A Response to Jude Collins’ Five Questions

Jude Collins wrote a blog piece which asked five questions about abortion, referring to the upcoming referendum in the Irish Republic on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. This gives ‘equal rights’ to the mother and the unborn, and effectively bars abortion. His piece is here. Here are some answers to the points he makes, in the same order.

1. When does life begin? He suggests that life begins at conception. Conception or fertilisation is not a moment, it is a process. The idea that life begins then is theological; it was first announced in these terms in a Papal document in 1869. This followed work in sea urchins showing the process of fertilisation. Previously, there was an idea that ‘life’ began at ensoulment.

However, you must distinguish between ‘life’, ‘living’ and ‘being alive’. These are not synonymous, and they are terms that need to be properly explored. A person may be on a ventilator but is nonetheless ‘alive’; does that person, in that condition, have a ‘life’? Is ‘living’ more than being not-dead? A blastocyst may be ‘alive’ and ‘living’, it certainly contains the instructions to build a foetus, a new human; but is this really ‘life’?

He suggests that ‘viable’ might be a response, and that humans need others for survival.

Viable, in a limited, technical sense means essentially that the foetus is capable of ‘life’ outside the womb, specifically that it can breathe adequately by itself and maintain its oxygenation. That also means that its lungs are sufficiently mature to allow gaseous exchange, and that its muscles are powerful enough. In this sense, the foetus is first viable at around 23 — 24 weeks gestation, though it will need considerable support at this age.

A human could live an entirely independent life from early adulthood, when it doesn’t need others to supply it with food, but can and hunt and forage for itself. This isn’t very practicable for most of us today, but it can be done.

2. What to do with unwanted pregnancies? His answer is to say that abortion should be avoided; it is not that Ireland exporting the problem that is important, rather it is what is done in an abortion. This is a diversion; closing your eyes to the problem won’t make it go away.

This neatly gets round the problem of abortion; and other than not permitting abortion he doesn’t offer a solution at this point.

3. Is it wrong to show photos of aborted foetuses?

Showing such photos is a resort to emotional blackmail. Such photos and associated presentations revel in the ghoulish details of late abortion. There may be pictures of a ‘perforator’ or a ‘cranioclast’ or ‘craniotribe’. Such presentations never explain how these instruments came into use. A couple of centuries ago there was no ante-natal care; the man-midwife would be presented with a woman in labour. Disproportion is when the bony pelvis of the mother is deformed or contracted, usually by rickets, and is too small to allow the foetal head to pass. Then, caesarean section wasn’t available. To prevent the death of the mother, the foetus was destroyed with these implements.

4. What about rape, incest or ‘fatal foetal abnormality’? Again, he asks if abortion is taking ‘life’, is it wrong to take it in such circumstances. He refers to the ‘sin’ of the father.

As above, the concept of what ‘life’ is needs to be explained. Rape and incest are forms of assault; men and women can be raped, but only women can get pregnant. There is no male equivalent of pregnancy; the nearest I can think of, and it’s by no means perfect, is to ask: if a man is raped and through this contracts HIV, would the law require him to wait for 9 months before treatment became available?

There are those among the religious who say that a woman cannot get pregnant after rape. This is complete rubbish. The idea behind this is (literally) mediaeval, when it was felt that a woman’s orgasm was necessary for pregnancy. If she had an orgasm during rape, then clearly she consented, so it wasn’t rape. Likewise, this is rubbish.

After rape or incest the foetus is certainly ‘innocent’ theologically and legally. ‘Sin’ is an entirely Biblical or theological construct. But it is not a ‘sin’ to demand and require that the woman continue with the pregnancy.

There is a greater risk of foetal abnormalities when the mother and father are close blood relations. This is clearly seen in cousin marriages.

Fatal foetal abnormality is a quasi legal term; it covers a range of conditions where the foetus either will die in the womb, or soon after birth. Why is it ‘better’ that the woman continue with the pregnancy? There is at least one condition, Edward’s syndrome with a transverse lie, where if the pregnancy continues to term, the woman’s life will be put in danger; that is, the pregnancy will kill her. (We have already seen where, in the case of Savita Halappanvar, the presence of a universal prohibitory law without exceptions can result in the unnecessary death of the mother.) There are very, very few cases where a foetus with a fatal abnormality has existed for a prolonged time after birth.

5. The woman’s right to choose is a misnomer.

Rights’ are very tricky things, there is a variety of them. There is no ‘right’ to choose in any part of Ireland. The law is based on theological constructs; the law is made by men, and for men; it is not made by women.

If there is such a thing as ‘free will’ then the law and theologians deny it to a pregnant woman, they deny the ‘right to choose’. ‘ Here, the ‘right to life’ of the foetus is a ‘demand right’, for it cannot exist outside the womb (before it is viable).

Society celebrates the ‘birth’ of a child but not its conception. It is as if society has defined what ‘life’ begins, and that is at birth; there is a reason why people talk of ‘new life’ at this event. Murder and infanticide require, in law, a ‘living’ individual, that is one that is breathing, one that has been born.

Abortion is as old as written history; it is in the Code of Hammurabi, around 1750 BC. The ‘demand’ for abortion is not altered by making it illegal.

Where abortion is illegal, such as in Ireland, we see the ‘side-effects’ of such prohibitions; Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, symphysiotomy, infanticide, and the hypocrisy of exporting the problem elsewhere, so we may say ‘our hands are clean’.

Your dislike of abortion, Mr Collins, is almost palpable. I’m not sure if I have altered this. However, the point is surely, not whether you like or disapprove of abortion, but whether you have the ‘right’ or authority to deny to others what you are incapable of having, whether your dislike is sufficiently strong and proper that abortion must be illegal.

And just as an aside, it was St Brigid’s day recently. She is Ireland’s first known abortionist.

The Kerry Babies II

An Garda Síochána have now accepted that their handling of this case fell well below expected standards. I would agree with this; and further, I think that the findings of the Tribunal of Inquiry were also seriously flawed. I do not accept the versions of events that the Tribunal found to be the ‘legal truth’.

In my view, what actually happened to the two babies was much simpler than the Tribunal found; and that the Tribunal handicapped itself by its inability or unwillingness to contemplate certain things.

I think that there were only two babies. One was stabbed ‘in a frenzy’, and found on the beach near Cahirsiveen. Joanne Hayes gave birth to the second baby outside her home and alone; she alone later hid it. Both births happened at roughly the same time, the Cahirsiveen baby’s perhaps a couple of days before Joanne Hayes’s. Other than this temporal coincidence, I do not think that there is any connection in any way between the two babies; this was two separate and completely unrelated events. (The Tribunal estimated that two ‘illegitimate’ babies were born every week in co Kerry.)

It was reasonable for the Garda to interview Joanne Hayes and her family; at that time she was the only person who fitted the profile of an unmarried mother who might have given birth though no baby was apparent. It is a mistake to think that if you have only one suspect who fits the profile that you have constructed, then this person must be the only one who could be responsible. This extrapolation is known as the Prosecutors’ Fallacy.

The Garda missed two opportunities to arrive at the truth.

Firstly, they refused to allow Joanne Hayes to show them where she had disposed of her infant. Had the infant then been found, it seems more than likely that she and her family members would not have been further questioned until they ‘confessed’. The wider implications of this were not considered by the Tribunal; several gardaí were pleased that the Tralee baby had not initially been found as it meant they were able to get ‘true confessions’.

Secondly, when the blood group tests were available, showing that Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke could not both have been the parents of the Cahirsiveen baby, the Garda should have properly reconsidered what had really happened. They could have applied Occam’s Razor, seeking the simplest solution consistent with the evidence.

Unhappily, it seems to me that as they had obtained ‘confessions’ that Joanne Hayes in the presence of family members had murdered her baby in the same way as the Cahirsiveen baby had been murdered, the Garda had a major dilemma of their own making. Either they would have had to admit to themselves and publicly that the statements of ‘confession’ could not possibly have been correct, and that they had been obtained by coercion and intimidation; or they, still believing in the truth of the ‘confessions’ needed an alternative explanation. Hence, the idea that Joanne Hayes had had twins, so that both her second and third statements were ‘the truth’. But as she and Jeremiah Locke could not have been the parents of the Cahirsiveen baby, then ‘obviously’ this was a case of superfecundation; it’s not clear whose suggestion this was. There had been another man. After all, so they seem to have thought, she was just that sort of girl, for she already had had one child out of wedlock; thus, she was a woman of ‘loose morals’. That superfecundation is extremely rare was irrelevant. By emphasising the facts that fitted with their pre-conceived idea of what happened, and ignoring inconvenient facts which didn’t, the Garda were committing the ‘Crime of Procrustes’.

