Tag Archives: weight loss

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 9th September 2016.

Various EU member states claim a share of Apple’s €13bn tax bill

Spain is expected to raise the issue as finance ministers gather for first time since ruling

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Several EU member states are seeking a share of the €13bn which Apple has been ordered to repay the Irish Government.

Several European Union member states are seeking a share of the €13 billion which Apple has been ordered to pay the Irish Government.

Spain, which is under pressure to reach EU-imposed budget deficit targets, is expected to raise the issue today as European finance ministers gather for the first time since the European Commission’s competition ruling againstIreland.

“Tax rulings are having a budgetary impact in Spain,” said a senior Spanish finance ministry source.

“When your revenues are falling and you have public deficit problems every euro counts,” said the source, adding that the Spanish government was currently making a calculation about how much tax it may be owed.

Concerns from Madrid were echoed by Austria’s finance minister Hans Joerg Schelling yesterday, who said his country, along with Italy and France, would also examine whether they were entitled to a portion of the €13 billion.

Elections due?

The development could complicate Ireland’s forthcoming appeal of the competition ruling.

Announcing the record state-aid ruling against Ireland last week, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that other EU countries – and the US – could be entitled to some of the unpaid taxes that it ruled were due to Ireland.

But competition officials say the question of how countries might access unpaid taxes is a matter for national tax authorities, and not the competition commissioner.

With elections due in a number of European countries next year, finance ministries are anxious to display their willingness to pursue unpaid taxes.

But experts say that any serious move to recoup the funds would have to wait until the full Apple ruling was published and possibly until the appeal by Apple and Ireland went through the European courts.

Ireland has fourth highest rate of teen suicide in Europe

Psychologists urge focus on fighting problem ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day

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Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th, the Movember Foundation has released a powerful video encouraging men to speak about their mental health.

Psychologists have called for great focus on measures to tackle the high rates of suicide among teenagers in Ireland.

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), which has about 3,000 members, made the call ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Saturday.

Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide among teens in the EU, with only Lithuania, Estonia and Finland experiencing higher rates.

The society’s chief executive Terri Morrissey said putting a focus on preventative measures for teenagers and adolescents was important.

Ms Morrissey said depression and suicidal thoughts among teenagers were major health problems in Ireland but early intervention and the promotion of well-being and resilence could prevent such issues.

“Far too often we hear about such issues when it is already too late and we have to deal with the consequences and aftermath. Intervening at an early stage would have been effective,” she said.

“There is a range of methods and therapies that have been demonstrated to have been effective and which can be used to prevent behavioural, psychological and emotional problems.”

Ms Morrissey said these should begin at an early age, however.

“Well-being and resilience can be promoted through sport, exercise, healthy eating, parental support and other forms of physical, emotional and mental development,” she said.

Dr Gary Diamond, a clinical psychologist and international expert on teenage depression and suicide, will give a public talk on the subject on behalf of the society later this month. He is a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

“The goal of this parenting approach according to the author reduce family conflict, open lines of communication within families, help the adolescent make better sense of his or her own world and to better position parents to understand, support and advocate for their child,” Dr Diamond said.

Services availability?

Separately, the founder of the Suicide or Survive charity Caroline McGuigan said everyone had the responsibility to create the change that will ensure that there is a broad range of services and supports for people struggling with mental health and suicide.

“We’ve come a long way as a country when it comes to mental health but there is so much more we can do. We all have mental health just like we have dental and physical health and this needs to be recognised and mental health needs to be prioritised if we are to reduce the number of people who die by suicide in Ireland every year,” she said.

Brian Higgins of Pieta House, the centre for the prevention of suicide and self-harm, will return to Dublin on Friday night following a rickshaw tour of Ireland to raise awareness of the issue.

The tour took him to Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Tralee, Listowel, Limerick, Ennis, Galway, Tuam and Athlone. As it marks its 10th year, Pieta House has just opened its 10th centre (in Waterford).

“Our vision is of a world where suicide, self-harm and stigma have been replaced by hope, self-care and acceptance,” he said.

Dr Diamond’s talk will take place on Thursday September 22nd at Chartered Accountants Ireland, Pearse Street, Dublin at 6.30pm.

New lease of life for Roger Gannon after losing ten stone in less than a year


Roger Gannon who was 25 stone and 3.5 pounds when he joined ‘Sarah’s Slimming World’ classes. His health was suffering as a result of his weight, and his confidence too was dented.

Fast forward 42 weeks, and Roger has shed an impressive 10 stone after 42 weeks at Slimming World.

Blogger Donie had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Roger in Sligo recently and when I said I was checking my blood sugar before entering a retail unit to purchase a large household item and hoping it would fit into my car? he replied oh I have diabetes as well?

Roger went on to explain the journey he had being on as below in red text, of losing over 10 stone in less than 18 months as a result of of joining ‘Sarah’s Slimming World’ classes in the Gillooly Hall, Temple street, Sligo.

I could see the pride and sense of achievement on his face as he talked about his life’s ambition of being a normal human being not looking at the obstacles that were ahead of him while he was that crucifying weight of 25 stone and 4 pounds.

I congratulated Roger on his outstanding  achievement and wished him the best of luck with his diabetes management and continued success with ‘Sarah’s Slimming World diet’. before purchasing my hard to fit item into my Ford Focus car.

The 50-year-old, who has lived in Tubbercurry his whole life, knew he needed to make changes to his lifestyle for the sake of his health, at the very least.

“Before joining Slimming World I was a size XXXXXL now I am a large and I am loving it,” said Roger.

“I’ve gone from someone who hated shopping and who had to travel to Dublin a lot for my clothes to being able to just pop into my local men’s wear store and pick right off the hanger in Gilespie’s.”

“I ‘had’ been overweight all my life to date. I can’t ever remember a time when I was slim. Looking back on old pictures it frightens me a little of how large I’d become.”

Roger’s weight had a huge effect on him as a person and his day to day life. Small things had to be taken into consideration, such as how long he would be walking for.

He explains: “I had to always think about where I was going and whether I’d be able to sit down as I knew I couldn’t be on my feet for long as the pressure on my knees was unbearable at times.

“I had seriously high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The doctor was constantly onto me about trying to lose weight. My hips were bad and my back was constantly giving me trouble, I was travelling the country for treatments and physiology.

“Now since I have lost the weight my blood pressure is completely normal, the doctor was thrilled. My diabetes is well in control and reducing dramatically.

“My knees don’t hurt anymore and I feel a thousand times healthier. I can live again. Slimming world has saved my life.”

Roger tried everything to shed weight. As soon as he joined ‘Sarah’s Slimming World’, he knew it was the right place for him.

“There were a number of reasons I joined Slimming World. I guess one that stands out the most would be I wanted to go somewhere where nobody knew me. I had heard great reports about Sarah’s group and that it was fantastic.

“On my first day I was shaking with nerves – I was outside for hours before I got the courage to walk in.

“I had tried so many things in the past, but from the second I walked in the door I new I’d come to the right place.

“The welcome I got was so warm and friendly, everyone was there for the same reason as me and I found that so reassuring.

“The first cup of coffee they made me at group really settled me and I was then relaxed. I went from wanting nobody to know me to being a big part of the group there. I have made so many new friends for life. I love Wednesdays, it’s the best day of the week for me now. For the first time in my life I can climb the stairs without getting breathless. My knees don’t hurt anymore I am always smiling.”

Roger’s weight loss has not only given him a new lease of life, but he has also inspired others to follow him in his journey, by starting their own.

“I can’t wait to head out of the house in the morning to meet people.

