Last April, religious militant and director of the Iona Institute David Quinn, delivered a lecture to fifth and sixth year students falsely informing them that the origin of the universe had nothing to do with science but was strictly a matter for religion/philosophy (See full article here).

There is an abundance of scientific evidence relating to the origin of the universe. Scientific discoveries such as background radiation, inflation and the recently discovered gravitational waves are all scientific facts supporting the idea that the origin of the universe is scientific.

In stark contrast, Mr. Quinn’s claim that the origin of the universe is a philosophical and religious one has no basis in fact whatsoever.

Despite centuries of philosophical and religious debate on the question of the origin of the universe not a single fact has been produced to confirm the myriad of speculative opinions emanating from that quarter.

What is really disturbing about this incident is the fact that Mr. Quinn and the Iona Institute appear to have unrestricted access to propagate what is effectively, religious propaganda to innocent students.

It is obvious from reading Mr. Quinn’s article that his lecture had nothing to do with genuine education, that it was not designed to inform students about the pros and cons in the debate between science and religion.

In addition to the lie concerning the origin of the universe Mr. Quinn’s lecture seems to have been nothing more than a vicious attack on New Atheism and in particular on Richard Dawkins.

Mr. Quinn regularly makes such attacks across various media outlets and, while rationally obnoxious, he is entitled to hold and express those views.

But what is not acceptable and what is deeply disturbing, is the apparent freedom extended to the Iona Institute to effectively intellectually abuse innocent schoolchildren.

I made a formal complaint on the matter to the Department of Education.

The response, while entirely predictable, was nevertheless shocking.

Effectively, the Department said – Nothing to do with us, it’s the responsibility of the boards of management and the patron of each school (See below for my formal complaint, reply from Dept. of Education and my response).

This is the same irresponsible response by the Dept/Government as that taken in the Louise O’Keeffe scandal.

Ms. O’Keeffe, who had been sexually abused by a teacher as a schoolgirl in the 1970s, lost her case for justice in the Irish High and Supreme Courts but finally found justice when the decision of the Irish courts was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

Although disgusting in the extreme it seems that this ‘legal arrangement’ is proving very useful to politicians and civil servants as a means of abdicating any responsibility whatsoever towards protecting children from abuse whether physical, sexual or intellectual.

Copy to:
Department of Education
Iona Institute
All political parties

Formal complaint:

10 April 2014

For attention of Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

This is a formal complaint regarding a lecture delivered by the director of the Iona Institute David Quinn to a group of fifth and sixth year students earlier this month.

Mr. Quinn wrote about his lecture in an article in the Irish Catholic newspaper of 3 April last. The title of the article, which is provided in full below, is:

The atheist’s act of faith

The question of the origin of the universe isn’t a scientific one at all, but a philosophical and religious one.

My complaint is as follows:

Mr. Quinn’s lecture is based entirely on a falsehood; namely that the origin of the universe is not a scientific one at all but rather a philosophical and religious one.

There is an abundance of scientific evidence relating to the origin of the universe. Scientific discoveries such as background radiation, inflation and the recently discovered gravitational waves are all factual events that give the lie to Mr. Quinn’s claim that the question of the origin of the universe is not scientific.

Furthermore, Mr. Quinn’s claim that the question of the origin of the universe is a philosophical and religious one has no basis in fact whatsoever.

Despite centuries of philosophical and religious debate on the question of the origin of the universe not a single fact has been produced to confirm the myriad of speculative opinions emanating from that quarter.

In effect, Mr. Quinn was permitted to encourage students to ignore established scientific facts regarding the origin of the universe and instead accept that his Christian god created the universe.

It is unacceptable and indeed disturbing that somebody with a very strong religious bias like Mr. Quinn would be granted apparent unrestricted access to students to promote a religious viewpoint based on a falsehood.

It is unacceptable and indeed disturbing that any outside influence would be permitted apparent unrestricted access to students to promote a particular view without the long established safeguards of independent/objective supervision and the right to hear an opposing argument.

According to legislation the Board of Management of schools are accountable to the patron and to the Minister. This complaint is addressed to the Minister in this context.

Yours sincerely
Anthony Sheridan

Response from Department of Education:

Dear Mr Sheridan

I refer to your letter addressed to the Minister for Education and Skills.

