Limerick has taken a battering from the weather recently, suffering from felled trees, flooding and structural damage. Facing the ‘unprecedented’ Storm Ophelia, many recalled the Night of the Big Wind in 1839, when a hurricane rampaged through Ireland, leaving thousands homeless and killing as many as 300 people.
In his column this week, Greg O Shaughnessy decries state intrusion in our private lives, in denying him wine before midday as he gathered supplies for Ophelia. He certainly has a point, but on researching the events of 1839 for this edition’s Through the Ages, one can’t help but feel a small measure of gratitude for a state that cares so much – quite possibly too much – about our wellbeing.
In those days, the State didn’t concern itself with wine-purchasing hours, but nor did it worry, at all, about destitute families, starving children or the elderly or disabled in our society. After the hurricane, no assistance was given to establish shelters or take care of the sick and injured, nor to rebuild houses or restore damaged farms. Every man and woman had to fend for themselves. The only real government intervention of the time were the Poor Laws of 1838, which introduced the horrors of the workhouse. Within a decade, the Great Famine had struck Ireland, bringing into sharp relief the authorities’ total disregard for the people they were charged with leading.
One section of society that the modern State has consistently failed to protect or provide for are those who struggle with infertility. In this week’s Focus, Emily Westbrooks examines the long-awaited Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, which will finally bring Ireland’s legislation on the subject in line with that of other developed countries.
Unlike some 25 other EU member states, Ireland does not currently provide any state funding for fertility treatment. As an illness recognised under the World Health Organisation, infertility should be treated in a similar manner to other health issues, such as erectile dysfunction, which, Emily points out, cost the HSE some €6m in 2015. Instead, couples struggling with infertility are forced to take out loans, borrow from families and even re-mortgage their homes to afford what is free, easy and joyous for so many others.
Emily also debunks a common refrain heard in this debate: “why don’t they just adopt?” With a minimum three-year wait and costs ranging from €30-90,000, the answer to that question is quite clear.
Despite affecting one-in-six Irish couples, infertility is largely a private illness, rarely discussed in public. This has led to a complete lack of government interest in a legal framework for the issue, creating horrible situations like stateless infants or a family forced to spend thousands in the High Court, in an attempt to formally recognise a child carried by one sister out of love for the other. Something is dreadfully awry when alcohol consumption is heavily legislated, but assisted reproduction is not.
Just because a section of our society suffers in silence, doesn’t mean we should abandon them to fight their illness alone.
Elsewhere, Darragh Roche speaks to John Carew, well-known seanchaí, who has long regaled Limerick audiences with folklore and traditional tales. Mary O’Keeffe examines the Weinstein scandal and points out that the majority of sexual assaults are carried out by known associates in supposedly safe places such as work, home or transport, not by unknown assailants in dark alleyways. Meanwhile, Martin Mullins writes about a ‘tectonic shift’ in geo-politics as Turkey drifts away from Europe and the West. Behind the golden sands and cheap beer that Irish tourists enjoy so much, Erdoğan’s authoritarian government has imprisoned tens of thousands of its own citizens and dismissed some 100,000 civil servants alleged to have taken part in the attempted coup. They have restricted the media, taken control of the justice system and jailed elected members of the opposition.
Now there’s a state that cares too much.