Director General of the HSE Tony O’Brien spoke to Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.
Mr O’Brien’s interview followed the HSE confirming yesterday that some 208 women in Ireland had a false negative smear test before being diagnosed with cervical cancer and 162 of these women – 17 of whom are now dead – were not told of their earlier incorrect test.
The figures emerged after Limerick mum-of-two Vicky Phelan settled her action against a US laboratory, subcontracted by the CervicalCheck to assess the tests, without admission of liability for €2.5million last week.
Terminally-ill Ms Phelan was only told last year that a 2011 smear test assessed by the US lab returned a false negative while she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014.
The information about the 208 women only came to light after Ms Phelan refused to sign a confidentiality agreement connected to her court action.
Yesterday, Dr David Gibbons, a former member of the National Cervical Screen Programme, told RTE’s Jackie Fox, on Morning Ireland, that he had raised concerns about the outsourcing of cervical smear tests to US labs in 2008.
He raised his concerns with Mr O’Brien when he realised that the US lab tests were detecting fewer cases of cervical cancer than the tests done in Ireland. Dr David Gibbons warned there would be problems in ten years’ time.
When nothing changed as a consequence of him raising his concerns, Dr Gibbons resigned.
Mr O’Brien is due to retire this summer.
From this morning’s interview…
Sean O’Rourke: “At any stage over the past week, did you consider standing down sooner?“
Tony O’Brien: “No.”
O’Rourke: “Despite the fact that, quite clearly, you and the minister Simon Harris are very much at odds, in very serious way.”
O’Brien: “I don’t believe we are. After what seems to be reported in the media, the disagreement between us, we were having a conversation last night which was perfectly normal and didn’t touch on this at all. You know, we’re grown-up guys, we have different roles, I said what I said because it would not have been appropriate for me to publicaly express confidence or otherwise in staff because I am, effectively, their employer. That is not the same…”
O’Rourke: “That’s a bit like sort of, you know, circling the wagons, you know, my people, right or wrong.”
O’Brien: “No, no, if the director general of RTE went out tonight and said she didn’t have confidence in you, you would take great umbrage at that. You would probably find it quite difficult to come in and present your programme tomorrow. You’d have the opportunity to sue RTE for effectively sacking you and for doing so without any process.”
O’Rourke: “Did you…”
O’Brien: “So my role is different.”
O’Rourke: “Did you ask her [CervicalCheck clinical director Grainne Flannelly] not to resign?”
O’Brien: “I asked her to consider carefully, in order that I wanted to be sure that she had reflected fully and made the right decision and I spoke to her at some length on Saturday evening, at the point at which she was confirming to me her decision to resign. What I didn’t want her to do was to do something in haste without a period of reflection and I also had a duty of care to make sure that she had access to some appropriate clinical colleagues that could talk to her about her own situation.
“Let’s remember all of the women involved in this are human beings, flesh and blood. So too are the staff members and clinicians involved. I take my duty of care to all of them equally seriously. And I think some sections of the media need to think about that too.”
FF says it has tabled a private notice question for #Dáil on cervical issue, which is being dismissed in favour of ‘statements’ which they say is insufficient. Stephen Donnelly has been given a “cursory glance” at April 16 memo sent to Simon Harris; wants it redacted and released pic.twitter.com/dROK2Ppho0
Donnelly says Harris has agreed to attend for Qs at the Oireachtas Health Committee tomorrow afternoon (officials from Cervical Check due tomorrow morning). He says FF’s immediate focus is to ensure the Government did as much as it could, as early as it could
Dublin City Council’s CEO Owen Keegan speaking to RTE’s Sean O’Rourke this morning
On RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Dublin City Council’s CEO Owen Keegan was interviewed about a range of matters.
These included the Luas Cross City works, the College Green plaza the lack of cycling facilities in the capital, housing and comments of Housing Agency’s boss Conor Skehan who recently claimed some people were ‘gaming the system’, by, he alleged, declaring they were homeless in order to jump the housing waiting list queue.
He was also asked his opinion about the €500,000 that Dublin City Council have voted to spend on lowering a recently built flood defence wall in Clontarf.
From the interview…
Owen Keegan: “What we’re saying is do not come into the city centre unless your destination is in the city, core city centre. There was far too much traffic going through the city centre and we’ve basically made it, we’re not accommodating that traffic but you can still access every car park, you can access every hotel and business is doing well in the city centre. This myth that business is dependent on car access, that’s simply not the case.
“Business is recovering very well in the city centre. We’ve held the retail core, despite all the challenges and it’s a difficult time for retail generally with the move to offline [sic] sales. It’s about the quality of the retail experience and about the whole public…it’s not just about how you access it.”
Sean O’Rourke: “This is an another angle being taken by, this is another one of our listeners, Marie, ‘will you please ask Owen Keegan what’s the plan for cyclists trying to make their way safely through the city; you take your life in your hands and probably drive Luas drivers mad as well cycling down Dawson Street’?”
Keegan: “Well one of the immediate things we’re going to do is improve cyclist facilities around the College Green area because we recognise that it is very challenging at the moment. There is a need for significant further investment in cycling facilities in the core city centre.”
O’Rourke: “Now, describe the plaza that’s planned. I mean what is it going to do? How big is it going to be? What’s going to go on there?”
Keegan: “It’s basically an open space but, you know, finished in very high quality materials, you know, for pedestrians. There will be a dedicated cycle track on one side of it, a two-way cycle track. I mean I’m not going to describe the image here..”
