Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Donie's Ireland daily news BLOG update

Where Irish Government ministers are going to drown the shamrock on St Patrick’s Day


The full list has just been confirmed.

The Government has confirmed where ministers are going for trade & tourism trips this St Patrick’s Day.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be making his traditional trip to the States including a visit to the White House where he will meet President Barack Obama.
Tánaiste Joan Burton will be on US duty this year – with her tour taking in Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelpia.
Also heading to North America are Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan (Canada & New York), and ministers of state Paul Kehoe (Houston, Savannah), Jimmy Deenihan(Chicago & Milwaukee), Michael Ring (Phoenix, LA) and Paudie Coffey (St Louis, Indianapolis).
Only Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, is staying in Ireland to mind the shop along with the Attorney General Máire Whelan.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is heading to Mexico.
Speaking today, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan insisted that the tips abroad represent “very, very good value”.
“Last year for example, as an immediate consequence of our ministerial visits €5 million was gained at a cost of €300,000 for the entire event.”This year, each department pays for its own ministerial engagement. I am quite satisfied that this is money really, really well spent.
“Every minister and minister of state will report directly back to the Taoiseach on the number of meetings, type of meetings, who they met and follow-up engagements. No other country has an opportunity like St Patrick’s Day.”
Elsewhere – Alex White and junior minister Tom Hayes will be racking up the most air miles, with trips to New Zealand and Australia respectively.
On the European front – jobs minister Richard Bruton is heading to Paris, arts minister Heather Humphreys goes to London, and agriculture/defence minister Simon Coveney is Italy-bound.
Junior minister Ged Nash will be off to Sweden. His colleagues in the minister of state ranks,Joe McHugh, Simon Harris, Dara Murphy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Kevin Humphreys, Ann Phelan and Damien English will  also be heading on relatively short-haul trips.
Elsewhere, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch will be off to Russia, minister of stateSean Sherlock will go to Ethiopia, Children’s Minister James Reilly will go to India, Environment Minister Alan Kelly to China, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan to Brazil, and Brendan Howlin to South Korea and Japan.
Full details were disclosed at a press event at the headquarters of ding*, an international mobile phone top-up service, in Dublin this afternoon.

60% of Irish people still think the economy is in bad shape,

Eurobarometer survey finds

The survey also found that 53% of Irish people say they have a ‘positive’ image of the EU


60% of the Irish public think that the economy is still in bad shape.

That is according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out in November last year, which shows that women and the working class are much more likely to say the economy is heading in the wrong direction. Men and the upper class are more likely to say it is improving.
Professor Richard Sinnott helped to carry out the study. He says that despite almost two-thirds of the public saying the economy is yet to recover – with 20% saying it is in a ‘very bad’ state – that is much improved on the depths of the crisis.
The study also found that 53% of Irish people say they have a ‘positive’ image of the EU – the highest percentage since 2009, and an increase of 12 points since spring 2014.
16% of respondents said they had a negative view of the EU, with 29% have a neutral image.
However the study also found that 61% of Irish people say they have difficulty in paying their bills from ‘time to time’ or ‘most of the time’ – well above the EU average of 37%.
The survey did pick up some optimism about the future state of the economy. 51% said Ireland is going in the right direction – up almost 10% on the previous year, and the highest number of people making that statement since the Celtic Tiger days back in March of 2006.

33% of hotels in Ireland will not make a profit this year 2015, says IHF


Strong growth to €6.45bn masks regional differences, says Irish Hotels Federation

IHF president Stephen McNally and chief executive Tim Fenn: occupancy rates in Dublin rose by 3% in 2014 but hoteliers in other areas said they had not done so well.
Hotels and guesthouses generated €6.45 billion in 2014 and are expecting a third consecutive year of strong growth – but the positive figures mask huge regional differences.
One third of hoteliers will not make a profit in 2015, according to members of the Irish Hotels Federation, who claim overhanging debt, commercial rates and lack of incentives to entice tourists beyond traditional “hotspots” are still threatening profitability.
Speaking at the opening of their annual conference at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, a number of hoteliers said they had deals with suppliers and staff to cut costs following the economic collapse in 2008.
While occupancy rates in Dublin rose by 3% in 2014, and are set to grow by at least that much again this year, hoteliers in other areas said they had not done so well and were now facing calls for “pay back” from staff and suppliers.
But while occupancy rates in Dublin are in the order of 73%, occupancy rates in the northwest have remained static at just 54%.
A number of speakers at the conference said the recovery was fragile and the reduced 9% VAT rate continued to be vital to the industry.
Hotels Federation chief executive Tim Fenn said regional tourism required greater Government support as the slower pace of recovery in some areas is a “major challenge for many hotels and guesthouses”.
He said hoteliers continue to face a significant skills shortage in the sector, with 83% of those surveyed by the federation citing difficulties hiring trained workers to fill craft and entry-level positions.
The cost of doing business in Ireland was also identified by the survey as a major challenge, with hoteliers citing excessive local authority rates as the single most pressing issue stifling cost competitiveness within the sector.
But the survey, which was carried out earlier this month, found federation members were more optimistic about 2015 – as long as the economic recovery continues. Barring economic mishaps, some seven out of every 10 hotels said they plan to take on additional staff over the next 12 months.
Federation president Stephen McNally told delegates: “We’re seeing an upturn across most rural areas – which is very welcome. There is a long road ahead, however, particularly for regions such as the northwest, east and midlands, where occupancy levels continue to lag at only 54%, compared to a national average of 64%.”
Addressing the debt issue, Mr McNally said it remained “a serious challenge. This is weighing heavily on many hotels with some 34% saying they remain concerned about the viability of their business – notwithstanding the upturn in Irish tourism.”
In relation to the outlook for the coming year, compared to 2014, some 73% of respondents said they were seeing an increase in business from the island of Ireland in the first couple of months of 2015.
This contrasts with 20% who are experiencing static business levels and 7% who are seeing a decrease in business from the domestic market.
Some 55% of those who took the survey said they expected an increase in bednights from Britain, while 26% reported an increase in bookings from Germany and just 18% reporting an increase in bookings from France, so far this year.

