Tag Archives: Irish Times letter

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Roisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats

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Article 44 from Bunreacht na hÉireann

The Minister for Health’s announcement that he will re-examine the proposal to hand ownership of the publicly-funded National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the privately owned St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is to be welcomed.

However, I would like to raise a matter of grave concern, hitherto overlooked, which needs to be addressed before any agreement on relocation can proceed.

At present, Article 44.2.5 of the Constitution confers on every religious denomination “the right to manage its own affairs, own, acquire and administer property, movable and immovable, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.”

In the past the Supreme Court has emphasised the level of autonomy that this Article gives to religious organisations. It has been interpreted as conferring on religious institutions the right to apply their own doctrines in institutions under their ownership. It has also been successfully used to defeat well-founded cases taken against religious denominations under civil law.

For example, in a significant judgment in the 1979 case of McGrath and O Ruairc v The Trustees of Maynooth College, the Supreme Court cited Article 44.2.5 while upholding the right of the Bishop trustees of the college to dismiss two priests from their teaching posts because they wanted to leave the priesthood.

St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) is an institution set up by a religious denomination, the Religious Sisters of Charity. As the company’s foundation document makes clear, SVHG is legally dedicated to providing healthcare, “in keeping with the mission of the Catholic Church,” and its facilities operate within that ethos. If the new National Maternity Hospital is part of the St Vincent’s group, it too will come under the umbrella of the Constitutional provision.

In return for being handed sole ownership of the new €300 million maternity hospital, SVHG says it will enter into agreements guaranteeing the clinical independence of the new hospital and permitting it to perform any medical procedures that are lawful in the land – presumably including abortions and various types of contraception including sterilisations.

However, I believe that if the current deal goes ahead, there will be inevitable conflict in the future over how much control St. Vincent’s is to have in the new hospital.

In light of Article 44.2.5, how can we be sure that in any future dispute over the interpretation or implementation of agreements on the new hospital, the courts would not favour the religious denomination and its Catholic ethos?

In the event of a dispute, it seems that the Supreme Court would have to ensure that the Constitutional protection for the religious order must prevail. A court might find it had no option but to favour the Constitution over any other civil contract or agreement, however solemnly and publicly it had been agreed upon by all the parties concerned.

In a prescient piece in this newspaper yesterday, Fintan O’Toole reminded us that a 1982 High Court ruling upholding the right of the Holy Faith nuns to sack school teacher Eileen Flynn because her lifestyle was not in keeping with the Catholic ethos of the order has never been overturned.

In my view, this grave constitutional complication is yet another reason why all parts of the deal that give St Vincent’s Hospital Group ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital should be dismantled, so that the new hospital remains in the hands of those who will pay for it and who will be relying on its services, the Irish public.

Róisín Shortall TD
Social Democrats
Leinster House
Dublin 2

State funds and private healthcare groups (The Irish Times letters page)


Guinness Zero

With reference to your article “Afternoon drinkers don’t want early road checks hanging over them” (March 4th), it occurs to me, as a non-drinker who still enjoys a visit to the pub, that the Vinters’ Association, in conjunction with the drinks industry, could do more to expand and introduce more non-alcoholic options of beers, wines and spirits, which would help fight the decline in the falling number of drinkers in our pubs, particularly those in rural areas.

As an advocate of non-alcoholic drinks, I have found over the last few months that there are a number of good non-alcoholic beers available. However, when I visit a pub, there are very few options for sale.

With the possibility of a near-zero alcohol limit, it is time for pubs, restaurants and hotels to gear up and stock a larger range of non-alcoholic alternatives.

I contacted Diageo concerning their product Guinness Zero, a non-alcoholic stout which is widely for sale in Indonesia. It told me there were no plans to launch this brand in Ireland.

However, Diageo is now investing in an alcohol-free martini called Seedlip. Diageo obviously sees the benefit of exploring this market.

And if Heineken can produce Heineken Light, then why not Heineken Zero!

Mary O’Connor,
Co Cork.


Making pubs better for non-drinkers (The Irish Times letters page)


Congratulations to Joe Schmidt and the Ireland team for achieving an historic win over the All Blacks.

An equal non-congratulations to the IRFU, EirSport and whoever else was involved in not showing the match live on television to the vast majority of sporting fans.

The selfish manipulation of live television coverage is in stark contrast to the honesty and heroism of the players on the field.

John Gaffney,
Co Leitrim.


Victory over the All Blacks (Irish Times letters page)


At last we are getting some data regarding the performance of the motor insurance business in Ireland.

The mere fact that 21 companies are listed as providers is extraordinary when five companies account for 87 per cent of policy losses.

One company accounts for 37 per cent of the market losses, two others for 15 per cent, followed by two more at 10 per cent, with one major player in marginal profit.

One must, given the wide divergence in losses, ask the simple question as to why we are seeing huge and uniform percentage increases across the board, with the threat of more to come. We might be forgiven if we came to the conclusion that in reality we don’t actually have a competitive market.

That these companies would take their policy income and invest it in markets that are at their most volatile in decades is at the very least foolish.

The fact that this is common practice and a mechanism to underpin what clearly is an unstable, if not an unsustainable, business in its own right, suggests the need for urgent Government intervention before many hard-pressed motorists are forced off the road.

It is ironic that as I write this one of the larger providers has a television campaign extolling the virtues of its policies. Surely retrenchment should be the order of the day.

Derek MacHugh,
Co Wicklow.

Insurance and motorists (Irish Times letters)

Previously: ‘There Is A Cartel Of Insurance Underwriters’

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Heiko Gross draws attention to the fact that a leading campaigner for debt forgiveness is simultaneously campaigning for looser credit rules. A quick check shows that this contradictory position is shared across many political parties.

Are we suffering from collective memory loss?

I ask myself if this is a conspiracy on behalf of those who want higher property prices or if advocates for looser credit simply do not understand simple economics?

We are subject to convenient anecdotes of individuals and couples outbid on their dream property because of limits on credit. It is patently obvious that increasing available debt will merely increase competition for the same properties and hence the selling prices.

We are told that young people are forced to spend money on rent because the “average property” is out of reach and hence they cannot save. Whatever happened to the starter home? Are there no “below average properties” available?

The inability to learn from our mistakes is nothing short of tragic.

Matthew Glover,
Co Dublin.

Housing crisis and mortgage rules (Irish Times letters page)

Thanks PK


Figures released by the Central Statistics Office last week

The Central Statistics Office is a reputable and professional State agency that adheres to best practice and complies with all relevant EU statistical compilation and reporting standards.

It is doing its job and the messenger should not be shot.

The issue seems to be more with the relevant EU statistical compilation and reporting standards.

It appears that this week’s anomalous and ridiculous GDP figure was attributable mainly to Irish-domiciled multinationals executing one-off transfers into the State of the book value of valuable assets such as commercial jetliners and intellectual property.

If these asset transfers were one-off events (which by definition are no indicator of the robustness or otherwise of the Irish economy), then why are they a component of GDP in the first place?

If they were indeed one-off, does this mean that next year our national debt/GDP ratio will oscillate back from this year’s 80 per cent toward 90 per cent again?

While the debt/GDP ratio is only one of many debt-related financial metrics, it has a high public profile and it is used not only by the Government as an input for medium-term financial planning but also by EU financial regulatory bodies and sovereign credit ratings agencies.

If such a significant planning and monitoring metric can be so distorted and discredited by anomalous events, should it not be replaced, or else have the once-off events excluded from it?

Truly there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

Arthur Boland,
Dublin 8.

Statistics and ‘leprechaun economics’ (Irish Times letters page)

Previously: How Much?


From top: Mary Manning on strike outside Dunnes on Henry Street on August 1, 1984; and Ibrahim Halawa

While doing my local weekly shop, I was extremely disappointed to notice that there is produce from Egypt on the supermarket shelves. I was immediately reminded of the stance taken by those brave supermarket workers who stood up to authority and who refused to handle imported goods from South Africa during the repressive apartheid regime.

I will not buy produce from a country that blatantly refuses to practise basic human rights so that a citizen of Ireland, Ibrahim Halawa, is not given due process of law and is languishing in jail this past three years. What kind of humanity allows this to continue?

I beg my fellow citizens to refuse to buy imported goods from Egypt so that by this gesture we may get justice for Ibrahim Halawa.

Siobhan Morgan,
Dublin 18.

Ibrahim Halawa (The Irish Times letters page)

Previously: The Dunnes Stores’ Strikers

Dear Ireland

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The European Commission’s response to Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan about Ireland and the water framework directive

The European Commission has never made any official statements asserting that Ireland abolishing direct water charges would be in breach of the water framework directive.

The water framework directive, which was adopted in 2000, states that all EU member states may derogate from the water pricing obligations contained within the directive.

In a recent response to a written question submitted by Lynn Boylan, the European Commission confirmed that this derogation still exists. Yes, the response also stated that if “established practice” was a direct water charge then the flexibility to use the derogation would not apply, but here we come to the crux of the matter – “established practice”.

The European Commission is already on record as stating that it considers “established practices” to be those practices which were “an established practice at the time of adoption of the directive”. This directive was adopted on October 23rd, 2000, and transposed into Irish law in 2003, when it is beyond doubt that Ireland used general taxation as its established practice.