O’Rourke: “It’s a public facility…but again people are thinking, ‘well, you know, that was supposed to be the great appeal of the boardwalk and the first job that has to be done there, along the Liffey, is you’ve to go out and clean up the needles that are there, left by people unfortunately who have the wrong relationship with drugs.”
Keegan: “I think there are issues about the boardwalk but I don’t believe that this public plaza will be, I think there’ll be significant uses of, you know, I mean, one of, the problem with the boardwalk, at times of the day, it isn’t that used, it has been frequented by, you know, certain category which is unfortunate. I don’t think that issue will arise here.”
O’Rourke: “You think it’s going to be an area that’s going to enhance the city as opposed to one that’s going to create further social problems…”
O’Rourke: “What about housing? Obviously you have a responsibility there and it’s in Dublin, perhaps more than anywhere else, that the crisis is most keenly felt. What have you been able to do by way of, I mean how many new social houses or apartments did the city council build? I don’t mean ones that you supplied to new, or sorry to people who didn’t previously have one, what is the story there at the moment in Dublin City Council?”
Keegan: “Well, look, the housing situation is very difficult and the city council, we’re not responsible for the performance of the housing market. The recovery in the general housing supply has been slow, much slower than, given the buoyancy of the economy – that’s not our direct responsibility, but it is a major factor, so, I suppose the housing crisis is partly because we got out of social housing building and that would have been, and in actual fact there was no money to spend on social housing, it’s something that I think was most unfortunate. We’re back in social housing now, it’s taking time to ramp that up.
“But you know we’re dealing with the consequences of the failure of the private housing market and we have some influence on that market, in terms of planing policy but there are other factors there. But we have been very proactive in terms of sourcing our social housing. I mean last year we would have sourced about 4,100 units – not many of those were new builds. But there was an awful lot of housing that had been, our own stock, that had been out of commission, that we recommissioned.
“We made about 2,400 HAP housing assistance payment units available, the new builds would have been, we built around 100, sorry 250, the approved housing bodies brought about 350 units of supply, we got about 56 on Part V. Overall, we did about 4,000 allocations.”
O’Rourke: “But that would seem to be just a fraction of what’s needed in a city of a million people? How many people are on your housing list, waiting list?”
Keegan: “There are about 19,000. But 4,000 does represent significant, relative to where we would have been…”
O’Rourke: “What would you expect to do this year?”
Keegan: “Well I’d expect to do a lot more than that.”
O’Rourke: “Would you expect to double it?”
Keegan: “I’m not sure we’d quite double it, no, no. We have an awful lot of houses at different stages of construction, we’ve under construction, at planning, design, so, the pipeline is building up. It takes time to get housing. And we were out of the social housing business. At the same time, a lot of our effort has gone into, we brought another 200 hostel beds on, we’re working on about 500 family hub units, all of these units are delivered by the city council so, you know, we have been very proactive, compared to where we were two years ago and we would begin to see the benefits of that over the next two to three years.”
O’Rourke: “Is money an issue for you or have you got as much as you think you can spend?”
Keegan: “I think in fairness we’re getting as much as we think we can spend, you know? I don’t think that is an issue.”
O’Rourke: “And what about space in which to build?”
Keegan: “Well at the moment, we have a limited number of sites. I think every site that we own is at some stage in the process, you know, in two or three years, we’ll run out of sites and we’ll have to acquire land or, you know, but at the moment, we have enough sites, they’re all, every site we have I think is being pursued and is at some stage along the process.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, I mean, talking about the list, the 19,000 people on it, do you have a view on what Conor Skehan had to say, the chair of the national Housing Agency, that some people were making themselves homeless in order to get quicker access to accommodation?”
Keegan: “There is no doubt that a number of people who are presenting, or families who are presenting as homeless, are leaving the family home. Now whether you can accuse those people of ‘gaming’, you know, that’s a very emotive language. A lot of those people are in very difficult situations in the family home. So I think it would be unfair to categorise everybody who leaves a family home.
“There is probably, you know, a sense to which, given the political priority on housing families who are actually homeless, the priority being put on that, you know, people who are queuing in an ordinary fashion, in very difficult conditions in the family home, some of them may say ‘well look, I’m not getting anywhere’, you know, and may have made themselves homeless.
“But I think someone has to have an understanding of the factors, it’s not as simple as, I think the word ‘gaming the system’ was unfortunate. People can be in very, very difficult circumstances at a family home and it may not be tenable for them to continue to reside there and they present…”
O’Rourke: “And in desperation maybe, they think there’s a quicker route to a permanent home…”
Keegan: “Yeah and given how important housing is, it’s not unreasonable that people would maximise, now I don’t advocate, and we certainly think people are better off being in the family home where they have family supports and in many, most cases, it is by far a better option going into a hotel, but you know, we have to accept that for some people it is not a sustainable option.”
O’Rourke: “One other question, it’s on the mind of some of our listeners. A lot of time, I think was it two years and a lot of expense went to raising the sea wall, that protective barrier in the Clontarf area. And now it’s going to be lowered again so that motorists can have their view of the sea restored? Does that make sense?”
Keegan:“It doesn’t make sense to me. And I would have advised the members strongly against it. But, ultimately, this was a political decision. In fairness to the elected members, I think we started that, the construction of that project in the run up to the general election. And having sailed through the planning approval process and nobody objected to it, none of the councillors objected to it, it was unanimously endorsed, the part VIII at the council. When we went to build it there were a number of concerns raised locally and they just gathered momentum in the run-up to the general election and, certainly one councillor was particularly active in campaigning against it and kind of, we were, the contractor was on site. It just, we kind of just lost control of the thing, so it was unfortunate. I mean, don’t start sensitive projects in the run-up to a general election would be the lesson I’d learn from that.”
Clockwise from top: The Gate Theatre, Jill Kerby and Lise Hand
Earlier this morning.
On RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Canadian-born financial journalist Jill Kerby; columnist with The Times, Ireland Edition Lise Hand; Solidarity/People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett and Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness joined Seán O’Rourke for The Gathering slot.
During the slot, they turned to the statement released by The Gate yesterday, in the wake of claims made by six women against the theatre’s former artistic director, for 33 years, Michael Colgan.
The six women are Grace Dyas, Annette Clancy, Ali White, Ella Clarke, Ciara Smyth and Ruth Gordon.
The claims revolve around events ranging from the early 1990s to 2016, Mr Colgan’s final year at The Gate.
In the statement, The Gate Theatre called out for employees, or former employees, who have concerns to raise about sexual harassment or abuse of power to contact them on email@example.com.
It also said it intends to appoint an independent professional HR advisor to handle any issues raised.
The statement did not name Michael Colgan.
Readers will recall the Gate Theatre received €860,000 in State funding in 2016. Mr Colgan was paid €231,000, including salary, expenses and pension payments in the same year.
This morning, in light of the statement, Mr O’Rourke raised the matter with his panelists.
Nobody named Mr Colgan.
From the show:
Sean O’Rourke: “Moving on, the, I suppose, another one of the big stories of the week, can be summed up in the two words sex pests. Across the water, suggestions as well that there’s need to look into matters closer to home. I see The Gate Theatre now have appointed a HR expert to receive complaints from people there. What do you make of it all, Lise Hand?”
Lise Hand: “Well, I think there’s sort of two things going on here. First, you know, there’s actually almost a common theme running through a lot of what we’re talking about. A lot of it has to do with no kind of controls, regulation or no, and also people acting with impunity, with no fear of any consequences. And now you have, what started with a say #metoo in America spread…”
O’Rourke: “This is after Harvey Weinstein…”
Hand: “This is after Harvey Weinstein. And an actress started this hashtag and I think, within 24 hours, there was, you know, a million responses on Twitter to it. So, you now have this sort of rolling situation and, for the first time, we probably see people suffering consequences of these allegations. People are being made to step down, shows are, in Hollywood, shows are being axed. You have people, you know, you have men who have, are under these allegations, and they’re actually facing consequences.
“And you’ve a situation here, too, of course, where the #metoo thing has obviously reached Ireland, and, you know, we’ve seen a lot of action on social media over this over the weekend. There was you know, a report of one, it was in a Sunday paper, a couple of Sunday papers, you know, about one individual using the term sex pest and then there was sort of a separate story running online as well about other allegations made by somebody else of a much more serious nature.
“And I think there’s two things here. One, there is a danger when these things go up on social media, that different stories get conflated. And people who have nothing to do with this and are completely blameless, names start circulating. And this is the danger. And I think even with the best intention in the world, if somebody wants to step forward and say ‘we need to make this public so people will come out, you know, will come out with their stories’, I think there is a process, I think that, needs to be followed.
“I mean, as a journalist, if I’m you know, doing a story with any allegations, I will absolutely make sure that I have everybody sourced, every single fact nailed down before I go to it. And just one last thing: I think if the Government want to, could actually turn all this into an opportunity, it’s been, since 2002, many people have been trying to get a report, a new SAVI [Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland] report done…”
O’Rourke: “That’s. SAVI stands for sexual…”
Hand: “Sexual violence in Ireland…sexual assault and violence in Ireland, I think it is. Now they could. Since 2002, there hasn’t been a report on this. They could do that and also broaden it out to just look at the broader thing of harassment in the thing. If it only cost €1million and, you know, of a budget of €60billion, surely €1million could be found.”
O’Rourke: “Social media has transformed everything.”
McGuinness: “It has but the frightening thing is that women in America, who spoke out, are now empowered because they’re powerful. When they were powerless, they didn’t speak out. We and debate in the European Parliament on this issue, and there’s concerns in the parliament, as there would be in all big organisations, and I dare say in this outfit as well, that where people are together and some are more powerful than others, you can have what turns out to be sexual harassment and people are fearful to speak out. You need systems to address that.
“The worry with social media is it vents anger but actually could destroy a follow-up, where people should be held to account. And, in addition, people now saying ‘oh it’s going too far’ and the danger is that where there’s a real problem, and there are real problems in the workplace, that people will say, ‘ah sure look, it was harmless and now people are going too far and you can’t touch anyone in a lift or…’ That kind of thing. There is a danger.”
Jill Kerby: “Sure. But there’s always that kind of a backlash, I think, when any sort of event like this happens – especially in this country. I mean, when 20 years ago, there revelations about child sexual abuse in the church were happening, the same kind of people were coming out saying ‘oh, this is most unfair to the church and it’s most unfair to most priests because most of them are really nice guys and this is a terrible thing to do.”
McGuinness: “No one is saying that now.”