“I can’t go into my local shop without people stopping me and talking to me to congratulate me on how well I have done. It makes me so happy to know that I am inspiring people across the county to join slimming world. I am an inspiration, I not only changed my life but I’m helping others change theirs, it makes me so proud.”

He is now a brand new man. He’s loving life once again, and it’s all thanks to his new found health.

“The best thing that has happened to me as a result of my weight loss is that I am a whole new person.

“I am happy, friendly, and no longer sad on the inside and always smiling. People enjoy being around me again; they enjoy my company and treat with me respect for once in my life.

“I think the most important, best and most rewarding thing that has happened to me since this whole journey started is that

“Slimming World has taught me to love life again and that alone is the greatest gift anyone could ever have given me.”

‘Sarah’s Slimming World’ classes take place every Wednesday at Gillooly Hall, Temple street, Sligo at 9.30am, 11.30am and 1.30pm.

3D bone-scanning technique devised by Irish scientists

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Dr Esther Surender, Postdoctoral Researcher at Trinity College Dublin

Irish scientists have devised a revolutionary new scanning technique that produces extremely high-res 3D images of bones, sparing patients exposure to X-ray radiation.

The chemists in Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) said the technique could have major benefits for healthcare, allowing a patient’s bone strength to be assessed in detail. The elderly and athletes will be among those to benefit.

It works by forming agents that are attracted to calcium-rich surfaces, which appear when bones crack, even at a micro level.

X-rays give off radiation and have, in some cases, been associated with an increased risk of cancer. The red, gold-based agents used in this alternative technique are biologically safe.

The researchers point out that gold has been used safely by medics in a variety of ways in the body for some time.

A spokesman for Trinity College said these nanoagents target and highlight the cracks formed in bones, allowing researchers to produce a complete 3D image of the damage.

The spokesman pointed out that it could give a detailed blueprint of the extent and precise positioning of any weakness or injury in the bone.

“Additionally, this knowledge should help prevent the need for bone implants in many cases, and act as an early warning system for people at a high risk of degenerative bone diseases.”

The research is led by Trinity Professor of Chemistry Thorri Gunnlaugsson and Postdoctoral Researcher Esther Surender.


Prof Gunnlaugsson pointed out: “This work is the outcome of many years of successful collaboration between chemists from Trinity and medical and engineering experts from RCSI.

“We have demonstrated that we can achieve a three-dimensional map of bone damage, showing the so-called microcracks, using non-invasive luminescence imaging.

“The nanoagent we have developed allows us to visualise the nature and the extent of the damage in a manner that wasn’t previously possible.”

Diagnosing weak bones before they break should cut down on the need for operations and implants.

Dr Surender predicted it had great potential in a clinical setting.

The findings have been published in the leading journal ‘Chem’.

Glencar Sligo Ireland’s highest waterfall

The best time to visit is after or even during a good downpour on a wild Atlantic day

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It’s a ‘spate’ river, so it’s best to visit after (or even during) a downpour on a wild Atlantic day of south-westerly gales; the waterfall then can appear to ‘smoke’

Poetry and good descriptive prose can wonderfully enrich one’s perception of the natural beauty of a place – making it much more than just a visual experience. Indeed, a good poet or writer can bring the magic of a real or imagined place to his/her reader, without her/him ever having to put on the boots and get all muddy and cold.

And nowhere on our beautiful island is that more true than in Sligo andLeitrim. Here Yeats has impregnated a visually beautiful landscape with a spirit of magic, wonder and mystery.

Glencar is a case in point. It’s waterfall, “where the wandering water gushes from the hills above Glencar”, attracts visitors by the thousand; however, that beautiful verse of the poem The Stolen Child takes the reader/visitor high into the hills above the waterfall to meet mischievous fairies, tiny pools and stars, weeping ferns, trout and “unquiet” dreams; and, having carried the reader/visitor into this imaginative and magic space, Yeats (via the Fairies) seduces us (the “human child”) to come and stay.

And few of us can deny sometimes feeling that pull to escape into his “waters and the wild” – though perhaps not with a dodgy kidnapping fairy!

Glencar waterfall in Co Leitrim is more than worth a visit; but one’s imagination can be crowded out by coffee shops and neat lawns and paths and facilities. About a kilometre west, however, is another less well-known waterfall, called “the Devil’s Chimney” – despite the name more suited to quiet contemplation, though without the help of a caffeine injection.

Officially, it’s Ireland’s highest waterfall – in Irish, “Sruth in Agaidh an Aird” (the stream against the height). It is accessed via a new woodland path that climbs 120m up the talus slope above Glencar Lake. The walk is short but very rewarding. Its “feel” is of quiet deep woods and wide vistas, wild flowers, birdsong and glimpses of beautiful Glencar Lake.

It’s over private land, access being kindly granted by the landowner and has been put in place jointly by the counties of Sligo, Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh under the EU-funded Border Project. The roadside CP has an information panel which sets out clearly the geology, flora and fauna of the place while another warns you that this “is NOT Glencar Waterfall”.

I’ve been there in late spring and have loved it, despite the waterfall being in a quiet mood. It’s a “spate” river, so it’s best to visit after (or even during) a downpour on a wild Atlantic day of south-westerly gales; the waterfall then can appear to “smoke” – be blown back into the sky and recycled over and over again – and you’ll understand why perhaps it got its name!

There are seats to sit on and woods and space to shelter you, and give permission to the child in you, or with you, to be “stolen” for a while in this lovely place.

Wild areas of World shrinks by 10% in just 20 years

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A 10th of the world’s unspoiled wilderness areas have been lost since the 1990s, say experts calling for urgent action to preserve biodiversity on Earth.

A 10th of the world’s unspoiled wilderness areas have been lost since the 1990s, say experts calling for urgent action to preserve biodiversity on Earth.

New findings from a global ecosystem study show “staggering” declines affecting the last bastions of undisturbed nature, it is claimed.

In the last 20 years, wilderness regions amounting to an area twice the size of Alaska have vanished, the research reveals. The Amazon basin and central Africa have been hardest hit. ‘Wilderness’ is defined as a biologically and ecologically intact landscape free of any significant human disturbance.

Lead researcher Dr James Watson, from the University of Queensland in Australia, said: “Globally important wilderness areas, despite being strongholds for endangered biodiversity, for buffering and regulating local climates, and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalised communities, are completely ignored in environmental policy.

International policies?

“International policy mechanisms must recognise the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around.”

The scientists mapped wilderness areas around the world and compared the results with a previous similar map produced in the 1990s. Their findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

The updated map shows that a total of 30.1 million sq. km of the Earth – more than a fifth of the world’s land area – now remains as wilderness. Although that might sound like a large amount of land, the proportion of surviving wilderness in the world has fallen alarmingly in the last two decades, say the authors.

An estimated 3.3 million sq. km – almost 10% – of wilderness has disappeared since the 1990s, the research showed.

The most affected continents were South America, which had lost 30%c of its wilderness, and Africa, where 14% had gone.

The majority of wilderness areas today were located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and Australia.

Dr Watson added: “The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening.

“We need to recognise that wilderness is being dramatically lost and that without proactive global interventions we could lose the last jewels in nature’s crown. You cannot restore wilderness,” he said.

“If we don’t act soon, it will be all gone, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet. We have a duty to act for our children and their children.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 14th October 2015

Hallucinations ‘help make sense of world’


The brain records information from the colour image on the left.

Hallucinations, often associated with psychotic disorders, may result from a natural process used by the brain to make sense of the world, say scientists.

The results of a new study support the theory that many people are close to the edge of this aspect of madness at least.

