Less about the world, more about me.

Month: June 2013

Column: A terrible piece of legislation

My column in The Kerryman. 26 June, 2013

It’s not easy to be pro-choice and defend the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. So restrictive and mean-spirited is its interpretation of the Supreme Court decision on X and the two resulting referendums, that one could deem it an insult to the Irish people. I’d still vote for this terrible piece of legislation if I had a say in the matter. I’d vote for it because I cannot imagine any government in Ireland, really standing up to the vested interests that wish to keep Irish abortions in the UK.

I support this terrible piece of legislation, even though it’s more than probable, its provisions wouldn’t have saved the life of Savita Halappanavar. The doctor who conducted the HSE investigation into the death of Halappanavar, Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, stated that clinical practice in other jurisdictions is to terminate the pregnancy as early as possible if faced with the symptoms that she presented.
This legislation wouldn’t have helped in Halappanavar’s case because the transition from her condition being a threat to her health, to becoming a threat to her life, was so quick, that waiting for the conditions of this legislation to be satisfied, would’ve meant it would be too late to save her.

I support this terrible piece of legislation even though a victim of rape will now face a prison sentence of 14 years if she manages to procure a termination in this country, of any pregnancy resulting from that rape. In the unlikely circumstance that the man who attacked her is convicted of rape, he might get 14 months.

I support this terrible piece of legislation even though it ignores women who must endure the tragedy of a fatal foetal abnormality. Women whose pregnancies will inevitably end in the death of their baby will continue to be forced to access terminations in the UK.

I support this terrible piece of legislation even though it means a pregnant woman experiencing a medical emergency will continue to face the uncertainty of not knowing just what kind of doctor she is being treated by. Will that doctor offer her all the available options to save her life, or only those allowed for by his or her conscience? Worse, how much time will elapse between this conscientious objector washing their hands of the situation and another doctor getting up to speed?

I support this terrible piece of legislation even though if a friend of mine experiencing a crisis pregnancy asked me for advice, I would suggest a therapist and then if certain, go to the UK. Have absolutely nothing to do with the suicide provisions in this legislation.

I support this terrible piece of legislation all the more because of the pathetic hand-wringing of some Fine Gael TDs and Senators. They demand a free vote. They deem it a right to have a free vote. There was a time when Christians were made of sterner stuff, but they fear the loss of the Fine Gael logo from their stationery.

This is a terrible piece of legislation, but in certain, very limited, heavily monitored situations, it may save a life or two. The vast majority of the 5000 women who travel to the UK every year to exercise control over their own bodies, will hardly even notice its passage.

Kerry Column 31

Column: Our failed war on drugs

My column in The Kerryman. 19 June, 2013

I’ve always considered myself a bit worldly. Very few things can take me by surprise, but I was stunned to learn the Gardaí estimate that since 2011, eight people in Kerry have died due to heroin. These figures appeared in this newspaper, during coverage of the tragic death of Natasha Donovan, young mother to two children.

We can only hope that the widespread coverage of this tragedy and the bravely expressed grief of those family members she left behind, will in some way influence young people who may be considering that very dangerous choice to use recreational drugs.

Is hope enough? Are the efforts of our gardaí, locally, nationally and even internationally enough? Are our efforts to help addicts enough? Is our criminalising of addicts enough? Is our moral certainty enough?

Clearly not. Drugs remain available. People are dying. Facilities to treat addicts are inadequate. And we continue with the same policies that have been proven to not work. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different outcome. Our reaction to recreational drug use, our attitudes and laws regarding recreational drug use, result in continual and maddening failure.

When addressing the use of narcotics, one must decide which core principal will inform policy. Is one more concerned with preventing the use of drugs, or does one think saving lives is more important? Think hard on that one. Every decision made by our society and our State regarding narcotics, must necessarily stem from that choice; try to stop the drugs being used, or try to stop people dying.

No, we can’t do both. We do not have the resources for both our gardaí and health care practitioners to fight this war on two fronts. No nation on Earth does. Most countries have chosen to prioritise stopping drug use. Some even execute drug dealers. Others lock up their citizens for decades for possession of small amounts of the mildest of narcotics. Result? Worldwide there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of people displaced because of this war on drugs.

It is estimated that there are 20 000 heroin addicts in Ireland. To treat these people there are 38 detox beds. The money being generated by this addiction is so vast and steady, suppliers are quick to murder their rivals in the trade. Guns are plentiful and gangland shootings have become routine. In response we demand more gardaí. More money from the ever decreasing public pot to be wasted on a failed mission to stop drugs reaching Ireland in huge quantities, being divided among the bigger dealers, then divided again among the smaller dealers, before distribution to the addicts and new users. Everyone taking a huge cut of money, except the consumers.

Some countries are entirely sick of this cycle of failure, this expensive mess. They decided a new emphasis was needed. They decided that saving lives was more important than making criminals of those who either dabble in drug use or who are mired in drug addiction. Nations like Portugal decriminalised all drugs. Drug use has actually gone down. Deaths have gone down. Infectious diseases have been reduced. Crime has been reduced.

Again, ask yourself this question, is stopping people taking drugs – something no nation has ever achieved – more important or less important than saving lives? I know I’d vote for saving lives every time.

