Sunday Long Reads: Organ donation, saving for a mortgage and January fad diets

Kick back with a cup of coffee and enjoy the best of this week's long reads

With the first week of January in the books and everything returning to normal after Christmas, this week's Long Reads takes a look at two of the resolutions you may have made in haste on New Year's Eve. 

If your goal is to put some extra money into your savings or to try out one of the diets that everyone has been talking about recently, then we have a few tips on the former, and a look at the history of the latter. 

Elsewhere, after France introduced an opt-out system for organ donations, is Ireland close to following in those footsteps?

On the sports front, we look at the rocky start for the governing body behind mixed martial arts in a week in which it has garnered more headlines, and Anton Hysen, one of the few footballers to come out as gay while playing the game, speaks to us about his experience.   

Saving for a mortgage? Here's a few tips...

The 'Help-to-Buy' scheme opened for applications online earlier this week and will give first-time buyers of new homes 5% back on the price of their property.

Although house prices continue to rise, it is hoped the new initiative will encourage and help more people to buy their own home.

It also comes at the start of a new year, when many people are likely deciding on their plans for the year - and saving up for a deposit for a mortgage may be on the list.

It's a decision that may come with some significant lifestyle changes: more saving, fewer luxuries, maybe even moving in with parents, friends or relatives to cut down on rent, but here are a few ways that you can save a little bit extra to get the ball rolling. 

Footballer Anton Hysen opens up about his experience of coming out as gay

In 2011, Swedish sportsman Anton Hysen became only the second active professional footballer to come out as gay.

The 26-year-old, who is the son of ex-Liverpool and Sweden defender Glenn Hysen and brother to former Swedish international Tobias Hysen, was playing in the fourth division at club side Utsiktens BK at the time, and his interview with Offside magazine made global news. In 2012, he went on to win the Swedish version of Strictly Come Dancing.

In the intervening years, Los Angeles Galaxy's Robbie Rogers and ex-Everton, Aston Villa and Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzelsperger (after his retirement) have since come out in a sport in which there have been few openly gay players.

On this week's Newstalk's Team 33, Hysen joined Joe, Derek, Killian and I on the show to talk about the aftermath of his decision to come out as well as his love of Liverpool FC, Swedish football and his future plans on the field.

Matter of Taste: January's inevitable fad diets remind us we're gluttons for punishment

New Year, the adage goes, new you. Of course, the subtext of that is usually more along the lines of New Year, less you, as the doughy hangover of festive indulgence weighs heavy on the soul.

January, long month of misery, brings with it as many inescapable realities as December did mince pies, with the concept of a leaner, more toned body a tantalising prospect. From muffin tops to six packs, the road to looking well is paved with good intentions and grouted with protein shakes slurped out of vessels that come from the same Chinese factory that moulded your bathroom’s bin. Unless you fork out more for the kind of plastic that won’t currently give you cancer.

Statistics suggest that within a couple of months, these containers will soon be sitting idly in your kitchen press, their domes standing like a miniature St Basil’s, but that kind of thought is best repressed in January, a 31-day grace period where anything’s possible through the embracing of discipline.

Ireland's MMA community demands more transparency from IMMAA

The announcement that Irish MMA’s amateur governing body, IMMAA, will trial run scans for amateur competitors later this year (per Safe MMA Ireland’s recommendation) has been met with backlash from pockets of the Irish MMA community.

The outcry has been so significant that IMMAA president John Kavanagh posted on the association’s Facebook page, claiming that the association is working on “a detailed press release” for member clubs. The post also stated that it would address “everyone’s concerns” regarding the transparency of the association’s decision-making.

December was a month of transition for the newly founded IMMAA, as two prominent members of the association’s board - Andy Ryan and Paul Cowzer - resigned from their roles with the governing body, so where next for the fledgling association?

How close is Ireland to having an opt-out system for organ donation?

As of January 1st, every citizen in France is an organ donor unless they specifically decide to opt out.

A significant change in the legislation means people will now need to sign up to a new National Rejection Register to ensure they do not become organ donors, which medical teams will check at the time of death before considering organ or tissue removal. 

If it is not possible to sign up to the register, people can also sign and date a written refusal and leave it with a relative, or make an oral testimony to a relative who will then need to attest this wish to a medical team.

Last month, Minister for Health Simon Harris outlined his desire to bring forward similar proposals to the Oireachtas Health Committee, as recent HSE figures put the number of people waiting on transplants at more than 600.