Dr Noël Browne resigns April 12, 2013Posted by doctorfive in Health, History.
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The health of Irish women & children is free from undue influence 62 years on thankfully.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Dr. Browne has given notice of intention to ask the permission of the House to make a personal statement.
Dr. Browne: It is fitting and, I am informed, in accordance with usage, that I should explain to the Dáil very briefly the reasons which led me to resign my position in the Government. I am deeply grieved that I have found myself compelled to take this step.
Since becoming Minister for Health I have striven within the limits of my ability to improve the health services of the country. Some progress has been made but much remains to be done. It is perhaps only human that I should wish to have the honour of continuing the work. However that is not to be. To me the provision of a health scheme for the benefit of the mothers and children of our nation seems to be the very foundation stone of any progressive health service without which much of our efforts in other directions would prove fruitless. It seemed equally important to me that any such scheme to be effective and indeed just should be made available free to all our people who choose of their own free will to use it without the imposition of any form of means test. On this point did I stand firm in my negotiations with the medical profession. On other matters I was willing and, indeed, eager that the profession should from their knowledge and experience play their full part in improving the scheme.
I had been led to believe that my insistence on the exclusion of a means test had the full support of my colleagues in the Government. I now know that it had not. Furthermore, the Hierarchy has informed the Government that they must regard the mother and child scheme proposed by me as opposed to Catholic social teaching. This decision I, as a Catholic, immediately accepted without hesitation. At the same time I do not feel that I could be instrumental in introducing a scheme which would be subject to a means test. Apart from my personal views about a means test I feel that in taking the decision which I have had to take, as a man privileged to hold my high office, there is another principle to which I had to have regard. I have pledged myself to the public and to the Clann na Poblachta Party to introduce a mother and child health scheme which would not embody a means test. Since I could not succeed in fulfilling my promise in this regard I consider it my duty to vacate my office.
While, as I have said, I as a Catholic accept unequivocally and unreservedly the views of the Hierarchy on this matter, I have not been able to accept the manner in which this matter has been dealt with by my former colleagues in the Government.
In June, 1948, the Government, in Cabinet, authorised me to introduce a mother and child health scheme to provide free maternity treatment for mothers and free treatment for their children up to the age of 16 years. At the meeting of the Government at which this decision was taken the question of whether the scheme should be free to all those anxious to use it was discussed. The decision of the Government was, in effect, that there should be no means test. I, accordingly, on the authority of the Government, wrote in August, 1948, to the Irish Medical Association to inform them that the Government had considered their representations on the question of a means test in the proposed mother and child health scheme and had rejected their proposal for its imposition.
Following discussions with the Department of Finance, agreement was reached on the financial aspects of the scheme, which was thereupon drafted. The Estimate for the Department of Health for 1950-51, with the consent of the Government, included almost £400,000 for a scheme without a means test, but as it had not been introduced, this money was not expended. Nearly 12 months ago direct negotiations on the scheme were entered into with the Irish Medical Association. A copy of the draft scheme, based on these principles, was also transmitted to each member of the Government for his information. In the course of negotiations with the Medical Association, counter-proposals were made by them. These proposals were rejected by me as being in conflict with the policy in relation to a means test which the Government had already made, and which has only formally been rescinded by them as late as Friday last.
On the 10th October, 1950, I was informed that His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, wished to see me in connection with the proposed scheme. I attended at the Archbishop’s House on the following day where I met His Grace and Their Lordships, the Bishops of Ferns and Galway. I was informed that at a meeting of the Hierarchy on the previous day at Maynooth, His Grace and Their Lordships had been appointed to put before the Government certain objections which the Hierarchy saw in the scheme; that I was being informed of these objections as a matter of courtesy before transmission to the Taoiseach as head of the Government.
His Grace read to me from a letter which had been prepared for transmission to the Taoiseach. A general discussion followed. At the conclusion of this interview I was under the impression, erroneously as it now appears, that His Grace and Their Lordships were satisfied with my explanation of the scheme and with my answers and undertakings given in regard to the objections made by them. On that day I was also informed by His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, that he was meeting the Taoiseach on the following morning, 12th October. On the following day the Taoiseach spoke to me of his interview with His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, and he informed me he had been told by His Grace that he and Their Lordships were satisfied following their interview with me. The Taoiseach has since denied that he made this statement. What is certain. however, is that he did not give me to understand that His Grace and Their Lordships remained unsatisfied.
About the 9th or 10th November I learned that the Taoiseach had received a letter, dated 10th October, 1950, from the Bishop of Ferns, as secretary to the Hierarchy. The Taoiseach gave me this letter for my observations with a view to a reply. The objections in the letter appeared to be those read to me by His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, during my interview on 11th October, and, in the light of the later events, I concluded that it had been transmitted solely for the purpose of record and formal reply. I, therefore, acting on this assumption, prepared a draft letter for transmission by the Taoiseach to His Lordship of Ferns, as secretary to the Hierarchy, in reply to the various points raised in their letter. In this answer I substantially recapitulated the case I had made when I met His Grace and Their Lordships at Drumcondra on 11th October. I would like to emphasise that, as I still believed that His Grace and Their Lordships had been reassured by the case made by me on the 11th October, I merely regarded this reply also as being for purposes of record by the Hierarchy. I sent this draft to the Taoiseach shortly after mid-November to be forwarded by him to the Hierarchy. As I heard nothing further about the matter from either the Hierarchy or the Taoiseach until a couple of weeks ago I had no reason to believe that the Hierarchy were not fully satisfied, and the work of preparing for the introduction of the mother and child scheme continued.
From October onwards discussions were continued with the Irish Medical Association in an effort to reach agreement. The association was also interviewed by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. An account of that interview (which, I understand, was submitted to the Taoiseach) is contained in a circular letter issued by the Irish Medical Association on 12th December, 1950, to their members, in the course of which it was stated that it was the Taoiseach’s considered opinion that neither the Dáil nor the Seanad would approve any amendment of the Act or regulations which would envisage the omission of a free service for all in connection with the scheme. Preparations for the introduction of the scheme progressed and on 6th March its early implementation was widely publicised by me.
