Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Women taking abortion case were not forced to do anything

THE WORDING of the news reports regarding three Irish women who are challenging our abortion laws at the European Court of Human Rights was as interesting as it was misleading. According to RTE news and others, "the women say their rights were denied by being forced to seek terminations outside the State". I'm unsure as to whether these are the words of the women themselves or the media, however they display a very poor understanding of the word 'forced'.

Nobody was 'forced' to do anything. I always thought that the central pillar of the Pro-choice movement's argument was "the right to choose". It is interesting how semantics obscure the reality of such situations.

These women chose to travel abroad for an abortion, as was their legal right. They were not coerced, or obliged to. In fact, they embodied the very notion of 'choice' the Family Planning Association et al. constantly shout so loudly about. As a sovereign nation (just about), we make laws and our citizens are expected to abide by them. If you disagree with a law in your particular country you may travel elsewhere to avail of different principals, however, nobody will have forced you to travel; it will be your decision.


Would it be reasonable, for example, for someone to say that they were forced to travel to the Netherlands to avail of their lax drug laws? What if they are an addict? Of course, such a proposition would be greeted with laughter.

Ah but you see abortion is a 'human right', and human rights are good and just, and can't be contested. As David Quinn remarked in an excellent piece in the Independent the Friday before last:

"Who could possibly be against 'human rights'? Who indeed? But, equally, who could be against morality, until you discover that what is being foisted upon you is Catholic morality, or Victorian morality, or Communist morality, or Nazi morality, or socialist morality or secular humanist morality, or whatever type of morality it is that you happen to be against."

For many people, abortion is not a 'human right', but in fact abhorrent to the very notion of rights. The sacrosanct label of 'human rights' appeals to people because it implies something indisputable, but the label does guarantee any such assumption.

Once again, an alien body of unelected judges - who aren't even in our jurisdiction - will try and dictate our laws to us. How this doesn't incense ever man, woman and child on this island, I do not know. Then again, we'll get to vote on Lisbon again soon, and like a flock led by their shepherd we'll vote 'correctly' this time. Mark my words.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Attitudes to sex ignored in favor of condom ideology

Often, when confronted with a problem, it is easier to choose an appealing but ultimately futile solution, rather than determine and tackle the real cause - there is always a sexy option. So is the case with our response to our STI and unplanned pregnancy crisis.

Between 1995 and 2006 there has been a trebling of STI cases in Ireland, while in the last decade cases of Chlamydia have skyrocketed eightfold. True figures are almost certainly far higher as many infections go undiagnosed. It goes without saying that our recently liberated sexual culture has also had massive implications for children and our notion of what a family is.

The last Census in 2006 counted 189,213 one parent families. This means that well over 189, 213 children is this country do not live with both their father and mother, usually the former.

And of course, we all know the answer to this growing crisis, don’t we? More condoms! Condoms for all! Free for every man, woman and child!

Hold on a minute. The sale of condoms here was fully deregulated 15 years ago, and yet STI rates have not so much as remained steady, but in fact risen astronomically. In the historically more liberal UK, they have the highest teen pregnancy rates in Western Europe. Some will argue that this is due to ignorance surrounding contraception, but the 1993 Education Act made sex education in UK schools statutory.

In other words, something is clearly amiss in the debate on how to tackle the problem. While organisations such as the Dublin AIDS Alliance and The Irish Family Planning Association constantly advocate so-called safe sex as the means out of our own STI epidemic, a larger, more vital element of the debate is constantly ignored.

That is the issue of our values and attitudes regarding sex.

Look, in my altogether limited experience I know of two occasions personally, and another a friend told me of, where the girl involved was perfectly willing to have unprotected sex (my friend and I graciously declined). It is also worth pointing out that in the first two incidences both girls were completely sober. Now, what this tells us is not that there needs to be a greater availability of condoms, or a reduction in their cost, but that there is a shockingly blasé attitude to sex among many people. That isn’t to say that women are more culpable than men; I am speaking only from experience (I am one of those quaint, old-fashioned fellows who only swings one way, so I wouldn’t know much about the joys of having a man between the sheets).

The point here isn’t that no one had a condom to hand – people will always be caught unprepared on occasion – but that these girls, who really had so much more to lose than any man ever could, were happy to take such a stupid and irresponsible risk. People in Ireland 30 years ago didn’t have access to contraception, but they didn’t contract the myriad of exotically-named infections on the scale we do today. They didn’t bring so many children who will never know their father into the world either. Clearly, what kept them from the predicament we now face was their attitude to sex and the value they placed on it. Now the sentiment seems to be if you wear condom anything is acceptable. It no longer matters who you have sex with, when, or why.

