Irish Times, by Harry McGee
The meeting of the Council of State convened by President Michael D Higgins to discuss the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill has ended after more than three hours.
The meeting, attended by 21 members of the Council, began in in Áras an Uachtaráinat about 3.15pm following a brief photocall in the main drawing room of the President’s residence in the Phoenix Park. It ended at 6.45pm.
The meeting was called after President Higgins invoked the powers available to him under Article 26 of the Constitution to convene the Council of State ahead of him taking a decision on whether or not to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court to ascertain if it is keeping with the Constitution.
The Bill completed its passage through the Oireachtas on Tuesday night of last week, when the Seanad voted in favour of the legislation. President Higgins, who received the document on Wednesday of last weeks, will have seven days to make a decision on referral and that process must be complete by Wednesday.
Three of the Council were absent: they were former president Mary Robinson, and former taoisigh Albert Reynolds and John Bruton.
Members of the Council began arriving at the front entrance of the Aras just before 2pm. The Council comprises serving and former office holders including former president Mary MacAleese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore; serving and former members of the judiciary including Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham, the Attorney General Maire Whelan, and seven members appointed by the President.
Three former taoisigh are also in attendance; the 93 year old Liam Cosgrave; Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen both arrived using their own transport. Mr Ahern walked up the driveway to the reception area and Mr Cowen was transported in an OPW courtesy bus. Also in attendance today is the former chief justice, Thomas Finlay.
Article 26.1 states: “ The President, after consultation with the Council of State, refer any Bill to which this Article applies to the Supreme Court for a decision on the question as to whether such Bill or any specified provision or provisions of such Bills is or are repugnant to this Constitution.”
A total of 15 Bills have been referred since 1940. The last Bill referred to the Supreme Court was the Nursing Homes Bill in early 2005. The Bill proposed to prevent retrospective payments to residents of nursing homes and other institutions and was referred by then president Mary McAleese. The Supreme Court ruled the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution.
The convening of the Council of State to discuss a Bill is a relatively rare phenomenon. It occurred only eight times during the 14-year presidency of Mary McAleese. This is the first time that President Higgins has called a meeting of the Council of State using the powers available to him under Article 26.
Once a Bill is found to be in keeping with the Constitution after being referred under the Article 26 provision, the legislation can never be challenged on constitutional grounds again by a citizen in the courts.
The meeting is expected to last for several hours with key contributions expected from Attorney General Maire Whelan and, possibly, from Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, president of the High Court.
Those in attendance today are: Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore; Chief Justice Susan Denham; Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett; Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke; President of the High Court Nicholas Kearns; Attorney General Maire Whelan; former president Mary McAleese; former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave; former taoiseach Bertie Ahern; former taoiseach Brian cowen; former Chief Justice Tom Finlay; former Chief Justice Ronan Keane and former Chief Justice John Murray. The seven members appointed by the President in attendance are: Michael Farrell; Prof Deirdre Heenan; former Supreme Court justice Catherine McGuinness; Ruairi McKiernan; Sally Mulready; Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh and Prof Gerard Quinn.
Published in The Irish Independent
There is hope for Ireland and I have the evidence. Over the last month, I've hitch-hiked the length and breadth of the country on what I called the 'hitching for hope' listening tour. This was an adventure I embarked upon to help inform my forthcoming talk at the MacGill summer school. I hadn't hitch-hiked in 18 years and didn't have money or a plan but ventured into the unknown and rediscovered the beauty and power of our land and people.
I'd be lying if I pretended this wasn't as much of a personal quest as it was social research. I'm looking for hope as much as anyone. I've struggled to get by financially in recent years; but more importantly, I've struggled to have faith that this country has a bright future.
On my journey, I met and interviewed people of all ages, races and backgrounds. They included farmers and fishermen, atheists and priests, barristers and business people, the unemployed, the depressed and the hopeful.
I spent time at a cattle mart in Connemara; with the resilient islanders of Inishbofin; with pilgrims on Croagh Patrick; with Orangemen in Derry; office workers in Dublin; monks in Glenstal; community workers in Moyross and tourists on the Hill of Tara.
Everywhere I went, I found kindness, warmth and generosity. I was offered lifts, smiles, stories and any amount of cups of tea. Others bought me lunch and offered me a place to stay. The Facebook and Twitter communities rallied behind me with messages of support and invitations to visit. Friends, strangers and colleagues contributed money to help ensure rent money wasn't a concern. The media also played their part by covering my progress as I travelled.
All over I heard tales of hope and triumph. There is the young farmer who will fight on for the sake of his kids; the former priest who is discovering a new form of spirituality; the 50-year-old unemployed man who is retraining in forestry; the young graduate who believes political change is possible; and the social entrepreneur who is setting up a food and energy localisation movement. The visionaries and creatives are out there, ready to play their part if given the chance.
I also heard stories of despair and anger. Many are giving up on this country. They don't have hope and have taken to despair, drinking or emigration in order to survive.
