Author Archives: johnkilleagh

Debating the 8th

We now have less than one week to go until we vote on the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.  The amendment currently outlaws abortion in Ireland, except under circumstances where the life of the mother is under imminent danger.

Anytime I have debated the issue of abortion I try to keep a few guidelines for myself:

  • I do not know if the person to whom I am speaking has ever had an abortion, or suffered a miscarriage.  Therefore, I need to be mindful of the hurt that others carry
  • My views on religion are not always shared by others –  and I do not have the right to force those views on others

This has been a difficult campaign, with some campaigners spreading vitriol and venom: personalising attacks on those who hold a different viewpoint to themselves.  This is as sad to watch as it is understandable. This is a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ issue. There is no maybe.

However, there is one hard truth to be faced:  In 2016 a total of 3,265 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in the UK.  That’s 9 women and girls a day travelling to the UK for an abortion.

Abortion happens in Ireland, whether we like it or not.  We just export it at a great cost to the women who travel. The cost is not just financial, it is in terms of health. The risks inherent in getting a medical procedure with no follow-through or back-up available afterwards mean that some of these women suffer mental and physical trauma as they journey home afterwards.

One argument against abortion is that we should be able to do better as a country and look after women and children.  It’s a lovely idea – but not a reality that we are likely to see happen anytime soon.  Just look at this country’s history in protecting the vulnerable, we seem to be far better at protecting institutions.  If we truly care about the life of the unborn, then we need to do more to change the world that our children are being born into.

I think that Sr. Joan Chittister put it very well.  We need a broader conversation about what pro-life really is.  But until that Utopian moment arrives we need to deal with the reality of the struggle that so many women go through each year in Ireland.

 

Over the past few weeks I have heard a number of stories and read a number of accounts by women who have had abortions in traumatic circumstances.  Women who carried children who could not survive birth; women who felt they could not care for a child due to poverty or an abusive relationship; women who were not women but children themselves when this all happened.

Many on the No side have not shown respect towards women in crisis. I personally find a number of the posters distasteful, insensitive and occasionally emotionally abusive. That some do this in the name of their faith displays a faith lacking in compassion.

Whether abortion is legalised or not, I’m going to leave the last words to a friend of mine:

“The place of the Christian outside the abortion clinic is not shouting at those going in but holding and loving those coming out”  Scott Evans – Closer Still

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A ‘Thank You’

A little over two months ago the lives of me, my family and friends were hit by the sudden loss of my brother Finbar.

The days and weeks that followed were a blur; with plenty of crying, frustration, sadness and some aimlessness.

A thing that struck me so strongly from the first day is just how good people are. The day Finbar died we had neighbours and friends out fixing the road, preparing the house for the wake, looking after the farm, and caring for us and those that travelled to be with us.

It was such a comfort that friends and neighbours were willing to take charge. We didn’t need to worry about any practical things. We were fed, watered, kept warm. Our children were minded, our visitors were cared for. People were just amazing.

Friends travelled from all across the country to be with us. People drove from Dublin, Galway and many other corners of the country to join us for the funeral, and then took the long journey home again. An incredible gesture of support and humanity from so many.

When he died, Finbar was in the middle of renovations of his house and some of his friends decided that they would finish the renovations and have the house ready for his Month Mind mass. (For anyone who doesn’t live in Rural Ireland, this is a Mass held about one month after someone dies – usually a more gentle get together than the jolt of a funeral mass).

The next month was inspiring. This group of men came up to Finbar’s house on their free weekends and evenings to do plastering, electrical, plumbing, flooring, painting and general cleaning up. It was a humbling display, exercise, of generosity. It was so touching to see so many lads who’s lives were touched by Finbar, and who wanted to do something to pay tribute to him.

Equally valuable were the visitors. My dad is 87 now, and having people come and sit with him has been a huge comfort. I’ve developed a new appreciation of how important my own friends are in my life, and so glad for all those who have taken time to come and visit.

Last week we had a fun chance to get together. One of Finbar’s friends had made a short film based in the Star Wars universe, and we were invited to the premier in Mitchelstown Caves. It was a great evening, and the film was dedicated to Finbar, so that was very touching. (Read This if you want a bit more on the film)

Years ago I heard a great piece of advice: “When someone is hurting, don’t just offer ‘if there’s anything I can do, call’. Instead offer something concrete, and take that burden off of them”. Without being told to do so, it’s what hundreds of people have done for me and my family over the past few months.

For that I am deeply grateful, and can never fully repay that kindness. If you’re reading this, thank you.

DSC01816

Finbar. May you rest in peace.

Pesky Public Pensions

Those pesky public sector workers.  Them and their pensions are costing us money, and we need to sort it out.

Of course their unions are going to stand up for them, they are entitled to do so.

