Author Archives: Anne Marie McNally

From top: Danielle Carroll, a homeless mother of two boys who died in emergency accommodation in 2017. A summer school named in her honour has been announced as an alternative to the male-dominated MacGIll Summer School organised by Joe Mulholland; Anne Marie McNally

I’ve been asked to speak at two summer schools this year. One with the Humanist and Free Thinkers Society and one with a school that sprung up as a direct result of the controversy surrounding what is arguably Ireland’s most famous summer school – the MacGill – the Danielle Carroll Summer School (so named in memory of a young mother who died in homelessness).

Where MacGill was once famous it is now infamous. You see apparently it can be quite hard to find female participants with the right ‘aptitude’ to speak on political topics, or so declared the long-time organiser of the MacGill school Joe Mulholland.

Admittedly Mr Mulhollan apologised for the aptitude comment but he then proceeded to find other excuses reasons as to why the panels would once again be overwhelmingly male, pale and stale.

I’ve been to MacGill a number of times over the years and one thing that stands out when you attend the sessions is the average age in the hall. It tends to be on the high side.

The panels, for the most part, tend to be dominated by establishment voices, predominately male. Women are there, both in the audience and on the panels but they are very much in the minority.

Yet here is a political event, set in a beautiful part of the world which should be an attractive option for the many young, energised people I meet regularly in politics – many of them female. But it’s not. Mostly they are not invited but when they are they are very much in the minority.

But while we (rightfully) spend a lot of time in this country having conversations about gender, we don’t spend enough time addressing the issue of class.

If being a woman trying to make it in Irish public life is an uphill struggle, being a working-class woman trying to make it is doubly so. I was raised in a marginalised community in Dublin’s South Inner City.

My upbringing surrounded me with some of the strongest and most resourceful women you could hope to meet; women who had faced every conceivable adversity and yet continued to fight for their families, their homes and their communities.

As a community worker I worked on the front line with these women in facing down the establishment who were used to riding roughshod over such communities.

These women are passionate, principled and empathetic but suggest to them that they would be a great public representative and most will look at you like you’ve 10 heads because it never enters their mind.

Because for them, like it was for me for so many years; politics is something for someone else. It’s for the ‘nice women’ with the fancy clothes and the posh voices and, I’m not going to lie to them; for the most part, that really has been the case.

And where there have been, and are, working class women involved sometimes it feels like they have been required to ham up their background and create almost a novelty factor.

Or deal with the patronising; ‘oh isn’t she marvellous to have pulled herself up by her bootstraps now if only the rest of them would do that…’ guff that makes so many assumptions about how you got where you are.

There are many initiatives underway now to try and get women involved in politics; lots of training sessions and seminars taking place. While I welcome the effort, I generally feel that the effort is not as comprehensive as it could be.

I’ve been invited to participate in such events; they’ve been in venues like the Mansion House, City Hall, Twitter Headquarters and the Morrison Hotel. Lovely venues without doubt but the many fine women I would point to as potential fantastic public reps from the area I grew up in would never dream of rocking up to such an event in a venue like that.

Again it compounds the sense of ‘ah that’s not for me.’ I’ve had these conversations with some women I’ve tried to encourage onto the political field. There’s an initial confidence thing that has to be surmounted and that is simply not going to happen by making these events intimidating by virtue of venue, crowd, or indeed cost.

Meet women where they’re at is what I say. Take these events into community centres and parish halls around the country – specifically focus on marginalised communities (and I include new communities in that).

Make it obvious there is a place for all voices – posh or not – on the Irish political stage, and let’s get a politics that is representative and real.

Maybe then we’ll also get summer schools with panel discussions and RTÉ panels that are more than male, pale and stale with women who’ll sound or dress slightly different than the average South Dublin stereotypical politician.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Monday.

From top: question on the Leaving certificate Politics and Society exam; Anne Marie McNally

Last Wednesday saw 900 students sit the very first Leaving Cert “Politics and Society” exam, a subject that seems like it really has the potential to have a huge impact on our country.

It’s miles away from the kind of rote learning that’s so familiar to those of us who sat the Leaving in the last generation.

These students are being asked to critically engage with big political ideas and pressing social issues. It aims to make sure that they don’t just randomly inherit opinions, but develop ‘informed’ opinions.

There are two “Phase One” (Pilot) schools in my constituency and I’ve been lucky enough to have visited three different classes and contributed to a podcast for the students. I’ve also popped in to visit them as they have taken tours of the Oireachtas under the supervision of the newly appointed Oireachtas Education Officer.

