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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 15th January 2017

Irish mortgage rates still nearly double the euro area average?

Variable rate holders continue to pay price for profligate bank lending during boom years

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Irish mortgage interest rates remain nearly double the euro area average, according to data published by the Central Bank last Friday.

The weighted average interest rate on new mortgages, excluding renegotiation’s, was 3.38% in November, down 28 basis points year-on-year. The equivalent euro area rate was 1.72%.

Mortgage interest rates in Ireland used to reflect the main European Central Bank (ECB) lending rate, primarily because of the high proportion of tracker mortgages issued during the boom years.

The more recent divergence reflects the premium Irish banks have attached to variable rate mortgages issued since the start of the financial crisis.

Lenders here have resisted political pressure to lower their rates, insisting that lending into to Irish market represents a riskier proposition.

They also argue that Irish costs remain higher because of the higher funding costs they face as a result of the crisis.

Variable rates can rise or fall depending on wholesale interest rates, which are set by the ECB, though banks are not obliged to pass these changes on to customers.

Fianna Fáil is pushing for legislation that would give the Central Bank powers to cap variable mortgage rates, a move that is being resisted by the Central Bank and the Government.

The latest Central Bank data also show the volume of new mortgage agreements amounted to €548 million in November, bringing new agreements to €4.9 billion over the past 12 months.

Oxfam World report reveals ‘an obscene gap’ between the rich and poor.

Eight men’s wealth same as world’s poorest 50%, indicates study ahead of Davos forum

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The gap between rich and poor is becoming increasingly large, with just eight individuals owning the same wealth as 3.6 billion of the world’s poorest people, according to new research.

A report from Oxfam, launched on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, found that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than previously thought, due to new data emanating from China and India. This means that the eight richest men in the world are worth the same as the poorest half of the world’s population, according to wealth distribution data provided by Credit Suisse.

“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of just eight men . . . particularly when one in nine people in the world go to bed hungry every night,” said Oxfam Ireland chief executive Jim Clarke. “A fundamental change in the way we manage our economies is required so they benefit everyone, not just a fortunate few. We need a global economy for the 99%, not just the 1%.”

More than 3,000 participants, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, will descend on the snowy peaks of Davos, Switzerland, this week for the 47th World Economic Forum.

While the annual gathering has long been seen as a playground for the rich and powerful, the event this year is taking place against a background of resurgent populism and increasing public opposition to globalisation. This mood has been manifested in the election success of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union.

Although the US president-elect will not be attending the event, his inauguration as president of the US on Friday is expected to overshadow the summit. A number of sessions during the week are devoted to globalisation and the challenges posed by growing inequality and the question of wealth distribution. The theme of this year’s forum is “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”, a barely veiled acknowledgement of anxieties about the incoming regime in Washington and the series of elections scheduled to take place across Europe in 2017.

Xi Jinping Keynote address.

Among the most high-profile participants this year is Chinese premier Xi Jinping, who will deliver a keynote address on Tuesday. His presence marks the first visit to Davos by a Chinese leader.

British prime minister Theresa May will deliver a special address on Thursday morning, two days after she is expected to unveil details of her government’s vision for Brexit in a major speech.

British chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond will be in Davos on Friday, when he is expected to do a series of interviews and participate in a session titled “Britain and the EU: The Way Forward” with the former Italian prime minister and EU commissioner Mario Monti and others.

While more than 50 heads of state and government will travel to the exclusive Swiss ski resort, some of the world’s most senior banking and corporate executives will also attend the five-day event.

Among the economic heavy-hitters in attendance will be Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, as well as senior executives from the world’s biggest banks, such as UBS, Goldman Sachs and Deutschebank.

One familiar face on the Davos circuit, the Goldman Sachs chief operating officer Gary Cohn, won’t be present this time. He’s likely to be busy preparing to become Donald Trump’s new chairman of the National Economic Council.

Senior officials from Trump’s transition team will attend the event, however, and are expected to hold a series of bilateral meetings with senior political leaders, including possibly Xi Jinping, on the fringes of the event.

Outgoing US vice-president Joe Biden will address the summit on Wednesday, while US Secretary of State John Kerry will also attend the forum, undoubtedly one of his final official engagements of the Obama presidency.

Gaybo (Gay Byrne) hopes for best in battle against prostate cancer?

‘He is doing well. The treatment is ongoing’

Image result for Gaybo (Gay Byrne) hopes for best in battle against prostate cancer?  Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show in 1966  Image result for Gaybo (Gay Byrne) hopes for best in battle against prostate cancer?

Left Pic. Broadcaster Gay Byrne, with wife Kathleen, right pic. the old, the middle & the new L.L.S. hosts. Gay remains positive despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer

Ireland’s most-loved broadcaster Gay Byrne is upbeat and positive as he comes to terms with his cancer diagnosis, telling the Sunday Independent: “The treatment continues and we hope for the best.”

Gay was his usual sanguine self as he talked about his illness – echoing the thoughts of millions of well-wishers up and down the country who hope for his return to the airwaves in full health.

Last November, with typical understatement, Gay revealed to shocked listeners on RTE’s Lyric FM the disheartening news that he was suffering from cancer.

“I shall not be with our listeners on this day next week. Have to go to hospital… They think they may have discovered a bit of cancer in the prostate and they think it may have moved up into my back.

“I’ve had the most wonderful, fantastic, robust, good health all my broadcasting life,” he said in usual breezy style during his enormously popular show on the classical radio station.

“It’s my turn now… many, many people much worse off. Thank you for your good wishes,” he signed off.

Now, nearly three months on, Gay is in the throes of cancer treatment, but he is tough and resilient and well aware that he is undergoing the same difficulties endured by so many who are touched by the disease in this country.

And he is aware that prostate cancer is very treatable and the chances of a favourable outcome are quite high.

In short, Gay is not feeling sorry for himself but ongoing medical treatment obviously interrupted the usual Christmas and New Year celebrations – a favourite time of year for the couple who were married in 1964.

“Everything is on hold while we do our best to look after Gay,” his wife Kathleen Watkins told the Sunday Independent yesterday.

“He is doing well. The treatment is ongoing. Do thank the many people all over the country who have been in touch,” Kathleen requested.

“We got all the notes and letters and cards. We read all of them. Thank you. Thank you to all those kind people.It’s so much appreciated.”

The broadcasting legend is being looked after by his devoted wife at their home in Ballsbridge and there is lots of help and encouragement from the family – as well as the good wishes of an entire nation.

Local Property Tax in Sligo has highest compliance rate of almost 97% in Ireland

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There was a compliance rate of 96.8% with the Local Property Tax in Sligo in 2016 according to the figures just released by Revenue.

The national compliance rate is is estimated at 97% which is in line with previous years.

Revenue, which oversees its collection, say some €5.3 million was collected through the tax in county Sligo last year from almost 30,000 properties. Laois and South Dublin had the highest compliance rate in the country at 99.8%.

The vast majority of householders in County Sligo (43.8%) valued their homes in the lowest bracket of up to €100,000 with 32.1% valuing their houses up to €150,000 and 16.4 falling into the €150,001 to €200,000 category. Just 1.5% valued their homes at over €300,000 and a further 1.5% were in the €250,001 to €300,000 bracket. Approximately 42% of property owners self-assessed the same valuation band as the Revenue estimate and 58% of property owners self-assessed a different LPT valuation band compared to Revenue.

LPT Exchequer receipts in 2016 (at end December) are €463m. This includes approximately €50m in pre-payments for 2017 LPT as well as €70m in payments for 2015 LPT and earlier years. Exchequer receipts also include Household Charge (HHC) arrears. Revenue assumed responsibility for the collection of arrears of HHC from July 2013. By end 2016 in excess of €64m was collected (including nearly €8m in 2016) and over 360,000 additional properties are now HHC compliant.

For 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Revenue issued 212,000, 148,000 and 324,000 and 300,000 compliance letters respectively. In the vast majority of these cases property owners fully complied with their LPT payment obligations, either on a phased basis or by way of a single payment. However, in each year there were a relatively small number of cases that chose to remain non-compliant,

Revenue say it left them with no alternative but to deploy debt collection/enforcement measures or other sanctions to ensure payment. Some 864 cases were referred to the Sheriff in 2016 and 40 cases to external solicitors for collection. Over 20,300 tax clearance requests were refused on foot of LPT non-compliance, of which almost 97% were subsequently granted clearance following mutually acceptable payment solutions.

Revenue deducted LPT from the salaries or pensions of almost 89,000 property owners last year of which over 49,000 ‘rolled over’ from mandatory deductions applied in 2015. Over 11,000 valuations were also increased in 2016 following Revenue compliance interventions.

