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From the kitchen table

From the kitchen table

‘Sorry’ doesn’t absolve blame and heal all wounds

 

 

Another week, another grovelling HSE apology. This time the fawning, too little, too late “we’re very sorry” centred on the findings of a 2015 commissioned report concerning maternity services at Portiuncula University Hospital which examined the delivery and neonatal care of 18 babies between 2008 and 2014. Six of those little angels sadly died; another six have various medical issues, some of which are life-changing.

  I must stress that when no complications presented themselves at this hospital, everything appeared to go well, and everything ended well for patients; but when the going got tough, and things got complicated, the entire maternity care system appeared to come tumbling down, resulting in unspeakable tragedy and heartbreak for many parents.

  Now readers, as a nation, we’re an easygoing and forgiving race, and, if someone issues us with what is a sincere apology, we tend to regain our composure, accept it and politely move on. However, given the revelations around what are a series of grave and profound litany of medical screw-ups, I have to ask if perhaps the HSE might like to consider employing someone to sit in a back room and compile a future list of recipes for reliable apologies, because I for one am very concerned and wonder if any of us can ever again feel confident when receiving medical care.

  You see, medicine is a specialised field, and we, the patients, place ourselves in the hands of what we believe to be expert professionals, and depend on them to do what is best for us.  However, while the level of our dependency on those whizz-kids in white coats is acute, it appears, given the recent botch-ups, the level of their responsibility towards us is not commensurate; and if I were of a suspicious nature (and I am), I’d have to assume that there is a culture of medicine in this country that is, in itself, very, very unhealthy.

  At this point I must add that there are, of course, decent people working within the HSE and an awful lot of good work is being done, and we should acknowledge that fact.  However, a lot of rot is still simmering underneath. In order to get rid of the stench of that decay our country needs to see systemic change in both the government and the HSE senior management, because put simply, due to their lack of candour, clarity, accountability and disclosure to us, (patients and voters), it’s clear we cannot trust either and that dear readers, is a damning indictment against our society.

Pedal power and mischievous minions…

Don’t forget, this Sunday, RosFM will proudly present their Pedal Powered Cinema fundraiser in the Dr. Hyde Centre, Athlone Road, Roscommon. The feature movie extravaganza will be Despicable Me 3. I’m told doors open at 2 pm, and the big picture begins at 3 pm.

  Entry is free folks, and so is the raffle, but do drop in a donation or two. And by the way, hard-working volunteers are not your free babysitters, so keep those darling little cherubs supervised at all times. 

Why I believe our Gardaí should be armed

Last week, during what I can only describe as a moment of weakness, (call it decrepitude brought on by menopause), I tuned into Today with Maura and Daithí! And don’t you dare judge me, because I’ll bet one or two of you have also had the odd lapse of common sense and delved into the murky waters of mundane daytime telly; so park it and let’s move on.

  Anyhow, the debate du jour centred on whether or not our Gardaí should be armed. Now for me, this a no-brainer and I believe that yes, frontline Gardaí should be armed with some sort of protection. If ever proof were needed to back up my beliefs, it’d be last week’s incident involving a member of the force up in Dublin, whom, while going about his duty, found himself being seriously assaulted by a thug wielding a metal baseball bat. Thank God it wasn’t anything more destructive.

  You see, it’s a sad and worrying fact that citizens of this country appear to have lost all respect for An Garda Síochána, and not a week goes by where we don’t hear and read about attacks on members of the public and now, more recently, on our police force. Now as it appears, (in order to do the most damage), the weapon of choice for these pieces of scum is usually a firearm, we simply cannot send frontline Gardaí into potentially dangerous and highly incendiary situations, and expect them to have any chance of resolving them, without first arming them with a means of personal protection.

  Look, I’m not saying our Government should issue firearms willy-nilly, and I do know we have a professionally trained Emergency Response Unit, but I agree with the Garda Representative Association when they say ordinary rank and file officers should be given extra protection while on duty, and in my opinion perhaps a taser would be a dinky little accessory to hang on their protective vests alongside their extendable baton and pepper spray.

  For those who disagree, let me assure you that I’m not for one minute advocating for violence here, nor am I suggesting Gardaí should go round tasering everyone who steps out of line – I mean, those stun guns emit a serious dose of electricity, causing temporary paralysis – so proper training and procedures around skill, accuracy and most importantly attitude must be put in place. We want to make sure our Gardaí thoroughly assess each incident and that if the situation warrants it, they will always reach for the least lethal weapon in their arsenal.

Why is our health service failing women?

 

 

At the time of writing, and as the cervical cancer outrage intensifies, a HSE delegation  was preparing to go before an Oireachtas health committee on foot of its staggering confirmation that, out of the 3,000 cases of cervical cancer notified to the National Cancer Registry in the last 10 years, just 1,482 were reviewed by the national screening programme.

  Records from CervicalCheck show out of those audited, 208 received ‘false negatives’. However, only 162 were informed of the review and 17 of these women are already deceased; (it has yet to be determined if their deaths were due to a delayed diagnosis). This means the remaining overlooked women are now at risk of being dragged into this scandalous, ongoing and escalating fallacy, which, due to someone’s colossal cluster feck-up, has now reached gargantuan proportions!

  So, this week, on behalf of myself, and, if I may,  all Roscommon women, I want to know if there is a cultural malaise permeating throughout our health service, leading to some sort of polluted thought process when it comes to dealing with our medical needs?

  You see, it’s my opinion that time and time again this country is failing women because almost every medical scandal that seeps out of the woodwork involves our gender. Off the top of my head I can think of the symphysiotomy scandal, the Anti-D immunoglobulin scandal which was contaminated with Hepatitis C; the transvaginal mesh implant scandal; and the one currently gripping us… the cervical smear shock. Enough said!

  Regular readers will know that I was monitored due to both ovarian and cervical scares, leading to an emergency total radical hysterectomy in 2012, (and, due to similar scares, I’m still monitored through BreastCheck); so I believe, hand on heart, that CervicalCheck is a wonderful initiative that, since its introduction, has managed to reduce the rates of cervical cancer by seven per cent; so have your smear tests ladies. However, due to the scandal’s time-line and my own follow-up vault smears, done in order to ascertain if any residual cells had escaped/developed, (which showed up as being clear), I’m a little concerned, and I want clarification; so I contacted the HSE ‘helpline’ on Monday. It took me an hour to get through and the service didn’t prove helpful whatsoever! A woman took my details, and, unhelpfully told me “I’ll add you to the list and someone will call you back in about a week”.  

  Something else we should know in ‘about a week,’ is the Dáil’s decision as to whether or not to make it mandatory for doctors to report issues that could potentially result in serious consequences back to patients in order to prevent delays in treatment. You see, it appears there’s been what I’d call a pervading culture where there is (allegedly) no obligation on doctors to contact patients directly to alert them to a possible medical misdiagnosis, and this suggests to me that we, as women, are kinda on a need-to-know basis, possibly implying that perhaps there are some condescending, patronising gits who feel we can’t be trusted with vital information concerning our own bodies! Now I stress some…not all, and I personally have a wonderful family doctor.

  But let me give you an example of sexist, arrogant behaviour when it comes to dealing with women and our medical health. I was petrified at the prospect of undergoing major abdominal surgery and prepared a list of questions around my hysterectomy for my surgeon in Dublin to address. The man’s reaction to what he saw as my impudence was to throw me a look so blistering it’d make an onion cry. He stood up, folded the list, slotted it into his pocket, adjusted his cufflinks, and, patting my arm, uttered, “no need to bother your head with this dear”. Then, turning to my husband, the pretentious prig tut-tutted, raised his eyes heavenward and said, “Take her home, make her a cuppa, she’ll be fine; have her here tomorrow at 2 pm”.

  I won’t repeat my response, (our editor would spike it), but suffice to say the bombastic buffoon immediately sat his scrawny ass down and swiftly addressed every one of my questions…in minute detail, rendering hubby to whisper afterwards, “I don’t think it was a good idea to call the man who’s opening you up tomorrow a conceited s**thead”. Maybe it wasn’t, but the surgery went beautifully, and my scar is barely noticeable.

  Mind you, I’ll bet not one head will roll over this ‘mistake.’ But this is not a mistake! A ‘mistake’ is sprinkling salt into your coffee instead of sugar. This is a cataclysmic crisis that’ll possibly outrageously result in the deaths of many women, and that’s a reckless disregard for both our welfare and our lives; something which I find wholly unforgivable.

Well done Kate!

It was with a small bit of jealousy and a lot of admiration that I watched Kate Middleton’s perfect post-partum photo-op last week, hours after giving birth to her third child. Now let me tell ya lads, (and the ladies will agree), pushing another human being from your body is no picnic, (I’ve done it twice), and believe me, afterwards your undercarriage can resemble a tangled mishmash of stitches that’d rival any horror scene Stephen King could think of creating. 

  And don’t get me started on my face! I mean, after I’d pushed out my second child, a ten pounder, which, due to the enormous pressure, made every blood vessel in my face, neck and shoulders burst, such was the ugly hack on me, yer wan from The Exorcist’s prospects of winning Miss Ireland looked decidedly better than mine. So it was about a month before I was ready to face the mirror – never mind a gaggle of journalists. Well done Kate!

 

How will Scouting Ireland rebuild broken trust?

 

You cannot thumb your nose at accountability. End of! And, if I could offer any words of advice to those 40,000 members of Scouting Ireland, their parents  and the 10,000 volunteers who selflessly give of their time, it would be this; brace yourselves and er.…Bí Ullamh! Yep, anyone who has ever been a Girl Guide, (me, but I was a useless one; mind you I was a patrol leader, but only ‘cos I’m bossy), or a Boy/Girl Scout, will know that both organisations use the motto ‘Be Prepared,’ or, as gaeilge, Bí Ullamh.

  Personally, I think we should all be prepared for the results of esteemed barrister Lorna Lynch’s inquiry into this organisation’s handling of an alleged sexual assault. And, while last week’s announcement saw four officers stepping aside pending the investigation’s outcome, I have to say, given this latest disclosure regarding ‘safe practice’ issues relating to child protection within the agency’s structure, I would applaud Minister for Children Katherine Zappone’s decision to withhold further funding for Scouting Ireland until she “can be satisfied the organisation’s governance standards are up to the required level”. 

  We all know there has been something of a controversy rumbling on for some time now which centres around this serious rape allegation made in 2016; and if, as it appears, there is a question mark hanging over matters relating to transparency and accountability in any organisation that deals with children or vulnerable individuals, then it must be addressed ASAP.

  It is, and always will be my view that we must protect those who may be at risk against preventable harm; this means that leaders/those in charge must be able to both identify and have a clear understanding of what constitutes risk in the first place; the end game being to put in place safety nets.  However I’d imagine that, whatever the outcome of this particular investigation, (the results of which we will no doubt receive very soon, I mean we’re told Scouting Ireland only has enough funds to last until June, so speed and accuracy is of the essence here), the organisation will have to work extremely hard to regain the trust of both parents and kids.

Sometimes it’s not good to talk ...

We need to talk about Denis…Communications Minister Naughten, that is; who, by the way, should not be forced from office, nor should he be persecuted any further for allegedly inappropriately informing a lobbyist regarding his own thoughts on a proposed merger between Independent News and Media (INM) and Celtic Media.

  The man made an error of judgement; something which we all do from time to time, only we don’t do it in the full glare of the public eye! So, get over it folks, he’s apologised; he’s offered his regrets, cut him some slack and move on; nuttin’ ta see here!

  Now, I’ve got no affiliation with Denis Naughten whatsoever, and I don’t know him personally; but my gut tells me he’s a good man, a genuine man, a man of integrity, a man who works hard and a man, who will, (if he’s allowed), continue to work hard for this county.

  But….(and I have to add this Denis), while you’re correct, you are not (none of us are) responsible for how others interpret our comments, however, if, in the future, you, in your capacity as Minister, have a “purely personal view” on any subject matter, even if it refers to that orange ball in the sky which briefly visited Roscommon last week, then keep it to yourself! 

For better or for worse!

The issue of whether or not women should consider taking the hubby’s name following marriage was debated on the Claire Byrne Show last week; making me think…ooohhhh this is gonna be intense!

  Now, while it isn’t a legal requirement, it is kind of a tradition; right? But when I first married at the age of 17, I was pressured into taking my husband’s name; however, upon our separation, I reverted back to Kerins and kept it when I re-married.

  My decision isn’t an indication I’m not fully committed to this marriage. Nor, BTW, is it part of my brutal process to ‘disrespect’ my darling husband; nor is there some conspiracy to ‘hide’ the fact I’m married; I mean we had a ceremony, we both said “I do” in front of guests and we both wear wedding bands! The clues are there Miss Marple! 

  It’s because, with my first marriage, I felt I’d lost my entire identity, half my future assets, and, as the then government replaced my RSI number with his, sticking a ‘w’ on the end to denote my status as his wife…shoulda put a ‘C’ on it for chattel; they (in my opinion), labelled me as this man’s property, eviscerating traces of my own individuality. So now ya know!

   Look, the whole name-game, whether adopting eachother’s surnames or going double-barrelled, etc., comes down to the personal dynamics of each couple; besides,  hubby says it makes no odds to him what I call myself, I’m still his wife.

 

 

Sex education: Parents need to be proactive, not reactive

 

The headline was sickening…’Cork secondary school investigates ‘rape list’ found in boys’ toilets’. The allegations sent shockwaves around the country, and so they should. Now folks, I remember a  time when writing a cheeky note to a fella or a girl you fancied in class and leaving it on his/her desk or slotting it into one of their copies was viewed as exciting and risqué; and, if I’m honest…cute. 

  However, there is absolutely nothing cute about a situation where boys allegedly single out young girls and add them to a so-called ‘rape list’ which they post on their school’s toilet wall, the end game being that the girl ‘with the most ticks will get raped’. Nay, that’s perverse, devious and highly disturbing.

  And, while I know the school at the centre of these alarming revelations has moved swiftly and is doing everything possible to deal with the wretched situation, this latest incident has come hot on the heels of another highly startling report where Gardaí are investigating an allegation that an 11-year-old boy raped a 9-year-old girl in a field over the Easter weekend. How does an 11-year-old child get to this level of sexual activity? Now while both of these alleged incidents occurred at different ends of the country, the fall-out from each will have a catastrophic and wounding effect on everyone involved.

  You see readers, it appears that in a culture which encourages ‘sharing’ information and images freely, and, the wide usage of smartphones and the availability of pornographic material, it’s clear that some kids/teens are going to believe there is absolutely nothing wrong in engaging in certain, let’s say, questionable activities; believing it’s all part of their normal sexual development.

  And while yes, being curious is definitely part and parcel of growing up, as is a heightened interest in sexual activity, coupled with trying to figure out who you are, etc., parents absolutely need to ensure that everything their child is exposed to as part of the learning process should always be age specific; with emphasis placed rigidly on consequences, because, let’s face it, no pre-teen/teen comes complete with a clear understanding of cause and effect, now do they? It’s a parent’s job to be proactive and try to recognise the triggers.

  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude, and there’s nothing wrong with your teen engaging in age appropriate consensual sexual communication, so long as you, the parent, discuss everything with them beforehand; in particular the worrying upward trend of ‘sexting’ (a ticking time bomb among kids, in my opinion), and place strong emphasis on the serious consequences and pitfalls attached to it. Not to mention the emotional distress it causes for both the sender as well as the receiver. It’s time for some parents to stop using the internet as their babysitter and their kids’ teachers as their primary sex educators and moral guardians. The teacher’s job is to deliver academic skills, and while the issues around life skills, sexual relationships and gender respect should be included in the school curriculum, if you wish to educate your children regarding the onslaught they face in today’s technological revolution – especially when it comes to exposure to certain adult material – then the discussion must begin at home.

Comey turns out to be a ‘dorky dad’!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that former FBI Director James B Comey is on a book publicity tour; hawking an opus I’ll highly likely buy, simply out of nosiness.  However, I’m disappointed in his level of pettiness; a behaviour which is unbecoming of an individual who was previously entrusted to head up the USA’s federal law enforcement agency, responsible for its day to day operations. 

  My opinion of Comey lessened slightly when, speaking to ABC last week ahead of the launch of his much-anticipated tome, ‘A Higher Loyalty, Truth, Lies and Leadership,’ the 6’8” one didn’t come across as the cool clean hero I’d hoped he was; rather instead, he presented like a bitter, vitriolic begrudging little man as he gave a physical account of the perma-tanned one who once famously issued him with his P45!