I’d have loved to have had that opportunity growing up and am delighted to contribute where I can as the subject roles out nationwide with 100 schools involved this September.

What I want to do, though, is to focus on just one question of last week’s exam. Section A, part (h) asked the students to “Name two consequences of income inequalities in Ireland on an individual’s life chances.”

It doesn’t take a Social Democrat to recognise that socio-economic deprivation leads to lower education, physical & mental health, and employment outcomes, but the irony of Politics and Society as a subject is the way in which it has been implemented. In a pattern to which we’ve become increasingly familiar in recent years, schools are being asked to do ‘more with less’.

The subject was introduced without giving additional resources – no additional timetable provisions were granted to schools from which to find the teaching hours to deliver the new subject.

That’s fine at the moment, but we all know that when the next round of cuts come, it’ll be the DEIS and public schools who will feel the pinch most. It will almost inevitably be the ‘Private’ schools, who can subsidise additional classes like these, which will end up dominating this form of ‘Citizenship’ education.

The result could well be increased political power and influence remaining within the already narrow band of schools that disproportionately dominate our current political representation. It would be a travesty if this subject pitted one school against another, and one subject against another within each school, rather than democratising our already two-tier education system.

So what’s the solution?

Anybody who has ever talked with me will know that I’ve always considered education to be the ‘silver bullet’. It was for me, and I know countless others for whom this has also been the case.

Well, why not invest properly in this new form of education in the Irish system equally across the schools and guarantee that all students have equal access to that important form of classroom engagement. I want to see it in all our schools, our Adult Education classes, our prisons, and given proper resources to do so.

Obviously, studying citizenship in school isn’t the only way to learn about politics. The recent Marriage Equality and Repeal referenda have seen people who were previously apathetic or disillusioned come to politics in droves.

I was lucky. I licked politics of the stones at home because I was both lucky enough to have parents who were aware of the importance of education; and also stubborn enough to want to know why politics didn’t represent me or my community.

But it shouldn’t come down to the social lottery of having a supportive family or a stubborn streak to be politically active. Just think of all of the political talent that has been and might be squandered that way in the future.

And, NO, I don’t just want the students to learn about Social Democracy, but about the whole political spectrum. They need to be able to engage with a wide range of traditional and controversial ideas in a constructive manner, otherwise we all languish in the dreaded echo chamber.

I was particularly struck by the statement that the ‘Pol Soc’ [Politics and Society Teachers Association of Ireland] teachers issued after the exam. They noted that while the exam was important, they know that “the real test takes place every day, for the rest of the students’ lives. That’s the real prize.”

It’s a prize worth fighting for, for all of our young people and all our citizens. Maybe then we’ll start seeing the kinds of change that the country needs.

From top: journalist Cathal MacCoille, UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha (centre) and Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, in Buswells Hotel last week at a Simon Communities event, ‘Making the Case for a Right to Housing’; Anne Marie McNally

This day last week I sat in a room in Buswells Hotel and watched one of the most impressive women I’ve come across lately give a presentation (and I come across a lot of impressive women!). That woman was UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Leilani Farha.

Her no-nonsense common-sense presentation highlighted the problems of not only Ireland but of other cities and countries that have also encountered significant difficulties with getting housing policy right.

The difference was, for most of the other cities she spoke of, she was able to give examples of how, by working with her and other agencies, those cities had been able to make progress in dealing with the housing crises they faced.

Ms Farha reminded us that Ireland has signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in doing so we have committed to ending homelessness by 2030. But what strategies are we deploying to achieve this. asked Ms Farha? Or is it yet another EU target which we sign up to but never expect to actually meet-like our climate targets?

Portugal on the other hand, have worked with Ms Farha’s team and have now implemented policies with a goal to eradicate homelessness by 2028- and they’re on track to achieve this.

Other countries and cities are also starting to get things right whereas we continue to spiral. Our homelessness figures continue to rise – despite the cynical manipulation of same by those in power. Housing continues to move further and further from the reach of many people – even those working and earning what could be considered decent wages.

Successive Government policy has tinkered around the edges, never really making the substantive changes required to shift from what has increasingly been a market-led approach to housing; an approach that is obviously failing, to a sustainable system of affordable housing that is accessible to all.

That is why the Social Democrats favour a Right to Housing. As Ms Farha pointed out; there is much confusion over what the term Right to Housing means and in her experience even Governments are confused about the concept.