While this Department sets out the constitution of Boards of Management and rules of procedure it is not directly involved in the management of schools. Under the provisions of the Education Act, 1998, the Board of Management is the body charged with the direct governance of a school. The schools Board of Management is accountable to the school Patron.

Accordingly, whereas the Department provides funding and policy direction for schools, the Department does not have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course of direction with regard to individual complaint cases.

Religious Education is one of 33 Leaving Certificate subjects available to schools. The selection of text books and classroom resources to support the implementation of the curriculum is made by schools, rather than by the Department of Education and Skills or the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Children may independently investigate complaints relating to the administrative actions of a school recognised by the Department of Education and Skills, provided the complainant has firstly and fully followed the school’s complaints procedures. The key criterion for any intervention by the Ombudsman for Children is that the administrative actions of a school has, or may have, adversely affected the child. The office can be contacted at: Ombudsman for Children’s Office, Millennium House, 52-56 Great Strand Street, Dublin 1; tel. 1800 20 20 40 or (01) 865 6800 or email [email protected]

I hope the information that provided is of assistance to you.

Yours sincerely,

My response to the Department of Education

28 May 2014

To Whom It May Concern:

Your response to my formal complaint concerning a lecture delivered to fifth and six-year students by the director of the Iona Institute David Quinn is a disgrace for the following reasons.

One: Apart from issuing meaningless bureaucratic waffle, the decision to do nothing will almost certainly result in some degree of damage to innocent children.

After decades of horrific child abuse the very least we could expect of officialdom is to make some enquiries into the matter. Given the history of child abuse in Ireland it is highly likely that the Iona Institute is not the only organisation that enjoys unrestricted access to preach religious and other damaging propaganda to children.

Two: Your indifferent response is a further disturbing reflection of how unprofessional civil servants have become. Scandal after scandal, on an almost weekly basis, gives witness to this decay of professionalism right across all departments.

Three: Your response is an insult to my intelligence. It is an obvious fact that the Department of Education is intimately involved in every aspect of education across all levels. It is also a fact that if you wished, you could easily carry out an investigation into this matter.

That you chose not to thus placing children in potential danger is a disgrace on you and your profession.

Yours etc.,
Anthony Sheridan

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The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald was answering questions before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva today.

She told the committee that the Government would have an independent police authority in place by the end of the year. It should have been in place since 2005, after the Donegal Gardai corruption outrage but better late than never.

She also said that GSOC would have the power to independently initiate investigations without having to first ask the Minister for Justice. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.

On the issue of legislation in this area the Minister said:

The legislation was originally introduced in 2005 and was found to have these gaps in it so we are bringing in these changes later this year.

Let’s be kind to the new minister, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt by accepting that she has no idea of the dark reality lurking behind this legislation and how it’s linked to the Donegal Gardai corruption.

Let’s accept that she’s a political innocent when she speaks of ‘gaps’ as if the presence of these gaps were some sort of oversight by the politicians and civil servants who drew up the legislation in 2005.

Let’s accept she naively believes that the so-called gaps in the legislation were not deliberately designed to specifically ensure that the police and their political masters could continue to enjoy the benefits of operating far outside the requirements of public accountability as they have since 1922.

Let’s accept that she’s green enough to believe that her predecessor, Alan Shatter, would have introduced the current reforms even if the recent avalanche of corruption within the Gardai had remained hidden.

Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt – but only this time.

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Luke O’Neill, professor of biochemistry at TCD, was interviewed recently on the Pat Kenny Show.(2 July, part three: 6 min).

The question under discussion was:

What is religion and where did it come from? How and why did it evolve? Is there a scientific explanation or is science itself just another religion?

I am responding to the interview because professor O’Neill, like many scientists, is far too ambivalent when it comes to the conflict between science and religion.

My general impression of such scientists is that they are shy about upsetting believers and also exhibit a lack of confidence (perhaps even shame) in the achievements and power of science.

Professor O’Neill is a non-believer and is clearly on the side of science but his views/explanations/answers are far too soft on religion.

O’Neill’s attitude during the discussion strongly indicated that science is, in many ways, similar to religion. This is simply not the case and is, in my opinion, very destructive to the interests of science.

Before getting into analysis it will be useful to provide exact definitions of the subject matter under discussion.

Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods (Oxford English Dictionary).

Science: The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment (Oxford English Dictionary).

Pat Kenny: Can religion be explained in biological terms?

