Tag Archives: rory on wednesday



From top: Michael McDowell launching his successful Seanad campaign at the Royal Irish Academy last month; Dr Rory Hearne

Politicians might publicly agree with Seanad reform yet their inaction shows that they want to keep the status quo.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Most people do not trust politicians or our political institutions of government like the Dáil and the Seanad.

Too many unfilfilled promises, a consistent failure to deal with the key issues affecting people, cronyism, corruption and a failure to respect ordinary people’s wishes and concerns have left people cynical and tired of politics.

This is a major problem for our democracy which is founded on the principle of ‘rule by the people and for the people’ – all the people and not just the elite, wealthy and insiders.

Take the Seanad, for example. The Seanad is the second most important institution in our democracy, next to the Dail. It is the upper house of the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature or houses of parliament).

It does not have anything like the powers of the Dáil but Senators are part of the important ‘watchdog’ Dail committees that investigate various issues and hold state and other authorities to account, like for example the recently formed housing and homeless committee.

The Seanad can also delay laws and propose amendments to laws.

Yet only a tiny proportion of our population can vote to elect Senators. Of the 60 seats in the Seanad, the Taoiseach appoints 11 Senators, three Senators are elected from registered NUI graduates, three Senators are elected from registered Trinity graduates and the remaining 46 are elected on various ‘panels’ from local councillors, TDs and Senators.

Last week the election was held for 49 of the 60 senators. Understandably given the lack of ability of people to vote in it, it received little attention. It was unfortunate though that there was not more critical analysis by the media of this undemocratic and elitist process.

We had a referendum on the Seanad in 2013. Remember? And a majority of Irish people voted to retain it and not to abolish it. They gave a clear message that they wanted it reformed to be given more powers and for all citizens to have a vote rather than abolished.

Furthermore, an all party Oireachtas working group on Seanad Reform 2015 concluded that

“a parliamentary assembly such as Seanad Éireann whose electoral system excluded the majority of its citizens from participation lacked popular legitimacy”

They recommended opening it up to all citizens to vote.

So why has it not been reformed and why have all citizens not yet being given a vote in the Seanad Elections?

From my recent experience as a candidate in the Seanad NUI colleges election the only conclusion I can draw is that the current system suits those in power and the traditional establishment parties.

They might publicly agree with reform and opening it up to make it democratic for all citizens yet their inaction shows that they want to keep the status quo. Of course it suits them – a new Taoiseach can use the existing system to appoint almost a fifth of all new Senators.

Shamefully it has been used by some failed politicians who actually campaigned against the Seanad as a route to re-election.

Unfortunately I was unsuccessful in my bid this time for election to the Seanad on the NUI panel. After getting 837 first pref votes (11 out of 30 candidates) I was eliminated on the 21st count with a final tally of 1451 votes. Former PD and long time supporter of inequality – Michael McDowell got elected as did the right wing conservative Ronán Mullen.

That these two topped the poll says a lot about those who voted in the election – a bastion of conservative views.

It also points to a major flaw when only a third of NUI graduates are actually on the electoral register and then only a third of those on the register actually voted!

So in the end only 10% of NUI graduates actually voted in the election.

Thankfully, the excellent progressive community activist Lynn Ruane got elected on the Trinity Panel while Alice Mary Higgins was elected on the NUI Panel. I know they will both be strong voices for social justice and equality in the Seanad.

While I was very disappointed not to get elected I am proud of how I used my campaign to raise some of the key social crises that are affecting people in this country – like the scandal that 1,900 children are homeless, rents are unaffordable for many, 138000 children are in poverty, almost 60% of lone parents and their children suffer deprivation.

I decided to run late in the game and I also had to balance running the campaign with looking after a very young family and a full time job. It’s clear to me that if you are going to successfully run for election then you need to have a lot more resources, people and time for your campaign.

Either way I will continue in whatever ways I can to raise these issues and develop solutions that can make Ireland the best country in the world in which to be a child, to have a family, to grow old in – the best country in which every person is valued equally and can live with dignity and flourish to their best potential.

Its a long road ahead but I know that a majority of us in this country want to bring about a Republic of Social Justice and Equality.

Finally, we clearly do not have a true democracy when the right to vote for representatives in our second house of parliament is restricted to a tiny proportion of the population. Another issue is citizen’s initiated referendums – which I will come back to again.

Before the next election our politicians and new government should demonstrate their genuine commitment to democracy

Providing for free and fair elections to the Seanad where the franchise (entitlement to vote) is extended to all Irish citizens over 18 including Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and to holders of Irish passports living overseas
A majority of Seanad seats to be elected by popular vote on the principle of one person one vote
Strengthen the powers of the Seanad to scrutinise, amend, and initiate legislation
Introduce citizen-initiated referendums

And we can judge the commitment to starting this process of real reform and democracy in how Enda Kenny uses his power (assuming he is re-elected as Taoiseach) in the next few weeks to appoint 11 new Senators.

Will he use it for patronage and reward for loyal Fine Gael servants or will he take a bold step and appoint diverse voices who represent the most marginalised in our society?

Voices for those with a disability (Tom Clonan?), Travellers (Brigid Quilligan?), the homeless (Peter McVerry or Erica Fleming?), marginalised communities (Rita Fagan or John Bissett?).

I won’t be holding my breath on this one….

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne



From top: Brendan McDonagh (left) and Frank Daly, CEO and Chairman of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) respectively; Dr Rory Hearne

NAMA is worsening our housing crisis by selling  housing and land to vulture funds.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

So the rich are just getting richer in Ireland while the poor remain poor. But the wealth at the top in Ireland is really staggering.

The latest Sunday Times Rich list shows that Ireland’s 250 richest people now hold €72.6bn. Their combined wealth is equivalent to a third of Ireland’s GDP. The top 12 individuals have a combined wealth of €34bn.Their wealth rose by 3.3% in the last year (€1.8bn).

Why this matters is because lower income and middle classes are getting a smaller slice of the pie as increasingly the wealth being created in society is going to the top. The result of this unequal distribution of wealth is our huge rates of poverty.

