Wednesday, January 1, 2014

my year in letters: 2013

A Happy New Year to you all. Here is some of the word-count that I provided free of charge to a couple of publications in 2013.

In the Irish Times:
January 3
A Chara - Anne-Marie Hourihane fires a couple of guns down at a Texas firing range and then reports back on her first hand experience of US gun-culture (Opinion, December 31st 2012). What's her next project - an in-depth report on the American fast-food industry in which she gives us a bite by bite account of her consumption of a burger in Chicago? -Is mise,

January 16
A Chara - Noel Whelan argues that the X case justifies what he calls the suicide test for abortion (Opinion & Analysis, January 12th). However, perhaps it is time to revisit that judgement. Many commentators have argued that it was deeply flawed. It is hard to see how it could not be. It seems torturous legal logic indeed to claim that the equal right to life of both mother and child are respected in a situation where the life of one is forfeited in a questionable attempt to rectify the mental health issues of the other. - Is mise,

February 14
A Chara - In the short time since the Pope announced his resignation there has been a litany of calls that his successor should remake the Catholic Church in various ways. However, it should be pointed out that, contrary to what some may think, the pope does not govern according to his own personal whim. His charge is to guide the barque of St Peter in accordance with the doctrines of the Church as passed down through the centuries. This makes radical changes unlikely to say the least.

When the conclave has done its work there will be a new pope, not be a new Church. Is mise, 


5 March
A Chara - Joyce Arthur claims Canada's 'abortion rates are fairly low' and hope's that Canada's regime of unrestricted abortion at all stages of pregnancy 'can be a role model to Ireland and the rest of the world' (letters, March 4th).

There are approximately 30 abortions for every 100 live births per year in Canada. Ms Arthur may consider that a 'low' rate. I, on the other hand, consider that it speaks of a model to be avoided at all costs. - Is mise


April 25

A Chara - Denis Looby believes that Fintan O'Toole is a thoughtful man who has run out of patience (letters April 23rd). Thoughtful? Indeed: Mr O'Toole has thoughtfully adopted the tactic of labeling those he disagrees with as bigots. He is not the first to go with this strategy, which is intended to end the debate on the basis that no one need discuss anything with bigots.

As the debate isn't over, the strategy clearly isn't working. A more thoughtful tactic might be to drop the name-calling and patiently engage in actual dialogue. - Is mise

May 2

A Chara - Presuming that Dr Graham Fry means human life when he asks for a definition of life, and further that he is seeking to know when human life begins, I am happy to essay an answer (letters, May 1st). Human life begins at conception. That is an indisputable scientific fact, as we know beyond all doubt that it is at that moment a completely unique genetic identity comes into being. Perhaps Dr Fry also wonders when we should begin caring for a human life? To my mind the answer to that is in the question: if they are alive and human than we must care and do our utmost to ensure their survival.  - Is mise,

June 26

A chara, – With all that ails our system of education, what attracts the ire of a committee set up by the Oireachtas? Uniforms and workbooks (Home News, June 22nd). What’s next from our our esteemed TDs; a suggestion that our economic woes will be solved by the banks handing our free pens? – Is mise,

July 6

A chara, – The arrest warrant for Edward Snowden US authorities handed our Government, on the off-chance his plane stops at Shannon, presents it with quite a dilemma. If it ignores it, who knows what action the US might take? Why it might even refuse to allow their “first family” to drop by on vacation ever again. But if they serve it, then they must deal with Mr Snowden’s asylum request. Which, of course, by current standards should take at least five years to process. Any less, and it will be accused of giving him special treatment just because he’s a US citizen.

All in all, I rather hope he does land at Shannon. – Is mise,

July 31

A chara, – Ivana Bacik (July 30th) characterises Breda O’Brien’s article (Opinion, July 27th) as a “tirade” against “militant pro-choicers”. She then launches her own tirade, describing all who disagree with her as fundamentalist anti-choicers, lacking in compassion, opponents of sensible reform, and hypocrites.

Why the trading in “tirades”? Why, because phase one of the abortion debate is over and the time has come for phase two: the campaign to relax the “restrictions” that our new regime places on “choice” even before the ink is dry on the new law. – Is mise,

August 16

A chara, – May I commend Dan O’Brien for his most excellent strategy of reminding us all of how good we are to our old people – no shanty town starvation for them in this country, thank you very much – before he begins softening us up for swingeing cuts to their pensions (Home News, August 16th).

