Midwives are in the news today on both sides of the Irish Sea. In Ireland, it has emerged that midwifery staff at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise had written to two Irish government ministers in 2006 expressing concern over staffing levels at the hospital. In the 2006 letter to then minister for finance Brian Cowen and then minister for health Mary Harney, the hospital’s midwifery staff said they had “a real fear” that a mother or baby will die in their care before these issues are addressed. In the letter, seen by RTÉ’s Investigation Unit, they also said they had made their concerns known to management on a number of occasions but that nothing had happened.

The letter was written prior to all of the deaths of four babies examined in last night’s documentary ‘Fatal Failures’. The babies died in similar circumstances over a six-year period at the hospital. They were all alive at the onset of labour, but died either during labour or within seven days of birth. The Irish Health Service Executive has apologised unequivocally to the families.

In an unrelated development, RTÉ News also reported on the last baby being born at Mount Carmel Hospital in South Dublin on the day that 200 staff members have been made redundant. Another 128 staff will lose their jobs over the coming weeks. Staff attended a mass this evening to mark the closure of the hospital. Afterwards around 20 staff said they were planning a sit-in at the premises. The provisional liquidators confirmed that 572 maternity patients have been affected since the hospital went into liquidation last Friday. Four babies were born today and the final arrival was a girl.

In Westminster, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, like its Oireachtas counterpart, is playing an important role on the issue of health services, especially maternity. Channel 4 News reports that in a damning investigation into the state of maternity care, the Public Accounts Committee criticised both the British Department of Health and NHS England for being unable to tell it who is accountable for “ensuring something as fundamental” as whether the NHS has enough midwives. It said it had gathered evidence that “many maternity services are running at a loss, or at best breaking even, and that the available funding may be insufficient for trusts to employ enough midwives and consultants to provide high quality, safe care”.

The report added that “although there has been a welcome increase in midwives, there is still a national shortage in Britain of some 2,300 midwives required to meet current birth rates. Pressure on staff leads to low morale and nearly one-third of midwives with less than 10 years’ work experience are intending to leave the profession within a year. Over half of obstetric units do not employ enough consultants to ensure appropriate cover at all times.

The committee reported that rates of infection among new mothers, infection to the baby and injury to the baby “are all higher at the weekend”. It added: “Although there have been substantial improvements in levels of consultant presence on labour wards in recent years, over half of obstetric units were still not meeting the levels recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at September 2012.”

Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “The vast majority of women who use NHS services to have their babies have good experiences, but outcomes and performance could still be much better. Despite an overall increase in the number of midwives there is still a shortage of 2,300 that are required to meet current birth rates – a truly worrying figure. What’s more, the Department of Health and NHS England struggled to tell my committee who is accountable for ensuring something as fundamental as whether the NHS has enough midwives. As things stand, there is evidence that many maternity services are running at a loss, or at best breaking even, and that the available funding may be insufficient for trusts to employ enough midwives and consultants to provide high quality, safe care.”

Royal College of Midwives

Royal College of Midwives logo

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Maternity services are many thousands of midwives short of the number needed to deliver safe, high quality care. The birthrate remains exceptionally high and as this and the National Audit Office report states, births are also becoming increasingly complex. This puts even more demands on midwives and maternity services. We are seeing areas such as antenatal and postnatal care in particular suffering because trusts often do not have enough midwives to provide consistent and high quality care before and after pregnancy.”

RCM Chief Executive Cathy Warwick  Photo: © Jess Hurd/RCM

RCM Chief Executive Cathy Warwick Photo: © Jess Hurd/RCM

RCM campaign badge

RCM campaign badge

She added: “At the moment there seems to be a gap between the actual cost of maternity care and the amount of money hospitals get to provide it. This cannot continue and maternity services need to see the money they receive meet the cost of care. If this does not happen I fear services will be cut, choice will be reduced and care will suffer.” Details of the RCM’s report on the state of maternity services in the UK (2013) can be found here and the full report is available here. It was launched in London on December 11th.


This is part of an Irish Times feature by Una Mullally on Luke Kelly, who died 30 years ago today, aged 43. She says the singer’s legacy consists of his own achievements and his influence, which lives on in the intonations of many Irish singing voices. Tonight a tribute concert was held at Vicar Street in Dublin in his memory.