There are now 138,000 children living in poverty in this country. There are 912 families with 1,881 homeless children. Surely it is time to ensure a more equal distribution of wealth that would involve an increase in tax on the top wealthy in order to pay for housing for our homeless or higher welfare for our poorest families to lift them out of poverty?

Another area where wealth is being accumulated by the already super rich on the backs of ordinary Irish people is through buying up and selling on property from NAMA.

The vulture funds such as Goldman Sachs and Lone Star are lining up to buy NAMA property and loans.

NAMA is selling two portfolios of loans and assets which have a combined value of €4.7 billion.

These include, according to the Irish Times, 950 residential properties, mainly apartments, 650 of which are occupied by tenants and a further 300 vacant.

So hang on a minute! Yes, you read that right. NAMA is currently selling 950 apartments to the vulture funds. And what’s worse 300 of them are vacant.

Surely the government should stop NAMA selling these off or Compulsory Purchase them in order to use them instead to address our homeless crisis? The 300 vacant properties could be immediately used to address the crisis for 300 families.

There is a need for a spotlight to be put on NAMA and how it is currently worsening our housing crisis by selling much needed housing and land to vulture funds.

Remember we own NAMA! It is a state owned body. So there is no reason why we can’t direct NAMA to use its housing and land to address our housing crisis.

We are again giving away our assets, just like we gave away our gas and our fisheries to international corporates.

What is it about us? Do we want to be a permanent colony of international finance?

Do we have something in us that has no confidence in our own capacity and capability to provide for our citizens?

We have got to the point of dependence on international investment that we can’t do the most basic things ourselves like use our assets (land and housing) held by NAMA to house our people who need homes?

The vulture funds buying up our housing, property and land have been more active in developing countries for a number of decades. If you are interested in finding out more about the dangers and problems associated with vulture funds there is a public talk being held on the topic by the Debt and Development Coalition on Wednesday next week.

Mick Byrne, will present the findings of a new Report that looks at the risks posed by vulture funds in Ireland, the experience of the Global South and the role that is being played by the Irish Government.

Tony Romano of the US housing rights organisation Right to the City will also be there to talk about how tenants in the US have been affected by the vulture funds who have bought their buildings. Details here

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Related: Julien Mercille: Swoop Of The Vulture



We have no social housing strategy, an unaffordable  private rental sector and little prospect for the delivery of affordable housing for those who wish to buy a home.

Independent Seanad candidate Dr Rory Hearne writes:

So the housing crisis continues. Another week, another report showing homelessness rising, issues with evictions in the private rental sector and the failure to provide social housing.

It’s another week where hundreds of thousands of families, children and individuals across this country are suffering because of the failure of successive governments to deliver a most basic human need for its citizens. That most basic need (and human right) is affordable, secure and decent quality housing.

Last week we found out that in February this year there were 912 families, including 1,881 children, without a home and living in emergency accommodation.

This means that there is now one family per day being made homeless in Ireland!
It also means that the number of homeless children has more than doubled in the space of a year. In January 2015 there were 539 families and 865 children homeless.

The current figure of 1,881 children is a 117% increase in just a year.

On top of that the Private Residential Tenancies Board found that there were 320 ‘unlawful termination of tenancy’ or illegal eviction cases in the private rented sector last year. This was a huge 40% increase in the number of such cases in 2014.

Then there is the reality of the huge stress of the 88,000 households in mortgage arrears and debt (37,000 of which are in arrears over two years).

The Irish Mortgage Holders Association (IMHO), who works with up to 20,000 homeowners who are in mortgage arrears or are struggling to pay their mortgage undertook a survey of the psychological impact of this debt on people’s lives.

Based on a sample of 500 people affected by debt they found that more than 40pc said they felt depressed either “all of the time” or “most of the time” and over 30pc said they had had suicidal thoughts in the last four weeks.

While the Irish Times reported yesterday that one of the key government and state providers of affordable (social) housing, Dublin City Council, is set to halve the number of social housing units being provided.

Last year 1,689 additional social homes were provided by Dublin City Council but by the end of 2016, this figure is expected to reach just over 700.

These figures highlight a major flaw at the heart of the Social Housing Strategy announced in November 2014.

This strategy included €4 billion in funding, and set out how it would provide 110,000 social housing units by 2020.

But over three quarters of the units (75,000) are to come from the private rented sector (which is not credible given the lack of availability of private rented accommodation for low income families particularly those using HAP and the Rental Accomodation Scheme.

But even worse, only 12,000 units (just over 10%) of the plan are to be direct new build by local authorities or housing associations.

The remaining 23,000 are to be provided through some form of Public Private Partnership ‘off-balance’ sheet private financed delivery.

There are major problems with this approach.

The table below sets out clearly the numbers of actual new social housing units delivered last year and the numbers planned in the overall Social Housing Strategy.

It shows that it is only a ‘social housing strategy’ in name, because only a tiny proportion of it involves building actually new permanent social housing by local authorities and housing associations.


It is clear that the housing crisis is an unprecedented social, humanitarian and economic crisis.

We have a social housing strategy that has no social housing, no end in sight to the misery for families being evicted, in mortgage arrears, on the social housing waiting lists and being made homeless, and no coherent strategy for making the private rental sector an affordable and secure tenure for those who are reliant on it, and little prospect for the delivery of affordable housing for those who wish to buy a home.

Based on my extensive academic and policy research, practical experience from being a community worker with Barnardo’s in Dublin’s inner city, and from my campaign experience with housing rights campaigns,I have identified eight solutions that could address the housing crisis which are outlined in the table below.

I have made these the core of my campaign to try and get elected to the Seanad on the NUI Colleges Panel.


It wasn’t an easy decision to stand in the Seanad Election and it hasn’t been an easy campaign for me. I have struggled to try and run the best campaign I can (and thanks to all those who have supported me and got involved!) while also working a full time job and looking after my three young children.

But I believe it has been worthwhile. I know the Seanad is elitist and undemocratic and it is time that all citizens were given a vote in Seanad Elections.