Talk over each other
Kerby: “Hang on, no, no, they’re not saying that but they are saying ‘oh this has gone too far’. You know. We have to live with social media. We have to accept…”
Hand: “I don’t think people are saying it’s gone too far, I think all people are saying is that care needs to be taken.”
Kerby: “On my tweet line, lots of people are coming out and, I have to say, most of them are men. And they’re saying ‘this has gone too far’, you know, ‘you women don’t always know what’s the difference between a little bit of jocular office whatever…'”
Talk over each other
Hand: “That’s different than saying, I think, that you know a lot of the people are going too far. I do agree that there is a certain, like ‘you can’t take a joke’…
Talk over each other
Hand: “The only people surprised by the amount, the outpouring on this, are men because any women have sat down together and they’ve talked about an incident, from something very minor, you know, something irritating…”
Kerby: “You know what? I believe them.”
Hand: “Well, we all believe them. Yeah. But..”
Kerby: “I believe those women who say that and that is why I believe the danger now is that there is going to be this great surge of opprobrium against the fact that it’s social media that’s directing this. We have to live with this.”
O’Rourke: “I, to be honest, don’t think social media is the main explanation for why these issues are coming up and I very much welcome the fact that they’re coming up and I think it’s a sign that feeling more confident, and in a stronger position to challenge what has been a rotten culture of sexism and misogyny and where sexual violence, harassment, sexism generally, was acceptable and pervasive in society. It’s becoming less acceptable and that’s because women are becoming more assertive and that is a good thing.”
During the interview, an extract of a statement made by Sgt McCabe’s wife Lorraine in preparation for a legal action against An Garda Siochana, which is contained in the book, was read out by Tara Campbell.
In it, Lorraine describes what life has been like for her and her family for almost 10 years:
“In 1993, I married a decent, honourable and, above all, an honest man. For the last nine years, because of these admirable traits and his decision to challenge the system for all of the right reasons, his life has intentionally, relentlessly and systematically been rendered intolerable for him at every turn.
“This has had a profound and very destructive effect on me, my children, my marriage and on our life as a family.
“It’s usual, in a marriage, to be able to turn to your partner for support. In my case, given the pressure that Maurice has been under, I’ve not felt able to burden him further at times when I would have ordinarily needed support.
“I’ve largely had to cope with other trials and difficulties in our lives, including the death of both of my parents, alone. I’ve also had to shield Maurice from many of the day-to-day family concerns regarding the children and otherwise – what would ordinarily be dealt with together.
“One of the most difficult episodes for me was when Maurice was so low that he was admitted into St John of Gods for help. I’ll never forget the desperation I felt that night, after leaving him and driving home alone and wondering how I could shield the children from this.
“We’ve five children, the eldest of whom is now 21. Tom was only a baby when all of this began. Despite my best efforts, their entire childhoods have been marred.
“Our lives have been destroyed. For years, we lived in fear. And now that fear has turned into extreme anger at what they tried to do and how things could have ended but for the relentless fight we had to endure and the tireless work of our legal team.
“I’m still married to a decent, honourable, and above all, an honest man.
“However, he, I, and our children, have paid a very high price for his honesty and his decision to challenge the system in the interest of others.”
Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly spoke to Sean O’Rourke in light of Noirin O’Sullivan’s resignation.
From the discussion…
Clare Daly: “I think there’s been an attempt here to kind of change the narrative to sort of portray the former commissioner as a sort of a victim. Too many people asking questions, she couldn’t get on with the job – the reason why there were so many people asking questions is that answers weren’t being given. Transparency and accountability wasn’t being delivered.
“And the sad fact is that there was open warfare inside the hierarchy of An Garda Siochana, between the civilian heads and between most of the senior garda management. And sadly, we’ve had a roadmap for how to deliver a modern police service, based on really comprehensive reports that were done by the Garda Inspectorate in previous years which all we need to do is implement them.
“And the problem being that the people at the top of An Garda Siocahana come from the old guard and are not best equipped to deal with that type of change that is necessary to herald in a new type of Garda management.”
Sean O’Rourke: “So you’re talking about, not just a new commissioner but a new top layer of management are you?”
Daly: “I think that’s absolutely necessary and we would be very concerned with some of the recent promotions by the Policing Authority for people who we know have been the subject of serious complaints and investigations by GSOC and Garda management, in example, for harassment of whistleblowers, have actually ended up on the promotion list. And…”
O’Rourke: “So the Policing Authority has to go as well, does it?”
Daly: “No, the Policing Authority has to be…”
O’Rourke: “If they’re promoting these people…”
Daly: “What this Government didn’t want it to be – a fully independent body. Let’s remember the personnel of the present Policing Authority were effectively hand-picked by the last government, there wasn’t open recruitment and selection for that. And their hands have been tied and they’ve allowed their hands to be tied even further. I made the example earlier and what happened in Scotland and other jurisdictions, they seem to manage it perfectly well.
“Where a garda commissioner or a chief constable, whatever they’re called, are actually held to account by a proper policing authority. We haven’t go that here. We’ve got a halfway house and the legislation has been there to deal with it.”
Former Fianna Fáil TD and junior minister Conor Lenihan was interviewed by Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One.
It follows a report in yesterday’s Irish Times in which it was reported Mr Lenihan is interested in running in the next European elections in 2019.
During the interview, Mr O’Rourke asked Mr Lenihan about an opinion piece written by Fintan O’Toole in today’s Irish Times in which Mr O’Toole focused on an interview in last weekend’s Sunday Business Post in which Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen told the newspaper the party wanted to see the Vat rate for builders and developers cut from 13% to 9%.
Mr Cowen told the Sunday Business Post:
“We’re looking at a Vat holiday for a sunset period for the construction sector. We are calling for a reduction in development charges and planning levies. The pussy footing is over. There has to be radical measures for a period to allow the sector get back on its feet. To allow the sector to create affordable homes, to allow local authorities to be given the space to build houses.”
Mr O’Toole wrote:
The party [Fianna Fáil] has a bad case of builder’s bum: when it bends over to help out its friends it reveals the hideous gap between its recent left-wing rhetoric and its true loyalties.
If tax breaks for developers created a stable housing market and good urban planning we’d be living on Paradise Island.
Developer-led get-rich-quick schemes, fuelled by tax incentives, have led only to disaster.
Further to this, Mr Lenihan and Mr O’Rourke had the following exchange.
Conor Lenihan: “I think there’s a very serious crisis here and the current government and the previous government have done very little in this area. We do need emergency measures, we need something that actually gets builders and the constructions sector building houses.
“This is not rocket science. We do need to provide incentives to people who are building houses to go out and build them. And if you talk to builders and plenty of us do, it’s very clear that the mixture of taxation on a house, to build a house, makes it very disadvantageous for people to get into building houses.
“So this is a very serious thing that has to be addressed. Now it’s nothing to do with anybody’s relationship with the building industry but I would point out that, notwithstanding the brickbat thrown by the likes of Fintan O’Toole against Fianna Fail in relation to our relationship or whatever, with the building industry that it’s very clear from the data, from 1922 on, from the period after independence, that the amount of social houses built by Fianna Fáil governments, is very consistent. We’ve always built more social housing than any other party in this State. So the record…”
O’Rourke: “Coming back…”
Lenihan: “…is good in terms of one level if you look at the actual data…”
O’Rourke: “Well, I think you’d probably have to go back to the 1950s to find your real achievements…”
Lenihan: “No, the social housing schemes were started in the 1930s by the De Valera government and a time when the previous government had no interest….”
O’Rourke: “In the Ahern era, and thereafter, it became a question of just leave it to the markets.”
Lenihan: “Yeah, and I think that was a mistake by all parties in Leinster House. We need to have social housing…”
O’Rourke: “No, hang on, you were the guys in Government from 1997 for the next, what was it, 14 years?”
Lenihan: “That’s right. Yes, but there was a, but there was a consensus in the Dail. The Opposition parties were asking for more, more tax cuts, more spending…”
O’Rourke: “Ok, just to come back to where we started…and your potential return to the political fray here, your name being on the ballot paper. Have you spoken to Micheal Martin about this idea?”
Lenihan: “Of course I have, I’ve spoken to him and I made it clear that I was open and available.”
O’Rourke: “And what did he say?”
Lenihan: “Well he was very encouraging, of course. As party leader, he does not and cannot express a preference for one candidate over another. He has to be respectful to the membership but I was glad to be able to meet him and share my ambition in that regard.”
The paper was called Financial and Economic Crisis: Explaining the Sunset over the Celtic Tiger, and was written by Raj Chari, of Trinity College Dublin and Patrick Bernhagen, of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Kevin Myers: “…I think I could have been treated with more dignity [by the Sunday Times] but I do understand. I too quickly said and an affirmative to a question I wasn’t expecting, I said ‘yes’. And I don’t think that’s quite right because anyone should have a second chance for making an error of judgment.
“You see I’ve come on air and I’m not fully prepared for what you’re going to throw at me. I haven’t slept in two nights and I’m…”
Sean O’Rourke: “It’s a very tough thing and, on a human level, I think people will empathise or sympathise with somebody losing, you’ve lost your livelihood?”
Myers: “Yes, I have. But I don’t want anyone else to lose their livelihood. Enough damage has been done. So, you know, it’s happened. I enjoyed working for The Sunday Times and I’m sorry this has happened. I did, I mean…”
O’Rourke: “But I mean even if, if there had been, and again, that’s noble of you to say it but if there are five or six people whose job it is to vet what people write for the paper, prior to it going to print, surely they have to be on the line aswell.”
Talk over each other
Myers: “Enough damage, enough misery has been caused. You see, you can have a perch, you can, and a lot of people would love a perch. A nice big witch hunt, lots of victims, lots of lives ruined, lots of mortgages…”
O’Rourke: “It’s called taking responsibility.”
Myers: “I’m taking responsibility for what I wrote. I can’t do anything for anybody else.”
O’Rourke: “OK, and the other thing that’s been much noted and much commented upon is that if there hadn’t been those references to two women presenters in the BBC, Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, you would still be a columnist. And questions are being asked…”
Myers: “And, you know, that was just one single a line or two, that’s all.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, but the question is being asked what about the way you would appear to routinely write material which is misogynistic…”
Myers: “It’s not misogynistic, no it’s not misogynistic. I am a critic of political feminism. I am not a misogynist. That’s a term that you might have been, I don’t think you would have used that term about me in different circumstances, Sean. It hasn’t routinely been used about me but it’s a simple way of labelling somebody and that means you don’t have to listen to what they’re saying.”