However, despite his cleverness, I can’t help noticing that in all his talk about “social transfers” being passed from the hard-pressed young people to the elderly he leaves out an important point.

Those who are now elderly worked hard and paid their taxes towards the State pension all their lives. Cutting their pensions now would be to penalise them for the way in which successive governments have squandered the money instead of keeping it safe for its intended purposes.

If pension cuts are required, I’d be far happier to see them fall on the politicians and bankers who got us into this mess (and perhaps even some of the journalists who cheered them on) rather than the unfortunate elderly who were innocent bystanders to the debacle. – Is mise,

August 24

A chara, – Dan O’Brien’s suggestion that our blighted economy is a good reason to legalise and tax prostitution (Business Opinion, August 23rd) gives a whole new meaning to the notion “ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country”. I hope the women of Ireland are ready for his brave, new Ireland. Oh wait: that’s a little bit sexist of me – equality legislation would no doubt ensure that everyone had the opportunity to play their part.

I suppose there’d be a Bord Fáilte campaign to highlight Ireland’s new status as a sex-tourist destination? The logo could be a shamrock with a red light in the centre. Or maybe just a red shamrock? And there would probably need to be some kind of a national campaign to persuade the “prudes” that it is OK for the rest of us to live off what used to be called “immoral earnings”.

I’m still not clear though why Dan O’Brien thinks it would reduce trafficking. I’d have thought it would have the opposite effect as pimps struggled to meet demand. And wouldn’t a whole lot of licensed “knocking shops” be the ideal thing to help traffickers hide what they were up to? It would surely be tough for the punter to know the difference between a legal and a “black market” brothel. Still, it would be in a good cause. After all, what’s more important than the economy? – Is mise,

September 17

A chara, – Is not the “silencing” of Fr Flannery getting a tad surreal? His constant media presence surely makes this the most vocal silence in recorded history. Not to mention his supporters, who loudly and publicly proclaim that they have been “cowed into servility” and silence by the “oppressive” structures of the church (September 16th).

On this evidence, either those in the structures were absent the day they were giving the “how best to oppress” class in the seminary, or those doing all the shouting have an exaggerated notion of their own oppression. – Is mise,

October 5

A chara, – I am amazed Anthea McTeirnan (Opinion, October 4th) seems not to have heard the news that women now have the vote in this country. She must not have; why else would she think the only reason that abortion isn’t as normal as a tooth extraction here is the dastardly oppression of history’s “great men”?

I imagine it may also come as a shock to her to learn that modern women actually think for themselves and refuse to be bullied by either the great men of the past or the radical ideologues of the present. The reason we don’t have her dental clinic termination model in place is the simple fact that killing one’s child in the womb is not normal. Most people, men and women, know that. But clearly that notion will also be news to her. – Is mise,

October 15

A chara, – I wonder did Una Mullally consider when she was writing her article decrying the “idiocy” of the “lowest common denominator” obsession with the Love/Hate cat that she was still writing an article obsessing about the Love/Hate cat (Opinion, October 14th)? But presumably that’s okay, as long as it’s done in a consciousness-raising cause. – Is mise,

October 22

A chara, – We are living in strange days indeed. Eamonn McCann compares the Roman Catholic Church to the republican movement (Opinion, October 17th). Is there an outcry? Only from Gerry Adams who thinks the comparison unjust to his friends (Letters, October 19th). – Is mise,

November 8

A chara, – Dr Rachel Cave expresses bemusement at the Roman Catholic Church’s position on marriage (October 7th). How odd.

One might have expected her to notice that the Catholic Church does not tend to change its teaching on important issues. For example, the stance taken on recent debates in this country on issues such as divorce or abortion would have, I should have thought, given a fairly good indication of this. So the position taken on this matter shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

What is bemusing is that Dr Cave would expect the Catholic Church to hold any other. – Is mise,

28 November

A chara, – Denis O’Donoghue (November 26th) makes an important point: if ESB workers take industrial action it is likely that many who have nothing to do with this dispute will be left without heat. What happens to the old, the sick, the vulnerable, and families with young children if the power goes out? Many modern homes do not even have a fireplace as an alternative. A cold winter would make for a brutal and potentially lethal season.