But I have tried to use the campaign to highlight the issues like the housing crisis (see, for example, the short video I made above), issues of poverty, inequality and community disadvantage, Living Wages and quality jobs, the importance of local community and youth services, quality and accessible public health and education systems and affordable childcare.

In short I have tried to highlight the policies that could address poverty and inequality and make Ireland a more socially just and economically fairer and more sustainable country.

Whatever the outcome of the Seanad Election (and there is still time for those with a Seanad NUI Vote to post their vote by next Monday, April 25th), I will continue to highlight these issues.

There are also many groups and organisations (including NGOs and charities like Simon Communities, Peter McVerry Trust, Focus, Inner City Helping Homeless, and active campaigning grassroots groups like the Irish Housing Network, Housing Action Now and homeless campaigners like Erica Fleming) who are doing incredible work to address the escalating housing crisis by supporting those made homeless, providing housing or campaigning for the housing crisis to be addressed.

If elected I will raise their issues and concerns to a national level in the Seanad.

A major reason why the Seanad has not been reformed to give all citizens a vote and why it is seen as irrelevant by most people is that the majority of Senators have been part of the political establishment and have failed to prioritise radical reforms and progressive social change.

So those of you who have a vote in the Seanad NUI face a choice.

You can use your vote for a candidate like me who has demonstrated his long term commitment to challenging the consensus and campaigning for social justice. Or you can allow a conservative establishment politician to fill that space. It’s your choice!

Finally, I’ll be at a very important housing and homeless protest this Sunday from 12.30 noon at the GPO as part of a citizen’s day of action and protest to mark the actual commemoration date of the Easter Rising.

It’s a genuine commemoration of the spirit and vision for a Republic of Equality outlined in the 1916.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academc, social justice campaigner and  independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne



From top: Dolphin Barn, Dublin; Dr Rory Hearne

An important question needs to be answered by the civil service and political decision makers: why community services and regeneration projects were disproportionately cut during austerity?

And why they are still not restored?

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Communities are the heart of this country. And community based services – from care for the elderly, child and family supports, housing and homeless services, community work, youth and sports projects, community gardens, tidy towns – have been the heart of many communities in Ireland for decades.

Unfortunately austerity cuts have had a devastating impact on these services and community work.

Our most disadvantaged communities (in rural areas, small towns and the large estates in our cities) and vulnerable groups (such as lone parents, those with a disability, the elderly, children, Travellers, migrants) are most reliant on these services and therefore they have been hit hardest from the cuts.

They have also been devastated from the collapse of social housing regeneration projects (in Limerick and parts of Dublin).

And they need these services more than ever with the doubling of child poverty rates (there are now 138,000 children in poverty in this country), 60% of lone parents suffering material deprivation, unemployment rates of over 30% in some rural and disadvantaged areas, and dealing with the cuts to the other public services.

A very disturbing and shocking aspect of the austerity budgets has been that the cuts to community and regeneration projects have been disproportionally bigger than to other parts of the public service. The extent and range of the cuts is shown in the table below.

The cuts have resulted in local community projects being either closed or trying to survive by laying off workers, reducing their pay or putting them on short time.

The community and voluntary sector has suffered a 31% reduction in numbers employed (a loss of 17,000 jobs) — three times the rate of reduction in general public service numbers.

If we look at the Local Community Development Programme (LCDP) for example, it experienced a dramatic reduction in funding from €84.7m in 2008 to €48m in 2014, is now closed with local projects put under the control of local authorities and is being subject to a commercial tendering process.

Regeneration plans for new social housing and community employment opportunities were developed in the late 1990s and through the 2000s for disadvantaged estates that had suffered decades of state neglect and high rates of unemployment and deprivation.

Areas included Moyross in Limerick, Ballymun, Dolphin House, St Michaels, and O Devaney Gardens in Dublin, and other estates in Cork, Sligo and Waterford.

While some were partially regenerated like Ballymun and Fatima, the collapse in the Public Private Partnerships (as developers withdrew) in 2008 and the austerity budget cuts to regeneration funding meant that many estates saw their hopes and dreams of a new future destroyed.

I worked for six years as a community regeneration worker for the children’s charity Barnardos in Dolphin House in Dublin’s inner city where I saw the devastating impact of the cuts to regeneration.

We developed a ground breaking human rights campaign that pressured Dublin City Council and the government to act on the terrible housing conditions affecting tenants there. These communities need to be given hope again.

An important question which remains to be answered by the civil service and political decision makers is why these community services and regeneration projects were disproportionately cut during austerity and why they are still not restored?

Is it because the vulnerable, disadvantaged communities and the poor simply do not matter to the Irish state and political establishment?They clearly were not sufficiently prioritised and protected in these difficult years.

Is it because they traditionally have not voted?

Is it because they are not wealthy and thus are not potential donors for political parties?

Or is it because of a wider societal discrimination that blames all these groups and areas for their problems rather than accepting that their disadvantage results from the deep ingrained inequalities in the Irish economy and society and, therefore, we all have a responsibility?

Perhaps it is because the values that drive these organisations and communities such as caring for others, solidarity, not-for-profit, co-operation, and empowerment challenges the laissez faire, free-market, private wealth accumulation ‘greed is good’ that official Ireland supports in profit chasing entrepreneurs and tax avoiding corporations?

There is no doubt that part of the reason is that austerity provided the state with an opportunity to remove community advocacy which had become a political irritant for elected politicians and the civil servants in various departments and local authorities.

The work of community development had become too effective in highlighting the need for the State to listen to, and provide greater support for, communities left out during the Celtic Tiger and then suffering under austerity and so they were cut.

It is also part of a wider trend where the Irish state has been supressing community advocacy for a number of years. For example, HSE grants to community and voluntary organisations often come with the conditionality that:

“You must not use the grant to change law or government policies, or persuade people to adopt a view on law or public policy”

What a dangerous thing to do! Try to change a law or ‘persuade’ people to ‘adopt a view’. It is a sign of our shallow democracy that such advocacy is not viewed as central to the role of community and voluntary groups. It is a hangover from a paranoid, insecure and oppressive state that required the silence of society in order to abuse and oppress.