Now, of course I know that the Ireland of yesteryear was apparently bleak and repressive, a land where the local priest roamed, village by village, striking down the peasantry with biblical versus of fire and brimstone. We’ve heard all that, I know no one wants to go back, and I’m not suggesting we should. But why can’t progress and the wisdom of the past co-exist? I also know that the sexual and social revolution, from which much good admittedly has come, is a sacred cow for most of the media in this country. But it must not go unquestioned.

Perhaps there is much to be learned from the gravity that previous generations attached to sex. The meaning that they gave to sex was more powerful in so many ways than any contraceptive. When sex became meaningless and casual, contraception alone could not stop the rise of STIs because self control and restraint became redundant, while risk-taking became inevitable. When something becomes easily obtained and is demystified, why suffer the annoyance of its refusal, irrespective of the circumstances? And what about when contraceptives fail? Condoms have a 3% failure rate when used correctly - try selling trips abroad where the flights crash only 3% of the time.

Perhaps our attitudes to sex are just another product of our consumerist culture where saying ‘no’ simply isn’t an option anymore. Whatever the case may be, we are going to need a lot more than simply condoms to shake us out of our current sexual health crisis. Instant gratification is the dogma which we now live by and no piece of latex will ever change that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Let ministers set an example and tighten their own belts as well

So there must be big cuts in spending according to the Government - €500 million worth in fact. Trade unions have been warned that in order to rein in spending, pay freezes in the public sector may be inevitable. Of course this is a perfectly reasonable, albeit unpalatable for those involved, prospect. The simple, unfortunate reality is that now that there is less money to go round, wage increases cannot be sustained. I'm sure there are many who feel they deserve a little more at the end of the week, but at this point the greater economic welfare of the country must come first. That odious phrase "the greater good” springs to mind.

So while nurses, gardai, teachers and many other workers who form the backbone of our society brace themselves for rough times ahead, one group of public servants at least won't have too many financial worries. On top of wage increases set for next year of between five and seven per cent (which were diverted after a public up roar, but not cancelled), politicians will now benefit from increases in their expense allowances. These allowances cover travel, accommodation, food, and mobile phone expenses and are also available for thousands of the country's civil servants.
Now, I imagine the workers of this country find the idea of pay freezes a little hard to swallow when TDs earning €95,000 basic are set to have their sizeable wallets wadded further. Why can't our leaders (and opposition for that matter, who have been curiously silent on the matter) set an example and reject these wage and allowance increases, and swallow the bitter pill that is the recession like the rest of us? Let them lead the way and show the trade unions that wage restraint is necessary; so necessary in fact that they themselves are prepared to suffer. I'd imagine a colossal amount of money could be retained for the public coffers should the petrol and accommodation costs of TDs, councilors and other public servants be reined in. And it’s not just a case of deserved expenses being more carefully managed. When one examines the requirements for claiming various expenses, the true extent of the waste and indeed, greed becomes all too apparent. For instance, a TD may claim travel and accommodation expenses if they live over 25km from Leinster house.

25km? Wow. Who in there right mind would travel 25km to work? Right now the sound of three quarters of the population of Leinster grinding their teeth in commuter frustration is swelling in my ears.

For God's sake, who nowadays doesn't travel at least that far into work everyday - "everyday" incidentally, is not a concept with which frequenters of the Dail or the Seanad would be familiar. And guess what? If I travel to work, eat, or call some one, guess who pays for it? You guessed it, mise. Most people in this country have to foot the bill for their living expenses, that's what their wages are for. What exactly is a TD supposed to do with his/her generous pay check? I mean everything you, or I worry about is already taken care of. Look of course I understand that some (not all, Dublin TDs also claim hefty expenses) politicians have to travel large distances and are often away from home because of their work. And naturally they need some compensation for this. But what we have now is ridiculous and wasteful. Last year the top claimant, TD Paul Kehoe, claimed over €104,000. Is this kind of expenditure really necessary?

First of all, instead of claiming €140 a night for a hotel, how about politicians stay in a B&B or travel lodge. They'll manage I'm sure. Considering "normal" people have to pay their own way when they travel to work, how about politicians be given a fuel allowance for trips outside of a 50km radius of Leinster house, instead of a 25km one? They could pay themselves for their first 50km travelled in a day, and be reimbursed for each kilometre after that. And why not roll such changes out amongst all civil servants? Such changes would still represent reasonable financial support for people serving the state, without bankrupting the tax payer at a time of economic meltdown. It is time for the Government to start walking the walk, instead of just talking the talk. The first politician to turn down his/her wage and expenses increases and set a precedent could be guaranteed their seat returned to them in 2011.

People don't like hypocrites.