So runs the core of the argument by Paschal Donoghue, the minister for Public Expenditure.

It is now nearly nine years since the infamous bank guarantee, and we will be paying the cost of that mistake for years to come.  That mistake, on top of a property bubble and a global financial crisis created a financial crisis in Ireland that has cost us in an obvious business level, but also cost Ireland as a society: one just needs to look at the trolly crisis in hospitals, the cutting of resources in the Gardaí, in schools, in the broader public service.

It may have got old to say this by now, but the people being made to pay for the crisis were not the ones who created it.  The ongoing cost of the bank guarantee alone was something like €60 billion euro, with the interest costing approximately €1 billion every year. And yet, despite not being the ones to cause this crisis (it’s not over as we’re still paying the costs), members of the public service are still expected to suffer penalties.

For a while now the Fine Gael line has been that the public service bill is too high, and was part of the problem. And so, the public sector took some brutal pay cuts and changes to conditions in order to help the country as a whole deal with the mess that we, as a society, were in.

That cost has proven to be huge.

  • People have died while waiting on trollies in hospitals.
  • A&E units are swamped, leading to longer waiting times with greater stress on patients and medical staff
  • School resources cut and pupil/teacher ratios increased leading to poorer outcomes for many students
  • Longer working hours across the public service, less pay, and even less pay for those unfortunate enough to get their jobs after 2011
  • Wives and partners of those serving in the Army forced to protest because the pay is so poor

And yet, even with all this, the minister decides to push the idea that the public service costs too much and that he needs to cut where he can – with pensions the focus of today’s agenda.  Yes, we’ll finally reduce the pension levy, but must find a different way to get you to pay for the pensions.  So, um, get rid of the levy so long as we can keep the levy?

For me, there’s a premise behind all of this.  That the public service is a low-value cost, that should be cut where possible.  It’s a premise that I refuse to accept.

The public service is an integral part of Irish society, and is an excellent investment.

Just look at the work done by so many people across so many different parts of the public sector.  

  • Look at how hard our nurses and doctors work
  • Look at what teachers bring to and from their students
  • Look at the pride our navy has brought us from its mission in the Mediterranean

Fine Gael has managed to dominate the discussion of public sector pay by simplifying it to basic numbers.  An effective and healthy public service is more than a simplistic stating of the blunt cost.  The cost must be understood in context, and the value of what is achieved by the public service.  There is great value in the work being done, and it is Fine Gael that is devaluing it.

An open letter to the Irish Times

140 characters is usually enough

Dear Sir,

I buy a copy of the Irish Times every day. Over a week, it costs me €12.90 and I usually consider that to be money very well spent.

I am saddened that you chose to publish online an article written by – but not identified as – a member of the white supremacist “alt-right” movement. The article contained racist phraseology and was published even as its author was tweeting racist comments about refugee children.

This is not to suggest for a moment that the Irish Times should ignore the so-called “alt-right”, but neither should you publish their propaganda as clickbait.

This week I will not be spending €12.90 on the Irish Times but will instead take that sum, top it up to twenty quid, and donate the money to the Irish Refugee Council.

Please consider this my small protest against a very bad decision on your part.

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Trump and Public Discourse

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller

Like an awful lot of people, I woke up on Wednesday morning to a sense of shock and disbelief.  Donald Trump had won the US election, and I just couldn’t believe it.

It was hard to stomach, because, on the face of it Trump espoused values that we have seen as being abhorrent, malign, vicious, cruel and petty.

Wednesday was a day spent in a daze, trolling through social media looking for some release of emotion – and there was plenty of emotion there.  Fear, mostly; and shock that over 60 MILLION people voted for him.

So, to put a shape on my thought: What has he said, what will he be like in power, what are the likely repercussions, and what will my reaction be?

What Has He Said?

Over the course of the campaign Trump has been a bruising fighter.  He has displayed an absolute ruthlessness in how he deals with anyone with the misfortune to cross his sights:

  • He has mocked a disabled reporter
  • He has referred to Mexicans in America as rapists and criminals (but he thinks that some are probably ok)
  • He has boasted about sexually assaulting women (and then dismissed it as locker room talk)
  • He has said if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he could be dating her (!)
  • He tried to deny Obama’s citizenship
  • He tried to promote violence against protesters in his rallies “I’ll pay the legal fees”
  • He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States

What Will He Be Like In Power?

The simple fact is that we don’t know what he will actually be like in power.  For the very good reason that the American system has checks and balances.  There is the Senate and there is the House of Representatives.  The politicians here all care about being re-elected, and some may have their eyes on a larger prize.  I REALLY hope that they will be able to put the brakes on some of his excesses.

However, some of the signs aren’t good: his Vice President is a right wing Christian who thinks members of the LGBT community can be ‘cured’ by conversion therapy.  Hmmm.  Not to be underestimated is the sinister nature of an advisor who wants to start a register of all Muslims in America.

Public Discourse

Let’s take the idea (possible fairytale) that the checks and balances work, and that Trump doesn’t get to exert the xenophobic, homophobic, islamophobic, misogynistic ideas that he appears to treasure.

No. Even if Trump is kept in check, he has still done an untold amount of damage to Public Discourse.

You see, even if he is kept in check, his words have been uttered.  He has spoken, and he has been repeated, quoted, and (God help us) admired.

There is a trickle down (or flash flood) effect from his words.  When the head of state speaks as if misogyny, racism, discrimination and hatred are normal – then it’s fair to assume a number of citizens will take that lead.

His words alone won’t create racists – but they do give freedom to any racist to express their repugnant views.  Already, there is a lot of evidence of an increase of racism.

So, there is a lot to fear.  Will the next 4 years see the dismantling of civil society?  Will we see a rampant increase in hate crime; in sexual assault; in intolerance?

The fact that the Ku Klux Klan can announce a parade to celebrate Trump’s election means I’m not optimistic.  In other news, one Southern University had posters put up warning white women not to date black men.

My (Our) Response?

As a people, we can’t allow hatred to win.

In a number of American cities there are ongoing protests against Trump’s victory, and against the policies he as spewed.  This is partly heartening, but partly disheartening as some of the protests have turned violent (the very antithesis of what the protests were intended for)

However, correcting a slide in civic discourse is a task that falls to all of us.

How often have any of us:

  • heard racist language against someone in our presence?
  • seen a person with disability overlooked or belittled?
  • tolerated institutional racism in our own country? (Direct Provision in Ireland, anyone?)
  • seen discrimination of women?

It is the task of all of us to stand up to discrimination and hatred in all its forms.  And this only works in a spirit of nonviolence.  Look to the heroes of the 20th century – people like Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King.

This kind of thing isn’t easy.  The good stuff never comes easy, but is worthwhile.  We need to speak out. We need to speak out for the socialists, the Trade Unionists, the Jews.  And yes, we need to speak out for the Muslims, for the members of the LGBT community, for the poor, in fact for any minority who’s Human Rights are being undermined.

There has been huge progress in civil rights over the past century, let’s not let the next four years undermine all of that.

And for any Americans out there – look to the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

statue-of-liberty-writing

 

Fair and Equitable?

If one is to believe his appearances on news programmes recently, Our Dear Leader is a champion of all things ‘Fair and Equitable’.  In the government’s current spat with the ASTI Enda Kenny has resorted to a regular set of phrases designed to make the ASTI position appear to be, simply unfair (and possibly inequitable).

It really is a genius piece of spin.  Had we stayed within Lansdowne Road then younger members would benefit financially.  However, this is “contingent on the introduction of certain reform measures”  (have a look, paragraph 2 of the press release).  This all glosses over the simple fact that even with this increase, new teachers (within Lansdowne Road) are still paid a substandard starting salary in comparison to their pre-2011 counterparts.

The government is excellent at trumpeting good news in a manner to hide underlying facts.  The recent announcement regarding extra SNAs is really just a Cup and Ball Trick.

But I digress – Enda’s language got me thinking that if Fine Gael really is the arbiter of what’s fair and equitable in Education, then maybe FG policy is a shining example of how to treat the Education Sector with fairness.  So let’s have a quick recap of FG policies in relation to Education:

Repeated cuts in School Capitation

Capitation is the basis for a school budget.  Each school depends on capitation to pay the bills, hire the busses, get the books, repair the leaks, etc.  While all schools have had their capitation cut – this is inequitable.  Schools with a wealthier catchment area can rely on parents to subsidise some of the expenses.  Schools in a disadvantaged simply don’t have this option.

Increase the Pupil Teacher Ratio

In a larger classroom students don’t get the same level of attention.  It’s that simple.  Anyone who is claiming that a larger P/T ratio does not affect students is either untruthful or deluded.  Students benefit when their teacher can pay attention.

Get rid of Guidance Counsellors

It’s not easy to discern what you want to do with your life, and how to pick the best subjects and college courses for you.  That’s the job of guidance counsellors, and apparently one that the Government thinks we can do without.  Sure, they’ll argue that schools can now allocate resources as they see fit.  Really?  The choice is no guidance counsellor or yet larger class sizes.  Unless the school has the wealthier catchment area, in which case it may have the resources to fund a guidance counsellor.

Reduce supports for students with Special Education Needs

Fewer SNAs, fewer resource teachers. Think about this one – the group of students with the greatest challenges in school have had their supports cut.  How about that for fairness?

Strip resources for the National Educational Psychological Service (via the moratorium on employment)

NEPS provides huge support to schools.  One facet of this support is assessment – schools get access to a NEPS psychologist, and can provide some assessments during the year.  (Well, since the cuts, that now means ONE assessment for many schools).  Again, this is inequitable – some families can afford private assessments, some cannot.

Removal of middle management posts (Assistant Principal and Special Duties)

In any career people like to have the option of professional progression.  The removal of posts has removed that option for the vast majority of teachers.  Schools now depend on goodwill to get a number of jobs done – and this is putting more stress on principals and existing post holders.

Cut Teachers’ pay (in a number of ways – USC, Pension Related Deduction, Freeze increments)

Any teacher can look at his or her payslip and see all the extra deductions that are there.  The PRD grates as we have always paid into our pension, and have viewed a pension as ‘deferred pay’.  All workers suffer under the USC.  For a number of years we have had increments frozen.  The net affect of all of this is that teachers are still being paid less now than they were in 2007.

Cut Pay for the youngest teachers

I honestly don’t know exactly how this one happened.  Some say that the unions sold out the younger workers, and others say that this cut was done under FEMPI, beyond the control of the unions.  Maybe the unions were simply out-manoeuvred.  The simple fact is that our younger colleagues are on an inferior scale, and our government is unwilling to accept the principle that NQTs are entitled to equal pay for equal work.

Cut the rates and allowances for working for the State Examinations Commission

Just about every teacher has worked for a while correcting exams.  My first time doing it I was told I was about to undertake ‘the best inservice training ever’.  And it was.  The money was also pretty good.  However that has all been cut -and a number of experienced teachers have given up.  Come June and you will find the SEC posting ads for some positions that have not yet been filled.

Cut mileage and conference allocations

Attending conferences is good for professional development.  However, new rules mean that many of these conferences now take place on weekends, and any allowances for getting there are cut.  The fact that the conferences are still taking place is a testament to the professionalism of teachers who are giving up free time to improve their professional practice.

Change the sick pay entitlements

Nobody wants to get sick – but it is nice to know that if you get sick then there is a safety net to help. However the length of time this support is in place for has been cut.  Something that adds to the worry and stress of any teacher facing a serious illness.

 

Add to all of this we have a Taoiseach who has repeatedly been unwilling to give a straight answer to the question if he would be prepared to accept the principle of equal pay.

So, it’s a bit rich when Enda talks about his government working constantly for what’s ‘Fair and Equitable’.  His policies speak far louder than his words.  Fine Gael has overseen years of cuts in education and appears to have no intention to reverse these cuts.  Fairness and Equality have nothing to do with their policies.  The only thing that seems to matter is to balance a budget.

Voice your concerns

Today, Wednesday 26th October, I watched the news aghast as I saw the Government announce that it plans to remove ASTI members from the payroll on November 7th.  This is a new low of dirty tricks and something that has shocked anyone I know to the core.

One of the only things that politicians listen to is votes. Actually, I thing it’s one of the only things many of them care about – full stop. (but then, the past 8 years of treatment by Irish Politicians has turned me into something of a cynic)

I’d encourage you to let your local politicians know how you feel about the government’s treatment of teachers.

Actually, not just teachers are suffering – the cuts have hurt students.

What can any one of us do?  Not a lot as an individual, but as a group we have a voice. Exercise your voice, write to your TD.  Here’s a sample I sent to my local TDs in the run up to the recent General Election:

Dear David

In GE11 I voted for a combination of Labour/Fine Gael.  In Cork East this became yourself, Tom Barry and Sean Sherlock.

In GE16 I will not be voting for you or Sean.  Why?

Well, I am a School Chaplain, a teacher, and I’ve seen the damage that your combined policies have done to education and those suffering from disadvantage.

A quick sampling:

Removal of Guidance Counsellors: affects children of disadvantage to a greater degree.  They may not have the family resources to research college choices.

Increased Pupil Teacher Ratio: This affects all students, but will affect weaker students to a greater degree.

Capitation Cuts: School budgets were even cut in Budget 2016!  Year on year schools are being given less to work with.  And then the mantra becomes one of greater productivity.  This is a nonsense.  Schools have a great many needs, and cutting funding will affect schools ability to do the best for their students.

Unequal Pay Scales:  I could be doing the exact same job as one of my colleagues, but simply because he/she received a contract after 2011 they will be paid less?  This is an incredible injustice and one that Labour and Fine Gael should be absolutely ashamed of.

Cuts to SNAs, Resource Hours: Obviously, this will affect weaker students more.  It simply cannot be justified.

 

I write in the hope that you can pass on to your colleagues the depth of feeling of many teachers.  Further, I hope that you pass this message onto your colleagues.  A huge number of teachers are fed up with what Labour & Fine Gael have done to education.

 

Regards

John Hurley