Six of us left the university campus, running predictably late, and made our way over to the Guildhall. This was the final destination of the victory parade of Swansea City after claiming the League Cup on Sunday in a 0-5 defeat over Bradford. It was a momentous occasion in the club’s 100 year history being their first major trophy, and, as a speaker later went to great pains to highlight, the first time a Welsh team had won it.
We walked down Mumbles Road and due to one of the group having hours previous passed his PhD defence our spirits were high. However, we couldn’t say the same for the gentleman we came upon who was having car troubles.
There was some concern amongst the group that we’d left it too late and probably missed the arrival of the team bus. The eldest of us – taking a well earned break from extinguishing the light in the eyes of students by building a convincing case against free will – tapped into his infinite, aged, wisdom and proclaimed that “These things always run late.” followed by a less assured “Don’t they?” He wasn’t wrong.
As we turned the corner onto the Guildhall the team bus was just at that moment moving at a crawl through the assembled fans. Perfect timing.
The Swans mascots also made an appearance with the players atop the double decker bus. Apparently there are two. One male, and presumably one female. You know, because it’s got pink feathers and looks ‘girly’… The male on the other hand looked like a very moody breadstick. By the looks of it he didn’t appreciate me taking a photo of him either. I can almost hear him hissing. I’m sure there’s some joke and pop reference to Angry Birds in there somewhere but I’ll spare you.
Some of the jubilant Swansea fans took to the rooftops in a Beatles-esque moment.
Other people took advantage of the very specific demographic that turned out for the event by offering flags and various items of clothing emblazoned with the black and white colours of Swansea.
After the initial excitement of the team’s arrival the cheers of the crowd were drowned out by, at least to me, an unknown figure with a microphone. He boomed over our heads trying to whip us into an even greater state of frenzy before the team, and all associated with them, made their way through from the back of the Guildhall.
The excitable and affable speaker invited Swansea City manger Michael Laudrup forward and made a remark to the effect of Laudrup being elected president of Denmark only for Laudrup to retort “…we don’t have a president” to the amusement of the crowd. Laudrup went on to state that “The first time you win something like that (League Cup) it’s tremendous.” and while expressing his pride and also that the players are always the most important element in any success, he thanked the crowd for turning out on a cold February evening.
Clearly I struggled to get a good vantage point for my camera but others had no such problem. Granted they may not have been too excited by what they were seeing.
The microphone maestro invited various players forward to speak and thank the fans. There was some banter about the fans being warm to welcome the team back in this fashion with a player quipping that “I think they’re cold!” – in reference to the conditions – but the most amusement was had with the appearance of Chico Flores. “Hello my friends. My English is not very good but it’s important.” he began, presumably referring to their victory. The keeper of the microphone joked “I’ll translate. He said, ‘My English is not very good but I’m important’ ” which was met with laugher from the crowd. After having other things he said mistranslated from poor English into poor humour Chico rounded his speech off with a cry of “I love you!
At this point I realised I was in the situation where nature was calling at the most inopportune time. I made a quick escape in search of facilities. It was only then that I noticed the television broadcast vans.
On my return to the celebration I popped over and was kindly allowed to take a snap of the interior of the van in the foreground above. The tech nerd in me couldn’t resist.
From there the event began to wind down. Not that this was a cue for our group to return home. Far from it. We embarked on a dual celebration of Swansea City’s success and that of my aforementioned colleague. We popped into the pub next door and admittedly had a few pints. While there I noticed one of the punters had apparently decided that the pub was the best place to watch The Ricky Gervais Show. If he was having a beer I’d imagine a lot of Pilkington’s streams of consciousness would become even more difficult to follow.
As the evening progressed, at one point, apparently my hand had swollen to gargantuan proportions dwarfing my pint.
From there the evening’s festivities continued, resulting – inevitably perhaps – in some members of the group being a little worse for wear by nights end than others, but that’s a tale for another time. To their credit they all made it into work the following day. Myself included. Well done to Swansea City for a truly admirable journey of success and may the future bring more of the same. The parade was a great family event, on a par with the Olympic torch passing through Swansea, and also the perfect launching pad for our night of celebrations.