Rather than seeing NGOs and the community and voluntary organisations as having a really strong contributing role to raising awareness of issues affecting our most vulnerable, enhancing our democracy through empowering the marginalised, and bringing about a more equal society through the creation of a locally sustainable and vibrant economy – the Irish state instead has viewed them as a threat and an annoyance, showed in the fact, that they were cut first and cut deepest, in austerity.

As a community worker I saw how good quality social housing, homework and youth clubs, community employment and enterprise, child and family support, drugs programmes, community gardai and strong community development working together with the local communities can really change people’s lives by reducing poverty, improving social inclusion and inequality.

We should learn from these positive examples.

The problem at the heart of the state’s narrow vision and analysis of community work, regeneration and the community and voluntary sector is that it fails to appreciate the huge economic and social benefits that they provide. Public spending on youth and community work, child poverty and family services, and regeneration is not a ‘cost’ i.e. lost funding.

These services provide multiples of a return on any public investment put in as they reduce other social and health costs including costs associated with school leaving, crime, hospitals, and unemployment. They also provide for a more socially cohesive and inclusive society that makes the best use of all its human resources. They can tackle the root of so many of our social issues that we currently waste so much resources on in responding from crisis to crisis and emergency firefighting.

There is an urgent need for a properly funded national regeneration programme including community and child services, new housing and local facilities to be set up to deliver regeneration for the disadvantaged.

The funding should also be restored to community development and youth projects. While the decision to commercialise and privatise the community development programme through competitive tendering should be reversed.

A new reinvigorated National Combat Poverty Agency should also be set up to support local independent community development projects. A mature, democratic, and equality orientated state and government would do no less.

You can listen and watch here to video I have made highlighting the impact on disadvantaged communities of austerity and the collapse of regeneration as part of my Seanad campaign.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic & social justice campaigner. His column appears here every Wednesday. Rory is an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne




From top: Carrying wood from Sackville Street, Dublin after the 1916 Rising Dr Rory Hearne

What right do we have to commemorate when the very men and women who took part in the Rising would abhor what is going on in Ireland today?

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

The 1916 rising commemoration on Sunday will start with a reading of the Proclamation at the GPO.

I wonder what will go through the minds of the dignitaries, politicians, the thousands lining the streets and those watching on TV when they hear these lines read from the Proclamation:

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”

Will they think of the 138,000 children in poverty across this country? Will they think of the 8000 children who went to the Capuchin day centre last year in order to get a hot meal? Or the 3 year old girl who was fed from a soup kitchen on O Connell Street last week?

Will they think of the 1,570 children living in emergency homeless accommodation in our capital city?

Will they think of the 90,000 on housing waiting lists? Or the 46,000 people living in homes owned by vulture funds? Or the 37,000 homeowners in long-term mortgage arears?

They should. I will be. I have thought a lot about the commemorations and I am disturbed by the hypocrisy and contradictions in them.

I cannot stop thinking about the shameful disgrace of thousands of children hungry and homeless in this country while we commemorate the Rising and Proclamation of this Republic.

A Republic which was founded on the very principles of ensuring such children would be cherished equally.

How can we genuinely commemorate the Rising and Proclamation without feeling an intense sense of guilt and shame at the current housing crisis?

What right do we have to commemorate when the very men and women who fought in the Rising would abhor what is going on in Ireland today?

The right thing to have done would have been to cancel the commemorations and in their place to hold a national crisis summit on the housing and homeless emergency.

Vulture funds and landlords are evicting families as you read this and just last week it emerged that Dublin rental prices are now higher than their peak. Rents are completely unaffordable for low income earners.

For example, the average monthly rent for a house in Dublin is almost 85% of the monthly minimum wage of €1546.3 (while the average national rent is 60% of the monthly earnings for someone on a full time minimum wage income).

It is troubling to see how the history we are commemorating is repeating itself. For many involved in the rising, particularly socialists like James Connolly, the terrible housing conditions that existed in the tenements in Dublin at that time was a strong motivating factor.

The bitter irony is that 100 years on housing conditions are again a major human catastrophe in this country.

There is also an eerie parallel with today’s housing crisis and our history as a colonised country. 100 years on we are again being colonised by external forces – this time its the foreign vulture funds who are taking over our housing, land and mortgage loans. In 1916 as with today, this colonisation is being facilitated by our own political and business (property industry) establishment.

But some things are very different. We now have control over our own destinies and so there can be no excuses for not solving the housing crisis. We can’t blame a foreign empire (although Europe did have a role in forcing the bailout and austerity – but it was our own political choices to cut social housing funding).

The biggest difference between 1916 and today is that we are now one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.

Therefore there are no excuses for children being without a home or going hungry. Did you know that €45 million is being spent on the various commemoration events this year? Wouldn’t this be better spent on addressing the housing crisis?

We know the solutions to the housing crisis.

Focus Ireland outlined this week a five Point Plan that it is calling on a new government to implement including a ‘cast iron commitment to ending the family homeless crisis, setting a firm deadline to achieve this, building at least 40,000 social houses over the next five years and holding a referendum on the ‘right to a home’.

The Dublin Tenants Association has also made a very logical call for the banks to be stopped from selling mortgages to third-parties (vulture funds), for a removal of the ‘sale of property’ as grounds for the termination of a tenancy and for NAMA to stop selling housing or debt secured by housing to vulture funds and other bodies.

It’s not as if we don’t have the land and finance to build much needed housing. There is a huge amount of state owned land held by local authorities while NAMA has enough land and finance to build 50,000 affordable and social houses.

There is also 2,233 hectares of undeveloped zoned land in the wider Dublin region which could provide 102,500 new housing units but developers and speculators are sitting on it waiting for prices to rise further. An emergency tax should be introduced to force building on this.

The problem is we just do not have the political and institutional will to do what is necessary.

Vested interests of the property industry, developers, vulture funds, landlords, estate agents, banks, and financiers are ensuring that the status quo does not change and thus the housing crisis continues to worsen week by week.