Having ’nailed their colours’ to the mast as it were, the Garda, through their counsel, persisted with this theory at the Tribunal. One potential lover was found to have his name in biro on Joanne Hayes’s mattress. Later, it turned out that he had worked in a shop from where the mattress had been obtained; and he had years previously emigrated to Australia and not returned.

They also suggested that the Cahirsiveen baby’s blood group had changed because of immersion in sea water. Or, it was posited that Jeremiah Locke had a Bombay gene, so that his blood group had been wrongly interpreted as O when it was actually A. Both these suggestions are ‘clutching at straws’. It was clearly shown that the Cahirsiveen baby had ‘gene fragments’ which could not have come from Mr Locke.

Almost at the end of the Tribunal’s evidence taking, a superfecundation expert arrived from England. He had been originally called by the Garda in the expectation that his testimony would support their case; on arrival he was issued with a summons by the Tribunal. He unequivocally said that Joanne Hayes could not have been the mother of the Cahirsiveen baby. During later stages of pregnancy, and particularly during labour, there is a foeto-maternal transfusion; that is, some foetal blood enters the mother’s circulation. If the baby was, say group A and the mother was group O, then the mother would make antibodies to group A blood. Joanne Hayes’s titre (level) of such antibodies was too low for her to have had a group A infant. Had the expert appeared earlier during the proceedings, much of the unpleasant, invasive and frankly abusive questioning of Joanne Hayes could have been avoided.

Although some parts of the Garda investigation were criticised by the Tribunal, and they had at times ‘gilded the lily’ and they had ‘elevated wishful thinking into hard fact’, the Tribunal in general accepted the probity of the Garda. In a now notorious, infamous statement during the Birmingham Six’s civil suit against the police in 1980, Lord Denning said:

Just consider the course of events if their action were to proceed to trial… If the six men failed it would mean that much time and money and worry would have been expended by many people to no good purpose. If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous… That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, ‘It cannot be right that these actions should go any further’.

During the Tribunal, Judge Lynch said:

While references were made in the media to the persistence of the Gardaí with the charges against the Hayes family and Bridie Fuller despite compelling evidence to the contrary, the main disquiet expressed through the media was on the basis of a conspiracy on the part of the Gardaí to “frame” or “nail” the Hayes family and Bridie Fuller for responsibility for the death of the Cahirciveen Baby at all costs. When one considers that the Gardaí involved in interviewing the Hayes family and Bridie Fuller on the 1st May, 1984, were drawn from all parts of Co. Kerry — Abbeydorney, Cahirciveen, Dingle, Killarney, Listowel and Tralee — as well as Detectives from Dublin, the idea of such a conspiracy becomes ridiculous — or, if it were true, monstrous.

The ‘Murder Squad’ was formed as a response to the ’Troubles’. Dissidents (and others) were convicted on the basis of confessions, rather than forensic evidence, for they were good at not leaving traces.

To question the probity of the Garda would be not just ‘monstrous’, the ‘appalling vista’ would call into question the correctness of other prior convictions. Although there was disquiet about such convictions, the public policy expression was of unquestioned faith in the bona fides of the Garda, despite private concerns.

The Tribunal therefore could not and dare not question the Garda too deeply; the ‘confessions’ had to be taken as voluntary and uncoerced and thus correct. By so doing, the Tribunal had to construct a version of events which could be tallied with what the Garda thought and said; the Tribunal, unknowingly perhaps, had seriously limited its vision of events. And as the Garda statements had to be ‘true’, it then followed that the Hayes family must have been liars. Like the Garda, by choosing evidence that fitted its conceptions of what had happened, what must have happened, and minimising evidence to the contrary, the Tribunal also committed the Crime of Procrustes.

The Tribunal was correct, though, in thinking that the Garda had not lied; Garda members believed in the superfecundation theory, believed that Joanne Hayes’s final statement was the truth. If you really believe something, yet say things which cannot be true, you are not lying in the sense of telling falsehoods, knowing them to be falsehoods, for the sake of gain. The Garda’s belief in their theory and statements is an example of groupthink.

The Tribunal was established as an Inquiry, but it was run as a trial. The Judge said:

Now, this Inquiry is neither a criminal nor a civil Trial, but in so far as one can seek an analogy with a Trial, it has some similarity to a civil action by the Hayes family for Damages against the Guards.

The underlying assumption in a civil action is that both sides are giving their version of the ‘truth’, perhaps lying, perhaps embellishing, and that it is the function of the judge to arbitrate, to find a via media which then represents, must be, the truth. This trial does not look outside what is being said. This further limited the ability of the Tribunal of Inquiry’s activities; this type of complaint has been made against both Tribunals and the adversarial system used in common law. Whether the inquisitorial system used on the Continent is superior is debatable.

There are, in my opinion, questions around the mental abilities of some witnesses. Mike Hayes was described by the Tribunal as ‘slow’, though ’nobody’s fool’. A garda said he had ‘a degree of native cunning’. Nell McCafferty said he was ‘educationally subnormal’. Ms Bridie Fuller retired from nursing ‘prematurely’, had a ‘drink problem’ thereafter though subsequently stopped. She had a significant disturbance of circadian rhythm; she went to bed in the afternoon, then got up at midnight and stayed up. She had a stroke in September 1984. She gave evidence to the Tribunal from hospital where she was recovering from a second stroke. Sometime before this the family attempted a psychiatric assessment; this seems not to have been done. The Tribunal noted that at times she was ‘suggestible’. Ms Fuller, who had not done midwifery, described how she divided the imaginary infant’s cord long because it was ‘chesty’. This makes no sense. Immediately after delivery infants may sneeze to clear the airway, for they are obligate nasal breathers; they cry to inflate the lungs, but they aren’t ‘chesty’. The idea that cutting the cord ‘long’ has an effect on breathing is absurd.

Joanne Hayes became distraught at times during her questioning, having to leave. During one of these adjournments, she was sedated, apparently on the judge’s instruction, but then returned. That she was giving evidence ‘under the influence of drugs’ was not remarked upon.

The ‘theory’ of torture, if it can be called that, is that given an adequate stimulus, the person (victim) will eventually tell the ‘truth’ is rubbish. The stimulus can be physical assault, of the threat of it; or the stimulus can be mental, intended to so disconcert the person that what they say cannot be overlain with lies. What actually happens is that the victim is rendered to confused and scared that they will say anything that they think will end the abuse and torment; and often this is what the interrogators want to hear. In her statement to her solicitor, Joanne Hayes said:

Alright Liam [Moloney, the Abbeydorney garda], I’ll give you a Statement, the one that you want to hear but it is not going to be the truth but I don’t want Mom to be charged with murder or I don’t want Yvonne [her daughter] to be taken off me.

There was a very similar scenario during the investigation of the murder of Patricia Curren. Further, the ability that inquisitors say they have, knowing when their victims are telling the ‘truth’ is also rubbish.

The Tribunal relied much more on witness statements and their oral testimony than it did on forensic and scientific evidence. There was no clear pathological evidence that the Tralee baby had been choked, despite the Tribunal’s finding that it had been, or evidence that it had been hit on the head.

The oral testimony will have been based on statements and on memory. It’s now clear that memories are not like a video recording; memories are actively constructed around key words, and can be added to, modified and embellished and at times can be completely wrong. In an American psychology experiment, students were shown a video of a well dressed business man being mugged. Six months later, when questioned, some of the students maintained it was a white man being mugged by a black man. Of course, the original video showed the mugger to be white, the businessman to be black. In those students their preexisting stereotypes and prejudices had ‘overridden’ what they had seen. Expecting that testimony, months after the event will always be completely accurate is a misconception. (Today, the usual advice to people who may expect to be put in a difficult position later is to write down what they recall as soon as possible after the event, and as comprehensively as possible.)

During her initial interviews by the Garda, Joanne Hayes said she had given birth alone outside on the farm, and subsequently hidden the baby.

Ban Gharda O’Reagan had her doubts about the version Joanne had given them, especially when she said she delivered the baby while standing out in the field. The description of where she had hidden the baby had an authentic ring to it. The ban gharda had also made a mental note that, when Joanne was telling them about the birth of her baby on the farm, she got most upset and cried. When Joanne repeated her story during the first hour-and-a-half in the Garda station, Ban Gharda O’Reagan felt a search should have been carried out immediately. As a junior garda she did not feel it was her place to suggest such a course of action, not with the boys from the Bureau around at any rate. [My emphasis] (O’Halloran, p125)

The ‘boys from the Bureau’ were the Murder Squad from Dublin. This difficulty, of a junior feeling themselves unable to question authority or to suggest a course of action is now well recognised. The airline industry, after several disasters, took heed. Today, there are phrases such as ‘This is unsafe’ which any member of an aircraft crew can use to indicate that they are concerned, and that things must be stopped and reassessed. And the seniors will stop and reassess.