  Now I’m not referring to Comey’s comment that Trump is “morally unfit,” to be president of the US, because I’d have to agree with him there and respond with ‘er, no s**t Sherlock, tell us something we don’t know!’ I mean, we’ve read The Donald’s erratic tweets, his latest being to label Comey a ‘weak and untruthful slimeball’…an invective one would hardly expect the most powerful individual in the world to use.

  But you see readers, while I initially thought Comey was the bigger man, and not just height-wise, but righteously, his bitchy remarks regarding Trump’s hands not being ‘as large’ as his own, and the fact his face is ‘slightly orange, with bright half-moons under his eyes,’ has diminished him (in my eyes) from the tall, dark, brooding, tell-it-like-it-is sexy specimen of everything a high-ranking, powerful law enforcement officer should be, to embarrassing dorky dad. In my opinion, Comey’s unvarnished physical description (of Trump), gave us the impression he was not quite a bona fide champion; and if I was his PR I’d advise him that until his book is on the bestseller list, while he’s doing future interviews, (no matter how half-hearted the effort might be), he should at least make an attempt to preserve his relationship with the media!

 

 

 

 

Why I’m dedicating this week’s column to the memory of Ann Lovett and her baby son

 

 

On a bitingly cold, dark, dismal January 31st in 1984 Ireland, an innocent 15-year-old went to the grotto of the Virgin Mary, and, heavily pregnant and in the throes of agonising labour, without the benefit of a soul to comfort her, lay down on the frozen, filthy ground and gave birth to a baby son. Ann Rose Lovett must have been terror-stricken. Her infant died, and, later that afternoon, tragically, so did his poor mammy. Had she lived, Ann would have been 50 last week. Her baby boy would have been 34.

  On the 20th anniversary of Ann’s death, while working for the Evening Herald, I was tasked with heading to Granard in County Longford to see, in my then editor’s words, “what the mood is like”. I made a call to Emily O’Reilly, the journalist who broke Ann’s tragic tale back in 1984, to see if she’d any words of advice. In 2004, Ms. O’Reilly was our country’s first female Ombudsman, later being elected as European Ombudsman…her advice was to wish me luck and to ”tread carefully”.

  Well folks, ‘the mood’ was hostile. It’s a painful subject for the lovely people of Granard, who told me back then, (when I identified as a journalist), that they just “want to forget”. Fair enough, but I’m personally finding it impossible to forget, and the scandal of what happened to that poor girl still covers this entire country, most especially the town of Granard, like a dense fog to this very day.

  My first port of call was to the grotto to say a prayer for the young girl who was found crying and dying in the dirt beside her infant son; who was never afforded the dignity of being named. Three days later, both were buried, fated to become two of Ireland’s tainted unmentionables; legacies of the fierce and cruel stranglehold the Catholic Church had on this nation of ours.

  My second stop was to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, its steeple clearly visible high on the hill, cloaking the town like a dark spectre. Look, I won’t go into detail regarding my visit, because I genuinely don’t wish to upset the Lovett family, or the decent people of Granard, but, following my little chat at the parochial house, I was run out of town. Yep, word spread that a nosy journalist was asking questions, resulting in staff at the accommodation where I’d planned to stay packing my bags and leaving them at reception. Apparently they didn’t have a room after all. A burly thug approached me on Main Street, and, in a threatening voice, fist close to my face, told me what would happen to me if I didn’t “get the f**k out of town”.

  I wasn’t easily intimidated and headed to Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School, the ‘caring institution’ where Ann attended, to find out just how ‘caring’ they were, and asked how staff (back then), had failed to act and help this petrified child, who sat in class each day, clearly heavily pregnant. The response (at the time) was shocking; evidence of the decades-long wall of silence dutifully erected around allegations, speculations and above all, dark, shameful secrets that nobody was willing to breach. Undeterred, I continued up the hill to Granardkille graveyard – where Ann and her baby are laid to rest – and said a prayer. It was there a local lady approached me and revealed her son (whom she insisted, and I believed her, was not the baby’s father), had befriended Ann. This lady was the only friendly face I encountered that day; and, 34 years later, on the anniversary of Ann’s 50th birthday, and while times have changed and the schools/businesses/churches, etc., employ different personnel now, no more details of her story have amassed; most notably not the identity of her baby’s father.

  Tragically, three months following Ann’s death, her teenage sister was found dead of an alleged prescription drug overdose. I wrote my story, and it was published in memory of the brave young girl who was outrageously crucified for falling pregnant outside of marriage. As someone who was herself a teenage mother in the ‘80s, (but with the benefit of a wedding ring), I dedicate my column this week to the memory of Ann and her baby son; we must never forget them. Their deaths remain our national shame because collectively, as a society, we must all be held responsible. May they rest in peace.

Scarla’ for ya McGregor

Flamboyant, outrageous, ostentatious, notorious and legendary, etc. There are many adjectives that describe MMA fighter Conor McGregor. He’s built a reputation, fortune and image around bawdy showmanship and, as a fellow Dubliner, I’ve admired him for it. But, given last week’s disgusting behaviour, let me offer alternative adjectives…vacuous, vapid, imbecilic ignoramus. To be honest, McGregor’s latest (probably) pre-planned publicity stunt, where himself and his hangers-on appeared to go on a violent rampage and allegedly gate-crash a UFC 223 media event, will likely go down as one of the most embarrassing and shameful incidents in Irish sport. According to the New York Police Department’s spokesperson, “he (McGregor) has been charged with three counts of assault and one of criminal mischief”.

  N-n-n-n-ice one Conor, you’ve managed to turn a mediocre event into a scene of utter chaos. Not exactly coola boola behaviour for one of Ireland’s most bankable and, to many, influential role models, now is it bud? I’m scarla’ for ya. How will your career ever recover from the fall-out? Ya numpty!