O’Rourke: “But in terms of why people get ahead professionally and why men more so than women do so, you suggest that a personnel department or a human resources department, as it’s now called, will tell you that ‘men usually work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant. But most of all men tend to be more ambitious, they have that grey-backed testosterone-powered hierarchy-climbing id that feminised and egalitarian-obsessed legislatures are increasingly trying to legislate against’.”
Myers: “Yes, well that’s an observation I would have made on many occasions and I don’t think it would have been the object of such obloquy in different circumstances but I do believe that men and women behave very differently and men are driven by ambition and by urges that women don’t have, generally speaking.”
O’Rourke: “When you wrote as well, in the same column on Sunday, ‘a fairly average female columnist in 800 indignant words of smouldering mediocrity will, without leaving her keyboard, earn more than a cleaning lady or a checkout girl, what they would earn, in an entire week plus Sunday overtime’. Now why refer to a fairly average female columnist there?”
Myers: “Actually, because we’re talking about the context of equality. I don’t believe in equality, Sean. I’m not asking you questions. You’re asking me questions. I’m on this programme because Mary, your producer texted me this morning and she’s doing her professional job outside. None of us is equal to one another. I’m arguing in, repeatedly, over the decades…”
O’Rourke: “Why put in the word, if you just wrote ‘a fairly average columnist in 800 indignant words’, I mean why does it have to be a ‘female columnist’?”
Myers: “Because I’m talking about the issue of female equality when women, when feminists talk about, within the BBC, talking about how they should be equal with the men, well actually nobody’s equal so the women who’s making the tea or cleaning the floors or whatever, is not equal to the star presenter. And it just, that was the issue, the context of that…”
O’Rourke: “That applies equally to male as well as female…”
Myers: “It does absolutely. But you see you can actually Sean, without any problem, got through line by line and paragraph by paragraph in that thing and find..”
O’Rourke: “OK, well I want to do one more, actually, if I may, and I don’t want to labour the point. But you say: ‘equality is a unicorn, don’t wait for it or look for favours because of your chromosome count. Get what you can with whatever talents you have and ask yourself how many women are billionaires, chess players, grandmasters, mathematicians, there’s a connection: mastery of money usually requires singular drive, ruthless logic and instant arctic cold arithmetic’. Now, it’s very easy to conclude, reading that paragraph or most of a paragraph that you actually believe that women are inferior to men.”
Myers: “Well you might have come to that conclusion. If I thought that, I would be an idiot. And I’m sorry that I’ve given that impression but I’ve already told you that I have many weaknesses and one of my weaknesses is a weakness for facile terminology like that. If it irritates people then you’re losing them, you lose them as readers or listeners or whatever. Now, the way you’ve read that out to me, and to your audience, makes me sound like a very unpleasant person. But I’m not a very unpleasant person. You’ve just taken any single paragraph…”
O’Rourke: “By the way, it is the duty of a columnist, I would argue and I’m sure you would as well, occasionally, to be unpleasant.”
Myers: “It is but the point is a single paragraph taken like that, out of context, makes me sound like a villain. But there are very few women mathematicians, there are very few women grand chess masters, there’s on in the top 100, that’s a fact.”
O’Rourke: “Maybe they have better things to be doing.”
Myers: “Well that’s the point. That is the point. Now if I had said that, it would be called misogyny.”
O’Rourke: “Now there’s a lot of traffic on our text line [reads out text] “Does Mr Myers apologise for calling the children of single mothers ‘bastards?’.”
Myers: “Well I don;t know why she’s asking that..Is that a woman asking that? I wrote an entire column on that. The column appeared on a Tuesday by Thursday I had written a full retraction and a full and abject apology in which the terms abject and contrite were the two words I used at the end. I knew I had done a bad thing.”
O’Rourke: “Ruth Walsh , I’m not sure if it’s our former journalistic colleague Ruth Walsh is tweeting to observe: ‘Kevin Myers in person is a very likeable but he has made too many throw away remarks over the years. He is not a rookie journalist’.”
Myers: “Well, I’m not going to argue with that.”
O’Rourke: “I’m wondering how do you go about rebuilding or do you at this stage…”
Myers: “Very hard to say how I can say I can recover from this. Personally I’m in a very bad way which is fine, people expect you to suffer if they give you a good kicking and that’s happening. I’m not sure if there’s any redemption for me now which will give a lot of people satisfaction.”
O’Rourke: “And if they read the Independent today, Gerard O’Regan their former editor is writing about how unnecessarily difficult it was for him as an editor to deal with you. I suppose brilliant people are often difficult people to deal with. It could be said you long ago burnt your bridges in the Irish Times, then the Independent and now the Sunday Times…”
Myers: “I didn’t burn my bridges in the irish Times. I left the irish Times. The irish Times didn’t ask me to leave and they actually tried very hard for me to stay. The Irish Independent declined to renew my contract when it was up but there was no strained feelings there. It didn’t happen and the Sunday Times took me on. We now know the Sunday Times relationship is over.”
O’Rourke: “You don’t think there’s any way to argue your way back in there by maybe writing a fresh column. Would you like to be given space to write 750 or a thousand words just to state your position not necessarily pleading for your job back.”
Myers: well there’s no question the Sunday Times are taking me on as far as I can see. Martin Ivens, the editor I amtold – I haven’t been reading stuff online as I haven’t got the constitution to take all that hatred that exists online – that I will never be employed by the Sunday Times in any guise in the future so I have to accept him on his word.