It is time to raise the public pressure to counter these vested interests and demand a housing system that is primarily based on meeting people’s need for a home and not based on relying on the private market – which is the property industry and speculators – which has failed over and over to provide affordable and secure housing.

I want to commemorate 1916 and I am proud of this history. But I am ashamed of our present. We have no right to commemorate 1916 in any way – other than to use it to reflect back to us our failure to deliver the basic right to housing to citizens of this Republic.

There is a very genuine commemoration of the Easter Rising and the Proclamation taking place on Easter Sunday and it is a Protest for the Homeless. It is being organised by Erica Flemming, who, along with her daughter is homeless. She explains that she feels she has to take to the streets and she is organising the protest in order to:

“stare at power in the eye and hold it to account for the experiences of poverty that are facing my child daily. Her playground is a hotel corridor: I rarely get to provide her with a home cooked meal. As I tuck her in at night, I can’t even afford her the dignity of leaving the room. This isn’t the Republic that people died for and I feel duty bound to demand that my daughter be cherished equally in the eyes of this State”.

Erica is organising a friendly, family orientated event on Dublin’s North Earl Street on Sunday at 1pm to “highlight that our children matter and that a home is the minimum we should be affording our children on this anniversary of an event associated with such strong themes of equality and what it truely means to live in a Republic”.

We can only truly commemorate 1916 when the housing crisis is dealt with and there are no children and their family like Erica’s who are homeless or suffering poverty.

For information on the Homeless Protest on Easter Sunday see here:

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic & social justice campaigner. His column appears here every Wednesday. Rory is an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

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Celebrating their General Election victories at the weekend, from left: From top: Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Fein supporters: Paul Murphy and AAA supporters; Socialist Party’s Ruth Coppinger; Catherine Martin and Eamon Ryan of the Greens; Róisín Shorthall with Soc Dem supporters; Dr Rory Hearne

Is a left-wing government possible?

No wait.

Come back.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

So the election dust is settling a little. So what did people really vote for and what should the Left parties and Independents do about government?

Clearly the people voted to reject the former government of Enda Kenny and, particularly, the Labour Party. The scale of that rejection is a political earthquake even though lots of commentators are trying to downplay this.

The demand for change was the rejection of the ‘recovery’ narrative that promoted an economic recovery and ignored the housing and health crises. It was also a rejection of the promises of USC cuts and instead people wanted investment in public services.

The government, as I have been arguing on Broadsheet and elsewhere for a number of years, absolutely failed to give sufficient priority to the social costs of austerity and the pain that so many people are still suffering.

It was, above all, a rejection of politicians who failed to fulfil the electoral promises and commitments they made. People were angry at the political choices that failed to protect the most vulnerable – children, lone parents, the disabled, the sick, disadvantaged communities – both in cities and rural areas.

So what now?

The Left parties – and I include the broad spectrum in this (Sinn Féin, the AAA-PBP, Social Democrats, Greens and Left Independents) should get together and develop a coherent Programme for Government that they should propose to the Dáil when it meets on March 10.

Combined, they are now a significant block of almost 45 TDs. They could have a rotating Taoiseach with each group having a six-month term. Isn’t it time to shake up our democracy and government?

Their Programme for Government should be called, A Plan for a Fair and Equal Ireland – A Plan for Society’s Recovery – and include the following:

Implementing emergency measures to solve the homelessness crisis

Setting up a Homes and Housing Agency to start building social and affordable housing (NAMA’s land and funding be integrated) on a large scale

The setting up of an Irish National Health Service – providing universal public health for all citizens (from primary care to hospitals, mental health and community services)

Abolishing Irish water, water charges and initiating a referendum to enshrine water as a public good

Abolishing the property charge and replacing it with a wealth tax aimed at those with a net wealth over €1million

Creating a Combat Poverty and Inequality Agency that develops a plan to eliminate child poverty within 5 years

Commit to holding a referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment

Implement a referendum to enable Citizen Initiated Referendums

Implement a referendum to insert economic, social and cultural human rights (right to housing, health) in the Constitution

Reform the Seanad to give voting to all citizens in its elections

Set up a new Infrastructure Plan based on a significant increase in investment in public infrastructure – child care, elderly care, transport, broadband, green technology, housing

Plan to introduce a living wage and strengthen worker’s collective bargaining rights

Restore greater powers to local government

I don’t think there is anything the broad left parties would disagree with here. So why don’t they come together and put this forward as an alternative Programme for Government and seek the backing from TDs in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Labour could decide whether they are going to go back to their social justice roots or continue the path of austerity.

This would show that the Left is serious about government and that it has a clear policy platform. It would also show whether Fianna Fáil is serious or not about a fair Ireland.

Fianna Fáil understood the mood of the people and explicitly made the case for investing in public services over tax cuts and contrasted themselves with the government’s approach.

They presented a ‘centre Left’ campaign during the election and stole the policy ‘clothes’ of the Left. So where do they stand? Will they go back to their right-wing and corrupt policies of the Celtic Tiger era or take a new direction?

A Programme For A Fair and Equal Ireland, presented publicly by the Left parties, would be a good opportunity to explain to the people of Ireland what exactly the Left stands for and how it concretely proposes to achieve a fair, equal and sustainable Ireland.

It would show that the Left is not just divided and torn apart, incapable of mounting a serious challenge and taking power.

This would also really represent the desire for real change expressed by the people in this election. This democratic will should be the main focus in the formation of a new government rather than a narrow discussion around personalities and party interests.

People have voted for society to be given as much priority as the economy. They have voted for a fair and equal Ireland which has high quality public services. This represents a significant shift in the political value base of voters.

There is an onus on this block of broad Left TDs to come together and put forward a coherent policy alternative that could achieve an Ireland of social justice and equality.

They should not repeat the mistakes of the Labour Party and compromise on their core policies. They should only enter government if their mandate and policies are fulfilled.

But they do need to step up now and offer a clear alternative direction for a new government.

Dr Rory Hearne is a Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change. His column appears here every Wednesday. Rory is an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. Follow him on Twitter: @roryhearne



From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Bega’s Barbers, Enniscorthy, County Wexford last night; Dr Rory Hearne.