In the meanwhile the Book of Estimates for the financial year 1951/52 had been published in which provision was made (page 403) for an expenditure  of £661,000 on mother and child services, and it was explained in a footnote on that page that further expenditure of about £300,000 in the year was probable, and that a Supplementary Estimate would be introduced.
On the 9th March I received a letter from His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin. From this letter I was surprised to learn that His Grace might not approve of the scheme, and declared that the objections which had been raised by him in October had not been resolved. I was surprised for the simple reason that I had heard nothing further, either from His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, acting on behalf of the Hierarchy, or from the Taoiseach, acting for the Government, in the four months that had intervened since I had handed to the Taoiseach in November my reply to Their Lordships’ letter. Following receipt of His Grace’s letter, a copy of which was sent by His Grace to the Taoiseach, the latter suggested to me on the 15th March that I should take steps at once to consult the Hierarchy regarding their objections to the scheme. I then learned to my distress and amazement that the reply to Their Lordships’ letter which I had prepared and sent to the Taoiseach in the previous November had, in fact, never been sent by him. The Taoiseach has given three explanations—two to me and one to the Hierarchy and all differing—as to why he did not forward my letter to the Hierarchy. One reason to me was that he considered the reply ineffective; another was that no covering letter from me was received with it and he did not realise that. I wanted it sent to the Hierarchy. In his letter of March 22nd the Taoiseach says that he explained to His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, his reasons for not replying to the Hierarchy, and that His Grace conveyed these reasons to the Hierarchy. The third reason for not replying, which appears in the Taoiseach’s letter of March 27th to the Hierarchy, was that he and His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, believed it to be more advantageous in the  special circumstances of the case to await developments.
I told the Taoiseach orally that his failure to forward this reply had placed me in a very embarrassing position and might easily give Their Lordships the impression that I had omitted to give any consideration to their objections and that further I had been guilty of extreme discourtesy in failing to ensure that a reply had been sent to them. I also pointed out that his failure to send this letter had the effect that I remained under the erroneous impression that the objections of the Hierarchy had been fully resolved and that I could proceed with the scheme. I was surprised also to learn from the Taoiseach that he had been in constant communication with His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, on this matter since the receipt of the letter of 10th October from the Hierarchy, so presumably he was fully aware that Their Lordships’ objections were still unresolved. He offered no explanation as to why, in the light of this knowledge, he had failed to keep me informed of the position; had allowed me continuously to refer in public speeches to the scheme as decided and unchanged Government policy, and finally had allowed the scheme to go ahead to the point where it had been advertised at considerable public expense and had been announced to the public, both in these advertisements and by my radio talk. He, furthermore, offered no explanation as to why, being aware of the Hierarchy’s objections to the scheme, he continued to allow the Tánaiste, Dr. O’Higgins and myself to negotiate with the Medical Association, and why, in the light of this knowledge to which he now confesses, he himself informed the Medical Association that the Government would not agree to the inclusion of a means test.
This conduct on the part of the Taoiseach is open, it seems to me, to only two possible explanations—either that he would not oppose the scheme if agreement were reached with the Medical Association on the means test or that. in the light of his knowledge of the objections still being made by the Hierarchy and withheld from me,  he intended that the scheme without a means test must never in fact be implemented.
At this time medical opposition became very intense, however. Yet I, acting on the Government decision of 1948 and my own convictions in the matter, remained constant in my determination to exclude a means test from the mother and child scheme. On the 14th March the Taoiseach spoke to me in Leinster House concerning the growing opposition of the Medical Association and informed me that he now believed that there should be a means test and that he was in favour of the Medical Association’s views on that matter. I challenged him, as I challenged the other Ministers—Mr. Dillon, Dr. O’Higgins, Mr. Norton and Mr. MacBride—who made similar representations, that they should consider this matter not as individuals but as a Cabinet and if they so wished reverse their decision of 1948 to exclude a means test. I would then take whatever action I considered fit in regard to my personal position. They all refused to take this course. On the 14th March I received a letter from the Minister for Finance pointing out that a change I had proposed that private general practitioners should be admitted to the scheme would involve a further expenditure of public moneys and that, consequently, the matter would require to be placed before the Government. As the amount involved was very small in relation to the total cost of the scheme and as he had allowed the larger financial issues in the main scheme to be settled without formal reference to the Government, this attitude surprised me.
Evidently at this time my former colleagues finally realised that I was adamant—that nothing short of a Government decision to the contrary would alter my determination to implement a scheme without a means test. They now revealed the final objection to my programme—the objection of the Hierarchy.
Despite the representations of the Taoiseach on the 14th March concerning his fears of the repercussions from the opposition of the Medical Association and concerning his wish and  anxiety to retain a means test in the proposed scheme, and despite also the letter which I received from the Minister for Finance on the same day, which pointed out the importance of the economic implications in my proposed extension to include private practitioners, is it not strange that in the long and carefully worded letter of the 15th written by the Taoiseach on the very day following these various objections of money, means test, necessity for further Cabinet consideration on the scheme, the danger of opposition from the Medical Association—that none of these politically dangerous objections was mentioned, but the objection which, in his then view, was the only outstanding one—the views of the Catholic Hierarchy? My fears at this stage that the Government were unwilling to ratify their decision of 1948 to initiate a scheme with no means test have been confirmed by the contents of this letter.
The letter sent by the Taoiseach on the 27th March, 1951, to the Bishop of Ferns, in his capacity as secretary to the Hierarchy, enclosing my observations, refers to the scheme “advocated by the Minister for Health”, thereby implying that the scheme was not advocated or supported by himself or other members of the Government. In a letter of the 5th April from His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, written on behalf of the Hierarchy, it is stated that they were pleased to note that no evidence had been supplied in the Taoiseach’s letter of the 27th March that the proposed mother and child scheme advocated by the Minister for Health enjoys the support of the Government. I have, accordingly, regretfully come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the Government decision of June, 1948, against the inclusion of a means test, the Taoiseach and the other members of the Government had, in fact, changed their minds about the scheme.