Those who fear that an equal society will somehow minimise their own privilege reject the concept because ‘nobody should get a house for free’ – as Leo himself actually said in the Dáil chamber during a recent housing debate.

However if those knee-jerk reaction people took their heads from their own arses long enough they might actually see that a Right to Housing does not in fact mean that every Joe Soap can knock on Leo’s door looking for their home.

A Right to Housing enshrined either constitutionally or legislatively simple means that Government housing strategies MUST ensure that there is a wide variety of housing types that are affordable and accessible to all citizens.

In other words, Joe might want a 3 bedroom semi but he doesn’t have a right to one. What he does have a right to is a housing system where he can access the kind of unit he can afford based on his current circumstances. Basically that it is impossible for him to be completely priced out of the housing market.

In that way we move away from the spectre of homelessness hanging over people. How many people do you know who are one or two pay packets from the streets? For me it’s a lot.

And this failure of housing policy is not just costing us socially in terms of the lives we are destroying both now and into the future – over 3,000 children in emergency accommodation living in fear and uncertainty is not the recipe for a healthy next generation of society – but it is costing us economically.

The seminar Ms Farha spoke at was told that in 2017 just over €1 billion (yes, billion) was transferred to private landlords in housing supports. One third of every tenancy in the State is in receipt of a housing support payment.

It makes no sense either socially or economically and yet as a nation we continue to elect Governments that pretend the market will provide the solution to the housing emergency. It never has done in the past, it’s not doing it now and it never will do.

Housing is the number one issue of our time. Ms Farha said she would go as far as to say that it is a more pressing issue than climate because, she said, societies that cannot provide safe and secure housing options cannot be, and are not, sustainable. They will fail.

We are failing and we will continue to do so until we recognise the need to enshrine the Right to Housing either constitutionally or legislatively.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan with asylum seekers Anna (left) and Olugide with her baby Gloria at a Christmas Party last year in the Montague Direct Provision Centre for Refugees in County Laois; Anne Marie McNally

This week I watched with admiration and respect at the women who finally felt they had their voices heard and the horrors of their earlier years acknowledged. The women who arrived not just from around the country but from around the globe, returned here to put faces to the horrors, to have their personal stories heard and to see people take to the streets to cheer them.

I had a dinner party recently and of six people around the table, five of us had tales to tell of direct family connections to the laundries or a mother and baby home. This is not something that happened long ago or ‘to others’ this is something that is very recent, very real and very raw.

Those of us who tuned into PrimeTime or who lined Dawson Street to cheer the women as they entered the Mansion House did so because what those women endured deserves not only to be apologised for but to be aired and aired repeatedly because the most important element of all their bravery is that in telling their tales of horrors they can ensure that we, as a State, never make the same mistake again.

Of never outsourcing responsibility, never perpetuating a culture of false shame or degradation, and never again institutionalising innocent people under the guise of a social service

But if that lesson has indeed been learned and we feel so righteous in our ability to look back and wag a knowing finger at how horrific that system of institutionalisation was, why then do we currently ignore the fact that we are, right now in this Ireland that honoured Magdalenes, continue to warehouse men women and children in horrendous conditions and degrade those people as if they are somehow less than?

That is not hyperbolic in the slightest. At the last official count we currently had 5,096 people living in Direct Provision centres across this State and 1,420 of those were children and 104 are people older than 56 years of age.

That is 5,096 people forced to survive on an allowance of €21.60 per week. (This amount is payable to every adult and every child in Direct Provision).

Even if you ignore the economic unfairness of expecting someone to survive on the guts of twenty quid a week, the ignominy of how these people are forced to live is a stain on our collective conscience. While some centres have self-catering facilities, many don’t and residents are forced to endure canteen food handed to them thus removing any element of personal choice.

Imagine not being able to choose what you or your children eat or having zero control over the nutrition of your children; how utterly dehumanising.

And that is what Direct Provision has succeeded in doing; dehumanising people in the eyes of the rest of us.

The out of town locations, the misinformation that is spread regarding what residents get and their ‘entitlements’ and a general toxic attitude of ‘isn’t it better than what they came from’ have all conspired to dehumanise and ostracise residents of Direct Provision and has given us the balm to salve a conscience that deep down knows we should be demanding an immediate end to the barbaric system.

Direct Provision was initially supposed to be for a six month period while people’s applications for asylum were processed. The current average time spent in Direct Provision is 23 months but of that ‘average’ some were up to 5 years in the system.

A lengthy prison sentence for daring to escape whatever horrors existed in their home country and for the audacity of trying to create a safer future for themselves and their children. Imagine.