Professor O’Neill: All religions can be explained by science, they evolved. But remember, we’re not trying to explain god here, that’s a completely different issue entirely.

Analysis: Professor O’Neill is correct to say that the phenomenon of religious belief is evolutionary but he is wrong in claiming that the existence/explanation of god/s is a separate matter entirely.

This is akin to stating, for example, that the 1916 Rising is not relevant to Irish history.

The belief in a god/s lies at the core of religious belief. All religions act on and obey the diktats of their particular supernatural being. All religions defend their actions, no matter how horrific or benign on the rules and commands of their supernatural being.

‘Religions’ that do not believe in a supernatural being, for example, Buddhism, are not religions,they are philosophies of life.

Kenny: People of religious faith are more likely to behave better and have a healthier life.

O’Neill: Loads of studies show that if you’re religious it has a health advantage and people of religious faith are inclined to behave themselves more.

Analysis: I would be deeply skeptical of such studies and suspect that there are as many studies that show the opposite. My atheism has not damaged my health or my behaviour in any way whatsoever.

In fact, I strongly believe that I’m mentally, morally and physically better off as a result of not living my life under the negativity of superstition.

To suggest that hundreds of millions of non-believers live lives that are morally inferior to those who believe in god/s is ridiculous and insulting.

Indeed, it can be argued that non-believers are more moral because they are not subject to the superstitious/bizarre commands of their particular god/s.

Non-believers do not, for example, punish or even kill their fellow humans for believing in a rival god or printing a cartoon.

Kenny: Science is just another religion?

O’Neill: Science has many of the traits of religion, amazing as it may seem. Of course, science is not religion, it’s based on evidence but there are similarities between the two.

Analysis: This kind of ambivalence on the conflict between science and religion can be extremely damaging as it provides support for one of the favourite myths promoted by religious militants – that science is indeed just another religion.

There are no similarities whatsoever between science and religion. As the above definitions clearly demonstrate – science is about systematically studying the structure and behaviour of nature through observation and experiment – period.

Religion is belief in a supernatural power – period.

The clue can be found in the unbridgeable difference between the words ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’.

Kenny: In Christian faith, man is very special. Do scientists believe that humankind is special?

O’Neill: Some of my colleagues do. We all think evolution was about generating us and it’s probably not true, it’s random. Most scientists would probably say our brains are very special and it may not be the case.

Analysis: All scientists, I suspect, believe that humans and particularly the human brain is very special and they are absolutely right, from a purely scientific point of view.

But very few scientists believe that that specialness is due to a god. I seriously doubt O’Neill’s claim that all scientists believe evolution was about generating humans. With very few exceptions, scientists would agree with the professor’s claim that the evolution of humans is entirely random.

Kenny: Science casts out its heretics?

O’Neill: This is very true. All great religions hate heretics; they burn them at the stake. Equally, if you step out of line as a scientist…you will be pilloried. We don’t like heretics; that’s very similar.

Analysis: A heretic is a person who does not conform to established religious dogma. The sometimes’ negative reaction of the scientific community to a scientist who challenges established practices/principles is nothing more than a deep psychological reluctance to let go of long favoured conclusions. There is a big difference between the two.

Kenny: Science reveres its own saints?

O’Neill: Yes, Darwin is a saint for many of us. Newton, Einstein, so we do have our saints as well, absolutely.

Analysis: Now I know that professor O’Neill doesn’t really believe that scientists such as Darwin and Newton are saints in a religious sense, or, at least I hope he doesn’t.

But his casual association of great scientists with the religious concept of sainthood is grist to the mill for those who actively work to blur the obvious difference between science and religion.

It is not uncommon to hear religious people defend their superstitions with the argument that science too is a religion with its own saints and priesthood.

Kenny: Science makes up stories to explain its origins?

O’Neill: Every religion has its origin myths. We don’t know how the universe started. So scientists would say membranes formed and banged off each other and these are myths of origin as well. If you get evidence for them you’re in a better place but we set out to invent these myths to explain.

Analysis: Scientists do not set out to invent myths to explain anything. Scientists operate under strict rules as follows:

Ask a question.
Do background research.
Construct a hypothesis.
Test your hypothesis by doing experiments.
Analyse your data and draw a conclusion.
Communicate your results so that other scientists can carry out independent tests in an effort to falsify your conclusion.

Again, the careless and dangerous association of religious superstitions with science by scientists likes professor O’Neill does serious damage to the progress of science and greatly encourages the religious fanatics.