Things are not going to plan for King Kenny and Fine Gael in General Election 2016.

But where is the alternative?

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

King Kenny, Michael Noonan and the fiscal space invaders appear to be losing the election. The opinion poll last week in the Irish Times showed that 63% wanted a change of government and only 30% wanted to see the current government returned!

But it wasn’t supposed to be like this for Fine Gael.

This was supposed to be King Kenny’s coronation with the election just a formality where the Irish people obediently went into the election booths and ticked ‘yes, your majesty’ in the boxes beside Fine Gael and Labour candidates.

The Irish people were supposed to choose the stability of King Kenny and his court jesters over the chaos of the rabble rousing Sinn Féin, Independents and others who were going to ‘wreck the economy’.

And then the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance got found out, again. This time by the Fiscal Advisory Council and Sinn Fein – the government’s economic figures were plucked from outer space.

But there was something else happening in the public mood even before this latest incident of attempted manipulation.

Ireland has changed, and the people are no longer the passive sheep of the past. People are not as easily fooled or bribed by cute hoorism, spin and false promises. They have been fooled too many times by the establishment parties and they have suffered dearly from broken promises.

Irish People no longer vote the same way as their parents or family did. They no longer vote for who can ‘fix the potholes’. We are no longer an obedient subservient society doing what the church, state, government and establishment political parties tell us to do.

We have our own minds and we will decide ourselves what is best for us – for everyone, as a society of Irish people – not just an economy of individuals.

And that’s why the wheels have fallen off the government’s re-election wagon.

The people were supposed to have been bought off by promises of tax and USC cuts – the ‘few bob’ back in your pocket. To say thank you for paying the price of austerity, bailing out the developers, bondholders and banks.

But people realise that cutting taxes is ‘boom-bust’ false economics. They realise we need taxes such as the USC to fund proper public services.

King Kenny is very wrong in thinking as he arrogantly said at his party’s economic policy launch that “the vast majority of people don’t understand” economic jargon.

Recent opinion polls show the people understand very well that if you cut taxes and the USC it will mean longer hospital waiting lists, a worse trolley crisis, more homelessness, less guards on the streets, more expensive college fees etc.

They know that if the USC goes – it will mean a €3.7bn hole in the public finances every year – and that is some serious austerity budget cut.

The graph below shows that if the USC is abolished next year we will lose as much from public spending as any of the austerity budgets during this government’s term of office. Abolishing the USC will give us permanent austerity.


Of course this suits the wealthy top 20% as they can easily afford private health care, childcare, rent, mortgages etc – unlike the majority of people.

Most people would get more benefit from having a universal health system, publicly provided affordable childcare, actually free education and affordable housing, than they would from a few hundred quid from tax cuts.

And the people know this – that’s why in the latest poll in the Sunday Independent, for example, more people chose improving public services over tax cuts.

They also realise that cutting taxes and the USC benefits the top earners more.

They are wondering where the mythical recovery is because they aren’t seeing it.

They know we are a deeply unequal country where half the households in the country have just 5% of the total wealth. But the top 20% have 70% of the wealth.

And what the government have ignored to their peril is that the water protests, the Marriage Referendum and the Repeal the 8th campaign are part of a grassroots and generational shift in views of people looking for real, substantive, change.

My research into the water movement, for example, found that people are not just protesting about the water charges but even more so about the devastating impact of the recession and austerity, the injustice of the banking debts, and growing inequality. They are protesting for a more equal Ireland – for Ireland to be a caring society and not just an economy.

They are angry at the political establishment for not standing up to Europe and the bondholders on the saddling of the bankers and developers debt on to the Irish people. Noonan and the government laugh and scorn at Syrizia, the Greek government, for failing in its attempt to stand up and challenge Europe.

But the Irish people have more respect for Syrizia than the Irish government because even though Syrizia might not have succeeded this time, at least they stood up for the Greek people.

Now the question is. Is there an alternative to King Kenny?

The answer is yes, and no.

Fianna Fáil are clearly not an alternative. They wrecked the economy and showed they are no different -while the Green Party were their supportive side-kick, just like Labour is now with Fine Gael. Fianna Fáil are also likely to go into coalition with Fine Gael after the election.

As for Renua – well they are even more right-wing than Fine Gael and most of them are ex-Fine Gaelers who all voted for austerity budgets until the abortion issue came along. Then they decided Fine Gael were not conservative enough for them. They are also likely to support a Fine Gael Government

That leaves Sinn Féin, Independents, the Social Democrats and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit.

These are offering an alternative. They will substantially increase their vote and the polls show that they could get up to 50 or 60 TDs in the election. But that is still short of the 80 TDs needed to form a government.

Unfortunately they are divided, fragmented and do not appear as a coherent alternative government.

The Right2Water/Right2Change campaign tried to get them to unite around a set of really good common policies and a vision for an Ireland of ‘equality, democracy and justice’ (you can see the policy principles here).

Unfortunately they all didn’t row in behind that initiative.

But there is still time.

I wrote in the Irish Examiner in December 2014 that “it is very possible that in the next general election, whether it is in 2015 or 2016, the Irish people will vote for the most dramatic transformation in politics since the foundation of the State”

I still believe it is possible. But I think it depends on whether people are presented with a coherent alternative. One way would be for the Sinn Fein, Independents, the Social Democrats and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit to unite and present themselves as an ‘alliance for change’.

Imagine a press conference with Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams, Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Finian McGrath and Clare Daly – where they state that they have put aside their differences and have come together to offer the people of Ireland a real alternative government.

That would be a game changer.

Dr Rory Hearne is a Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change. His column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Pic: Fine Gael


From top: Construction of modular homes, Ballymun; Dr Rory Hearne

What to ask candidates on the doorstep about housing.

Should they come to your home.

Should you have a home.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

The election has been called – so now you are probably thinking about who you might for and what are the issues you should think about in deciding how to vote…(And of course you are going to vote – the future of the country is at stake…well, maybe not quite but it is a bloody important election to decide who runs the country for the next five years!) .

When it comes to thinking about why and how you might vote – shouldn’t the current housing crisis be a key deciding factor?