It is a fact noted by many people that in no public speeches did Ministers of the Government other than myself speak in favour of this measure. I regret that for the want of courage on their part they should have allowed the  scheme to progress so very far—that they should have failed to keep me informed of the true position in regard to their own attitude and the attitude of others. I have, consequently, been allowed by their silence to commit myself to the country to implement a scheme which certain members of the Government at least did not want, on their own admission, to see implemented and which they were in fact aware could not be implemented.
I trust that the standards manifested in these dealings are not customary in the public life of this or any other democratic nation and I hope that my experience has been exceptional.
I have not, lightly, decided to take the course I have taken. I know the consequences which may follow my action. The honesty of my motives will be attacked by able men; my aims will be called in question; ridicule and doubt will be cast upon the wisdom of my insistence in striving to realise the declared objectives of the Party to which I belonged.
As Minister for Health I was enabled to make some progress in improving the health services of the nation only because I received the generous cooperation of members of all political Parties and of all sections of the community.
I lay down my seal of office content that you—members of this House—and the people who are our masters here, shall judge whether I have striven to honour the trust placed on me.
The Taoiseach: It is obvious that the statement made by the former Minister for Health requires an answer at the earliest possible moment. I, therefore, with your permission, propose to move the Adjournment of the House at 7.30 in order that I may have an opportunity of replying. In the meantime, may I say that I have seldom listened to a statement in which there were so many—let me say it as charitably as possible—inaccuracies, misstatements and misrepresentations?
Mr. Morrissey: Hear, hear!
Mr. Flanagan: May I ask the Taoiseach whether, when the Adjournment  of the House is moved at 7.30 for a discussion of this matter, an opportunity will be given for the purpose of discussing the allegations made by Deputy Dr. Browne against the Minister for External Affairs for participating in corrupt practices?
Mr. Kitt: The lawyers will make another Locke’s Distillery out of this.
Mr. O’Rourke: Will we be allowed to examine the correspondence?
Mr. Flanagan: I believe that this statement that has been made by one Minister against another will have to be cleared up and I hope the Government will realise their responsibility in clearing it up, and if Deputy MacBride is guilty of any irregularities, he will be required to answer to this House.
Mr. C. Lehane: The Minister for External Affairs does not need any defence against attacks from any little whipper-snapper like Deputy Flanagan, who was never heard of until a few years ago.
Mr. Flanagan: There has been a charge made, Sir——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I must ask Deputy Flanagan to resume his seat.
Mr. Flanagan: I merely rose to say——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Not now. The Taoiseach will move the Adjournment at 7.30 and there will be a discussion then on the statement made by Deputy Dr. Browne.
Mr. Flanagan: Will we be allowed to discuss the correspondence that appeared in to-day’s papers?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The discussion will be on the statement made by Deputy Dr. Browne.
Mr. Flanagan: That is good enough; we will have the correspondence, then.
Minister for External Affairs (Mr. MacBride): The last Deputy who spoke, Deputy Oliver Flanagan, has availed of this occasion to make a dirty and slanderous insinuation against me. I shall welcome any  inquiry that this House may decide upon on a free vote.
Mr. Smith: Pontius Pilate!
Mr. MacBride: That comes very well from Deputy Smith.
Mr. Smith: Pontius Pilate!
Mr. Murphy: There is a lot of honesty over there!
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot have discussion now. The discussion will be on the motion for the Adjournment, to be moved by the Taoiseach at 7.30, and the subject will be the statement made by Deputy Dr. Browne.
Captain Cowan: May I ask if sufficient time will be given for Deputies who desire to participate in this discussion to take part? I think it is vital and I certainly ask for time to discuss it.
Mr. Kitt: The lawyers will make another Locke’s Distillery out of it.
The Taoiseach: Up to 10.30 or 11.
Captain Cowan: I hope an opportunity will be given to Deputies such as I to speak on this.
The Taoiseach: That is a matter for the Chair but I am bound to warn Deputies that I will take some considerable time to deal with the misrepresentations and inaccuracies of the former Minister for Health.
Dr. Maguire: I would like to give notice that I will raise on the Adjournment the question of the protest by provincial newspapers concerning difficulty in obtaining newsprint.
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Begins with a message to An Taoiseach
By the time you receive this message, you will probably already have heard this morning’s announcement from 10 Downing Street of my decision to make way for a successor, and to resign as Prime Minister as soon as the Parliamentary Party has completed the necessary procedures for electing a new leader. I shall of course remain in charge of the Government until my successor has been appointed.
I should like to thank you for the great co-operation and friendship which you have shown me during our time together in office, during which so much has been achieved, and I send you my warmest good wishes for the future. I know that my successor will continue to attach the highest importance to the relations between our countries.
I believe that our first meetings in 1980 commenced a process of placing relations between our two countries on a new plane which can lead to the establishment of a framework reflecting the totality of relationships within these islands.
The British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, is a politician of sincere convictions who worked with relentless energy to achieve those things in which she believed. [...]
Mrs. Thatcher showed a remarkable willingness to learn and a willingness to act on what she had learned.
Spring, and wishful thinking
The retiring British Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, will certainly be remembered as a leader of very considerable personal qualities of courage and determination. However, it is unlikely that Thatcherism will survive Mrs. Thatcher because the ideology she espoused divided the society she governed. It alienated thousands of her own people and, ultimately, failed to sustain the economic growth and development for which she aimed. The two-tier society she created in Britain should never serve  as a model for any other society. As too many of her successes were built——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is a tradition in the House whereby the Chair deprecates any uncomplimentary reference to a foreign Head of State. The Deputy may adjudicate on it in whatever fashion he thinks fit.
Mr. Spring: I will take your advice as I have always done in the past. My opinions may vary, in relation to the person’s achievements and accomplishments, from those of other people, but I am entitled to express them.