 

Issues raised by high profile ‘Belfast rape trial’

 

Do I have my own opinions regarding the recent high profile ‘rape trial’ in Belfast, the alleged self-professed ‘top shaggers’ and their grotty locker room banter, and indeed, the overall outcome? Of course I do…but I’ll be keeping it to myself!

  However, I did read, listen and follow all news reports generated around the proceedings, and it wasn’t until after the verdict had been reached – (with, I stress, all four accused being found not guilty) – did I comment on social media, to say three things. One, we must accept the court’s verdict, and we do of course accept it; it was a difficult trial for all involved. Two, I wished to acknowledge the sheer courage and determination of the complainant and her family during the trial. And three, I wanted to encourage anyone who has been affected by sexual abuse/rape/assault or who has been hurt in any way to make a report to the Gardaí today.

  You see, readers, given the massive publicity this trial generated, given the sordid, demoralising, dispiriting and highly offensive moments it provided; given the graphic front page headlines it spawned, given the fact that Crown Courtroom No. 12 appeared to have perversely become a tourist destination with voyeuristic day-trippers and supporters of the accused men, as a rape survivor I was troubled. 

  I became fearful that, in the wake of everything that’s happened, there’s a significant possibility that victims, in particular women, will be too fearful to come forward, and this alarms me greatly.

  Let me make it clear to anyone who this week is reading this and feeling vulnerable and afraid, and who needs clarification around the reporting of a rape in the Republic of Ireland, that we handle things differently here. So please, please seek the Gardaí’s help or at least contact a support group. Here in Roscommon, (and indeed the Republic  generally), our system provides for a better level of privacy, with neither the complainant’s nor the accused’s identity being revealed. Remember this fact.  

  However, I’ll make it clear that rates of conviction are pretty low, and, for various reasons surrounding my personal complaint, disappointingly my own attacker never saw the inside of a Dublin courtroom. This, readers, is because there lies a deep chasm between due process and what is the highly complex legal requirement for the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a complainant was raped. It’s a profound process, but it does not mean the complainant is not believed. In fact, the Gardaí dealing with me were amazing; they were hugely supportive and they were behind me one hundred per cent all the way. To this day I’m so glad I reported him, I’m so glad I sent the Gardaí to his door and I’m so glad he was investigated. I hope to God my report deterred him from attacking or raping another woman. And, even as I still bear the physical and mental scars of that vicious attack, I’m a resilient aul wagon with, I have found, impressive bounce-back ability and survival skills. 

  For a list of support services in Roscommon/surrounding counties, log onto www.hse.ie. Remember, you are not alone.

 

Nobody had the guts to say ‘No, Taoiseach!’

 

Despite the fact that a review concerning the media campaign regarding Project Ireland 2040 has found there was no basis to allegations that the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) had breached the Civil Service Code, blurring the lines between the use of taxpayers’ money around promoting and seeking favourable coverage for Fine Gael politicians in advertorials, and objective journalistic coverage, etc., it’s understood the ‘cost neutral’ (insert snigger here) controversial outfit will shut up shop by July.

  Now as someone who has, in the past, worked hard around creating, developing and (successfully I might add), delivering certain   high profile public relations and communications strategies at Ministerial level both here at home and in the EU, it’s my opinion that the whole humiliating, inglorious disgrace stank to high heaven. And why? Well, for the key reason (in my capacity as a former communications consultant), the unit itself did the one thing it should never, ever do…it became the story!

  As a taxpayer however, I viewed the operation as possibly a ruthless and crafty splurge of public money in order that style consultants could ensure politicians looked ‘photo fabulous’ in designer gear while shamelessly, audaciously and brazenly plastering on the poor mouth as they told us poor eejits that the country is pot-less. Effectively holding nothing in the reserves to house the homeless, sort the trolley crisis and re-open Roscommon hospital’s A&E Department.

  The review, which was carried out by the highly competent Mr. Martin Fraser, found that ‘some of the public comments made about the SCU have been disproportionate, hurtful and offensive.’ Fair enough. Mind you, what I found offensive is the fact that not one advisor, spin-doctor or so-called guru had the guts to stand up to publicity-lovin’ Leo and say, “Er no Taoiseach, no…reel in the smug supercilious head on ya there son. Irish history is littered with arrogant, idiotic Taoisigh…do you really want to be remembered as another one?” I know I’d have said it!

 

Social media and surveillance

 

 

Every time you sign up to a social media platform and share information, you’re taking a risk! Anyone who thinks otherwise is a twat! So while I was really cheesed off, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to learn that data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, who specialise in ‘psychographic’ profiling, had reportedly harvested data from 50 million Facebook users, effectively ‘creating personality profiles’ (based on food, drink, vehicle, TV show preferences, etc.,) to target voters in an alleged ‘collusion’ between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 US election.

  In fact, readers, I was more flabbergasted at the utter naivety of people being ‘stunned,’ ‘staggered,’ and ‘shocked,’ that this was happening. Mind you, these ‘astonished’ individuals are the very ones who share every single minutiae of their mundane lives from how many times they pee, to letting us know where they are at any given hour…‘checked in at Terminal 2, Dublin airport,’ ‘eating a burger at XYZ,’ ‘drinking cocktails at ABC’, etc. Oookay then, so we defo know you’re not at home and that state-of-the-art 60” HD TV you bought last week is just waiting to be stolen!

