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Abortion in Ireland. Warning….LONG

Looks like there’s a debate on abortion in Ireland again, and it looks as if it’ll be as messy and unpleasant as all the previous times.

Now abortion can’t be taken as a “pleasant” subject at the best of times,  but we could at least talk about it calmly and logically and discuss what the goals of policy ought to be. But we won’t .

As for me? I find abortion a difficult and unpleasant subject but that doesn’t give me a free pass from trying to have an opinion on it. Some women might say that I shouldn’t have an opinion. Whatever about the philosophical angles of that discussion, I’ll have a vote in any referendum so it seems important that I try.

Angkor Wat Abortion AD 1150

Bas-relief of an abortion in Ankgor Wat, from 1150AD

Anyway, all I’d like to do is touch on what policy ought to aim for, and then very briefly on one of the more awkward discussions, i.e. Down Syndrome, on why that discussion is largely a distraction from the main issues and therefore why Down Syndrome  need not and should not be brought into the discussion at all.

I might even come to a personal conclusion, like it or not. You might like my reasoning, or at least tell me where you think I’m wrong. Politely, please, on twitter.

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Ireland’s political parties…..Overripe at best

Foreigners sometimes ask me to explain Ireland’s political parties, which seem mysterious to them.

It’s actually pretty easy. While many people in Ireland start to talk about the civil war, that’s really beside the point by now.

My usual short summary is “Ireland’s parties don’t have ideologies, they represent interests.” That’s pretty much it. In some cases the interests are often the members of the parliamentary party themselves. But that’s still a fairly rare case, though the parties’ ability to live with the cases is still sad to see.


Overripe tomatoes

Here’s my overall take. It may seem somewhat cynical. By now I’m actually inclined to think I’m being generous.  I’ve written some of this before, but it deserves its own space.

  1. Fianna Fail is the party with the best nominal vision. And therefore the one that lets itself down most. Full of petty local potholers and greasy con-men, Fianna Fail is the party of populism, of “whatever it takes to get elected” and of “the money was just resting in my account” venality.  You can trust them to say things that sound good, and to do nothing much unless there’s a buck in it.
  2. Fine Gael is the party of social and fiscal conservatism. It ought to be a decent slightly right wing party but it’s ruined by an inability to see past the interests of its core constituencies. “The right thing to do” is defined in FG as “whatever makes our kind of people richer”, combined neatly with a “don’t upset the church” conservatism. FG doesn’t do corruption, but doing something that benefits the right kind of people is perfectly ok.
  3. Labour is what should be Ireland’s social democrats. It can rightly claim to have driven much of the positive socio-legal changes in Ireland over the decades, but it’s waaaay too tied to the unions, way too protective of unreasonable social welfare and unable to see that markets and socialism are not antithetical.  Labour is like a deeply ethical and religious person who has somehow ended up being a recruiter for Scientology.
  4. Sinn Fein….the refuse of the Irish political system. Hand-in-glove with murderers and thugs. Tempting to the young and the naive, but are merely scum in suits.
  5. PBP and the rest of the left. All the problems they complain of are real. And all their solutions are bad. Wrong, even. Unable to think past slogans.
  6. The independents….well, they’re a varied bunch. Some of them are having a real and positive impact, others are just as slimy as the main parties.

Anyway…that’s about it. Irish political parties. Don’t expect much from them and you can’t be disappointed in them. But if you hope for good things for Ireland, this lot aren’t going to be bringing you good news either.

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Brexiteers & British ignorance on Ireland

The apparent sudden realization among Brexiteers that the NI/ROI border is a problem is sad but not terribly surprising. NI didn’t feature as an issue in the Brexit campaign and any initial questions about the issue were waved away with dismissive comments. Now, in the run up to the December summit, the UK govt and various UKIP and Tory MEPs and MPs are out in force condemning Ireland’s view that there has not been “sufficient progress” on the NI/ROI border.

Of course when asked what the UK’s plan actually is, there are stupid statements like “well we don’t want a border there so if Ireland and the EU want one it’s their problem“. Plus there’s a strong and rather nasty undercurrent of indignation that the UK might not get its way because the Irish want something else – a real “who the f*ck do they think they are?” reaction.


Yeah, that red bit on Ireland is in the UK too!

Now whatever about the nastier UKIP and Tory Brexiteers, there’s still a real problem on both sides of the Irish sea and we’re seeing the impact of it in this context more than normally.

British people, and English people in particular, just don’t think about Ireland much. It’s their blind spot. If they ever do think about Ireland far too many people think of the “British Isles” and assume that the Irish are the same as the English, just stupider and with charmingly funny accents. Continue reading

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Ok, first off, it’s not my place to have a view on whether Catalan independence is a good idea or not. Spain (including Catalunya) has a long, complex and often painful history and while I know a reasonable amount about it I hesitate to make judgements on such emotional and historical matters.


That being said, the recent events in Spain and Catalunya seem likely to result in a degradation of respect for the principles of democracy and human rights, and all in favour of mere administrative and bureaucratic convenience.

Mostly it seems to me that the PP in Madrid is the prime mover behind the sudden increase in desire for Catalan independence.  Yes, there’s an element in Catalunya that has continuously pushed for independence, but their support was very low until the PP got going.

What’s hugely disappointing is that the Spanish govt, under PP leadership, has taken every possible step to make the situation worse, apparently playing to its own voter base, and that the EU has essentially preferred institutional and administrative convenience to supporting human rights and democracy.

A recent column by Joschka Fischer ( summarizes many of the views I see as being so backways.

Maybe worth reading the article first.

Here’s my response;

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Ireland’s Leading Men

I’ve often said that writing letters to the paper is the lowest form of political expression, other than voting for Sinn Fein.  Writing ironic letters to the paper brings letter writing one step closer to the bottom.

Ireland is getting a new Taoiseach, chosen from two candidates within the Fine Gael party. They were lionized by the press coverage, particularly the ultimate winner – Leo Varadkar.

Let’s say my view is less glowing.



The FG leadership election is finished and we’ll shortly have a new Taoiseach. It’s time to celebrate the uniquely high level of the two candidates.

Leo Varadkar, a lifelong politician, really cut his teeth in fixing Ireland’s broken Health System and brought us from the bottom of the international health league tables to a point where the Irish health system is the subject of both domestic and international admiration. No-one in long queues for orthopedic surgery or old people in pain on trolleys in corridors any more thanks to Leo. And not for Leo a strategy of merely surviving his time in Health. No, he focused on real change and achievement irrespective of any personal political risk. If he has the same positive attitude as Taoiseach we can expect a transformed nation.

And as for Simon, though he won’t immediately be Taoiseach his time as Minister with responsibility for Housing has seen Ireland finally eliminate the scourges of homelessness and high house prices, and has seen policy recommendations from as far back as the 1970’s finally implemented to the benefit of the whole nation rather than just a handful of landowners and developers. His ability in driving real change and not just in releasing aspirational soundbites in time for the 9 o’clock news marks him out as a man that Leo can depend on to held further transform Ireland.

We’re so lucky to have such inspirational leaders to depend on.


Hugh Sheehy

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Housing, again, still.

Dublin is now in the grip of a housing crisis. A rental crisis. A homelessness crisis. A price increase crisis.

The government is again (still) saying that they’re taking steps to alleviate the problem. But they’re not really.

High house prices suit the banks. High house prices suit existing house owners. High house prices get people from the last bubble out of negative equity. High house prices and rents suit landlords (of which there are many in the Dail). High house prices enrich land owners. etc., etc., etc., etc.

Again, Ireland is a barely built up country. Dublin is a small city with lots of empty land, lots of empty housing, lots of low density housing, and surrounded by fields. There’s no excuse for expensive housing and homelessness. None.

So listen for the lies, because everything presented as an excuse is a lie.



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A new low

While the potential consequences of Brexit rumble around unknowable and the thumpings of Trump scare the world, Irish politics has shown it can still compete with the worst. And can still beat them all.


Often I wonder why people continue to vote for the main parties that have run Ireland for decades. The recent scandal, still to be fully uncovered, magnifies that puzzlement into a state of total gobsmacked “I’ll never get it” disbelief.

But…what’s the scandal? It is, frankly, hard to believe this story and it’s even harder to see any way that it doesn’t indicate an immorality in the whole Irish governing system that requires not just a clean-out, but actual prosecution.

Several years ago an Irish police office, after much frustration, blew the whistle on how Irish police were abusing their powers by forgiving traffic offences from the police IT system.

A fairly petty abuse of power, really. One that any senior Police manager should have quickly sorted out. But the whistleblower was swiftly sidelined, nearly fired, and thoroughly made to feel that he should have kept his mouth shut. More to the point, his accusations were really not taken up with any enthusiasm by any of the (few) people in Irish politics who might have done so. The whistleblower, apparently a persistent type, suffered years of abuse and mistreatment but stuck to his story. And nothing really changed and no-one really dug into why.

Why? Well, it turns out that the Irish child protection agency put a note in his file that he’d been accused of child abuse. “Digital rape”, to be specific. Of an 8yr old. No police investigation followed since – after all – there was no actual crime to investigate and an investigation would have to have evidence, processes, courts and all. But the accusation ran around Irish political and journalistic circles for years. So support for the whistleblower was, shall we say, thin on the ground. Tie your political career to a child abuser? Not likely, eh?

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