“Having grown up on Sheriff Street in Dublin’s inner city, and having left school in his early teens, Kelly typified the hard working-class musician. It is perhaps fitting that one of his early heroes, Pete Seeger, should die in the week of Kelly’s anniversary. The recordings of Woody Guthrie and his friendship with Seán Mulready would become strong musical touchstones for Kelly on his journey towards becoming one of the most significant figures in 20th-century Irish music”.

Raglan Road…one of my favourites

“An appreciation for traditional music is stirring among a new generation of music fans – many of whom weren’t even born when Kelly died in 1984. This is thanks, in part, to The Gloaming’s ascent. Like The Gloaming, Kelly produced visceral reinterpretations of songs that to many people were historical artefacts, rather than living pieces of musical art. In the process, he inspired and invigorated countless ballad singers. Dissecting what makes an artist as emotionally fine-tuned as Kelly might seem overly clinical, but there was a magic in his voice that many musicians have since tried to tap into”.

John Sheahan, who joined The Dubliners in 1964, has written a sonnet to mark the anniversary. Of Kelly’s talent, he told the Irish Times: “It’s to do with the nature of the way he sang – such passion and commitment – and he was a great interpreter of songs. He took risks in singing and in the manner he phrased songs. He would hold on for that millisecond longer than anyone else would dare to, then catch up on the melody and create a certain tension with the listener. It’s like a high jumper going those extra few millimetres and beating the height. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it works, it’s wonderful. When it fails, you’re grateful they took the chance.”

The article continues:

“Kelly was keenly political, a member of the Communist Party and a fundraiser for Amnesty International. Sheahan points to his generosity as one of his defining characteristics. He remembers an occasion when Kelly’s wife, the actress Deirdre O’Connell, had returned from a furniture auction with a table. By coincidence, Sheahan’s wife had picked up a set of chairs at auction similar to the table, and he joked about the coincidence to Kelly. ‘Before I could say anything, he had the table out the door and strapped to the roof of my car. He had no great commitment to material possessions’.”

When a Belfast family with whom Kelly and The Dubliners were friends were made homeless after being burned out of their house in the late 1960s, Kelly offered them the basement of his home, where they lived for a decade.

Scorn not his simplicity

“His legacy was putting his own stamp on a song such that it became the definitive version of a song for others to come along and emulate,” says Sheahan. “Kelly’s legacy is also the ongoing culture resonance of The Dubliners, who took songs people were familiar with – albeit in a rigid parlour or classroom setting – and reinvented them. Traditional music up until then was sitting down playing jigs and reels. We stood up. Here we are. Take us or leave us. No apologies.”


A fiery halo crowns your lived-in face,
You shine forth like a beacon from the throng,
Among your fellow peers you set the pace,
And soar above the crowd on wings of song.

Committed to the cause of human rights,
You hold aloft the flame of Amnesty,
When striking workers seek you in their plight,
You rally with your songs unstintingly.

A minstrel boy, you charm your way through life,
Enriching all who chance to pass your way,
You shelter wayward spirits from the night,
And raise them up on wings till dawn of day.

Though links with us alas too soon are severed,
Your spirit and your song will soar unfettered.

© John Sheahan January 2014


Launch of Belfast Children's Festival  Photo: Arts Council via twitter

Launch of Belfast Children’s Festival Photo: Arts Council via twitter

Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muileoir showed he is a man of many colours…or at least his hair is…when he launched the Belfast Children’s Festival (March 7th-14th) in the city centre this morning along with the Chair of the Arts Council Bob Collins. Hairdressing meets art by Sienta La Cabeza, a Catalan group from Barcelona.

Lord Mayor with Marie-Louise Muir, BBC Radio Ulster

Lord Mayor with Marie-Louise Muir, BBC Radio Ulster

The Lord Mayor even gave an interview to Marie-Louise Muir of BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra programme while his hair was being reconfigured!

New-style Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muileor

New-style Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muileor

The Lord Mayor attended a number of other engagements throughout the day but was perhaps lucky that he did not have to chair a Council meeting! How long we have to wait until he reverts to his traditional look remains to be seen! Here’s a reminder of how things looked in the Lord Mayor’s parlour yesterday (Tuesday) when I was among a group of Lions Clubs representatives to be welcomed by him at City Hall.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muileor with Lions 105I District Governor Liam Lyons, PDG Sean Sandford, PDG James O'Sullivan & Michael Fisher (Belfast Club)

Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muileor with Lions 105I District Governor Liam Lyons, PDG Sean Sandford, PDG James O’Sullivan & Michael Fisher (Belfast Club)





BELFAST LIONS CLUB are holding a table quiz on


Malone Road, Belfast

at 7.30pm.