  I mean, if you’re going to seriously breach your own personal security and believe what is probably the most ingenious mass surveillance tool known to humankind, (gathering more intel than that curtain-twitching aul wan down the road could ever accumulate), wouldn’t hoover up all that juicy data and exploit it – as opposed to respecting it – then you’re too pea-brained to be allowed have a social media account.

  Now while these damning revelations and allegations has led to concerns and scrutiny regarding how Facebook handles our personal data (which by the way it gathers and profits from), I’m also concerned about an article in the Irish Independent which stated ‘A 2011 audit by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) said Facebook’s security measures were “not considered sufficient” to prevent third party apps from unauthorised use of personal data” – and I wonder why weren’t sufficient intervention strategies put in place to prevent this latest data grab?

  Now while I regularly update my privacy settings and I’m careful about what I post on social media, this extremely exploitative operation has made me more aware, and I went into my account to see if I could make myself any safer when posting on Facebook. Facebook, by the way, is a wonderful platform to connect and keep in touch with family and friends, so I’m not trying to demonise it, just trying not to fall prey to its micro-targeting techniques.

  Below are the precautions you can take:

• You can delete your account altogether or put it into hibernation.

• If that’s not an option, log into Facebook, go into ‘settings’, look at the ‘Apps’ button and click on it. See which Apps you’ve entered through Facebook and click on ‘disable’ to get rid of any you don’t want; especially third party ones.

• Go back into ‘settings’ and below the ‘Apps’ button, you’ll see ‘Adds’…click on this and you’ll see all of your interests logged there by Facebook. Yep, it’s like a CV of things you’ve either liked or have researched which are now being used to target you through advertisements on your page; go into each one and delete them today.

Letter to Celeste Erlach…

(The harassed mother of two whose open letter, (rant) to her husband, detailing his flaws, went viral last week!)

Dear Celeste, dear misguided, silly little Celeste…so you want a perfect husband do ya? Someone who puts his dirty washing into the linen basket as opposed to beside it; someone who manages to bring the dishes from the table to the dishwasher yet can’t actually cope with placing them inside the machine, someone who’ll not just ‘watch the baby,’ but who’ll soothe it, change its nappy and rock it to sleep as opposed to eyeballing the snooker while the rugrat munches the dog’s food; someone who doesn’t need constant instruction regarding his shortcomings, someone you can trust to do the weekly food shop without worrying he’ll come home with a year’s supply of Pringles and forget the rusks…that right? Well love, let me know how that works out for ya!

  Look, while it’s clear you’re no longer basking in the feel-good glow of new motherhood, where you thought that, come the baby’s arrival, this wonderful man you adore (who has never so much as washed a cup) would suddenly morph into Mrs. Doubtfire, thinking that publicly shaming him on social media would help your marriage/parenting woes, suggests that you need your head examined love!

  If my husband were to post my shortcomings (of which I’m certain there are many) on Facebook, I’d divorce him…end of. So cop on Celeste, and understand that all relationships come with their own set of standards and expectations and when they fail, the very last thing on your mind should ever be to have a public discussion around them; but rather to sit down and torture your husband; sorry, chat with him.

  Bear in mind missus, that when you love someone and have invested a major portion of your life in a relationship/marriage with them, it can be easy to overlook certain annoying patterns/behaviours, and while that doesn’t mean you have to put up with them, it does mean you owe it to that person (and yourself) to try to iron things out in private and give them a chance to address them and, if you’re lucky enough, to correct them.

Have a wonderful Easter everyone; enjoy your yummy eggs! xx

 

Was Leo forced to prick the balloon of his own pomposity?

 

June 2017, Leo’s first, and highly significant visit to 10 Downing Street, where, gushing like a guileless ingénue, the man who is leader of our country, the man upon whose expertise we depend, rhapsodised like a gauche fanboy, revealing how he felt “a little thrill” at being in the big house with boss lady Theresa May, and how he was “reminded of that famous scene in Love Actually where Hugh Grant does his dance down the stairs”. Oh how we all laughed and chalked that boob down to whimsy.

  March 2018, An Taoiseach’s first visit to the White House, where, making its way from head to mouth, bypassing brain completely, Leo served up an idiotic faux pas regarding how he played an important role in having planning permission turned down for a wind farm to be built next to Donald Chump’s pile in County Clare following a panicked ‘wats da story bud’ ‘phone call from the future Pres to check out the sitch! Revealing how, (as our then Minister for Tourism), Leo, like an obedient newbie, said he ‘phoned the council to suss it out, because, after all, the big cheese American businessman was concerned about the negative impact of such a project.

  However, as Irish journos gaped in awe, not knowing when to put a sock in it, loose-lipped Leo, unrestrained, jumped into the dog pen with a massive pork chop around his neck and  further effused how, “the president has very kindly given me credit for that although I do think it probably would have been refused anyway!”

Brain over! Turn him off. Insert coin. Turn him back on again!

  You see folks, Leo’s lack of judgement not only caused an absolute rumpus here in the aul sod…and among many of the boys and girls of County Clare, it also makes us the laughing stock (and I’m not talking about cattle with a sense of humour here Leo), across the entire globe, causing me to wonder if our leader is still waiting on that brain donor to arrive, and worse, if everyone who heard his major gaffe now believes this country is built solely on brown envelope totting business people and those who’re (allegedly) engaged in ‘cute hoorism’ politics!

  Either way, in the cold light of day, using what can only be described as emergency homespun PR wisdom, Leo was forced to prick the balloon of his own pomposity and quickly clarify that he didn’t contact Clare County Council, but in fact contacted Fáilte Ireland regarding the wind farm! Oookaaay, if ya say so.

  However, in light of this dung heap, it’s my humble opinion that, if we’re to allow what appears to be a highly inexperienced individual who theorises that making immature jokes while representing us on the world stage is endearing to lead this country, then I’d suggest the riskiest thing we should allow Leo to do in the future is parallel park his fancy car without the aid of power steering!

Acquittal brings clarity and strengthens rights of the householder

In the same week Gardaí investigated a break-in at the Kilkenny home of a 98-year-old woman, the acquittal of 20-year-old Dubliner Martin Keenan in the State’s first murder case to be defended under the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011 by a ten men and two women jury is no doubt seen as a relief to the many homeowners and farmers whose lives have been blighted by the scum of the earth.

  That said, let me mention this law is not black and white – however, it does allow a citizen to use ‘reasonable’ force when defending their dwelling. Now while the word ‘reasonable’ is loaded with ambiguity, let me try to explain that under Common Law, something which a jury must consider when taking into account the outcome is the  question…did the homeowner have an opportunity to retreat? Basically, if the intruder was coming at you with a weapon, did you, (homeowner), have the opportunity to leg it out the open back door behind you, and did you use it, or did you retaliate? Ya with me?

  However, in order to deal with this aspect, the 2011 Act now means the jury are not permitted to have any regard to the fact that you, (homeowner), could have retreated or even had the opportunity to do so and not take it. But instead place, (I suppose), themselves in your shoes and deem it that you are entitled to stand your ground and defend yourself and your home; with the only question being…did you use ‘reasonable’ force.

  Now; here’s the thing readers, you can only rely on this Act if you’re defending your actual home; you cannot rely on it if you’re defending your business! You see, under Bunreacht Na hÉireann 1937, your home, (dwelling), is protected and if anyone enters it illegally, it’s viewed as an act of aggression. Now that doesn’t mean you can go chasing the intruder down the road, around the corner and attack them…that’s called revenge!

  So please keep in mind that while the key word is ‘reasonable’ force, it’s never, ever, okay to take the law into our own hands; we are not James Bond with a license to kill; but if we perceive we are under threat we all have a right to defend ourselves.

 

 

There’s something about Mary...

 

 

They tried to shut her up, but thankfully they failed! And so, last week, while giving a speech during International Women’s Day at the Voice of Faith in Rome, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese (a woman I greatly admire), told it like it is when she described the Catholic Church as an “empire of misogyny”.  

  Now understandably, Mrs. McAleese’s  perspective, and indeed her attitude, has raised the ire of many. One of those she infuriated is a so-called educated gentleman whom, upon approaching me to ask my own opinion on Dr. McAleese’s address, ranted like a stroppy spoiled brat, using some highly scurrilous and offensive terms to describe our esteemed former President. When I told him I agreed with her, the cantankerous curmudgeon then struggled to contain his demeanour as he spewed forth with bilious insults relating to women and their role in the Catholic Church! Wow, proof indeed, if it were needed, that education clearly doesn’t (necessarily) equal good manners.

  Mind you, said, ahem, ‘gentleman’ (I’d love to call him a more colourful term but this is a respectable family publication), wasn’t best pleased when I gave him short shrift; my parting shot being to direct him to climb down out of a certain part of his anatomy because he clearly wasn’t as eminently qualified as Mrs. McAleese to address the role of women in the Church.

  You see, readers – I applaud any woman who has withstood a two-term presidency of this country. Indeed, one of the proudest moments of my own career while working at RTE, (and I’ve had many proud moments as a journalist/producer; for example it was very satisfying when I investigated and exposed a paedophile ring), was the day an invitation to afternoon tea with our then President McAleese arrived on my desk.

  The official envelope from the Áras was received with great excitement in my Montrose office, and I immediately headed into town to treat myself to a Roland Mouret dress for the big occasion. Couldn’t afford that now! 

  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, which was spent drinking tea and eating petit fours and scones with Mary…that’s what she told me to call her, as we exchanged the highs and lows of being working mothers, etc. That’s all I’m going to say about our ‘off the record’ chat because I wasn’t there as a journalist, I was there as a guest of this woman, who obviously feels genuinely let down by a religion and a Church she loves deeply.

  But I can see why, given his alleged description of female theologians as “strawberries on the cake,” that Pope Francis may not be a fan of our Mary! But to be honest ladies, the Catholic Church has tortured this specific metaphor regarding our  gender for so long it should really be sent before a tribunal at The Hague! Just my little joke, but I do hope you can see how ludicrous, outdated, institutionalised and unbending the Catholic Church can be, and how accurate and appropriate Mary McAleese’s speech was.  

  I mean, all this woman did was reasonably and passionately call for equality and change, in order  that women would be included in the decision-making process of our doctrine! I don’t think that’s too much to ask…do you?

 

More explosive allegations, but we must stand by our local Gardaí!

 

We’re familiar with Garda ‘whistleblower’ Maurice McCabe and the excruciating difficulties he’s experienced due to an alleged rancorous  smear campaign levelled against him because he tried to do the right thing, the honest thing, and expose certain issues around penalty points, etc. So, last week, when I heard how two Garda civilian staff members, analysts Lois West and Laura Galligan, had claimed they’d endured ‘15 months of torment’ regarding pressure placed on them to approve ‘incorrect homicide data’ they knew was iffy – and which, they quite rightly, had a problem with doing – I wasn’t really surprised.  In fact, I’m incensed that apparently certain violent individuals’ capabilities to inflict serious harm, even death, on their innocent victims, (including some women who were killed in their homes), is being allegedly inadequately investigated and misclassified as non-crimes.

  Under what must have been intolerable pressure to keep schtum, these women, having found no joy when they raised issues with senior Gardaí, (who allegedly dismissed and disparaged them), then allegedly, (there’s that word again), took their concerns to the Policing Authority, ‘in confidence’, which bizarrely ‘leaked back to senior Garda management.’ So, who snitched them out and were Lois and Laura bitten by the watchdog?

  Look, if these explosive allegations are found to have substance, then the authority whose aim it is to identify mechanisms that encourage ethical and professional practice and prevent wrongdoing in this organisation needs to take responsibility; and, as a matter of urgency introduce innovations to improve the public’s trust, confidence and perceptions of what I genuinely believe, is, overall, a fine police force.

  We must get behind our local Gardaí, folks. We must show them our support and respect, especially during this very difficult time. Remember, these are honourable men and women doing a difficult and dangerous job protecting us and our communities for a pitiful salary, and these scandals shouldn’t negatively affect their personal integrity. Next time you see a local Garda in the street, smile, say “Hi” and let them know they’re valued.

 

 

Resilient Rossies rallied together and weathered the storm

 

 

It was the best of times…it was the worst of times…but I’ll begin with the best! Last week, as deliveries of food, letters, parcels and newspapers were interrupted (totally understandable due to hazardous conditions) during Sneachta-geddon and Storm Emma, I have to commend this particular family-run publication for managing, (in the face of extreme adversity), to go to print and reach our wonderfully loyal readers. Indeed the knock-on effects of our bitterly cold snap was such that bosses at the highly reputable Irish Examiner took the unusual step not to print. The last-known missed edition, (I’m certain someone will correct me if I’m wrong), was in November 1972 where journos engaged in a 24-hour stoppage in protest at the jailing of reporter Kevin O’Kelly who was found to be in contempt of court. O’Kelly spent two nights in prison for refusing to answer questions about a tape relating to his RTÉ radio interview with a then IRA member. He stood by his principals, and rightly so. Any journalist who compromises their professional integrity would be effectively committing career suicide. But I digress. 

  Back to Sneachta-geddon and a shout out to all local businesses who prioritised staff safety above profit, taking the humane decision to shut up shop; these include Paul and Fiona Healy, proprietors of this free, community newspaper; they got it printed, wonderful distributors got it out, and at the same time placed emphasis on staff safety! I have to mention hubby’s lovely boss Ken O’Shea who texted all employees regarding closures during the alert. Well done to all.

  Of course there were many stories of ordinary everyday folk stepping up to the mark to help each other. To name but a few, my good and generous friend Mike Power invited anyone who needed company and a bit of warmth to drop in for a bowl of soup by the fire; my gorgeous friend Lyn Hagan allowed drivers who got stuck to park their cars safely inside her driveway. Credit also to my fabulous neighbour Julie Kennedy, who, along with catering and medical colleagues at Roscommon Hospital, stayed in a local hotel to ensure they were on hand to provide patients and staff with food, sustenance and critical medical care! Heroes!

  I have to mention my darling number one daughter who arrived six weeks prematurely during the great storm of 1982 when my own beloved dad, along with his colleague, the legendary Paddy Reel, got marooned at Dublin Airport as they tried valiantly to get flights airborne and weren’t heard from in three days. I was so concerned, despite being heavily pregnant, I walked the 12 kilometres in the snow to try to find my dad. No transport, no mobile ‘phones, no internet and no info back in 1982! Turns out himself and Paddy slept on pool tables, along with other crew members in the ALSAA sport’s club ‘till they could dig their way out.

  Anyhoo, No. 1 child, (now 36), rang me from Dublin to say, “Dad’s car’s stuck in the snow Mam.” Me: “Oh no, what gear was he in?”  Daughter: “OMG Mam, what’re ya like, he’s wearin’ his Penny’s padded jacket and the gloves and beanie he bought in New York…what does it matter what gear he’s in?” Me: “I meant was he driving the car in a low gear!!!” Number one falling about laughing: “Ooops, sorry”.

  Well done to Shannonside Radio’s regular news bulletins who kept us all updated regarding the unfolding situation…didn’t hear a  mention of us on the national stations. And our wonderful council staff who gritted and cleared main roads; you’re all only massive! I must mention our Herculean fire and ambulance service, the Gardaí, the army and the Civil Defence who went above and beyond. Heroes the lot of ya!

  Then we had society’s most nauseating,  heinous delinquents; the thugs who broke into their community supermarkets in certain parts of Dublin, and of course the loathsome cretins who smashed their way into a jewellers at Golden Island…scumbags, the lot of ya!

 

Farewell Emma, we will miss you

 

I cannot, will not, allow this week to go by without paying my respects and admiration to one of the bravest, most resilient women I’ve ever had the pleasure to interview, and whom, since 2015 I kept in touch with via email/text…the talented author, loving wife, devoted mother and self-professed ‘cancer vixen’ Ms. Emma Hannigan. Emma, whom I’d never met face to face, lost her long and inexplicably brave battle with cancer last week; and, always placing others first, emailed that I was ‘so kind and thoughtful to get in touch,’ with her when I’d read she was fighting cancer for the 10th time.

  As someone considered ‘at risk,’ with breast cancer on my father’s side of the family and ovarian cancer on my mother’s, I was constantly monitored prior to my own radical hysterectomy and now through BreastCheck, and I fully understood Emma’s decision to undergo major surgery to reduce her risk. However in spite of this amazingly fearless woman’s valour, she was devastatingly diagnosed for the first time back in 2007, setting in motion her 11-year confrontation with a disease she managed to kick in the nuts until it finally got the better of her last Saturday.

  Rest in peace you beautiful, fearless angel. My heart is broken for your husband Cian and children Sacha and Kim. An exquisite and vibrant light, one which we will never see the like of again, has been extinguished in this world.

 

 

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