Mr. Spring: Too many of Mrs. Thatcher’s successes were built around cataclysmic events like the Falklands War and the miners’ strike rather than on any lasting contribution to the quality of life of ordinary Britons and, ultimately, the people are unlikely to miss her.
Where Ireland was concerned it must be said, to her credit, that she made an agreement — and was instrumental in making it — and she stuck with it and defended it. She never fully understood Ireland and was not in sympathy with the political imperatives surrounding Irish issues. She saw Ireland primarily as a security problem and the Anglo-Irish Agreement primarily as a vehicle for better security co-operation.
I do not consider it necessary or appropriate that Dáil Éireann should devote its time to discussing the resignation from office of a Prime Minister of another country in the circumstances in which this occurred, especially in view of the substantial body of business requiring our attention. Therefore, I do not propose to detain the House very long on this issue. Neither  will I shed crocodile tears or join any phoney eulogies in relation to Mrs. Thatcher.
I welcome Mrs. Thatcher’s resignation and the reaction of most Irish people — and most British workers and their families — to her departure from Downing Street will be one of profound relief. The record of the successive Governments led by Mrs. Thatcher has been marked by a determination to foster the rich and to turn the screw on the poor. She has been representative of some of the worst traditions in British political life. We should not forget the manner in which she gloried in the blood of the Falklands War, her current drive for war in the Gulf and the viciousness she showed in her attempts to starve the British miners and their families into submission.
Mrs. Thatcher is receiving great praise in this country for her negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was a serious, although a flawed attempt to deal with the Northern Ireland problem and it cannot be ignored that it was largely unsuccessful. Sectarianism remains entrenched; the murderous campaign of the Provisional IRA continues to take its appalling toll; Northern Ireland continues to suffer from dreadful social and economic problems. In addition, Mrs. Thatcher’s arrogant manner and imperial style on more than one occasion offended and alienated people on both sides of the Border.
Thatcherism, it must also be said, had a significant impact on domestic Irish politics. The pernicious political philosophy she fostered has found many willing acolytes in this country who have enthusiastically followed the example of the soon to be departed Prime Minister. They cut and slashed our health, education and social services. I hope that we are witnessing not just the end of the political career of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher but the end of Thatcherism, although there would be many no doubt in the Tory Party who would willingly take up her mantle.
The best hope for the British people  rests with the election of a Labour Government at the next British general election. It is not just in Eastern Europe that major changes are taking place, two great champions of the Cold War, Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher, have now departed the scene and moved on to a deserved retirement. With their departure I hope we can look forward to a new and more positive relationship between all nations in the world.
The current occupants of Dáil Éireann still have another week in hiding so we’re unlikely to see a repeat.
Interestingly the next item on the agenda in 1990 was the Destructive Insects and Pests (Amendment) Bill,
Lastly, Michael D during a Seanad Motion on Apartheid 1984
There is no doubt whatsoever that in terms of international affairs generally the situation has worsened because of the consequences of apartheid and the opposition to it, has worsened, more accurately, because of the foreign policies of Britain and the United States particularly under the regimes of Mrs.  Thatcher and President Regan respectively. In December 1979 Mrs. Thatcher said “There is now real prospect that the conflicts of South Africa’s borders in Rhodesia and Namibia will shortly be ended.” She said: “This, combined with welcome initiatives in South Africa’s domestic policies, offer a chance to defuse a regional crisis which was potentially of the utmost gravity and to make progress towards the ending of the isolation of South Africa in world affairs.”
That view might be regarded as indicative of the naivety and ignorance which characterise Mrs. Thatcher’s views of the world generally or her over-simplification of the world which enables her to live with her particular version of “the world according to Margaret”. It is much more serious than that because it is undermining the position taken by the United Nations. I question the credibility of British foreign policy in the whole area of South Africa. I feel that both the United States and Britain under their present leaderships have undermined the credibility of the United Nations in relation to the condemnations of apartheid not only by their covert collusion with the economics of apartheid which sustained it but also because of their erosion of the principle and the letter of one United Nations resolution after another. It is very necessary for us to be clear and not to have a romantic notion that white South Africa will suddenly change its mind and its heart and be moved to accord rights to those whom it has excluded for some time.
I was interested to hear people speak about the violence that has been directed against the most recent victims. There again the challenge is to recognise what  consequences flow from a racist state when the whole apparatus of the state, including its measures of control and repression, have been amplified with the assistance of the western world and when, in fact, armaments have been provided and, as I said, nuclear capacity has been provided. This causes us to consider — rather like the people at the end of the Second World War who were silent and who had to be moved by the opening of the camps — that we may be involved in a far more dangerous situation which may undermine the principles of foreign policy itself. We say something and yet live with another reality. South Africa has survived long after 100 United Nations resolutions have been passed. There has survived, for example, a covert and sinister collusion for a long time in the matter of investment capital from Great Britain, particularly in the service and financial sectors. We used to have the contradiction of political statements from the political masters in Great Britain and the economic statements from British companies. We are now in a more dangerous position with regard to the economic reality. The kind of people who are trucking with the monster that is the apartheid state are now beginning to influence the political statements. There has been little less than regression. It is important to place that on the record of the House.
The decision to collude with racism is one of the prime achievements of Mrs. Thatcher’s and President Regan’s administrations foreign policy. It has a very important dimension for both of them. They will be remembered for it and they should be remembered for it because they are the people who have brought it about. They have adjusted their political positions to suit economic breaches of one United Nations convention after another. In 1980 the European Economic Community accounted for 57 per cent of South Africa’s foreign liabilities and North and South America accounted for 24 per cent of their liabilities. I mentioned earlier that, for example, 62 per cent of the total assets of South Africa’s top 20 banks belong primarily to foreign banks.  I mentioned the service sector. South Africa has survived and developed, and the gaps between black earnings and white earnings have all been made possible by the continued links which have been allowed to exist between the western world and the South African apartheid state. I mentioned the enormity, given a state that so systematically on the basis of colour excludes, denies participation, discriminates against the majority of its citizens, the enormity in moral terms of that state evolving to being a nuclear power on the basis of a barter of the means of death, in one case uranium, in the other case nuclear technology, between the western world and South Africa.
