Divisions In Irish Government Over Abortion Laws

The Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government are committed to implementing legislation on foot of the X-Case. This 1992 Irish Supreme Court case confirmed that a woman was entitled to an abortion in Ireland if her health was threatened. This included the risk to her health of suicide and it is this provision that is causing so much trouble for the Government.



Fine Gael are perhaps the most conservative of the larger political parties in Ireland with many of their T.D.’s (members of the Irish Parliament) being from rural districts. Some of their Dublin T.D’s are now also very concerned about the new legislation and it is clear that they will vote against the proposals.

The proposed legislation does not actually change the law of the country relating to abortion. Rather, it clarifies and formalizes the procedures that should be implemented when the medical profession encounter such difficult scenarios.

The impetus for the legislation was brought about by the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar who was denied an abortion and died from complications relating to a miscarriage she had while in the care of the Irish health-care system. It is clear that her life could have been saved had the medical profession had clearer instructions on how to act. Currently Doctors are having to interpret the legal position on an individual case-by-case basis and at their own risk.



It is proposed that the abortion legislation will provide a procedure whereby a suicidal woman can be legally given an abortion. This circumstance may occur for example where a woman or teenager is raped and becomes pregnant. The rebel Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this provision may be abused and lead to a situation of ‘abortion on demand’.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has so far ruled out a ‘free vote’ on the issue, whereby Party members would not be obliged to vote for the legislation with the possibility of being expelled from the Party if they did not. Fianna Fail may allow their own members to have a free vote which would certainly cause problems for Fine Gael if they did not follow suit. The Labour Party, Sinn Fein and most Independents will vote in favour of the measures so it seems that the new legislation is very likely to be passed and become law.

The difficulty for Fine Gael is just how much damage it will inflict on itself over this, perhaps the most divisive of all social issues.

by Michael Green
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Gay Marriage Referendum Recommended For Ireland

The ‘Convention on the Constitution’ Committee that is meeting to recommend changes to the Irish Constitution has voted in favour of legalizing Gay Marriage in Ireland.



The Committee is comprised of 66 members of the Irish public, who were chosen by random, with 33 politicians from the various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The Committee voted by a margin of 79 to 19 in favour of recommending the Constitution be changed to allow Gay Marriage. The Government is now obliged to have a Parliamentary debate on the subject within four months and to then set out a timescale for a Referendum.

The timing of this decision will certainly cause problems for Fine Gael. The main Party in Government is regarded as being more conservative than their rivals Fianna Fail and certainly more conservative than the left-wing Labour Party who are in Government coalition with Fine Gael. They are now faced with being perceived as the Party that quickly brought both the abortion issue and the Gay Marriage issue to the Irish public, many of whom would prefer to just leave these issues alone.

The decision to legislate for the X-Case on foot of the tragic death of Savita Halapanavar has put the abortion issue front and centre. Not all Fine Gael T.D’s (members of parliament) are at all happy with the proposed abortion legislation with many set to oppose the provision allowing for abortion in Ireland where there is a risk of suicide by the person seeking the abortion. Many Fine Gael T.D’s are concerned that this will amount to ‘abortion on demand’ and are not assuaged by the assurances that any such provision would be strictly policed.

By also putting the question of Gay Marriage to the Irish people there is a fear within Fine Gael that the Party may be seen to be acting too radically or liberally, and too quickly. Of course asking the question about Gay Marriage of the Irish citizenry does not automatically mean the Referendum will be passed. The Irish public has in the past demonstrated itself to be liberal in the opinion polls and conservative at the ballot box.

An example of his occurred in the 1995 Referendum to allow Divorce in Ireland. The measure was enacted by a margin of 50.28% to 49.73%, and this despite the fact that it looked as if the measure would easily pass in the opinion polls prior to the actual vote. A previous Referendum on the same subject in 1986 was rejected by the Irish people by 63% to 37%, thus preventing the introduction of divorce in the country and again when opinion polls indicated that the Referendum would be easily passed. (note 1)

Consequently those who are in favour of Gay Marriage in Ireland will certainly not be taking the result of any future Referendum for granted.

