The death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital on October 28th has re-ignited the smoldering abortion debate in Ireland. The 31-year-old woman died after her medically induced miscarriage went wrong and, despite repeatedly asking that the miscarriage be induced further to hasten its completion, it seems that this request may have been denied. The death of Mrs. Halappanavar, who was a native of India, was reported in the ‘India Times’ newspaper under the headline: ‘Ireland Murders Pregnant Indian Dentist’. An investigation into the exact circumstance of her death is under way but regardless of its outcome the divisive issue of abortion is very much back on the Irish agenda.
Abortion is as socially divisive in Ireland as it is in most countries. Abortion ‘on demand’ is illegal in Ireland, resulting in hundreds of women travelling to Britain every year for the procedure. The infamous ‘X’ case highlighted the inadequacies of Irish law two decades ago, dealing as it did with the issue of a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped. The Irish Supreme Court has already decided that a termination of a pregnancy is allowable once there is a specific risk to the life of the mother. Despite this successive Irish governments have failed to introduce legislation to clearly define when such abortions are permitted. Medical staff in hospitals are thus operating in a grey legal area with every case having its own unique set of circumstances.
It is clear that the Irish government must finally act and introduce legislation immediately so that all parties to the debate know exactly where they stand. It is appalling though that it has taken the death of this woman to put the issue back on the agenda.
The Irish government looks set to follow the lead of several other countries and introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks such as lemonade and cola. It is expected that the tax will be a 10% hike in excise duty which would add about 20 cents to the cost of a 250 cents bottle of soda. The government is torn between wanting to reduce the intake of fattening foods and drinks in the general population while also not wanting to damage employment and add to household bills.
Efforts in Ireland to decrease the consumption of certain products by taxing them have had only limited success. Over the decades there have successive small increases in the price of cigarettes and alcohol. The tax hikes on cigarettes have very much outpaced those on alcohol and certainly do have an effect on consumption, especially when combined with the ban on smoking in the workplace and the current societal disapproval of tobacco. The overall momentum against smoking allowed successive governments to tax cigarettes heavily.
The same cannot be said about alcohol consumption. The policy of continually raising the tax on alcohol in small amounts has not had any great effect on consumption. Critics of the policy advocate for a single very large increase in tax on alcohol, perhaps even to increase the price by 50% or 100%, in order to have any kind of real shock impact. The revenue raised from this tax could be used for health education programs and even to fund hospital emergency departments that are inundated with alcohol-related patients every weekend.
The need for action in the food and drinks sector is now obvious. 60% of the Irish adult Irish population and nearly 25% of all 7-year-olds are classified as being either overweight or obese. By any measure this is a shocking statistic and is a recipe for a diabetes epidemic in the years to come, along with a whole other raft of health problems.
The introduction of a sugar tax on certain flattening products is likely a good idea, but unless it is of a sufficient amount then it seems certain that its impact will be minimal.
As much as one billion barrels of oil have been discovered off the Kerry coastline in Ireland. Petrel Resources has seen its value quadruple after the announcement. To put the find into context, current world consumption of oil is approximately 80 million barrels daily with Ireland consuming about .165 million barrels daily.
Despite the oil being 200km away from the mainland and under 1km of rock newer drilling techniques have made previously unaccessible oil-fields more viable. The US is expected to become the worlds largest oil producer thanks to its implementation of these new methods.
Exploration licences were sold in recent years to mostly Irish companies as there was little interest from international companies. That looks set to change! The company is now focusing on finding a partner to drill for and transport the oil but in an era of high oil prices it is very optimistic.
The tradition of wearing an artificial red poppy to commemorate soldiers who have died in wartime has existed since 1920 and was inspired by the famous poem ‘In Flanders Field’. The poppy has become an increasingly political symbol in recent years and is especially prominent in the UK where just about every media outlet, political party and sporting occasion promotes its use. So widespread has the use of the poppy become that to not wear one is subtly viewed as somehow being unpatriotic or unwilling to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers. Channel 4 television presenter Jon Snow famously labelled the compulsion to wear the poppy as ‘poppy fascism’.
The political correctness surrounding the tradition is so advanced and has accelerated so much in recent years that politicians especially seem to compete with each other to be seen to wear the poppy first. Consequently an event that was intended to raise funds for charity has become an annual photo opportunity in the lead up to November 11th, Armistice day.
The tradition has always caused problems in Ireland and Ulster where the British military are reviled by the Catholic population for their part in ‘The Troubles’ and especially for ‘Bloody Sunday’. In Ulster the poppy is seen as a distinct symbol of Britishness and is used almost exclusively by the Unionist community there.
The quandary for the Irish is that so many of their relatives served in the British army and served in the first world war with distinction. Given that the initial purpose of the wearing of the poppy was to recognise the sacrifice of those who died in the first world war it can be difficult to refuse what has become an increasing pressure to conform.
Not everyone does conform though. Irish soccer player James McClean of Sunderland refused to wear a poppy in a November 2012 Premiership match against Everton. The high-profile event was televised worldwide and regardless of a persons view on the matter it has to be admitted that it took a lot of courage for the 23-year-old McClean not to be bullied into submission. Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny also did not wear a poppy when attending a Remembrance Sunday service in Enniskillen on the same weekend.
What is clear now is that what was intended as an exercise in charity has been taken over by the political and media establishment to the extent that it deeply corrupted. While everyone should be able to celebrate their heritage and history the freedoms that the men and women of the first world war fought for are not at all well served by this turn of events.