Saturday 10th May 2014
Calm Frances Fitzgerald the woman who gets things done has already led major breakthroughs
At the launch of Fine Gael’s local election campaign, Frances Fitzgerald sent the candidates out to do battle on the doorsteps with a speech beginning with the declaration that most people get into politics in order to change things.
One week later, the newly appointed justice minister is being required to show she can not only make change but manage change as she takes over a portfolio in bumpy transition.
But if she had to sit herself down, self-administer smelling salts, or breathe deeply into a paper bag before saying yes to the appointment, it wasn’t showing yesterday.
Characteristically cool and unruffled, she kept a scheduled appointment, joining the Taoiseach visiting a community college for the start of the Youth2Work initiative, and returning directly to the front benches of the Dáil announcement of her promotion with a focused Fitzgerald Work demeanour.
M/s Fitzgerald, who will be 64 in August, was born Frances Ryan in Croom, Co Limerick, but her family moved to Kildare with their father who served in the army. Frances was educated at the Dominican College, Sion Hill, Blackrock, Dublin.
Leaving school, she knew what she wanted to do and went for it, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in social science and taking a job as social worker at the now closed St Ultan’s Children’s Hospital on Dublin’s Charlemont St, which cared mainly for deprived inner city children.
It was during her early years in social work that she met her husband, the child and adolescent psychiatrist Professor Michael Fitzgerald, an expert in autism and Asperger’s.
They moved for a time to Britain, where Fitzgerald obtained a master’s degree in social work from the London School of Economics.
The couple now live in Castleknock, in the Dublin Mid-West constituency, in a suburb to which the overused description “leafy” truly applies. They have three sons, student Owen, accountant Robert, and stage actor Mark.
Back in Ireland, Fitzgerald worked in a number of hospital and social care settings and at the time of her first election to the Dáil, had most recently worked at the Mater Child and Family Centre in Ballymun.
She first got involved in politics through the Women’s Political Association, which she chaired from 1987 to 1989. But she really came to public prominence during her four-year stint as chair of the Council for the Status of Women — now the National Women’s Council of Ireland — from 1988 to 1992.
The final year of her term put her under the spotlight as she spoke out strongly on the need for reform of the laws on rape and treatment of victims following the Lavinia Kerwick case.
She was also vociferous on the right of women to make choices for themselves in the run-up to that year’s three-pronged abortion referendum, held on the same day as the general election.
Weeks before the election, Ms Fitzgerald was declared a candidate for Fine Gael in Dublin South East at the invitation of Garret FitzGerald, having also been approached by Fianna Fáil.
It was a breakthrough year for women in politics, with 20 female TDs elected, a massive leap on the previous record of 14; but with just 25 currently, the momentum has been slow since.
Ms Fitzgerald held the seat for 10 years, serving in opposition under John Bruton and Michael Noonan, firstly as party spokesperson on arts and then defence before putting her background to use in social, community, and family affairs, equality, and social welfare.
During this time, she was also elected to Dublin City Council, having lost her Dáil seat after Fine Gael’s slump in the 2002 general election.
She stood in the 2007 general election without success but returned to Leinster House via the Seanad and was made leader of the opposition as well as Fine Gael spokesperson on health and children.
It surprised nobody that when Fine Gael returned to power in 2011, Ms Fitzgerald not only got back into the Dáil but into Cabinet, being appointed the country’s first full children’s and youth affairs minister.
She has since scored notable successes, getting the children’s rights referendum passed, and establishing the Child and Family Agency to tidy up the baffling array of often overlapping and uncoordinated statutory agencies involved in child welfare.
She was also responsible for making creche inspection reports public, has action plans on childhood bullying and obesity, and generally speaks a lot of sense about youth drinking, crime, and pressure from social media.
She was a calm voice through last year’s abortion controversies and although she has attracted the ire and despair of many adopted people by moving slowly on releasing adoption papers, she rarely attracts criticism in either the public or political arenas.
But that could all change with her promotion to justice.
The Irish poor cut back on medicines because of drug levies
Chronically ill patients are going without necessary medicines because of the €1 hike in the prescription levy.
Pharmacists have found that 38% of medical card holders say the increase makes them “think twice” before seeking prescriptions.
The issue will be discussed this weekend at the National Conference of the Irish Pharmacy Union in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, which is being attended by hundreds of pharmacists from across the country.
EXEMPTION: Incoming president Kathy Maher has called on the Government to introduce an exemption from the charge for vulnerable patients including the homeless, people with intellectual difficulties and those in palliative care and residential care.
The cost would not be huge, but the benefits to these patients would be, she said.
“As pharmacists, we are very concerned that the hike in the levy is having a significant impact on medicine usage,” she said.
“We need to make sure that vulnerable patients are encouraged to take prescribed medicines, not discouraged.
An independent behaviour and attitude survey of medical card holders found 38pc were reluctant to get all the medications on their prescription list because of the dispensing cost per item of €2.50. The fee was raised in the last budget.
M/s Maher said the main issue this weekend will be the expanded role of the pharmacist in health care.
“International evidence suggests that there is huge scope for pharmacists to expand their services and to help alleviate pressures elsewhere in the healthcare system with considerable benefits for patient welfare,” she said.
An expanded role, she added, could alleviate pressure on hard-pressed family doctors.
Patients with minor conditions or with chronic conditions could have their medications or their conditions reviewed by the pharmacist.
“Our members want to engage with the Government to see their role expanded,” added M/s Maher.
The prescription levy was introduced in 2010 and caused outrage.
When he took office in March 2011, Health Minister James Reilly promised to scrap the levy. Instead, it has increased from 50c to €2.50.
BUDGET: In the 2013 Budget alone, the fee underwent a three-fold increase to €1.50.
Patients with a medical card have to pay the fee for each item under prescription, though the cost is capped at €25 a month.
The total charge was originally capped at €10 a month, which increased to €19.50 when the fee was at €1.50.
It was expected the fee would raise €2m a month when it was introduced.
Plight of the Irish homeless people highlighted
Homeless families held a protest about Ireland’s housing crisis on last Friday.
With the backing of Paul Murphy MEP and the Anti-Austerity Alliance, who helped organise the Dublin-based protest, they called for rent controls, the building of new homes and an end to discrimination against people on rent allowance.
The protest was the brainchild of Gwen Connell and Tamara Kearns who have both had personal experience of homelessness.
Ms Connell, who was forced out of her home due to a 400 euro rent hike, said: “There is a massive housing crisis in the country at the moment, which is particularly severe in Dublin. Anyone who is trying to find rental accommodation will know that rents have increased massively over the last year or so. This and the lack of housing is resulting in families becoming homeless.
“It’s time for the Government to act. They are allowing landlords to abuse the system and are wasting huge amounts of money putting homeless families up in hotels. There are 90,000 people on the housing waiting list, we need the immediate building of social and affordable housing, release the Nama houses and to introduce rent controls.”
Ms Kearns, who was forced along with her family into a homeless unit after they were unable to keep up with their rent, said: “My family and I have been homeless since October last year. We could no longer afford to keep up the price of rent. We do not receive rent supplement and we are not entitled to help from the social welfare. Our lives have been turned upside down. Our children are finding it hard to settle and have nowhere to play. Our daughter has had to change school, we don’t know for how long.
“I contacted all the so called ‘right people’ and was left stunned by the lack of a decent response.”
Councillor Ruth Coppinger of the Anti-Austerity Alliance called on the Government to “act immediately” to solve the housing crisis while Mr Murphy claimed that cuts to housing budgets would not help families who are on the housing waiting list for years. He suggested that massive state investment is needed to provide homes.
‘‘When mothers think there not perfect, they feel lots of guilt’
An Irish counselling charity has said there is no national policy on screening for post-natal depression in Ireland, and is holding a conference today to highlight this issue and others.
Nurture claims the Irish health system does not cater well for those with mental health issues around conception, pregnancy, childbirth or loss of a baby.
The group is holding an ‘Emotional Wellbeing Education Conference’ conference in Dublin today to raise greater awareness of these issues.
Some 42,000 women are diagnosed each year with mental illness and emotional trauma surrounding childbirth. An estimated 13% of Irish women suffer with post-natal depression, with women from all socio-economic backgrounds affected.
Senior lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at UCC Dr Patricia Leahy Warren carried out a study on social support for first-time mothers, which revealed tremendous pressure to be the “perfect mother”.
“Every mother wants to be the best mother, so they feel they have to put up this front,” she said.
“There’s a society pressure to get into size zero jeans, that you have to be breastfeeding, that you have to love your baby… When mothers don’t have these feelgood factors, they feel guilty and they feel they can’t tell anybody about it, because they feel so bad about it.”
Tangible Leadership Series a charter for a New & excellent Ireland
The Tangible Leadership Series is a speaker series that was established by Raymond Sexton in early 2009. The purpose and aim of the organization is to assemble a diverse collection of intellects and advocates to create an excellent Ireland.
Founded by Raymond Sexton (above right picture) the participants debate issues in a positive and pragmatic way. Tangible Leadership Series has now taken place from Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland to Sydney and yesterday Tangible New York took place in Rockefeller Plaza hosted by Irish American lawyer John C. O’Reilly of Squire Saunders.
In attendance were an eclectic mix of Irish diaspora. The main topic under discussion was the notion of the global Irish nation and what can be done to engage positively with Irish diaspora all over the world. The group heard presentations from Neil O’Hagan, Atlantic Youth Trust, Noreen Bowden, Global Irish, Eve Earley Empowering Change, Paul Finnegan CEO of New York Irish Center and Ann Murtagh of Fitzpatrick’s Hotel Group.
The Irish are a courageously global people. Ireland is both the earth wire for this people and the source of great pride as it took its place among the free nations of the earth, but one small island in the Atlantic can no longer limit our dreams and aspirations. In an era of serial crises, Ireland, beset with institutional and leadership problems, seeks a new way of moving
Combining the Irish in Ireland and the Irish Diaspora to create the Global Irish will unleash the power of a people of great art, creativity and energy. Moving beyond one small island frees us from parochialism and allows us to enhance our contribution to the world. To ignore the Irish outside Ireland is an act of wanton neglect.
To create the structures that guarantee the inclusion and participation of all the Irish in the life of the nation is to create the global Irish Republic. Once created, Irish emigration ceases; from that day, Irish people are always at home and Irish nationalism is replaced by Irish internationalism.
All Irish-born people are entitled to citizenship. The descendants of our emigrants together with immigrants to Ireland and others with a strong affinity to Ireland should be entitled to apply for citizenship of a global Irish Republic. All citizens should have appropriate representation in the houses of Irish government and the opportunity to contribute to developing Ireland’s role in the world. This global Irish Republic should be a non-ethnic, true republic in which we can all participate and take pride; it should not tolerate domination, segregation or sectarianism.
It is now time to find and work with the willing to develop the policies, projects and structures that will breathe life into Global Irish-ness. Through collaborative leadership we can create a culture of shared excellence throughout the Irish world. We can build a truly dynamic and sustainable economy that benefits all our people and powers the social services necessary for a humane society.
No longer content with mediocrity or with the worst of the ways of the past, with passivity, deference and dependence, we will apply the full range of skills, qualities and abilities of all our people to the challenges we face.
Honeybee population collapse is due to use of insecticides
Another mystery has been solved: recent honeybee population collapses are due to insecticides, according to a team of Harvard researchers.
The mysterious decline of honeybees over the past several years has been blamed on everything from cell phone radiation to global warming, but the scientists now believe they have evidence that the collapse can be blamed primarily on two widely used insecticides. The study, out of Harvard’s School of Public Health, was published in the Bulletin of Insectology this week.
The recent dramatic decline of honeybee populations is largely due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which bees abandon their hives in the winter and eventually die. The researchers followed 18 colonies in Massachusetts, monitoring them for population levels and exposure to insecticides.
What they found is an indictment of modern agricultural practices: the populations with the worst outcomes were exposed to two kinds of neonicotinoid, a kind of insecticide, during an especially harsh winter. According to the paper, this is because the cold weather triggers a neurological response in bees exposed to the insecticide:
It is striking and perplexing to observe the empty neonicotinoid-treated colonies because honey bees normally do not abandon their hives during the winter. This observation may suggest the impairment of honey bee neurological functions, specifically memory, cognition, or behaviour, as the results from the chronic sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposure.
The findings could have big implications for industry: the European Union last year banned three kinds of neonicotinoid for a two-year trial, and the Harvard scientists’ findings may lead to more of the same. With increasing weather extremes and more need than ever to grow and pollinate healthy crops, the study spreads much further than just the honey industry. “Hopefully,” the study’s authors say of the findings, “we can reverse the continuing trend of honey bee loss.”