Visions and sounds that do not exist can be generated by the brain’s habit of predicting what it expects to experience, filling in missing gaps in reality, the search shows.

It is this ability that allows you to recognise a fast-moving black shape in your living room as the cat, even though it was little more than a blur.

Professor Paul Fletcher, one of the scientists from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge University, said: “Having a predictive brain is very useful – it makes us efficient and adept at creating a coherent picture of an ambiguous and complex world.

“But it also means that we are not very far away from perceiving things that aren’t actually there, which is the definition of a hallucination.

“In fact, in recent years we’ve come to realise that such altered perceptual experiences are by no means restricted to people with mental illness. They are relatively common, in a milder form, across the entire population. Many of us will have heard or seen things that aren’t there.”

The Cambridge team together with colleagues from the University of Cardiff set up an experiment to see if people with psychotic tendencies are better at mentally filling in missing parts of pictures.

Participants were shown black and white images that looked little more than a collection of lines and blotches until the full colour originals were seen.

Once the complete picture was recorded in the brain it became possible to recognise what the crude black and white outlines were meant to represent.

But not everyone found the task equally easy. People with very early signs of psychosis performed better than volunteers with no symptoms of mental illness.

When the same experiment was conducted with a larger group of 40 members of the general public, a range of ability was seen. Individuals who had higher scores in tests for psychosis-proneness – but no psychotic symptoms as such – stood out.

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Naresh Subramaniam, also from Cambridge University, said: “These findings are important because they tell us that the emergence of key symptoms of mental illness can be understood in terms of an altered balance in normal brain functions.

“Importantly, they also suggest that these symptoms and experiences do not reflect a ‘broken’ brain but rather one that is striving – in a very natural way – to make sense of incoming data that are ambiguous.”

Some patients go from being claustrophobic and immobile to running marathons if they lose enough weight’

Colm O’Boyle is a consultant bariatric surgeon and laparoscopic general surgeon at Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, and senior clinical lecturer at UCC Medical School


Colm O’Boyle, bariatric surgeon at the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork.

I am one of only four bariatric surgeons in the country, so people come from afar. More than half my patients are from outside Munster. Patients regularly travel from Dublin, Galway and Limerick for surgery.

Bariatric surgery is a most rewarding surgical discipline, because the majority of the patients are absolutely delighted with the results of surgery. No other surgical procedure can cure the majority of the patients’ medical conditions, greatly improve how they look in the mirror and make them feel so much happier in themselves.

Women in particular are delighted to be able to drop a few dress sizes. They often relate how they can buy off the peg in “normal” clothes shops when previously they had to get clothes tailormade or buy from special sites online.

Surgery is last hope

Men tend not to be so image conscious and, for many, surgery is their last hope to have medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure cured or improved. As there is a very significant improvement or cure in the rate of diabetes, hypertension or sleep apnoea as well as the obvious cosmetic benefits from significant weight loss, the patients tend to be very happy with the results.

The most common bariatric surgical intervention is the gastric sleeve followed by gastric bypass. Bariatric surgeons are moving away from gastric band surgery as the long-term results are not as good as other procedures. I’ve taken out more bands in the past year than I have put in, and the commonest obesity operation in France – where they put in thousands of bands – is removal of gastric bands.

The gastric sleeve procedure involves removing four-fifths of the patient’s stomach, leaving a narrow, banana-shaped tube or sleeve. The patient can’t eat as much after the surgery and has to start on a diet of yogurt and milky porridge before moving on to smaller amounts of solid food, which they must chew well. As I tell my patients, their starter becomes their main course after surgery.

Patients lose one to two stone in the first couple of months after surgery and 90 to 95 per cent lose a total of between five and eight stone. The more motivated a patient is, the better they do. Surgery breaks the cycle of weight gain, but it’s not a magic bullet. Once they get down to a certain level, the patient has to eat healthily and exercise, ideally for an hour a day, to keep the weight off.

The causes of obesity are multifactorial. Many morbidly obese patients suffered some sort of trauma in their childhood and turned to food as a result, and there are some people whose satiety centre in the brain is probably set higher.

I do the operation that helps my patients to lose the weight but, at the end of the day, keeping the weight off is in their own hands. In many ways, an operation is not the best way to treat obesity, but it’s the best we have. Someday they may invent a pill that will suppress appetite without any side effects but I don’t think it will happen without the patient working on their diet and exercise as well; there will always have to be an element of patient self-control.

Centre of Excellence Award

The surgical unit at the Bon Secours Cork has recently obtained a Centre Of Excellence award from the International Federation for Surgical Obesity. We are the first unit in Ireland to obtain such an award and I am delighted for the hospital and the team that we have been given the credit for the high standard of care we provide for our patients.

I work as part of a large team including dietitians, physiotherapists, nursing staff, endocrinologists, cardiologists, radiologists, anaesthetists and respiratory physicians.

This wide medical team is very important for the management of morbid obesity, which can be associated with very complex medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnoea. These patients also require regular psychological input.

The hospital has invested significantly in refurbishing a dedicated ward of individual rooms for bariatric surgical patients. Beds, chairs, doors and washing facilities are specially geared towards larger patients. Theatre equipment is all designed to deal with patients weighing up to 350kg.

I enjoy teaching the medical students. It keeps me on my toes. I have at least two final-year medical students attached to my team in any week. During their time with my unit, I will teach them how to treat general surgical and bariatric patients. They attend my endoscopy and theatre lists and come on ward rounds. As postgraduate tutor, I also regularly give lectures to the junior doctors and nursing staff to help them gain a better understanding of surgery so I am continuously teaching.

I am an examiner for final medical examinations for UCC. I am a member of the teaching faculty for the Royal College of Surgeon’s (UK) minimally invasive surgical skills course. I regularly commute to London to teach on this course.

My gatekeeper. 

My working week begins and ends with invaluable support from my PA, Caitríona O’Sullivan, who is the link between my patients and my service. After eight years working with me, she has acquired the skills of secretary, gatekeeper, counsellor, nurse, diagnostician and data manager, all in one.

Monday morning begins with a unit ward round at 8am with the junior doctors, medical students and nursing staff. This is followed by my endoscopy (scope) list. I regularly perform endoscopic procedures for bariatric patients before surgery to rule out ulcers or identify undiagnosed hiatus hernias.

Monday afternoon is my bariatric clinic for new referrals, where I see patients who are contemplating bariatric surgery for the first time. I usually spend up to an hour discussing the various options with the patients. Patients are often very emotional as it takes great courage to admit that you need an operation to lose weight. Many have been thinking of having surgery for years but have not been able to pluck up the courage to see someone.

Most patients have tried everything possible to get their weight down, including every diet and every diet pill on the market.

Many actually cry at finding someone who is empathetic and who can “cure” the condition they have battled all their lives.

I usually ask the patients to bring a relative with them. I give them booklets explaining the surgery and take them through a presentation explaining the benefits of having it.

I give them the contact details of patients who have had surgery in the past and who are willing to chat with them. I advise them to go to the patient support group meetings [at Bon Secours Hospital in Cork on the first Tuesday of every month], where patients who have had surgery and patients who are thinking of having surgery sit around and have an informal chat. Many patients make long-term friends with others when they go through the surgery together.

After that clinic, I carry out an evening ward round and review all the patients who have come in to have bariatric surgery on the following day.

Operating list

On Tuesdays at 7am I do paperwork followed by an early-morning pre-operative ward round. After this I attend the hospital radiology meeting, where all the medical staff meet and review complex (non-cancer) cases as a group. This is followed by my bariatric operating list, which may finish any time up to 8pm. I will perform between one and four bypass/sleeve procedures during the day.