There is a real sense that Ireland is a two-tier State, with one law for the rich and powerful and another for the rest of us, who are supposed to keep taking austerity and injustice on the chin.
Among all of this is a nation that is re-examining its core values. It is through a return to community values that many of us are re-imagining the country from the ground up, finding light in the darkness. There is an emerging return to understanding that true happiness comes from the simple things in life – from friends, family, community, nature and having a purpose bigger than ourselves.
A huge thirst exists for leadership, direction and jobs and I don't underestimate the challenges ahead. At the same time, a new movement of hope and possibility is stirring.
We have one of the most fertile, beautiful and safest countries in the world. As a people, we have the wisdom, warmth, talent and resources to make something great happen. Hope is out there in the spirit of the people. Sometimes you just have to look harder to find it.
Irish Times, by Brian O'Connell
Ruairí McKiernan is thumbing his way around the country to get ‘a citizen’s view of Ireland’ as research for his upcoming MacGill Summer School address
You might expect a 35-year-old man hitching around modern Ireland to spend most of his time waiting by the side of the road, watching cars go by. But Ruairí McKiernan says that, so far, he hasn’t had a problem getting a lift. People consider it a novelty to see someone hitch-hiking and stop out of curiosity.
But then his journey is something of a novelty in itself. McKiernan is a founder of the youth organisation Spunout (spunout.ie), and was appointed to the Council of State by President Michael D Higgins last year. His Irish hitch-hiking tour began after the director of the MacGill Summer School, Dr Joe Mulholland, asked McKiernan to contribute “a citizen’s view of Ireland” to this year’s event.
The hitching trip is his research. McKiernan set out a week ago and hopes to take in about 20 counties, before ending up in Glenties at the end of July for the annual summer school.
When we spoke earlier this week, he was making his way from Galway to Derry, relying on the kindness of strangers, including a pair of Italian tourists who offered him a lift as far as Mayo.
Over a meal on Achill Island, the three compared the economic situations of Ireland and Italy. One of the Italians said that where he came from the average wage was down to €1,000 a month, and so to him Ireland didn’t look too bad a place. It’s all about perspective, McKiernan says.
McKiernan spent some time in Australia this year and on his return, he wanted to get back in touch with Irish people and hear from them what a new vision for Ireland might look like.
He’s at something of a crossroads in his own life – in his mid thirties, soon to be married, and finding paid work in Ireland often hard to come by. So his journey is as much a personal voyage of discovery as a reconnection with Ireland. Along the way, he is blogging about his experiences (at www.community.ie, on Facebook and Twitter) and recording the thoughts of some of the people he meets.
Some of those who have given him lifts have spoken to him about personal tragedies. “One woman had a younger brother killed in a hit-and-run by a drunk driver. She told me she knows who did it and that it happened 20 years ago and there was a cover-up. She gave me an insight into resilience, into how to survive something like that and still enjoy life.”
Other common themes are the importance of community in many parts of Ireland, a vibrant local sense of right and wrong, and the number of people struggling to make sense of modernity and progress.
Back to basics
“Many people talked to me about simplicity and about how life has become way too complicated,” he says. “The dream of progress as promised was all about making life easier. There is a sense it has failed us. I’m hearing [that] we are going off track not economically, but socially.” People tell him they are interested in “getting back to basics and prioritising things like friends, family and spending time in nature”.
McKiernan has heard stories of hope and heartache, including a farmer in Connemara who was selling his remaining livestock and moving back in with his parents as he couldn’t survive financially on his own anymore. The young farmer had rejected emigration so that he could have a role in the life of his young daughter.
McKeirnan also detects an ambivalence towards political parties, stronger than anything shown in opinion polls.
“A major theme is one of power and a feeling that a particular elite in Ireland is shafting the majority of people. I have yet to meet anyone who said they will vote Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. A lot say they either won’t vote at the next election or simply don’t know who to vote for.
“I also detect sometimes from the professional classes a sense that emigration is not such a big deal. You get to travel the world and come back. That’s true for some I’ve met, particularly those whose parents are financially well off. In the west though, for many of those I met emigration is very real and raw and of the forced variety.”
To pay his rent and look after food, phone and accommodation costs while on the road, McKiernan set up an online donation page. Within the first few days, he received several hundred euros in donations from people he calls “shareholders” in his journey.
He used to hitch-hike a lot growing up in Co Cavan, and while new road networks can make hitch-hiking between major cities tricky, he hasn’t had a problem getting a lift so far. “I think a lot of people giving me lifts grew up hitch-hiking themselves,” he says. “I know from my past that people really open up when they pick up a hitch-hiker. The material I’m getting is really very honest .”
He spends several hours each night writing his blog.
He expects to return to Dublin next week and may cycle around parts of the city if hitch-hiking there is not possible. A community group in Moyross has challenged him to hitch-hike to their area (an invitation he will take up), and he also hopes to spend time in Cork and Cavan before eventually ending up in Donegal at the MacGill Summer School where he will present findings and videos from the tour on July 28th.
A selection of Ruairí's articles published in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, and other publications.