Additionally, since direct water charges were introduced in Ireland only in the last year and – far more significantly – since those charges have been rejected by the people, charging directly for water is not the established practice in Ireland.

Furthermore, in a 2014 landmark case on EU water recovery rules, the European Court of Justice found in favour of Germany, after the European Commission tried unsuccessfully to take that state to court for, in its opinion, failing to fulfil its water framework directive obligations. The judgment conclusively stated that it cannot be inferred that the absence of pricing for water service activities will necessarily jeopardise the attainment of the water framework directive.

As recently as January 2016, more than one year after the establishment of Irish Water, in a response to a written question which asked if Ireland would be in breach of the water framework directive if water charges were dropped, the European Commission simply stated that the second river basin management plans would be assessed against the requirements of the directive. Anything else is simply conjecture.

The European Commission has also confirmed in emails to Lynn Boylan and Marian Harkin that if Ireland would like to avail of Article 9.4 (the derogation) then it should submit that request in its second river basin management plan with justification. This second river basin management plan is now not due to be submitted until 2017, with plenty of time for Ireland to establish that derogation.

It is beyond doubt then that if the Irish Government so wishes, it can still use the derogation and justify its use in its river basin management plans, as has been done and is still being done by so many other European regions and countries.

In light of all the above, it is clear that certain commentators and politicians have distorted the debate by misconstruing or embellishing what the European Commission has put on record regarding the derogation from water pricing in the water framework directive.

Worse, it is also clear that many of those same politicians are deliberately twisting this clear, unequivocal situation and using it as an excuse not to avail of the derogation, which gives the Irish Government the final say in deciding on water charges.

Lynn Boylan MEP
Martina Anderson MEP
Matt Carthy MEP
Liadh Ní Riada MEP
Luke Ming Flanagan MEP
Nesss Childers MEP
Marian Harkin MEP.


The European Commission, Ireland and water charges (The Irish Times letters page)

Previously: ‘I’m Saying That RTÉ’s Report Is Not Balanced’


We were surprised and disappointed by the inaccuracies and suppositions contained in David McConnell’s letter (May 18th).

There are two points in particular that we would like to correct. First, David McConnell makes a serious allegation that “some years ago” a patient on life support in St Vincent’s hospital was transferred to Tallaght Hospital to facilitate withdrawal of life support.

Mr McConnell claims that this alleged incident occurred simply because the hospital “did not want to facilitate the courts or the relatives”.

We have been consultants in intensive care medicine since our appointments in 1993 and 1994. For the first 10 years of our tenure, we were the only consultant intensivists at St Vincent’s hospital and were responsible for the care of all patients on life support.

Our appointments predated the opening of Tallaght hospital and we can categorically state that no such incident ever arose during our tenure and nor have we ever refused to comply with a court order.

We are proud of the care we provide to critically ill patients in St Vincent’s, particularly since we now have an additional four new colleagues who are also highly trained here in Ireland and overseas.

End-of-life care is complicated and decision-making in intensive care is always taken with regard to the patient’s best interests. In addition, communication with relatives and families is of paramount importance. David McConnell’s inaccurate allegations impugn our professional reputations and the services which we provide and are wholly unfounded.

Second, David McConnell claims that in the past, newly appointed staff to St Vincent’s hospital were required to sign a form requiring them to adhere to Catholic ethics.

We commenced employment in October 1994 and May 1993 respectively and neither of us was required to sign such a form. If this was hospital policy at that time, then the hospital authorities must have made an omission in both of our cases. Alternatively, this policy did not exist at that time, or indeed since then.

Dr Patrick Benson,
Dr Kieran Crowley,
Consultants in Intensive,
Care Medicine,
St Vincent’s University Hospital,
Dublin 4.

National Maternity Hospital and ethics (Irish Times letters page)


On asking a friend from a Gaeltacht why there was a reluctance to engage in Irish with non-native customers in shops, I was taken aback with the reply: “Why should we give free lessons in Irish to anyone”.

It’s time to realign our approach to the survival of the native tongue. We focus on the Gaeltachts, but in essence have turned them into cash-cows for their inhabitants.

There is more Irish spoken in greater Dublin than the combined Gaeltachts so perhaps it’s time Raidió na Gaeltachta changed its name to Raidió Na Gael. Time to open full-time studios in Athlone, Blanchardstown, Belfast and Waterford.

Let’s break up this cosy cabal and spread our language – it’s not just the preserve of the western seaboard.

John Cuffe,


Gaeltacht Irish (Irish Times letters)

Pic: Highland Radio