During and between operations, I will teach the medical students and junior doctors who are attached to my service. I also tend to do my general surgical on-call on a Tuesday. After operating I will do a ward round with the team and review the postoperative patients and see any emergency general surgical patients who have been admitted to the hospital that day.

If any patients need emergency surgery, I will perform this during the day or that night. I work with three other general surgeons. One day in four I am on call for a continuous period of 24 hours for acute surgical admissions and any emergency surgical condition that may arise in the hospital.

Wednesday morning begins at 7.30am with a post-take ward round. I review and assess all the patients who have been admitted as an emergency during the previous 24 hours. If anyone needs surgery, I will try to arrange this for Wednesday afternoon or sooner. This is followed at 8am by surgical journal club/case presentations; an important meeting which is largely run by the surgical SHOs and registrars, and attended by all the surgical consultants. I then attend my general surgical clinic followed by my general surgical theatre list on Wednesday afternoon. This usually finishes at 6pm and I carry out a postoperative ward round and post-take review of all the acute admissions and the investigations that the patients have had during that day.

Multidisciplinary meetings

Thursday morning begins at 7.30am with a ward round. After that we have the cancer multidisciplinary team meeting, during which all physicians, surgeons, radiologists and pathologists involved in cancer surgery review all cancer cases. This is one of the most important meetings in the week.

After this meeting I have my bariatric review clinic. I review all patients undergoing weight-loss surgery. Many of the patients I have treated go from being claustrophobic, immobile and sometimes bedridden to ultimately running marathons once they have lost a significant amount of weight. The improvement in their quality of life is really quite dramatic.

It is amazing to see some people change their lifestyles from being TV addicts and agoraphobics to committed athletes in love with the outdoors.

I might have an operation to perform on a patient who was admitted during the week, or a course or conference to attend. I use any spare time to carry out paperwork or surgical research.

I am currently involved in a number of research projects. My particular interests are the benefits of surgical weight loss on medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnoea and urinary incontinence. I regularly attend national and international meetings and present our research at these meetings. We have submitted two scientific papers to international journals for publication. And our team has published a bariatric book entitled Weight-loss surgery: A comprehensive medical team approach.

Out of hours

My favourite time is spent with my wife, Ursula, our four children, and Davis, our Labrador, near Sliabh Laig in Donegal at the northern part of the Wild Atlantic Way, where we love to swim, kayak, fish and mountaineer. We also all have a keen interest in scuba diving and I am working towards a Divemaster qualification. I have season tickets for Munster and Ireland rugby matches and travel to Thomond Park and the Aviva Stadium whenever possible.

Families of Ireland the focus of Budget as Coalition unveils an election vote catch all process


Main focus of package on USC cuts and increases to pensions, Christmas bonus and child benefit

The Government has laid the ground for its re-election campaign with a budget designed to deliver increased income to every home in the State.

On a day of tax cuts, pension increases and special measures for parents of young children, the Coalition parties also sought to set the agenda for the election to come with a series of pledges for a second term if they are returned to power.

The centrepiece of Budget 2016 is a 1.5 percentage point cut in the 7 per cent universal social charge rate which applies to earnings up to €70,044. Workers on more than €70,044 gain from this cut, but earnings above that amount will remain subject to the 8 per cent USC rate.

The 3.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent USC rates on low income will each be cut by 0.5 percentage points.

“If people are wondering how much they will gain, it will be approximately a full extra week’s wages at all points of income. It is an easy way of assessing what the income gain might be,” Mr Noonan told the Dáil.

The package of USC cuts came on top of increases to child benefit, the extension of free GP care to all children under 12 and an additional year of free preschool childcare.

The self-employed

There were also measures to ease the tax burden on the self-employed, homeowners, farmers and hauliers.

Mr Noonan said that the Government parties would work “progressively” to eliminate the USC if re-elected. Another election pledge was to complete tax equalisation for the self-employed and other measures to support job creators.

On RTÉ television last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny made it clear that the election will take place next spring. Asked whether he might be tempted to cut and run after the budget, Mr Kenny said: “No, there won’t be an election this year.”

Earlier, Mr Noonan told reporters: “You can be absolutely certain there will be no election between now and Christmas.”

Mr Noonan raised duty on cigarettes by 50 cent a packet from midnight, the only tax increase next year.

A continuation for five years after 2016 of the €150 million annual bank levy will raise €750 million.

Among the spending measures set out by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin were a €3 a week increase in the old age pension and a €5 increase in child benefit. The Christmas bonus will be reinstated to 75 per cent of the pre-abolition rate for all social welfare recipients.

Mr Howlin said the Coalition had, through prudent management of the State’s finances, brought the State back from the brink. “Who speaks of Syriza now?” he asked.

The package, predicated on a 4.3 per cent gross domestic product next year, was cast to reduce the budget deficit in 2016 to 1.2 per cent of GDP from 2.1 per cent in 2015.

The plan was cast to foster job creation as a cornerstone of budgetary strategy, making work pay for people taking up jobs.

Mr Noonan said the barriers to taking up employment included taxation, wage levels for the low paid and childcare costs, all of which were being addressed in the budget.

‘An more unequal place’

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the budget continued the Government’s trend of making Ireland “a more unequal place” and lone parents, women and the elderly had been targeted in successive budgets.

His party colleague Barry Cowen strongly criticised the failure of Government to introduce rent certainty measures.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the cut in USC and the changes to PRSI would put three times more in the pocket of someone earning €70,000 a year compared to the average worker

Joan Burton says election should not be held before the bank inquiry of the new year?


Joan Burton said the banking inquiry should be allowed to take its course

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she believes the banking inquiry should be allowed to finish its work before an election is held.

Speaking at a jobs announcement in Dublin, Ms Burton said the Government had made the inquiry a priority, and because it now had an extension into January, she said it was important that it should be allowed “take its course”.

Asked about speculation of a November vote, the Tánaiste said she had had “a long and very friendly” conversation with Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night, and she believed that an election should not be held until after the banking inquiry had published its report.

She said the talks she had with Mr Kenny were “very similar to all other conversations” she had had with him on the topic, adding that the Government was focused on doing the job it was elected to do.

Earlier, during a speech announcing the creation of 200 jobs at software firm Workday, Mr Kenny had joked that there may not be an election within the next six months.

The Fine Gael leader said the electoral cycle was “seven years in the Constitution, but convention says it’s five”.

Elsewhere today, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan told RTÉ’s News at One that she expects the election will take place after St Brigid’s Day.

When asked if Labour trusts the Taoiseach to hold on until the spring, the Labour minister said: “Yes, we do trust the Taoiseach … everything the Taoiseach has said has been reiterated by the Tánaiste that the election will be in the spring and that is the Government position on it.”

€88bn SAB-Miller takeover in Beverages is a bid to shake up global brewing


The world’s two biggest brewers yesterday agreed to create a company making almost one third of the world’s beer after SAB-Miller accepted an offer worth more than $100bn from larger rival Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The SABMiller board said it would give its blessing to a fifth proposal from its sole larger rival. If it goes through, the deal would rank in the top five mergers in corporate history and be the largest takeover of a UK company.

After repeated rejections to its lower proposals, AB InBev said on Tuesday it was willing to pay £44 in cash per SABMiller share, with an alternative for cash and shares set at a discount and limited to 41% of SABMiller shares.

The tie-up could also force change in the wider beverage sector, with SABMiller a large distributor of Coca Cola while AB InBev has ties with rival PepsiCo.