And even now with asylum seekers recently having been granted the Right to Work, the ignominy continues and possibly deepens because yet again, in an attempt to turn a blind eye, many now say: “but sure they can get a job now and support themselves.”

While it is welcome that people have been granted the right to work it is important to understand the strict restrictions that go along with that right.

If you are an asylum seeker the work permit alone will cost between €500 to €1000.

But the real stinger here is this – applicants must find a job with a starting salary of €30,000 and there are over 60 sectors that the job cannot be in including construction and hospitality.

Given that the average graduate starting salary in Ireland is around €28,000, you’d be doing pretty well as an asylum seeker to be finding a job paying a minimum of €30,000.

The perception of what asylum seekers can do for themselves is very far from the reality and they suffer abuse, vitriol, humiliation and State-sponsored institutionalisation as a result.

So yes, Dublin did indeed ‘honour Magdalenes’ and rightly so, but unless we act now, we cannot celebrate a lesson learned. Instead we should reflect on the hypocrisy of it all.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

From top: Dublin Castle on  Saturday: Anne Marie McNally

The winds of changed howled across Ireland on Saturday…or did they? People muttered that it smelled like a revolution…but is it really a revolution, silent or otherwise?

I have campaigned on this issue. I have, when possible, joined the throngs of people pounding the streets and knocking on doors during this campaign. I have written pieces, I have filmed videos, I have participated in talk shows and I have had the difficult conversations with friends and family who were uncomfortable with what a YES vote might mean.

I’m tired but I’m exuberant…I’m exuberant that once again we have proven that when people mobilise properly and collectively, change IS possible.

The Together4Yes campaign groups that organically sprung up in every constituency in the country were made up from people of all walks of life; young, old, rich, poor, male, female. They got involved because they wanted to see change just like those who mobilised three years ago for marriage equality.

In 2015 when marriage equality was delivered, far too many of those people who had mobilised left public affairs behind and went back to their normal routine and yet many of those I met on the Together4Yes campaign were the same people who had mobilised in 2015.

They got out again because they had seen what was possible and hoped to repeat that success, and thankfully did. But I hope the same scenario does not play out this time round.

Whilst the groups were made up of every demographic there is no denying that younger people once again mobilised in their droves for this referendum.

I’ve long since said that the perception of voter apathy amongst young people is misplaced…give people something that they care about; something that resonates, and they’ll get involved.

Give them a real prospect of effecting change and they’ll beat your door down. The challenge now is making those newly engaged people see that the things they care about; the change they wish to effect, is not limited to rare referendums.

It’s not good enough to spend a month or two doing everything in your power on an issue, to turn up at a ballot box on referendum day but then slink off into obscurity for the next 3 or 4 years or whenever a major social issue raises its head.

Because here’s the thing, Housing is a social issue. Health is a social issue. Education is a social issue, and on and on I could go. The only way things change permanently is through political change.

How many of us involved in the campaign looked on in disgust as large numbers of the Fianna Fáil party proudly held Vote NO press conferences and photoshoots.

Yet how many of us will mobilise in the same numbers as last Friday come General Election time to ensure that Fianna Fáil’s grip on Ireland is loosened? The things we’re fighting referenda on are the things that were the result of a political system that is controlled by an out of touch political class and the utterly conservative roots of the traditional parties.

Yes there were giants among them during this campaign including Micheál Martin and Simon Harris but a few individuals does not a party make and those who shared our view on this will always have to battle the party view or dilute their approach so as not to alienate the more conservative members.

Instead wouldn’t it make sense to try and avoid the implementation of public policy that we or those behind us will have to rail against in the future? How do you do that, you put the same effort into changing the political system from a politics that is controlled by older males and entrenched in civil war politics and you look at progressive politics. You look at who you feel is representative of you.

The Home2Vote phenomenon in both this referendum and the marriage equality one was amazing but wouldn’t it be fantastic to see that same passion emerge in a way that said ‘we want real change; sustainable change.’ The only way to get sustainable change is to change who runs the system.

Put it this way, if half of Fianna Fáil and a decent chunk of Fine Gael voted NO, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that a couple of years down the line should the wind change and the more conservative elements of either party end up in the driving seat, that you could see legislation overturned and us being dragged backwards on this issue and many others.

But apart from the fears of future direction on social issues such as abortion the most important thing to recognise is the importance of all the other challenges facing Ireland right now.

And while Leo et all were hugely important in this campaign they are still implementing a right-wing agenda that is presiding over an Ireland where almost 800,000 people live in poverty and of that a quarter of a million are children.

They are still presiding over an Ireland where hundreds of thousands languish on hospital waiting lists, and they are ever increasingly moving our housing provision into the private sector while people face exorbitant rents to try and keep a roof above their heads and those who have lost the battle sleep with their children in so-called homelessness hubs.

I quietly celebrated this one victory on Saturday but we do not yet have an Ireland to celebrate and the only way to get there is to vote for change more than once every few years.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

From top: from left: Prof William Binchy, Monica Hadarean, Cora Sherlock, at a LoveBoth conference in Buswells Hotel, Dublin last week; Anne Marie McNally

OK, look folks, it’s Referendum week and I really don’t feel like I have any option but to make one last desperate plea for a YES vote this coming Friday because, as so many commentators have said, this really is a once in a generation vote and as such its importance simply cannot be overstated.

I realise there are other significant public issues of concern right now, not least the ongoing cervical check scandal and the associated issues but here’s the thing; they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Vicky Phelan, the brave woman whose willingness to lay her tragedy bare so that this scandal would be aired, articulated that so perfectly in her tweet last week where she called for a YES vote on the basis that “we must place women at the centre of their own care and allow us to make the choice about our own care.”

Last week on here I wrote about Cervical Check. In another recent column I wrote about the National Maternity Hospital and the religious control issues at play there. I mentioned how women’s healthcare, particularly when it comes to anything below the bellybutton, has always been second rate.

By second rate I mean, there is almost some other influencing factor that is considered before the actual women (or sometimes girl) facing whatever situation confronts her.

For too many years in this country for the many young girls and women, who found themselves pregnant outside of wedlock, the primary consideration was the supposed shame that would ensue; shame on both her and her family.

A shame borne from an overbearing Church which controlled society to the point that families shunned their own children because they had brought ‘shame’ on the family. In too many of those cases those girls were sent into the care of church run Mother and Baby homes or Magdalene Laundries.

I don’t have to go into the detail of the atrocities that were perpetrated against those girls and women in those institutions but suffice to say, the health of those girls and women, both through pregnancy and after, was not considered important.

There is a list of examples of the kind of second rate healthcare for women that exists in Ireland and a short column just doesn’t allow for detail to be provided but I could mention the Hepatitis C scandal, the symphysiotomy scandal, I could even talk about how we had to fight to get access to bloody tampons for Christ’s sake and how a Bishop decried them on the basis that they might encourage sexual activity.

That’s before I’d get into talking about how we were denied contraception should any such sexual activity occur (If I could insert emoji’s here there’d be serious eye-roll emoji activity).

The list would be endless but primary among the horrors would be the continuation of a regime of forced pregnancy. Of continuing to enslave hordes of Irish women in a macabre experiment which sees women become something less than human the moment they become pregnant. They go from being a female person to an incubation machine which other people have the remote control for.

Other people are handed the power to determine how this incubation machine must operate. During the public hearings of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the 8th, veteran anti-choice lawyer William Binchy was put on the spot about whether he believed women should have an equal right to healthcare. He emphatically said yes.

When he was further asked if he believed women had an equal right to healthcare when pregnant he procrastinated. Because the fact of the matter is, no matter which way you dress it up, a NO vote quite simply ensures that a pregnant person will not have equal access to healthcare.

I absolutely respect a person’s choice to vote No. I understand people have reservations and concerns about abortion. In fact I would suggest that most people have reservations about abortion. It is never something that is taken lightly.

However while I respect people’s right to vote whichever way they choose, I do believe it’s important that the hyperbole is removed from the conversation and the basic facts of what that vote means is laid bare; a NO vote is a vote for women to continue to be treated as second-class citizens in our healthcare system and to be denied equal access to healthcare.

A YES vote is recognition that even though you, if faced with a situation, may make an entirely different choice to another woman, you would not seek to impose what’s right for you on her. A NO vote is a vote of control, a YES vote is a vote of compassion and understanding.

And lad…please get out and vote on Friday. We need you.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Emma Mhic Mhathúna on The Late Late Show last Friday; Anne Marie McNally

On this morning’s commute I was listening to a Dua Lipa tune and one lyric in particular struck me and immediately brought Emma Mhic Mhathúna, and the many other women to mind.

The lyric goes ‘You say you’re sorry, but it’s too late now, so save it, get gone, shut up..’ and I just thought, how utterly appropriate. All the sorrys in the world cannot right the wrongs perpetrated against these women and their families but as we know from previous scandals in this country, sometimes a sorry can be hugely important.