While I understand the workers have legitimate concerns, I do not think it acceptable that innocent third parties should not only endure real suffering but be put at risk. Perhaps the time has come for our Government to recognise the service this industry provides is too important to people’s health and well-being to be treated as a bargaining chip and, if need be, change the law to prohibit it being used as one. – Is mise,
5 December
A chara, – Stephen Collins says we have it wrong when it comes to who gets most from the welfare budget (Front page, November 30th). The people think its the unemployed, but his figures show that it is pensioners. The problem here, I imagine, is that most don’t think of pensions as welfare, but as something that we have earned. Perhaps what’s really wrong here is treating pensions as welfare in the first place. – Is mise,

12 December

A chara, – Gearoidín O’Dwyer is disappointed by Senator Quinn’s attempt “to criminalise workers who wish to defend their pay and conditions” (December 10th).

While workers may have a right to defend themselves, society also has a right to defend itself against those who threaten to cut off its heat, light and electricity in the dead of winter; and I would be disappointed if our elected representatives did not act to do so. – Is mise,


In the Church of Ireland Gazette:

on the Interchangeability of Ministers 1Canon Michael Kennedy (Letter, 9th August) quotes the 16th century Richard Hooker: “Another extraordinary vocation is, when exigence of necessity doth constrain to leave the usual ways of the Church which otherwise we would willingly keep, where the Church must needs have some ordained and hath not, nor can have a bishop to ordain ... These cases of of inevitable necessity excepted, none may ordain but only bishops...”.

I am sure that Canon Kennedy is sincere in his views, but I do not see how this quotation serves to advance his argument in favour of the proposed Church of Ireland-Methodist interchangeability of ministries scheme.

No “inevitable necessity”, either of the kind envisaged by Hooker or any other, has arisen that would justify us leaving the “usual ways of the Church” regarding episcopal ordination.


on the Interchangeability of Ministers 2Canon Kennedy is incorrect when he states that I 'totally missed the point' of his argument (Letter, 6th September). I get his point only too clearly: Hooker admitted of a single exception in very particular circumstances and therefore in principle other exceptions are admissible.

Hooker, however, was very careful to lay out the conditions under which his one exception should be allowed - and he made them so stringent that it is all but impossible for them to be met. Effectively, he not only made his own exception impracticable but he also excluded all others.

Hooker is not an ally to this cause. Quite the opposite - he was a staunch defender of the necessity of episcopal ordination. He wrote, I believe, with the intent of securing the Anglican Church against future irregular ordinations, not
in order to validate future ones.

Ministerial interchangeability between the Church of Ireland and our Methodists brothers and sisters is something that can be achieved without forgoing the ancient practices of the Church of episcopal ordination. But if we decide to abandon it in pursuit of this project, I am afraid we must do so without Hooker's blessing.


suicide among gay peopleRevd Andrew Rawlings rightly highlights the important issue of the high-rate of suicide among our gay brethren. However, I believe it is generally accepted that any individual act of self-harm is as the result of a complex interplay of a variety of factors. I would therefore think there are dangers in attempting to attach particular importance to one out of many. The Church must, as he suggests, offer a life-giving response (as it must to all people in crisis); but it would, I think, be just as irresponsible as ignoring it if we were to somehow make it all about 'us' and treat it as a problem that begins and ends at the the church door.

Might it not be useful, for example, for the Church to sponsor, or at least advocate for, research on this issue? I myself would like to know why the rate of suicide is so high among gay men at this point in history, not just in Ireland but around the world. It seems counter-intuitive that this should be so, at a time when tolerance, on the surface at least, has never been higher. Possibly rates have always been high, and the reticence to declare deaths as suicide have served to obscure this. We need to know. Just as we need to know why it is that a homosexual man is seven times more likely than his heterosexual counterpart to die by his own hand. It would be of particular relevance for the Church, I suggest, to discover if there was a divergence in the incidence of self-harm between those who are people of faith and those who who are not.

Such research would likely be a sound basis for helping us to help others who find themselves without hope over this issue. It would surely be a good starting point to enable us to provide the life-giving response that Revd Rawlings has led the way in calling for.

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