The new group would combine AB InBev’s Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona lagers with SABMiller’s Peroni, Grolsch, and Pilsner Urquell. AB InBev would add certain Latin American and Asian breweries to its already large presence and, crucially, enter Africa for the first time.

Africa is expected to see a sharp jump in the legal drinking age population in coming years and a fast-growing middle class more willing to switch to lagers and ales from illegal brews.

For many observers, this would be the final chapter of decades of consolidation in brewing. The big four, AB InBev, SABMiller, Heineken, and Carlsberg are already present across the globe and brewing more than half of the world’s beer.

The new offer surpasses a Monday proposal set at £43.50 in cash and is 50% above SABMiller’s shares on September 14, the day before speculation surfaced about an impending AB InBev approach.

The partial share alternative remains, designed for SABMiller’s two main shareholders, cigarette-maker Altria and the BevCo company of Colombia’s Santo Domingo family, who own 40.5% of the UK-based brewer.

“There’s so much we don’t know, we don’t know what costs they’ll take out, we don’t know what they’ll get for the asset sales that they’ll have to make,” said Morningstar analyst Phil Gorham.

“But if you make reasonable assumptions about those, I think it’s a pretty good price all around.”

There are significant antitrust hurdles to any combination, particularly in the US, where the companies would have about 70% of the beer market.

A deal would likely result in Denver-based Molson Coors acquiring SABMiller’s 58% stake in their US joint venture. Any merged group may also have to sell interests in China, where SABMiller’s CR Snow joint venture with China Resources Enterprise is the market leader.

Mr Gorham said that, of remaining its assets, the beer business of Guinness and spirits maker Diageo looked particularly attractive, with Heineken a possible buyer.

Carlsberg’s new management is likely to have its hands full with sorting out problems in Russia for some time.

“With all the major M&A targets now taken, and M&A so important to brewers’ growth, it raises the question of where next for global brewers as they bid to carry on growing,” said Jeremy Cunnington, a drinks analyst at Euromonitor International.

The melting of the Antarctic ice shelves may double by year 2050


The surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves may double by 2050 and surpass intensities associated with ice shelf collapse by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the present rate, a new study has warned. 

Ice shelves are the floating extensions of the continent’s massive land-based ice sheets, researchers said.

While the melting or breakup of floating ice shelves does not directly raise sea level, ice shelves do have a “door stop” effect: They slow the flow of ice from glaciers and ice sheets into the ocean, where it melts and raises sea levels.

“Our results illustrate just how rapidly melting in Antarctica can intensify in a warming climate,” said Luke Trusel, lead author and postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in US.

“This has already occurred in places like the Antarctic Peninsula where we’ve observed warming and abrupt ice shelf collapses in the last few decades,” said Trusel.

“Our model projections show that similar levels of melt may occur across coastal Antarctica near the end of this century, raising concerns about future ice shelf stability,” he said.

To study how melting evolves over time and to predict future ice sheet melting along the entire Antarctic coastline, the scientists combined satellite observations of ice surface melting with climate model simulations under scenarios of intermediate and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions until the year 2100.

The results indicate a strong potential for the doubling of Antarctica-wide ice sheet surface melting by 2050, under either emissions scenario.

However, between 2050 and 2100, the models show a significant divergence between the two scenarios.

Under the high-emissions climate scenario, by 2100 ice sheet surface melting approaches or exceeds intensities associated with ice shelf collapse in the past.

Under the reduced-emissions scenario, there is relatively little increase in ice sheet melting after the doubling in 2050.

“The data presented in this study clearly show that climate policy, and therefore the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century, have an enormous control over the future fate of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves, which we must consider when assessing their long-term stability and potential indirect contributions to sea level rise,” said Karen Frey, Clark University Associate Professor of Geography.

These African baby dwarf crocodiles will melt your heart  “I swear”


Five baby West African dwarf crocodiles are already swimming alongside their parents – just eight days after hatching.

The youngsters, which measure around 15cm long, hatched following three months of natural incubation at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

They are now exploring the Zoo’s Reptile House along with their “protective” parents, under the close eye of keepers.

Tim Skelton, curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the zoo, said: “The mother has been with us for over 20 years and we have reared the father since we rescued him over 10 years ago from a customs confiscation at Heathrow airport, so it’s great to see them rearing young so well.

“They are proving to be good and protective parents so we have let them get on with looking after the new arrivals with very little intervention.

“They seem to be doing well but we are keeping a close eye on them while they are still very young.”

It is the third breeding success for the species at Bristol Zoo in the past four years.

Despite being a powerful predator, the West African dwarf crocodile is under threat due to hunting for their meat and habitat loss through deforestation and logging.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 18th January 2015

“Steady the Ship” A crucial week for Europe and the euro coming up


All the heavy hitters at the ECB are preparing for the announcement of Europe’s QE plan this week – but the markets have already priced in the play, says Investec’s Justin Doyle

Financial traders speak in their own language – one known for banal and gratingly cliched expressions or proverbs.

I avoid them where possible, but one that I unabashedly and unapologetically throw around when I see fit is: “Buy the rumour, sell the fact”.

I use it sparingly – but I use it because it is brilliantly descriptive and, more often than not, it’s a perfect fit for the foreign exchange market.

It describes an overstretched market that has fully priced in the result or outcome of a future event or events. When the result of said future events are realised and only just meets expectations (or, God forbid, disappoints), the rebound in price can be vicious and unforgiving.

So, as we approach the most eagerly-anticipated European Central Bank (ECB) meeting for months, if not years – in tandem with what could be a game-changing Greek election – I’m dusting off my handbook as I type.

After last month’s disappointing ECB meeting on December 4, with Eurozone inflation data continuing to worsen, ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank would adopt a wait-and-see approach – they would reassess the monetary stimulus situation early in the New Year.

Pressed on exactly when that would be, he alluded to the fact that it would probably be at the March 5 meeting.

At that time, the markets were expecting the ECB to unveil their landmark sovereign/corporate bond purchase (QE) programme at the upcoming January 22 meeting, at the latest. March 5 would have been a whole 13 weeks away.

Thirteen weeks is a very long time in FX markets. It didn’t take long for the ECB’s benchmark EUR/USD rate to turn heel from multi-year lows of around $1.22 and head back up towards $1.26 – and these were unacceptable levels for a Central Bank hell-bent on keeping the value of the single currency subdued.

Mr Draghi ordered his foot soldiers onto the streets, and ECB policy makers have been hogging the newswires since mid-December.

With the exception of some of the German contingent, most – if not all – of the ECB heavy hitters have been preparing the markets for a January 22 QE announcement. The first negative Eurozone inflation print in almost six years, due mostly to lower oil prices, has given the language added impetus.

Greece popped ominously back into the headlines in late December after Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras (of the New Democracy party) called a snap general election for January 25, after he failed to get enough votes to support his nomination for president.

While Greece isn’t the basket case it was at the height of the EZ debt crisis (2010-2012), a disillusioned, austerity-ravaged electorate are still dealing with close to 25pc employment.

As a result, Alexis Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party have enjoyed a comfortable lead of almost 3pc over Samaras’ party in the opinion polls for over a year now.

It is entirely possible that Syriza won’t enter government with an outright majority, but it does look like it will be the biggest party.

In the worst-case scenario it looks likely that Mr Tsipras will head up any coalition government that is formed after the election.

Markets are jittery again – and rightly so. Mr Tsipras is adamant that he wants Greece to stay in the euro -but he is also adamant that he wants to end austerity and kick-off debt negotiations with the Troika.

