SHAUN CONNOLLY: Government has turned its back on living and dying

YET AGAIN, ministers were happy to talk horse manure rather than do anything, writes Shaun Connolly.

Pressed on Newstalk as to why the spring statement was so vague and vacuous, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin spluttered: “That’s all horse manure, that’s all horse manure, that’s absolute horse manure.”

Yes, Mr Howlin, that describes your limp, empty little document, which backfired spectacularly as the electioneering stunt the Government intended it to be.

Nothing substantial on the mortgage crisis; nothing on reviving the construction industry; nothing on childcare; nothing on child poverty; nor on any of the major flashpoint situations still facing the country after four years of this Government — but there was a lot on how brilliant this Government has been in the past and how stupid the electorate would be not to give them five more years.

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Fortunately, judging by the overwhelmingly negative reaction, the electorate is not quite as stupid as the Government likes to think.

While ministers are very good at talking, particularly at talking themselves up, they are very poor at actually doing.

Pressed on the tragic case of Gail O’Rorke, who was acquited of assisting Bernadette Forde’s suicide in a case that should never have reached court, it was the same old sad old story from Mr Howlin, who, effectively speaking for the Government, issued banalities that might as well have said “Yes, wasn’t it awful. No, we are not bothered enough to actually do anything about it.”

It has been two years since the Supreme Court made it clear the Oireachtas was the place to deal with assisted suicide, and not the courts, but still nothing has been done.

So, a jury listened to a harrowing audio diary left by Ms Forde, who could not deal with her terminal MS any longer.

“It has got very, very bad in the last number of months. I knew that it was getting bad, so I had made arrangements to go to Dignitas, in Zurich, but my hopes were dashed, because the police got to my friend when she went to collect the tickets.

"They weren’t actually assisting, they were just going to travel with me to Zurich, but, anyway, when I realised that was happening I no longer wanted that, because I didn’t want Gail or anyone harmed, if they were going to get into trouble for it... but I knew what I need to do.

"I can’t, I just can’t live with this anymore, it is just my life is shit and I just can’t keep going. I realised that I had to do whatever I did alone, that I can’t even talk to anyone, in case they are implicated, because I have no help at all now and it is very difficult that I can’t even talk to anyone.

"Hiding it from friends has been difficult and it’s just so unfair that I can’t have any contact or chat to anyone — that I have to be totally alone.

"I hope that it [the recording] will make my wishes and my intentions clear to anyone who wants to question it afterwards.”

“It’s me and totally me, and nobody else.”

“It shouldn’t be a question mark, because it’s what I wanted — and what else can I do?” Ms Forde asked from beyond the grave.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has not explained why the case was ever brought, or issued any guidelines on how to deal with the situation from now on, so while suicide is not illegal, assisting it is.

It’s all a far cry from England, where their Crown Prosecution Service regularly appears on news programmes to justify controversial decisions, and where a workable compromise on assisted suicide exists.

No guarantees are given beforehand to people intending to take their own lives, but legal principles have been established — if they are terminally ill, able to make a life-ending decision, and under no pressure to do so, people who help them will not be prosecuted.

In England, the powers-that-be have moved with public attitudes and laid out a clear framework regarding when someone should face criminal charges, and under which circumstances they should just be left to grieve for the loved-one whose suffering they have helped end with dignity.

When the Supreme Court made their landmark 2013 ruling, in the Marie Fleming case, and clearly put the ball back in the Dáil court, Mr Kenny gave a masterclass in bystander disassociation politics.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil that it was not “his place” to decide on the matter.

Quite a weird world view for a prime minister to share with the national parliament.

If it is not for him and the elected legislature to sort out, then whose job is it?

Best to just forget about all the pain and suffering the legal limbo leaves, and just hope it goes away — like all the other problems facing the country.

It was a sadly similar situation when the Government refused a referendum on long overdue reform of when women in crisis pregnancies can access terminations at home, rather than make those lonely journeys to Liverpool and Birmingham — even in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, or incest.

Mr Kenny said it would be too divisive to have such a debate, as he insisted he would leave all that to the next Government.

This reduced his own Government to that of a caretaker that is too timid to take care of the people it is supposed to legislate for when it comes to pressing social issues.

A far better approach on assisted suicide would have been for Mr Kenny to make clear his objections, if indeed that is his view, and state why he would not use his powers to change legislation in this highly emotive area, so that a national debate could begin on something that matters, rather than the supposed “national economic dialogue” buzzword nonsense put forward in the spring statement.

Because while ministers are content to just talk horseshit, Ms Forde spoke the truth, when, clearly aiming her pain and anger at those in charge, she despaired on the tape: “This bloody country.”

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