil servants and policy advisers.

“You have to see the big picture of the Irish economy. You have to see unemployment figures, people at work and people in big-spending departments are a critical [part of it],” she said.

“It’s important that when you are discussing economic policy and management that you have the participation of those departments.”

Elsewhere in the interview, M/s Burton argued that the main thrust of Government policy should be making clear its main priority was creating and restoring jobs.

Castlebar to have Irish Water office where 1st bills will issue in January 2015


The locations of Irish Water’s regional offices have been announced and the Connaught/ Ulster regional offices will be based in Castlebar, Cavan and Donegal.

Irish Water will have three regions for operational purposes, regions aligned with those proposed in the government’s local government reform plan, Putting People First. The regional offices are being established to support the provision of water and wastewater services, with regional work associated with operations, asset management and certain capital projects being sited in these offices.

Up to 25 jobs could be created at the Castlebar base.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, said: “Our goal is to create a world class water and wastewater system for citizens, that protects public health and the environment.

“A secure supply of quality water will also support job creation and encourage foreign direct investment from water-intensive industries.

Ireland can become a prime location for such industries as other countries struggle to ensure water supply meets demand.”

The Minister noted that agreement had been reached with the Troika to defer the date for the commencement of domestic charges to quarter four of next year, with first bills issuing in January 2015.

Minister Hogan added: “My intention is that as part of a range of conservation measures to be put in place, that where leakage is found through the water meter installation programme on the customer side, a ‘first fix free’ or equivalent support scheme would be provided. I will announce final details on this shortly.

“We intend that households will be provided with a free allowance and that there will be specific supports for those with medical conditions that necessitate a high level of water use and those with affordabilit y issues. No decision has yet been taken to the proposed approach to the free allowance or to these supports. “Affordability issues will be  addressed, in consultation with the Regulator, Irish Water and other stakeholders.

The agreed approach to affordability issues will then be reflected in the charging structure established by the Regulator, which will be the subject of public consultation early next year.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has welcomed the announcement that one of the offices is to be located in Castlebar.

He said: “This particular office will, together with others in Cavan and Donegal, help to increase the efficiency of the provision of water services right across the Connaught/Ulster region.

This is about creating a worldclass water system for Ireland and Castlebar is now set to be positioned at the heart of that.”

SVP criticises moneylender’s tactics of offering gift vouchers instead of cash


The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has expressed concern at a new selling tactic by a moneylending company, which is offering One4all gift vouchers instead of cash.

SVP said said people who buy these vouchers from Provident Personal Credit, the largest regulated moneylending company operating in Ireland, pay high rates of interest for a product they cannot use in all shops or services.

The charity described the practice as ‘unsavoury’.

“One4all gift vouchers is an arm of An Post which is a trusted service to the community,”said John-Mark McCafferty, SVP Head of Social Justice and Policy.

“At a time of real financial pressure for many, we do not believe An Post should be involved in such an unsavoury arrangement with a moneylender.”

“Our members tell us that as austerity deepens, the use of licenced moneylenders in their communities is growing, and this is a worrying development,” Mr McCafferty wrote in a blog post.

“The poorest pay more for these loans than those of us who can access credit union loans or similar.

The interest rates associated with moneylenders are high and what appears as easy money up front turns into a significant financial burden in the longer term.” says Mr McCafferty.

There is a limit of €500 on the One4all gift cards, which are prepaid cards issued by Bank of Ireland.

In a recent submission to the Central Bank the SVP pointed out that the sample cost of credit from moneylenders for this amount would be €150 on a 26-week loan and €280 on a loan for 12 months

Last month the SVP warned of a potential money lending crisis in Ireland and called on the Central Bank to publish baseline data to take money lending out of the shadows. The last time a review of the sector was carried out was in 2007 and at that time 300,000 people had availed of loans from moneylenders.

ACE Inhibitors could slow cognitive decline for patients with Dementia


Centrally acting angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (CACE-Is) reduce the rate of cognitive decline in patients with dementia, regardless of blood pressure levels at the time of their hypertension diagnosis, a new study has found.

