On Bertiegate

(Note: For some reason, irishblogs.ie is linking to this post, which is a year old and not entirely representative of my current view on the subject. Please see my rethink here.)

It's funny what passes for a scandal in this country. I'm no fan of Bertie, and would shed not a tear if he were to walk over all this. But as Fianna Fáil sleaze goes, this episode strikes me as a storm in a teacup. Poor judgement, certainly, but I wouldn't think that was necessarily a resigning matter in and of itself. I also get the sense that this is primarily a media- and FG/Labour-driven controversy; the average punter just doesn't seem to be all that outraged about it.

Of course, that alone says plenty about Fianna Fáil. Can you imagine if, say, Joe Higgins or Trevor Sargent or Gerry A. had taken that money? They'd be ruined politically. But FF? Sure, we're used to much worse than that from them.

Meanwhile a far greater (albeit not entirely unrelated) scandal is going virtually unnoticed: a new Revenue Commissioners report showing that a number of people earning over €1 million per year are not paying one cent in income tax. Now this is truly outrageous - and how much did Six-One news have to say about it? Not one word.
In regards to yesterday's blood transfusion case, I have two questions.

1 - If this woman had been a Catholic, and had refused a medical procedure on the grounds that it violated her religious views, would it have been forced upon her?

2 - If she had been a man, would the Court have decided that his status as "parent" was the overriding factor?

I suspect in both cases the answer would be "no".

The second for me demonstrates the need for a certain amount of caution in the recent trend towards prioritisting "the best interests of the child" in every legal dispute. People do not cease to be individuals with their own needs and rights simply because they have children. It's often women who suffer when we forget that, as Article 41.2 of the 1937 Constitution demonstrates. A balance needs to be struck which respects, to the greatest degree possible, everybody's human rights - and I don't think it has been struck in this case. The patient's decision is not the one I would have made, but it's her body and she should have had the right to make it.

Religious ethos exemption: a licence to discriminate

I'll call her Lily. She's a qualified language support teacher - a skill that is desperately needed in Ireland's schools today, given the large numbers of immigrant children from non-Anglophone countries. Lily loves her work and she's good at it. But she can't get a job. Why not? Well, because she lives in a small village in rural Ireland, where some of the locals just aren't used to people like Lily - dark-skinned and with a foreign (albeit native-English) accent.

The last time that Lily applied for a job, she was turned down without even being interviewed. She later discovered that the successful applicant was far less qualified than she. But he was a native. She filed a FOI request to find out why she wasn't considered. The response made reference to the need to protect the school's "religious ethos". In other words, the school looked at her details, deduced from her ethnic background that she is not a Catholic, and decided not to shortlist her.

And this is perfectly legal, because Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 allows denominational schools to discriminate against potential employees who are not of the school's religion.

Once again, Lily is a language support teacher. She wouldn't even be teaching religion. How could her mere presence undermine the school's religious ethos? And without having given her an interview, how could they be certain that she wasn't a Catholic in any case?

It seems quite clear to me that in this case the religious ethos exemption was merely an excuse for the school to discriminate against a person of a foreign/minority ethnic background. With increasing numbers of immigrants in the workforce, the likelihood of this being an isolated incident seems slim.

The need for language support teachers in our schools is pressing - far too pressing to allow the exclusion of qualified people on spurious religious grounds. The law needs to be changed urgently. Not only for the sake of Lily and others like her, but for the children, who need teachers who know what they're doing far more than they need people who happen to fit an idealised cultural stereotype.

If you see only one film this year...

... after The Wind That Shakes The Barley, of course, it should be Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. I saw it last night and it was astonishing.

That's all for now.

Labour's coalition partners: "Arrest the strikers"

According to Fine Gael Transport Spokesperson on Newstalk 106 just now, the Gardaí should have arrested the taxi drivers who lined O'Connell Street yesterday to draw attention to their grievances.

I was one of those inconvenienced by the taxi protest yesterday, and I certainly agree that it wasn't the best tactic if they wanted to gain the public's sympathy (although I'm not sure that they did) - but, come on. By "inconvenienced" I mean it added about 15-20 minutes onto my travel time. Hardly something worth arresting people over.

But of course, this is the same Fine Gael Transport Spokesperson who, a few years ago, said that the bus drivers taking part in the "no fares day" protest should have the fares deducted from their wages.

Labour people - for God's sake, what are you thinking???
I've had a glance through the newly-published heads of McDowell's Immigration Bill and, unsurprisingly, it's a depressing read. There can be little doubt that the minister has an eye on the general election and, having been so successful at creating foreign bogeymen via the citizenship referendum, subsequent comments about "cock and bull stories", etc., is now trying to show how tough he is on them.

One unfortunate thing that jumped out at me immediately is the requirement that all foreign nationals carry ID cards. What a recipe for racial profiling and harassment that is. Non-whites are obviously going to be the primary targets - and what happens when a bored Garda looking for something to do challenges a naturalised Irish citizen for their ID? Of course, as a citizen, they won't have one, but how will they prove it? Effectively, if they want to avoid the (inevitable) hassle, they will be forced to carry proof of their citizenship! This will constitute discrimination against Irish citizens on the basis of their race or ethnic origin - which is not only inherently obnoxious but probably also illegal, under the Equal Status Acts.

I didn't notice anything in the heads of the bill about family reunification, which is frankly unbelievable. As everyone who works in the immigration sector knows, this is a massive issue. At present, only refugees and non-Irish EU nationals have a statutory right to have their spouses and minor children live here with them - even Irish citizens don't have that right! McDowell has consistently fobbed off Parliamentary Questions on the subject, saying that he would deal with all of this in the upcoming legislation - so where is it?


On another note, I was sorry but not altogether surprised to hear the news that Daily Ireland is to cease publication. The truth is that it never lived up to its potential - too parochial, and with frequently baffling editorial decisions. I thought its columnists, its foreign news and its Celtic coverage were good and, of course, it was always refreshing to get through a whole Irish newspaper without the SF bashing that all the others are so fond of. Shame it didn't work out but I have to say that its creators really only have themselves to blame.
  Subscribe with Bloglines