The Local and European elections that are due to be held in 2014 also complicate the matter for Fine Gael. They will certainly not want these mid-term elections to become a de-facto vote on their decision to hold a Referendum on Gay Marriage. They have enough to be concerned about with Fianna Fail surging in the opinion polls and their austerity policies attracting ever-increasing criticism.



The battle-lines are being drawn up already with the Labour Party delighted to have a policy that they can promote as one of their own. Party Leader Eamon Gilmore:

I believe myself that same-sex couples have the right to marry, I’m glad the Constitutional Convention has recommended that

It is possible that Fine Gael may delay any actual Referendum until the next term of Government, making it a General Election issue or they could reject the recommendation altogether which, for a somewhat conservative Party would be quite a radical move.

note 1: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1277&context=djcil

by Michael Green
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UNICEF Ranks Ireland Tenth Best For Kids

A report by UNICEF has provided mixed news for Irish parents with its findings ranging from very good to seriously bad. The report listed an average rank in the four elements of child well-being: material well-being, health, education, and behaviours and risks.


The report examined data from 2001 to 2010 for 29 developed OECD countries and ranked The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden at the top of the list with the UK in 16th place and the US in 21st place. The listing of Ireland in 10th place is relatively good but does however mask some shortcomings in the Irish treatment of its younger citizens.

Ireland ranked tenth overall with the report finding:

  • The Irish Child poverty rate of 8.5% is below the OECD average
  • Alcohol use among 11 to 15 year old children sees Ireland in 14th place with the US in 1st place (least number of children who reported being drunk at least twice) and the UK in 23rd place. Cannabis use by the same age group saw Ireland in 13th place, the UK in 21st place and the US in 25th place.
  • There has been a large decline in child and teenage smoking with Ireland ranked in 6th place, the US in 4th place and the UK in 7th place.
  • Ireland ranks 20th in number of births to teenage girls (15 to 19 years) with the UK in 27th place and the US in 29th place (most births)
  • The number of children overweight is increasing and Ireland is behind the UK, Germany and France in this regard. 15% are rated as overweight using the BMI scale. In the UK the rate is 12% while in the US it is 28%
  • Ireland has the highest rate of child exercise with the US in 2nd place and the UK tenth place.
  • In the 15 to 19 year old bracket Ireland is at the bottom of the list with regard to unemployment (includes not being in school or training)
  • Participation in third level education (15 to 19 years old) sees Ireland in third place (92% participation) with the US in 25th place (82%), and the UK in 29th (73%).
  • In terms of health and safety Ireland ranked 15th of the 29 countries.
  • In education terms Ireland ranked 17th
  • In housing and environment Ireland ranked 2nd
  • Homicide rates in the 29 countries sees the US in 27th place with just under 5 deaths per 100,000 citizens. Ireland is in 24th place (just over 2 deaths per 100,000 citizens) and the UK in 14th place.

The full report can be accessed here:
http://www.unicef-irc.org/Report-Card-11/

by Michael Green
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Rebellion in Labour Party Might Suit Fine Gael

The Irish Government Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party looks very unlikely to run its full term despite the insistence of the two Party leaders.



Rarely has a Political Party leader looked in so much peril of removal as does Eamon Gilmore at this moment. To the despair of his Labour Party colleagues it is their Party who are taking the lions’s share of the blame for the never-ending austerity measures that the current Government is imposing.

Never mind the fact that the policies now being implemented were first started by the previous Fianna Fail administration. Never mind the fact that Fine Gael is the largest Party in Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) and should shoulder most of the blame. The electorate has focused most of its ire on the Labour Party who seem to have abandoned just about every one of the core values for which it once stood.

It must seem amazing to Fianna Fail supporters and Fine Gael supporters alike that the Labour Party, that which is supposed to represent the interests of the working classes and unemployed, the poorest and the down-trodden, could be part of a Government that has introduced such savage and wide-ranging cuts in public services and incredible increases in taxation.

That the Labour Party supports the introduction of a Property Tax will probably be the final nail in its coffin. Of course both Fine Gael and Labour claim that they have no choice with the Property Tax and that they must introduce the tax as part of the EU/IMF/ECB loans to keep the country going. If that does not work then they will point to Fianna Fail and blame them for all of the austerity being foisted on the hapless Irish public.