Kerry Column 32

Column: Seanad Referendum

My column in The Kerryman. 12 June, 2013

There’s a particular species of Irish person who’s very excited about a new referendum. These strange people are gleeful because of a vote on the Seanad. I know these people exist, because I’m one of them. I’m just not sure which type of weirdo I am.

Worse, this column won’t even be the last time I write about the Seanad. I know you’re normal people, so I have to try find some way of making good honest people, take an interest in something so dull, the majority of you won’t be voting. Most won’t even register the result. Your life will in no way change if the Seanad is retained or abolished. That’s just how unimportant this issue is.

As in any debate, there are two sides. On one side are the people who want rid of this pointless collection of overpaid windbags and political parasites. On the other side are people who want this collection of overpaid windbags and political parasites extensively reformed so that the Seanad functions as something more than as a repository for overpaid windbags and political parasites.

No one is arguing to leave well enough alone. So you know something is wrong. You know the Seanad is supposed to be doing something, but isn’t doing whatever that thing is. Again, that highlights another separation between normal people and nerds who care about the Seanad. We nerds know what the Seanad should do, sort of. But as only about 150,000 of us are allowed vote for the thing (I’m not one of those privileged few) hardly any of us spare its purpose or existence any thought.

Simply put, the Seanad, or the Upper House, should ensure that laws passed by the Dáil, are given the kind of care and attention, that only a collection of people, not slaves to opinion polls and party whips, can give. It’s a worthy ideal.

Our Upper House is based on the UK’s House of Lords, which was allowed to check the populist leanings of the Lower House, the House of Commons. Though the Lords is now only allowed to delay – not block – legislation, a power they lost because, among other things, they were not keen on Ireland being granted Home Rule. So we did help reform our neighbour’s Upper House. Why then can we not reform our own? No wait, our Upper House can hinder the passage of a law?

Well the Seanad could in theory delay the passing of a law, but it was set up in such a way, that the Government would always have a comfortable majority in the Seanad. And as politicians almost never vote against their party, the Seanad has not managed to evolve beyond being a house of overpaid windbags and political parasites.

Then there is the issue of size. The UK has a vast population compared to ours. It has two Houses of Parliament, or is bicameral, to be technical. Most countries of Ireland’s size are unicameral and they appear to do just fine.

So do we really need the Seanad? I just don’t know, but rest assured I shall return to this topic again. I just hope you keep reading as I try to decide which way I’ll vote.

Kerry Column 33

Column: Schadenfreude

My column in The Kerryman. 5 June, 2013

There are times in this country when our politicians are indescribably ridiculous; so buffoonish and petty and moronic, we risk despair if we look at them too closely. The recent nonsense concerning our politicians’ dodgy driving habits and our gossipy gardaí demonstrates how ill served we citizens can be, by those to whom we have lent power. If we look too closely at the scandal surrounding penalty points, there’s a good chance many if us would just give up on our democracy.

So instead of describing the depths to which our politicians have sunk. Instead of a close examination of how our politicians have made our institutions seem pathetic and grubby, I will write about some of my favourite phrases like ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘hoist by his own petard.’

Now don’t ask me how to pronounce schadenfreude. I guess at it every time I use it. A good hint though, is to remember it’s a word borrowed from the German language, like hamburger and frankfurter. So I like to give it a German twang.

Thankfully it’s much easier to define. Have you ever been in a pub and heard the loud crash of a trayful of glasses smashing to the ground? Well when we applaud, that’s schadenfreude. It’s taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.

Like when a certain politician from Roscommon, with more facial hair than me, accused the Gardaí of corruptly removing penalty points from certain drivers. Only to be discovered to have had the same service rendered him. The snort of contemptuous laughter we directed at Deputy Flanagan, is schadenfreude.

Another example is when a tax dodging politician accuses the Gardaí of being corrupt regarding penalty points, is then discovered to have been a beneficiary of some traffic Gardaí discretion. Our weary shrug of bemusement at Deputy Wallace, is schadenfreude.

What about ‘hoist by his own petard?’ A petard was an early explosive device, used to blow up gates and walls. The reliability of these bombs and the environment in which they were deployed, often resulted in the ‘petardeers’ being, dramatically, launched through the air by their own bombs. Causing Shakespeare to write the phrase, ‘hoist with his own petard.’ We tend to say ‘by his own petard’ these days.

A good example of this would be when a Minister for Justice uses confidential information to discomfort a political opponent and to cause some fun – ‘schadenfreude’. Of course confidential information then stopped being confidential and Minister Shatter was very quickly discovered to have questions to answer regarding his own behaviour as a driver.

In trying to embarrass Deputy Wallace, by telling us about the time Wallace was not given penalty points for using his phone while driving, Minister Shatter made it acceptable for someone else to tell us that Shatter himself once failed to provide a sample for a breathalyser test. We still don’t know why he wasn’t taken to a Garda Station so he could give a urine or blood sample. Hoist by his own petard.

Unfortunately the last laugh is on us. As contemptible as everyone involved in this pathetic display of hypocrisy is, the real concern is that we still don’t know when Gardaí should or shouldn’t use their power of discretion regarding penalty points. Worse, the Gardaí can take a life from us and they have given their lives for us, so seeing them involved in this dirty game of politicians, is far from a laughing matter.

Kerry Column 34

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