Friday 30 September 2016

The polls will only tell you so much - the truth is in the verdict

Published 21/01/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Mark Condren

John Downing's opinion piece in the Irish Independent (January 18) undoubtedly suggests that it comes from attending the FF Ard Fheis, and seeks to apply a slightly frustrated outsider's logic to the position Micheál Martin has presented for weeks now regarding the outcome of the election.

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As a member of FF who attended the Ard Fheis (although I can see how, as an outsider, he might assume to have reached logical conclusions) John is, in fact, very far from understanding the position. I don't know whether he was in the main hall between 7 and 8pm, but if he was he might have a little better insight - as during that time we revisited our roots and the events of 1916 as told through the mouths of relatives of the leaders.

As Éamon Ó Cúiv put it, we must be the only nation on earth that commemorates failure, as 1916 was a hopeless failure at the time. It led to great things though, and where we find ourselves today is no further back and certainly in a much better place than in 1916.

We take the long view and celebrate all that has been achieved and, in this process, rekindle our determination to rebuild the republic. We are not going away, we have a job to do but we do it on the invitation of the electorate - a wider electorate in so many ways than in 1916, certainly!

The outcome of the election will be determined by the voters. Whether FG/Labour are returned is in the hands of those who vote. It's not good for democracy that an inevitability should prevail.

Maybe 25pc out there who intend to vote have not yet decided for whom? The latest 'don't know' was what? In FF, there is an expectation of more seats, and how many for SF, SD and other new parties? The expectation in FG and Labour is a loss of seats. It's unlikely the present government will be re-elected, according to political analysts, but it remains to be seen. Journalists have limited capacity for numerical analysis and when they see what appears like an easy sum, they pounce on it and proudly show off their arithmetic, again and again, like children demonstrating a new-found skill which is brought out whether appropriate or not.

The elephant in the room is the dependence on polls and having blind faith in numbers without in the least bit understanding what thin ice they are. This faith is touching, but hardly does credit to reality. Blind faith in numeric experts in banking and insurance is a topical issue, and the failure of polls elsewhere will emerge, perhaps after the election, as more significant than given credit now.

There is a fine line between polls and propaganda, and it's unclear where we stand. As a teacher of statistics at pre-university level for a number of years, I came to understand the fact that we have a bit to go in bringing many up to speed on the double-edged sword of numeric projection.

There is a capacity in some to assume that polling has a certainty that it does not have, and a trust in numbers generated by unpublished assumptions that is, to be frank, alarming. Polls do what they say on the tin - and, therefore, we should read the tin and apply caution!

Caitríona McClean

Lucan, Co Dublin

Safeguards are necessary

Colette Browne (Irish Independent, January 19) states that comments I made a few months back about women not being prosecuted for having abortions have turned out to be wrong.

I made my comments in the context of Amnesty Ireland's 'She Is Not A Criminal' campaign, which falsely created the impression that women are routinely prosecuted for abortion when, in fact, the opposite is true.

I stand over everything I said on that occasion. Nothing that I said has turned out to be false.

The reality is that most countries that permit abortion also have criminal sanctions for illegal abortions. Pro-choice campaigners go out of their way to pretend otherwise, as it serves their agenda to paint Ireland as the odd one out.

It's worth noting that the possible 14-year jail sentence that accompanies the 2013 abortion law in Ireland was introduced by the present Fine Gael/Labour government, and not at the behest of the pro-life movement.

England, where abortion is legal up to birth, has a criminal sanction of life imprisonment for illegal abortions. You'd never think it to listen to abortion campaigners. It is extremely rare that prosecutions happen for illegal abortions.

And it is true that if anyone is likely to be prosecuted it would be the practising abortionist who breaks the law.

I would personally favour a law that only placed sanctions on the abortionist - and never the woman. But, ironically, it is the pro-choice movement who are contributing to this not happening.

Recent reckless and life-endangering stunts by pro-choice activists, encouraging women to self-administer abortion drugs without medical supervision, adds to the complexity of the issue and serves as a reminder as to why certain legal safeguards are necessary.

Cora Sherlock

Pro Life Campaign, Dublin 2

What's wrong with tradition?

I refer to the 'Scrapping Good Friday drinks ban a no-brainer' (January 19) article, and your balanced editorial. In a rapidly changing world, should we not be weary of extinguishing, in haste, a unique Irish Christian tradition?

Good Friday is a day when Christians of all denominations throughout the world take time to reflect on the Passion and death of Christ.

On Good Friday, Catholics are asked to share in that sacrifice through the traditional practices of prayer, the veneration of the Cross and through fast and abstinence.

Many people in Ireland participate in these practices and enter into the spirit of Lent, Good Friday and Easter - the latter being the most important feast of the Christian calendar. This is often undertaken by abstaining from alcohol.

The sale of alcohol on Good Friday is an annual public debate, and it is an issue on which Christians can make up their own minds based on an informed conscience.

However, it is true to say that each year we can enjoy Christmas Day without pubs being open. As your editorial suggests, maintaining the ban on alcohol sales has not, and will not, stop 'the world on its axis'.

This issue is driven by a hidden reality, the objective of which is about bolstering the financial bottom line rather than serving the common good.

Instead of allowing alcohol set the social agenda by attempting to black out aspects of our national character, is it not timely to take a stand against the pervasive, relentless and insidious public relations campaigning of the drinks industry?

Darren Butler

Irish Bishops' Drugs & Alcohol Initiative Columba Centre, Maynooth

Irish Independent

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