Much to the horror of the ECB and the delight of Irish exporters to the US, the growing expectations and the demands for a large Fed or Bank of Japan-style QE programme from the ECB – allied with the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Greek general election – have all formed a perfect storm.

It has helped to quickly push the EUR/USD rate to nine-year lows of just under $1.17 earlier in the week.

I fear, however, that these two major event risks are fully priced into an already stretched short euro market.

I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but my greatest concern is that the ECB may have overplayed its hand and lulled willing market players into what maybe yet another massively underwhelming announcement on January 22.

With expectations so high, the ECB must provide total clarity and transparency on the exact size, breakup (sovereign/corporate bonds) and a time line of the purchases.

Mr Draghi has pointed out on several occasions in recent months that he would like the ECB balance sheet to return to levels not seen since in the middle of the debt crisis.

At its highest level it was just over €3trn. Currently at just over €2trn, it figures that the ECB are eyeing a €1trn purchase programme. With the German voting members of the ECB still wary and the Greek election around the corner, I feel that seeking consensus on the full €1trn may be an ask too far – and an announcement of anything under €500bn will be massively disappointing.

The ECB has form in the disappointment arena – and if the Scottish referendum tells us anything, it is that polls are only polls and a swing of 6pc or 7pc on the day could hand the Greek election to the pro-Europe Samaras and his ND party.

The single currency is at multi-year lows against the currencies (USD and GBP) of our two largest non-euro denominated trading partners, a great opportunity to hedge short-term exposure ahead of what could be the first important ‘Buy the rumour, sell the fact’ event of 2015.

‘I miss that bit of lung they took away – but not badly, mind you’


Frank Cox got lung cancer at the same age his dad died from it.

FRANK COX kept getting chest infections in 2006 and 2007 – they just would not clear up.

Eventually his GP sent him for a chest X-ray which confirmed his worst fear: he had lung cancer. He was 66 years old at the time – the same age his father was when he died from the disease in 1961.

“You’re sort of in denial when you’re told, you think: ‘It’s not happening to me.’ I was off the cigarettes for 16 years at that stage, but the damage was done: I was on them since I was 16 or 17 years old.

“The doctor said I had given myself a chance by giving them up. He told me if I was still smoking we wouldn’t be doing surgery, we’d be doing chemo to prolong my life, not save it,” Frank recalls.

Luckily his cancer was detected at a very early stage. He successfully underwent surgery and three months of chemotherapy.

Frank (now 73) got the five-year all-clear in 2012.

“It was great, it really was … I was a bit nervous. It was a great relief, it’s always at the back of your mind.”

I miss that bit of lung they took away – not badly, mind you. I can climb stairs, but I would feel it if I was rushing or ran somewhere … If you saw a bus coming and you made a dart for it, that’s when you’d miss it.

Frank now does peer support with the Irish Cancer Society (ICS), where he talks to newly-diagnosed patients over the phone.

When I was diagnosed I didn’t know anything about it. I wanted to talk to somebody who had been diagnosed and had surgery and come out the other side. It’s different to hearing from doctors and nurses, you need to speak to somebody who has been through it.


Aoife McNamara is a Lung Cancer Information Nurse with the ICS. She said that increased awareness of the disease is needed as it is now the “biggest cancer killer in Ireland and worldwide”.

About 1,800 people die from lung cancer in Ireland each year.

Frank (far left) at an ICS awareness-raising event outside Leinster House.

Aoife said women are becoming more at risk of the disease than they once were.

The mortality rate of lung cancer among men has decreased in recent years while the rate in women has steadily increased. The mortality and incidence rates in Irish women are among the highest in Europe.

Lung cancer might have been seen as a man’s disease, but that’s not the case any more.

Aoife said this is directly linked to an increased number of women taking up smoking.

She said that thanks to various campaigns, women in Ireland are “very breast aware” when it comes to cancer symptoms.

“However, this is not the case when it comes to lung cancer, despite the fact that it overtook breast cancer as biggest cancer killer in women in 2011.”

Aoife said it’s important for people to know the symptoms of lung cancer and go to their GP if they’re concerned.

Symptoms include:

•           A cough that won’t go away

•           Shortness of breath

•           Repeated chest infections

•           Coughing up blood and phlegm

•           Unexpected weight loss

•           Swelling of the neck or face

•           Sore throat

Aoife said 90-95% of lung cancer cases are directly linked to smoking. She said anyone trying to give up cigarettes should contact the National Smoker Quitline on Freephone 1800 201 203.

Instructors on jobseeker schemes were JobBridge interns – An audit to happen


A Departmet of Social Protection report into a €6m Job Club schemes raises concerns.

The Department of Social Protection has said it will examine an audit on training schemes for jobseekers in which the instructors themselves were on JobBridge internship and Tús trainee schemes.

The Department of Social Protection has said it will examine an audit on training schemes for jobseekers in which the instructors themselves were on JobBridge internship and Tús trainee schemes.

An audit of Job Club schemes, carried out by an internal departmental audit unit last July, found some JobBridge interns were providing training workshops on their own to club participants.

The details of the audit were carried on RTÉ radio’s This Week programme.

Job Club schemes are run by private operators and financed by the Department of Social Protection at an average cost of €6 million a year. They aim to provide services to job seekers such as CV preparation and IT skills, through individualised supports, ‘drop in’ services and formal workshops of one to four weeks long.

There are 50 schemes countrywide and participants receive an additional €20 a week on top of their social welfare payment.

The audit, completed last July, examined Job Clubs in Dublin, mid-Leinster and in the South. It found some of the training and workshops were being delivered by instructors who were participants on Tús training and JobBridge programmes.

JobBridge is an internship scheme offered to unemployed people and Tús is a community employment scheme for unemployed people. Participants in both schemes receive a top-up on their social welfare payment similar to that paid to Job Club participants.

Auditors found on some Job Club schemes, JobBridge interns were delivering part of the workshops on their own. The job descriptions provided to the audit team said the roles of the JobBridge interns covered the entire duties of a Job Club leader and assistant, the two senior grades of staff working at Job Clubs.

They also found one private operator fell well below the minimum standard required for the scheme, but had still been allowed to continue to run clubs.

The report raised concerns that a lack of over sight of the clubs could lead to contracts being renewed where the minimum standard was not being met. It also had data protection concerns and noted inconsistencies in the awarding of the €20 allowance.

In a statement issued to The Irish Times, the Department of Social Protection said JobBridge had been very successful in providing work experience for participants to break the cycle of unemployment.

Independent evaluation showed “three in five participants secure employment after completing their internships”, the statement said.

It also said JobBridge was subject to strict control measures to ensure the internship did not displace an existing position and appropriate training and development was provided, with suitable mentoring and support.

“In practice, internships are, and can be offered, across all job types from basic entry level roles through to roles with greater responsibilities”.

It said the department would examine and respond as appropriate to the internal audit report.

Irish beef farmers eye stake in lucrative US market


Standing inside one of the sheds that are the winter homes for his 550-strong herd of Limousins and Belgian Blues, Robin Talbot recounts the cows daily routine with an almost paternal fondness. Among other things, his livestock and their autumn-born calves have a fresh bed every day and their diet is prepared with the help of a nutritionist.

“Everything they eat is grown on my farm,” he says, pointing to a group of about 50 heifers due to be slaughtered in a few weeks’ time. “I am pretty sure 90 per cent of them will meet the top market specifications.”

Mr Talbot, one of Ireland’s leading cattle farmers, produces prime beef steak for the domestic and European markets from his 600-acre farm outside the village of Ballacolla, the heartland of grazing country amid the flat fields of County Laois in Ireland’s midlands.