The BT Young Scientist exhibition category winners

All the winners in each section of 2016 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition

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Right picture the overall BT Young Scientist & Technologist of the Year 2017 Shane Curran from Terenure College.

And above left picture:- Shay Walsh, managing director BT Ireland (left) and Minister for Education Richard Bruton (right), with Matthew Blakeney and Mark McDermott of the Jesus & Mary Secondary School, Sligo, runners-up at the BT Young Scientist & Technologist of the Year 2017 with their project Flint on the Moy?

The winners in each category of the 2016 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition have been announced.

1st place Junior group Kinsale Community School, Impact of sound pitch on the biological gustatory perception mechanism, a quantitative comparative study between adults and children.

Biological and Ecological Junior Group Caoimhe Lynch , Sylvie Plant

2nd place Junior group Loreto College – Foxrock, Does Simulating a Lack of Binocular Vision Have An Impact on performance?

Biological and Ecological Junior Group, Jessica Oakley O’Kelly, Margot Moore, Jennifer Leavy

3rd place Junior group St Mary’s Diocesan School, 40 Licks ( trying to determine if being weaned onto certain foods as a baby can effect your development into a super-taster) Biological and Ecological Junior Group Seb Lennon Calum Agnew

1st place Junior individual Christ King Girls Secondary School, An investigation on whether cereal is a healthy breakfast option for Children Biological and Ecological Junior Individual Romy Kolich

2nd place Junior individual Bandon Grammar School, A novel approach to growing Nannochloropsis in a controlled environment and it’s subsequent ability to produce oil Biological and Ecological Junior Individual Gregory Tarr

3rd place Junior individual Sandford Park School Ltd, Time as a variable in bread production Biological and Ecological Junior Individual Oscar Despard

1st place intermediate group Loreto Secondary School – Balbriggan, Does consuming certain varieties of potatoes as a staple food in a diet, increase blood glucose levels & chance of high blood pressure and diabetes in a sample of Rush residents Biological and Ecological Intermediate Group Sophie Weldon Laura Weldon Emma Kleiser Byrne

2nd place intermediate group Tullamore College , Investigating The Difference In Bacterial Contamination When Handling and Using a Device to Insert Contact Lenses Biological and Ecological Intermediate Group Lucy Leonard Michele Mann

3rd place intermediate Group Avondale Community College, Biodegradable plastic pots to minimise the effects of transplant shock. Biological and Ecological Intermediate Group Ayyub Azmat Niall Gaffeny Christopher Makin.

1st place intermediate individual Ardscoil Ris ‘To Bee or not to Bee’: Investigating solutions to falling bee populations using a multifaceted problem solving approach. Biological and Ecological Intermediate Individual David Hamilton

2nd place intermediate individual Colaiste Choilm, Investigating the use of natural plants oils and extracts as an antiproliferative cancer agents. Biological and Ecological Intermediate Individual Aivan Jose

3rd place intermediate individual Bandon Grammar School, A comparison of foot biomechanics in sport playing and non-sport playing teens Biological and Ecological Intermediate Individual Alex O’ Connor

1st place Senior group Midleton College , Foal sickness containment and prevention Biological and Ecological Senior Group Cathal Mariga George Hennessy

2nd place Senior group Loreto Secondary School – Balbriggan, To investigate whether contrast sensitivity can be improved from regular exposure to action video games and the impact on everyday tasks on a teenager with myopia Biological and Ecological Senior Group Chloe Tap Dagmara Dobkowska

3rd place Senior group St Joseph’s Secondary School, Stimulating plant growth using electricity Biological and Ecological Senior Group Niamh McHugh Vitalija Janusonyte

1st place Senior individual Our Ladys College – Drogheda, The Antimicrobial Potential of Tree Bark Extracts Biological and Ecological Senior Individual Niamh Ann Kelly

2nd place Senior individual Coláiste Choilm, An Investigation into the Application of Symsagittera roscoffensis & it’s symbiont Tetraselmis convolutae in Neurobiology and Biotechnology. Biological and Ecological Senior Individual Con Moran

3rd place Senior individual Scoil Mhuire Strokestown , An investigation into the quality of effluent discharging domestic waste water treatment systems (septic tanks) and an apparatus to improve this. Biological and Ecological Senior Individual Abbie Moloney

1st place Junior group Synge Street CBS, Generalisations of Feynman’s Triangle Theorem Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences Junior Group Carl Jones Keiron O’Neill

2nd place Junior group Synge Street CBS, New Conjectures Concerning the Partition Function Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences Junior Group Talha Moktar Abdulrhman Abouryana

3rd place Junior group Sutton Park School, The design and testing of a safe drinking water system for developing countries Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences Junior Group Xiangyu Carbon Mallol Méabh Scahill

A huge glacier crack in the Antarctic ice shelf widens dramatically

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A huge chunk of Antarctic ice is hanging on by a virtual thread. At the edge of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a glacier is cracking from the inside out at an alarming speed. That’s scary because this glacier, and others like it, keep the ice from flowing into the sea, where it would raise sea levels by several feet.

The ice shelf in danger is known as Larsen C. British researchers who are monitoring the crack in this ice shelf believe that only about 12 miles now connect the chunk of ice to the rest of the continent. You can see more images of this ice crack here.

“After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18 km [11 miles] during the second half of December 2016,” wrote Adrian Luckman in a statement from the MIDAS Project, which is monitoring changes in the area.

Luckman, a professor at Swansea University in Wales, and head of the MIDAS Project, is referring to a crack that has been growing for years and is now a total of roughly 70 miles long. When that fissure finally reaches the far side of the shelf, British scientists believe that an iceberg the size of Delaware will float off. The ice shelf itself is almost the size of Scotland, and the fourth largest of its kind in Antarctic. The piece that it is getting ready to break off is nearly 2,000 square miles in size.

It’s true that icebergs break off from ice sheets in the Antarctic on a fairly regular basis, but this one is especially significant because of its size, and because it shows that the ice retreat is happening farther inland than scientists had previously observed.

What Could Happen After This Break?

What will happen next? Scientists are uncertain. But the consequences of the break could be dramatic.

“When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula,” said the MIDAS researchers in a statement about the rift.

The First Time In Over 12,000 Years and this could be part of a broader pattern for ice shelves.

It’s the latest sign of major ice loss in the fast warming Antarctic Peninsula, which has already seen the breakup of two other shelves in the same region, events that have been widely attributed to climate change. Larsen A collapsed in 1995, and much of Larsen B collapsed dramatically in 2002. Scientists have revealed that this is probably not something that has happened in the past 12,000 years or possibly, even more alarmingly, in more than 100,000 years.

So, Antarctica has lost ice shelves before, but none so huge as this one.

The iceberg resulting from this crack will not in itself raise sea levels, but if this ice shelf breaks up even more, that would have an impact on sea levels. Experts believe that if all the ice that the Larsen C shelf currently holds back entered the sea, global waters would rise by around four inches.

Antarctica is geographically a long way from most of us, but what happens there could be an indication of what’s happening with our planet Earth.

Is Climate Change To Blame?

The Project MIDAS group has not made any statement attributing the development at Larsen C to climate change, but has stated that the shelf would be “at its most retreated position ever recorded,” which suggests the possibility of climate change being the cause for this crack.

Previous research has also noted that the Larsen C ice shelf is becoming less thick, making it float lower in the water, which appears linked to the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula in recent decades.

Meanwhile, scientists wait for the anticipated break. Luckman told the BBC that “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed.”

But there are few certainties right now apart from an imminent change to the outline of Antarctica’s icy coast. “The eventual consequences might be the ice shelf collapsing in years to decades,” said Luckman.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 8th January 2016

Paris attacks fugitive’s print found in ‘bomb-making hideout’ in Brussels

     

People stand next to a banner reading Je suis Paris.

A Brussels apartment was probably used to make bombs for the Paris attacks and one of the plotters also hid out there after escaping a police dragnet, Belgian prosecutors have said.

The prosecutors said they found Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprint in a search of the apartment on December 10, but would not say why they waited a month to announce it.

The search also turned up three suspected suicide belts, traces of the same explosive used in the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people and other material that could be used to manufacture bombs, according to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

The third-floor apartment was probably used as a hideout after Abdeslam fled the attacks, federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said.

Abdeslam, who is still at large, called for two friends to pick him up amid the bloodshed and chaos that night that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured.

“We found material to make explosives, we found traces of explosives and we found three belts. So you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to make the right deduction,” Mr Van der Sypt told the Associated Press.

