Archive | April, 2009

25 Nigerians Deported From Ireland On Special Flight

30 Apr

By J. P. Anderson:

Twenty-five Nigerian nationals have been deported from Ireland on a special charter flight to Lagos.
The 11 men, five women and nine children were removed from the country last night as part of an operation carried out in conjunction with Frontex – the European Union Border Management Agency.
The flight stopped over in Madrid, where it picked up more Nigerians being deported from other European countries.

Cork: Gardai and Interpol Hunt For Bank Manager Over €2m Missing Client’s Funds

30 Apr

A JOINT Garda/Interpol hunt is under way for a former AIB investment manager from Cork who is wanted in relation to the disappearance of over €2 million in clients’ funds and who it is believed may be living in Spain under an assumed identity.

Kieran Ashcroft, who is in his late 40s and who was living in Courtmacsherry, Co Cork, worked at the AIB in Mallow and was dismissed by the bank following an internal investigation in 2002.

Following a subsequent inquiry, the Garda Fraud Squad identified 15 people from Cork city and county who had given various sums of money to Mr Ashcroft — amounting to a total of over €2m — and that the money was never invested on their behalf.

On foot of this investigation the Director of Public Prosecutions directed that a book of evidence be served on Ashcroft in relation to the complaints.

A Garda source confirmed yesterday that investigating officers have been unable to locate Mr Ashcroft.

"It is not believed that he is in the country. Enquiries have been carried out in Spain without success.

"Gardaí in co-operation with Interpol are actively looking for Mr Ashcroft," the source said.

Some of the complainants met Ashcroft through AIB in Mallow where he was an investment manager.

It is understood that some of those with whom he dealt believed that he was in the process of setting up his own financial institution.

Kieran Ashcroft’s name emerged on Tuesday at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in the trial of a bank porter — who was acquitted yesterday — on charges of money-laundering by cashing over €100,000 in cheques for Ashcroft.

In that trial, defence senior counsel, Tim O’Leary, made a number of comments about Kieran Ashcroft, whom he described as "a big shot".

Referring to Mr Ashcroft during the cross-examination of one witness Mr O’Leary said: "He was a very impressive character, he could charm the birds off the trees… he was very persuasive."

Alcohol Included In National Drugs Strategy Next Year

30 Apr

By J. P. Anderson:

ALCOHOL will be included in a new drugs strategy next year, while the current strategy is expected to finally go to Cabinet by the end of May or early June this year, the Dáil has been told.

Minister of State for Community Affairs John Curran said the delay in publishing the strategy was because there was “much interest” in the relationship between alcohol and drugs.

In the autumn, “a new steering group will work to incorporate alcohol into what will be a substance misuse strategy but that will not be available until some time next year. There will be two steps to this,” he said.

During Dáil questions, Catherine Byrne (FG, Dublin South-Central) said it was “good news that we are finally to get a look at this wonderful document” but it was about time the new strategy was put in place.

“Unfortunately, however, the drugs problem is worse than it has ever been. You only have to look at the events at the weekend in Dolphin House in my area where there was a major incident involving thugs running rampant, vandalising more than 30 cars with paint and acid and terrifying people.”

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (SF, Dublin South-Central) questioned the decision to discontinue the national drugs strategy team (NDST) from today. Mr Curran said that proposals for a new dedicated ministerial drugs office would be submitted to Government in the context of the new strategy.

But Mr Ó Snodaigh asked “is there any logic to termination or fixing something which is not broken”.

Mr Curran said they were moving to a new structure to avoid duplication and so merge the NDST and the drugs strategy unit.

Jack Wall (Labour, Kildare South) expressed concern about the Licensed Vintners Association “which seems to be under so much pressure”.

Fine Gael spokesman Michael Ring said he was glad at the inclusion of alcohol in the drugs strategy because “it is the most disastrous drug in the country and it creates more problems for families and homes than any other drug”.

UK: Poverty Industry Boss Paid £1m A Year

30 Apr

By J. P. Anderson:

A Westminster spending watchdog has said it was "extraordinary" that a Government-owned company set up to help alleviate poverty in the developing world was paying its chief executive almost £1 million a year.

The pay package of CDC Group’s Richard Laing soared from £383,000 in 2003 to £970,000 in 2007.