When Enda took to his feet in the Dáil that day to apologise to the Magdalene women it was a powerful moment.

However this current situation feels different; maybe because it is still so recent and therefore raw? Or maybe because sorry rings hollow when it come from within a system that hasn’t changed to reflect any acknowledgment of just how badly it failed.

When I was a kid pleading ‘I’m sorry’ while being chastised, my mother used to say to me ‘sorry means I won’t do it again’ and the problem with the current sorrys emanating from officialdom is that they simply don’t come with the promise that it won’t happen again.

Because it could. Because it might well be already happening in other areas of our health service.

Just last week in the Public Accounts Committee it was revealed to Catherine Murphy TD that there are currently four pending court cases involving patients of the BreastCheck service who believe they failed to have their cancers diagnosed appropriately.

We are all acutely aware that our health service is dysfunctional. Yes, there are millions of fantastic stories of people who have had great individual experiences once in the system (I include myself in that) but those individual cases are down, in many cases, to just sheer luck on the day and also to the tireless and often thankless work of the front-line staff in our health service.

But whether you’ve had a good experience or not, the simple fact is that the overall system is dysfunctional and those fantastic staff are working against the backdrop of a system that fails them and us daily.

At this stage people have heard so many calls for the abolition of the HSE that those calls now seem to ring hollow. There’s a general sense of malaise with our health service and an almost resigned acceptance that ‘this is how things are’. But it shouldn’t be.

Before I turned on Dua Lipa this morning I listened to RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland where Emma O’Kelly, the Education Correspondent, had a package regarding the complete lack of therapeutic supports for disabled children attending St John of God’s School in Islandbridge, Dublin 8.

The package included an interview with a couple whose child is impacted. The couple happened to be French citizens living in Ireland and they said they were shocked that vital public services like this are outsourced to a private charity.

They spoke about how lucky they are that they have the financial means to pay for private speech and language therapies and occupational therapies but that was offset by a young lone parent living in the flats I grew up in whose son is profoundly disabled and totally reliant on the services supposed to be provided in the school because she can simply not afford to arrange those services privately.

So one child will be guaranteed a better future than another child from the same school, all on the basis of the income of their parents. There is no other way to view that than as a complete abdication of responsibility by the State.

Similarly those women who are terrified right now by the thought that maybe their smear test wasn’t accurate or maybe they ignored other symptoms because they’d been reassured by a clear smear, can either face a waiting period in the public system through their GPs  or, if they can afford it, they can go an pay roughly €85 to a private clinic and have an immediate smear.

I could point to every other treatment required by people and there’d be a similar Private Vs Public story of one person guaranteed a better outcome than another all because of the balance in their bank account.

Our two tier system is the definition of unfair and it is an indictment of the failure to create a true modern Republic.

The unprecedented cross-party agreement to the Róisin Shortall led SláinteCare initiative to create a truly universal publicly accessible single tier health service is the only show in town but we need true dedication from Government to really get that show on the road and the many vested interests who profit from the current two-tier private/public model will have to be faced down completely.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: RTÉ

From top: St Vincent’s Hospital; Anne Marie McNally

Sometimes I wonder why, as a nation, we seem to be obsessed with what happens to anything pertaining to female body parts yet simultaneously obsessed in doing everything possible to avoid dealing with the many complex matters involving said biology. These last few days have been a particular doozy in this regard.

Where to start?

The ongoing Repeal debate where NO campaigners want to control uteri everywhere?

The Cervical Check horror story where clinicians took decisions NOT to inform women of negative results – decisions which it has now been proven have cost lives.

Or what about the revelation regarding the governance structure of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) where we’ve learned that the directors of the company that will take ownership of the new campus on which the NMH will be located, will be obliged to uphold ‘the values and vision’ of Mary Aikenhead and the religious order she founded, namely the Sisters of Charity.

Yes, those same ‘Sisters of Charity’ who were most uncharitable when it came to their Magdalene Laundries. The same uncharitable order who ran five industrial schools best described as torture camps.

The same Sisters of so-called Charity who told the Ryan Commission that they felt the definition of abuse was too broad and who would only commit to paying €5 million in redress. That was 2009. To date they have only paid €2 million. Full of charity so they are.

And now it appears that a long overdue state of the art and publicly funded €300million euro maternity hospital is about to be handed over, in all but name, to the St Vincent’s Hospital Group (SVHG) which is 100% owned be the Sisters of unCharity.

The proposed structure ensures that the SVHG will have 100% control of the Board of Directors of the campus as well as 100% ownership of the company. In effect, the Clinical Director of the hospital will have to answer to a board controlled by the nuns. The same board which must ensure that the ‘values and vision’ of the religious order are upheld.

But that presents a problem see? Because I’m willing to bet that those so-called ‘values and vision’ are the same values and visions which condemned women to a life of torture and servitude for daring to have sex outside of marriage.

The same values and vision which withheld pain medication to young women in childbirth so that they might ‘pay for their sins’.

And the same values and visions which seeks to continue to deny sexual and reproductive healthcare to women in this country by their vociferous defence of the 8th Amendment.

By any standard these are not the type of people you want to put in control of a modern National Maternity Hospital. So why is it even under consideration? A legitimate question but one so complicated in an Irish context that it would stagger the mind of anyone from outside this country or not involved in religious fundamentalism.

It’s because 21st century Ireland still hasn’t managed to separate Church and State. It’s because our State has such an ingrained culture of farming out responsibility for basic public services to charities and religious orders.

This is why we have a battle to free our children from a dogma-delivering education system. It’s why we are still working through the legacy issues of our social care being farmed out to these orders over the years.

And it is why women’s healthcare in this country, when it comes to anything below the naval, is continuously second rate.

It is not because many of the medics working in the system want to treat women as second-class citizens, it is because they are forced to work within a system governed by religious ‘values and visions’ and the reality is that such fundamentalist values and visions derive from a religious base whose sole purpose is to propagate the dogma that the only women worthy of praise are those who are virginal and who exist to serve men.

Ireland is not that place anymore yet in so many ways it still is. The need to separate Church and State has never been more obvious nor the timing so right.

If we don’t intervene now to stop the transfer of a major public asset, and with it women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare, into the control of a religious order, then we may as well walk away from any pride we might have felt when the Magdalene women got their much over-due apology in the Dáil.

We may also accept the shame every right-minded person felt when Savita died in one of our maternity hospitals because to go ahead with this transaction upholding the religious ‘values and visions’ will guarantee more tragedies like Savita’s and that is a vision we cannot abide.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Toaiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten; Anne Marie McNally

Last Wednesday morning (as every morning) before I’d even left the house, I checked the morning headlines on twitter. Upon doing so I came across a story that I surprisingly hadn’t heard on either of the 7:10 and 8:10am broadcasts of  Morning Ireland‘s ‘It Says in the Paperson RTÉ Radio One.

That story was by Mark Paul & Simon Carswell in the Irish Times and informed me that the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, had (according to an affidavit filed by the ODCE to the High Court) taken a call from a PR executive acting on behalf of INM.

The executive in question works for Heneghan PR which is headed by Nigel Heneghan a long-term associate of Mr Leslie Buckley including in an adviser role.

One would have to assume (hope?) that when a Minister takes a call during which he imparts *anything* he does so clearly understanding exactly who he is speaking to. If we accept that is the case then it is clear the Minister was aware that he was basically speaking directly to Leslie Buckley, the Chairman of INM.

Why is that a problem you ask? OK, well ask yourself why is the Minister for Communications imparting sensitive information (personally or privately) to anybody associated with a media outlet, particularly one with such close ties to our home-grown media Svengali Denis O’Brien?

The ODCE’s affidavit reportedly shows that Mr O’Brien got an email from Mr Buckley advising him of the Minister’s information within hours of the PR exec’s conversation with the Minister.

A Communications Minister, Denis O’Brien and market-sensitive information in the one sentence. Now where have I heard that before? Hint…google Moriarty Tribunal. That alone makes the judgement error displayed by Minister Naughten, galling.

“I gave a personal opinion on what I thought was likely to happen” cried the Minister. Let’s put aside for a second the absolute ridiculousness of the premise that a Minister while in office on a public matter under his remit can give a personal opinion. Instead let’s draw the outline of what actually occurred.

We have a proposed media merger involving the biggest newspaper group in the country trying to get bigger. We have a newspaper group (INM) whose major shareholder  has, shall we say, ‘history’ with his close relationships to Communications Ministers.

We have a Minister with decision-making powers on that merger. We have a PR exec with the closest of ties to Mr O’Brien’s long-term associate Leslie Buckley. That PR exec is working for a firm acting (explicitly) on behalf of INM.

The head of that firm Nigel Heneghan not only has acted as adviser to Leslie Buckley among other roles but is also, significantly, a member of the Compliance Committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland-another body that will have a role to play in deciding on the proposed merger.

