1984 Irish State Papers Published

It wasn’t a million years ago, was it?


garrett fitzgerald margaret thatcher

It was within the lifetime of almost everyone you know, apart from the very, very young.  In historical terms, it was yesterday, and yet the Ireland of 1984 was dominated by concerns that no modern democracy should have entertained.  It was a land where government ministers still consulted Catholic bishops about matters that were none of their business, such as divorce and contraception.  It was a land where the Virgin record store could be prosecuted for selling condoms, and where even an administration as liberal as that run by Garrett Fitzgerald could still choose to oppose the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

It was a land where social conservatives formed an unholy alliance with vile, self-styled pro-lifers to force a constitutional amendment on our spineless politicians, an amendment that has given us a horrifying catalogue of oppression of women.  The X case, that C case, the A case.  Savita Halappanavar.  A pregnant rape victim force-fed and cut open.

As someone remarked today on the radio, we’re running out of letters in the alphabet — only this week we had to face the most shocking consequence yet, as the High Court reflected on the rights and wrongs of forcing a decomposing corpse to gestate a child.

All roads lead to Haughey.  This was the despicable hypocrite who actively undermined the 1985 divorce proposal by sitting on the fence and muttering against it under his breath, for his usual mean, petty, small-minded political reasons.  This was the hypocrite who would shag anything with a pulse, or even anything that recently had a pulse, and yet who could come out with the ludicrous assertion that his proposed contraception legislation, in which condoms could only be bought with a doctor’s prescription,  was an Irish solution to an Irish problem.  It’s hard to imagine a more emotionally immature legislature than we had in 1984, or an administration more detached from reality that it thought such things were worth worrying about, particularly when the public finances were in collapse, with the IMF waiting outside the door to impose a bail-out on us, as  finance minister Alan Dukes pointed out in a memo to government.

This is the same Alan Dukes, incidentally, who two years later expressed in words what many were afraid to say publicly.  After a meeting between ministers and bishops about civil divorce, it emerged that one bishop suggested the State should simply recognise church annulments, thereby giving the unelected clergy complete control of a State institution.

… if I had been free to act in the way I felt when that particular bishop made the proposal….I would have been dug out of the bastard …, said Dukes in a radio interview, thus breaking a taboo and ending forever the undue deference shown to prelates by Irish government ministers.

Five years later, serial child abuser Brendan Smyth was arrested by the RUC and the game was up for the bishops, who lost all moral authority from that point on, even though they have continued to interfere with the civil law to this day.

While we’re speaking about immaturity, let’s take a moment to reflect on 15-year-old Ann Lovett, who bled to death giving birth in a Marian grotto.  Let’s reflect in particular on the failure of human feeling displayed by the Archdiocese of Armagh, whose diocesan secretary, writing on behalf of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, suggested that the girl’s death may have been due to her immaturity.  Let’s also remember, in this saintly little isle, that we have had many more Ann Lovetts, thanks to the extremist-driven laws that we have yet to rid ourselves of.

But 1984 was’t just a year among many dominated by religious idiocy.  It was also a  year of paddywhackery with the arrival of Ronald Reagan, seeking his Irish roots in Ballyporeen and posing for the inevitable, embarrassing photo holding a pint of Guinness.  Reagan at that time was presiding over a policy in Central America that supported oppressive right-wing governments in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, which caused widespread protests in Ireland against his visit.  A group of Irish women who set up what they called a peace camp in the Phoenix Park  near the US Ambassador’s residence were illegally arrested and imprisoned by the Gardai, later leading to an awkward legal confrontation in which the State was forced to back down and pay compensation.

Thousands of people protested in the streets outside the banquets held in honour of the presidential visit.

It was the year when the government decided to set up a rail line in Dublin with a catchment area on one side only, since the other side was the sea.  Among the DART’s many shortcomings was the fact that it didn’t serve the majority of Dublin’s citizens, but on the other hand it was a splendid addition to the affluent neighbourhoods where politicians, media and the legal profession lived and property values increased in a very satisfying way as a result.  For some reason, there isn’t much mention of these discussions in the newly-released government papers.

1984 was also the year when the State considered paying money for control of the biggest fraud ever created in Ireland: the Sweepstakes.  Garret the Good, it seems, was so naive that he didn’t realise what an utter con-man Joe McGrath had been or what a rotten piece of crookery he had set up, despite the fact that previous ministers, such as Des O’Malley, understood perfectly that they were dealing with a huge con-job.  Thankfully, in the end the State didn’t become the owner of what was left from the crumbling ruins of Joe McGrath’s gigantic scam but it was a close call and it doesn’t say much for Garret’s ability to tell a scam from a genuine business.  Perhaps this explains why he was so shocked that same year when Margaret Thatcher produced the  famous Out Out Out soundbite, dismissing everything Garret thought he had agreed with her.