The study also shows that the rate of cognitive change was improved in the first 6 months after dementia patients started taking these drugs.

“There’s a growing body of literature now showing that these drugs slow down the deterioration that people with Alzheimer’s disease experience, probably by between 20% and 30% a year compared to another antihypertensive drug or no centrally acting ACE inhibitor,” said study author D. William Molloy, professor, Center for Gerontology and Rehabilitation, University College Cork, Cork City, Ireland.

The results prompt the question of whether these CACE agents would actually delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in people with normal blood pressure who are at risk for dementia, said Dr. Molloy.

A significant Change: Researchers used the Geriatric Assessment Tool (GAT) database, which contains over 8000 physician assessments of 1749 people aged 41 to 104 years. The data, collected from 1999 to 2010, includes age, sex, education, medical diagnoses, blood pressure, laboratory findings, medications, and other measures from patients at 2 university hospitals in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

It also includes the scores of 2 cognitive screening tests — the Standardized Mini-Mental State Examination (SMMSE) and the Quick Mild Cognitive Impairment (Qmci) screen. The Qmci has 6 subtests covering 5 cognitive domains: orientation, working memory, semantic memory, visual spatial, and 2 tests of episodic memory.

The analysis included only patients with AD, vascular or mixed dementias (Alzheimer’s/vascular). These patients were grouped into those not taking a CACE inhibitor (the NoCACE-I group; n = 276) and those prescribed a CACE inhibitor (the CACE-I group; n = 85). (CACE inhibitors include perindopril, ramipril, trandolapril, captopril, fosinopril, lisinopril, and prinivil.) The researchers also looked at a group of 30 patients who began receiving a CACE inhibitor within the previous 6 months (NewCACE-I group).

The rate of cognitive decline was defined as the baseline cognitive score minus the endpoint score times 6 divided by duration in months.

The study found that the median change in SMMSE scores between the baseline and endpoint was 0.69 point per 6 month. The median SMMSE score differences for the CACE-I, NoCACE-I, and New CACE-I groups were 0.8, 1.0, and -1.2, respectively, per 6 months. For the Qmci, the median change was 2 points per 6 months, with median Qmci score differences for the CACE-I and NoCACE-I groups of 1.8 and 2.1, respectively, per 6 months.

There was a borderline significant difference in the median 6-month rate of decline in Qmci scores between CACE-I (1.8 points) and NoCACE-I (2.1 points) (P = .049). There were similar but nonsignificant changes in SMMSE (P = .77).

Newly treated patients also showed improvements. The median decline in scores for the NewACE-I group on the SMMSE was -1.2 points during the first 6 months of taking the drug.

Unlike some studies that show significant change but aren’t clinically significant, this study uncovered a more definitive effect from use of CACE-I drugs, said Dr. Molloy. “This was clearly clinically significant, I think; it’s not just Mickey Mouse change; it’s significant change.”

Among the different CACE-I agents, perindopril appeared to outperform the others, according to Dr. Molloy. “From the data we looked at, my impression was that perindopril was better than ramipril. It has a longer half-life so it has a smoother action over 24 hours, and it might have better tissue penetration.”

It didn’t seem to matter how long patients had been taking a CACE-I. Researchers didn’t have enough data on dosage to determine whether this affected the rate of cognitive decline, said Dr. Molloy.

What’s clear from this study is that CACE-I drugs, which are lipid soluble, do not work by lowering blood pressure, said Dr. Molloy. “We show here that in the ACE inhibitor class, it’s the ones that cross the blood-brain barrier that are having the effect, suggesting that it’s not a blood pressure–lowering effect, that there’s something about this penetration of the central nervous system.”

Anti-inflammatory Effect: But it’s not clear how CACE drugs actually slow down cognitive decline in patients with AD. Dr. Molloy believes, though, that AD is probably the result of chronic inflammation in the brain and that CACEs have an effect on that inflammation.

“By crossing over, they may penetrate the tissues and they may be having some kind of anti-inflammatory effect or somehow switch off the inflammation,” he said.