Following publication of the Report there was both praise and criticism of it. The Sunday Independent noted that the Report did not ‘come up with a comprehensive explanation for the fact that the Hayes family confessed to a crime they had not committed’. In November 1985 Magill magazine, in a 14,000 word editorial, said that ‘the Report failed to answer the central question which it was established to answer, that is how people came to make detailed corroborative statements that were shown to be false.’

The issue…came down to whether one accepted that the confessions were made freely, voluntarily and separately, and that they resulted from a mixture of guilty consciences and tough but fair questioning, or whether they resulted from unfair questioning and suggestions made by the gardaí.

Mr Justice Lynch responded in a 6,000 word article in the same magazine in March 1986. He rejected the criticisms, and concluded,

I have so far refrained from availing of my legal rights in this regard, but these rights remain alive and available to me at any time that I may wish to avail of them.

The government is now considering how to distance itself from the Report of the Tribunal which has been described as ‘discredited’. Don Buckley and Joe Joyce, who ‘broke’ the original story in 1984, said recently that the government now had a dilemma, and that ‘deeply flawed findings cannot be allow to stand’. The legal mechanism to ‘unaccept’ the Report is unclear.

Joanne Hayes wrote her account which was published as My Story in 1985. She, her coauthor and the publisher were sued for libel by three Gardaí. She had compared herself to Nicky Kelly. Kelly and others had been arrested in connection with the Sallins Train Robbery in 1976. Kelly had ‘confessed’. During the two trials there was medical evidence of ‘beatings’. The Court felt that these were either self-inflicted or done by the co-accused. Kelly was found guilty on the basis of his ‘confession’, but jumped bail. Subsequently, two of the accused were acquitted on appeal as their statements had been taken under duress. Kelly returned to Ireland in 1980, but was imprisoned, though released ‘on humanitarian grounds’ in 1984.

Because the Tribunal, as noted in paragraph 28 of the Summary, had found no intimidation or abuse, the suggestion that what had happened to Kelly had also happened to Joanne Hayes was libellous. An out of court settlement was reached; damages and costs of £100,000 went to the plaintiffs. Unsold copies of the book were ordered to be pulped.

Nicky Kelly received both a presidential pardon in 1992 and substantial compensation.

Both Joanne Hayes and a garda have repeatedly called for DNA examinations, she to show that she was not the mother of the Cahirsiveen baby, he to confirm the superfecundation theory; he wishes the infants to be exhumed for testing. DNA analysis has now been done on samples from retained tissue. No detail of the examination was given.

There are two sources of DNA in our cells. Almost all comes from the nucleus, inherited from both parents; it makes us who we all are as unique individuals. From this nuclear DNA a ‘profile’ can be constructed and compared with the DNA from other people, looking for a match. A tiny amount of DNA comes from mitochondria in the cytoplasm, mtDNA. Mitochondria are only inherited from our mothers who inherited them from their mothers. It could be that the mtDNA in the Cahirsiveen baby and in Joanne Hayes have been compared and found to be different.

The identity of John, the Cahirsiveen baby, has not been ascertained; his mother has not been identified.


The Kerry babies case was covered extensively in the press at the time. Following the Garda’s statement there have been many recent articles. A Google search brings up over five million ‘results’.

My Story was written by Joanne Hayes and John Barrett. It is ‘unobtainable’.

The Report of the Tribunal is available here as a 312 Mb pdf file of scanned images; the file loads very slowly. The Report does not contain the post-mortem reports; it does not contain the Garda file of information or their report. The transcripts of each day’s evidence are not available on-line.

Lost Innocence: the inside story of the Kerry babies mystery was written by Barry O’Halloran, an RTÉ journalist and published just after the Tribunal’s Report.

Truth, Power and Lies: Irish Society and the Case of the Kerry Babies was written by Tom Inglis, an academic sociologist, and published in 2003. He discussed this recently, here.

A Woman to Blame: The Kerry Babies Case was written by the Derry-born socialist feminist journalist playwright and activist Nell McCafferty. First published in 1985, it was reprinted with a new Foreword [Introduction] in 2010. In the Prologue she wrote:

In the opening days of the ‘Kerry babies’ tribunal a married man went to bed in a Tralee hotel with a woman who was not his wife. He was one of forty-three male officials — judge, fifteen lawyers, three police superintendents and twenty-four policemen — engaged in a public probe of the private life of Joanne Hayes.

When this particular married man was privately confronted with his own behaviour, he at first denied it. Then he crumpled into tears and asked not to be exposed. He had much to lose, he said. “My wife…my job…my reputation…’ He was assured of discretion.

No such discretion was assured to Joanne Hayes, as a succession of professional men, including this married man, came forward to strip her character. The lawyers, doctors and police were guaranteed the full protection and licence of law to do so. The priests who had dealt with her were not called to testify and the Catholic Church stayed silent through the whole affair. However, the Church has ways of making itself heard: when it was all over, the priests of her parish refused to say Mass in her house.

This is the story of professional men, the lawyers, doctors, police and priests, who found woman to blame. It is also the story of one woman and the ‘Kerry babies’ tribunal.

The Kerry Babies I

On Tuesday 16 January 2018, Superintendent Flor Murphy gave a press conference in Cahirsiveen, co Kerry (here). He said:

It is a matter of significant regret for An Garda Síochána that it has taken such a long time for it to be confirmed that Ms Hayes is not the mother of Baby John.

On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Hayes for that, as well as the awful stress and pain she has been put through as a result of the original investigation into this matter, which fell well short of the required standards.

The Tribunal headed by Mr Justice Kevin Lynch into that investigation rightly criticised many aspects of that investigation. For those failings, I apologise.

The Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar, also apologised to Ms Joanne Hayes on behalf of the state.

Who were the Kerry Babies? How many babies were there? Was one imaginary? Why, if it was clear in 1985 that Joanne Hayes could not have been the mother of Baby John, had it taken so long for the Garda to accept this? What was the Tribunal of Inquiry about? How did it all become a Kafkaesque nightmare?

At the time, the events were widely reported; several books were written. I have taken my reconstruction from these books and from the Report of the Tribunal. None of these is a complete record of events; my reconstruction is a compilation of them all.

On Saturday 14 April 1984 the body of a male infant was found at the White Strand near Cahirsiveen. This was reported to the Garda. As the infant was being removed to the his vehicle, the undertaker, Mr Tom Cournane, scooped some water from a stream and said, ‘I baptise thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I call thee John’.

The infant was taken to Killarney Hospital the following day. Dr John Harbison, the State Pathologist, performed a post-mortem examination. His written report is not available. Marks had been noted on the infant’s body. The examination showed that the infant had sustained 28 stab wounds to the neck and chest; this was described as a ‘frenzy’. The infant’s neck had been broken; there was some bruising beneath the skull. The umbilical cord had been divided flush with he abdominal wall.

The Garda began a murder inquiry. On the not unreasonable basis that the infant had been the result of a concealed pregnancy, and that the murder had been done by the mother, they attempted to find any such woman. They were unsuccessful. They sought assistance from the ‘Murder Squad’ who were based in Dublin. Enquiries were made in maternity units throughout Kerry, if these had noticed any suspicious events. Eventually, they discovered that a young woman had been admitted to St Catherine’s Hospital in Tralee on 14 April. She was found to have a soft uterus the size of a 18 week pregnancy; an ultrasound scan had shown that the uterus was ‘empty’; and she had a perineal tear. The medical staff thought that she had delivered a baby, which the woman denied. Her haemoglobin level at 8.7 g/dl was low and she was transfused with two units of blood. She was discharged on 21 April.

The woman was Joanne Hayes; she lived with other members of her family on a farm near Abbeydorney, a village a few miles north of Tralee. She was known to have had a previous baby fathered by her married lover, Jeremiah Locke.

The investigating team was joined by Superintendent John Courtney, the deputy head of the ‘Murder Squad’ and other members of the squad. There was a police conference on Monday 30 April. The following day, Joanne Hayes was brought to Tralee garda station, as were her two brothers, her sister and her maternal aunt, Ms Bridie Fuller. Joanne’s mother was questioned in the family home. Jeremiah Locke was also questioned at the garda station. Joanne and her siblings were voluntarily at the police station, ‘helping with inquiries’ as was Ms Fuller. Jeremiah Locke did not deny paternity.

What happened next became contentious. Statements were taken, and Joanne Hayes was charged with the murder of a baby and kept in custody. Charges of being an accessory were laid against her siblings, Kathleen, Edmund (Ned) and Michael (Mike) and her aunt, Bridie Fuller. Charges were not brought against Joanne’s mother, Mary Hayes. Family members made oral complaints to the family solicitor the next day; no record of this seems to have been taken. They later made written statements through him alleging intimidation by the Garda.