The connections are obvious. The story tells itself. Apparently it didn’t tell itself to the Minister though because he thought it was grand to tell the PR executive that the merger would be referred on to the BAI.

But that’s strange see, because that morning when Twitter informed me of the story and detailed the date of the Minister’s ‘chat’ with the PR Exec as November 2016, a bell rang in my head.

That bell was a series of PQs myself and a colleague had submitted on behalf of Catherine Murphy TD back in November and December 2016.

It took only a bit of searching to discover that despite the Minister telling Heneghan PR in November 2016 that he would be referring the matter to the BAI, on the floor of the Dáil on December 6 – almost a month later – he was telling us that he had not made any decision and would spend another few weeks undertaking a full process before making that decision.

A decision he now says was never going to be any other way. Seems that the statutory process was a box-ticking exercise at best.

Here’s a thing, maybe he just needs a phone box installed in his Dáil office for super-speedy Ministerial cape transformations when he’s deciding how to answer parliamentarians versus PR execs.

Because, you see, the reason the Minister couldn’t give the Dáil and elected parliamentarians the same information he gave a private PR exec almost a month previously is because he WAS wearing his superhero Ministerial cape.

And the reason that a PR exec acting for INM was telling the Chairman of INM (who in turn was telling Denis O’Brien according to e-mails in the ODCE’s affidavit) that the Minister *would* be referring the matter to the BAI is because, you see, the exec couldn’t see that on the other end of the phone the Minister was apparently NOT wearing his super-hero Ministerial cape and was only a private citizen, imparting sensitive information on a matter that, *if* he had been wearing his cape would, as the ODCE contends, potentially constitute insider information and market manipulation.

But ‘tis grand, cos he wasn’t wearing the cape, see?

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Queues at Beechwood Heath estate, Hansfield, Dublin 15 last week; Homeless person sleeping at Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2; Anne Marie McNally

Over the last few days newspapers have led, either above the fold of below the fold depending on your paper of choice, with some variation on the current housing crisis.

Note I said housing crisis and not housing and homelessness crisis.

The sad fact is that homelessness, generally doesn’t connect hugely with many people. The misplaced and (frankly wrong) notion that homelessness only affects a certain ‘type’ is far too common. (The argument of why it still wouldn’t be OK to ignore it even if it was only a certain group is one for another day!)

This week there were ‘record new homelessness figures’ but that phrase has become so oft-repeated in the last few months it has really ceased to have any impact. It’s like nobody expects things to have improved since the last set of ‘record homelessness figures’ and why would they?

There are simply no emergency measures being put in place to both arrest and improve what has been a deteriorating situation for at least six years now.

Don’t get me wrong, there is *lots* of talk. And document launches. And relaunches. And millions and billions promised here there and everywhere but actual working solutions and the associated implementation of same? Nada.

Now to calm the Fine Galers who’ll likely burst a vessel telling me about their solution I’m going to tell you right off the bat that your ‘solution’ is crap.

That solution is the HAP scheme. The HAP scheme is, quite simply, the outsourcing of responsibility for social housing to the private sector. The State abdicating responsibility for a public service to the private sector…because that’s worked so well in the past hasn’t it?

The primary reason that housing hit the headlines this week was because there was a double-figure increase in house prices and scenes reminiscent of the worst times of the Celtic Tiger with people sleeping outside new developments waiting to hand over ever increasing sums to property developers to get onto this wretched thing we refer to as the property ladder.

A ladder that has in the past lured so many to put a tentative foot onto it for fear of being left behind while it gets pulled up. A ladder that for many of those people who managed to get a foot onto it, brought them down, crashing down, rather than up.

It’s not the fault of the people queuing. The societal pressure, the fear, the ‘what-if’ is huge but the repercussions of what we’re allowing to happen, again, are too big and too damaging to ignore, again.

It may be indelicate to mention it to those giddy with a mortgage approval in their pocket and hopes and dreams of a new home in their eye-line but one would be wise to bear in mind that many of the people now living in emergency accommodation, sleeping on families couches or indeed sleeping on the streets, once, not so long ago, slept on the street in an entirely different fashion.

They slept while queuing outside over-priced developments clutching mortgage approvals they could ill-afford or which eventually stretched them to breaking point.

Those sleeping in queues and those sleeping on the streets tonight are both looking longingly at homes they’d like to call their own. It’s worth remembering that the line separating the two situations can be extremely thin.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews