Less about the world, more about me.

Month: January 2013

Column: School Patronage Survey

My column in The Kerryman. 30 January, 2013

There were some interesting things we learned from the 2011 Census. We now know the population of Kerry is just over 140 000. That’s a bit less than two full Croke Parks. There’s a lot of us, but not a huge amount of us. The Census also told us that about 85% of Kerry people, identify as Roman Catholic. Meaning over 20 thousand of us, don’t identify as Roman Catholic.

It is not an insignificant number. A bit more than can be held by Austen Stack Park, in Tralee. The trouble is, these 20 thousand people don’t all live in one part of Kerry. They are spread all over this huge county. This far flung county, with just one national school that caters to those who would prefer their children to not be educated in a Roman Catholic Primary School.

That school in Tralee, is called an Educate Together School and is part of a slowly growing nationwide system of Primary schools that seeks to educate children of all faiths and none, in a shared environment. The school in Tralee however, cannot serve the needs of children in large parts of South, West and North Kerry.

Over 90% of Primary Schools are run by the Catholic Church. A core value of these Catholic schools is to not only inform children about Catholic values and dogmas, but to take an active role in raising children as Catholics. Nothing wrong with that, except that numbers have recently begun to change.

There are now more Catholic Schools than needed by Catholics. To this end, the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn began a process of consulting parents about what kind of schools they would prefer. If a significant desire for change is indicated in a particular area, then some Catholic Primary schools would convert to different models, like that of Educate Together. Initially Minister Quinn thought 50% of school would change over, but considering the available data, this seems a bit out of step with the actual level of demand indicated.

As part of that process of asking parents what they want, the parents of Killarney are being given the chance to participate in a survey about their preferred school model. Any parent of a child of primary school age and younger can take part in this survey by visiting www.education.ie. It’s very important that a large number of parents take part in the survey, as it will be too easy to dismiss the results as unrepresentative, if the ‘turnout’ is low.

If enough interest is shown, then perhaps the parents of Kerry will be fortunate enough to gain some options regarding the education of their children. For the last ten years, Tralee Educate Together has been a pioneer of that additional choice. It offers the exact same curriculum as any other Primary school, but in place of the large chunks of the day given over to Catholic instruction and ethos, it strives to teach children about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism.

This is not to say that the religious obligations of the various faiths that attend (including Catholics) are neglected. No, instead the emphasis is put on parental responsibility and action. For example, First Holy Communion and Confirmation work is done by a parent group, working outside school hours. I can’t think of a more affirming experience of one’s religion, than the active participation of one’s parents in sacramental instruction as well as party planning.

Kerry has changed and is continuing to change. Even asking parents what they want, instead of telling them just what they’ll have to make do with, is different. I hope the parents of Killarney will embrace this opportunity to have their voice and the voice of Kerry heard.

Kerry Column 52

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Column: Respecting Politicians

My column in The Kerryman. 23 January, 2013

There’s a lot we Kerry people will put up with. Bad roads, slow internet, Cork and the constant rain. We even laugh off Kerry Man jokes, pausing only to correct the spelling and amend the grammar. As a literary people, we hold to Wilde’s adage, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” We delight in sarcasm and slagging. The always expected barrage of put-downs keeps our wits finely honed. The only downside being, it is now dangerous to compliment a woman on her looks as she is likely to slap your face as she looks for the implied insult in the flattery.

What we won’t put up with or endure though, is anyone seeming to get above themselves.  And we Kerry people know this when we see it, as a superior people, we can spot it from a mile away. When we meet it, we treat in the only way should be treated, constant, consistent and coruscating irreverence.

This is not to suggest that nothing is sacred. Children are off-limits. The dead also, but that one is a bit flexible. People like me, will never accept that death has earned CJ Haughey the right to any of the witless fawning he enjoyed while he was alive. And while we may have funny laws like the one against blasphemy, we know enough about how some priests  behaved to never again buy into their superiority.

These days, one has to earn respect and work damn hard to keep it. I had thought this more careful attitude to those with a bit of power, was not unique to Kerry. But I may be wrong. It seems for example, that Pat Rabitte TD, thinks we should be nicer to him and his kind. Maybe even more respectful. He’s a Government Minister, a former leader of the Labour Party, a TD for over 20 years and a man not slow to take on the Roman Catholic Church, but he seems to think we need to respect him more. This from a man who dismisses broken election promises, as just what political parties do.

Pat Rabitte and his ilk, have struck gold. Having a won a popularity contest, based on promises that have not been kept, he now has a huge salary and a pension pot, that would make the lives of several dozen Carers, less backbreaking and isolated. And he tells us we should be a little more respectful of politicians?

I am aware and grateful for the fact, that I live in a country, where I can express my contempt for powerful men and women, without fear. It’s a wonderful thing. Historically it is a most rare right, to publicly announce one’s feelings of, let’s say contempt, for someone powerful. Even better, in this technological age, I can express that contempt in many ways beyond print.

There are limits though, or at least there should be limits. Anonymity is sometimes necessary, but it should be a rare thing. For the rest of, we should never shy away from being honest and open about our contempt for any politician. The only restraint we should acknowledge, is that if one is abusive, then one can be ignored.

When elected functionaries look like they believe that they are a new and improved ‘priesthood,’ then never neglect your duty to remind them that they are easily replaceable and even more easily forgotten.

Kerry Column 53

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Column: Abortion, what room for Compromise?

My column in The Kerryman. 16 January, 2013

I’d like to begin with some history. A history of abortion in Ireland, in a couple of paragraphs. In 1861, an Act of the British Parliament made abortions illegal here. In 1983 our Constitution was amended to say that the born and unborn have an equal right to life. In 1992, a teenage victim of rape tried traveling to the UK for an abortion, the X-case. The State felt obliged to try stopping her, however, the Supreme Court decided that as her life was in danger (from suicide), she should be entitled to an abortion. In 2002 a referendum was held to try and remove suicide as grounds for an abortion. This was defeated.

Every Irish government since 1992 has avoided creating legislation to reflect the 1992 Supreme Court decision in the X-case. In 2009 the European Court of European Rights ruled that this failure violated the European Convention on Human Rights, because it left unclear and undefined what rights a pregnant woman had regarding abortion.

In 2012 Savita Halappanavar died in a Galway hospital, while miscarrying. It is unclear why she died, but the possibility that she may have been saved by a timely abortion, led to demonstrations demanding legislation for X. Now our politicians have finally begun conducting hearings on how best to legislate for X.

Meanwhile, since 1983, over 100,000 Irish women have had abortions. Most people in Kerry will know at least one woman who has made that trip to the UK.

Those hearings were held last week. Three days of them. For the first two days our legislators spoke with legal and medical experts in the fields of reproductive health and law. This is as it should be. When lives are at risk and rights are being discussed, experts are who we turn to. The third day of the hearings however, was dedicated to more of an ethical debate. Twenty years of avoiding responsibility and our politicians waste an entire day consulting opinions that could’ve been found with the briefest of brief internet searches.

To my mind there is no possibility of compromise between pro-life and pro-choice. A person who is pro-choice is never going to agree with someone who believes a foetus has the same human rights as its mother. A pro-lifer is never going to stop believing that human life begins from the moment of conception and is therefore entitled to the same protection as any other human being.

It is clear that some people want to a see a more liberal abortion regime in Ireland, others want there never to be abortions in Ireland. The only option then for our politicians is to ignore those who are on diametrically opposed sides in the debate. The politicians must assemble a collection of opinions from the less certain and combine these uncertainties with the best legal and medical expertise available, to find the middle ground.

There will be legal abortions in Ireland, but they will be rare, so rare that both the pro-choicers and pro-lifers will be massively frustrated. That is the key, any solution which angers both pro-life and pro-choice will most likely satisfy the majority of citizens. It’s more than a moral issue, it involves an impossible compromise between competing rights. The very definition of democracy.

Kerry Column 54

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Who would want an abortion?

(I was sent this by someone familiar with my blog. She wished to tell her story, in her own words) 

The lines are being drawn as to deserved and non deserved abortions, for some the sound of the word is enough to induce judders, others blithely refer to agendas and rights and life as if it was a straightforward procedure with set points to slot in children and love and dare I say hope into linear trajectories.

I have no hope, I lost it a while ago and have found myself searching for it in strange places, in the FAS office, on the pages of Monster, in emigration visa forms, in my child’s face. Time and time again, letter after email thanking me for my interest or informing me that I failed to meet the criteria, another day of struggling to make ends meet and the small glimmer, that 13 will be a lucky number, that this year we will escape, that poverty is just a temporary state, that you are of worth, is scuppered by a few lines in windows on the cheapest pregnancy test I could get.

I’m pregnant, I’m in a long term relationship, I love him, and I know I would love this baby, but I can’t bring a child into this. I cannot have a baby and no job, no future, no escape. I know I should have been more careful, one mistake in 7 years, part of me is thankful, a small collection of cells reminding me that life continues outside of this daily stress, that those pills I take to make life bearable and save me from the suicidal mess I was in before are not the only thing that could bring joy. I find myself sobbing, the big loud body shaking sobs that rattle your soul, although I guess I don’t have one of those considering what I’m forced to consider.

So given my situation the only option I can take, is the proverbial boat. I am deeply saddened to have to do this. This is not an easy decision and it’s made harder still by the fact the I have to leave the country, I cannot talk to me GP, I cannot talk to a lot of my friends and family about it, it is an act that nobody wants but sometimes you have to commit to.

I don’t want to have an abortion but life is too hard already, I envy friends that announce their pregnancies and many years ago wished that I could have done so with my first child, another accident, I promised myself the next time would be different, older and wiser and far more aware. I know better now. I know the costs and I cannot do it to my family unit at this time. I must have an abortion, I don’t want it on some level, but that is a selfish level, the one that knows how full the heart can become with love for a child. I find my mind fluttering between the positive and negative parts trying desperately to balance them, and I cannot. I must act, an act I know will stay with me and possibly stop me from ever having a child again, but what choice have I when there is no hope? A baby, will mean I’m stuck here, I need a job, an income, security, even a roof over my head is a dubious proposition in the next six months let alone an infant.

Know this dear reader, I am not taking this decision lightly, I am not using this as emergency contraception, I am not going to have one of these every 6 months, I am not ruining my life, I’m trying to save it, and the only thing the abortion laws in this country cause is more suffering and time because I have to get a substantial amount of money together to do this. I suppose there are some who would say I deserve to suffer because of what I must do, fear not, I do! I must give up something I would like for something I need. I need to be well, I need to be secure, then and only then can I be safe enough to have a baby.

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Gender Selective Abortions

Twitter has been something of a battle lately, as we collectively watch and interpret according to our individual prejudices, The Oireachtas hearings concerning legislation for the X-case. It seems these hearings have let loose the dogs of our ever present Culture War. It has been interesting to watch, it has been ugly and it has been informative. It’s also the first time I’ve witnessed a twitterverse flame-war, where threats of lawsuits have been bandied about with wild abandon.

I’ve tried to not get involved in the exchanges. It’s not that I am unsure of my own opinion on the matter. I am pro-choice. More that I worry sometimes that I may enjoy the fight more than is appropriate and I cannot think of any useful purpose, to me engaging with anti-choice advocates. There will never be a meeting of minds in that exchange.

One issue however, had my fingers hovering, all twitchy over the keyboard. It seems that anti-choice advocates think that gender selective abortions is a stick to beat pro-choicers with. Do conservative societies and communities disproportionately abort female foetuses? The statistics speak for themselves. Some cultures prize male off-spring over female. I find this distasteful, backward and even tragic, but it has nothing to do with my stance on abortion.

If a woman presents for an abortion, there are only two questions she should be asked. The first is, ‘are you sure?‘ and the second is, ‘are you choosing this course of action, free from coercion?‘ That’s it. Any other, ‘non-medical’ questions are a violation of her privacy.

Not that I expect that level of physical autonomy to be offered to women in this country any time soon, if ever. No, I would be very surprised if Irish women achieved that kind of equality and freedom. The principle however remains, it is no one’s business what a woman chooses to do with her body. That conservative and patriarchal societies still denigrate women is a separate if unfortunately thematically linked problem. It is an issue that requires addressing, but it isn’t an excuse for anti-choice campaigners to deny Irish women ultimate ownership of their own bodies. Nor should it be confused and misused as an opportunity for anti-choicers to stake a claim to the moral high-ground.

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Column: Gun Control

My ‘FIRST’ column in The Kerryman. 9 January, 2013

There are few things we would like to hear more at our funeral than, he or she was a person of principle. To be described as someone with principles is to be associated with those virtues we value most; honesty, integrity, consistency and bravery. We owe the existence of our State to people of principle. Men and women who stood toe to toe with an enemy that dominated the planet, yet principle won out.

A week before Christmas, 20 children were murdered by a young man, using weapons American principles allowed him access to. This epic tragedy, uniquely common in America, is an example of why principles are not always a good thing. The majority of Americans have an almost religious belief in their right to own whatever type and quantity of guns they can afford. And woe betide any politician who would dare question this fervent clinging to a principle.

We are so impressed by the idea of principle, we rarely take the time to examine its dangers. We have but to look at our ruinous Civil War to see how principle can destroy as effectively as it inspires. We could also look to the men of principle who flew jumbo jets into The Twin Towers.

Principles can be incredibly destructive. Destructive of life and property, but mostly of thought. Once we place a principle above life, then it is a very short step indeed, to death. Fanaticism has taken hold. Imagine if you can, the warped thought processes of a man who shoots a teenage girl in the head, because she dares to demand an eduction. Where does one begin to explain to a member of the Taliban, why this is wrong? How does one cure such sickness? How does one bridge the gap between humanity and the fanaticism which condemned Jean McConville to torture and murder?

But what of guns in Kerry? I know many people here who own shotguns and rifles. Mostly farmers who are protecting their crops, but others who merely shoot for sport. Some of the weapons in Kerry have been involved in suicides and accidental deaths or injury. They are deadly weapons, but no one suggests that they should be banned.

Why don’t we demand the removal of these dangerous things? Because it would be silly in the extreme to ban the relatively few guns that are legally held in Kerry. The practicalities aside, there is just no good reason why a few incidents of misuse, should be used as an excuse to deny the vast majority of responsible gun-owners the use of these weapons. Even if many of these guns are just toys for big-boys, do we really want politicians to get so scared for us, that we lose access to anything that might be considered dangerous?

I know I don’t. I get very worried when someone says I can’t play with something, just because they think it’s too dangerous. Unless of course it’s my mother. She’s allowed. That’s a principle of mine and this is why I don’t think it’s extreme; we don’t have ordinary people carrying high-capacity rifles that can spew out bullets at high speeds, murdering our children.

We may have our fair share of unwell individuals, but we lack the capacity to kill a dozen children at a time. A shotgun can do devastating harm, but it cannot massacre. A bolt-action rifle can kill at a distance, but it cannot kill en mass. And most fortunately of all, we don’t have an arms industry heavily invested in the ‘principle’ of keeping our citizens terrified and armed to the teeth.

Kerry Column 55

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