Entry £20 per team (max 6 per team)        Prize for the winning team  £100

The quiz night is part of our drive to recruit new members to  Belfast Lions Club.

Please come along on the evening when we will be available to chat about our plans for the year ahead. There will be a raffle to raise funds for our charitable account and to support the work of our nominated charity for 2014 Diabetes UK (NI). We look forward to seeing you there.  diabetes-logo-news-page


4Corners Festival at South Belfast Methodist Church  Photo: © Michael Fisher

4Corners Festival at South Belfast Methodist Church Photo: © Michael Fisher

There was an interesting meeting in South Belfast tonight at which representatives of the four main Christian churches in the city explored the topic ‘Is Christ Divided?’. It was held at the new Methodist centre on the Lisburn Road. It was part of the 4Corners Festival: Bringing Belfast Together.

The Church of Ireland Diocese of Connor website has the following details:-

In a special event as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, church leaders from four different traditions and four corners of Belfast will come together to tell their personal stories.

The theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the rhetorical question put by Paul to the church in Corinth: “Is Christ Divided?” and it is against the backdrop of this question  that the church leaders will speak. The four are:

Bishop Harold Miller: Anglican Bishop of Down and Dromore (East Belfast resident)
Rev Dr Norman Hamilton: Former Moderator and Minister of Ballysillan Presbyterian (North Belfast)
Father Ciaran Dallat: Assistant Priest in St. Peter’s Catholic Cathedral (West Belfast)
Rev. Dr. Heather Morris: President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and Director of Ministry at Edgehill Theological College (South Belfast).  Chaired by Professor John Brewer of Queen’s University, Belfast.

4Corners Festival at South Belfast Methodist Church  Photo: © Michael Fisher

4Corners Festival at South Belfast Methodist Church Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bishop Harold Miller at 4Corners Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bishop Harold Miller at 4Corners Festival Photo: © Michael Fisher


Congratulations on a great finish and a win by the footballers from Truagh Gaels: on now to the All-Ireland Intermediate Club final in Croke Park on February 9th. Hard luck also to Emyvale GAA footballers  who lost by a single point against Twomilehouse from County Kildare. An interesting name for the opponents as there is a Threemilehouse in North Monaghan! Coverage of both matches with plenty of photographs can be found on Peadar MacMahon’s website emyvale.net.

No doubt there were plenty of divided loyalties in various families in the two neighbouring parishes. Emyvale is in the parish of Donagh, which stretches from Knocknagrave across to Edenmore (Tommie Bowe’s former school), the Blue Bridge at Inishdevlin, Emyvale and across to Glennan chapel and Glaslough. It also includes Corracrin opposite Anketell Grove on the main Dublin to Derry N2 road, where St Patrick’s chapel is located. Knockronaghan on the other side of the main road is also included. The McCarron family has connections both in Knocknagrave (original homestead) and Knockronaghan.

Heading out of Emyvale towards the border at Moybridge along the N2 main road, you pass the Silver Hill duck processing plant. Among the local groups they sponsor is Truagh Gaels GAA Club, whose clubhouse and pitch is further along the road. Red and black flags are flying outside many houses and on telephone poles. Errigal Truagh parish includes Clara, Carrickroe and Ballyoisin, where there are chapels. The latter is just off the main road on the right hand side heading towards Aughnacloy, before Moybridge. Beside the chapel there is a vibrant community centre and a national school.


Auschwitz camp entrance  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Auschwitz camp entrance Photo: © Michael Fisher

Last year I wrote about the Holocaust Day service in Northern Ireland. There is also an annual service in Dublin on the nearest Sunday to January 27th. It is organised by the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland. The event honours the memory of all of the victims of the Holocaust — six million Jews as well as over five million other victims – persecuted because of their nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religious beliefs or political affiliations. The inclusion of all of the victim groups is essential to the commemoration, highlighting the importance of education about anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance.

Auschwitz memorial  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Auschwitz memorial Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration demonstrates the Irish Government’s commitment to the Declaration of Stockholm, 2000, when the 44 signatory countries undertook to commemorate and teach about the Holocaust every year. Holocaust Education Trust Ireland advises and assists Government with organising the annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration.