O’Rourke: “In your defence there is the statement issued by Maurice Cohen, chair of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland in which he says branding Kevin Myers as either an anti-semite or a Holocaust denier is an absolute distortion of the facts but he does go on to take issue with…”
Myers: “All the Jews have. I accept that. I was wrong. It was stupid of me this encapsulation of this quite big issue in a single sentence or half a sentence. It’s done me terminal damage but that’s that. It’s what happens in life these days.
O’Rourke: “Would there have been a sense though, subconsciously or otherwise, that I can toss out these lines and observations and sure look there’s half a dozen people to rein me in if I go overboard and I can push the boundaries, push the boundaries..
Myers: “I am the Master of my soul and the author of my own misfortune. I cannot blame anyone else”
O’Rourke: “What would you say to Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman this morning?”
Myers: “I am very, very sorry. I really mean this because I’m not rescuing anything. It’s over for me professionally as far as I can see. I am very, very sorry that I should have so offended them and I do utter an apology not for any reason other than out of genuine contrition for the hurt I caused them but I did so out of respect for the religion they come from and for the religion I still hold in regard, particularly the irish members of that religion who have been so forthright in their defence of me generally. Not just Maurice [Cohen]. Others who have been contacting me privately and I am so grateful for their support.”
O’Rourke: “Kevin Myers, thank you for coming in today.”
On the same day that Sunday Times columnist Kevin Myers’ article was removed from the Sunday Times website, an apology was issued and it was announced that Mr Myers will not write for the newspaper again…
Rabbi Julia Neuberger and Sunday Times columnist, Kevin Myers, sit next to each other at the West Cork History Festival in Skibbereen.
Readers may wish to note the apologies issued yesterday by Martin Ivens, editor of The Sunday Times; and Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of the Irish edition of The Sunday Times, following the publication, and subsequent removal of Kevin Myers’ article…
From top: Dublin’s Lord Mayor Brendan Carr on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland; Dublin City Councillor, with the Green Party, Clare Byrne; and a graphic from mediator Kieran Mulvey’s report on the agreement to the Minister for Health Simon Harris
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr, spoke to Cathal MacCoille, following last night’s meeting of the board of the National Maternity Hospital where a motion re-endorsing the agreement for it to move to the St Vincent’s site was passed.
Mr Carr was one of three members who opposed the motion.
“A number of people stressed to me last night when that initial decision was made, they took it under duress. I thought, what I’m saying is last night, my opinion, right, I stress this is my opinion, the manner in which some members of the board were treated last night was done in a very bullying and intimidatory way. That’s my opinion.”
Following Morning Ireland, Labour party leader Brendan Howlin and two board members of the National Maternity Hospital, Sinn Féin councillor Micheal MacDonncha and Green party councillor Clare Byrne, both of whom were at last night’s meeting, spoke on Today with Seán O’Rourke.
During the segment, Ms Byrne said she understands the Religious Sisters of Charity “will have no representation on the governance” of the new hospital.
Clare Byrne: “In three years, as a board member, that’s the first time that I’ve sat at that table with the Lord Mayor. So, he was coming to a meeting discussing an issue that has been repeatedly discussed for a number of years. He didn’t attend any of the special meetings that were called. So, it was terse meeting, there’s no denying that. But, of course it was, I mean it’s an extremely important decision that’s being made. And, obviously, it’s important to consider the opinion of the public…”
Sean O’Rourke: “And…”
Byrne: “…which we made very clear over the last week also.”
O’Rourke: “What do you make of Peter Boylan, his reason, I think, for resigning. Just to quote from him, ‘I can’t remain a member of the board that is so blind to the consequences of his decision to transfer sole ownership of the hospital to the Religious Sisters of Charity and so deaf to the concerns of the public which it serves’. You’re all deaf. And blind.”
Byrne: “No, I certainly don’t think I’m deaf and blind to the concerns of the public. I’ve listened very carefully to, and I’ve had a number of people contact me over the last few days, in particular. And I do share their concerns. Absolutely. But look, the reality is, is that we need this hospital and this is the only site that was being offered. There has been little or no support from this government or the previous government, which Brendan [Howlin] you were a member of, to do anything to end the marriage between church and State. There’s been little support for the board for this move which is a crucial service that we need for the women of Ireland. I had my child in Holles Street last year, I received an impeccable level of care but how they do it, in those conditions, is nothing short of a miracle on a daily basis.”
[Can hear Ms Byrne’s baby in background]
O’Rourke: “And the baby is obviously thriving, we’re glad to hear. There’s no doubt about it.”
Byrne: “He is, he is. But the reality is, is that building is not fit for purpose. And they’re in situations where they’re literally shoving beds in between beds and you may have a woman who has just lost a child having to recover surrounded by women who are celebrating the birth of their children. To me, that’s not fair. I think it’s cruel. That needs to change. This move to Vincent’s will provide the level of maternity care that women of Ireland…”
Brendan Howlin: “Everyone is in agreement that we need a new hospital. I walked every inch of it with Dr Rhona Mahony. I went back and immediately spoke to [former minister for health] Dr James Reilly, we allocated the money to do it. Nobody is arguing that there shouldn’t be a new national maternity hospital. But we have to think generationally into the future. That it would be democratically controlled and…”
Byrne: “But Brendan with all due respect, you know that that land was owned by the Sisters of Charity when you walked the site back then, so why didn’t you do anything about it when you were in government?”
Howlin: “Because I would have insisted, had I been in government, that the control and ownership would be exactly the same as in Holles Street. That’s what I understood was going to happen.”
Byrne: “Well, my understanding from the board meeting back in November and, again, last night, is that the Sisters of Charity will have no representation on the governance or input into the clinical [inaudible]…”
Howlin: “But they will have four out of the nine members of the board…why would they want to, if they don’t have any influence, and would the sensible, sane and rational thing now to do would simply be to hand over the land, including getting compensation, getting…”
Byrne: “But that’s not a matter for the board to decide. That’s a matter for the minister to decide. The ownership…”
Howlin: “No, but the governors are the future of the hospital. Maintaining the ethos that you praised within Holles Street is a matter for the board to decide. And, you know, the notion that you’re going to have a legal agreement that [inaudible], that give you assurances, that all sounds well and good but let’s put it beyond doubt now, let’s have ownership..”
Talk over each other
Byrne: “Well, hopefully, when the minister signs off on the final memorandum of agreement, that will be put beyond doubt. And it’s up to him to ensure that that’s what happens now.”
O’Rourke: “I just want to…”
Byrne: “I’m satisfied from the current governance structure that the Sisters of Charity will have no input into clinical decisions made in that hospital…”
Howlin: “Why do they want to own it then?”
Bryne: “And of course I’m concerned about that for the women of Ireland. I want to see a repeal of the Eighth Amendment. I raised those concerns repeatedly during the meeting and I’m satisfied from the responses that I received from the negotiating team, and the legal team, that that will not be the case.”
Howlin: “Kieran Mulvey was brought in and I’ve dealt with Kieran Mulvey for 20 years, to broker deals between parties in dispute. So the fact that there was a dispute between the Sisters of Charity and the National Maternity Hospital indicates that what was brokered was a settlement…”
O’Rourke: “And it was one side had ownership and the other side had control.”
Howlin: “Well, that’s the point. I don’t think it’s right that people should…”
O’Rourke: “And the minster has a veto…”
Howlin: “Well, I mean there’s going to be a board of nine, four of them are going to be appointed by the Sisters of Charity, four by the National Maternity Hospital and, if you like, the casting vote or the deciding vote is to be an eminent person, in the field of…”
Byrne: “[inaudible]…by St Vincent’s.”
Howlin: “I beg your pardon.”
Byrne: “Four will be appointed by St Vincent’s…
Howlin: “No, no, the St Vincent’s trust, which is the Sisters of Charity.”
Byrne: “Well, my understanding is…”
Howlin: “It’s the St Vincent’s trust who are the Sisters of Charity, is that not a fact?”
Byrne: “My understanding is that the Sisters of Charity will have no input into who’s elected onto the [inaudible]”
Howlin: “You’ve attended all the meetings, you’ve said to us that the…the St Vincent’s trust is the Sisters of Charity. And so they would nominate four, maybe you haven’t a full grasp of that. And maybe…”
O’Rourke: “Just to come back Micheal MacDonncha, do you want to enlighten us on that?”
Micheal MacDonncha: “Yes, I mean, that is, what Brendan Howlin is saying there is correct and let’s remember that, from day one here, the aim of the St Vincent’s Trust was complete control. Their original approach was that they wanted to subsume the National Maternity Hospital into Vincent’s and that was the starting point and, hence, there was deadlock and hence there was negotiations and that has been revealed by the Lord Mayor. It was stated at the meeting last night that members themselves that they were under duress to endorse the agreement back in November…there was duress in the sense that it was a Hobson’s choice. It was either this agreement or no hospital.”
From top: Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton at the graveside at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary at a private memorial for her son Anthony Lee (Michael Anthony Hess)
On Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton spoke to Mr O’Rourke in light of the ‘significant quantities of human remains’ being found at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.
Readers will recall how, in 1952, Philomena gave birth to her son Anthony [Michael Anthony Hess] at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.
She was subsequently forced to give him up for adoption and he was sent to America. He died in 1995.
Philomena was portrayed by Judi Dench in the movie Philomena.
From this morning’s interview:
Sean O’Rourke: “Jane, good morning to you.”
Jane Libberton: “Good morning, Sean.”
O’Rourke: “And thank you for coming on the line. Now, we know, just looking, particularly, a lot of interesting reporting, invaluable reporting done on this by The Irish Examiner [Conall Ó Fátharta], but in 2011, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who operated the Sean Ross Abbey, they gave figures to the Health Service Executive [HSE] showing there were 269 deaths at that home between 1934 and ’67 – a period of just over three decades. Now, the paper has reported that some of those buried in the plot on the site, they are not on that register. So, the number may be higher. So I’m just wondering do you support the view that maybe there should be excavations also at Sean Ross Abbey?”
Libberton: “Yes, I do, absolutely. In fact, I think they should be conducted in all mother and baby homes. We’ve been there, to the plot, several times, and we recently spoke to a young man, there was a man, sorry, in his younger days, he was a gardener there. Now, he said that, years ago, him and I think maybe his father, or some other chap, they’d gone to clean the angels’ plot as they call it now. And he went in there and they started to dig the place and they said that they came across bones, you know, not very far down, three or four inches down in the ground.”
“And so, they didn’t know what to do about it, at that time. And I think they didn’t say anything at that time because I think that they wouldn’t have been believed.”