Joanne Hayes initially said that she had not been pregnant. She then gave a statement saying that she had been pregnant, and that late on Thursday 12 April or early on 13 April she had gone outside the farmhouse, and had delivered a baby ‘standing up’. This infant seems to have ‘cried’, and she put a hand over its mouth. She hid the baby in hay. Later on 13 April she had put the infant in a plastic bag and hidden it in a ‘pond’ on the farm, about 200 yards from the farmhouse. Some of the police believed her at the time. She repeated the essence of this multiple times; she asked many times to be taken to the farmhouse to show the police where the baby was. This request was refused. However, gardaí made two searches, but found nothing.

Joanne Hayes later made a third statement, a ‘confession’. She had given birth in her room. Some family members were present. The umbilical cord was cut some distance from the navel. She had then stabbed the baby in the front and back, and hit it on the head with a bath brush. On the basis of this statement she was charged. She was remanded in custody, initially in Limerick prison, then Limerick Psychiatric Hospital.

Apart from her aunt, Bridie Fuller, other family members initially denied any real knowledge of Joanne’s pregnancy, according to their later statements to their solicitor. They then made statements to the Garda in which Joanne had given birth in her bedroom, the baby had been stabbed and hit on the head. The baby was put in a bag and disposed of by putting it in the car and driving to near Slea Head where it was thrown in the sea. The statements were not wholly consistent; who had been present at the birth, and whether the two brothers or both of them and Joanne’s sister had been in the car; and whether the baby was in the boot, or in the back of the two-door car; and where exactly it was disposed of into the sea. (There are, apparently, details in the ‘confessions’ which were not reported in the press but which were known to the Garda.)

The Garda at this stage believed in the confessions, that Joanne Hayes had given birth in her bedroom, in the presence of family members, that Joanne had stabbed the infant and hit it on the head; and that the infant had been disposed of, to be then found on the White Strand beach near Cahirsiveen, across the bay from Slea Head. They thought that they had solved the mystery of the Cahirsiveen baby.

On Wednesday 3 May, Kathleen and Ned Hayes found the plastic bag containing Joanne’s dead infant. It was where she had said it would be. After some persuasion, two gardaí retrieved the bag and infant. A postmortem was performed the day after. The pathologist, Dr John Harbison, was unable to come to a definite conclusion. Parts of the lungs, seemingly, were unexpanded, suggesting that the infant had not established ‘an independent existence’. There was some ‘bruising’ on the neck; there was no evidence of choking, the larynx was intact. No written report is available.

Also on 3 May, the gardaí in Tralee were telephoned by Dr Fennelly from Limerick Psychiatric Hospital. He told the officer that Joanne Hayes had retracted her statement of confession in relation to the birth of a baby in her bedroom and her stabbing and choking of it. She did not retract her initial statement where she described giving birth outside. He said:

No way was the Cahirsiveen baby hers.

The call was logged; no action was taken by the Garda.

Later, the blood groups of the Cahirsiveen baby, the Tralee baby, and of Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke were determined, either from tissue samples or directly. Both Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke were group O, as was the Tralee baby. The Cahirsiveen baby was group A. Thus, Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke could not together be the parents of the Cahirsiveen baby. (Much later it was shown that neither Joanne Hayes nor Jeremiah Locke could have been parents of the Cahirsiveen baby.)

The guards considered the implications of this and the presence of two dead infants. They believed that Joanne Hayes’s third statement, in which she confessed to the murder, to be the ‘truth’. They then thought that her second statement, in which she described giving birth outside, was also the ‘truth’; that is, she had given birth to twins. Initially, there was a theory that her second baby had been disposed of as the family described, had drifted off to the Azores, and had not been found. It seemed unlikely that at about the same time, another infant with the same or similar stab wounds had been likewise disposed of. Thus, they concluded, the twins were conceived by two different fathers, Jeremiah Locke for the first twin, and another man of blood group A for the second, with two separate acts of intercourse and thus fertilisation occurring within 48 hours. This concurred with their belief that both of Joanne Hayes’s statements were the ‘truth’. This was therefore a case of heteropaternal superfecundation. A File of information and a Report were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The DPP, however, ordered that the prosecutions should not be proceeded with. The Hayes family subsequently made allegations against the police to their solicitor. Two internal inquires were begun; the Hayes and the Garda submitted written statements. The Hayes refused to be interviewed, as did most of the police. The inquiries were abandoned.

The Garda file of information and the report to the DPP were ‘leaked’ by ‘a source’ to Don Buckley, a journalist, sometime before 10 October when it was announced in Court that the charges were being dropped. He and Joe Joyce wrote a series of articles for the Sunday Independent on 14 October 1984, outlining the case up to the time when the charges were dropped.

In the presence of her solicitor, Joanne Hayes gave an interview to Barry O’Halloran, a reporter for the RTÉ programme Today Tonight, on 16 October; it was broadcast that evening.

Joanne talked about being pressurised and abused by the gardaí into making statements admitting to the stabbing of a baby. For the first time she spoke in detail about how she gave birth to a baby out in a field on her own. She described how she had left the baby there in the field and went back to bed, and how later in the night, she went out again but by now, the baby was cold and dead.

Public discussion was followed by a debate in both houses of the Oireachtas; both passed a motion calling for a Tribunal of Inquiry which was established by the Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, to ‘inquire into and report on the following matters of urgent public importance’:

(1) the facts and circumstances leading to the preferment on 1 May, 1984, of criminal charges against Joanne Hayes, Edmund Hayes, Michael Hayes, Kathleen Hayes and Bridie Fuller, Dromcunnig Lower, Abbeydorney, County Kerry in connection with the death of an unnamed male infant and subsequent events which led to the withdrawal of those charges at Tralee District Court on 10 October 1984;

(2) related allegations made by Joanne Hayes, Mary Hayes, Edmund Hayes and Michael Hayes in written statements to their solicitor on 23 October 1984 and by Kathleen Hayes in a written statement to her solicitor on 24 October 1984 concerning the circumstances surrounding the questioning and the taking of statements from those persons on 1 May, 1984;

(3) any matters connected with or relevant to the matters aforesaid which the tribunal considers it necessary to investigate in connection with their inquiries into the matters mentioned at (1) and (2).

Mr Justice Kevin Lynch was appointed as the sole member of the tribunal. There were no assessors. There was no call for any recommendations. The Tribunal met for the first time at the end of December 1984 in Dublin, then moved to Tralee. Closing sessions were again held in Dublin. There were five legal teams, each with a solicitor and a senior and junior counsel. These were the Tribunal’s team, a team representing the DPP and the attorney general; a team for the Garda superintendents, one for the junior Garda ranks, and a team for all of the Hayes family. All the legal members were men; there was a single ban gharda (policewoman) among the 28 members of the police. A written report was submitted to the Minister on 3 October 1985, and accepted. The Report was not debated in the Oireachtas.

Joanne Hayes was in the witness box for five days. There are examples of the questions put to here here.

The Report not written as a dry legal document, rather it describes the events as they were thought to have happened and ‘balanced legal erudition with storytelling’. The Tribunal determined that Joanne Hayes had delivered her baby in her bed in the presence of some family members. The story about a birth outside in the field was a fabrication; the story about stabbing the infant was also fabricated as a conspiracy among the family members who had read of the finding of the Cahirciveen baby in the press and had assumed that it had been Joanne’s.

Scattered throughout the Report are the judge’s comments and criticisms. In a Summary, the Tribunal found 43 sections to be the ‘legal facts’. The Summary said that Joanne Hayes was not the mother of the Cahirsiveen baby, and that there were only ever two babies. The Tribunal accepted part of the ‘confessions’, that Joanne Hayes had given birth in her room in the presence of family members; it discarded the descriptions of the stabbing of the infant. It decided that there had been a family conspiracy.

16. The Tralee baby cried and Joanne Hayes put her hands on the baby’s throat to stop it crying by choking it, as a result of which it died.

17. Joanne Hayes also hit the Tralee baby with the bath brush in the presence of Mrs Hayes and Kathleen Hayes.

There is no clear forensic evidence for either of these statements. The Tribunal did make some criticism of the Gardaí handling of the case; not permitting Joanne Hayes to show the Gardaí where she had hidden her infant was ‘completely unjustified’. The Gardaí were criticised for not re-appraising the case when the Tralee baby was found. The twins theories were described as ‘unlikely, far-fetched, and self-contradictory’.

28. There was no assault on, or physical abuse of, any member of the Hayes family or Bridie Fuller by any member of the Gardaí.

In relation to the honesty of the family and the Gardaí, the Report stated:

…They are not barefaced lies on the part of the Gardaí (as regrettably is the case with members of the Hayes family) but they are an exaggeration over and above the true position, or a gliding of the lily, or wishful thinking elevated to the status of hard fact.