Rail tracks at Birkenau camp Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Rail tracks at Birkenau camp Photo: © Michael Fisher

The commemoration is held in the Round Room of the Mansion House and admission is by invitation from the Holocaust Education Trust.


Robbie Burns

Robbie Burns

ROBERT BURNS 1759-1796

Celebrations are already underway for Burns night, which is technically tomorrow, January 25th, the date of the bard of Ayrshire’s birthday in 1759. This version of one of his songs was performed by the well-known journalist Hugh Jordan two years ago on the Frank Mitchell programme on U105. It will hopefully serve to provide the right mood for the weekend.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!  And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak’ a right guid-willie waught,  For auld lang syne.

The Robert Burns website tells us that the celebrations are on, or around the time of the Bard’s birthday, January 25th. You will also find more details there of the poems and songs of Burns.

Burns Suppers range from formal gatherings of aesthetes and scholars to uproariously informal gatherings.  Most Burns Suppers fall in the middle of this range, and adhere, more or less, to some sort of time-honoured form. This includes the eating of a traditional Scottish meal, such as haggis, the drinking of Scotch whisky, and the recitation of works by, about, and in the spirit of the Bard.

Every Burns Supper has its own special form and flavour, though there are probably more similarities than differences among these gastro-literary affairs. Some celebrants may contribute the composition of original songs or poems; some may excel at giving toasts or reciting verse; while others may be captivating storytellers. A particular group of celebrants will, over time, develop a unique group character which will distinguish their Burns Supper celebration from every other.




Panel discussion chaired  by Miriam O'Callaghan  Photo: Michael Fisher

Panel discussion chaired by Miriam O’Callaghan Photo: Michael Fisher

Good investigative journalism needs time for research, checking and double-checking facts and teamwork. BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme has been going for forty years. To mark the occasion the Corporation devoted a day at its Blackstaff studio normally used for the Nolan show to discuss why investigative journalism matters and to consider its future.

I did not attend the first session which included on the panel Senator Susan O’Keeffe, Michael Crick,  and Freedom of Information specialist and journalism Professor Heather Brooke. Her (London) City University colleague Professor George Brock also contributed to the seminar.

Miriam O'Callaghan introduces Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Stacey Dooley and John Sweeney  Photo: Michael Fisher

Miriam O’Callaghan introduces Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Stacey Dooley and John Sweeney Photo: Michael Fisher

The lunchtime session was chaired by RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan. Her guests included John Sweeney of Panorama, Sue Lloyd-Roberts and Stacey Dooley, who presents documentaries on BBC THREE. The latter gave us an insight into what it was like trying to make a programme in an area along the border in Mexico controlled by gangs.

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion  Photo: Michael Fisher

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion Photo: Michael Fisher

Many of the interesting insights into the world of investigative television reporting and the changes that have taken place came in the final session chaired by Salford Professor Steve Hewlett, a BBC Radio 4 presenter. The panellists included Roger Bolton, Darragh MacIntyre, and John Ware, who has done several investigations about Northern Ireland, the latest being on the activities of the British Army unit known as the Military Reaction Force in the 1970s. It was broadcast by the BBC last November.

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion  Photo: Michael Fisher

Steve Hewlett chairing a panel discussion Photo: Michael Fisher


Anti-Section 31 protestors in Dublin  Photo: An Phoblacht

Anti-Section 31 protestors in Dublin Photo: An Phoblacht

Twenty years ago this week (January 19th 1984) the Irish Section 31 broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin along  with republican and loyalist paramilitary groups or any proscribed organisation in Northern Ireland was lifted. This was at an important time just seven months before the IRA ceasefire. The order renewed on January 6th 1993 by the then Communications Minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (now an EU Commissioner) directed Raidió Telefís Éireann to refrain from broadcasting any interview or a report of an interview with spokesmen for any of these organisations. As the peace process began to take shape, the order was allowed to lapse by the Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht Minister, Michael D. Higgins (now Uachtarán na hÉireann) of the Labour party.

The republican newspaper An Phoblacht recounts how the broadcast media in the 26 Counties were now free to interview Sinn Féin spokespeople. The paper says the first such interview was with party President Gerry Adams on Dublin’s 98fm radio station. But on the BBC Northern Ireland website where I first noticed the story, it is reported that Highland Radio presenter Kevin Sharkey (now with the BBC) carried out the first such broadcast in their studio in County Donegal, where he interviewed Martin McGuinness and Pat Doherty.