Abdeslam is believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris attacks. A French gendarme stopped him and his two friends in their car near the border but released them. The friends are among 10 people arrested in Belgium in connection with the attacks.

Authorities now believe Abdeslam returned to the apartment, was eventually picked up by someone else “and we lost trace”, Mr Van der Sypt said.

The apartment in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood of Brussels had been rented under a false identity that may have been used by one of those who are now under arrest.

The three handmade belts discovered in the search at Rue Berge in Schaerbeek “could have been intended for the transport of explosives”, the prosecutor’s office said. Traces of the highly volatile TATP, which was packed into the suicide vests in November, as well as other material that could be used to manufacture explosives were also detected.

The November 13 attacks marked the height of a violent year for France that began with a January 7 assault on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.

Paris was again jolted on Thursday when a man wearing a fake explosives vest and wielding a butcher’s knife ran up to a police station and was shot dead by officers standing guard.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said investigators are unsure of the man’s true identity.

Mr Molins told France-Inter radio that the assailant carried a paper marked with the Muslim declaration of faith, an emblem of the Islamic State group and his name, and gave his nationality as Tunisian. Mr Molins said he also had a phone with a German SIM card.

Stopped for a minor theft in 2013 in France’s south, the man had identified himself as Ali Sallah and gave his nationality as Moroccan.

IS extremists have claimed responsibility for the January 2015 and November 13 attacks in Paris.

A free vote on abortion for Fine Gael ministers, A promise by Kenny

Stance contradicts director of elections who said ministers should resign if disagreeing on policy

  

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Fine Gael ministers would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the eighth amendment, regardless of whether the party was in government after the election.

Government ministers will be allowed to vote for or against a repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution without fear of repercussion, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated.

Mr Kenny said members of Fine Gael would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue regardless of whether they were in government or not. “If it comes to a point where there is an issue to be decided by vote I’ve already said that the members of my party would have a free vote and that applies whether they are in government or not in government as ministers,” he said.

The Taoiseach’s statement contradicts the party’s director of elections, Brian Hayes, who insisted ministers should resign if they disagreed with future government policy on abortion.

Speaking in Germany, while on a trade mission, Mr Kenny said this was a sensitive and personal decision for everybody and it required a rational and comprehensive discussion. He said he had committed to allowing a free vote to Fine Gael TDs and he wanted to see a citizen-led forum examine the issue.

  • Ministers opposing abortion policy should resign – Hayes
  • Abortion legislation should be repealed, says professor
  • Diarmuid Martin welcomes FG free vote on abortion amendment

Asked if ministers would be allowed to campaign in favour of or against a possible referendum, the Taoiseach said: “If you get to a point, and I can’t predict the outcome of any of the conclusions of the process, if we get to the point where there is a vote they will be voting in respect of what their conscience tells them.”

A Government spokesman later said it was premature to discuss campaigning when the process had not been determined.

Mr Kenny has committed to a constitutional review of the eighth amendment, which bans abortion, within six months of the general election if Fine Gael is returned to government. The Taoiseach has said a citizens’ forum to debate changes to the eighth amendment, which gives an equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, would be established to examine the issue. The Taoiseach had committed to a free Dáil vote for his TDs on whatever the outcome of the forum is.

However Fine Gael’s director of elections had said the next government would adopt whatever position was recommended by the forum and cabinet and junior ministers who went against that policy should be fired.

Mr Hayes said: “Now whether it should apply to members of the government is another matter. That is not the same as backbenchers. I have always held the view that if the government, per se, including all ministers of State, are arguing for something in terms of a legislative proposal, then it is incumbent on you as a member of the government to support or leave the government. This would be post the people’s convention that the Taoiseach is proposing.”

Fine Gael said the forum would be “a process of consideration by citizens, expert groups and politicians” of the issue but added that its proposed structure had not been finalised.

Labour and Sinn Féin have committed to a repeal of the amendment, whileFianna Fáil will allow a vote of conscience on the issue.

IFA whistle-blower claims he was blocked from entering election race

Derek Deane says potential backers were prevailed upon to withhold their support

   

The IFA’s Carlow chairman, Derek Deane, failed to get the required backing of at least six county executives ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for nominations, ruling him out of the race.

The Irish Farmers’ Association officer who exposed the pay issues which led to the resignation of its president and general secretary claims he has been “deliberately” blocked from contesting its presidential election.

The IFA’s Carlow chairman, Derek Deane, failed to get the required backing of at least six county executives ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for nominations, ruling him out of the race.

However, Mr Deane claimed potential backers were prevailed upon to withhold their support for him.

“A lot of the nominations were deliberately held up so I wouldn’t get to run on the day. They were deliberately held and distributed at the very end,” he told RTE Radio’s News at One programme.

Mr Deane also claimed the IFA’s deputy president Tim O’Leary, who also failed to get the required number of nominations, had blocked him.

“The critical question then for Tim O’Leary is this: did he deliberately shaft me by just sitting on the fence and not informing people he had withdrawn from the race,” he said.

Mr O’Leary, however, later told The Irish Times he never withdrew from the race and was canvasssing for support “right up until the deadline”.

He also said he had asked Mr Deane on Wednesday afternoon to step aside and support his campaign. “There was logic to this because two years ago he had nominated me for deputy president,” Mr O’Leary said.

Mr Deane has appealed to the IFA to be allowed to enter the race on foot of receiving the verbal backing of Monaghan chairman Brian Treanor late on Wednesday evening.

“Brian Treanor had stated on one of my voicemails that he was prepared to support me in the interests of democracy if Tim O’Leary was out of the race.”

Mr Deane claimed an email from Mr Treanor advising the IFA of his support for the Carlow chairman failed to get through because of a technology failure.

As a result, he is seeking a special meeting of the organisation’s executive council to consider the matter. “I am asking on the basis of democracy to be allowed to run,” he said.

The IFA again declined to comment on Mr Deane’s last-ditch efforts to contest the election but is understood to be adamant only three candidates secured the required nominations.

They were: Henry Burns from Laois, who is currently the IFA’s livestock chairman; Flor McCarthy from Kerry, the organisation’s rural development chief; and Joe Healy from Galway, an IFA farm business representative.

Asked if he had made a decision on possible legal action if he fails in his bid to be allowed to contest the election, Mr Deane said: “Absolutely not”.

The association’s returning officer Jer Bergin, meanwhile, announced nominations are now being sought for the positions of IFA deputy president and its four regional chairpersons.

He said the nominations were subject to the executive council adopting a rule change in February to allow the elections, scheduled for April, to go ahead.

‘Binge drinking left me in a coma’, says Nevada student who wants to warn others

   

A student from Reno, Nevada, wants to warn other people about binge drinking after she fell into a coma following a heavy night out.

One student, Hanna Lottritz, didn’t celebrate her 21st birthday this week with copious amounts of booze. She’s avoided bars and parties since she ended up in a critical condition in hospital, with respiratory failure and in a 24 hour coma.

“I didn’t realize the importance of drinking responsibly until I was waking up from a coma,” she wrote on her blog. Now she’s sharing the shocking photo in hospital and the story of how she ended up there.

On July 25 last year Hanna went to a gig with friends.

“I woke up, had breakfast and started what would end up being the worst 48 hours of my life,” she wrote. “At the concert I had two beers. Many of the people I was with had been drinking throughout the day and were already feeling good. I hadn’t started drinking until a little after dinner and I felt a little behind.”

After the concert she was began to feel “a bit of a buzz” and ended up at a campsite and began to play competitive drinking games with friends.

“Around 11:30pm, one of my guy friends and I were seeing who could take the longest chug from a bottle of Black Velvet whisky … Everything that happened from midnight on is information I gathered from friends because I have zero memory,” she wrote.

After she chugged from the bottle she downed her own cup full of the whisky. She told her friends she felt fine but five minutes later Hanna collapsed and wasn’t breathing. She was taken to a hospital in a critical condition, suffering from acute respiratory failure and acute alcohol intoxication. Her blood alcohol level was five times over the legal limit.

“Doctors thought I was brain dead because I was completely unresponsive. My pupils were sluggishly reactive, I had no corneal reflux and wasn’t responding to verbal or painful stimuli,” she wrote.

Hanna woke up 24 hours later with a tube down her throat and her hands restrained so she couldn’t pull it out. She had to pass a respiratory test to prove she could breathe on her own before they removed it, the first of which she failed.

“The doctors and nurses told me how lucky I was to be alive. They told me that they didn’t think I’d make it through the night. They asked me if I was trying to kill myself by drinking so much. This question hit me the hardest.