Quite Exciting: Dr. Molloy found the study results “quite exciting,” especially the finding that the drugs seem to have an effect even after patients have been taking them for many years. The study, he said, offers some new hope for patients with AD. “We don’t have a handle on Alzheimer’s disease at all; we don’t have anything to prevent it, and we don’t really have much to slow it down.”

Tempering that excitement, however, is the concern that in some people, ACE inhibitors might interfere with degradation of amyloid-β, thereby contributing to increase amyloid burden. It could be, said Dr. Molloy, that AD isn’t a homogenous disease, that in some people it’s more an issue of accumulating amyloid-β than a problem with inflammation.

A limitation of the study was that many patients in the database did not have both SMMSE and Qmci results at baseline and at the end of the study, limiting the numbers that could be included in the analysis. As well, different effects may have become apparent had the analysis covered a longer period.

The study results are only observational, and Dr. Molloy wants to “toss the coin” and test the findings in a clinical trial. “I would love to do a proper randomized trial of a centrally acting ACE inhibitor versus a non–centrally acting ACE inhibitor and treat patients for a couple of years and see what happens.”

In addition to ACE inhibitors, other antihypertensive drugs have been associated with a lower risk of developing dementia, including calcium channel blockers, diuretics, and angiotensin-receptor blockers.

According to background information in the paper, about 80 million people worldwide will be affected by dementia by the year 2040.

Support for Previous Findings: Medscape Medical News sought the opinion of Kaycee M. Sink, MD, associate professor of medicine, director of the Kulynych Memory Assessment Clinic, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Salem, North Carolina, who has done research in this area.

“The results of this study add support to previous findings, including our own, that centrally active ACE inhibitors may be beneficial to cognition,” said Dr. Sink.

However, the impact of the study is lessened by limitations of the study, which include the small sample size, possible confounding by indication (not everyone had an indication for an ACE inhibitor or even a blood pressure medication), and a very small effect size (probably not clinically significant).

“I don’t think clinicians should use this study to support starting patients with dementia on a centrally active ACE inhibitor for treatment of dementia,” said Dr. Sink.

“However, if a patient has an indication for an ACE inhibitor (for example, hypertension, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease), then choosing a centrally active ACE inhibitor rather than a non–centrally active one probably makes sense.”

Obese Kids calories intake much higher than first thought


A new mathematical model calculates, with unprecedented accuracy, the caloric excess that produces childhood obesity and the changes in energy balance necessary to achieve a healthier weight.

This is “the first mathematical model of childhood energy balance and bodyweight dynamics that accounts for healthy growth and development of obesity and makes quantitative predictions about weight management interventions,” the model’s developers, led by Kevin D. Hall, PhD, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, write in an article published online July 30 in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

The model “allows us to accurately predict how a child’s energy intake affects his or her likelihood of becoming overweight or obese,” Dr. Hall said in a journal press release.

One of the model’s most interesting and unexpected predictions was “that obese children might outgrow obesity if a successful weight-maintenance intervention is instituted during a period of rapid growth. In this situation, the model predicted that the strong drive to accrete fat-free mass translates to a substantial loss of body fat despite no change in bodyweight, which would be very difficult to achieve in adults,” the authors state.

The model is based on the energy balance principle, which states that weight changes result from an imbalance between calories consumed and energy expended. It accounts for the metabolic adaptations that occur when body weight changes and distinguishes between the energy needs of lean and adipose tissue. The model also accounts for sex-specific differences in metabolism and growth rates. To allow for normal growth-related energy requirements between the ages of 5 and 18 years, the authors assumed a gradual increase of roughly 1200 kcal/day for boys and 900 kcal/day for girls.

When tested against existing data, the authors found that the model accurately reflected cross-sectional data from 292 healthy white children, as well as data from black and Hispanic children.

In the model, the development of childhood obesity was simulated by gradually increasing caloric intake from age 5 years while keeping all other parameters compatible with healthy growth. According to this model, obese boys consumed a mean of 750 kcal/day more than healthy-weight boys between 5 and 11 years of age. For obese girls, the mean daily caloric excess was 850 compared with their normal-weight peers. By the end of this period, the mean daily caloric imbalances were 1100 and 1300 for boys and girls, respectively, compared with healthy-weight children.