The following angry poem is meant as a release of my frustrations regarding the blatant corruption and insincerity, and worse, of our elected officials, specifically in this case the UK but I think the sentiment could be transposed to most nations.
These fucking Politicians.
These fucking politicians and their fucking lies,
A photo-op eating their subjects’ pies.
These fucking politicians and their harebrained schemes,
The big society’s not what it seems.
These fucking politicians and their media friends,
Cosy lunches and texts, to what end?
These fucking politicians protecting the banks,
Take the public’s money without even a thanks.
These fucking politicians, they have no shame,
Coerce their wife to take the blame.
These fucking politicians, don’t justify their expense,
Known henceforth for their embezzlement.
These fucking politicians, whoring their reach,
Yet values they hypocritically preach.
These fucking politicians taking from the vulnerable,
Spin some bullshit that they’re the real criminals.
These fucking politicians and their strategic distractions,
To keep us apart and in warring factions.
These fucking politicians the career hungry dogs,
Climbed to the top of the heap, self proclaimed demigods.
These fucking politicians, the many headed beast,
Cut one off, it’s quickly replaced.
Lest we forget these fucking politicians and their illegal wars,
Death toll rises, lack accountability at all.
These fucking politicians.
We’re all to blame.
These fucking politicians.
We need to change.
Senior Cabinet meeting within Leinster House: Lads we need a sound bite to distract the people from the kicking they got in the budget. Umm … we could give the teachers another kicking I suppose.
Brendan Howlin, Irish Minister for Public Expenditure, has recently come out in the press – not like that stop sniggering – to deliver another kicking to a section of the public service. The objects of his ire on this occasion were teachers, more specifically, bad teachers and the necessity to remove them from their positions. Full disclosure here folks as I am a newly qualified teacher and as such, am fully in support of the removal of ‘bad’ teachers.
I support this on a purely selfish level, as the savage public services cuts have made it almost impossible to get a job in the career I returned to education in my mid-twenties to qualify for and also on a broader professional level. The position of teacher is far too important a position to be left to those who, have either lost whatever love they had for what is a vocation or who got into the job for all the wrong reasons. They are the same reasons which make public servants, teachers in particular, such easy targets for politicians hoping to score points after another savage budget. Job security, five-day work weeks, long holidays and general ignorance about what is required to survive and flourish in the field are the usual suspects that rear their heads when it is the teachers’ turn in the firing line.
I could bore you to death with the same arguments you’ll hear from any teacher defending themselves and their positions. We are in loco parentis for eight hours of the day; we are actors, counsellors and so much more. There are however a couple of elements of Minister Howlin’s statement which particularly grate.
The decision to send one’s children to ‘grinds’ (extra tuition outside of school) in an effort to improve their results falls on parents alone. To blame teachers for students taking grinds is a blatant example of ignoring a huge number of variables just to support your argument. Perhaps Minister Howlin has suddenly had selective amnesia and forgotten the last three budgets. Larger student teacher ratios and the removal of special needs assistants may also have had an effect. Perhaps it was the political culture whose short-term thinking saw them throw money at people instead of introducing the systemic and structural changes when we had the money to pay for them. Minister Howlin expects teachers to do more, for less and in more difficult circumstances. No problem Brendan, is there anything else while we’re at it?
The Teaching Council, to which I a pay a sizeable chunk annually to regulate my profession, has already put in place procedures, which are less than 2 years old, to deal with under performing teachers. This includes more visits to schools and more paperwork, such as detailed lesson plans and schemes of work, which teachers are required to provide at a moments notice to show just how prepared they are to take on the difficult task of educating children. This of course only scratches the surface of what teachers have to face, there are students for whom a full day of attendance in the school can be seen as a major victory. So what is so wrong with these provisions that would require a Minister of State to launch another attack? What exactly is it that he requires from teachers to justify their position?
My fear is that this is going to turn into a race to the bottom. The ‘data management’ style of brass tacks numbers will see teachers being judged on the results their students get. This is one of those things which seems very reasonable on the surface but, once delved deeper into, is the type of policy that ruins the lives of teachers and students alike. As I stated in my opening paragraph I am a newly qualified teacher and as such am in a prime position to impart how teachers are being taught in Ireland. One of the words that popped up with regularity during my training was ‘holistic’. Previously the utterance of this word would have sent my eyes rolling back into my head with a sharp intake of breath. This of course is because the word has been co-opted by individuals who believe in Homeopathy and other such hokum but as my course progressed the word was reclaimed and in the end I ended up defending my use of it to friends when talking about the education system in Ireland. We are being asked to help create well-rounded individuals, to focus of literacy and numeracy, to find ways of making our subjects relevant and interesting, to create an active and inclusive learning environment in an effort to move away from rote learning during which cross curricular links are forged, and all this with one eye on the needs of the economy. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So a result driven system where judgements are made on a final grade do nobody any good and run directly in the face of how teachers are trained.
One would almost believe that the statement made by Minister Howlin was just an effort to distract the nation from more immediate problems. I am not alone in finding this political culture tiresome and insulting. The statement spurred me to write this piece on the difficult role teachers face, those that can get a job that is (grumble grumble), but perhaps the real issue is the inherent disrespect the government has for teachers and the difficult jobs they do, and indeed for everyone else in society; that they think taking a swipe at easy targets will distract us for a period while they muddle on in corruption and ineptitude serving their real bosses. This is the same political culture which sees people on social welfare squeezed and investigated while corporations pay minimal tax: the same culture which sees outrageous stories regards budget cuts leaked before the budget so when the cuts arrive they don’t seem so bad. I am not expecting miracles from our politicians just not to have our intelligence insulted.
Yesterday evening I attended a talk, jointly hosted by the Humanist Atheist Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway and Atheist Ireland, from the fairly well known Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku. Mr Edamaruku is an academic and is the president of the unfortunately named Indian Rationalist Association (I.R.A). However, levity aside, Mr Edamaruku faces the unwelcome prospect of persecution in his home country of India. In spite of this, he spoke calmly and deliberately of his predicament.
He is currently in exile for his “provocation” of the Catholic church in Bombay, whereby through the act of explaining a so-called miracle involving sub-standard plumbing and a statue of Jesus, he incurred the wrath of a number of high-ranking bishops, not least “His Eminence” Oswald Gracias . As a consequence, the church has contrived to have Mr Edamaruku imprisoned for his contravention of laws regarding blasphemy – laws which, no less, date back to the 19th century. The very real threat of three years in prison – and worse – forced Sanal to flee his native country and he has sought refuge in Europe. He was abruptly cut off, indefinitely, from those dearest to him, while attending to the business of a lecture trail overseas. Nevertheless, despite the potential dangers he faces, he has vowed to return to India, saying, rather confidently, that he is on a “mission” against the prevalence of such archaic laws and other such superstitious practices. “The problem we have in India is that we have the 14th and 21st century coexisting,” he said.
His “mission” is what brought him to Ireland. While seeking support against ludicrous legislation in his own case, Edamaruku has simulataneously called on the Irish people to rid themselves of their own law against blasphemy, which prohibits the utterance or publication of “grossly abusive or insulting [material] in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, which causes “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. As Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland noted, in closing, at the event, such a law strongly appears to “incentivize outrage”. Furthermore, Mr Edamaruku stressed that the Irish law against blasphemy was increasingly being used as a precedent on which to lay the foundation of an argument for a much more far-reaching law against blasphemy. Such a prospect is simply terrifying.
If the people of Ireland truly value human rights and equality, then it is imperative that they resolutely reject their most stringent and archaic laws, and lend their support to the plight of those who, like Sanal Edamaruku, are suffering their outrageous consequence.
Yesterday when I first heard of the events surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar from multiple news outlets I quickly became emotional by what I was hearing from the trickle of information and innuendo that was being put forward. When I read about the alleged statement about Ireland being a ‘Catholic country’ I lost objectivity and I became enraged and this ultimately culminated in what can only be described as a reactionary piece of writing by myself. This may have been largely due to having heard people in the past proclaim Ireland in such a fashion – under different circumstances – and the statement being given a level of significance in the media that it likely didn’t deserve, but that is no excuse. I should have known better. I should have taken a long moment and thought it through. I didn’t. Instead I reacted without knowing nearly enough about the situation at hand.
Having had 24 hours to simmer down, a literal night of tossing and turning in my sleep, and having discussed further the incident with posters here, I’ll attempt to rein in my emotions and approach the issue again.
While I framed my last post using the caveat of ‘the statement, if accurate,’ I didn’t go to enough lengths to highlight that my outrage was only valid if said statement was accurate AND the context in which it was said was as it appeared. Through discussion with finishedatlast and other posters it occurred to me that while the utterance seems totally bizarre and inappropriate in the situation described it may have been an attempt by the member of staff to explain away the lack of a legislation which would make it clear when an abortion was allowed. That the reason for no legislation was because the people of Ireland (the majority of whom are indeed Catholic), despite 20 years having lapsed since the X Case and the constitutional changes surrounding it, have not held their elected TDs accountable for not legislating the changes in question. This may be the more likely context of the quote, although obviously by stating that Ireland is Catholic is hardly a sufficient and full address of the issues underlying our lack of clear legal rights regarding abortion.
As it stands we are awaiting official findings to ascertain exactly what happened in this tragic case. It may well be that Savita could have survived had she had an abortion when she initially requested one, although this is working under the assumption that what proved fatal to her was as a result of a reported 3 day miscarry and that she did not have septicaemia before it was medically determined that her foetus was not viable. We just don’t have enough information to draw any firm conclusions as of yet.
I stand by the assertion that anyone in a position of power or influence must not allow their religious beliefs to influence decision making and should be removed if they do. However, clearly that point may not be relevant to the tragedy at hand and should not be the focus of discussion.
Our focus should be on the loss of life which may have been avoidable. The focus should be on the cowardly TDs and their lack of backbone in successive governments to legislate for the High Court ruling that may have saved Savita’s life. If it had been legislated for and a law existed in black and white there is a good chance this discussion would not be happening in the emotive manner it is. That’s not to say that Savita would still be alive but there would be little speculation surrounding the reasons why an abortion was refused if indeed it would have been at all.
I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt of context regarding the ‘Catholic country” statement and will wait official findings instead of allowing emotions to better me again. However, I do firmly believe that if Savita did indeed request an abortion for a foetus that was not viable and she was indeed suffering in great pain that there should have been no question about what the course of action should have been. People will be quick to jump to the defence of medical staff who were unsure of the law and may have been protecting themselves from liability but it must also be remembered that a medical doctor’s first priority is the well being of their patient and if it turns out an abortion could have saved Savita’s life then there is no excuse that should have prevented it happening.
That all said, until we have the results of the various inquires no one can or should be held accountable, or shoulder the blame, for this sad loss of life. In the coming weeks I hope the events will become clearer. For now the only people we can look to with any real sense of outrage is the government for allowing an environment to exist where such a discussion is even possible.
Today I learned from a bewildered English colleague that Savita Halappanavar, a dentist based in County Galway in the Republic of Ireland, died in hospital from septicaemia largely due to the draconian anti-abortion laws of Ireland.
It seems that Mrs Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was miscarrying. Mr Halappanavar has stated that his wife accepted the sad loss and requested that labour be induced. Why? Because Savita, a 31-year-old woman, was in agonising pain and her foetus was not going to survive either way. Upon making this request she was met with the response that, as Mr. Halappanavar told reporters, she “could not have an abortion because Ireland was a Catholic country and the foetus was still alive”.
Let’s consider that response. She was not denied a potentially life saving abortion because legal guidelines prevented it (which is not the case by the way), but because Ireland is a “Catholic country”! This is a fucking outrage! The statement, if accurate, is such an odd way of framing the issue it comes across as borderline racist. Did the person take a look at Mr Halappanavar and his wife and decide that they were not Catholic, were not ‘local’ and that they must understand their place in the ‘Catholic’ country that is Ireland? Where the tenuous signs of life of a dying foetus are more important than a fully realised human life in the form of Savita, who was in actual identifiable pain, who had an actual conscience, an actual personality and actual loving relationships with other living people? What exactly do the beliefs of a person about what kind of country Ireland is have anything to do with informing a medical decision? I can’t wrap my mind around this. Something is very wrong with this picture.
I am sick and tired of religion being used to inform medical decisions, be it female circumcision in some parts of the world or indeed male. That religious beliefs appear to have influenced the decision making process in this instance – which ultimately led to the death of Savita – is equally as abhorrent as the previous religiously informed ‘medical’ decisions noted.
I’m going to be frank about this. These people need to be removed from any position of influence in society. There is no place in any workplace for someone who allows their personal beliefs about a deity to influence their professional decisions. Outside of a church or related venture I’d like to hear of an example where someone thinks this is not the case. Many jobs in organisations insist that employees sign non-disclosure contracts so that inside information not be shared or revealed. Now, even if an employee does not agree with some things that may be going on they are legally bound to abide by this contract. Do we need an equivalent for religious beliefs? Do we really need to start asking medical staff to sign a legally binding contract stating that their personal, religious, beliefs be put aside in favour of following legal and medical practice? While there is a risk that someone is delusional enough to deny a lifesaving abortion and use religion as an excuse I think we do need such legal assurances. If someone was legally obligated to follow accepted medical and legal procedure or face retribution it may prevent a repeat of what happened in Galway University Hospital. If someone refused to sign this contract – which, let’s face it is doing nothing but instruct them to do their job properly – then they simply should not be employable.
I will repeat myself. There is NO place for people in any position of influence or power who allow religious views to dictate important, potentially life saving decisions. This is a dark day for Ireland. How someone can stand there and proclaim Ireland a ‘Catholic country’ after all the pain and suffering the church has caused this small island sickens me. So continues the destructive influence of religion. May it end soon as I for one am sick to the back teeth of hearing about it. May Savita rest in peace and I dearly hope her husband Praveen finds some justice in all of this. Shame on you HSE. Shame on you.
EDIT: See follow-up
The issue of blasphemy has been in the news a great deal lately; not only because of the poorly made Innocence of Muslims video and the subsequent reaction, but also due to efforts to install international blasphemy laws. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been pushing for international blasphemy laws since 1998. Blasphemy is a serious crime in most Islamic nations but their jurisdiction is obviously limited to their national borders, so international laws are the only possible route to force other nations to adhere to Islamic sensibilities. 2011 was the first year the issue was not raised, however, after the fracas over the Innocence of Muslims video, the OIC has vowed to pursue the issue again. UN Secretary-General said limits should be put on speech when it is used to ‘provoke or humiliate’.
To this end, I decided to write an article on blasphemy, however, after two weeks and several drafts I was nowhere near completion. I was not happy with any of the arguments I proffered. There are several different avenues which the contentious issue can be approached. None, I felt, were quite adequate. For instance, blasphemy at its basic element is thought crime: not holding the same opinion, if any, as your peers about a certain god. It means you must comply with whatever prevalent religion you happen to be born into, it must not and cannot be challenged. Not only is your personal expression suppressed but so is any exploration of differing opinions. Nations which have blasphemy laws also ban books and movies wholesale to prevent their citizens from receiving information which doesn’t abide with prevailing opinion. Blasphemy is the only law in which thought can be a crime. I can think of the worst atrocities of mankind, and even firmly believe they should be carried out, but unless I actually do them, the worst the legal system can do is give me a rather stern warning or maybe some short jail time; but nothing like the punishment which is issued for blasphemy. If it is not clear enough, picture this: A person can run around screaming that they want to rape and kill children by the hundreds and receive a far less punishment (if any) than somebody who simply and honestly proclaims god doesn’t exist.
Would it also not be the case that even religious people could be charged for blasphemy by simply following their own religion e.g. a person who believes Jesus is the one true god is inferring that Mohammed is a false prophet, which is blasphemous according to Islam. Switch the roles and you have the same scenario. This would lead to a situation where religious minorities will be constantly persecuted and harassed by a religious majority, this can already be witnessed in the more religiously controlled nations such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Now, proponents of blasphemy laws will say in a rather underhanded ingratiating manner that the blasphemy laws are there to protect religious people from provocative and humiliating insults to their faith. However, who becomes the arbiter of what is and isn’t insulting? Surely this is wholly subjective and what is offensive to one may not be offensive to others, not to the mention – so what if you are offended, deal with it, people don’t give offence, people take offence. It is totally up to the recipient of the information on whether they decide to find it offensive or not. However, that does not mean you do not have a right to be offended, of course you do, but you do not have a right to punish those who offend you; otherwise we would all be in prison at some point.
So the above rather condensed arguments, while perfectly valid, did not feel sufficient to drive home the dangers that blasphemy laws represent. Because the arguments for and against blasphemy rarely represent how these laws are enforced in reality, so I feel highlighting the actual application of blasphemy laws as the best argument against them, all of which have occurred within this year alone:
A Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested for desecrating pages of the Qur’an. Rimsha’s age is reported to be between 11-14, and there are also reports that suffers from a mental illness giving her a lower mental age. Rimsha was found with pages of the Qur’an in her bag, and despite her young age she was imprisoned for three weeks in a maximum security prison. A cleric was eventually arrested after a witness saw him plant the pages in her bag. However, she has been to an undisclosed location and may have to live under armed guard for the rest of her life as many people who were found innocent have been murdered afterwards.
Another Christian, Ryan Stanton 16, was arrested for forwarding a blasphemous text message. Ryan lives in a company compound in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Pakistan. The contents of the message are unknown, Ryan himself claims he forwarded the message without reading it. The next day his house was ransacked and its contents set on fire. Ryan was arrested for his own protection but he has also been charged with blasphemy, a crime which carries the death penalty. So here you have two children committing two completely innocuous actions yet their lives are at risk. However blasphemy laws are not merely limited to Islamic nations.
A 27 year old was arrested in Greece for having a Facebook page which mocked a dead Monk who had a cult following. Elder Paisios died in 1994 at the age of 70, he had garnered a following due to his alleged possession of prophetic powers. The Facebook page was named Elder Pastitsios, pastitsios being a pasta dish with beef. The profile picture had an image of Elder Paisios with the pasta slobbered over his face. After receive hundreds of complaints the page was shut down and its creator arrested for blasphemy. The punishment for blasphemy in Greece is up to two years in prison.
Sanal Edamaruku, head of the Indian Rationalist Association, exposed a ‘miracle’ of a dripping Jesus statue and was accused of blasphemy. A statue in Mumbai began to miraculously drip water, it became a pilgrimage site and people gathered and prayed and collected the ‘holy’ water. Sanal flew in to inspect this supposed miracle and quickly revealed the truth. Within minutes Sanal identified a nearby drain which was feeding statue water by means of capillary action. This infuriated the Catholic Bishops who were present and they filed complaints in several Police stations in the hopes of getting Sanal arrested for blasphemy. Sanal has now fled India and is in exile in Finland until these ludicrous charge are dropped.
Buddhist villages in Bangladesh were attacked and burned because a Facebook image containing a burnt Qur’an was posted. Angry crowds attacked and set fire to temples and homes as the village occupants were forced to flee in terror. The houses themselves were looted for any valuables before being set alight. The violence spread to nearby villages where Hindu temples were also targeted. The man who was blamed for the image is in protective custody.
So blasphemy laws allegedly protect people from insulting and disparaging remarks about their faith and religion. However, what we see in reality is the sensibilities of imaginary gods and the faith of people is prioritised over the safety and well-being of actual people: A 14 year old girl’s life is at risk because of a piece of paper she was carrying, a 16 year old boy’s life is threatened because of a text message he forwarded, a Greek man may face jail time because of a Facebook page he set up, Sanal Edamaruku is in exile because he discovered the real reason a statue dripped water, and the reason wasn’t to the liking of Catholic bishop, and homes and temples of Buddhists were attacked and burnt because of an image uploaded onto Facebook. In most nations the above actions by the ‘offenders’ are vanilla and do not warrant any attention, but thanks to blasphemy laws these people deserve punishment, severe punishment. Nothing can be more ridiculous. If somebody says something mean, it does not permit you to reciprocate in a violent manner. However, Blasphemy laws legitimise this kind of mentality. Blasphemy laws permit barbaric actions against people who have done no harm to anyone. Blasphemy laws silence people by intimidation. Blasphemy laws are used to subjugate minority religions. Worst of all, Blasphemy laws prioritise rights of opinion over the rights of humans.
Peter Ferguson is a classicist at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a member of Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland. Read more of Peter’s work at his website: www.humanisticus.com