“From my hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit, my eyes were opened to the seriousness of being irresponsible with alcohol. The next day when I was discharged from the hospital, I realised that the way I looked at alcohol would be changed forever.”

Hanna said that rumours were flying around about what happened to her, including that she’d overdosed on drugs, even died.

“The situation could have been so much worse. Fortunately for me, I had good people around when all of this took place,” she wrote. “I could have easily been taken advantage of when I passed out. I could’ve been left alone to ‘sleep it off’. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘Let them sleep it off, they’ll be fine in the morning’ but I’m alive today because my friends got me help. Don’t take a chance if you see a friend passed out from drinking too much.

“I’m very lucky to have made a full recovery, but I know there are others who won’t be as lucky. So please drink responsibly and make sure your friends do too.”

Balbriggan pair named Young Scientists of the Year

Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura claim first place for research into soil fertility

   

Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura of Loreto Secondary School have won the top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for their project looking at the damage being done to soil fertility by animal feeds.

Two students from Balbriggan have captured the top prize in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.

Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura of Loreto Secondary School have been declared the BT Young Scientists 2016 for their project looking at the damage being done to soil fertility by animal feeds.

The best individual award went to Shane Curran of Terenure College for his development of a computer programme that controls a courier service.

The runner-up group prize went to Gabriel Barat and Adrian Wolniak of Synge Street CBS, Dublin, for their computer model that tracks a coffee plant disease.

Renuka Chintapalli also of Loreto Secondary School in Balbriggan claimed the runner-up individual prize for her discovery of a possible early warning of when an oesophageal cancer is about to spread.

This may be the first time that all four top prizes at the young scientist went to students attending schools in greater Dublin. It is also a rare thing for a single school to claim two of the top four prizes.

Maria Louise (16) and Diana (15) are transition-year students and both were entering the exhibition for the first time.

Diana’s Grandmother’s farm

The idea for the project arose when Diana visited her grandmother’s farm and noticed the chickens there were much smaller than commercial birds so the two girls decided to find out why.

They discovered the cause was a food additive included in commercial feed that enhances animal growth, but they also learned that the enzyme included as a growth additive had the capacity to damage tiny worms or nematodes that live in and help fertilise soils.

They embarked on a highly detailed and thorough examination of the impact of the food additive on the nematodes. They found the enzyme had a range of effects including taking away its escape response to noxious substances and reducing the worm’s ability to search for and find food.

These nematodes are tiny, with more than five million found in a cubic metre of soil, the girls explain. This makes them an important contributor to soil fertility and they suggest that feed producers should stop using the enzyme to avoid the risk of long-term damage to soils.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 21st September 2015.

Government considers a budget move to boost Irish housing supply

Cabinet sub-committee examines bigger role for Nama on construction of homes in Dublin.

 

The construction industry has been lobbying in recent times for a major reduction in development costs for housing, including development levies.

The Government is considering a range of measures in next month’s budget aimed at boosting much-needed housing supply.

A meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on social affairs on Monday heard that while there is planning permission for up to 21,000 homes in the Dublin area, there has been little activity on the ground.

One option discussed at the meeting involves giving theNational Asset Management Agency greater scope to facilitate construction of new houses and apartments.

Nama is already planning to assist with the construction of up to 4,500 homes in the Dublin Docklands area and other urban centres.

However, it has identified potential for land and property to yield up to five times that number of homes, according to informed sources.

Other supply-boosting matters discussed at the meeting included lowering local authority levies for developers who plan to build homes in areas of high demand.

The construction industry has been lobbying in recent times for a major reduction in development costs for housing, including development levies.

Any such move would likely involve the Government compensating local authorities for lost revenue.

The committee meeting was chaired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and included Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly and Minister of State for housing Paudie Coffey.

Another option discussed involved using the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to enter the private residential property market by providing large loans to housing developers.

Zoned lands

Use of the fund – previously known as the National Pensions Reserve Fund –  is seen as a recognition of difficulties facing some developers in accessing finance to residential developments, according to sources.

Greater investment in infrastrucutre to make priority zoned lands usable for housing was also discussed.

A recent report estimated that land zoned in the Dublin area could provide up to 50,000 homes.

However, it found that about €165 million was needed for infrastructure such as water pipes, power lines and roads to allow the lands to be used.

The Dublin Housing Supply Task Force, set up under the Government’s Construction 2020 strategy, found that each of the capital’s four local authorities had identified the zoned land banks which could most quickly be brought into use if funding were available.

The meeting also involved ongoing discussion of ways to limited rent increases by linking rents to the consumer price index and other factors.

This “rent certainty” model is used in many European countries, and typically limits increases within a certain percentage limit of inflation.

Microsoft and Google the top Irish exporters

Kerry Group ranks number one in food and drink sector with exports of €5.2 billion

   

Mircosoft’s offices in Sandyford, Co Dublin. The technology giant has replaced Google as the top exporter in Ireland.

Microsoft has replaced Google as the top exporter in Ireland, after growing its export turnover by 21 per cent from €15 billion in 2014 to €18.2 billion this year.

The technology giant was named the country’s largest exporting company in the 2015 edition of Top 250 Exporters in Ireland and Northern Ireland, compiled by the Irish Exporters Association in association with Investec.

Microsoft was followed by Google Ireland with export turnover of €17 billion, while Medtronic Ireland was in third place with export turnover of €16.7 billion. Johnson & Johnson Ireland came in fourth place with export turnover of €10.5 billion and Ingersoll Rand was fifth, with export turnover of €9.8 billion.

Data from the report shows strong growth in the manufacturing and services sectors with the value of exports from the top five exporters increasing by 23.5 per cent on the previous year.

James O’Connor, managing director of Microsoft EMEA Operations, said the recognition by the Irish Exporters Association is welcomed during “this important year of celebration for the company in Ireland”.

“Microsoft is celebrating 30 years of investment in Ireland this year. Over the past three decades we have continued to invest in, and grow our operations and now have over 1,200 people working in a range of areas including R&D, engineering, finance, legal services, sales and marketing,” he added.

Tech firms featured heavily on the list, accounting for nine of the top 20 exporters, with seven of the top 20 in the medical and pharma sectors.

In the food and drink sector, Kerry Group topped the table with exports of €5.2 billion, followed by Total Produce with €3 billion in exports.

Investec equity analyst Ian Hunter said food and drink-related exports now total €10.5 billion with strong growth in the dairy and beef categories having driven a 10 per cent yearly increase over the past five years.

“Meat and livestock exports continue to account for roughly a third of all exports, while dairy products and ingredients, including infant formula, make up a further 30 % he said.

Breath test results must be in both English and Irish,

Say’s a judge

Man accused of drink driving claims statement not valid because it was in English only

   

Mihai Avadenei’s legal team had argued that a statement produced following the Evidenzer breath alcohol test was not valid because it was in English only.

A breath alcohol test statement is not a valid piece of evidence if it is in English only, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said on Monday that a statement produced after a test had been performed by gardaí¬, who had arrested Mihai Avadenei (29) for a drink driving offence, had not been printed in Irish.

The judge said that under the Road Traffic Act 2010, Mr Avadenei, with an address at Lioscianan, Swords, Co Dublin, could face up to six months in jail and/or a €5,000 fine for the offence.

Mr Justice Noonan said that in April last year, a first breath test had been performed on Mr Avadenei after he had been stopped by Garda Francis McMahon for driving at 80km/h in a 50km/h zone.

The judge said in a written judgment that Garda McMahon had felt a strong smell of alcohol from Mr Avadenei’s breath and had performed an Alcotest which result had been “fail.”

Garda McMahon had arrested Mr Avadenei and had brought him to Store Street Garda station, where a further test, Evidenzer Irl, performed by another garda, revealed a concentration of 54 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.

In July last year, during District Court proceedings brought by the DPP, Mr Avadenei’s legal team had argued that the statement produced following the Evidenzer test was not valid because it was in English only.

The DPP had stated it was not required to print the form in two languages, but only that it be reproduced in Irish. District Court Judge Colin Gibbons had ruled that the document had not been “duly completed,” and had asked the High Court for a confirmation of his finding.

Affirming Judge Gibbons’ decision, Mr Justice Noonan said there was no ambiguity in the Act that when performing the Evidenzer test, the garda must supply statements in Irish and in English.

“Once the breath specimen has been given which indicates a possible contravention, the person providing the specimen shall be supplied immediately by a member of the Garda Síochánawith two identical statements in the prescribed form,” the judge said.