Kenny: Most of science is unfounded?

O’Neill: This is not quite true; science looks for evidence. There’s evidence for evolution but there’s some aspects of the theory for which there’s no evidence but we still sort of believe in them.

Analysis: It is true that some aspects of evolution are questionable but again, scientists don’t ‘sort of believe in them’. They form hypothesis and test them.

Kenny: Science requires faith?

O’Neill: It’s not quite true but if you ask an average scientist, do you believe in the Theory of Relativity, he will say, yes and won’t have a clue. He will take it on faith from another scientist who does know. But still, many of us say we believe in X and we don’t know the evidence. So again, there’s a similarity, sort of.

Analysis: If you ask the average motorist, do you believe in the science that makes your car engine work, he will say yes, but won’t have a clue. It is the evidence he can see every time he drives his car and not (blind) faith that convinces him that the science is true.

When a scientist accepts the Theory of Relativity on the word of another scientist he is not engaging in an act of faith. He is already aware that there is a vast amount of evidence available if he needs to check it out further. He’s also aware that the entire scientific community accepts the theory for so long as the evidence remains unfalsified.

Having religious faith in something (and that’s the subject under discussion here) means accepting something, usually a fantastic claim, with no evidence whatsoever. Scientists (science) do not operate on faith in any manner or form.

Kenny: So it’s a leap of faith?

O’Neill: Yes, it’s a leap of faith but hopefully it’s based on evidence. But there’s still a leap of faith there, of sorts.

Analysis: No, there’s no leap of (religious) faith involved in science whatsoever. It’s all based on hypothesis/evidence/experiment and testing.

An act of faith means believing in something without empirical evidence. Religion operates within this fantasy realm; science does not.

The following will illustrate the difference:

Professor O’Neill is standing 50 yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon. A priest asks him to run and jump over the edge assuring him that god will keep him safe. To agree to this requires a leap of faith.

I’m also standing 50 yards from the edge with a scientist who asks me to do the same. However, prior to the request the scientist showed me and rigorously tested a safety net located five feet beneath the edge. To agree to this does not require a leap of faith; it simple requires trust in science.

Professor O’Neill is a non-believer himself so I’m pretty sure he’s not promoting a religious agenda.

What he is doing, I believe, is unwittingly giving succour to those who actively work to discredit science in order to promote the interests of their particular god.

A recent example will illustrate the point:

Last April, religious militant and director of the Iona Institute David Quinn delivered a lecture to fifth and sixth year students falsely informing them that the origin of the universe had nothing to do with science but was strictly a matter for religion/philosophy (See full article here).

It is obvious from reading the article that the lecture had nothing to do with proper education; it was not designed to inform students about the pros and cons of science and religion. It was nothing more than a blatant piece of religious propaganda directed at New Atheism and in particular Richard Dawkins.

Unlike professor O’Neill’s casual attitude towards the conflict between science and religion, Quinn is deadly serious in his campaign to discredit science in support of his particular god and if that means intellectually abusing children, then so be it.

If professor O’Neill were a regular scientist working away in his laboratory, his views on the science v religion debate would be a private matter for himself.

But professor O’Neill is not a private citizen in the sense that he regularly guests on media outlets and therefore has an influence on a multitude of people.

Sadly, I believe his interview with Pay Kenny has done some damage to the cause of combating religious superstitions through the progress of science.

Copy to:
Professor O’Neill
David Quinn
Pat Kenny Show

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Joan Burton, just days into the office of Tanaiste, confirms that she’s nothing more than your average gombeen politician.

When asked about the suggestion that her deputy leader, Alan Kelly, should intervene in the Garth Brooks farce she said:

Ah…not intervene in terms of the decision of the (Dublin city) manager but help the manager and assist the manager if he is, if he has the capacity to review it.

This is pure, unadulterated gombeenism with echoes of mafia speak. When the law of the land becomes awkward officials are ‘requested to accept assistance’ in skirting around the problem.

Here are the facts:

There was an agreement that no more than three evening events a year would be staged at Croke Park. Those three events had already taken place by the time the Garth Brooks concerts were suggested.

Garth Brooks and the organisers responded to the massive public reaction to the concerts by adding on two more.

Dublin City manager Owen Keegan bent over backwards by allowing the initial three concerts to take place.