Savita Halappanavar Inquest

What sort of country do we live in?  What sort of deities do our doctors worship?

savita halappanavar

Less than a week after the Irish Medical Organisation voted down a proposal to permit abortion in cases where a woman is carrying a child with a fatal abnormality, we learn that Savita Halappanavar was allowed to die in misery and yet we have no idea why such an appalling ordeal was inflicted on this poor woman.

The child had no hope of living, and yet, for reasons as yet undisclosed, Savita was forced to endure two tortures.

The first torture was her knowledge that the baby had no hope of survival.  Savita, as a highly-qualified health professional — perhaps better qualified than many of those attending her — knew this fact full well.  Any mother in such circumstances knows the depths of despair, and Savita experienced a disaster worse than anyone involved in this shocking case, apart from her kind and decent husband, Praveen Halappanavar, a good and dignified man who tells only the truth.

The second torture was physical.  Savita was allowed to die slowly, in great pain, for fear the already-doomed child might somehow, miraculously, survive.

Isn’t it a wonderful thing to live in the most principled country the world has ever known?  Isn’t it a great comfort to know that we have the most principled (and the best-paid) doctors in the whole world?

What is it about Ireland that makes our doctors so much better than the rest of the world, so much wiser, so much more principled that our local best practice trumps the best practice of every other country in the entire world?

Aren’t our doctors great?  Aren’t we lucky to have the best doctors in the world and shouldn’t we be grateful to be paying them more than any other doctors anywhere in the entire world?

What on earth am I doing questioning their wisdom?



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Ireland. No Country For Young Women.

Who remembers the dismissive words of Robert Kilroy-Silk ten years ago when he described Ireland as a country peopled by peasants, priests and pixies?

I recall it vividly, like a sharp slap in the face.  I thought he was the most despicable individual I had ever come across, and in many ways, I still do, but even a reptile like Kilroy can sometimes hit the mark, as our national behaviour continues to reveal.

As I write, and even while the country is still convulsed by the shock of Savita Halappanavar’s death in a Galway hospital, the heartless stormtroopers of ideology are on the march to shout down our misgivings.  The representatives of far-right Catholic groupings  are given equal air space with elected representatives because, simply, they demand it.

Right now, as I type this, a young woman on the radio describes how a hospital refused to induce delivery even though they knew that her child was anencephalic.  The young mother was instructed that, because there was a foetal heartbeat, they could not and would not deliver the baby, even though it had no hope of life.   It doesn’t matter to our authorities that a baby with such a neural tube defect has virtually no brain, or that the heartbeat is there simply because the mother is acting as a life-support machine.  If you happen to be an expectant mother who receives such tragic news, you will receive no sympathy in an Irish hospital.  You will be told to carry on with the pregnancy for three, four or five months, knowing that at the end you will deliver a dead infant.

You are a machine, not a person.

That’s the Ireland that claims to espouse Christian, loving values.  That’s the behaviour demanded by machines of a different kind — pro-Life hobbyists on behalf of Youth Defence and the sinister Life Institute, both of which are largely the product of one single family of extreme-Right ideologues.

Let’s be afraid of these people.  They represent a very dangerous strain of Irish society.

Thanks to these people who display no human empathy, mothers are forced to carry dead babies to full term.  Mothers are forced to wait three or more days to miscarry and ultimately to die of infection as Savita Halappanavar did.

We need to start asking ourselves why we built a society based on the flawed, enraged, judgemental, dysfunctional attitudes spawned by a religious movement with its roots in a very dark Ireland.  The attitudes that drive Youth Defence and the Life Institute are identical to the unfeeling, callous outlook that consigned so many young girls as slaves in the Magdalene laundries.  These are the very same people who ranted about wife-swapping sodomites when Ireland passed a constitutional amendment permitting divorce.

If we really believe that we have a republic, the first thing we need to do is walk away from these people and what they represent.  There are many who hold sincere and deeply-felt views opposed to abortion, but neither Youth Defence nor the Life Institute are in that category.  These people are about control, not compassion.

Of course, even if we had the maturity to dismiss the lies, the propaganda and the intimidation, we would still be left with the spineless politicians who live in fear of our pernicious electoral system: the multi-seat constituency.  This is a system that encourages clientelism, corruption and cowardice, because it sets party colleagues at each other’s throats.  If your political enemy doesn’t beat you, your ally will knife you in the back.  And that’s why our politicians are so terrified to stand up on their hind legs when it comes to legislating for abortion as they were instructed to do twenty years ago by the Supreme Court.  If the average FG or FF politician sticks his head above the parapet, it will be chopped off by his party colleague, in the interest of political advantage.