In their own words: The delegates speak up

Colin Neville, managing director, Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Colin Neville discounted prices hugely in 2008 as the recession hit, but quickly realised it was the wrong way to go. The theory that more guests would lead to more business in the bar and restaurant – which worked for a number of hoteliers – did not work out for the Riverside. “People were eating pizza in their rooms and not patronising the bar. In six months we would have had to close down.”
Neville did a deal with his staff which saw the wage bill drop by 10%. It was, he says, vital to the business surviving. “I am only starting to plan repaying the staff some of the help they gave me, and I am at a significant disadvantage to surrounding venues.”

Philip Gavin, group managing director, Talbot Hotels

Talbot Hotels has operations in Wexford, Carlow, Waterford and Cork. Philip Gavin says the group rode out the recession by doing deals with suppliers and discounting on rates in a bid to get people in.
Rates dropped as low as €99 per person sharing for three nights and three dinners – an offer he says was put in place across all the hotels and which will be in effect until the end of this month.
His hotels in Wexford and Carlow are seeing growth in volume of 2.5 to 3% –but not in rates per room, he says.

Elaina Fitzgerald-Kane, general manager , Woodlands House Hotel, Adare, Co Limerick

Elaina Fitzgerald-Kane is convinced the recovery in the hotel industry is a two-speed thing. Dublin, she says, is a destination in itself, but Limerick is “just another small city” for tour operators. This year the hotel rate in January was the same as in January 2014, but occupancy was up “marginally”.
“We are not seeing what Dublin saw,” she says, but adds that being 10 minutes outside Limerick is a help.
In relation to visitors from North America, she regrets there is not a more focused marketing drive to point out the recent exchange rate benefits to US travellers.

Patrick Curran, managing director, Knightsbrook Hotel, Trim, Co Meath

Knightsbrook Hotel is operating with the blessing of the National Asset Management Agency. It is owned by the Cusack family who operate four hotels between Trim and Navan. While there is obviously overhanging debt, “the hotel is a very profitable business”, says Curran.
The business model of the four-star hotel was strictly weddings, conferences and golf, but in recent years they “say no to no one”.
Concerts are now a big part of the business, with Daniel O’Donnell, Christy Moore, and old-time dancing all featuring at the weekend.

Doctor under ‘considerable pressure’ prior to clipping patient’s Fallopian tubes


A consultant Gynaecologist told a medical fitness to practice hearing that despite clipping a patient’s Fallopian tubes, this was not a sterilisation operation because “infection had blocked these tubes before I got to them.”