“In my view, what arises in this case, being a failure to reproduce an entire half of the prescribed form, could not be regarded as ‘mere deviation’ from the form prescribed.

“It is not evidence at all and cannot be admitted,” Mr Justice Noonan said.

Macular Society  Charity group call to ‘eat your greens‘ for eye’s sake

Eye care charity the Macular Society has issued a call to encourage people to look after their sight by eating their greens.

Keen to highlight the relationship between diet and eye health, the initiative aims to support National Eye Health Week (NEHW), which takes place this week (September 21–27).

Many green vegetables contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are antioxidents that can help protect vision. Kale, for example, is a food source with very high levels of these nutrients.

Commenting on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and eye health, chief executive of the Macular Society, Cathy Yelf, said: “By 2020 almost 700,000 Britons will have late-stage AMD. We are fighting for more funding for macular research because our ageing society means many more people are developing the condition. We urgently need to find a solution.

“The exact cause of AMD is unknown. However, the two most important risk factors are age and genetics. Smoking, poor diet and obesity also increase the risk of AMD.”

Irish students win EU Young Scientist awards in Italy

Cork students take prize at EU Young Scientists contest in Italy    

Eimear Murphy and Ian O’Sullivan win with alcohol project in Dublin left and right winners in Italy of the EU prize.

Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy (both centre) from Coláiste Treasa, Cork, being declared winners of the 51st BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in Dublin in January 2015.

Three Irish students have been awarded prizes at this year’s EU Contest for Young Scientists in Italy.

Eimear Murphy and Ian O’Sullivan from Coláiste Treasa in Kanturk, Co Cork won the Intel ISEF prize for their project “Alcohol Consumption: Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?”

It examined the association between adolescent alcohol consumption and their parents’ consumption pattern and attitudes towards alcohol.

They found a liberal attitude to alcohol and increased levels of consumption by parents are linked to hazardous adolescent drinking behaviour.

The pair won top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS in January of this year.

As part of their prize, the 17-year-olds will travel to Phoenix, Arizona, in the US, to take part in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair next year.

A second Irish project also took an award. Mark O’Dowd, from Glanmire Community School in Cork, won the Expo Milan 2015 prize.

His project examined whether injuring crop seeds could increase crop yields. He found yields increased for crops such as barley when they were rolled and perforated at seed stage.

The 16-year-old won a laptop and a chance to take part in the closing ceremony of Expo 2015 in Milan in October.

A 15-year-old US student was among three who were awarded overall first prizes at the competition. Sanath Kumar Devalapurkar’s project, entitled On the Stability and Algebraicity of Algebraic K-theory, offered a new perspective on K-theory. He is currently studying mathematics at University College Los Angeles.

The two other first prize winners were from Poland and Germany. Their projects were in the fields of physics and computing.

Scientists want to be part of the ethical debate on human genetics

   

Human embryos on a petri dish are viewed through a microscope.

“It is up to society to decide what is acceptable: science will merely inform what may be possible.” This statement made by Kathy Niakan, a stem cell researcher at the newly opened Francis Crick Institute in London, seems eminently reasonable, but it raises as many questions as it allays.

Niakan has applied to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a licence to use a powerful new gene-editing technique on human embryos that would produce the first genetically modified embryos in the UK. Such a step is currently banned for federally funded research in the US.

If Niakan is permitted to proceed, the embryos – donated from IVF treatment and modified using a method called Crispr/Cas9, which makes it relatively straightforward to snip out genes and insert new ones – would legally have to be destroyed within 14 days. The work would explore the genetic roots of repeated miscarriage by examining the layer of cells in the embryo that develop into the placenta.

Niakan refutes suggestions that the work would set us on a slippery slope towards designer babies. She is absolutely right. Regulation is very clear and tight in the UK, even while being permissive by global standards. Indeed, it’s a willingness to confront and think through the issues that has made the HFEA an admired and trusted model for regulating embryo research. There is little such oversight and clarity in China, where earlier this year a team first used Crispr/Cas9 to edit the DNA of (non-viable) human embryos. That work suggested there could be complications in efforts to correct faulty genes this way.

But if Niakan’s research is humanely motivated and legally protected against abuses, then why would it be prohibited in the US? In a statement in April in response to the Chinese work, Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, said: “NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes … has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed.”

The germline here refers to the fact that any gene modification in an embryo would be inherited by future generations derived from it. One of the reasons cited for the US ban is that alterations made to the germline “affect the next generation without their consent”. If that were to be done, the ethical issues are more complex than they might seem: is it ethical to refuse the chance to eliminate a serious genetic disease in a future individual “without their consent”? The moral philosophy of hypothetical people yet to be conceived (or not) is itself highly contentious.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 10th January 2015

Irish industrial production surges some 33% year-on-year

    

Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set for its fastest pace of growth since 1998

Industrial production surged by a third in November compared to the same month last year, paving the way for the fastest pace of growth in the sector for 17 years.

Output was up 4% in November, but jumped a massive 33% year-on-year.

Analysts said the data pointed to a surge in output in the second half of last year.

“All in all, Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set for its fastest pace of growth since 1998,” said David McNamara, analyst with Davy Stockbrokers.

“A flat December would leave output up 20% in 2014. Much of this is related to the multinational sector, with little feed-through to the real economy.

“However, the ‘traditional’ sector is also set for the fastest pace of growth since 2000 at about 9pc for 2014, with surveys pointing to continued growth in 2015.”

The data from the Central Statistics Office shows that the so-called modern sector, made up of a number of high-technology and chemical sectors, showed a monthly increase in production for November 2014 of 9.3%. There was a monthly decrease of 4.4% in the more employment-intensive traditional sector.

In the year-to-date, industrial production has now expanded by 22% on 2013, driven by a bounce-back in the pharma-dominated modern sector, which was up 33.9%, and an 8.1% rise in the traditional sector.

“Looking ahead, the manufacturing PMI points to continued growth in early 2015, with employers taking on new recruits at the fastest pace in 15 years, signalling positive output expectations for the year ahead,” Mr McNamara added.

Alan McQuaid of Merrion stockbrokers said the data underlined how well the Irish economy is doing compared with the rest of the Eurozone.

“Based on the figures up to November and on the strong PMI data, we are now looking for manufacturing output for 2014 as a whole to be around 23pc higher than 2013, following a decline of 2.1pc in the previous year,” he said.

“Another strong double-digit rise is envisaged for 2015.”

Mr McQuaid said that it was crucial that the economy remains competitive as the recovery takes hold.

Separate data from the CSO shows the monthly services sector had a more modest annual rise in November, increasing 5.5%. But it was down on October by 1.1%.

Irish road deaths are on the rise – it is time we looked to Sweden for a safety inspiration?

 

The CEO of the RSA said, ‘We saved more lives than ever before in 2012 we can do it again in 2015’.

After a rise in the amount of road deaths reported for 2014- the first week of 2015 has proved no different.

Six people were killed on our roads in the first 7 days of this year – while figures released for 2014 showed an increase in road deaths from the year previous.

A total of 196 people died last year – compared to 190 in 2013. However, that number was down to 162 in 2012.

The Road Safety Authority has expressed serious concern following the rise in road deaths last year and an equally tragic and poor start for road safety in 2015. CEO of the RSA, Moyagh Murdock, said:

It’s been an appalling start to the year and mirrors exactly the situation at the same time last year.

Ireland’s road record?

It’s important to note that the latest European Transport Safety Council’s (ETSC) Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) report showed that Ireland, Sweden, Norway and the UK had the lowest death rates across Europe based on journeys taken.

Based on 2013 figures, it found Ireland to be well below the EU average of 51 deaths per million population- with 41. The lowest rate was in Sweden at 27, and the highest was in Romania at 93.

Sweden’s roads have become the world’s safest with other places such as New York trying to copy it’s success.

‘Vision Zero’

Three Swedes in every 100,000 die on the roads each year – compared with 11.4 per 100,000 in America and 40 in the Dominican Republic, (which has the world’s deadliest traffic).

In 1997, the Swedish parliament wrote into law a “Vision Zero” plan, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether. Deaths have now reduced by half since 2000.

It’s “2+1″ roads – where each lane of traffic takes turns using a middle lane to overtake – is said to have saved over 145 lives over the first decade of the plan.

Sweden also has low speed limits in urban areas, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate bikes from cars.

It’s believed that strict policing has also helped – with less than 0.25% of drivers tested now over the alcohol limit.

Road deaths of children have plummeted—in 2012 only one child was killed, compared with 58 in 1970.

That’s a stark difference to Ireland where there was a doubling in the number of fatalities among children last year.