The company instituted "steep increases" in executive rewards without properly consulting its 100% shareholder, the Department for International Development (DFID), found the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee also raised concerns about CDC’s decision to hold some £1.4 billion – more than half its £2.7 billion capital – in the UK, rather than investing it in developing countries.

And it questioned the decision to focus an increasing proportion of CDC investments since 2004 in countries like China and India which are already successful at attracting foreign investors.

CDC is a fund management company which invests in businesses in emerging markets in support of DFID’s goal of nurturing the growth of the private sector economy in developing countries and demonstrating to commercial investors that it is possible to make profits there.

Although it is owned by DFID, it has received no Government funding since 1995. A recent report by the National Audit Office found it had achieved "exceptionally good financial performance", increasing its assets from £1.1 billion to £2.7 billion since 2004. It invests in 600 companies, which together directly employ almost 1 million people in poor countries.

But the PAC report said that there was "limited evidence" of the impact of CDC’s activities on poverty reduction.

A CDC Group spokesman pointed out that senior staff’s pay was performance related, and its chief executive’s package fell in 2008 to £570,000.

"CDC’s success is down to the skills of the people who work for CDC," said the spokesman. "The framework for paying CDC employees was set by DFID following independent advice and is intended to encourage and incentivise success. It has done exactly this."

Liverpool: Mother Still Questioned Over Daughter’s Death

30 Apr

By J. P. Anderson:

Detectives are continuing to quiz a young mother over the killing of her four-year-old daughter.

Chloe Fletcher was found dead at her home in Wallasey, Merseyside, and her 22-year-old mother – who has not been named – was arrested at the red-bricked semi-detached house on Oakdale Avenue on suspicion of murder.

Police have until 2pm on Thursday to hold the suspect before they will need permission from a magistrate to continue questioning her.

A post-mortem examination into Chloe’s cause of death began on Wednesday but Merseyside Police have not yet released the findings.

Neighbours spoke of their shock and upset after police cordoned off the murder scene and began house to house enquiries.

Residents paid tribute to Chloe but said she and her mother kept themselves to themselves and nobody really knew them.

They added that though Chloe was four, her mother still pushed her round in a pram.

Wirral social services also confirmed Chloe and her family were known to them but did not comment further.

Well-wishers have posted dozens of messages on the website Gone Too Soon mourning Chloe’s death.

Ulster: GAA Fund Raising Children Suffer Sectarian Hostility At Tesco

30 Apr

By J. P. Anderson:

Commenting on the news that children from St Colmghalls GAA Club, taking part in a charity ‘bag packing’ in the Antrim branch of Tesco, were forced to remove their club kits due to complaints, Chairman of the Assembly’s Culture Arts and Leisure Committee, Barry McElduff MLA said,
“I have to express my utter disgust that people would complain to Tesco forcing them to ask young children, fund raising on behalf of their local club, to remove their club kit and wear other clothes instead.
I am hugely shocked that Tesco as a company would so readily go along with the suppression of Irish culture and identity in this way.
The GAA is a community based, voluntary sporting organisation throughout Ireland that works tirelessly on behalf of people, young and old, striving to promote health and fitness, community and self respect as well as individual and personal development. I have no doubt that its membership across Ireland will be equally shocked and upset at this move on the part of Tesco.
I have today written to the company’s Chief Executive, expressing my concern at the willingness by the Antrim Branch of Tesco to comply with such blatant hostility to Ireland’s premier sporting and community organisation and also asking him for a clear explanation of this particular move and the rational behind it, given our equality laws here in the north of Ireland.”

WHO Raises Swine Flu Alert To Level 5

29 Apr

By J. P. Anderson:

The World Health Organisation has raised the swine flu pandemic threat from phase 4 to 5 – its second-highest level.

According to the WHO’s pandemic flu response guidelines, a phase 5 alert is called when there is human-to-human spread of virus in at least two countries in one region.

Earlier, US authorities said a Mexican toddler had died in Texas of swine flu in the first confirmed fatality from the disease outside Mexico.

The 23-month-old boy, from the north-eastern city of Matamoros on the border with Texas, died in Houston from the H1N1 flu strain. Officials said he had been visiting family in southern Texas when he became ill.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has issued a disaster proclamation with 16 confirmed cases of swine flu in the state.

President Barack Obama said: "We are closely and continuously monitoring the emergent cases of this virus throughout the United States. This is obviously a serious situation. Serious enough to take the utmost precautions."

There have been 159 deaths in Mexico from the disease, according to the World Health Organisation, with 2,498 people currently infected there.

Mexico’s Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said cases range from children through young adults and middle-aged people to the elderly, a different pattern to common seasonal flu which mainly kills the elderly and people with other underlying conditions.

In the US, 91 people are confirmed to have caught the disease, 16 in Canada, 19 in Europe and 3 in New Zealand.

Excluding Mexico, there are more than 300 suspected cases so far worldwide, including 150 in Europe, as well as over 100 cases in New Zealand and Australia.

Reports from Spain said the first person in the country confirmed to have caught swine flu had not been to Mexico but had recently been in contact with someone who had travelled there.

A new UK information line providing advice about the swine flu outbreak will be up and running on Thursday, Health Secretary Alan Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson said concerned members of the public will be able to call 0800 1513513 for recorded information about the virus.

Updating MPs on the "very fast moving situation", he also confirmed plans to increase stockpiles of medicines including antivirals and antibiotics and the launch of a major public health campaign.

Leaflets about the deadly swine flu virus are to be distributed to all households across the UK as fears grow about the scale of the outbreak.

Mr Johnson told MPs: "Providing information to the public is one of our strongest lines of defence. A mass public health campaign will begin tomorrow with print, TV and radio adverts."

The advertisements will warn about the dangers of swine flu and remind people of basic good hygiene measures, a leaflet will provide information on steps to protect against infection and what to do if they contract the virus.

Mr Johnson said: "From tomorrow, members of the public who want further information will be able to ring a single number – 0800 1513513 – for regular recorded updates on the current situation."

The Health Secretary said anti-viral stocks would be boosted to cover 80% of the population.

"This does not meant hat we expect anywhere near that number of people to be affected, it does mean that we will have anti-viral drugs to treat 50 million people and make sure all frontline NHS staff have their own supplies of anti-virals as a preparatory measure," he said.

"The World Health Organisation’s message is clear – countries across the world must do everything in their power to prepare for the possibility of a full-blown phase six pandemic."

The World Health Organisation raised the pandemic threat level from swine flu to phase 5 tonight as the virus spread and killed the first person outside Mexico, a toddler in Texas.

Nearly a week after the H1N1 virus, or swine flu first emerged in California and Texas and was found to have caused deaths in Mexico; Spain reported the first case in Europe of swine flu in a person who had not been to Mexico, illustrating the danger of person-to-person transmission.

Phase 5 is the WHO’s second highest level of warning that a pandemic, or global outbreak of a serious new illness, is imminent.

"It is clear that the virus is spreading and we don’t see evidence of it slowing down at this point," Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO acting assistant director-general, told a news briefing in Geneva.

In Mexico, where up to 159 people have died from the virus and around 1,300 more are being tested for infection; people struggled with an emergency that has brought normal life virtually to a standstill.

US officials said that a 22-month-old boy had died in Texas – the first confirmed US swine flu death – but they added that he was on a family visit from Mexico, where up to 159 flu fatalities have been recorded.

Dr Richard Besser, acting head of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country now had 91 confirmed cases in 10 states from New York to California.

"We’re going to find more cases. We’re going to find more severe cases and I expect that we’ll continue to see additional deaths," Dr Besser said.

President Barack Obama, who yesterday asked for $1.5 billion in emergency funding to fight the disease, said the death showed it was time to take "utmost precautions" against the virus.

France said it would seek a European Union ban tomorrow on flights to Mexico. Argentina and Cuba have already stopped flights from Mexico.

The EU, the United States and Canada have advised against non-essential travel to the popular tourist destination, as nearly all the cases so far, in Canada, New Zealand, Israel and Spain, have been linked to travel from Mexico.

The WHO said there was no plan now to call an emergency committee meeting to raise the pandemic alert level, which could take place if it were confirmed that infected people in at least two countries were spreading the disease to other people in a sustained way.

Dr Fukuda, who earlier said the outbreak may end up as a "very mild pandemic", said the report of the Spanish case involving a person who had not been to Mexico suggests the virus is spreading more easily among people.

"There are cases which are occurring in people who have not traveled," he told a news briefing in Geneva. "What we are looking for overall is whether we see many kinds of those infections occurring that suggest transmission is occurring independent of travel."

Spain’s El Mundo newspaper said the Spanish patient had recent contact with someone who had visited Mexico.

H1N1 swine flu poses the biggest risk of a large-scale pandemic since avian flu re-emerged in 2003, killing 257 people of 421 infected in 15 countries. In 1968 a "Hong Kong" flu pandemic killed about one million people globally, and a 1957 pandemic killed about 2 million.

The new strain contains genetic material from avian, swine and human viruses and appears to have evolved the ability to pass easily from one person to another.

It cannot be caught from eating pork products but Egypt ordered all its pigs to be slaughtered and some countries, led by Russia and China, have banned US pork imports.

The WHO said today it had not been told officially of any such bans, and the EU and Japan said they would not follow suit.

In the United States, where pork producers have voiced outrage over the trade bans, officials began referring to the outbreak as the 2009 H1N1 flu.

Mr Obama’s newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held her first news conference today seeking again to reassure the public. “We are determined to fight this outbreak and do everything we can to protect the health of every American," she said.

The outbreak has deeply affected life in Mexico and ravaged tourism, a key earner. Mexico City was unusually quiet, with schools closed. Many parents took their children in to work.

All Mayan and Aztec pyramid ruins, dotted through central and southern Mexico, were closed until further notice.

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said more than 1,300 people were in hospitals, some of them seriously ill, out of a total of about 2,500 suspected cases.

"In the last few days there has been a decline (in cases)," he said. "The death figures have remained more or less stable."

Seasonal flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people in a normal year, including healthy children in rich countries.

UPDATE:

The World Health Organisation has increased the pandemic flu alert level to five, the second highest level.

HSE Guidelines

WHO Frequently Asked Questions

Director-General Margaret Chan made the announcement at a press briefing about the swine flu outbreak at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters.

The alert has been raised as the virus spread to the US, Canada, Europe, Israel, and New Zealand.

According to the WHO’s pandemic flu response guidelines, a phase five alert is called when there is human-to-human spread of virus in at least two countries in one region.

Ms Chan’s move to raise the pandemic level follows intensive consultations with experts and analysis of the spreading virus within and from Mexico.

The change in level would put governments on alert about the need to stockpile antiviral drugs and accelerate pharmaceutical industry efforts to create a vaccine to fight the swine flu strain

Meanwhile, a 23-month-old Mexican child has died of swine flu in the US state of Texas.

It is the first confirmed death outside Mexico.

US officials said the toddler’s family had crossed the border for treatment.

And about 30 US Marines in southern California on the biggest military base in the United States have been quarantined after one of them was confirmed to have contracted the swine flu virus.

The case was identified at the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and was confirmed by the US.Centers for Disease Control, the base said in a statement.

The base houses 8,000 active-duty Marines and is the primary training center for Marines and sailors deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

159 people are believed to have died from swine flu in Mexico though the number confirmed by strict laboratory tests is just seven.

More than 1,600 people have been infected in Mexico.

Elsewhere, three cases of swine flu have now been confirmed in Germany.

A 22-year-old woman is in hospital in Hamburg and a 37-year-old woman and a man in his late 30s are in separate hospitals in Bavaria.

All three have recently returned from Mexico.

New Zealand has announced three more likely swine flu cases, taking its total of probable and confirmed infections to 14.

The news came as the New Zealand government gave itself sweeping powers to deal with the outbreak, including placing people under compulsory quarantine.

Officials said another 31 possible cases were being investigated and that 179 people were in isolation.

In Australia, where 90 people are being tested, the government has introduced new powers to detain and isolate suspected sufferers.

Following earlier advice from the US, the EU and Canada that citizens should avoid non-essential travel to Mexico, Cuba and Argentina have suspended flights there, while Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd said they were temporarily suspending port calls in the country.

Notices were being put in place at Irish ports and airports this morning offering advice to people returning from countries affected by the swine flu virus.

Although test results from four suspected Irish cases proved negative, health officials expect that more suspected cases will arise in the coming days as people return from affected areas.