Now this is what I call ‘Kafkaesque’

Last week, we heard a powerful, well-connected individual was apparently being subjected to “Kafkaesque” treatment by the State. The claim reeked of hyperbole, and lacked all credibility.

Now this is what I call ‘Kafkaesque’

Meanwhile, far from the power centres, a women who has dedicated her life to bringing others into the world is being subjected to what might very credibly be described as a Kafkaesque nightmare.

And not a blind bit of notice is being paid to her plight at the hands of a state organ which appears to make up the rules as it goes along.

The first example is Alan Shatter. His lawyers wrote to Enda Kenny that Shatter’s inclusion in a forthcoming inquiry is “Kafkaesque”.

The term comes from the writings of author Franz Kafka, whose protagonists often found themselves up against dark unseen forces. The style has been described in one dictionary as “a nightmarish situation which most people can somehow relate to, although strongly surreal”.

Shatter has a direct line to the leader of the country. He is a wealthy solicitor and politician, well practised in the law and very well connected.

He had to resign from cabinet, and may be inconvenienced to some degree by having to take part in a forthcoming inquiry.

But he’s the wrong size for the clothes of one of Kafka’s victims.

Philomena Canning, on the other hand, might just have walked out of one of the author’s darker tomes.

She is a midwife of more than 30 years’ experience. She specialises in homebirths, which are not hugely popular in this country, but a growing number of women are opting to have their births outside a hospital setting.

She is not very popular in some powerful offices in the HSE.

“Too bolshie”. “Doesn’t know her place”. “Too quick to criticise whenever she saw that the system had let down an expectant mother”.

Then last August, she was on the cusp of setting up a birth centre, which provides for homebirths in a home-like environment. That kind of thing is not popular in some quarters of the HSE.

Her clients have a different take. They tend to recall the births of their children in effusive terms, which they attribute to the care they received at Canning’s hands.

Last August, her indemnity cover was withdrawn. This was highly unusual.

The State Claims Agency, which oversees insuring the HSE, told the Mail On Sunday last year that this was the first time that had ever happened.

Even after tragedies involving mothers and babies, indemnity cover has not been withdrawn.

The HSE said it was launching an investigation into two births delivered by Canning, which had resulted in routine hospitalisations. (This column understands that one of these cases has hardly been examined at all in the investigation).

Far from having any complaint about their care, the two women involved were as effusive as all the other clients about Canning’s professionalism.

So what is she being investigated for?

If there was an issue in specific incidents, her case should be referred to An Bord Altranais, the nursing board, which oversees the professional and training elements.

That body would decide in a fitness to practice investigation whether she had a case to answer.

There would be no requirement for her suspension. She has not been referred there.

Instead, she is being dragged deeper into the heart of that Kafkaesque nightmare.

In the first instance, Philomena Canning is being subjected to a “systems analysis” investigation. This is the type of inquiry that is being conducted into tragedies in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, and other cases of baby or maternal deaths in West of Ireland hospitals, which occurred in recent years.

There was no “system”, involving different medical and administrative personnel in Canning’s case. There was no tragedy. There was just her and a grateful client, and if anything arose, surely it would have come under the nursing board’s remit.

This column understands Canning was interviewed as part of the HSE investigation by two individuals, one a physiotherapist, and the other a health manager.

How could either of these determine whether the experienced midwife had erred in her professional capacity?

But then again, how could they be investigating her professional capacity at all, if that’s not a function of the HSE?

That was bad enough, but on November 12 last, she found out through the public forum of parliament that things were a lot worse.

On that day, Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced that something else was going on behind closed doors.

In reply to a question from Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, he said:

“The most up-to-date information from the HSE is that there are two investigations ongoing into this case. I understand that there is an internal system analysis investigation that is expected to report within approximately four months.

“There is also an independent supervisory investigation to be carried out in parallel, in order to expedite the overall process.

“The HSE is not yet in a position to provide a timeline for this second investigation.”

You got that? A second inquiry has been opened up.

An investigation, ostensibly concerned with an incident, but careful not to specifically investigate that incident because it would be a matter for another body, has set up a second inquiry, into the non-incident.

That second inquiry has been set up to “expedite” the first inquiry, yet having that remit no timeline can be provided for it.

If all of this was down to gross stupidity, it might be amusing.

But the trail of evidence leaves a sense that the pursuit of Philomena Canning is being made up by somebody as they go along.

Reading out that stuff in the Dáil is all very well. But Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who has a reputation as a straight shooter, needs to look behind the PRspeak from the HSE, and stop hiding behind vague references to the sub-judice rule. He needs to find out independently what is happening.

Canning, in particular, but also expectant mothers, and anybody interested in basic constitutional rights, are entitled to no less.

Notwithstanding Billy Kelleher’s Dáil questions, the only parliamentarian to persist in pursuing this matter has been Independent TD Clare Daly.

Is that why this whole affair is continuing? Because there is little appetite among the body politic or the media to shine a light into this dark corner?

The likely outcome of this whole saga can be foretold. Canning will sue, for loss of livelihood and for being thrust into a personal and professional nightmare on a flimsy, if not malicious, basis.

She will come under huge pressure to settle because the HSE will not want the detail of this stuff parsed in court.

Big money will be paid out at taxpayer expense, but Canning will not get the months and years that will have been stolen from her. And above all, nobody will be responsible for anything.

Kafka, where are you?

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