But the lucrative market in the US, the largest consumers of beef in the world, has been denied him — until now.

Following an deal agreed recently between Washington and Dublin, he and his fellow Irish beef farmers are gearing up to sell their product to the US for the first time since a 15-year ban was imposed on European beef in the wake of the “mad cow disease” outbreak in the 1990s.

As Europe’s biggest beef exporter — overseas sales of Irish beef in 2014 were worth €2.3bn, accounting for about a fifth of all Irish food and drink exports — the reopening of the US market offers a potential lifeline to farmers such as Mr Talbot at a tough time for the industry.

With prices at home and in Europe at a low, and with beef producers in seemingly perennial dispute with the meat processing industry, the higher prices that beef in the US can fetch — up to €1 a kilogramme extra by some estimates — could turn the battle for mere survival into something approaching a decent profit.

“It can be a game-changer, but it depends on how we respond,” says Mr Talbot. “There is high potential in it, but there is a lot of work to be done.”

Mr Talbot’s caution tempers some of the excitement with which the announcement of Ireland’s return to the US beef market was greeted locally.

Although the US market is vast — its consumers eat an estimated 11m tonnes of beef each year, of which just 10 per cent is imported from the likes of Mexico and Australia — cracking it will be tough for a small country such as Ireland.

The danger of putting too much faith in the fickle US consumer was captured in a recent cartoon in the Irish Farmers Journal, the industry bible. It depicted a conversation between an Irish farmer — sporting a Stetson, cowboy boots and spurs, a horse tethered nearby — and his sceptical wife, who asked: “Aren’t you going a bit far with this beef news from the USA?”

Jer Bergin, national treasurer of the Irish Farmers’ Association, also counsels caution. “There is a little bit of irrational exuberance about the US market,” he says.

But he agrees that Irish beef has a potentially unique selling point — the cattle are grazed on family farms set amid the lush green pastures of rural Ireland, a country with which the US has close emotional links.

This is in many ways a simplified view of Irish beef farming — many Irish cattle eat food supplements too, because grass alone is not always enough to “finish” them for food. But Irish food exporters have a template — the success of Kerrygold, the butter brand masterminded by business tycoon Tony O’Reilly. Kerrygold is the number one imported butter brand in the US, according to Bord Bia, the Irish food board.

However, unlike the dairy industry, relatively homogenous and which was for many years backed by the state, the Irish beef industry is private and disparate.

So without a co-ordinated approach by independent producers, cracking the US market will be a significant challenge. Indeed, before the US ban, Europe exported just 1,500 tonnes of beef there.

Still, if grass-reared beef is becoming increasingly popular in the US, as evidence suggests, Irish farmers would be in a prime position to capitalise. Mr Talbot believes it is a market where farmers such as him can succeed. “We have a story worth selling,” he says.

See the spaceX falcon 9 rocket crash land at sea

View image on Twitter  View image on Twitter View image on Twitter

Give it up for ambition. After an initial delay, Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station last week. In 2015, there’s nothing all that ambitious about an unmanned rocket launch. What was ambitious was what came afterwards—or what was supposed to come afterwards.

SpaceX intends to cut the cost of launching people and products into space in half. The company hopes to accomplish this by building stage-one rockets that are designed to not only survive reentry, but will land upright. If SpaceX can pull that trick off, then the rockets can be easily captured and rapidly reused, thus taking much of the cost out of space travel.

Last week’s mission was supposed to see the rocket land upright onto an unanchored floating barge (aka “drone spaceport ship”) in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This is no easy feat. SpaceX itself only pegged mission success at 50 percent (though Musk later said that hepulled those numbers out of the air). But let’s just agree that it’s a really hard engineering barrier to overcome.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work this time. The rocket did manage to land on the barge, but it couldn’t make the landing and exploded on impact. As Elon Musk tweeted shortly thereafter “Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho.”

Musk then went on to tweet “Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.” But some new footage must have been found, because SpaceX just tweeted the following Vine footage taken at the point of impact explosion:

Yesterday, Musk himself tweeted out a number of spectacular stills from the crash:

News Ireland daily BLOG Thursday

Thursday 9th January 2014

Irish Water spends a massive €50m on consultants


Most of consultancy spend relates to the establishment of company, admits chief executive

Irish Water has spent over €50m on consultants in setting up the company over the last year, its chief executive John Tierney said today.

Irish Water has spent over €50m on consultants in setting up the company over the last year, its chief executive John Tierney said today.

Most of the spend on consultant fees so far related to the establishment of Irish Water, he said. The utility company was set up from “a green field site” and was now “”up and running within the space of a year”, he said

So far €100m has been spend on the establishment of the utility company and “over 50 per cent” of that was on consultants, Mr Tierney told RTÉ Radio.

Much of the consultancy fees went to large firms based in the State and was on the basis of “open competition” and “fixed-price contracts”, he said.

However he said Irish water would have “very limited expenditure” on consultants in the future because it had hired in the expertise directly.

The establishment of Irish Water was ongoing” and would be until 2015, he said. The utility was was “on time “ and “within budget”, he said.

Asked about the spending on consultancy in Dubai today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was important to consider the scale of the project which “does not come without costs”.

“This is the most radical shift in transforming Irish water supplies for our people and for industry since the foundation of the state,” he said.

“What is involved here is the setting up a really professional system where national standards of the highest quality apply, where business which consumes and has requirements for vast amounts of very high quality water can be sure of that.

He said people and customers “will be sure that leaks are found, leaks are fixed and that there is a far more effective spend in the provision of what is a fundamentally important product, but one that has been ignored in terms of its preciousness over the last years.”

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin described the spend as a “scandal waiting to evolve”.

People did not know where the Government was going on this project and that people did not know how much they will have to pay when they are billed from the third quarter of the year, he said.

Irish Water was established to manage the State’s water infrastructure and has begun rolling out water meters in households across the country.

Mr Tierney said a decision on the final water rates to be charged would be decided by the end of August, he said. However he would not speculate on the amount which consumers would be charged.

Charges will apply in the last quarter of 2014 and bills will be issued in 2015. Households without meters will pay an assessed charge.

Food and drink exports reached almost €10 billion last year


Dairy and beef exports saw double digit growth, Bord Bia figures show

Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter said the food and drink sector’s performance in China was ’exceptional’.

 China could soon be our second largest market for food and drink after the UK, Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cottersaid yesterday. He was speaking after it emerged that food and drink exports to China had increased by more than 40 per cent to reach €390 million last year.

China is now Ireland’s second-largest dairy market and third-largest pork market and Mr Cotter described the progress made by the food and drink industry there as exceptional.

“It’s our sixth-largest market overall and when we look ahead, in terms of the position of seafood and of beverages in that market and with the eventual opening of the market for beef in China, the platform for growth is going to expand and the opportunity for China to become potentially our second largest market is significant and may not be too far away.”

He was speaking at the publication of Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects report which found that Irish food and drink exports were worth €9.99 billion last year – a 9 per cent increase on 2012 figures.

This means that food and drink exports are now almost €3 billion higher than they were in 2009.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said getting the Chinese market open to Irish beef was “a huge priority” for him “but ultimately this will be a political decision in China”.

US market: He was also hoping for good news soon on the reopening of the US market to Irish beef. He said the figures showed that the agri-food sector was “by far the most important indigenous sector in the Irish economy”.

However, despite the focus on China, Mr Cotter said the UK was still Ireland’s most important market. Some 42 per cent of food and drink exports went to the UK last year.