In conclusion, I would like to raise the question that has been correctly addressed by the Minister and by every speaker including those who moved this motion. In 1966 the United Nations General Assembly revoked South Africa’s mandate in Namibia, formerly South West Africa, and in 1971 the International Court of Justice ruled South Africa was under obligation to withdraw from Namibia immediately and that member states were under obligation to recognise the illegality of South Africa’s presence there. That was in 1971. The International Court of Justice — when Mrs. Kirkpatrick wants to mock it she calls it the United Nations Court of Justice — 14 years ago resolved as I have quoted. South Africa occupies Namibia with the support and connivance of the multinationals. In all of that there are tragic consequences but there is the mockery of international law and the mockery of all the international institutions that are involved.
Affairs of the heart…and periphery March 26, 2013Posted by doctorfive in European Politics, Uncategorized.
In recent weeks the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee was holding hearings on the state of the Union and Irish attitudes to same. The standard narrowness of Irish debate takes on even slender proportions in EU matters thanks to the coercion involved due to multiple failure of Ireland’s political class. Any time spent watching Strasbourg or even visiting the Parliament website feels like a different planet.
Hearings took place before Cyprus unfortunately. Cheerleading has become increasingly fruitless as our masters repeatedly make a complete bags of things. A measure I think of how serious the situation remains (again) was the usually uber responsible Karl Whelan openly talking about runs and spreading deposits across accounts on television last night.
The economists, ‘leading’ journalists, MEPs and usual suspects invited to Oireachtas did little alter the consensus but there is still insight into what that consensus looks like in 2013.
Ann Cahill of the Irish Examiner, RTE’s Sean Whelan and Dan O’Brien of the Irish Times (transcript)
UCD academics Prof Brigid Laffan and Dr Gavin Barrett. (transcript)
Seamus Coffey UCC, Mr. Nat O’Connor and Mr. Tom McDonnell TASC. (transcript)
Dublin MEPs Gay Mitchell, Emer Costello and Paul Murphy (transcript)
Il post Sean Whelan’s contribution below for no reason other then some rare candidacy from an RTÉ journalist and iteresting to see a polcor wanting rid of STV and Multi-seats. Paul Murphy is below and TASC worth a read above.
Mr. Seán Whelan: I thank the committee for the invitation to appear today. As things change at European level, so must things change at the level of national parliaments. We have had a plethora of changes as a result of the economic crisis we have gone through, with measures such as the six pack, the two pack, the fiscal rules, the European semester, budget co-ordination measures, and so on. All of those necessitate a reform of governance of Irish EU affairs and in domestic Irish affairs, which are increasingly intertwined. Countries that successfully adapt a new economic management system are more likely to prosper. At the very least, they are more likely to be off the radar for investors worried about economic mismanagement.
Being off the problem radar alone, however, should in no way be confused with success. During the last decade, we spend most of the time as a blip on its counterpart, the success radar, hitting all EU targets used to measure economic performance in the single currency area in particular. There was outrage here and abroad when the European Commission reprimanded us in a most gentle way for breaching the broad economic policy guidelines about ten years ago. We could do no wrong it seemed, right up until the point where we blew up in the most spectacular fashion. This was because we became victims of what might be called “stealth failure”, something that sneaks up because we are not looking out for it and not prepared to deal with its consequences if it breaches our defences. It is like the Germans with mad cow disease. If there is no testing for a problem, it will not be found in the first place.
The move to the single currency was a truly massive change but we responded with a minimal change to our institutional set-up to deal with it. We are now scrambling at national and European level to catch up. We also must undertake a lot of national changes. We should not just implement the European changes. We should be prepared to go well beyond the level of change required at European level. We should be more proactive in adapting our institutions and governance, guided by strategies that are both offensive and defensive in their approach to dealing with the evolution of the European Union and our place in it. I suggest as a philosophical starting point that Europe is something we make ourselves, not something that is done to us. It is also far more important that we make changes in our governance here for our own sake, not just to be seen as the good boys in Europe. We cannot afford another catastrophe like the one we have just experienced.
When I talk about an offensive European policy, I do not mean going around offending people but of having a point of view and advancing it coherently over the long run. We can do this already on narrow sectoral policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, or national economic priorities such as corporation tax. Do we have a view to advance, however, on other issues, such as pan-continental macroeconomic policy, world trade policy, modernisation of the European Union itself or other international institutions?
When I talk about defensive European policy, I mean being able to guard against the worst excesses of European policy and against our own internal failures, such as failures to implement or non-implementation – looking out for the stealth failures I mentioned.
What I am referring to is best summed up in Dr. Eddie Molloy’s phrase “implementation deficit disorder”, which has caused many difficulties down the decades in the management of the State. Defensive strategies are also required to guard against the negative perceptions of European Union membership. The idea that Ireland is being bossed around and forced to do things is corrosive of support for the European Union. Defensive strategies can help ensure that perception is minimised by ensuring we are not in a situation in which we can be bossed around in the first place. However, in cases in which one is being bossed and booted around by other countries, one needs to be able to switch into an offensive strategy and go on the offence against it or even think about getting out altogether.
In terms of legislation, it is relatively easy to appear part of a winning coalition in the Council and in the Parliament but if one ends up through one’s own stealth failure becoming a ward of the system then one has no one to blame but one’s self. We need to be hard-nosed in Ireland, particularly in our political and parliamentary system, and most especially about money in all its manifestations, protecting the wealth of the nation from all enemies, internal as well as external.