Garth Brooks reacted, probably out of greed, by threatening that if he couldn’t have five concerts, he wasn’t going to do any.

In other words, the typical schoolboy response – It’s my ball, so you have to play by my rules.

It was at this point that Ireland revealed its true character to the world.

Appeals to the White House, pleading with the Mexican ambassador, a stupid demand by independent TD Finian McGrath that Keegan should step down, political point scoring, calls to change the law to accommodate Brooks and so on.

To his great credit Owen Keegan stood his ground. He knows, I suspect, that if he caves in to the pressure he will be making a mockery of the planning laws, of his office and, ultimately, of the country.

It seems that Garth Brooks has learned, probably from previous visits to Ireland, that Irish law is not necessarily there for the public good. He seems to know that, unlike his own country where his arrogant/greedy behaviour would never be tolerated, the law in Ireland operates on a nod and wink basis depending on who and how much money is involved.

Joan Burton could have shown that she’s different, that she’s politician of substance. She could have issued a statement on the matter supporting Owen Keegan’s decision signaling to everybody, and in particular to her coalition partner, that the gombeen culture that has done so much damage to Ireland and its people was at its end.

Sadly, Burton is as lacking in courage and vision as the man she replaced.

The people of Ireland continue their long wait for real leadership.

Copy to:
Joan Burton

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Joan Burton and Alan Kelly have an almost impossible task ahead of them in repairing the serious damage done to the Labour Party as a result of the party’s participation in government.

So the question is – do they possess the vision and political nous for the job?

In a word – No.

The duo’s policy on coalition with Sinn Fein tells us all we need to know about their political intelligence.

Here’s Kelly’s take on the issue.

I’d be very reticent to go into Government with Sinn Féin. I think they’ve a road to travel yet.

Northern Ireland is a different space; it’s a different context. In the Republic we’ve a tradition of democracy. We’ve a tradition from a political point of view about being pretty open about where we come from and what we stand for.

I’m not sure Sinn Féin have got to the point of being totally up-front with people in regards where they come from and what they stand for.

Kelly uttered these hilariously hypocritical views without a grain of awareness of just how insulting they are to most people and particularly to those governing in Northern Ireland.

Joan Burton is in full agreement with his views.

So how do these views fit in with the rest of the world?

America, the most powerful country in the world accepts Sinn Fein as a bona fide political party.

The European Union fully accepts that Sinn Fein has given up its violent ways and is committed to the democratic process.

The United Nations is fully supportive of Sinn Fein’s democratic mandate and its continuing efforts to progress the Peace Process.

Unionist politicians and their supporters, even though it is extremely difficult for them, are prepared to share power with Sinn Fein.

The Queen of England, a woman who has more reason than most to hate and reject Sinn Fein is supportive, courteous and respectful to Sinn Fein.

The vast majority of Irish citizens in the Republic, the North, Britain and around the world accept unconditionally that Sinn Fein is genuine in their intentions.

Citizens of the Republic have demonstrated their support in referendums and elections on numerous occasions.

It seems it is only the political pygmies who inhabit gombeen land that have difficulty in accepting the reality that Sinn Fein is here to stay.

Copy to:
Labour Party

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What the people want is a government that works in the interests of the people.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

That’s correct Taoiseach but after nearly a century of independence the people are still waiting.

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I’m not sure Sinn Féin have got to the point of being totally up-front with people in regards where they come from and what they stand for.

Alan Kelly. Deputy leader of the Labour Party.

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Eamon Gilmore is gone; he will not be missed by the vast majority of Irish citizens.

He operated easily within our corrupt political/administrative system.

He leaves mainstream politics with the majority of the citizens he pretended to represent a great deal worse off.

On the 18 August 1991, 23 years ago, Gilmore had an article published in the Irish Times calling for Dail reform.

Here are some quotes from the article:

The Dail is becoming redundant; the government treats it with contempt.

Why should the Government control 80% of Dail time and dictate the agenda?

Most of the laws which now affect the daily lives of the people do not get discussed at all in the Dail.

It is a very secret system of law making.

Government accountability to the Dail is minimal.

The pretence at legislation and accountability which now characterises Dail Eireann cannot continue much longer. Politicians who cannot (or will not) reform their own jaded parliament cannot be expected to reform the country.

We can see from the article that Gilmore, just like the rest of our politicians, knows very well what needs to be done to improve governance for the good of all citizens.