Mr Cotter said the UK population was projected to increase by 10 million over the next 25 years. “This is a huge opportunity and one that should not be ignored. The Irish food and drink industry has very strong positions across all the categories in which it competes in the UK market.”

Mr Cotter said there was no doubt that the trajectory of our food and drink exports would be upwards “for a very significant time to come”.

Global population: He pointed to the growing global population which had increased by 80 million in the past year and said there would be 9.6 billion people in the world by the middle of this century. “This is a relentless growth that will underpin the demand for food throughout the coming decades.”

Mr Cotter said the growth of the middle classes was even more significant. According to the OECD, three billion people will join the middle classes over this and the next decade. Mr Cotter said this meant that a market as big as the EU was being created every three years.

Dairy products and ingredients passed the €3 billion mark for the first time while the meat and livestock category accounted for one third of food and drink exports last year. It was worth €3.3 billion.

Despite – or because of – the horse meat crisis, the value of beef exports increased by 10 per cent and were worth more than €2 billion.

The prepared foods category, which includes products such as milk powders and pizzas, was worth €1.65 billion.

Religious people healthier than Atheists, a new study shows


Believing in God may make you healthier and happier.

Religion may protect your health, according to a new study.

New research reveals that religious people are healthier and take fewer sick days than atheists. Religious people also make less stressed and anxious employees.

Religion may help protect physical and mental wellbeing by offering a “buffer against strains of modern life,” according to researchers.

Lead researcher Dr. Roxane Gervais, a British psychologist at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Stockport, discovered a negative correlation between religiousness and the likelihood of suffering anxiety, depression and exhaustion.

Researchers found that religious employees feel that they have more meaning in their lives compared to those who are not religious.

Researchers found that employees who attend religious services feel more contentment and stronger connections with a higher being.

“As the pace of work and life accelerates, people long for meaning, and the younger generation in particular is looking for more than just a big pay check at the end of the month,” Gervais said.

“My research shows that religiosity in the workplace may act as a resource, making people more resilient to cope with the many challenges of working life,” she said in a news release. “Such personal beliefs could be very helpful not only for employees, but also for employers providing people with a buffer zone,” she added.

Gervais said the findings suggest that companies should be supportive and understanding of employees’ beliefs.

Paleo diet is the latest weight loss fad


The annual battle of the bulge is back and 2014 promises to be yet another year of extreme measures to shed that spare tyre.

Last year, fasting was arguably the top of the diet pops.

Thanks to a 2012 British documentary, fasting, or calorie-restriction diets, were set to be the ultimate cure for muffin tops and love handles and their associated health problems.

Followers of the popular 5:2 calorie-restriction diet eat normally five days a week, with two non-consecutive fast days in between – 500 calories for women, 600 for men.

After the 5:2 came the 4:3, a more extreme version of fasting.

This year, fasting is still likely to be popular but the paleo diet is catching on, and fast becoming a lifestyle movement rather than just an eating plan.

Put simply, paleo eaters stick to grass-fed meats, seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds. Some cafes are beginning to cater to paleo eaters as the diet requires less reliance on convenience foods and prepackaged meals.

Cantabrian Kendra Liggett has settled on the Cohen’s diet as her weight-loss programme of choice. Cohen’s markets itself as a personally tailored “balanced-eating plan” based on blood tests and consultations.

An eating programme is then tailored to the individual and is based on natural foods without the need for pills or weight-loss shakes.

Liggett said she took up Cohen’s after trying the Ashy Bines Clean Eating method, the Gabriel Method, eating gluten-free, a personal trainer and going to the gym six times a week.

She is hoping to get to a healthy target weight for her height.

Rosie Stephens said she and her husband were giving the Greenlane Hospital diet a go.

The true origin of this diet is shrouded in mystery and urban legend, but is believed to have been founded by medical practitioners.

The diet aims for rapid weight loss.

According to internet websites promoting the diet, it was developed as a last-ditch method for ensuring pre-surgery patients lost sufficient weight to be safely operated on.

Followers of the three-day crash diet consume a small amount of specific foods over three days, with promoters claiming a 4.5 kilogram weight loss over the three days.

Three Irish applicants shortlisted for one-way trip to red planet of Mars

 Dr Joseph Roche

Three Irish applicants shortlisted for one-way trip to Mars

Joseph Roche, an astrophysicist based at Science Gallery Dublin, is one of three Irish applicants that have made the shortlist of 1,058 out of more than 200,000 applicants attempting to take part in a privately funded mission to Mars.

The Mars One mission,the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, aims to put four astronauts on Mars in 2025.

If Roche emerges successfully from the shortlist it is unlikely he will ever return to Earth from the red planet, an estimated 225m kilometres away.

In a plan budgeted at about US$6bn, Lansdorp envisages sending the infrastructure to sustain the lives of the four astronauts on Mars via a series of Mars rovers, the first of which will blast off in 2018 to deliver living quarters.

Lansdorp aims to fund the Mars One project through TV and sponsorship deals with a Big Brother-style 24-hour TV show involving the public who will vote who gets to go.

Life on Mars

“More than 200,000 people from around the world applied to be considered for astronaut selection and to have the chance to be part of the first crews to live on Mars,” Roche said in a blog on the Science Gallery Dublin website.

“Last week 1,058 of those applicants were selected to move forward to the next round. We are told that group includes three Irish applicants. Steve, a Frenchman living in Cork, is one of them and I am the other remaining male applicant from Ireland.

“An unidentified woman makes up our unlikely triumvirate. If she does not make herself publicly known then she will not be able to progress to the next round (if it’s you, then give us a call!),” he said.

Using the most precise ruler yet, the size of our Galaxies



Using the most precise ruler yet, researchers have succeeded in measuring astronomical distances within 1 percent accuracy.

Pictured here: An artist’s concept of the latest, highly accurate measurement of the universe from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. The spheres show the current size of the “baryon acoustic oscillations” from the early universe, which now can be used as a “standard ruler” (white line) to measure the distances to all the galaxies in the universe.

Called the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), the program that carried out the study used the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico starting in 2009 to record spectra of more than 1 million galaxies with redshifts, indicating they are moving away from us.

“One-percent accuracy in the scale of the universe is the most precise such measurement ever made,” said David Schlegel, a member of the Physics Division of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“Twenty years ago astronomers were arguing about estimates that differed by up to fifty percent,” he said. “Five years ago, we’d refined that uncertainty to five percent; a year ago it was two percent. One-percent accuracy will be the standard for a long time to come.”

In all, the researchers estimate their observations peered back as far in time as 6 billion years.

“We believe the BOSS database includes more redshifts of galaxies than collected by all the other telescopes in the world,” Schlegel, BOSS’s principal investigator, said.

The analysis includes more than 8,500 square degrees of the sky visible from the northern hemisphere, making it the largest sample of the universe ever surveyed to this degree of density. Once complete, the program will include spectra from 1.3 million galaxies along with thousands of other space objects, altogether covering 10,000 square degrees.

The results so far, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, “are consistent with an infinite universe,” Schlegel said.

Central to the study was a phenomenon known as baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO), or occasional ripples in the distribution of galaxies.

“It’s from fluctuations in the density of galaxies in the volume we’re looking at that we extract the BAO standard ruler,” Beth Reid, a BOSS collaborator from Berkeley Lab said.

Using this ruler, the researchers say they can now measure the distance between space objects with unprecedented detail.

“There are not many things in our daily life that we know to 1-percent accuracy,” Schlegel said. “I now know the size of the universe better than I know the size of my house.”