This tactic worked for a while but has now worn very thin. Fianna Fail has bounced back in the polls while the Labour Party has plunged downwards. The Party has now lost 5 T.D.’s (members of the Irish parliament), all of whom have left in disgust at the direction the Party is heading. MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Nessa Childers is the latest member to resign from Labour’s Parliamentary Party. The Labour Party candidate in the recent Meath by-election did not get even enough votes to secure the return of his election deposit! There is a public perception that the Labour Party leadership has sold out and the Party seems set to implode with rebellious factions fighting each other.

But does this suit Fine Gael?



The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has repeated his assertion that there will be no renegotiation of the ‘Programme for Government’ and that there will be no substantial reshuffle of his Cabinet. He is basically giving Labour no wriggle room whatsoever at precisely the moment when they are taking the flak for the severe policies the Fine Gael Government are implementing. That is pretty useful political cover!

If Labour left Government, as they must surely do in advance of any General Election, then Fine Gael would still have enough support to carry on, and, even if it did not, it could cut the smaller Party loose while attacking the policies of Fianna Fail and then the policies of their previous coalition partners.

A Fine Gael unencumbered and untainted by a link to a faltering Labour Party would certainly look more attractive to the Irish electorate than the current coalition Government does. Fine Gael will find a way to ditch Labour unless, as seems likely, Labour does it to itself.

The Labour Party is heading towards utter decimation.

by Michael Green
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Irish Football Team Suffer World Cup Setback

The prospect of the Irish football team lining out in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup hangs in the balance. A fine battling performance in Sweden to gain an unexpected 0-0 draw and a vital qualifying point was followed up by a 2-2 draw with Austria in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.



It could have been so different. The young Irish team were a goal down within 11 minutes after a defensive mistake let in the Austrians who had dominated the early part of the game. Martin Harnik poked home the opening goal past the despairing dive of Irish keeper David Forde. The Irish team dug in and with the excellent Shane Long leading the attack got a lifeline with a penalty after an Austrian defender rashly chopped down Shane Long on the edge of the penalty box. A definite penalty that was expertly converted by Jonathan Walters. Long was unlucky not to score shortly after when his beautiful back-heel came back of the post. The Irish were in the ascendancy with the stadium erupting when Walters scored his second goal of the night, a header from a corner kick and right on the stroke of half-time.

The Austrians regrouped and started to dominate the game again in the second half. Ireland still threatened and might have had a third goal when the Austrian goalkeeper Heinza Lindner expertly prevented an own-goal from an Irish corner. Increasingly the Austrians gained the upper hand and it was with a sense of inevitability that they snatched a deserved equalizer deep into added time. Just seconds remained on the clock but the three points had been converted into just one with new questions abounding about the tactics employed by the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni.



No-one doubts the ‘gameness’ of these Irish lads and they are not without genuine footballing quality but against Austria they were let down by their Manager’s unwillingness to believe that they could do more than just cling on and defend their goal advantage. With the Austrians dominating it became clear that the Irish team needed midfield reinforcements while the substitution of Shane Long was baffling to say the least.

It is not over yet and if the Irish can produce an away performance against Austria and turn over the Swedes in Dublin then they may yet claim second place in the group and a play-off place.

At the moment this looks like a very tall order.

Group C – Current Standing
Germany - Played: 6 – Points: 16
Austria - Played: 5 – Points: 8
Sweden - Played: 4 – Points: 8
Ireland - Played: 5 – Points: 8

Lose Your Cable TV If You Want a Mortgage Write-Down

The issue of mortgage write-downs or ‘debt forgiveness’ has been a very thorny one in Ireland ever since the Irish banks effectively collapsed and were taken into state ownership. Thousands of home-owners lost their jobs at about the same time as the value of their property plunged. They found themselves in negative equity, preventing them from selling their now-devalued property and trapping them in apartment blocks and rural housing estates in a vicious circle that is hard to escape.

The realization that a certain level of mortgage write-downs would have to be granted was greeted with a mixture of despair by those who actually managed somehow to pay their mortgage and with an opportunistic ‘nod and a wink’ by those who are trying to ‘game the system’. There is anecdotal evidence that a certain number of home-owners are deliberately not paying their mortgage in anticipation of a deal being struck in the future. This is preventing write-downs being offered to the most deserving of cases, stalling the property market, trapping people in homes they cannot afford.