Sixteen children aged up to 15 years lost their lives in 2014, eight were pedestrians and eight were passengers.

What needs to be done?

A report by the White Roads EU project, showed that good road design, the presence of adequate maintenance programmes, the installation of reliable homogenous traffic signage, road markings and appropriate lighting are among the key aspects that lead to low accident rates on sections of roads.

However, an EU report on road surfaces shows that Ireland drastically reduced its road maintenance budget between 2008 and 2011 due to the economic crisis.

Ireland South MEP and member of the European Parliament Transport Committee Deirdre Clune, said:

The decision to drastically slash our road maintenance budget between 2008 and 2011 has had enormous economic and safety repercussions and was extremely short sighted.

“I understand that budgets were and continue to be limited but there are economic costs associated with poor road maintenance, not to mention an increased risk of accidents on our roads.”

Clune said she met with the European Road Safety Council, ETSC, during the week and that they’re trying to secure a number of new initiatives at European level “including seat belt reminders for the back seats, alcohol interlocks on the ignition and enhanced safety design for cars”.

The CEO of the RSA, Moyagh Murdock, appealed for road users to be extra vigilant, “I would appeal to all road users, as a New Year’s resolution, to please make safer choices when using the road.

Each one of us has the power to make a difference on the road. We did it before, in 2012 when we saved more lives on the road than ever before. We need to do it again in 2015.

Eating Blueberries can help to keep high blood pressure away

  

Eating whole fresh fruit, especially blueberries, grapes, apples and pears, is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, but drinking fruit juice has the opposite effect, says a new study.

Eating blueberries on a daily basis could lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just eight weeks, according to researchers at Florida State University.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the effects of blueberries on arterial function as was done in this study, as well as in this study population,” says corresponding author Dr. Bahram H. Arjmandi of FSU. “These findings suggest that blueberries may prevent the progression to full-blown hypertension.”

Postmenopausal women were selected for the study because their incidence of high blood pressure exceeds that of men, and participants were considered to be in the early stages of hypertension.

Working with 48 participants, the research team randomly assigned them to receive either 22g of freeze-dried blueberry powder, the equivalent to approximately one cup of fresh blueberries, or 22g of control powder.

Upon conclusion of the eight-week study, the blueberry group’s collective systolic blood pressure (SBP) was lower by 5.1% and their mean diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was lower by 6.3%.

Arterial stiffness was measured using non-invasive pulse wave velocity technology, and the blueberry group showed improvement, for which researchers believe nitric oxide is to credit since levels increased from 9.11 to 15.35 micrometers (μM).

The placebo group saw no corresponding lowering of their blood pressure, and their nitric oxide levels did not increase.

Aortic stiffness was measured using carotid femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV) technology and showed no change in either group, indicating that dietary changes could have more effect on small, peripheral arteries than they do on central ones.

“The recommended intervention for controlling blood pressure in pre- and stage 1-hypertensive individuals is not pharmaceutical interventions, but rather lifestyle modifications including dietary approaches and there is evidence that many cases of HTN can be prevented and treated through diet and lifestyle changes,” says lead author Dr. Sarah A. Johnson of FSU. “Considering the prevalence of HTN in the U.S., preventive strategies such as dietary modifications (e.g. functional foods and dietary supplements) that aim to improve HTN and its related complications are warranted.”

Recently, a Finnish study concluded that wild blueberries could neutralize a high fat diet, which is thought to occur due to the high concentration of polyphenols they contain.

Good bacteria found in beer may help to fight diseases

  

A recent study led by Harry Gilbert, professor of biochemistry at Newcastle University, Eric Martens of the University of Michigan’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Wade Abbott, research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has identified the complex machinery that targets yeast carbohydrates.

The study was published in the journal Nature and explains how our stomach has a certain bacteria that help us digest yeast and other complex carbohydrates. The bacteria is also found in beer and breads and is responsible for the bubbles in beer. This study shows that certain microbes in our digestive tract have evolved over the years to become capable of breaking down complex carbohydrates. It is these complex carbs that make up the yeast cell wall.

The research has unraveled the mechanism by which B thetaiotaomicron has learned to feast upon difficult to break down complex carbohydrates called yeast mannans. Mannans, derived from the yeast cell wall, are a component in our diet from fermented foods including bread, beer, wine and soy sauce.

“One of the big surprises in this study was that B thetaiotaomicron is so specifically tuned to recognise the complex carbohydrates present in yeasts, such as those present in beer, wine and bread,” said Martens.

“However, these bacteria turned out to be smarter than we thought: they recognise and degrade both groups of carbohydrates, but have entirely separate strategies to do so despite the substantial chemical similarity between the host and yeast carbohydrates,” added Martens.

The new findings provide a better understanding of how our unique intestinal soup of bacteria – known as the microbiome – has the capacity to obtain nutrients from our highly varied diet. The results suggest that yeast has health benefits possibly by increasing the Bacteroides growth in the microbiome.

Experts believe that the discovery of this process could accelerate the development of prebiotic medicines to help people suffering from bowel problems and autoimmune diseases.

BT Young Scientist top award won by teen alcohol project

  

Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy from Colaiste Treasa, Cork win the overall prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2015 with their project Alcohol Comsumption: Does the apple fall far from the tree?

A group project by Cork students looking at teenage alcohol consumption has claimed top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.

The best individual prize went to a Co Louth student for her development of a wrist support for boxers.

The top four awards in the exhibition were announced Friday evening, with Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy being declared the 2015 Young Scientists.

Alcohol consumption. 

Their project looked at whether parental alcohol consumption has an impact on the drinking habits of their teenage children, explained the 16-year-old transition year students at Coláiste Treasa in Cork.

“We wanted to see if there was a parental effect on their kids’ consumption of alcohol,” says Eimear.

The two put together a survey and distributed it to fifth and sixth year students from schools around the Mallow area, she explains. “We wanted to assess hazardous drinking habits.”

This involves consuming too much alcohol or drinking too frequently, habits that have an impact on health, Ian says.

The two found parental drinking habits, particularly that of the father, had a major impact on their children’s drinking.

They also discovered that parents who believe it is acceptable for their children to drink alcohol on special occasions were up to four times more likely to engage in hazardous drinking than other adolescents.

Perpetual trophy

They receive the BT young Scientist perpetual trophy, a cheque for €5,000 and a chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists taking place later this year in Milan.

The award for best individual project went to Rachel Ní Dhonnachadha (16), a fifth-year student at St Vincent’s Secondary School in Louth.

Wrist injuries

Wrist injuries are a common problem in boxing, and as a former boxer, Rachel decided to do something about it.

She discarded the current approach of binding up the wrist with a cloth bandage, a method introduced in the 1920s.

Instead she designed a glove-like wrist support that could reduce wrist deflection, and so cut injuries. “It is comfortable to wear and supports the wrist without restricting normal movement,” she says.

She asked Irish boxer Katie Taylor to try out the wrist support and the champion found it very good, says Rachel.

She also collected a considerable amount of data to show that her device really made a difference.

“It gives you a competitive advantage,” she says. It slightly increases punching force and reduces down time as a result of injuries, she adds.

Rachel has applied for a patent for her design and has plans to bring it to the International Boxing Association.

She receives a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €2,400.

The runner-up group prize went to transition year students Patrick Sweeney, Chloe Daniels and Annette Moran.

Traditional music

Their novel study looked at whether birdsong may have been the inspiration that caused similarities between African and Irish traditional music.

Migrating swallows and other species spend time in Ireland and Africa, and musicians looking for inspiration could have picked up melodies from the birds, according to the theory proposed by the three students from Carrick-On-Shannon Community School, Leitrim.

All three are traditional musicians and so would have an ear for a tune.

Patrick came up with the idea and presented it at last year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. He came back again this year with his two collaborators.

They began studying birdsong, comparing it with melodies in Irish and African music. They made this easier for themselves by investigating the frequency waves of the music, which allowed them to look at any similarities in great detail.

They also believe they can open up a source of new inspiration by using recordings of birdsong from the isolated Galapagos Islands.

They receive a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

The runner-up individual prize went to Jack O’Sullivan (16), of Kilkenny College, Kilkenny.

He developed a way to turn an ordinary smartphone into a fully functional desktop computer.

“The power of smartphones is increasing all the time and is now approaching that found in PCs,” he said.

A considerable challenge

It took a considerable amount of work to achieve this – a blend of hardware development and software development. The fact the phone only has a charging point as a way to connect to the outside world represented a considerable challenge, Jack said.

It would be for the phone manufacturers to decide whether they wanted to include a second connection point that would make it easier to use the smartphone in this way.

