Fragments 2006-10-19

Family ties: the O'Malleys and contraception

On 13 July 1971, an agitated Vivion de Valera, the controlling director of the Irish Press, son of the then president and serving Fianna Fáil TD, raised the "hot" issue of adverts for contraceptives appearing in certain magazines on sale in Dublin.

He pointed out that Section 16 of the Censorship of Publications Act 1929 prohibited the printing, publishing, sale or distribution of "any book or periodical publication... which advocates or which might reasonably be supposed to advocate the unnatural prevention of conception.

The Minister for Justice of the day, Desmond O'Malley, replied. He said it was a matter for the Garda Síochána in the first instance and later for the Attorney General.

He continued: "I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that section 16 (1) of the act in question does not apply only to advertising; it applies to any writing in a book or periodical...

"I have a recollection of reading, in recent months, in all the Dublin newspapers... numerous articles on the topic..., I recall quite a considerable number of articles by a lady who was, I understand, the woman editor of a particular newspaper – unfortunately, I believe she has left that employment now [a reference to Mary Kenny, who was woman's editor of the Irish Press at the time].

"On behalf of a recently formed organisation she consistently and almost daily appeared, to me at any rate, to advocate certain things which might or might not come within the ambit of section 16 (1). As a result of my attention having been drawn so eloquently and so forcibly to the very strict provisions of this section this evening, I consider the gardaí presumably will have to go through the files of a number of newspapers to see, not whether the advertising columns might potentially offend section 16, but whether the editorial matter also might be in breach of the section."

What does Desmond O'Malley now think of his daughter, Fiona O'Malley, who, although the law has been changed and the criminality of such conduct may no longer be a issue, is now advocating the reduction of VAT on condoms?

She said in a statement on 16 October: "Condoms incur VAT of 21 per cent, which means they are classified as a 'luxury item'. The danger here is that young people may well ignore the dangers of unprotected sex. Cost should not be a consideration when it comes to the issue of contraception."


McDowell and Harney: linking mental illness and criminality

The stigma associated with mental illness causes one of the major difficulties in confronting the problem and is a cause of the social exclusion of people who are or who have suffered from the infirmity.

Everyone involved in the issue of mental illness advocates the removal of the stigma and the cultural prejudices surrounding mental illness.

If there were a calculated strategy to further stigmatise mental illness it would be to link it in the public mind with criminality. And this is precisely what Michael McDowell has done in proposing to have the Central Mental Hospital, now in Dundrum, Dublin, moved to the same site as the new Mountjoy prison at Thornton Hall, the lands for which he paid a multiple of the market value.

And among those who have gone along with this are Mary Harney, Minister for Health and Children, and his other fellow Progressive Democrat, Tim O'Malley, who has direct responsibility, as a junior minister, for mental health issues.

Remembering Niall Andrews

Niall Andrews, who has died aged 69, was a popular politician who was associated with a number of high-profile human-rights cases during his 30-year career in Dublin Corporation, Leinster House and the European Parliament. He previously worked in the RTÉ and was an active trade unionist.

He was a son of Todd Andrews and held firmly to the republican beliefs of his parents, both of whom were active in the War of Independence and with the anti-treaty forces in the Civil War. Over many bitter years of upheaval in Fianna Fáil he sided with Charles Haughey, serving under the former Taoiseach as a junior minister in one shortlived administation in 1982.

Niall Andrews was prominent in the campaigns in the 1980s to secure the release from jails in England of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, and of Annie Maguire and members of her family who were innocent victims of serious miscarriages of justice. He also made more private efforts to secure the release of Brian Keenan from the Lebanon in the late 1980s and attended, as an international observer, the trial of the Colombia Three whom he visited in jail in Bogota in more recent years.

An outspoken advocate of countries fighting for national sovereignty he visited El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cuba and Iraq in an effort to foster better relations between Ireland, the EU and those regions and from where he returned to highlight third world and development issues in the European Parliament.

Niall Andrews had a wide circle of friends in politics, media and the arts – a tribute to his friendly and social nature and his genuine concern for people of all ages and all walks of life. He is survived by his wife Bernadette, his son Chris and daughters Niamh and Kate.

Frank Connolly


On this day: 19 October 202BC

Hannibal's defeat in Zama

In 264 BC, Carthage was a Phoenician colony on the coast of modern Tunisia. It was a powerful city-state with a large commercial empire and, with the exception of Rome, the strongest power in the western Mediterranean.

Carthage relied on mercenaries, hired with its considerable wealth, to fight its wars. As soon as Rome had consolidated its control in Italy, it came into conflict with Carthage as Rome tried to expand its influence into the Mediterranean. Rome and Carthage would fight a series of three Punic Wars between 264 and 146 BC. The Roman victories over Carthage in these wars made Rome the most powerful nation in Europe and the Mediterranean.

The First Punic War (264 BC to 241 BC) was costly to both powers, but Rome was victorious – it conquered the island of Sicily. The effect of the war destabilized Carthage so much that Rome was able to seize Sardinia and Corsica a few years later when Carthage was plunged into the Mercenary War.

The Second Punic War (218 BC to 202 BC) is famous for the Carthaginian Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. He and his army invaded Italy from the north and defeated the Roman army in several battles. But eventually the war was taken to Africa and Carthage was defeated at the Battle of Zama, its territory being reduced to the city itself in a striking loss of power.

The Third Punic War (149 BC to 146 BC) was a codicil. Rome, alarmed by a renewal of confidence in Cartage, besieged the city and destroyed it after the Cartiginians had refused to do so themselves and build a city far inland from the Mediterranean coast.

The decisive battle in the Punic Wars was the Battle of Zama, which took place 2,208 years ago on Thursday 19 October.

(This is extracted mainly from material on the Wikipedia web site: