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Savita tragedy forces Government to face up to divisive abortion question

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Date Published: 21-Nov-2012

The circumstances surrounding the death of Savita Halappanavar in University College Hospital Galway have elicited outpourings of sympathy and expressions of anger throughout the world.

The anger was based on the view – so far not contradicted – that her death could have been preventable were it not for the current confused laws on when it is legal and appropriate for a medical termination to take place.

The story has dominated politics for the past week and cast a pall over it. It has also renewed focus – uncomfortably for some politicians – on the abortion laws and what has been done (or more pertinently not been done) to give statutory backing to the Supreme Court judgement in the X case.

There is no issue that fills most politicians with more dread than abortion. Nothing in Irish society is more divisive – the emotions and splits and anger are, you could imagine, of proportions approaching those expressed by both sides in the civil war.

The instantaneous global reach of Kitty Holland’s original article in the Irish Times was extraordinary – within the space of 24 hours the story was shared and tweeted among millions of people across the continents.

Faced with such outrage and anger, it is certain that Ms Halappanavar’s death did focus minds in Government and stopped the foot-dragging that has been evident for the past several months over how to tackle the tangled abortion question.

At the same time, given the enormity of the reaction – and backlash – it might have been tempting for the Government to come up with some knee-jerk response. It would have been unworthy of it to have done so for obvious reasons.

All in all it has taken the right approach by taking a step back and allowing the space to allow such important and fundamental issues to be decided in a calmer atmosphere. To seek the answers you must know what the questions are.

There are two separate deliberations taking place. One is the investigation into Ms Halappanavar’s death. The other is the (distinct but, now, related) process to come up with a solution that will once and for all deal with the ruling in the X case.

The independent investigation surrounding the death of the 31-year old, who was 17 weeks pregnant, is likely to take three months.

Already, so many narratives have been told, so many conclusions reached, that there is little point in saying don’t prejudge. That has been done already. Her husband said that when she begged for a termination (of a pregnancy that was going to miscarry in any instance) she was told that Ireland was a Catholic country. That statement has really stuck out and must be investigated.

Will some other previously unknown circumstances come out in the investigation? There just seems to be a sense that some parts of what happened have not been fully explained yet.

The Fine Gael TD for Galway West Brian Walsh pointed out last week that UHG is not run by a religious order and doesn’t have a Catholic ethos as such. He also said it was his understanding that medical terminations have been carried out in the hospital in accordance with Medical Council guidelines and the ruling in the X-case.

It all just seems a little anomalous but it will be February before the outcome of the investigation will be made known, and we will know if the tragedy had a connection with over restrictive or unclear laws, or if there was another reason.

The tragedy almost coincided with the completion of the report of an expert group, chaired by High Court judge Sean Ryan, which explored the options available to the Government to give effect to the judgement in the X-case. As it happened, the report was delivered to the Minister for Health James Reilly on the same day as the article appeared.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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