“The ultimate goal would be a phone with built-in applications like this,” he said. It would convert the phone into a single device for all of a person’s information technology requirements, he said.

He receives a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 8th January 2014

The mystery man who went to Ireland & Sligo to eventually disappear

   

‘Peter Bergmann’ went to great lengths to erase all proof of his existence before mysteriously dying on a Sligo beach.

In June 2009, a man with grey hair and a leather jacket arrived in County Sligo by bus with the intention of disappearing without a single trace.

Where he came from or what he hoped to achieve is a mystery – what we do know is that he went to tremendous lengths to erase all proof of his existence before dying on a beach at Rosses Point, Co. Sligo. His only footprints are recorded in the haunting CCTV footage from cameras in and around Sligo City Hotel, where he had checked in for three nights under the name “Peter Bergmann.”

His body was found on the beach at dawn on the morning of June 16, 2009. He wasn’t carrying any form of identification – even the labels on his clothes were all cut off. An investigation was launched to establish his identity, but all it revealed was the seemingly painstaking measures the man took to disappear anonymously.

A recent short film “The Last Days of Peter Bergmann” paints a picture of this haunting mystery through the CCTV footage of the man and interviews with locals who saw him during his last days, which he spent entirely alone.

The award-winning documentary, directed by Ciaran Cassidy, produced by Morgan Bushe and edited by John Murphy, tracks Bergmann’s first known appearance in Ireland as the moment he boarded a bus in Derry’s bus terminal, where he was quite explicit about the fact that he wanted to go to Sligo.

“All that we are really left with is his visit to Sligo. We can’t put him anywhere else in the world,” an investigator said.

Each morning for three days the man left his hotel with a purple plastic bag to return empty handed; it is clear now that he had been disposing of his clothing and possessions little by little, none of which were ever found during the detailed investigation after his death.

Investigators believe that his scant appearances on CCTV cameras indicate he had carefully planned out his daily routes to avoid detection.

“CCTV cameras are highly visible all over Sligo town. It’s quite likely he would have identified all of their locations. If he didn’t, we would’ve picked up where he was disposing of the clothing.

“So whilst he had no difficulty with people seeing him on the CCTV and his movements, he certainly went to great lengths to ensure that the property he disposed of was never found, because that is not identifiable anywhere on any of the CCTV,” the investigator said.

After his death it became clear that there was no such person as Peter Bergmann who fit his description or age anywhere in Europe, America or South America. The address in Vienna, Austria that he used for checking into the hotel turned out to be a vacant lot.

“We [did] extensive searches throughout Sligo, be it rubbish bins, public areas, gardens of private properties, car parks; we even searched the local dump in the hope that we might have been able to find some of his property that would help us to identify who he actually was.”

On his second day in Sligo, the man had purchased eight 82-cent stamps and airmail stickers from the post office. It was never established where the letters were sent to or when, but it was likely that the man was corresponding with someone, somewhere.

Also unclear is why he chose Ireland of all places, and Sligo specifically, as the best place to attempt to vanish without a trace.

On the day before his body was found, Bergmann had asked a taxi driver to take him to the quietest beach in Sligo for a swim, and the driver took him to Rosses Point.

“He got out and had a look at the area and seemed contented. And got back into the taxi and returned back into Sligo itself. He didn’t really communicate with people. He didn’t mix with people.”

Bergmann had found the place where he wanted to die; on the next day, after arranging a late checkout with the hotel, he bought a one-way ticket to Rosses Point.

Bergmann had left the hotel with three bags, including a purple plastic one, and arrived at the bus station with only two. There he bought a cappuccino and a sandwich.

Though he hadn’t spoken to anyone on the beach, a couple of people he’d crossed paths with have spoken in the documentary about their impressions of Peter Bergmann – that he definitely stood out in his black, professional clothing, and that he was pacing around, seemingly in another world.

“He looked almost out of place and out of time,” one Sligo woman recalled.

“He had his trousers rolled up to his knees. And he was walking parallel to the water with his bare feet, he was ankle deep in the water, and he just seemed to be kind of stooped with his hands behind his back, as if he was in another world.

“He was highlighted by virtue of the fact that he was walking across the sunbeam parallel to the beach, but right through his beam of sunlight – and it was amazing because when he actually walked into the light of the sunbeam, he turned to gold as well,” another couple recalled.

A young couple passed him and said hello at 10:30 pm that night and he responded with a nod of his head.

At the crack of dawn on Tuesday, June 16, 2009, a man and his son who’d been training for a triathlon were walking along the beach when they found Bergmann’s lifeless body on the shore. At first they thought it was a mannequin.

“I said to Brian will you join me in saying the Lord’s Prayer, which he did, and we said the little prayer and brought a little bit of serenity or calmness to the situation,” the father said, before they called the Gardai (police).

An investigator said, “The clothing that was on the deceased body – he had removed each individual label from those clothes. It just shows the level of planning, the level of detail he had gone into to ensure that he was never identified,”

“We were obviously getting a picture at that stage that this man had meticulously planned his final days, his final act. And the lengths that he went to were just unbelievable.”

The autopsy showed no evidence of foul play or saltwater drowning.

What the medical examination did find, however, was that the man had extensive cancer of the prostate and bone tumors, as well as evidence of previous heart attacks.

The toxicology report showed no evidence of painkillers either, not even aspirin.

“The truth is we may never know what actually happened in those last few minutes and what he was hoping to achieve. But we can say he was there.”

Detailed investigations were carried out for months: “We explored every conceivable option that was valuable to us. We used the media both in mainland Europe, nationally and internationally, we had secured his DNA, his fingerprints, and those were circulated to all police forces. He did not feature in any jurisdiction.’

Investigators think Bergmann may have believed that his body would be washed out to sea and never found.

“The Last Days of Peter Bergmann” was an official selection at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and won Best Documentary Short Film at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Tesco announces price war as part of a fight back

 

The Tesco Company is closing 43 unprofitable stores across UK as it battles with discounters and announces price war

TESCO has announced better Christmas sales than expected, with overall turnover over the holiday period down just 0.3% compared with the year before.

But the supermarket giant said that it will be closing 43 unprofitable stores across the UK as well as its headquarters with more details on its plans for Ireland and Europe expected later today.

It also announced a price war cutting the cost of over 1,000 of its products in stores.

Shares in Tesco opened up over 5% this morning on news of the fight-back and overhaul at the struggling retailer that had a terrible year in 2014 including an accounting scandal and series of profit warnings.

Like-for-like Christmas sales were down 5.5% in Ireland.

A spokesperson said there were no plans for store closures here at the moment.

“We currently have no specific plans to make changes to our head office in the Republic of Ireland but…..we always we keep our structure and head count levels under review to ensure we’re operating efficiently and able to meet the needs of our customers.

“Also we have no plans to close any stores in the Republic of Ireland,” she said.

The chain  has made 350 night staff redundant through a voluntary scheme as part of plans to reorganise shelf stacking in some of its Irish outlets.

The company has said that the redundancies followed a plan to “improve customer service” and have more workers on the shop floor during the day.

At present, Tesco employs around 15,000 people in Ireland. Of the 350 redundancies, 260 will be backfilled with shelf packing staff in the coming months who will work during the day. Approximately 90 positions will not be replaced.

In addition, around 400 suppliers are awaiting news of the company’s plans for Ireland.

Company boss Dave Lewis said Tesco was “seeing the benefits of listening to our customers”.

The company also announced today that it is selling its entertainment service Blinkbox and Tesco Broadband to TalkTalk.

New antibiotic teixobactin drug a ‘game changer’

  

The new drug teixobactin has the ability to kill many types of harmful bacteria

A turning point in the war against superbugs may have been reached with the discovery of a potent new antibiotic that shows no sign of inducing drug resistance.

The drug, named teixobactin, was isolated from soil bacteria using a revolutionary technique that may in future yield a rich harvest of previously hidden antibiotic compounds.

  It has the ability to kill many types of harmful bacteria, including the superbug MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus), by breaking down their cell walls.

Because it targets fatty molecules in the cell wall instead of proteins it is also much less likely than most antibiotics to induce microbial resistance.

In tests, scientists found no evidence of bugs evolving ways to cheat death by teixobactin, which proved harmless to mammalian cells.

British experts hailed the research as a “game changer” and “very exciting”.

Professor Kim Lewis, from Northeastern University in Boston, who led the US team, said: ” No resistance normally means that we discovere d a new detergent, which is a molecule that will destroy the membrane of the bacterial cell but also will destroy the membranes of our cells, so these are toxic compounds.

“That was my first reaction; that we found another boring molecule. But then in parallel we tested that compound against mammalian cells, and found it was not toxic against mammalian cells.

“So we have something very intriguing. Here is a new molecule that hits bacterial cells, does not hit mammalian cells, and there’s no resistance .. That was unique and very exciting.”

Teixobactin is effective against some microbes – known as “gram positive” bacteria – and not others. But the organisms vulnerable to it include some very nasty examples, such as MRSA, the TB bug mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Clostridium difficile (C. diff).

The drug will not work against “gram negative” bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E.coli) which have a kind of molecular armour plating protecting their cell membranes. Gram negative bacteria pose one of the greatest antibiotic resistance challenges.

However the research goes much further than identifying one promising new drug. It potentially opens the door to further discoveries that could boost the world’s antibiotic arsenal and turn the tide against the superbugs.

Most antibiotics are derived from soil bacteria and fungi, which use them as weapons in an on-going battle for survival with other micro-organisms. But many remain hidden from science, because 99% of the simple life forms producing them refuse to grow in laboratory Petri dishes. This makes them difficult to study and screen for new products.

Prof Lewis and his team tried a new tack by growing bacteria in the place they know best, the soil. Diluted soil samples containing the bugs were placed in culture wells sandwiched between two semi-permeable membranes and buried in earth.

Speaking on a podcast issued by the journal Nature, which published the research, the professor said: “Essentially we trick them because .. they think it’s their natural environment and pretty much everything grows.

“Now we can isolate them, study them, and access antibiotics if they are producing them.”

Using this technique, the scientists obtained 50,000 isolates from 10,000 soil bacteria strains, from which they identified 25 new antibiotics including teixobactin.

In mice, the drug proved highly effective against MRSA and Streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes major infections of the lungs and blood poisoning.

The drug works in a similar way to the “last resort” antibiotic vancomycin, discovered in 1953, which also breaks down the cell walls of gram positive bacteria.

It took almost 40 years for bacteria to start becoming resistant to vancomycin. Because of its mode of action, which involves binding to multiple molecular targets, scientists believe it will take even longer for genetic resistance to teixobactin to emerge.

Last year the World Health Organisation warned that a “post-antibiotic” era was rapidly approaching in which common infections can no longer be tackled with tried and trusted drugs, turning the clock back to a time when even a slight cut or graze might prove fatal.

The Government’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has said antibiotic resistance poses a “catastrophic threat” on a par with terrorism and climate change.

Commenting on the research, microbiologist Professor Laura Piddock, from the University of Birmingham, said: “The screening tool developed by these researchers could be a game changer for discovering new antibiotics as it allows compounds to be isolated from soil producing micro-organisms that do not grow under normal laboratory conditions.

“If teixobactin can be formulated into a new drug for patients, it could be used to treat infections such as tuberculosis or those caused by MRSA.”

Infectious disease expert Professor Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “Any report of a new antibiotic is auspicious, but what most excites me about the paper by Lewis et al. is the tantalising prospect that this discovery is just the tip of the iceberg ..

“It may be that we will find more, perhaps many more, antibiotics using these latest techniques. We should certainly be trying – the antibiotic pipeline has been drying up for many years now. We need to open it up again, and develop alternatives to antibiotics at the same time, if we are to avert a public health disaster.”

Professor Roger Pickup, associate dean of research at the University of Lancaster, said: “This is a very exciting development. This may lead to the discovery of more unique antibiotics that can come on line and replace, or work in tandem, with current therapies that fight infection, particularly those caused by bacteria currently resistant to the spectrum of antibiotics available to us at present.”

Professor Neil Woodford, head of Public Health England’s Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Association Infections Reference Unit, said: “The rise in antibiotic resistance is a threat to modern healthcare as we know it so this discovery could potentially help to bridge the ever increasing gap between infections and the medicines we have available to treat them.

“Taking any potential antibacterial compound from discovery to successful licensing is a long, costly and difficult process. However it is one that needs to be encouraged while we tackle other elements that contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance and seek to preserve the antibiotics we do have.”

The if’s and but’s of body fat

  

There’s so much negativity surrounding body fat, with reports urging people to lose weight to prevent the risk of heart disease and other health issues.

But if you’re naturally curvy then you needn’t worry, as that little bit extra may have big benefits.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, previously found that the fat cells under the skin, known as adipocytes, protect the body from infection by encouraging the growth of new immune cells. In return, these cells fight off harmful bacteria.

There are other reasons why a bit of body fat can be a bonus though. It may sound like a cliché but it does in fact keep you warm, which is much needed when the weather turns chilly – but this only refers to brown fat, the ‘good’ type.

On top of this, it will enable all the nutrients your body needs to be transported easily.

“We know that low body fat negatively affects the delivery of vitamins to your organs and throughout your body,” personal trainer Cathy Leman tells shape.com.

Vitamins like E and A are some that Cathy is referring to, as they are extremely fat-soluble. Once broken down they will remain in the fatty tissue, ready to keep you at your best.

For those of you who have a low libido, it could be because your body fat percentage isn’t high enough – leading to a low sex drive. The same goes for excess body fat, with people feeling insecure and unwilling to be intimate.

If you have a good amount of fat you have nothing to worry about. A recommended number, discovered by the American College of Sports Medicine, is between 20 and 32 per cent for women – but it all comes down to overall health as well. For men, the average body fat should be between around 16 and 30 per cent, and obviously those who tip into high numbers run the risks of health problems linked to obesity.

And if, as a female, you have a high sex drive, you’ll be pleased to hear a good amount of body fat aids with fertility. Cathy explains that fat is a good influence on the entire reproductive system, from periods to pregnancy. When the number drops, you could suffer irregularities in your menstrual cycle, such as women who are underweight starting their periods later or not having any at all.

If you think you’re in this position, ask your doctor for advice on how to put on weight in a healthy and natural way. Or if you’re already a good size and are still struggling, there could be something else playing tricks on your body

Young scientists hit their sporting targets by thinking outside the box

 

From seaweed golf tees to boots for hurling the Young Scientists Exhibition is a vision of the future

  Zoe Mangan, Padraic Hartigan and Ross Fitzgerald from Salesian Secondary College, Limerick with their project The Silent Whistle a wearable device to help sports players with hearing impairments acknowledge the whistle of a referee during a match or training at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2015.

To the RDS, to see the future. Turns out the future has far, far more going for it than the slack-jawed gawpers who loll up and down the aisles asking the future to show its work. It is earnest and pimple-faced and pristine of uniform and gabby as anything once you get it talking. It is the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and it would do any heart good to walk around it.

There exists in this hall a multitude of things you didn’t know you needed but now that you think of it make perfect sense. An Tionchar – a purpose-designed boot for hurlers and camogie players, the vast majority of whom wear boots created for and used by soccer players. The Brap – a boxer’s handwrap that doubles as a wrist support device, which both helps prevent injury and aids rehabilitation. The Green Tee – a biodegradable golf tee made out of seaweed.

Seaweed? Yes, seaweed. The brain child of Jake Killeen andBen Healy from Castleknock College in Dublin, the Green Tee is an attempt to go some way to saving the estimated 140,000 trees that are chopped down worldwide each year to make wooden golf tees. The seaweed is dried out and compacted and turned into a tee on a lathe.

Biodegradable

“You carry it around in a container of water in your golf bag,” says Killeen. “The water hydrates it so that it keeps it shape, stays strong and holds the ball. Once you’ve hit your shot, you put it back into the container. But if you walk off without it, it’s okay because it’s biodegradable and it’s actually good for the soil. It acts as a fertiliser. Unlike the plastic ones that just get left there.

“It started with a project I did on golf tees where I found that 140,000 trees a year are cut down worldwide for making wooden tees. That’s just a waste. So we wanted to see what you could make golf tees out of that wouldn’t harm the environment and actually that could help it. Seaweed is a natural fertiliser so it’s perfect.”

Uniformity of choice

An Tionchar – The Impact as Gaeilge – is the work of Shiofra Ryan and Orlaith Plunkett from St Brendan’s Community School in Birr, Co Offaly. That hurling and soccer are entirely different sports is obvious to everyone’s eye.

Yet the sheer uniformity of choice in the boot section of every sports shop tells its own story too. Hurlers wear boots custom-made for a sport other than their own. At a time when ankle injuries make up 11 per cent of all hurling injuries, there should be a better way.

Ryan studied the specific movements made by Richie Hogan and Steven Gerrard over a 40-minute period. Hogan made four times as many jumps and had three times as many changes of direction. Gerrard had twice as many straight-line runs.