The model has yielded predictions of energy consumption among obese children that are much higher than those derived from standard calculations. For example, for a girl who was in the 50th percentile for weight at age 5 years and is 10 kg overweight by age 10 years, standard methods would estimate that her excess consumption would have been about 40 kcal/day during that 5-year period. “By contrast, use of our rule implies that she is eating roughly 400 kcal per day in excess of a peer that remained at the 50th percentile from age 5–10 years,” Dr. Hall and colleagues write.

Children may outgrow their obesity on a weight-maintenance regimen, according to the model, but boys will have an easier time of it than girls, the authors warn. In their simulation, girls already had 9 kg more body fat than boys by age 11 years. At this level of excess fat, some weight loss would be necessary for normalization of body composition. In addition, it is important to time any intervention for the period of maximum growth, as weight-loss interventions attempted at other times would be predicted to result in the loss of substantially less body fat.

Study limitations include the possible failure to estimate accurately for children whose rates of growth and development are significantly outside the average or for children whose weight gain followed a trajectory different than the gradual increases assumed in this model.

In an accompanying editorial, Claudio Maffeis, MD, a pediatrician and head of the clinical nutrition and obesity unit at the University of Verona, Italy, notes that the model shows that, “contrary to common perception, the energy needed to accrue body weight in excess of that gained through normal growth is higher than the energy content of the extra mass accumulated. This finding is explained by the higher energy requirement associated with increased body weight.”

He notes that obese and overweight children significantly underestimate their food intake, and “the accuracy of parents’ awareness of children’s portion sizes and reporting of children’s food intake is only moderate,” which make it hard for clinicians to help children change their eating habits. He also points out that the model suggests that the best time for intervention is before puberty, especially in girls. Given the differences in body composition and caloric needs between the sexes predicted by the model, any postpubertal dietary interventions should be individually tailored to each child.

“The model can…be used to calculate the magnitude of intervention necessary to achieve a desired change in bodyweight,” the authors conclude. “Policy makers and clinicians now have a quantitative technique for understanding childhood obesity and specifying energy balance benchmarks for interventions to address the childhood obesity epidemic.”

Clare beach swimmers warned to please leave Dusty the dolphin with attitude alone


Warning after a string of attacks off Co Clare coast

Swimmers are being urged to stay away from a renegade dolphin who has launched several attacks on people.

Dusty has been living off the Co Clare coast for more than 10 years but has only recently started to take offence to the public attention.

Dutchman Jan Ploeg has been swimming with the mammal for years and said the 10ft creature is only protecting herself.

Dusty has come under fire for reportedly butting overzealous water lovers in the area, with one woman even claiming the dolphin tried to drown her.

Mr Ploeg added: “I have been swimming with Dusty in Clare for over 10 years and I have never had any trouble.

“You have to think about it one way – I treat her just like I treat a human.

“I’m a nice guy but if you have someone jumping onto my back all day and annoying me and hurting me, then I’m going to retaliate.

“It’s not about how much
experience you have swimming with these dolphins, it’s about respecting them.”

Dubbed by locals as Fungi the dolphin with attitude, Dusty has had a number of run-ins recently and charged at a woman with her bottle nose.

She was taken to hospital by the Coastguard last week after her kidney was injured. Mr Ploeg added: “Dusty is a wild animal. People go out swimming and think it’s just like the movies but it’s not.

“They need to be careful and let Dusty come swim with you, don’t go out and pursue her.

“She likes to play hard-to-get, a proper woman.”

Welfare groups have also urged Clare County Council to protect Dusty and put up warning signs.

Vanessa Fagan, spokeswoman for Dolphin Days Ireland, called on people to leave the mammal alone during the peak tourism season.

On the group’s Facebook page, she wrote: “We have been informed that another swimmer has been hurt in Doolin.

“As a result of this, we ask for you all very kindly to please stay out of the water for Dusty’s sake.

“Even we will be staying away for a while until the busy season calms down.

“Dusty needs a break from everyone.”