You are probably affected by it yourself – either as a renter, someone looking to buy, already paying a huge mortgage or maybe you are homeless and living in emergency accommodation.
Despite all the talk of a ‘recovery’ the housing crisis is getting worse. It should be a national emergency.

Having a home (and particularly fair rent and home ownership) are issues that have defined this country from the colonial times and the famine evictions to the Celtic Tiger and property crash that busted the country. Today housing is again is an issue that is defining us as to what type of country we are and what we want to be.

The housing crisis is a scandal that the government wants to ignore but it could be the very thing that stops them from being re-elected. The failure to address the housing crisis could very well be Fine Gael & Labour’s Achille’s heel.

Here are some of the groups affected by the housing crisis:

Renters facing high rents (at the moment in Dublin there are reports of ‘bidding’ wars between renters trying to find a place to live)

Young people and families unable to buy a home due to rising house prices (couples are being forced to put off having children while they try get a home)

People in mortgage arrears or mortgage distress (there are still 37,000 homeowners in long term arrears and facing repossession – we don’t hear much of their plight – do we? But then they might interfere with all the positive talk of ‘recovery’!
Over 90,000 on social housing waiting lists –stuck in poor quality or unaffordable private rented accommodation

1,500 children and their families are homeless. At the current rate of families becoming homeless there will be more than 6,000 children in emergency accommodation by 2017.

Travellers left in substandard accommodation & asylum seekers left in poor conditions in Direct Provision

Here are three questions you might want to ask the politicians about the housing crisis when they come knocking on your door:

Question 1: What has the government done about the housing crisis in their five years of power?

Question 2. What could a new government do to solve the housing crisis?

Question3. Will a new Fine Gael and Labour government do what is needed to be done?

To help you give them a grilling after they’ve given you their ‘wishy-washy’ response I will now give you some detailed answers to challenge them.

My answer to Q 1.

The Fine Gael/Labour government actually made a bad housing crisis worse. Here’s how they did it:

They wouldn’t stand up to the landlords and so they didn’t control private rent increases or sufficiently strengthen tenant’s rights to longer leases. The two year ‘freeze’ is doing nothing to stop new rental property price increases and when it finishes next year rents will sky rocket again.



They cut the budgets for social housing/local authority building which meant that over the period of government they had the lowest level of social housing building in over 40 years (even lower than the recession in the 1980s) (see graph above).

They didn’t increase the rent allowance to match rising rents which forced families and children into homelessness

They left 100,000s struggling in mortgage arrears with huge personal stress and facing repossession.

They wouldn’t challenge the property industry and so allowed developers and builders sit on vacant land. The government introduced a vacant site tax but it doesn’t come into force until 2019! So builders can keep supply low to force prices to rise so they can increase their profits.

They failed to use NAMA to provide affordable or social housing. The government continued to support NAMA (created by Fianna Fail) to sell off housing (such as the promised 20,000 ‘starter homes’) and land to international vulture funds rather than for Irish people who need the housing

They privatised social housing provision onto the private rented sector– which has reduced private rental supply. Three quarters of the housing in the governments ‘social housing’ strategy is to come from the private rented sector.

They have helped create the ‘shoe box’ tenement apartments of the future. They reduced housing building standards by lowering the apartment size regulations.

They have opposed the new Central Bank mortgage lending rules that are keeping house prices affordable. The new rules are the one positive change that has been implemented – it has slowed down house prices rising and thus keeping them more affordable. Yet this is the very policy the government (and Michael Noonan in particular) opposed.

Answer to Q 2.

So what could a new government do differently to solve the housing crisis?

The core of an alternative housing policy would be for the government to do six key things:

1) Implement rent control/certainty –where rent increases are linked to inflation and/or affordability & quality indexes) & give tenants the right to long term secure leases

2) Create a new Homes and Housing Agency (NAMA could be changed into this) to build affordable and social housing.

3) Create a new State Housing Bank to finance housing and provide affordable mortgages for people.

4) Hold a referendum to put The Right to housing and a home in the constitution

5) Change NAMA’s mandate to invest in social and affordable housing rather than offices and selling to vulture funds.

6) Bring forward the vacant site tax to force builders and developers use vacant land to build and introduce the famous 1974 Kenny Report to control the speculation on the price of land

This would create a housing system that is based on meeting people’s need for a home and not based onrelying on the private market – which is the property industry and speculators – which has failed over and over to provide affordable and secure housing. The private housing market just provides super profits for developers, banks, estate agents, solicitors and speculators.

We need to move away from mortgaged home ownership and housing being an asset of wealth, a commodity, a speculative piece of ‘property’. Instead the housing market should be strongly regulated with price and profit controls and there should be a new approach to funding provision of affordable, ‘not for profit’, cooperative and social housing.

That will mean standing up to the property development industry, landlords and all those who currently profit from the existing housing mess. It also means Irish people changing their attitude to property and ownership and understanding that the current obsession with home ownership mainly benefits the wealthy, the banks and property industry.

Irish housing system should, in the first instance, ensure affordable, high quality, homes are available to every citizen.

Answer to Q 3.

These housing problems didn’t start with this Government. Governments during the Celtic Tiger boom years lead by Fianna Fail also caused the crisis by prioritising the ‘mortgaged home ownership’ developer-led housing system. When the crash happened they created NAMA to bail out developers, bondholders and the banks but left ordinary people to pay for it all.

But Fine Gael and Labour continued Fianna Fail’s housing policies and have shown they won’t do anything radically different on housing policy. It just shows there is no real political difference between these three establishment parties.

Fine Gael is a party of the landlords, the wealthy and property industry. Interestingly, it has the highest number of TDs who are landlords with 24 TDs. Fianna Fáil has 12 landlords, Labour has ten, while Minister for Environment Alan Kelly is also a “landlord”.

Fine Gael who are strong believers in the ‘right-wing’, laissez-faire, ‘free-market’ approach to economics don’t believe in interfering with landlords and land owners ‘right’ to profit from property speculation and ownership. So who’s interests will they represent?