There are number of strategies that might offer a quick fix in the short term and other medium and longer-term suggestions that might be useful to consider. We should consider using MEPs to greater effect. It is good to see a member and a former member of the European Parliament at the committee. They are a great resource to have. We have a small parliamentary and political setup here. Having elected members in the European Parliament is a resource on which we should draw in a more integrated way. They have the expertise and day-to-day knowledge of what is happening in the European Parliament. It is good to gain visibility on issues earlier. We also have the Lisbon treaty amendment, under which legislation is supposed to be sent to national parliaments as a first measure. There is the potential to draw national parliaments much more closely into the European process. We need to use those opportunities to get a better handle on what is happening and deal with it though the twin prisms of offensive and defensive strategies. Another ally of the Parliament should be the Fiscal Council in helping to deepen one’s understanding of and engagement with fiscal policy. It could be seen as a useful harm reduction mechanism in its most simple form, but most usefully, if it is employed correctly, it can help in the process of hardening up the State when it comes to dealing with financial problems. The idea is to protect the money and the citizens who own that money.
Perhaps a more medium-term suggestion is to make better use of the science and technology options assessment panel, STOA, in the European Parliament. We are becoming increasingly aware of the need to have legislation dealing with fairly complex issues and it is useful to have a sounding board to test out technical issues and aspects. It is quite expensive to build up that expertise, whereas it already exists in the European Parliament. There may be some ways for Ireland to try to subcontract or piggyback on what the STOA group is doing that could be useful for parliamentarians in Ireland. Ultimately, given the changes that have occurred and are continuing to occur and the level of complexity that is now evident, we must change the electoral system in order to give Deputies and Senators sufficient time to deal with the issues in a much deeper way. Members do not have time to do what they need to do and the big impediment is the electoral system. Until we change that we will be engaged in an uphill struggle to get on top of the issues that present themselves.
In summary, I believe offensive and defensive national strategies are needed for dealing with the development of the European Union and our ability to act tactically in support of strategic objectives. One must be constantly vigilant against stealth failures. To quote a great Cork man, “Fail to prepare – prepare to fail”.
With regard to the question of institutional change, I will first address the points raised by Deputy Dooley about who is in charge of the European Union and the growing tendency of people to look to national leaderships and setups. This trend was inevitable because the system has designed it in that way – it is the default position. The treaties, which were agreed and in some member states approved in referendums, established the primacy of national governments in all matters. This means that when the system comes under stress, people will look to their national leaders, given that national leaders have assigned to themselves the key role in driving the European Union. The leaders are the members of the European Council and the national systems that back them up. Until that system changes, we will be stuck with it. Given that constraint or reality, we need to do what is best for us within that system. That is the reason I spoke of having a defensive outlook, hardening up the State and getting tougher across every aspect of dealing with the State.
Senator Colm Burke’s suggestion regarding the role of the Seanad in dealing with European affairs appears to be a good use of the resource that the Seanad represents. In Britain, the House of Lords committee dealing with European Union affairs does excellent work and is one of the best resources available for those who want to find out about developments in the European Union. One can read many of its reports to find out about the EU. I presume upper houses in other parliaments are also doing good work in this area.
It is good that Members of the European Parliament are addressing the Seanad. There is significant scope for the Upper House to develop as a type of European Union clearing house. This would not necessarily add additional complexity to the system, as Mr. O’Brien pointed out, if it acted as an early warning radar – I am obsessed with radars – picking up issues quickly before they became problems. While most of the legislation is not a problem, occasionally something may slip through. The Oireachtas must try to feed into its offensive system to try to get things done when this occurs. The faster and more efficiently we do this, the better. I recall, however, that it is Fine Gael policy and possibly Government policy to abolish the Seanad as part of its institutional reform programme. The only element of the reform of which I am aware is the proposal to abolish the Seanad.
This leads us to the issue of electoral change, which is a vast area. Members will be familiar with the background and history of the issue. The use of single transferable votes in multi-member constituencies is a perverse system. It is nuts, and it wastes too much time. However, when one suggests abolishing it one is immediately accused of seeking to abolish proportional representation. That is not the case. As members are aware, the system in place here is a very strange and curious version of proportional representation, one that is used only in national elections in Ireland, Malta and the Australian Senate.
Members are all painfully aware that it wastes too much time. Members of the Oireachtas spend far too much time campaigning for elections and not enough time in the House dealing with the kinds of issue they were elected to deal with. I was going to say it is a luxury we cannot afford, but it is not a luxury. Members suffer under this so-called luxury.
Mr. Seán Whelan:The committee understands what I am driving at. It is something that has become an enormous cost to the country and we cannot afford to bear that cost for much longer. We need to change the system to one that gives Members time. I will not be prescriptive about what that system ought to be. For many decades, there has been discussion about a variation on the German system in which the House is split into two halves as a possible way of getting at least a cadre of people who would have a bit more time away from the constituencies, but that is something Members can sort out among themselves fairly quickly and easily. I appeal to them to do it quickly because it is the key problem and will become a catalyst for addressing a whole lot of other structural changes that need to be done in this State but will only be done if the political system has the time to devote to them. That is one aspect of the structural change that should be driven by the crisis we are in now. From that electoral change, the Oireachtas would have the various mechanisms for addressing all of the issues that have come our way as a result of the crisis, not least fiscal management.
( Part one below. The rest is on the VoteJoeHiggins account) Plenty of argument.
World War II, Franco, Blueshirts, Nazis and Irish deserters March 11, 2013Posted by doctorfive in Uncategorized.
Worth a watch.
Joint Committee hearings on Social Media March 6, 2013Posted by doctorfive in Internet.
..begin this morning (9.30am, room three) till Tuesday with Facebook, Google & Twitter all making an appearance.
The committee will produce a report to be presented to Pat Rabbitte sometime in the coming months. There has been much panic and confusion in the last year or so following a number of tragic events and bizarre commentary in the press. Heat has seemingly been on TDs and the Dáil record now boasts several convoluted definitions of the word troll.
I had quick search for Committee member’s activity last week to find an average of 434 tweets between them with Senator John Whelan making up half and most of the real ones. Several haven’t said a word since they fought their last election and the rest – presumably operated by someone else – look like a parish pump newsfeed of generic Party links with the odd congratulations to the local under 14s. Not an interactive bunch.