Dr Declan Egan told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing that medical cutbacks meant that he was under considerable pressure on the day he operated patient Lorna McKeogh (36), clipping both of her fallopian tubes though he only had consent to clip one.
The consultant gynecologist, who recently retired from his practise at UHG and runs a private Galway Fertility Unit at Rahoon in the city, said day beds in the Hospital had been cut from ten to just four and this had a knock on effect on waiting lists.
He believed the consent form “covered” him to clip both tubes and claimed he carried out the procedure on patient Lorna McKeogh (36) in her “best interests”, in a bid to improve her chances of getting pregnant through IVF.
Finding a problem with both Fallopian tubes rather than just one as suspected, had left him with “a dilemma”, he told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing today.
He believed she would not be able to get pregnant other than through IVF and explained that clipping the tubes improved her chances of becoming pregnant in this way.
He claimed that he believed a line in the consent form covered him to carry out an additional procedure if something else was found necessary.
Dr Egan is before the fitness to practise committee of the council, where he faces an allegation that he performed a clipping of both left and right hydrosalpinges (fluid-filled fallopian tubes) “in circumstances where this was not consistent with the consent form dated June 2nd, 2010”.
Arising from this, he is accused of failing to meet the standards of competence that could reasonably be expected of a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist.
Ms McKeogh was 32 when she was referred by her GP for gynaecological treatment after suffering a number of miscarriages. She was first seen by a doctor, Dr Eithne Lowe at the Bon Secours hospital in Galway but it was unable to carry out a tubal ligation because of its Catholic ethos, the inquiry was told.
Ms McKeogh was referred to Dr Egan in UHG, who performed the bilateral tubal ligation under total anaesthetic.
Doctors had suspected hydrosalpinx or water filled sacs on the right hand Fallopian tube.
However Dr Egan told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing today that when he examined the patient during surgery found hydrosalpinx also on the left hand side and so had taken the decision to clip both..
After the surgery, Dr Egan said he had told Mrs McKeogh that he had informed her what had happened in a four bedded gynaecology ward, with only a curtain screening them so it was not a setting for a detailed consultation.
Mrs McKeogh has told the hearing that she was upset by this conversation.
“I was the messenger and the message was not good,” he agreed today.
However he told the hearing that he had just come from another patient and had delivered her baby that had died at 33 weeks, so: “I might be been not as focused on her problem as I would otherwise have been.”
And Dr Egan said he would have assumed that the patients’ own doctor, Dr Lowe would have covered all the scenarios in clipping Fallopian tubes because “women will intuitively think hanging onto the tubes is the best answer” when in fact it is not, in the case of IVF, he claimed.
He told his counsel, Eileen Barrington SC that Ms McKeogh and her husband had both continued to smoke around 15-20 cigarettes a day, saying this was a very significant feature in her case as smoking caused miscarriage by damaging the DNA in sperm, can bring on the menopause up to four years early.
He also claimed there was “a lot of smoking and a lot of drinking” on both sides.
Coupled with Mr McKeogh’s low sperm count, Dr Egan said: “That combination screams IVF to me,” he said.
Dr Egan acknowledged his note of the operation was “rather rushed” but said this was due to pressure he was under on the day, with seven c-sections on the list. He was unable to consult with colleagues during the operation as none nearby had reproductive experience. He would have found it “odd” to consult with Mr McKeogh, who was in legal terms a third party.
He said consent forms for tubal ligation in Galway Hospital used to provide for the husband’s signature but this practise ceased in 2009.
When it was put to him that Ms McKeogh suffered distress when she received invitations to attend  IVF meetings at Dr Egan’s private clinic,  Dr Egan said was due to the “efficiency”of secretaries in noticing that she hadn’t attended an initial meeting on IVF.
Meanwhile Dr Egan claimed most of the stress Ms MsKeogh said she experienced over the IVF process arose from the fact she had “turned her back” on the local clinic to undertake treatment “miles away” in Dublin.
Questioned by the panel from the medical council, Dr Egan explained that he had clipped the tubes because “free oxygen radicals” within infected fluid can damage sperm and eggs and prevent a pregnancy.
He said his clinic had the best IVF success rate in the country and deals with approximately 1,000 patients a year, with around 350 in his public practise, from which he retired last month, and 670 between three consultants at the private clinic.
He said that in “99% of cases” tubal disease is bilateral, or on both side.
He also said the reason IVF was invented is because tubal surgery “isn’t that great.”
Dr Egan said his decision to clip both tubes had been “well thought out” to give her both options of subsequent tubal surgery as well as IVF but said “I think she was deeply upset by this and for that I am truly sorry.”
The case is due to resume at the end of March.

Curious pre-teenagers have greater brain connectivity in decision-making regions


Researchers have found that the brains of curious preteens show greater connectivity between regions associated with decision making and “state of the body” compared to their less daring peers.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in April.
Adolescence is often associated with a period of seeking new experiences and exploratory behavior, but little research has explored the source of this increase in behavior. Previous studies have linked willingness to explore to the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain that is responsible for high-level decision making.
After completing a reward-based task, researchers from the University of California San Francisco split a group of 62 girls aged 11 through 13 into two groups, explorers and non-explorers, and performed MRI scans. Those in the explorer group had a stronger connection between the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior insula and putamen regions compared to non-explorers. The posterior insula and putamen seemed to influence the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex.
The research may eventually help identify teens at risk of engaging in risky or unsafe behaviors.
Curious Pre-teenagers Have Greater Brain Connectivity in Decision-Making Regions
At the forthcoming American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco will present results from a study that suggests different brain processes are at work in preteens who are open to experimenting and exploring new things, compared with their more reticent peers.
Study author Dr. Andrew Kayser, who is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, says that “the beginning of adolescence is associated with seeking new experiences and increasing exploratory behaviors,” but that little research has been conducted to measure that increase, or examine what processes are involved in this experience-seeking behavior.
“Studies with adults have begun to look at individual differences in willingness to seek new experiences,” says Kayser, “and some studies have tied willingness to explore with an area of the brain called the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher level decision making.”                       

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