We can also see that, instead of actually acting on his own proposals, he opted for the more comfortable and lucrative life of a gombeen politician.

The dysfunctional Dail he wrote about in 1991 is still just as corrupt, just as dysfunctional.

His career is nothing more than an insignificant footnote.

The full article:

18 August 1991
Eamon Gilmore
Irish Times

The Dail – a failed political entity in need of reform

Interest groups come to lobby it. School children come to look down at it. Television cameras have begun to broadcast it. Most people believe that the Dail is where the laws are made and where the Government is made accountable to the public.

But the reality is very different. The Dail is becoming redundant.

For 40% of the year it does not meet at all. For the remainder, we have a two and a half day week.

Output is low. Procedures are archaic. The Government treats it with contempt. And most TDs spend as little time as possible in the Dail chamber. The National Agenda – unemployment, crime, the North, European Union – gets a better airing in the pubs around the summer schools than in the national parliament.

Unless the Dail is reformed people will rightly see it as irrelevant. They will stop voting, just as happened at the recent local elections when the public lost confidence in their ineffective County Councils.

Dail reform has been talked about for a long time, but nothing has been done.

The Fianna Fail/PD programme for Government promised “to bring forward detailed proposals for the reform of the Oireachtas by the end of 1989.” Two years later, there are still no Government proposals.

A sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges recommended some minor changes, but these have made matters worse.

“Priority Questions”, for example take the bite out of question time as ministers get an easy ride from mediocre Fine Gael questions.

So what must be done to transform the Dail?

Let us make a clean break with the colonial parliamentary baggage which was inherited at independence. The Dail is a hand-me-down copy of Westminster, with quaint procedures, dated language and a public-school style of debate.

It is time to make a fresh start, with new standing orders, a modern round-table approach to discussing the issues, and electronic voting which will reduce the time wasted on “divisions”.

Take legislation. In theory all TDs are legislators. In practice only ministers and Ministers of State can claim the title.

Government backbenchers can never propose a Bill, and while opposition TDs can circulate bills, there is not enough private members’ time to debate them and anyway they are defeated by the Government’s superior numbers.

Why should the Government control 80% of Dail time and dictate the agenda? Additional private members’ time could easily be found by extending Dail sitting times and there is no reason why reforming legislation, which does not require finance, cannot be advanced by individual TD.

The Government’s attitude to the Dail is increasingly contemptuous. Most major ministerial announcements are now made to press conferences outside the Dail and TDs are then prevented from pursuing the issue because of the absurd rule that “the legislation was not promised in the house.”

A simple change to standing orders would remedy that, by enabling TDs to question ministers about legislation whether it was promised in Leinster House or across the road in Buswell’s.

Most of the laws which now affect the daily lives of the people do not get discussed at all in the Dail. Your taxes and social welfare payments for example are rarely debated because the Finance and Social Welfare Bills are usually guillotined. The Local Government Bill was passed with only four of its 55 Sections examined.

Controversial bills are now usually published only at the last minute and then rushed through the Oireachtas in order to minimise public controversy.

Legislation like the Broadcasting Bill, the Local Government Bill and the Social Welfare Bill are published on a Thursday, the second stage debate is started on the following Tuesday and the Committee and final stages taken the week after that. So the opposition has little or no time to examine the Bill and interest groups outside the Dail have no time to organise themselves.

None of the hundreds of ministerial regulations which are made every year are ever debated in the Dail. Recent examples are the regulations to control dangerous dogs and the regulation banning smoky coal.

This style of government by ministerial diktat is likely to increase, because most of the primary legislation which is now passed by the Dail is “enabling” legislation, allowing ministers to make rules which will never have to be debated in parliament. It is a very secret system of law making.

Government accountability to the Dail is minimal. Each minister replies to Dail questions only three or four times per year. Even then, only about 10% of the Oral Questions which are tabled are ever answered in the Dail chamber.

Many of these are on matters about which the minister clearly knows nothing and is simply reading the civil servant’s prepared script. Since a Minister for Education, for example, can’t be expected to know about every school building and teacher in the country, why not have a two-tier system of questioning – one tier directly to senior civil servants about routine administrative matters, and the second addressed to a minister on general and policy matters on which she/he would be expected to answer without constant reference to the little pink file.

Politicians, who are now arguing that a change in the electoral system would improve Parliamentary performance, should first examine the failings of the Dail.

