Rough justice


EVERYONE knows separated fathers are victims of rough justice. A woman can enter a marriage owning nothing but a bunch of orange blossom, and leave it with a weekly income in perpetuity and a houseful of beautiful children. Meanwhile her ex ends up alone by a two-bar heater on the North Circular. You can see what Rod Stewart meant when he said: “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.”

But if only fathers’ rights advocates would stop sabotaging their own cause. Actress Kate Winslet is now threatening to sue Fathers4justice for using her image in an ad with the tagline: ‘Kate, every child deserves a father this Christmas’.

Winslet’s lawyers say the ad is “misleading and defamatory”. It’s also nasty, intrusive and unnecessary. When you’ve got a good case, you needn’t resort to antagonising people. It’s not helping.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013

What percentage of ‘no’ do you not understand?


FAR be it from me to take Enda Kenny’s side in anything if it can be avoided, but isn’t Fianna Fáil making a bit too much hay, still, from the Seanad referendum result?

This week, children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald made one or two respectful remarks about the Upper House, which inspired FF to bleat, yet again, that the whole abolition business was a personal crusade on the Taoiseach’s part.

Has Fianna Fáil forgotten that the referendum was defeated by only 42,500 votes? It calls to mind the luckless half of the American population who spent eight years being falsely accused of having elected George W Bush. More than 600,000 people were against Enda’s Seanad “crusade”, but just under 600,000 were with him on it. Not exactly a solo run.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013

Condemned to repeat history, even if you remember it

Robert Gabriel Mugabe, president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, sits in the Plenary Hall of the United Nations (UN) building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 12th African Union (AU) Summit.

Robert Mugabe: a guard of honour, no less

YOU know you’re getting old when… OK, you know you’re getting old when your response to the sight of your face in the mirror is, “Christ, when did that happen?” But you get another hint when they release the state papers under the 30-year rule and you can remember it all.

There’s Robert Mugabe, three years into his term and still regarded as an African hero, coming to dinner with Garret FitzGerald and getting a guard of honour if you don’t mind. There’s Mrs Thatcher being re-elected on the back of the Falklands War and spreading despair all about her, like a dementor. There’s the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin – the 1980s equivalent of the Taoiseach bringing up Northern Bank every time Gerry Adams gets to his feet in Dáil Éireann. There’s all that fuss about condoms.

Then there are the events that make you feel not just old but jaded. There’s that ghastly 1983 abortion referendum. There’s a boyish Alan Dukes trying to control exchequer borrowing and public sector pay. There’s Ian Paisley, in a previous incarnation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. There’s the German chancellor lamenting Ireland’s “irrational” fondness for neutrality. There’s Garret again, agreeing to ban Aeroflot temporarily from Shannon after the Soviets shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007.

Abortion, government debt, the North, European meddling in our sovereignty, and the use of Shannon as a diplomatic sop to the Americans. Still, after 30 years. Is it any wonder people start looking a bit tired after the first few decades?


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013

Paying twice over for the health service

player piano

Player pianos, and other healthcare essentials

PLEASE allow me to bore you with the following story: A family member recently had a road accident that left him bleeding, sore, disoriented, and repeating himself even more than usual.

On our way to the nearest A&E (which is 70 miles away but that’s another story), we stopped off with the local on-call GP, mainly to get reassurance as early as possible on the brain injury front. On referral to hospital, the wounded party was immediately subjected to a brain scan, a slew of X-rays and some deft stitching by a maxillofacial surgeon, and kept overnight for observation.

The unit was so crowded that you could move around only by turning sideways, assuming turning sideways didn’t make you even wider. The nurses and doctors, their cheeks pink from overwork, were unvaryingly kind, attentive, professional and thorough.

When he was discharged next morning, I inquired about the bill, as we have neither a medical card nor health insurance. I already knew, but I wanted to be sure. The bill was €0.

Why are you telling this electrifying story, I hear you say, when there must be film people crawling all over you for the rights? It’s because of the response in some quarters to the news this week that health minister James Reilly is considering new proposals to coerce more people into buying health insurance.

If I had a euro for every person who’s sworn to me, till they’re blue in the face, that you can’t get free hospital treatment in Ireland unless you have either insurance or a medical card, I’d have enough for a suite in that private hospital in Galway, the one with the ridiculous player-piano in the lobby. (If it were even a real piano…)

Fine Gael’s election manifesto made clear that the government will not be satisfied until every last one of us is paying for the health service twice over, through taxation and through insurance. Their plan for universal health insurance is welcomed in theory by those who see it as a way of remedying the inequity of the existing system – in which everyone has access to the same (generally very high) standard of care, but some people can get to it sooner – and of thwarting chicanery and fraud.

What’s galling is that Fine Gael has presented this idea as the introduction of universal healthcare. We already have universal healthcare in this country, and the fact that so many people don’t seem to know that is very much to the government’s advantage.

Of course saying free hospital care is available to the entire population does mean playing fast and loose with the word ‘free’. An inpatient charge of €75 a night applies in most cases if you don’t have a medical card, but that’s subject to a maximum of €750 in a year. Health insurance premiums, by contrast, average about €1,000 a year. And at that, insured patients are the ones getting scalded with extra bills if they end up in the wrong bed.

Until every last one of us is fully acquainted with the system we have, there can be no useful discussion of what we stand to lose here. But in any case, Fine Gael is supposed to take two terms to see through its “universal healthcare” plan, so that’s probably the end of that.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 29 December 2013