It is estimated that as many as 100,000 Irish mortgages are now in arrears of at least three months. It is inevitable that deals will have to be done with some if not many of these cases. The banks are unsurprisingly being very cagey. Where home-owners in arrears present themselves to the bank they are being offered longer terms, mortgage holidays, interest-only payments, split mortgages, etc., in an effort to give them some breathing space. For some, even these measures will not be enough.

The new Personal Insolvency Service has laid out a number of concessions that they expect from those desperate for a deal including:

* getting rid of a second car and even trading down to a lesser model of car
* an end to taking foreign holidays
* removal of certain Cable TV services including sports and movies packages
* removal of children from private schools
* ending of private health insurance
* any other obvious ‘unnecessary’ expense

The Personal Insolvency Service is part of the Government’s overhaul of the outdated bankruptcy laws in Ireland. Irish banks are expected to use the new rules and restrictions laid out by the Service in dealing with people seeking mortgage write-downs.

It is likely that these new measures may be tested in the Courts. The spectre of desperate families choosing between private education for their children and private health insurance over keeping their family in their home is likely to be loom large in the national consciousness and soon.

It is a battle that will likely get ever more bitter as the stark reality of a bank-imposed ‘austerity lifestyle’ hits home.

by Michael Green
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Blow to Economy as Tourists from Britain Desert Ireland

The number of visitors from Britain has fallen by as many as a Million visits since 2007 when 3.7 Million trips from Britain to Ireland were recorded.

Six short years ago Ireland was a very different place. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ still stalked the land although his days were numbered. A property market collapse and financial ruin were just around the corner. Britain suffered its own recession too but was spared the carnage caused by the banks that Ireland suffered. Against this backdrop it is perhaps no surprise that visitors from our closest neighbour have decided to opt for sunnier climes.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) are doing everything they can to reverse the trend but are not helped by the high costs they face in running their businesses. Commercial Rates are effectively an extra big tax on their income. Many Hotels are also suffering negative equity in respect of the development of their Hotel property after the market collapsed in 2008. Consequently Hotel rates in 2012 were at their highest level since 2008 according to a Hotels.com survey.

Killarney at 101 euro per night was listed as the most expensive destination for Hotel rooms where the country averaged 90 euro per night. Irish Hoteliers are not at all happy with the survey though, claiming that the cost of rooms has been greatly reduced in recent years despite persistently high costs and that Ireland compares favourably to most other popular European destinations.

Tourism is vitally important to the Irish economy accounting for 5.3 Billion Euro in revenue and employing 11% of the entire workforce of the country.

by Michael Green
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Government ‘Divide & Conqueror’ Strategy to Test the Resolve of Public Sector Unions

A successor to the ‘Croke Park Agreement’ has been finalized that will see cuts of 1 Billion Euro from the Government pay bill. The deal includes pay cuts for all staff, and up to 10% for top-earners, additional hours of work at no extra pay, and reductions in allowances and premium payments.

As many as nine Unions have already indicated that they will not support the new deal and are recommending that their membership reject it. The consequences of being outside of the new arrangements are likely to make for a very difficult situation for the Unions. It is very likely that the Government will unilaterally reduce the pay of those staff who do sign up to the deal, a step that will almost certainly cause strikes.

The Government seems to be playing hardball this time around. The new proposals actually provide for some compensation to public servants in two years time in certain situations, but only to those Unions that sign up to the deal. Those staff who opt out will not receive the agreed compensation. Divide and conqueror seems to be the tactic.

Similarly the deal provides for zero compulsory redundancies for those Unions that sign up – a huge concession given the current unemployment rate of over 14%. Those left outside the umbrella of the agreement however will have no such comfort and may see compulsory redundancies implemented, on top of compulsory pay cuts.

The divisions in the Unions are becoming apparent. The huge Impact Union that represents over 63,000 public servants has recommended that the deal be accepted. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation however is to recommend rejection of the deal to its 40,000 members. Similarly Teachers Unions have rejected the deal. Already a group representing Gardai, Nurses, Paramedics and Fire-Fighters, some 70,00 public servants, has been formed to co-ordinate its opposition to the deal.

The problem with the deal from a Union perspective is that it requires every public servant to take a pay cut. While this may seem reasonable in the case of a person earning over 65,000 euro per year it is a lot harder on lower paid civil and public servants, nurses and front-line staff, many of whom earn less than 30,000 euro annually.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is determined that the cuts to pay and conditions have to me made:

“Implementing these savings by agreement with public service staff would be another big step on the road to economic recovery, and would send out a signal to the world that the Irish people are determined to fix our economic problems and restore the country to prosperity and full employment.”

It is ‘Game On’ with division, public protest and strikes inevitable.

by Michael Green
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Irish Government Finally Issues Apology to Magdalene Survivors

The Irish Government response to the release of the Report into the extent of Irish State involvement in the now infamous ‘Magdalene Laundries was very poor indeed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny botched the response and unwittingly inflicted more stress and hardship on the victims. The easy and honorable thing to do would have been to immediately apologise to the victims of what were essentially State-Sponsored Labour camps.

Instead of apologising Enda Kenny decided that his Government needed more time to examine and consider the findings of the Report. Now, in respect of putting together a proper financial compensation package for the estimated 1000 still surviving women who were interred in these prisons, a considered approach is certainly appropriate. But quite why an immediate apology did not follow is a source of bafflement to just about everyone outside of the Taoiseach’s close circle of handlers and advisors and prompted severe media criticism.

The backlash had an effect. Enda Kenny finally stood up in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and apologized to the women, some of whom were in attendance:

“Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done to them, and any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry”

The Government has also established a fund to provide compensation for the victims of the 10 Magdalene Laundries. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticized the four religious orders who ran the Laundries and called on them to help provide compensation for the women.

The apology does not mark the end of the investigation into the running of the Laundries but it is a starting point and hopefully will provide some measure of, if not closure then at least acknowledgment, for the women who suffered so badly in these most terrible of places.

by Michael Green
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Debt Deal for Ireland: A Step in the Right Direction?

The Irish debt deal did not reduce the amount owed by the country. Ireland still owes in the region of 125BN Euro – a staggering figure that will take decades to pay off. The new debt deal merely allows part of the debt to be paid off over a longer term.

This is not necessarily a bad thing if you are able to ignore the immorality of it. By pushing the debt repayments down the road to the year 2053 the current Government has essentially lumbered today’s toddlers with the task of paying their parents debts. On the other hand, the breathing space that will be created by not having to pay as much as 2BN Euro annually over the next 10 years has given the current generation the opportunity to create jobs and growth to repair the damage sooner.

Under the deal the Central Bank of Ireland swapped high-yielding ‘Promissory Notes’ for longer-term Government Bonds. The original deal was to cost over 3BN Euro annually for the next 10 years. The new deal sees a reduction in the interest rate from 8% to 3% and stretches the loan out to 40 years. This reduces the borrowing requirement of the Government in the short term which it is hoped will free up funds for job creation.

The response in Ireland to the news of the deal has been broadly welcoming although those opposed to the whole concept of the Government bailing out the banks to begin with used the opportunity to demand that a write-down of Irish banking debt be sought immediately.

The Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition Government made the point that the European Central Bank has never agreed to debt write-down before so it would have been pointless to even negotiate on that basis. The more militant of those opposing the Government want to see an immediate default on the debt to force the issue with the ECB, EU and IMF.

This may yet happen.

The level of debt being carried by Irish citizens and small businesses is reaching catastrophic proportions. Although the economy of the country has stabilised it is still quite dreadful. Unemployment in Ireland is stuck at over 14%, Irish emigration is at pre-Famine levels and job creation is barely perceptible. The gamble by Fine Gael that they can soldier on in the hope that the economy recovers may backfire under an avalanche of personal debt and mortgage defaults. In such a scenario a massive default on the loans granted to us by our European ‘partners’ will become a question of ‘when’ and ‘how much’ rather than ‘if’.

Against this backdrop the much vaunted ‘Promissory Note’ deal may become just another footnote in this bizarre period of Irish history.

by Michael Green
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