LET me put on record that neither I nor this newspaper are fans of Health Minister Mary Harney.
She has presided over a shambles of a health service and has utterly failed in her promise to reform the A&E system. Since she took charge, she has been unable to effect meaningful change, so unfortunate patients are doomed to suffer the most appalling service.
On occasion, the frustration has even led to this paper calling for her resignation.
Yet for all that, I utterly deplore the reprehensible actions that occurred on Monday at Cherry Orchard hospital, when the minister was attacked while attending a sod-turning ceremony.
I can understand that people are incandescent with rage and despair at her handling of the health portfolio, but as a civilised country we should be able to make our protests in a dignified manner.
In this case, the culprit in question was Dublin councillor Louise Minihan, a former Sinn Fein activist and Director of Elections for Sinn Fein TD Aonghus O Snodaigh in the 2007 General Election.
She has since repudiated her links with Sinn Fein and has nailed her colours to the mast of the radical Republican left-wing group Eirigi.
Let us not forget that this group is comprised of fanatics and misguided zealots who have been exposed as a dangerous and volatile bunch. In her interview on Joe Duffy's Liveline on Monday, Ms Minihan obviously missed the irony when she accused Ms Harney of having blood on her hands.
She also stoutly defended a continuing arms struggle on this island and roundly condemned the Good Friday Agreement as a sell-out of her vision of a 32-county Ireland. If Miss Minihan had her way, this country would once again return to the bomb and the bullet and a bloody campaign in order to achieve her dream.
The woman is ridiculous. She publicly advocates a return to armed struggle and also champions the case of IRA Republican prisoner Colin Duffy. She even accused the PSNI of gross ill-treatment and brutality by strip-searching the prisoner.
However, she herself was guilty of gross ill-treatment on Monday when she launched her attack on Ms Harney. Her behaviour was cowardly, stupid and totally unacceptable and will be abhorred by every right-thinking person.
To the minister's credit, although shocked and frightened by the incident, she quickly recovered her composure and carried on with the ceremony despite dripping with paint.
As citizens, we have the right to express ourselves in a peaceful and lawful protest. Yet this protest was neither peaceful nor lawful. And it was carried out by a firebrand who has turned her attentions to Eirigi in the belief that Sinn Fein has reneged on its Republican principles.
It would be a sad day for democracy if the public had to depend on Miss Minihan and her band of lunatics to protest on our behalf.
I firmly believe she should now face the full rigours of the law for this attack, and her idiotic behaviour should be a lesson to us all that there is a right way and a wrong way to protest.
I was listening to the radio the other day and was hugely disturbed at what I see as a worrying development in RTE, namely the practice of providing free publicity for stars of the station who are engaged in extra-curricular projects.
On this occasion it was Ryan Tubridy who was interviewed on Radio 1 following the death of John F Kennedy's speech writer Theodore Sorensen.
And of course he unashamedly plugged his own just-published tome on the Kennedy clan.
This scenario was repeated yesterday on the John Murray show when another RTE figure, Michael Murphy, was allowed to plug his book.
Frankly I find it unnerving because there should be a level playing field for all writers.
Ordinary plebs like myself, having published two books, couldn't pay for the publicity afforded to Tubs and his colleagues.
My heart goes out to singer Lily Allen who has suffered a miscarriage after six months of pregnancy. It's the second time this tragedy has hit Lily, and it is surely one of the most heartbreaking events that could befall any woman.
As as a father of five, I'm aware of the unspoken fear and anxiety that accompanies every pregnancy and the relief and joy that follows the safe arrival of every baby.
Following her miscarriage in 2008, Lily spoke of the black depression she suffered, and I fear that cloud is once again on the horizon It is an inexpressibly sad time for this talented singer.
This old life can be cruel and unforgiving so Lily and partner Sam Cooper will have to search deep into their souls to find the strength to carry on. They should not lose hope and please God in the future they will be blessed with a healthy and beautiful baby.
SHE has been caught up in her share of gaffes, but Education Minister Mary Coughlan is heading for the biggest mistake of her life if she sanctions a change to pupil/teacher ratios.
It seems Calamity Coughlan sees innocent children as a soft target and will happily meddle with class sizes in order to make savings. We're already trembling in trepidation at the prospect of a slash and burn Budget, but even the threat of cuts to pensions and social welfare won't alarm parents as much as the proposed savage cuts to education.
It is obvious from the Minister's latest public utterances that everything is on the table and nothing is sacrosanct. We have already been warned of a 66pc increase in third-level registration fees, despite being presided over by a Government that promised the abolition of fees.
Yet the most alarming and disturbing revelation is the fact that the next round of cutbacks will leave us with a shamefully high ratio of pupils to teachers. One of the great successes of the Celtic Tiger was the reduction of class sizes. I'm now making a heartfelt appeal to the minister not to meddle with this most vulnerable section of our society.
She earned the title Calamity Coughlan for a series of clumsy gaffes and embarrassing incompetencies. Now she has the chance to change that, by standing fast and refusing to tamper with the good work already achieved in education.
I would urge her to fight the good fight at the Cabinet table and avoid these cuts.
Who knows? Calamity Coughlan might some day be known instead as Caring Coughlan.