That’s why the politicians would rather see a young mother die in agony, or be forced to carry a dead child for months, or else to skulk off to England like a criminal.

It’s better to maintain the delusion that this is somehow an advanced, forward-thinking European democracy, instead of the primitive, tribal, superstitious, third-world prison island it really is.  It’s easier to live in a fantasy than do anything about changing the reality.

This is no country for young women.

For that matter, this is no country for young men, or old men or old women or anyone else with the slightest sense of decency or intelligence.  This country is broken, and we’d be better off leaving it for the lunatics to finish out their miserable existence in solitude.

I’m finished with trying to defend this failed political experiment.




No country for young women

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Ireland, The World’s Most Principled Country, Allows Savita Halappanavar to Die In Agony

It was 32 years ago that Sheila Hodgers went through agony and eventually died at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda because those in charge refused her painkilling medication.


Because Sheila was pregnant and it was decided that the drugs might harm her baby.  Likewise, Sheila was refused an X-ray, even though the hospital was aware she might have a tumour in her back.  That decision was also made on the grounds that it might damage the child.

Sheila’s life was judged to be less important than the delivery of a baby that could never survive.  Eventually, two days after the child was stillborn, Sheila Hodgers also died at the age of 26, having been denied the most basic dignity of pain-relief.

That was 1980.

Since then, we’ve congratulated ourselves on the progress we made, but how wrong we were.  Just as the collapse of the property bubble exposed our materialistic hubris for the delusion it was, the death of Savita Halappanavar has exposed our delusions that Ireland is a mature nation and no longer a superstition-ridden backwater.

In coming days, I predict that assorted hypocrites will trot out the following worn-out mantra:

Hard cases make bad law.

This is a thoroughly discredited cliché that needs to be challenged wherever it crops up.  Denning, despite his lamentable lapses in dotage, remains the pre-eminent jurist in common law.  He dismissed this sad old adage briskly, as befits the sharp mathematician he was:

It should be deleted from our vocabulary. It comes to this: “Unjust decisions make good law”: whereas they do nothing of the kind. Every unjust decision is a reproach to the law or to the judge who administers it.

It’s nonsense.  Reject it wherever you hear it.  Hard cases do not make bad law.  They demand good law.  A humane society needs to legislate for people such as Savita Halappanavar.  If we are unable to do something that simple, we have no legitimate claim to civilisation.

I have never felt so ashamed of our country. I have never felt so disgusted by our cowardly politicians.  And I have never felt such contempt for the mindless religious ideologues who have shouted us down for so long.




This letter to the Irish Times throws a useful light on the current Irish situation.

Sir, – I feel very sad for Savita and Praveen Halappanavar. I also feel sad for all those doctors who, day in, day out, have to deal with critical illness in pregnant women.

Theirs is a heavy burden, made all the heavier by the knowledge they are held in a legislative limbo that threatens their personal liberty and their livelihood.

The only legislation covering this difficult area is the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which provides for a minimum sentence of two years hard labour, up to penal servitude for life, for anyone who intervenes with intent to cause a miscarriage.

Medical Council guidelines use the words “rare” and “exceptional” to describe circumstances where it may be necessary to terminate a pregnancy. The Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that abortion was lawful where there was a real and substantial threat to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother. The Constitution acknowledges to right to life of the unborn “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”. It is that grey area which poses both a challenge to doctors and a threat to them and their patients.

In the absence of modern legislation, clarifying the circumstances in which termination of pregnancy is lawful, as opposed to potentially criminal, there remains a real risk to the liberty, or livelihood, of a doctor who terminates a pregnancy for any reason in this State. The risk is that another person, whether a colleague, or a member of the public who comes to know of the matter, may report it to An Garda Síochána, or to the Medical Council. The inevitable outcome is a rearguard, defensive position for the doctor.

It is such uncertainty that is likely to lead to hesitation in taking an irrevocable step in the care of a pregnant woman, such as may create dangerous delays and potentially lead to tragic consequences. The Government has already been found in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, by failing to ensure that a woman can secure a legally authoritative determination of what her rights are in her individual situation. It is 20 years since the X case and two years since the European Court of Human Rights judgment, although the relevant application was made five years before that.

The only way in which this situation can be improved, for the benefit of mothers and their other children, and to protect their doctors, allowing those doctors to exercise their clinical knowledge without fear, is for the legislature to accept the responsibility they have sought in elections. The people of Ireland have spoken several times, to indicate that they do not believe abortion is evil in every circumstance. How many women must die due to fear and ignorance, before our legislators will be brave and accountable? – Yours, etc,

Clinical Professor,
Emergency Medicine,
Trinity College Dublin,
Clinical Director/ Consultant
Dept of Emergency Medicine St James’s Hospital,
Dublin 8.


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