Monday 14 October 2019

Plausible sounding experts

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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Sir - Brendan O'Connor complains about marketing experts having too much influence over our Government (The country is being run by "experts" full of guff, Sunday Independent, October 29). This is no doubt the case, but it is hardly a new problem.

Plausible sounding people have been making a comfortable living presenting themselves as experts for millennia. Their subtlety and adaptability is as irresistible as it is timeless.

The problem is a central theme in Gorgias, the dialogue which was written by Plato nearly 2,500 years ago.

Whether we call them sophists, bluffers or spin doctors, people who don't know what they are talking about, but know how to talk, have inveigled their way into positions of power in pretty much every society and civilisation known to history.

As the country which gave the word 'plamas' to Hiberno-English, we were never going to be an exception.

Colin Walsh,


Dublin 6W

We must sort our own house out first

Sir ­- Just a quick reminder to Dan O'Brien ('Joining the Commonwealth would help address the Brexit conundrum', Sunday Independent, October 29): his opinion is not new - Gay Mitchell had it circa 2011.

The matter of re-joining the Commonwealth is a matter of principle and morality, not simply appeasement of unionists and simplistic economics.

Perhaps for once we have the chance to flourish and sell our wares and skills further afield, hold politicians responsible for actually serving the public and stop this careerist approach to public office, and stop this banana republic "me fein-itis" mentality of fat, greedy children being allowed access to the sweet shop and to finally cease sucking on the teats of our English speaking neighbours.

We must sort our house out first. Remember, it was their choice, albeit by a slender margin, and the demographic showed the majority of young voters were open-minded and "adult" enough to vote to remain. Many friends of mine in the UK were genuinely shattered by the result. The disenfranchised myopics won, the mature voters lost - this time.

For once they will dance to our tune - they will need us as a conduit to the rest of Europe. Irish people have the opportunity to flourish without British dependency.

John Collins,


Rubber wheels and traffic volumes

Sir - Colm McCarthy ('Let's stop spending too much money on vanity projects we don't need', Sunday Independent, October 29) certainly seems to be opposed to Metro North. He suggests that the money could be better spent on "rubber wheel" transport infrastructure, including the Cork-Limerick M20 motorway, but he fails to mention that most of Ireland's motorway network is built with huge over-capacity.

The Institute of Transport Engineers lists the capacity of a four-lane motorway (two lanes in each direction) at 72,000 vehicles per day. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, however, shows that most of Ireland's motorway network has a volume of fewer than 17,000 vehicles per day, while some sections have volumes as low as 5,000 vehicles per day. At these volumes, two-lane or two-plus-one-lane highways with capacity of 16-25,000 vehicles per day would be more appropriate and can be built at half the price of a motorway.

The proposed M20 falls into this category with traffic volumes of less than 17,000 vehicles per day, with the exception of the short sections outside Limerick and Cork. While there is no doubt the M20 route needs an upgrade, a motorway along the whole length would provide enormous over-capacity and would not meet Colm's measure for economic justification.

Pre-metro systems, underground tramways, like Metro North, have been hugely successful in Brussels, Charleroi, Frankfurt, Valencia, Vienna, Antwerp and Buenos Aires. Such is their success that many have been upgraded to full metro as passenger volumes increase. Colm does not explain why Dublin, a high-growth city with limited city road space, is so different. Indeed, referring to Metro North, Colm suggests there is a fascination with "steel wheels, as against rubber wheels" but one might suggest that Colm's proposed prioritisation of "rubber wheel" solutions, including over-capacity motorways, provides less cost/benefit and his position is wholly contradictory.

CJ Barber,


Co Wicklow

Constructive discussion needed

Sir - I must respond to Eilis O'Hanlon's article on abortion (Sunday Independent, October 22). Her suggestion that Amnesty International's position on abortion is tainted by "ingrained biases and prejudices" is completely unfounded. Amnesty draws its mandate from international human rights law.

We choose our campaigns based on the gravity of the human rights violations at the heart of any particular issue. Women and girls have a human right to access abortion services. This right is firmly grounded in decades of jurisprudence on women's sexual and reproductive rights from the international human rights system Ireland helped create.

We are not "heavily one-sided" in the position we take. We are simply on the side of women's human rights.

Supporting women's human rights is not controversial or divisive. Last week, we published a RED C poll which found that 60pc of people in Ireland support women's access to abortion on request.

While some media commentators try to position this as a battle between two ''extreme'' positions, it is not. What we see is a shared concern across all of Irish society at the suffering Ireland's archaic abortion laws cause. Those who actively oppose reform are a tiny minority, but are often given disproportionate space because of how loudly they shout.

International public health evidence and medical best practice is that access to abortion is a necessary part of any sexual and reproductive health service. So it should be no surprise to Ms O'Hanlon that when the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment calls international expert witnesses like the World Health Organisation, or national experts like Professor Peter Boylan, this is what they will hear.

The committee has indeed heard compelling evidence from medical, legal and human rights experts overwhelmingly in favour of reform.

Professor Boylan is a former master of the National Maternity Hospital and current chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. One would think his expert testimony would be treated with seriousness and respect.

However, Ms O'Hanlon selectively cites the HSE inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's tragic death in an effort to criticise his testimony. His expert view was that Savita "died as a consequence of the Eighth Amendment".

The HSE inquiry found that one of the reasons for her death was the lack of management options available to her doctors - ie, a termination when medically indicated - and that the Eighth Amendment was a contributory factor. Prof Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, chair of that HSE inquiry, appeared alongside Prof Boylan at the committee and confirmed the Eighth Amendment's role in her preventable death.

Amnesty's 2015 research report, She is not a Criminal, made this same finding, and concluded: "If Ireland allowed abortion on health grounds in compliance with its human rights obligations, Savita Halappanavar could be alive today."

People in Ireland support women's human right to have access to safe and legal abortion services. It's time for a constructive media discussion which reflects that fact, and is based on evidence, truth and women's health and rights.

Colm O'Gorman,

Executive Director,

Amnesty International Ireland

Medical realities of saving mothers

Sir - Mary Stewart (Letters, Sunday Independent, October 29), referring to the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, says that we have read of no evidence from the many gynaecologists who value the Eighth Amendment. She states that Dr Peter Boylan's claim that Savita's death was due to the amendment was not queried in the media.

As a retired obstetrician/gynaecologist who worked in Ireland for 22 years as a consultant, I feel that I am qualified to take up her challenge.

Have I ever felt, in a life-threatening situation when it was necessary to act to save the mother's life by ending the life of the baby, that the amendment was inhibiting me from acting? The answer is no.

Thus once I scanned a patient in early pregnancy and detected a bleeding pregnancy in a fallopian tube. There was still a heartbeat, but was I supposed to wait until it stopped beating? Obviously not and an immediate operation was done by me to remove the eight-week-old baby.

I, and most obstetricians in my time, will have been faced with the enormous head of a markedly hydrocephalic baby. The brain will have been fatally damaged and a caesarian section pointless and dangerous. As the cervix of the uterus opens up in labour, it is easy to perforate the head and let off many litres of fluid, though this will be fatal for the baby.

To do nothing would mean a uterine rupture. I have done this procedure several times and never thought of the amendment. After all, the designers of the amendment were not thinking of asking doctors to preserve the baby's life when this would be impossible.

One must remember in similar cases that if the mother is liable to die, then so will the baby she is carrying who therefore cannot be saved.

The case of poor Savita should not be used in the push for abortion in Ireland.

I do not know why her request for the pregnancy to be ended was not acted upon, but it might not have been that easy and perhaps with the baby alive there must have seemed to be a minimal risk of any infection; indeed this would normally have been the case with the early resumption of progress in emptying the uterus naturally.

Had the pregnancy been terminated early, the infection would still have been present, needing to be detected and dealt with.

Alistair McFarlane,



Remembering black-sack days

Sir - Ciara O'Connor's article regarding Halloween costumes (Sunday Independent, October 29) reminded me of when my daughter was in Guides and they were having a Halloween party. She wore a black sack covered in cabbage leaves and went as a cabbage patch doll - they were all the go at the time - and she won a prize!

Patricia Keeley,


Dublin 6

Time to stop putting clocks back

Sir - Once again, October has come and gone and the clocks have been put back one hour till the spring comes around again. Why is this so? Nobody wants an extra hour of daylight in the morning except those who tell us the clocks have to be put back in winter.

The winter evenings are black enough without an extra hour's daylight being taken off us in the evenings. Whatever the reasons for bringing in winter time originally, they do not count in the 21st Century.

So I hope, for once, the politicians in this country will grasp the nettle and when the clocks go forward in the spring, they will stay like that forever.

Declan O'Connell,


Co Kildare

Sunday Independent

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