The Oireachtas however had designated the commendable if rather unhelpful #jctcsubmission for submissions. The first hashtag to come from above if I’m not mistaken.
Chairman Tom Hayes (whom I’ve mentioned before in not unrelated circumstances) notes
Social media outlets are changing the way many of our citizens interact with one another. Some disquiet has accompanied the rise of social media, particularly in relation to the nature of abusive and unfettered commentary. As a Committee, we’ve considered over the past number of weeks how the rights of ordinary citizens can be upheld on social media outlets.
The Minister himself is due to appear so we wont see an end to unfettered commentary just yet. A report in this weekend’s Sunday Times signalled plans to ‘broaden the scope’ of the communications regulations to embrace all forms of electronic communications and something about better forms of reporting content. Though intentions were a lot lighter on detail in the Dáil last week.
Will be interesting to see how the Oireachtas handles three of our big US employers. Not least as due to their presence here, what transpires may have implications good and bad for users across the EU. The world’s tech media may even be about to get their first taste of Mattie McGrath.
Also noteworthy is the relative speed at which all this came together given the decision not to bring some of beef industry players in and indeed the pace of matters concerning media ownership.
Fergal Crehan has prepared a submission from Digital Rights Ireland and makes the point
We are in the fourth decade of the Internet’s existence. However, in some respects, in Ireland at least, the Internet only broke through to the cultural mainstream since the advent of the smartphone. What might be termed “the Irish Internet community” is to a large extent made of “digital natives”, people who have learned appropriate online behaviour over many years’ immersion in the norms of the community. At the same time, the law has kept reasonably abreast. We submit that in the areas of bullying and hate speech, two offences exist which are tailor-made, without any amendment, for use in respect of online communication. However, many hundreds of thousands of newer users of the Internet, less attuned to these norms, have flooded online in recent years, leading to a wrong belief, that “anything goes” online.
We submit that this perception has twin dangers. It lulls Internet users into behaving in ways they would not dream of behaving in daily life. It also gives legislators and even enforcers the mistaken impression that no laws exist to deal with such behaviour. Digital Rights Ireland hopes it has assisted the committee by outlining, in these submissions, that online speech is already more than adequately regulated.
No new legislation should be introduced, but clarification should be provided on the following points:
- That offences under the Non-Fatal Offences Act and the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act apply to online communications.
- That intent to stir up hatred is not an essential ingredient of the offence of “Preparation and possession of material likely to stir up hatred”.
- That Norwich Pharmacal orders are available as a means of unmasking anonymous parties, but should only be made where a substantial case is disclosed.
o Section 13 of Post Office Amendment Act 1951 should not be further amended.
o The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner should be properly funded, particularly in respect of its enforcement powers.
o Prosecutions of the offences of Harassment and Preparation and Possession of Material Likely to Stir Up Hatred should be considered, where appropriate.
o An education programme should be instituted in relation to online behaviour, applying to both adults and to children.
Which seems entirely reasonable and correct.
Anything further is ignorant if not dubious imo.
Video of proceedings here and full transcript should be alone shortly. Worth a watch as Senator Eames’ unique grasp of things is somewhat overshadowing the wall of ignorance on display from all sides today.
Some highlights from the Minister
At the highest level, social media have the power to be profoundly transformative – fundamentally disruptive to existing patterns of debate, existing political discourse and to existing media. Democracy has always evolved and changed along with technology; these technologies have provided citizens with a new set of tool to engage with politics, and vice versa. This is something to be welcomed and embraced, not feared.
However the novelty and power of this technology brings challenges too, right across the legal, social and personal spectrum. The same power that allows information to be shared in a free and open way also confers the ability to abuse, bully and harass others, sometimes with the benefit of anonymity.
Equally, some people have yet to fully appreciate that public messages on social media have the same legal character as if they were published in a newspaper – defamation and harassment laws apply online in just the same way as they do offline. Also, there have been experiences all over the world where people have been insulted and bullied using these media, and as we know, we have had extremely unfortunate incidents here along similar lines.
Some of these things have the character of growing pains, as soon as practice evolves and behavioural norms online become embedded, either through education or experience, some of this behaviour will mitigate. But there will always be some willing to use online media to bully, harass, or demean others. Government needs to be cognisant of the damage that these people can do, and be prepared to react in a proportionate manner.
Critically, social media or the internet didn’t lead to the invention of bullying or harassment; these behaviours existed long before that. However the nature of the internet, or at least of many of the sites involved, is such that some aggressors can either hide behind anonymity or are simply braver, or less caring, as to the effects of what they might say from the comfort and safety of their own home. For children these concerns are particularly critical; the web is their future, and social media are their media in a way that older generations will probably never be able to fully comprehend.
We must ensure that children are free to make the most positive use possible of the web, that they can take full advantage of the opportunities it offers as an educational and social tool. This will not happen if confidence in the web as a safe space for children is lost in the wider community.
The relative novelty of this area and the pervasive and broad nature of its implications pose significant challenges for governments the world over in terms of coming to terms with it however. To date, these media generally have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime akin to that used to ‘regulate’ traditional radio and television broadcast media, either in Ireland or in other jurisdictions. There is a range of reasons for this, even before you consider the challenge of keeping up with the rapidly evolving technologies involved.
The first main reason why governance in this area is so complex lies with the fact the internet governance is, and indeed has to be, conducted on a multi-jurisdictional basis. There is very little that countries can do on their own given the international basis of the web. Moreover, the system is largely operated on a multi-stakeholder model, with Governments as participants rather than controlling or ordering the process.
The second complicating factor around the governance of social media is the fact that they are, undeniably, media. This is not just due to the activity of ‘traditional’ media players in using social media, or even online media players; social media themselves are now important media players even when there are no journalists, or payment, in the picture – they are an integral part of a large and diverse media ecosystem. As such, Social Media is treated in much the same way as any media, with due consideration given to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in any measure that might impact on it.
The third main reason for this is the breadth of the implications; many different areas of Government are affected by this phenomenon and have an involvement, but no single Department or agency can steer or manage it. As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I do not have sole responsibility for addressing as to how that infrastructure is used.
Responsibility for measures to deal with harassment and abuse online sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, in much the same way as his Department deals with the same issues in the offline world. To that end, his Department has established an executive agency, the Office for Internet Safety that deals explicitly with online safety.
There are solutions to these issues however. In the first instance, children, parents and teachers all require support in terms of understanding the nature of the threats that can sometimes appear online. The Department of Education have already done some very positive work in this regard, including the publication of a new Action Plan and Bullying that includes some concrete measures on cyber bullying. The Office of Internet Safety, who will present shortly, also has a number of measures in place to this end which I will leave to them to explain. Non-government players also have a role – I note particularly the work of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals in this area.
There is also a set of robust legal measures in place for defamation, introduced as recently as 2009, which covers online comment. Similarly, Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 deals with harassment. However, while this Act deals with direct communications with someone, it does not deal with communication ‘about’ someone and at present is apparently being interpreted in a very narrow sense by the courts. We have existing mechanisms to deal with the abuse of the postal or telephone system; the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007 introduced measures dealing with the use of the telephone system to send messages that are grossly offensive, or “… indecent, obscene or menacing”, or “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another person”.
However, it appears that there may be a gap in the legislation here in that electronic communications infrastructure is not covered by these measures and as such there is no specific mechanism available to the Gardai or the Courts to deal with the type of difficulties we have seen. (Not the case) My Department is presently considering ways of addressing any such issue.
This is not an easy task; there is a delicate balance to be struck between ensuring that the constitutional rights of the individual to freedom of speech and freedom of access to information are maintained, while at the same time introducing measures that can deal with this abuse in a timely and effective manner. Determining an appropriate threshold for offences to ensure that a slew of vexatious or frivolous complaints do not arise is a challenge. We have to be aware of these difficulties, and also to ensure that the questions of intent, credible threat and the degree of menace all receive due weighting. Experience in other jurisdictions has been that this balance is not easy to strike, and we fully intend to give any measures our full consideration before implementing them.
I am convinced that it is possible to ensure that people can gain the full benefit offered by social media, in their public and private lives, while being protected against harassment or bullying of any kind, if we remain open to appropriate and sensitive intervention. These interventions must tread the infinitesimally fine line between protecting individuals and ensuring that free speech, and free and open debate, are preserved. This is difficult, make no mistake, but it is a balance that we must strike again and again, in the light of new technologies.
I look forward to hearing the outcome of the rest of your discussions Chair, and I will consider and recommendations that you may have on the subject. I know that members will be wary of making sweeping recommendations given the complexity and importance of this area, but I am sure that the Committee will be able to engage constructively and sensitively in these issues.
I wish you well in your work.
Back again with Facebook and Twitter tomorrow Thursday, 7 March, 10 am
Wednesday, 13 March, 9:30 am: National Anti-Bullying Coalition
Wednesday, 20 March, 9:30 am: YouTube
The first Dáil January 21, 2013Posted by doctorfive in Irish History.
Tags: Irish History, Oireachtas
Perhaps a fitting anniversary given discussion on the merits of (extra) parliamentary activity here lately. The first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Round Room of the Mansion House on 21 January 1919.
Ninety four years ago today.
A revolutionary assembly by all accounts.
The Proclamation was ratified & Declaration of Irish Independence adopted
Whereas the Irish People is by right a free people:
And whereas for seven hundred years the Irish People has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation:
And whereas English rule in this country is, and always has been, based upon force and fraud and maintained by military occupation against the declared will of the people:
And whereas the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916, by the Irish Republican Army, acting on behalf of the Irish People:
And whereas the Irish People is resolved to secure and maintain its complete independence in order to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to ensure peace at home and good will with all nations, and to constitute a national policy based upon the people’s will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen:
And whereas at the threshold of a new era in history the Irish electorate has in the General Election of December, 1918, seized the first occasion to declare by an overwhelming majority its firm allegiance to the Irish Republic:
Now, therefore, we, the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish People in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish Nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge ourselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command:
We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish People alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance:
We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison:
We claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation in the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter:
In the name of the Irish People we humbly commit our destiny to Almighty God Who gave our fathers the courage and determination to persevere through long centuries of a ruthless tyranny, and strong in the justice of the cause which they have handed down to us, we ask His Divine blessing on this the last stage of the struggle we have pledged ourselves to carry through to freedom.
You can add or subtract a few words there for a more contemporary feel. Now in it’s 31st incarnation, the Dáil has arguable more power, for now at least. 1919 also marks the first step on Gombeen man’s long journey to TD of course.
Cathal Brugha was elected Ceann Comhairle though replaced by Seán T. O’Kelly the following day. After fourteen or so sittings Dáil Éireann was declared a dangerous association by the British Government.
The RTÉ archive have uploaded a 1969 lecture from Professor Kevin B. Nowlan on the 50th anniversary and a short clip of Ernest Blythe, Robert Barton and James Ryan recalling how they were chosen as Sinn Féin candidates for the landmark 1918 election.
Conor McCabe shows how we got on since.
Rights and charity January 16, 2013Posted by doctorfive in Inequality.
Tags: inequality, Oireachtas
Just wanted to highlight this from December.
I think it speaks for itself in more ways then one but here’s the transcript
I remember a time in this House when I was trying to introduce legislation for people with disabilities and subjected to a most horrendous campaign outside Leinster House driven, conceived and led by the Labour Party.
It convinced people that what people with disabilities were entitled to were absolute rights, regardless of the state of the finances of the country, something that did not apply in any other country and which by definition could not apply in any other country. The campaign was led by people such as Mrs. Finlay and her husband who are closely associated with the Labour Party. I tell Deputy Dominic Hannigan and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, it is a long way from seeking absolute rights, regardless of the state of the finances of the country, to slashing and cutting the inadequate provision made.