From the Archives

Thatcher’s influence on a child

(Originally appeared on WorldIrish.com on 8th April 2013. You can find the original post here: http://www.worldirish.com/story/31544-opinion-margaret-thatcher-did-a-mans-job-as-a-woman-but-most-importantly-as-her-own-woman)

My claim to fame as a four year old was a comparison made between Margaret Thatcher and myself by a nun. Luckily, my mother was a feminist who saw funny side, because in 1980’s Ireland, it could have been the start of a civil war! The comparison was borne out of negotiations on the swop of a child’s handbag with two elderly nuns.  For what else would a mini – maggie squabble over? I  The nuns knew of my intentions and left me away with it. The commented to my mother “Mrs. Kavanagh we have another Margaret Thatcher on our hands here!”  

Her political ideology cast her as the marmite of politics, you either loved her or you hated her.  However, the impact of her legacy is already borne out in the fact that you cannot turn on a TV, log on to internet news site or social media platform without avoiding her name today. 

Without doubt, Margaret Thatcher was, to put it mildly, a polarizing figure. She is regarded by some as the doyenne of free market economics which pulled the United Kingdom out of a long period of economic decline. For others, she is regarded as a supporter of autocratic regimes, a destroyer of unions through the miners strikes and, devastating communities through the poll tax. Yet, for a politician she is known more for her policies than what she wore. She is debated for what she implemented rather than who she married. 

Female celebrity and notoriety today revolves around how thin, fat, fashionable or otherwise a woman is.  Kate Middleton has a Facebook tracker for what she wears every day and Lady Gaga is subject to debate for her fashion (or butcher’s counter choice). However, Margaret Thatcher is a woman who will be remembered for her job. She will be studied because of the career choices that she took, and the affect which her policies had on the world we live in now. I was reared with the belief that a woman was just as capable as a man at any job. This of course, extended to politics and running a country. This is what Margaret Thatcher meant to me.

She did a man’s job as a woman, but most importantly, as her own woman. She took on a political system and she succeed. She became the first female party leader of an English  political party and then became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom. She did all this prior to the introduction of gender quotas. She fought and triumphed in a world that valued women as housewives, mothers or beauty queens. 

Politics is a hard game for women. A female politician is more likely to be ridiculed for what she wore than her own intellectualism. So much so that the attention given to women over such issues is just as likely to keep them out of politics as the hours required to do the job.  This has been acknowledged and steps are being taken to increase the level of participation for women through legislation.

She did all this before, political reform and gender balance were words on political manifestos. Personally, she showed me that if you work hard enough you can achieve what ever you wish regardless of being a woman. That your gender is not a barrier but something that can allow you to put you own personal stamp on what ever career you wish to achieve. 

The legacy to women of Margaret Thatcher should not be a divisive and brutal reexamination of past policies but of ambition and drive which, contrary to today’s female celebrity, can go out their and change the world either for better or worse – you decide.

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From the Archives

On U-turns, climb downs and generally going around in circles…

With the lead up to the coming budget, many groups are feeling the potential squeeze of anticipated, threatened and ‘mini-budget’ cuts. From the disabled, to the coeliacs, the unemployed and senior citizens, many cuts have been announced with some reversed and some enacted.

The comical situation of the Taoiseach congratulating a minister on reversing a cut that the said minister said he never made brings the issue into focus. The idea of u-turns and climb downs will surely feature over the coming months. Some barmy decisions are being made which will only affect the most vulnerable in society and not those that can afford to pay towards the fiscal mess and chaos that is the Irish financial position.

Doubtless, some of the decisions being made are the cause collective head scratching and puzzlement. The fact that some daft decisions are being reversed is actually a victory for democracy. The ability of those affected to protest at decisions is at the core of a healthy democracy. If it were the case that elections were the only form of democracy engagement for a citizen the democratic status of this country would be eroded. 

Governments shouldn’t be wary of moderating or even scrapping decisions when they hear the complaints of those they are representing.  They also shouldn’t make a habit of flying kites causing panic. But they should take on board the views of the citizens as that is the true hallmark of representative democracy. 

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From the Archives

Abortion and the Privacy Debate

Abortion isn’t just a medical debate it is also a privacy debate. The right for a woman to have the privacy to make decisions that, in her judgement, are the best for her and for her family. We are forgetting that the ‘pro-life’ side does not mention the fact that a woman should be trusted to make her own decisions.

When I started studying law, I came across a book detailing the whole story of the X case in my college library. As a nerdy student that loved current affairs and remembered the X case as a child, it was a must read on my list even though my course work didn’t require it to be read at that stage. Lost in the middle of library aisle, I shed a tear for the poor young girl who had to have the most horrific moment of her life played out amongst the media and those who felt that they knew better than her as to her future and her body. The fact that the girl, who had travelled to England for necessary medical treatment, told her parents that she felt like throwing herself under a train rather than to travel back was shocking. To say that this country is good to its women and children is a farce. Noel Browne was hounded by the Church and powers that be to stall the passage of the Mother and Child Act. The same state that placed its unwanted in locked barbarous institutions to afford privacy to its own stains, wished to play out this tragedy in the highest court of the land. This is same country that cannot get its act together to bring forward a bill to give constitutional rights to children.

The privacy aspect of abortion first came from America in the form of Roe v. Wade. Then the contraception case of McGee v. Attorney General put the fear of God into the ‘pro life’ groups that Ireland would soon face its own abortion/privacy battle. In 1983, the constitutional article was inserted into the constitution. However since X and the raft of cases which followed, there has been an acceptance that abortion may be necessary to protect the life of the mother. However, it is a black mark on all parties that have held power in Ireland since, including the current, who have not recognised the rights that are already in the constitution and have not legislated accordingly. In fact, it is an undemocratic move by the institutions of democracy, namely the Legislature and Executive to disrespect the judiciary, as an equal branch of government and guardians of the Constitution, who have stuck to the same message on the life of the mother where her life is in danger, the citizens who rejected the attempts to remove the grounds in such cases and, moreover, the women who are the victims of the lack of leadership to pass the needed legislation.

Abortion is a fact in Ireland; we pass the burden to another country to deal with the problems that we are not responsible enough to face up to. Dragging out the ‘harlot’ argument of using abortion as contraception is irresponsible and degrading to women. The fact is that rape occurs in this country and has very low reporting rate. Contraception can fail; even the best form of protection has a 99.8% effectiveness rate. Until the Irish state grows up and allows women the privacy they need to be respected to make their own decisions, the abortion debate will mark out the country as an immature nation.

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From the Archives

Political Representation: A luxury for the good times and a way to save money in the bad?

This week Minister Hogan annouced plans to reduce the number of TDs in Dail Eireann:

“Minister Hogan said: “The new Government intends to lead by example and start change at the top. Irish politics needs to start delivering for the Irish people and this Government is determined to make real, tangible reforms which will make the political system leaner and more efficient for its citizens. As part of that agenda, the terms of reference for the Constituency Commission will be changed to provide for a reduced number of TDs.  A Constituency Commission is due to be established upon the publication of the 2011 Census preliminary results, which are due in June.  That Commission will report within three months of the publication of final census results in 2012.”[i]

Article 16.2 lays down the constitutionally acceptable represenation ratio as follows[ii]:

2. 1° Dáil Éireann shall be composed of members who represent constituencies determined by law.

2° The number of members shall from time to time be fixed by law, but the total number of members of Dáil Éireann shall not be fixed at less than one member for each thirty thousand of the population, or at more than one member for each twenty thousand of the population.

Basically one TD cannot represent more than 30,000 people and there cannot be less than three TDs returned per constituency. The ratio of TDs to member of the population will be reviewed after each census (16.2.3), a review will take place every twelve years (16.2.4) and the changes will take effect in the preceding Dail (16.2.4). It is also worth noting that the Constitution does not permit less than three TDs being returned from a constituency.

The current ratio is based on the results of the 2002 census where by the figure for the total population (at the time 3,917,203 people) was divided amongst the 166 available seats and this resulted in 1 TD to every 23,598 of the total population including children. This fact was submitted in evidence by Ms. Riona Ni Fhlanghaile Principal Officer of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the recent High Court case of Doherty v. Government of Ireland[iii]

The issue of casual vacanies, as in the Doherty case above and Dudley v. An Taoiseach[iv], has been the most litigated issue under the provisions of Article 16.2. However the rationale for this representation ratio was not addressed.

Constitutional Law theory accepts that the main reason behind its creation is that it will codeify and set out the rules and limitiation in a succinct and understandable form. One of the main limitiations on the power of Government is ensuring that there is a pluality of voices returned to the parliament in order to better represent the nation as whole.

This is not the first time that reform bodies have cast their eye over the issue of representation. In the Report of the Constitutional Review Group of 1996[v] it was recommended that there would be no change to the representation ratio. This position was echoed in the report of the Seventh Progress Report of the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution[vi].

However the 1996 Report did state that the issue of the representation ratio would have to be revisited if there was a decision taken to abolish the Seanad. The current Government has loudly signaled their intentions to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad. It is possible that this may turn into proposals to radically reform the Seanad but it would not be foolish to suggest that the days of the Seanad, as we know it, are numbered. The 1996 report states the “abolition of the Seanad could require an increase in Dáil membership”.

The Seventh Progress Report of 2002 acknowledges that it received submissions calling for a reduction in representation. It reasoned that the exisiting provisions under Article 16.2 allowed for considerable scope in reducing the numbers, they even went so far as to state that under the 1996 census it would have been possible to reduce the membership of Dail Eireann to 120 members.

However a word of caution on the reduction of members was sounded in the Final Report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution regarding Article 16 and the Electoral System for the Election of Members to Dáil Éireann[vii]. The question of minority represenation and gender quotas was a very topical issue in the last General Election. Recommendation 27 of the Report states that there should be no less than 4 TDs representing a constituency unless a three seater constituency is necessary due to the geographic size. The report accepted that three seat constituencies make it harder for female and minority candidates to be elected to represent their communities. If the present Government proceeds with reducing the number of TDs then they may end up undermining their own attempts to increase such representation.

Political reform of the insitutions of governance is a worthy objective if it allows for the views of the citizens to be better represented and achieve more efficient control of the running of the state. However if the changes are only a token gesture to those seeking reform but more relevant to cutting the state payroll for purely money saving measures then these proposals must be critically examined.


[i] Government to Reduce the number of TDs, Presidential Election Spending and Introduce New 6 Month Rule for Dáil Bye-Elections – Hogan,  Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/Voting/News/MainBody,26092,en.htm 07/05/2011

[ii] The entire constitution can be accessed here – http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/upload/publications/297.pdf

[iii] [2010] IEHC 369.

[iv] [1994] 2 ILRM 321

[v] The entire report can be accessed here –http://www.constitution.ie/reports/crg.pdf

[vi] The Progress Report can be accessed here – http://www.constitution.ie/reports/7th-Report-Parliament.pdf

[vii]p.175

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From the Archives

“That” English Essay

I managed to write this as a 17 year old. Sorry to say that not much has changed with Ireland since 2000…

When you think of Romantic Ireland, what comes into you mind? Leprechauns, fairy forts and mystical castles in the fog of folklore? Sorry Bord Failte to burst your bubble. But the nearest that you’ll get to that is Westlife doing a jig on the BBC, Boyzone singing she moved through the fair (and so badly, you would feel like legging it out of the building!) and Riverdance talking over the Radio City Music Hall by storm. Romantic Ireland has become the stuff of legends and probably was the whole time!

Ireland was never a romantic place. We have Hollywood and Maureen O’Hara to thank for that. Does anybody even want to remember a little film called “Darby O ‘Gill and the Little People”? Here we had the works, little Leprechauns doing their jig around the place with the banshee wailing on lead vocals and the headless horseman on the drum kit! Unless you were so mental scarred by that film that all trace of it had been erased from your memory, you will have noticed that the Ireland of mists and mystery was back, and with a vengeance. Moreover, according to Frank mc Court, Ireland at the time was about to be twinned with Venice for all the rain it got, thanks to Angela’s Ashes.

We must remember that while Mr. O’Gill was doing his merry little jig, unmarried mothers in Ireland were sent to live out the rest of their days in the Magdalene laundries. Their babies snatched from them the moment that they were born, they didn’t even get to hold them before they were snatched from them for life. The adoption papers forged by the so-called “saintly” nuns of the day so they would find it even harder to find their child in future years. Rampant child abuse in the church run orphanages. Women legally raped by their husbands in the home while a crooked arm smuggling government looked on. Hush – Hush murders, which to this day haven’t been solved. A Taoiseach who blatantly stated in the constitution of a “civilised” country that a woman’s place was in the home and that there they should stay. Students were beaten senseless by over bearing teachers who enforced the rule of Home Economics on female students and kept the high maths and technical subjects the preserve of the males of this country.

Politicians in this country were and still are as crooked as they come, Brown paper envelopes going here, there and everywhere. We are only finding the true extent of the corruption, greed and lies that kept the pockets of most of our civil servants well lined. Thanks to Mr. Charlie Bird, major banking institutions in this country have been brought to book over their conduct in the D.I.R.T. scandal and the Cayman Islands Affair.

One can only laugh at the blatant smugness of one Charles J. Haughey who was distinctly heard telling the people of Ireland to tighten their belts in the face of high taxation. While he himself was stashing away all of his money in the Cayman Islands, he had the cheek to go of and ask other people for extra money. But, to rub the salt in the wounds and insult to injury, he didn’t bother paying any tax on it at all. Just for the sheer laugh of it all. For a man who got away, and by the skin of his teeth may I add, from an IRA guns smuggling wrap with buddy Blaney. He’s gotten away with a lot. By the way were not talking about some big Hollywood story just something that happened when Ireland was supposed all innocent and romantic!

The year 2000. “Opency” and “transparency” the buzzwords of the new generation. Especially when bureaucratic supergrass, Mr. Frank Dunlop, former government lobbyist, revealed in shocking evidence that he was recently threatened by a number of Messirs. Big Anonymous Politicians & Co. That was just some of the mind- blowing evidence to come out of the flood Tribunal in recent weeks. It’s only now that we, the public in general, are learning of the deeds of the bloodless, moneygrubbing freaks that were in charge for so long.

Now the image of Ireland that’s being flogged wordwide is the image of the happy fun loving criminal. According to the latest films The Irish party image has been so well advertised that soon the world people will thing that the Irish people are mad party animals. We’ve already had Puff Daddy and Chris Evans fighting it out over who gets the Penthouse Suite in the Clarence Hotel during the St. Patrick’s Weekend

The picture isn’t so bright if you happened to hear about the poor misfortunate who, because of them being dependent on a defunct blood board were left unshielded from aids, hepatitis C and HIV. Fathers, mothers sisters and brothers dead, all because of blatant bureaucracy and naivety. The Lindsey tribunal has been the stage for tales of the most heart rendering.

As far as I can see, and my vision is being blurred by history book bias, and the biggest lie of the millennium, that Celtic Tiger, Ireland is just the same as it always was. The west, an economic desert always in want of money and proper attention. The politicians, as happy as Larry Goodman in a tribunal sitting, always up to trickery and defrauding the public consciousness. We the people, sitting there, wondering were did it all go so wrong.

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