Legislative output would be greatly enhanced by having the Dail week on a normal five-day, year-round basis. There is understandable resistance to this from deputies who are based outside Dublin, but there is a solution – votes, especially if there were electronic voting, could be confined to two or three days of the week.

There is no good reason why the Dail, and especially its committees, should always meet in Dublin. Why not rotate the venues around the country?

The pretence at legislation and accountability which now characterises Dail Eireann cannot continue much longer. Politicians who cannot (or will not) reform their own jaded parliament cannot be expected to reform the country.

Copy to:
Eamon Gilmore
Labour Party

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Senator Jillian van Turnhout tweeted the following in response to the nightmare conditions under which asylum seekers are subjected to by the State.

We cannot say we didn’t know how bad it was!

On the reasonable assumption that the ‘we’ Ms. Turnhout speaks of includes ordinary (powerless) citizens as opposed to those who wield power, my response is as follows:

Dear Ms. Turnhout,

You are a member of the body politic of this country. You were (allegedly) put there to serve the best interests of Ireland and its people. You and your fellow politicians created and sustains the political/administrative environment within which such injustices occur.

You can, at any time of your choosing, act to relieve the horror of Direct Provision.

You could, for example, begin a campaign among your fellow politicians; you could stand outside Dail Eireann with a placard demanding justice. You could, if all else fails, resign in protest.

You will not, of course, take any of these actions for one simple but disgraceful reason – your principal loyalty is to yourself and the government that bestowed upon you the power and privileges of public office.

The only action you are prepared to take, apparently, is to turn on those you claim to serve and blame them for the horror.

Such cowardly responses are the mainstay for what passes as political responsibility in our dysfunctional democracy.

Copy to:
Senator Turnhout

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A statement was read out on Newstalk yesterday (18 June) accepting that broadcaster George Hook had expressed a personal opinion and was therefore in breach of Rule 22 of the Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs.

This came about as a result of a complaint submitted by me to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) on 29 Jan last.

Rule 22 specifically forbids broadcasters from expressing a personal opinion:

A presenter and/or a reporter on a current affairs programme shall not express his or her own views on matters that are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate such that a partisan position is advocated.

The actual opinion expressed by Mr. Hook is of little importance.

What is of huge importance is to witness the implementation of a draconian, anti-democratic law specifically designed to repress what, in functional democracies, is the norm – the free expression of opinion.

Of even greater importance is the disturbing reality that this oppressive law was introduced and is being enforced with hardly a whimper from the media.

Before commenting further on the media reaction I am going to express my opinion as why this law has been introduced.

It was not introduced to protect the sensitive ears of Irish citizens from the personal opinions of broadcasters such as George Hook. It was not introduced to protect listeners from being led astray by broadcasters and it was not introduced as a result of any public demand.

It was introduced to stop outright or at least have a severe chilling effect on the media questioning of powerful people and in particular powerful politicians.

The legislation is, I believe, principally aimed at RTE because of its powerful position in the media and because of its vulnerability to political manipulation.

Imagine the following scenario:

A major scandal has erupted involving a government minister and he is preparing to appear on Prime Time to face robust questioning on the issue.

Before the broadcast begins the minister has a quick word in the producer’s ear.

I want to advise you and would ask you to remind the presenter that she is, by law, strictly forbidden from expressing her own opinion on this matter.

The producer has no choice, it’s his job to ensure presenters are aware of all laws governing what they can and cannot say on air.

The very act of warning the presenter would inevitably create a chilling coat of ice across the entire interview.

In other words, the law would be doing what it was intended to do – protecting powerful people from overly critical journalists.

Democracies do not become corrupt overnight. The rot usually sets in over a long period of time. A media law here, a government withdrawal of funding there, a seemingly innocuous power granted to a regulatory authority.

Before long the frog is well and truly cooked.

And it seems, like the frog, the Irish media is quite happy to tolerate the increasingly oppressive heat being turned up under its rights of free expression.

The media could, at any time, force politicians to withdraw this oppressive legislation. All they need do is organise a campaign of disobedience.

Radio and TV presenters could simply announce that they were going to express a personal opinion and invite politicians and the BAI to do their worst.

I have no doubt that such a campaign would very quickly see this anti-democratic law repealed.

George Hook could then return to what he does best – freely expressing strong personal opinions on a vast range of issues and entertaining the nation as he does so.

Copy to:
George Hook/Newstalk
BAI

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