The Labour party have shown that they are either unable or unwilling to do anything different (the best example of this is Labour Minister for Environment, Alan Kelly’s failure to achieve rent control in the face of Michael Noonan’s opposition).

Of course they will blame the Irish people for voting for these policies.

So when they come knocking this time tell them you want something different – you want housing to be a human right, provided to meet people’s needs and not the greed and profits of estate agents, developers, landlords and vulture funds. And vote with who you think will do that.

Maybe then we will get a government that actually does something positive about Ireland’s permanent (and repeating) housing crisis.

Dr Rory Hearne is a Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change. His column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Top pic: Rollingnews


From top: Pro choice activists take the ‘abortion pill bus’ in September, 2015; Dr Rory Hearne

Time to end Ireland’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ hypocrisy on abortion, bring us into the 21st Century and Repeal the 8th Amendment.

Dr Rory Hearne writes:

Ten women (and some with their partners) will have to take a plane or ferry today and travel to England to have an abortion.

Last year over 3,700 women had to travel to the UK while over 150,000 have had to take a plane or boat to England or another country to have an abortion so that Catholic Ireland can remain guilt free while her traumatised women and their partners are forced to take the journey of shame to another country

This is the reality of hypocrisy Ireland.

Women and their partners and families face a personal crisis; whether it is a deeply tragic pregnancy such as fatal foetal abnormalities or becoming pregnant because of rape or a crisis pregnancy, this ‘great little nation’ deals with it by offering no support but to export the ‘problem’.

The Irish constitution and the failure of the state and governments to provide supportive legislation has turned our personal difficulties into a criminal act. It is the Eighth Amendment (Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution) which criminalises abortion as it gives the right to life to the foetus and places it on equal footing with that of the woman.

It is actually illegal for a woman in Ireland to have an abortion even if the foetus she is carrying will not survive outside the womb.

· In 2014, 140 Irish women travelled to the UK to have abortions for this reason.

It is also illegal for a woman who gets pregnant from rape to have an abortion in Ireland.

A total of 197 women and girls who went to rape crisis centres in 2013 were pregnant as a result of rape. One in four chose to have an abortion. They had to travel abroad for an abortion or take abortion pills illegally in Ireland.

Up until 2013, women had no legal right in Ireland to an abortion even if their life was at risk. We saw the result of this when Savita Halappanavar was allowed to die in October 2012. After the public outcry and protests the Government responded by enacting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act but this retained the criminalisation of abortion on all but one ground (when a woman’s life is at risk). So women having an abortion or a doctor, or anyone helping a woman have an abortion outside of that circumstance faces a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The right to travel abroad for abortion allows official Ireland to get on with business as usual irrespective of the mental, financial and sometimes physical suffering imposed on these women and their partners.

They add layer after layer of control and punishment because those who travel to have an abortion can’t talk about it – not even to closest friends and family – not even amongst themselves.

But thankfully this is changing. The silence is being broken The stigma of abortion is being broken down as more and more people such as journalists like Roisin Ingle and comedian Tara Flynn speak publicly, to their friends and family about their experience.

New websites are being set up to share stories about abortion (for example ShareYourAbortionStory) or the X-ile project which is an ongoing online gallery to give a much-needed face to women who have effectively been exiled from Ireland and ignored due to unduly strict abortion laws and demonstrate that those who choose to travel to have an abortion are responsible, ordinary women and are our neighbours, friends, colleagues, mothers, daughters and partners.

Kitty Holland has written in the Irish Times about women undertaking abortions at home with imported medication from a website in the Netherlands.

One women she spoke to explained how she was ‘working part time and trying to get college projects finished’ and ‘the thought of having a child on a meagre wage, living in an apartment I share with my mother . . . I wouldn’t be able to finish my education or look for work. What kind of start would that be for a baby?”  She was afraid to seek follow-up medical advice after taking the abortion medication at home.

A few weeks ago, Fergal Malone, the head of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital spoke on the RTÉ’s Late Late Show about the tragedy of parents of babies with fatal foetal abnormalities having to “courier” their child’s remains home because of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.

Opinion polls (including Newstalk’s latest poll last week) are consistently showing that a majority (67%) favour decriminalising abortion and a substantial majority (80%) in cases of foetal abnormalities or rape while a majority (75%) also favour holding a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Those favouring access to abortion as women chose has doubled in the last decade (with a majoring of 25-34 year olds in favour) while those opposed in all circumstances has halved and is now down to just 7%.


Changing attitudes to abortion in Ireland: Various Opinion Polls 1997-2015

Amnesty’s #notacriminal campaign (see below) shows how difficult it is to get a legal abortion in Ireland.They highlight that the lack of legal abortion is a denial of women’s human rights and the choice to have an abortion should be an entirely private matter decided between a girl or woman and her doctor.


An important factor in building support for the Repeal the 8th Amendment is for men to speak out in support and tell their stories about experiences of abortion.

Restriction of abortion is a broader human rights issue that discriminates and hurts men as well.Men face criminalisation for helping their partner or are often unable to travel with and support their partner due to difficulties paying for a second set of flights. The Irish constitution denies them the ability to be with the person they love, and playing an active role in being present to support their partner during a medical procedure.

This change in the public mood in favour of de-stigmatising and decriminalising abortion and ‘Repealing the 8th Amendment’ is being led by thousands of pro-choice activists and campaigners across the country.

The numbers attending the Annual ‘March for Choice’, held in September for four years now, have been growing with 10,000 attending in September 2015. While The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, includes over 50 organisations including feminist, human rights and pro-choice organisations, NGOs, trade unions, and political groups. It has written to all General Election candidates to pledge to calling for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Ireland is changing.

We are realising that equality means actually implementing equal rights for everyone.

And that includes women’s reproductive rights to have control over her own body – including the right to abortion in Ireland.

So when a politician comes knocking on your door in the next few weeks make sure you ask them what their position is. Let them know Ireland is changing and that its time for safe and legal abortion in Ireland so that women’s lives, health and choices are respected and protected.

Dr Rory Hearne is a Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change. He is also an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. His column appears here every Wednesday and he writes in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

You can sign the petition in support of a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland here