Monday, September 17, 2012

Omnipotent editorial practices and lousy leadership dooms the Irish Daily Star


Last week the editor of the Irish Daily Star published an unwanted and intrusive  photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge taken while she was sunbathing topless on vacation and at a private venue.

The editor of this newspaper described his decision as ‘a service to the paper’s readers’.  The Irish Daly Star is owned in a joint venture company, Independent Star Limited controlled by Independent News & Media Plc and Northern & Shell.

The outraged Jewish chairman of Northern & Shell, Richard Clive Desmond  (aged 60), 57th richest man in Britain with a net worth of £590 million, has announced a decision to dismantle the joint venture underpinning the Irish Daily Star while the other partner describes the publication of the photograph as a ‘poor editorial decision’.

If this was ‘a service to readers’ that the Stars readers’ really wanted, desired and valued the consequences would be reflected in higher circulation figures for the issues concerned. If it was not a service to readers it was an exercise to feed the pocket of a mercenary parasite.

But while daily newspaper circulation in Ireland has declined from 2006 to 2011 by 14%, from an average of 635,595 newspapers per day in the first half of 2006 to 536,025 in the latter half of 2005, the reduction of circulation of the Irish Daily Star has been significantly more severe.

An average of 104,054 copies of the Star sold each day in early 2006 according to statistics published by National Newspapers of Ireland but the corresponding figure for the latter half of 2011 was 81,105, a decline of 22%, or a drop of almost 23,000 copies daily.

Turnover has dropped from €43.1 million in 2006 to €40.6 million (-5.9%) in 2011 while profit on ordinary activities before taxation dropped from €5,841,787 to €4,293,102 (-26%) in the same period, a trend that would make Mr Desmond’s instincts edgy and uncertain, to say the least.  His wife apparently divorced him on grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ but is he likely to make such a definitive statement about the future of the Irish Daily Star and back away from the consequences? Hardly, if a history of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ has been eliminated.

How could the apparent omnipotent attitude of a newspaper editor who panders like a poodle to a voyeuristic predatory parasite with a camera really consider the publication of compromising photographs of a married woman to be ‘a service to readers’?

What consequences could such arbitrary decision making have on the interests of advertisers?  What reputable corporation would want to compromise the image of their products through association with a media that is so detached from the social values of Irish people?

Clearly waning circulation and growing disinterest in the Irish Daily Star by newspapers readers have taken their toll on the patience of at least one participant in the controlling joint venture.

But if Chairman Desmond’s decision to cut and run is devoid of commercial rational and the standard of leadership of the Irish Daily Star is not risible millions of euro in new venture capital will emerge and a new source of income will arise for Irish professional service providers.  Advertisers will flock to the paper to promote their strategically important products and services.  Readers will return in their tens of thousands and Editor O’Kane’s judgement will have been vindicated.

If it is not vindicated 80 people will be out of work as another Irish newspaper fails.

Last week Editor O’Kane stated that ‘I can think of no reason not to publish them’ referring to the photographs, having presumably paid the parasite who snapped them. 

Today it is reported that media controlled by Silvio Berlusconi (aged 76) is to publish similar photographs. He may regard this as another noteworthy milestone of his long life but perhaps the most important facet of his durable legacy will be feeding the appetite of a million starving maggots from his carcass after his demise, while a thousand hookers look elsewhere to make a living after he takes tenure in a chipboard coffin.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Should Hugh O’Flaherty use a media soapbox to engage in political advocacy?

Today’s edition of the Irish Independent features a front page banner proclaiming that ‘Hugh O’Flaherty Joins the Independent’. O’Flaherty is a former justice of the Irish Supreme Court who resigned abruptly in 1999.

It has not been customary for a former judge of any Irish court to climb onto a political soapbox after ceasing to be a judge, or even to revert to court advocacy. Has that not been the argument to justify paying them such absurdly high salaries and exceptionally generous retirement packages?

The decision of Hugh O’Flaherty to peddle his political sound-bites through the Fourth Estate is extraordinary. He resigned abruptly from the Supreme Court because interventions he had made with respect to a the Philip Sheedy case were deemed by the Chief Justice to be possibly open to misinterpretation and could therefore potentially damage the administration of justice and the integrity of judicial process.

Mr Sheedy, an architect,  was convicted following the death of Anne Ryan in a fatal road accident near Tallaght in 1996. He had been driving a recently acquired high-performance sports car while intoxicated.  He was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving in the Dublin Circuit Court presided over by Mr Justice Cyril KellyMr Justice Matthews had been asked by Kelly to preside over the sentencing of Sheedy who applied a four-year sentence with leave to apply for a review of the sentence after two years in October 1999. 

Sheedy was initially jailed in Mountjoy Prison for the first six months and then moved to an open prison, Shelton Abbey.  While at the open prison he was visited by his friend Joe Burke, a former building contractor and Fianna Fáil county councillor and confidante of Bertie Ahern, who had loaned Ahern £3,500. Sheedy had been employed by Burke as an architectural adviser in J & H Burke Enterprises Limited.

Ahern approached Justice Minister John O’Donoghue to enquire in July 1998 if Sheedy could be granted day release from prison but this request was rejected. 

O’Flaherty’s intervention occurred after me apparently casually met Sheedy’s sister in October 1998 and he invited the County Registrar to his Supreme Court chambers to have the Sheedy case relisted, as an application to have the review date vacated was granted by the sentencing judge on 6 November 1997.

Following O’Flaherty’s intervention Mr Justice Kelly (not the Jusge Matthews who sentenced Sheedy)  reviewed Sheedy’s sentence on 12 November 1998  The remainder of the sentence was remitted but neither the Gardaí or the Director of Public Prosecutions were told about the review or that Sheedy had been released from jail.

The DPP challenged Kelly’s decision in February 1999 at which time Sheedy had voluntarily returned to prison. O’Donoghue asked the Chief Justice to investigate the case whose finding was that Kelly’s handling of the Sheedy case and O’Flaherty’s intervention compromised the administration of justice. Both Kelly and the County Registrar resigned their positions which at that time was that of High Court judge in the case of Kelly.

Mr Flaherty seems to have abandoned his desire in 1999 for privacy but is the custom of former judges keeping their personal views private not better practice for the sake of judicial independence?

If not, where is this process heading? Will judges next feature in television advertisements climbing out of kitchen cupboards on their hands and knees to flog the virtue of their journalistic scoops?

The purpose of the Constitution is to define the nation and its boundaries values, one of the most cherished of which is the integrity and independence of the judiciary. That principle ought to have precedence over the ramblings of a former judge about political decisions if the entire judicial system is not to degenerate into a television soap opera based on three-minute sound bites by wannabe actors.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dr Jerimiah Newman, Bishop of Limerick was ‘no pushover’

The Safeguarding Board of the Catholic Church in Ireland has published the findings of its second audit of safeguarding practices and policies.  A summary of the findings for the first and second tranche reveals:


  First Tranche Review
(6 dioceses)
Second Tranche Review
(4 dioceses)
Three religious Authorities 

Number of individuals subject to an allegation




Number of allegations received




Convictions related to these allegations





The three religious authorities reported a higher incidence of abuse allegations than the dioceses and the reviews also found significant practice deficits, such as non-reporting or delayed reporting of allegations when these emerged.

The Diocese of Limerick was one of those included in the Second Tranche.  The audit dealt with complaints received from 1975 to the present.  Since 1940 some 500 priests ministered in Limerick and 26 of these were the subject of complaints.

The Bishop of Limerick from May 1974 to April 1995 was Limerick native, Dr Jerimiah Newman (31 March 1926-7 April 1995), former President of St Patrick’s seminary Maynooth.  His 21-year tenure compares with that of his predecessors – David Keane (1923-1945) – 32 years, Patrick O’Neill (1945-1958) – 13 years and Henry Murphy (1958-1974) – 16 years.

The report found that reporting practice was very poor and even potentially dangerous.  There was documentary evidence that Newman, while apparently having knowledge of a priest’s  abusive behaviour in England, allowed him to minister in Limerick where he abused again.

The Diocese of Limerick heritage web site contains a biography of Newman which reads

Dr Newman was by nature a student of philosophy, specialising in social philosophy and with particular emphasis on Church/State relations.  His research, lectures and many publications earned him international renown.  He as gifted with a clear, sharp logical mind allied with great mental powers of retention and recall and had a tremendous capacity for work.  He was a man who had the courage of his convictions and was outspoken on many of the social and political issues of the day .  It was not easy to score debating points against him.  Loyalty to the teaching of the Church and to the Holy See was a top priority for him.  As Bishop of Limerick, his presence and influence were felt, not only in Limerick, but nationally.  His statements on matters of Church and State made the headlines and got widespread attention.

Though he was kind and considerate in dealing with his priests, he was never what one might call ‘a pushover’.  His priests respected him for the way he treated them and for the confidence and trust he put in them.  He had a pleasant sense of humour, was quick witted and a good conversationalist.  These qualities enabled him to relate well with people.  He showed the common touch, as could be witnessed by the ease with which he mingled among young and old.  He was indeed much loved and appreciated.  He was concerned for the welfare of the people throughout County Limerick and displayed competent leadership on the relevant issues of the city and region.

As President of Maynooth College he got an insight into University organisation which enabled him, as Bishop of Limerick to make a positive contribution.

He left behind a well organised diocese where the faith of the people is very much alive and pastoral policy in its many and varied aspects is clearly outlined.

In any list of great Bishops of Limerick, the name of Dr Jerimiah Newman would have to be among the first’

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Where now with the abortion issue in Ireland?

Abortion has been illegal in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

The 8th Amendment to the Constitution in October 1983 introduced for the first time a constitutional ban on abortion by inserting Article 40.3.3:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as is practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right’.

The 8th Amendment was passed by a margin of 66.9% to 33.1% based on 1,265,994 votes and a voter turnout of 53.67%.

provides The 14th amendment to the Irish Constitution in 1992 specified that the constitutional ban would not prohibit the right to distribute information, subject to restriction as maybe prescribed by law, about abortion services in other countries. The 14th Amendment was passed by a margin of 59.8% to 40.2% based on 1,732,433 and a voter turnout of 68.1%.

The Report of the Expert Group established by the Minister for Health following the judgement of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is anticipated shortly.

This case involved three applicants A, B, and C, each of whom had a crisis pregnancy and their claim against Ireland was that there had been violations of Articles 2,3,8,13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Grand Chamber determined that there had been a violation of Article 8 in respect of one applicant, C. Article 8 states that:

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Expert Group, under the leadership of Mr Justice Seán Ryan, has been mandated to examine this judgement and the implications of it on the provision of healthcare services to pregnant women in Ireland. They are also asked to recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgement taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy.

During the decade between 2002 and 2011 a total of 51,945 women, resident in the Republic of Ireland, had an abortion in England and Wales, of whom 415 were under the age 16 years and 5,922 were between the ages of 17 and 19. The corresponding total figure for Northern Ireland was 12,195 pregnancies terminated.

A total of 1.96 million abortions were conducted in England and Wales from 2002 to 2011 and 81% of these abortions were carried out for single women, a proportion that has risen from 76% since 2001. Some 20,299 of these abortions were carried out because there was a congenital malformation of the foetus under Statutory Ground E. These included deficiencies in the nervous system and chromosomal abnormalities as well as issues connected to maternal factors, congenital infectious disease and other disorders.

An abortion is a pregnancy lost in the first trimester, or 14 weeks, of pregnancy. The term, however, is applied to the termination of pregnancy by other means. A miscarriage occurs when a pregnancy is lost between 14 and 28 weeks which has traditionally been the point of independent viability although viability has been established as early as 24 weeks. A foetal heartbeat is evident from approximately 20 weeks gestation and a foetus can be independently viable from 24-28 weeks.

British abortion legislation does not apply to Northern Ireland and practice there varies from that in Great Britain. About 30 pregnancies are terminated each year in Northern Ireland on grounds that the foetus is abnormal.

The European Convention of Human Rights is of considerable significance for any discussion of the law relating to abortion for two reasons. Firstly the European Court of Human Rights can express an opinion as to whether there has been a violation of the Convention is a complaint is brought by an applicant. Secondly, the Convention has a special status in EU law. The 1992 Treaty of the European Union (Maastricht) provides that the EU shall respect fundamental rights (inter alia) as guaranteed by the Convention as general principles of EU law.

But Protocol 17 to the Treaty of the European Union states that:

Nothing in the Treaty on European Union, or in the Treaties establishing the European Communities, or in the Treaties or Acts modifying or supplementing those Treaties, shall affect the application in Ireland of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland.

There has also been a steady reduction in the number of Irish residents seeking to terminate crisis pregnancies in Britain with the annual number declining each year from 6,522 in 2002 to 4,149 in 2011.

Referendums in 1983 and 1992 have shown that it is extremely difficult to formulate referendum proposals on abortion. Ambiguities have been exposed in defining abortion and it is next to impossible to identify terms that convey certainty of meaning.

The All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution deliberated on this issue from 1997 to 2000.  A Green Paper on abortion was referred to the Government in 1999.Submissions were considered from a wide range of interests – civic, medical and religious.

The Committee considered 7 scenarios:

  1. an absolute constitutional ban on abortion
  2. an amendment to the Constitution provision so as to restrict the application of the X Supreme Court case in 1992 concerning the threat of self-destruction can amount to a substantial risk to the life of the mother.
  3. the retention of the status quo
  4. the retention of the constitutional status quo with legislative restatement of the prohibition on abortion
  5. legislation to regulate abortion in circumstances defined by the 1992 X Case
  6. a reversion to the pre-1983 position
  7. permitting abortion on grounds beyond those specified in the X Case.

The Committee agreed that a major problem facing Ireland is the large number of crisis pregnancies which resulted in recourse to abortion services elsewhere; that a decade ago there was an urgent need to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and the importance of alternatives to abortion being available.