The Hayes family were repeatedly considered to be liars.

Mrs Mary Hayes got into the witness box, solemnly took the Oath and commenced patently lying through her teeth.

The Tribunal is regrettably coerced to the conclusion that Mrs Hayes committed blatant perjury in relation to the foregoing evidence.

The fact that the Hayes family lie about some aspects of the matter, does not necessarily mean that they lie about everything. First, insofar as they say things which are against their own interest, they are probably telling the truth because they would not falsely and unnecessarily expose themselves to criticism and unpleasant consequences by lies against their own interest. In relation to other topics also, it does not necessarily follow that these all must be untrue because they conspired together to give a false account of the birth of the baby in the field in order to try to absolve all the members of the Hayes family (other than Joanne Hayes) and Bridie Fuller from any responsibility for the death and disposal of the Tralee baby.

Coercing doctors

The government has recently suggested that medical graduates should be compelled to work for five years in the NHS; it seems that doctors owe society for their training.

Stella Vig offered her opinion on this in her blog, here. I wrote this as a response to her thoughts:

This question has been raised at least once in the past.

I thought then, and I still think, that it is thoroughly disgusting, morally repugnant and typical of any government without the ability to think and who lack any ethical compass: it is a poverty of understanding.

The question can only be asked because the NHS is a monopoly employer. The numbers of medical students is determined by the NHS years in advance, taking account of what are expected to be the needs of the service and the population — and presumably allowing for some ‘wastage’. This limitation of student numbers is called a ‘numerus clausus’ on the continent, though there restriction seems to be based on the limitations of teaching establishments. Thus, being a medical student carries the implication that you will always work for the NHS; there are other opportunities, but these are small in numbers. A few people ‘escape’ into other fields, often in literature or the arts.

The question also begs the question, what is a university education for? For many, it is about stretching their academic abilities, learning about learning and demonstrating that they have a brain which is (potentially) multi-functional. (Classics students apparently make very good traders on the financial markets.)

The government has never suggested that all law graduates should work for a ‘national legal service’, or that vets should work for a veterinary service, or architects should work for the government. These are all university subjects, but all lead, in general, to employment in that specialty. Like medicine, these are as much training specialties as they are academic specialties.

Those who study, for example, ancient Greek or Latin, or English literature demonstrate that they have brains that can be used somewhere; it is an absurdity to suggest that they must work for the government for years.

Medical students are captive; they cannot work elsewhere than the NHS for some years. That is not an argument to treat them differently from other students. It is more like force majeure.

Hayek II: Neoliberalism

Hayek organised a conference for the like-minded in 1947; it was held at the Swiss resort of Mont Pèlerin. Three dozen people attended; the costs were almost completely covered by the Credit Suisse Bank. Milton Friedman came from Chicago, and later developed his monetarist ideas on these foundations. The Mont Pelerin Society still exists, with aims based on the founders’s ideas.

Antony Fisher, having read The Road to Serfdom, met Hayek in 1945. Rather than his becoming a politician, Hayek advised the formation of a ‘think tank’ to promote ‘free market’ ideas. After Fisher had made a fortune from battery hens, he established the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1955. It was later described as:

The arguably most influential think tank in British history… benefited from the close alignment of IEA’s neoliberal agenda with corporate interests and the priorities of the Thatcher government.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the cofounders of the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974. Though nominally non-partisan it has had strong connections with the Conservative party. Policies are based on free market economics of a monetarist type, that is ‘neoliberal’; individual choice and responsibility; and on concepts of duty, family, liberty and the rule of law.

Mrs Thatcher used Friedman’s and her think tank’s monetarist ideas in what became known as ‘Thatcherism’; Ronald Reagan used ‘supply side economics’ in what became Reaganomics, though there was much similarity between the two doctrines. Thatcher and Reagan also advocated neoconservative ideas, those dogmas of neoliberalism in economic policy, that is non-interference with industry, combined with coercive effects on the population in terms of ‘public security’ and ‘traditional’ morality. This was despite the GOP’s traditional dislike of ‘big government’. Such ‘traditional’ morality was based on Victorian fantasies, repackaged and sold on as how things had always been.

Mrs Thatcher began a programme of privatisation, the selling off of state assets to private enterprise, another important part of neoliberal economics. Such enterprise would enhance ‘competition’ and thus give greater and better choice. Now the idea of competition is fine if you are selling ‘white goods’ or cars, when competition clearly improves the breed. It’s less clear that selling off council (social) housing actually improves the housing stock. In the UK, the National Health Service was established in 1948, taking over almost all hospitals. Since then the training of junior doctors to become either general practitioners or hospital consultants has been entirely within the NHS. There are certainly a number of ‘private’ hospitals; these compete with the NHS at the higher end of the ‘market’ for health services; they do not provide a parallel, comprehensive service. (In parts of continental Europe, private and public hospitals both train doctors and provide complete services.) Despite this, successive governments have attempted to bring ‘competition’ into the NHS, with various artificial splits between purchasers and providers, and commissioning groups. (Note, most of these ‘reforms’ refer to England; Scotland and N Ireland have rather different systems.) The present health secretary, Mr J Hunt, co-authored a book about a decade ago on why the NHS should be privatised; today’s funding problems are seen by many as a ‘death by a thousand cuts’, designed to make the NHS unviable, and pave the way for proper, full privatisation. The previous health secretary, Mr A Lansley, now Lord Lansley, is an advisor to such privatising health service organisations.

Mrs Thatcher took on and defeated the ‘coercive’ trades unions. While many of these had certainly become very powerful—too powerful, perhaps, their original aims of protecting their members from rapacious capitalists have been severely reduced. Her monetarist policies, designed to curb inflation, resulted in around 3 million unemployed people. Business was ‘deregulated’ in a bonfire of red-tape; capital controls were scrapped, and the free movements of goods encouraged. With this went the free movement of people which was unproblematic in the UK until the accession of eastern European countries to the European Union, when free movement into the UK became a ‘bad thing’.

A further noticeable achievement of Thatcherism was the marked decline in the UK as an engineering and manufacturing country, with these activities outsourced abroad; and the marked rise in service industries. The deregulation of banking was particularly prominent in this, with London becoming a world financial centre; there was an influx of brash and abrasive American banks and financial institutions into the gentlemanly world of the City of London. The government didn’t attempt any replacement of the manufacturing industries in the north of England. (Similarly in the US, heavy engineering was outsourced, with those areas becoming known as the ‘rust belt’ or ‘fly over’ states.)

Mrs Thatcher also lowered rates of income tax on higher earnings. At one time previously, taxation of earned and unearned income rose to 98%, a level which is surely confiscatory. The threshold for income tax has also been gradually raised over the years. However, the poor pay relatively more of their income in tax than the rich because of tax and excise duty on so many goods, even if the rich contribute more in absolute terms to the total of income tax take. Hayek believed in ‘proportional’ rather than ‘progressive’ taxation, and tax rates have moved in the direction he would approve of.

New Labour continued many of Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies; New Labour’s ‘third way’ is a mixture of some socialist ideas with bits of neoliberalism. Labour also increased private finance initiatives (PFIs) whereby private investment was sought for, say capital projects, with the state then paying for this over decades. Clearly, any lessons from the Glasgow Trams had been forgotten; and of course, experienced capitalists could easily tie civil servants in knots when it came to the details of the contracts. Hinchingbrooke Hospital was run for a time by a private company; it seems to have been thought that this would increase ‘efficiency’ and give greater patient satisfaction. However, the company could not run it at a satisfactory profit, and therefore withdrew, leaving the state ‘holding the baby’, as always. Private companies can prosper at times; if things don’t go so well they just ‘cut their losses’. This is something ignored in neoliberal theory; that public services are not easily amenable to ‘privatisation’.

Despite such defects, neoliberal economic theories seemed to be working in the decades after their introduction. Wealth was indeed increasing; but looking behind the outline figures, it is apparent that such wealth did not ‘trickle down’ as it was supposed to. Rather the less well off stayed less well off, and the rich got richer. Rates of pay, in real terms, barely increased during the decades. Meanwhile, executive pay increased enormously; the differentials between the lowest and highest paid in a company vastly increased. In part this was because executives simply could raise them, and in part because companies were now expected to report three or six-monthly. And the expectation was for ever increasing growth, and thus shareholder dividends. (See also here.)Also, ‘corporate raiders’ and ‘asset strippers’ could buy unloved companies, and then sell off the various bits for profit. Short-termism replaced the idea of steady, unspectacular growth of the first 30 years after WW2.

The increasing wealth disparity or inequality had unexpected results, effects that the theorists had either not thought of, or if they had thought of them, felt that they could be ignored. Remember, Hayek was ‘not an egalitarian’. The effects were mostly in terms of health and social problems, and it’s very clear that the greater the inequality, the greater the magnitude of the problems.

health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries.jpg

I cannot imagine, for all his ivory-tower theorising, that even non-egalitarian Hayek would have been happy with this outcome.

Financial organisations such as banks were ‘de-regulated’ and allowed greater freedom as actors in the market. One such area was the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage market in America. Here, the idea was that although the individuals had a poor credit rating, it didn’t matter for the continuing rise in the value of their property would make such mortgages safe. Clearly, the idea of ‘asset bubbles’ had been forgotten or mislaid. The mortgages were combined in many and complex ways, some so complex that many people, including those selling them, didn’t really know what they were. Asset bubbles always burst; and we know what happened. Lehman Brothers, a previously well respected bank, went bust. Many other banks had to be rescued by the state, though of course it is the taxpayer who pays, and the taxpayer on a modest income who pays most; such banks were ‘too big to fail’. And following them, several European countries were going the same way. Greece was, and is, the worst affected; Spain isn’t far behind. Now, if you or I go bust, we are declared bankrupt, and our creditors get what little we have. But, it was different for the lenders to such countries; The lenders expected to be repaid, and the bail-outs that such countries received went into the banks’ pockets, and not to the countries. Meanwhile, the countries were expected to introduce ‘austerity’, to cut public wages, public services and pensions. Even medical services, which the International Monetary Fund had declared to be a ‘luxury’ item weren’t spared. Thus, malaria returned to Greece. Nor was it anyway explained how reducing the size of the economy, and impoverishing so many of the population, which is what austerity does, could actually pay off a debt. When the banks went bankrupt in Iceland, the population soon realised the magnitude of the debt they were expected, as individuals, to take on. They simply refused. Look what happened:

Iceland Greece recovery.jpg

In Britain, when a coalition government was formed after the 2010 election, the then Chancellor and Prime Minister implemented a policy of austerity. This they said, was because the previous Labour government had overspent and squandered. In reality, it was an application of Hayekian philosophy and neoconservatism. That is, economic austerity and working towards a ‘small state’ government; and working on purely ideological grounds. Disgracefully, their Liberal Democrat partners went along with this.

Keynesianism had no answer to the problems produced by the oil price increases in the 1970s and the ‘stagflation’ in that decade. Keynes was cast aside, to be replaced by Hayek. Neoliberalism gave us increased wealth, but only for the wealthy; not just the top 10% or the top 1% but particularly the top 1% of the 1%; and created the ‘masters of the universe’. And gave us privatisation, globalism,  deregulation, the idea that ‘the market knows best’; and all that gave us the Great Crash of 2007/08. I think it very unlikely that the paternalistic Professor Hayek could have envisaged a world where gentlemanly rules of conduct in business no longer applied, and I’m equally sure that he would have been aghast at the thought that his theories could have cause such destruction. Hayek did have an answer, though: austerity, and that has given us greater poverty, specially for the already poor, with preservation and increase in the wealth of the already wealthy. Hayek has no answer to the rust-belts of the American mid-west or the north of England beyond ‘the market knows best’ though the market wasn’t interested. As in the 1930s after the Crash and the Great Depression, it looks as if Britain will again be in a ‘lost decade’, or possibly two.

In Britain, a very vociferous group of Thatcherite ‘drys’ and others opposed in principle to the European Union blamed the EU for all the ills of the country; the EU was portrayed as being responsible for the ‘swarms’ of migrants over-running the country. In the US, ‘Wall Street’ was widely seen as the root of the financial problems, the ‘greed is good’ culture of Gordon Gecko; and the migrants came illegally from Mexico and were mostly ‘baddies’. And that gave us—it should not be a surprise—both #Brexit and #Trump.

Hayek I: Serfdom and Liberty

Neoliberalism or neoclassicism is the dominant politico-economic theory today; so dominant that it’s hard sometimes to realise that there are another half dozen or more alternative theories. All theories share one trait; they are all incomplete and cannot fully explain the workings of the economy at micro and macro levels. Neoliberalism is founded on the ideas of FA Hayek.

Friedrich August von Hayek (FA Hayek) was born in Imperial Vienna in 1899; his father was a physician, his mother came from a wealthy family. He graduated in law and political science form the University of Vienna, becoming an economist, and later a philosopher of economic systems. In the early 1930s he moved to the London School of Economics, and after the war moved to Chicago; later he had a rather peripatetic career. Beside his academic work, he published  two popular works; The Road to Serfdom in 1994, and the Constitution of Liberty in 1960. Serfdom was very popular when published, particularly in the US; Liberty was very influential in the Conservative party.

Serfdom is a very severe criticism of socialism, fascism and communism. It is one of the densest and most turgid books I have ever read; the sentences are long and complex to the extent that it is hard sometimes to be sure what things mean. Sometimes, I thought that Hayek was thinking in German but transposing into English. Hayek’s criticism of totalitarian systems, socialism, fascism and communism, rests on the idea of ‘liberty’, for he reasoned that all three systems would deprive individuals and firms of this, largely through central planning. For Hayek, liberty was an essential for human development; it includes laissez-faire (originally, laissez-nous faire), the idea that business should be free of artificial, state organised restraints. His concept of freedom, of liberty, is rather bounded by the idea that it is the freedom from coercive action by the state.

Western civilisation, Hayek declared, comprised liberty, democracy, capitalism, individualism, free trade and internationalism. It’s one of the features of the book that Hayek makes statements or assertions on every page as if like axioms they are obviously and self-evidently correct, yet I so often felt that, while he wasn’t wrong, his assertions needed modification.

Collectivism is, he asserted, centralised planning and a planned economy; but competition is always superior, and planning is anti-competitive. He favoured centralised planning for competition, not against it. He felt that a planned economy needed a dictator.

The system of private property, he asserted, was the most important guarantee of freedom, and not just for the wealthy. Even the poor had a better chance in a competitive economy than in a planned one. Although the wealthy had better chances in a competitive economy, there was, he felt, a case for reducing this inequality though the process had to be ‘impersonal’; he did think the world of the wealthy was ‘a better one’. He allowed for state intervention where an individual had been submerged in a ‘hazard’ against which it would have been impossible to make adequate provision; the case for state social insurance in such cases was strong. There’s much more along similar lines, stressing individual liberty, the importance of wealth while admitting that there might actually be a role for the state at times. Keynes thought there was much that he agreed with in the book. Certainly, the criticism of coercion collectivism is severe and continuous, and he makes a good case against it most of the time.

The Constitution of Liberty continues and expands his themes. It’s in three parts; firstly, why liberty is necessary and the value of freedom; secondly, there is a discussion of the law and legal institutions; and thirdly, his principles are tested against some economic and social issues. It’s an easier read than Serfdom; Hayek acknowledges the sympathetic help he received from Mr E McClellan ‘to straighten out [his] involved sentences’ (but see below). The front cover of my copy shows a pair of artery forceps, a rather odd bit of symbolism but perhaps emphasising his Hayek’s criticism of coercion. Let me emphasise just a few bits of what is a long book.

If, Hayek said, ‘capitalism created the proletariat’, it was because the wealthy gave employment to the poor, allowing them to survive and procreate. He thought that only the independently wealthy could ‘reason’ and concluded that wealth is a ‘good thing’.

In Chapter 19 has a section on social security and health. Hayek thought that the case for a free health service was based on two (economic) misconceptions; that medical needs are objectively ascertainable, and that they ought to be met fully in every case ignoring economic consequences, and secondly, that improved medical care results in economic improvements.

The conception that there is an objectively determinable standard of medical services which can and ought to be provided for all, a conception which underlies the Beveridge scheme and the whole British National Health Service, has no relation to reality. In a field that is undergoing as rapid change as medicine is today, it can, at most, be the bad average standard of service that can be provided for all.

Under a system of state medicine choice will have to be imposed by authority upon the individuals. It may seem harsh, but it is probably in the interest of all that under a free system those with full earning capacity should often be rapidly cured of a temporary and not dangerous disablement at the expense of some neglect of the aged and mortally ill. Where systems of state medicine operate, we generally find that those who could be promptly restored to full activity have to wait for long periods because all the hospital facilities are taken up by people who will never again contribute to the needs of the rest.

There are so many serious problems raised by the nationalisation of medicine…But there is one the gravity of which the public has scarcely yet perceived…The inevitable transformation of doctors, who have been members of a free profession primarily responsible to their patients, into paid officials of the state, officials who are necessarily subject to instruction by authority and who must be released from the duty of secrecy so far as authority is concerned.

The Beveridge Report identified ‘five great evils’, want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Hayek thought that the evils were really inflation, taxation, the dominance of government in education and the arbitrary powers of social security.

In an postscript to the book, Hayek explains ‘Why I am not a Conservative’. He describes himself as an ‘Old Whig’, that is an archeo-liberal, a believer in free trade and laissez-faire. He also says, quite explicitly, that ‘I am not an egalitarian’. A liberal, he thought, was based on moral beliefs of conduct which did not interfere with others and which does not justify coercion. A liberal was someone who went somewhere, who didn’t stand still, and was not an egalitarian. A conservative had a belief in inherited wealth and position with thus a greater influence on others. (Hayek also believed that inherited wealth was accompanied by inherited talent.) A conservative had a fear of change, and a distrust in the new; a conservative lacked principles; not moral principles, for these were usually strong, but political principles which would enable him to work with others with differing moral values, and it was the tolerance of such differences which made it possible to build a strong society.

There is much more that I could identify and quote; but now I want to turn to my own thoughts on Hayek, and on what he didn’t say. There is no criticism that I see of free market policies or laissez-faire, rather the acceptance that this is the best way for an economy and always was. Well, the might of the British economy in the 19th century wasn’t originally based on free trade, for that came later. British wealth was based on colonialisation and the expropriation of property, and on tariff barriers. It was only after the mutiny that the ‘pearl in the crown’ was a freed from the grasp of the East India Company who regarded it as a ‘cash cow’. Britain had high import tariffs—think of the ‘Corn Laws’—but demanded that other countries had low tariffs for British guns—think of ‘gunboat diplomacy’. Free trade is fine once you are the world’s major trading power, but it doesn’t get you there.

Hayek thought that the typical man was much better off in 1900 than in 1800; perhaps this was true for the rising middle class. In 1800 much of the population were agricultural labourers who were paid a pittance and lived in hovels. The town/country population split of 20/80 in 1800 was reversed in a century. With industrialisation, many moved to the cities where they were paid a pittance and lived in slums. Things were even worse for single women, even in 1900; they could barely earn enough to provide for themselves, and if they had a child, they were often forced ‘onto the street’.  Industrialisation needed workers, preferably cheap ones; children often worked long hours in dangerous conditions. Attempts to reduce their hours were met with the usual excuse that it would be too costly to pay proper wages to adults. Hayek should have known this. If only the wealthy were able to reason, as he said, perhaps it was because the poor were too concerned with everyday subsistence to consider higher things.

The Irish agricultural labourer in the mid 19th century grew his and his family’s staple food, the potato. At that time Ireland exported much food to England. When blight destroyed the potato harvest, the peasant could not afford to food buy in the market, and during the famine food was still exported. At the time, Peel was prime minister, and arranged a covert shipment of ‘Indian maize’; the Irish had no experience of this. Peel was replaced by Lord John Russell who, at least initially, did not want to offer aid because it would be seen as interfering in the market, of upsetting laissez-faire. Hayek should certainly have known this, and should have seen that there were limits to what the market could do, where the market could and did fail.

In a railway accident in 1889 in Armagh, 80 people were killed; many of them were children. The subsequent Report advised the use of a ‘fail-safe’ breaking system. Such an automatic system had been urged for many years by the Board of Trade, but the railway companies always stalled—capitalists aren’t usually altruists, and the Board had no enforcement (coercive) powers. The accident was on 12 June; an Act came into force on 30 August. During a reading of the Bill, one Liberal MP said:

It would be a very serious thing if the Government in its attempt to protect the lives of passengers by rail, and the lives of working men, should take on itself to decide what form of carriage, what form of coupling and break [brake], is the proper form for railway companies to use. I am of opinion that the lives of passengers and railway men will be safer in the long run, if these matters are left in the hands of those who understand them best. I cordially approve of the pressure of public opinion being applied, through this House or through the Press, to railway managers, to compel them to consider both the safety of the public and the safety of their men; but if we endeavour in this matter—as we have, in my opinion, sadly too often endeavoured in the past—to give Government officials the power to decide what is the precise form of appliances which shall be used in connection with railways, we shall not be providing for the safety of the public or the safety of railway servants.

That is what Hayek believed; leave it up to the capitalists, to the market, and all will be well. As so often, it takes a disaster before anything gets done.

There’s a further ‘elephant in the room’; Hayek refers constantly to ‘man’, ‘manhood’ and ‘men’. There are almost no mentions of women; even when acknowledging the help he received from Mr McClellan he notes ‘he understands that Mrs McClellan helped’; she isn’t named. Hayek ought to have known of the role that women twice played in the wartime economies of Britain, and of the ‘women’s lib’ movements.

Hayek was a product of his times; born into the bourgeoisie he saw savings destroyed by the hyper-inflation after the Great War; he saw, and recognised, the evils of fascism and communism, even if he thought that socialism led inevitably to communism. He was an elitist, apparently ignorant of the roles of women, a believer in ‘free trade’ in some sort of golden age, even when neither actually existed; a man of blinkered vision. He felt that his views were unfashionable; his writings are so difficult that I wonder what he conceals that I haven’t discovered. It’s not necessary to write in a way that makes comprehension difficult, but clear writing does take time and effort.

He didn’t believe in ‘socialised medicine’; I’d say his views weren’t just ‘harsh’, they were cruel, unsympathetic and ignorant. They demonstrate the triumph of economic theory over common humanity. The UK’s Health Service certainly isn’t perfect, but much of the founding principles remain. Initially, the planners thought that once the NHS started, the costs of treatment would actually fall; it only took a few months for the extent of the need for treatment became apparent. Only the other day, I read of a gynaecologist in the early days who saw several women every week with a complete uterine prolapse, a procidentia, which they had tried to hold up with towels. The NHS staff most certainly aren’t lackeys of the state. And in the US, even with Obamacare, around 10% of the population have no health insurance and a dubious ability to access treatment; yet the US also provides world-class treatment—but limited to those who can afford it. A ‘bad average’ or nothing?

A last word, an anecdote, a chilling foretaste of the future:

At a meeting a few months after Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party, one of her colleagues, or so the story goes, was explaining what he saw as the core beliefs of conservatism. She snapped open her handbag, pulled out a dog-eared book, and slammed it on the table.

“This is what we believe,” she said.

The book was The Constitution of Liberty.

Recession V

What then of Ireland, both North and South? In the South, after the boom and bubble of the early naughties, the banks were bust. The government promised that deposit holders would not loose out—after all, such depositors were much closer to home than many of those depositors in the Icelandic banks. And having promised what they could barely manage, the Irish government were obliged to go as supplicants to the ‘Troika’ of the EC, the ECB and the IMF for help. These, not having learned the lessons of history, prescribed austerity (health care programmes are a ‘luxury’, for example). Meanwhile, in the UK, the Labour government which had tried some modest stimulus were replaced by a coalition between the Tories and the Lib-Dems. The former had promised that there would be no ‘top-down’ reorganisation of the NHS; the latter had promised that there would be no increase in student fees for university. Once installed in the coalition, both parties totally ignored these ‘promises’; there was to be a major reorganisation of the NHS (in England and Wales), and as for university fees, well we know what happened. This coalition also advanced the idea that Labour (or benefit scroungers, health tourists, the obese, take your pick of the baddies) were responsible for the economic problems; and the the remedy was self-imposed austerity—what the prime minister, in a delightful Spoonerism, described as ‘maso-sadism’. In N Ireland, however,  it was politics as usual, a state that has generally continued up to now; that is, a concentration on sectarianism, bickering, ‘flegs’, emblems, marches, though with a common agreement that abortion, equal marriage, sodomy—anything to do with sex—were of far greater import than the state of the economy. So, what happened? You could almost argue that this emphasis on historical problems has prevented the implementation of the worst excesses of austerity in the North.

From historical parallels, we could expect that unemployment would rise in a recession, and the austerity response; and that mental health would worsen. Further, we might expect that poverty would increase, as would homelessness caused by mortgage foreclosures. Not all these indices are captured in official statistics, making it difficult to measure some of these things.

There is indirect evidence of the reduction in ’disposable earnings’ in N Ireland. Some people, we might imagine the young, simply could not afford to drive as much:

RTA deaths NI.jpg

N Ireland Source: PSNI

And in the South:

Ireland RTA deaths.jpg

Republic of Ireland Source: Wikipedia

While the DHSS and the PSNI in the North, and An Garda Síochána in the South might feel that this reduction is related to their policies, the reality is more likely to be related to relative poverty.

Suicides are a crude proxy for mental health, particularly depression:

death by suicide NI.jpg

N Ireland Source: NISRA

Ireland suicide.jpg

Republic of Ireland Source: CSO

While you could argue that the recession and austerity are associated with increases in suicides, there is another factor which may be more important—emigration, the Irish response through the centuries to financial, social and economic disaster through the centuries.

The numbers for N Ireland are actual numbers of people, for the South they are in thousands. The diagrams are for net migration—negative numbers mean emigration is greater than immigration.

Net migration NI.jpg

N Ireland Source: NISRA

Net migration Ireland.jpg

Republic of Ireland Source: CSO

There are many factors in suicides, not just austerity, yet the rise with the onset of austerity is striking, as is the rise in net emigration. All of these emigrations, and many of the suicides, represent the human cost of rescission and attendant austerity; families torn apart, relationships destroyed. These are situations for which only the most cold-hearted actuary could translate into financial terms.

Homelessness is more difficult to measure. There are multiple definitions of ‘homelessness’, why people are homeless and look for help. There are no local statistics showing totals (trends) of homeless over time. The NI Housing Executive records the numbers of applicants, and the reason for their being homeless; but this cannot be a complete picture of the problem.

Homeless NI.jpg

Source: Crisis

The NI Housing Executive (here) do note that there has been increasing trend in homelessness since the 1990s, and a ‘significant increase in 2010/2011’, in part due to the current economic situation.

The causes of homelessness are multiple; poverty is only one of them. Curiously, ‘poverty’ is not included in this diagram:


Source: NIHE

Indirect measures of homelessness are mortgage repossessions; this clearly shows a rise in 2008/09, as could be expected.


Source: Crisis

I have been unable to discover equivalent data for the Republic. Following the 2011 Census, a  special report was issued with details of the homeless then—a ‘snapshot’. There do not seem to be any continuing data.

Ireland census 2011_1.jpg

Source: CSO

Recession IV

[W]hat experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

—GFW Hegel

The Great Crash in the US in 1929 followed a period of boom, a bubble. The initial government response was retrenchment, often seen as the genesis of the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after becoming president, inaugurated a ‘New Deal’, a form of stimulus encompassing both social welfare and infrastructure projects. During the depression, unemployment vastly increased; read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to get an idea of what things were like. With unemployment went poverty, expressed in the works of official government photographers:

Migrant mother.jpg

Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother

What’s not so well known is that deaths from road traffic collisions fell markedly during this time; people simply didn’t have the money to afford petrol. Deaths from suicide rose until the beginning of the New Deal:


Source for this and the other diagrams: Stuckler and Basu, 2013, The Body Economic

Economics is theoretical; the equivalent of a medical ‘double-blind, randomised, controlled’ trial doesn’t exist. Modern medicine no longer believes in the power of powdered unicorn horn or of gnats’ urine. However, there are examples where similar countries have pursued very different responses to recession, a sort of ‘natural experiment’.

Communist Russia collapsed in the early nineties. Russia, and many satellites, introduced ‘Shock Therapy’, a period of very rapid privatisation of state assets, though this is now more usually associated with corruption, nepotism, asset-stripping, billionaires and their yachts and football clubs. Shock Therapy lead to mass unemployment, poverty, a great rise in alcohol consumption, and the premature deaths of 10 million Russian men.

Russian mortality.jpg

Other countries, such as Poland and some central European states, privatised much more slowly, averting much of the Russian health and mortality disaster; and their financial recovery was quicker.

Russian and central euro recovery.jpg

In the 1990s, there was a financial crisis in SE Asia. Indonesia, S Korea, Thailand and Malaysia went ‘cap in hand’ to the World Bank, and the IMF (International Monetary Fund). If the Bank provides the finance, the IMF are the ‘enforcers’ or ‘heavies’ of the financial orthodoxy. At one time the IMF thought that health services were a ‘luxury’, and could therefore be sharply cut back. Malaysia didn’t accept the tenets of austerity, while the others did as they were told. Thailand once had an impressive disease control programme, including for HIV. What happened was inevitable:

IMG_20150317_0001 copy.jpg

To return to Europe. Finland and Sweden had major financial problems in the 1980s, with greatly increased unemployment. However, both countries had ‘Active Labour Market Programmes’, a system where the unemployed had access to a counsellor and to significant financial ‘benefits’. The counsellor supported the unemployed person both financially and, if you like, ‘emotionally’ by actively and deliberately helping and motivating the person to find alternative employment. Suicide, the common result of poverty and unemployment actually fell in Sweden:

Sweden suicide.jpg

Contrast this with what happens in the UK. The Coalition has ‘reformed’ the ‘benefits’ system so that, for example, if an applicant is as much as a nanosecond late for an appointment at the Job Centre, he or she will be ‘sanctioned’, a polite euphemism for benefit reduction. Quite how this will help to motivate and support people isn’t explained. And the Job Centre staff get ‘brownie points’ for sanctions. (‘Benefits’ covers pensions, for which people have paid, as well as welfare payments, for which people may well have paid; ‘benefits’ are not a form of charity, neither are those in need the ‘undeserving’ poor of the torrid Victorian imaginations. And ‘reform’ is a euphemism for ‘change’, often for the worse.)

The recent and continuing woes of some of the Euro countries—particularly the PIIGS, Portugal, Italy, (Republic of) Ireland, Greece and Spain are well known. In Spain, the youth unemployment rate is now above 50%, as it is in Greece; the young are the people who we look to in the future to maintain and grow the economies. In Greece, the ‘Troika’ of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF have produced an economy now 25% smaller than previously, with adult unemployment now 25%. And yet this economy is expected to repay the ‘bail-outs’ it has received. Pensions and health programmes have been severely reduced; health provision funding by an initial one-third, and more subsequently. (Remember, pension recipients have paid into their schemes for years.) HIV infections have risen alarmingly; pesticide spraying programmes, to control mosquitoes, have been abandoned, with the inevitable outbreaks of West Nile fever and of malaria. Not to forget, health provision, in the eyes of the IMF, is a ‘luxury’ good. Unsurprisingly, the Greeks recently voted for an anti-austerity government.

There’s another, rather unpleasant, side to the negotiations around the repayments of debts by southern European countries. It’s not where the repayments end up—it’s accepted that the bail-outs to, say, Greece, while they initially go there, they are almost immediately returned to the banks who made the loans in the first place. If you or I spend beyond our financial abilities, our creditors will chase us, and we may well be made bankrupt. Our creditors, who loaned us the funds, will have to accept a much reduced repayment. But if a sovereign country, such as Greece, is in the same position, it really seems that any funds made available as a ‘bail out’ go straight to the banks, those ‘masters of the universe’ who were so foolish to lend in the first place. The condition of the Greek people is of no concern; the poor are always with us. But then banks, as we’ve seen, are ’too big to fail’, and bankers too arrogant to admit their mistakes. For whose benefit are the ‘bail outs’, the bankers or the people?

Remember too, the concept that the Euro was developed as much as anything to stabilise the German export industry. And that, to maintain and grow their exports, loans to poorer countries would allow these to access German products. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

The unpleasant feature is the hidden political ideology behind the ECB and, particularly, Germany. Southern European countries are Catholic, though Greece is Orthodox. Northern Europe is predominantly Protestant; there are stark echoes of Jean Calvin and the Protestant Work ethos. Frau Dr Merkel’s father was a Lutheran pastor. Think of the idea of the redemption of ‘sin’ in these ideologies. Vengeance is mine, I will repay. In the past, debtors could be taken into debt peonage by their creditors, with no real possibility of ever repaying their debts. But also, long ago, there was the idea of a sabbatical cancellation of (some) debts; the peons could return to their families.

Iceland is beyond the Euro zone, yet was as badly affected by the Great Crash. The three major banks, over-exposed to the collapsing sub-prime mortgage market folded. Following the collapses, the governments called on ‘the usual suspects’, who advised the usual treatment, austerity and repayment of bail-outs. After a while the population revolted, and a referendum on this was held; 93% of Icelanders voted to ditch austerity, and not to repay the debts of the private banks (at least not in any IMF timescale). A new government did as the people, the sovereign, wished, and refused to bail out the banks. (The UK and the Netherlands are fighting this in the courts.)  Compare what then happened in Iceland and Greece:

Iceland Greece recovery.jpg

As the lawyers say, Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Recession III

Is the US pattern of suicides and road traffic deaths in a recession/depression found elsewhere? I’m thinking specifically of N Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the great crash of 2007/08. Austerity, imposed externally in the South came earlier than self-imposed austerity in the North, where its effects were probably less than in mainland Britain.

N Ireland

Deaths from suicide:

death by suicide NI.jpg

(Source: DHSS, here)

Deaths from road traffic collisions:

RTA deaths NI_2.jpg

(Source: PSNI, here)

Republic of Ireland


Ireland RTA deaths.jpg

(Source: CSO, via nsrf.ie here)

Road traffic collision fatalities

Ireland RTA deaths.jpg

(Source: Wikipedia, here)

In both parts of Ireland, there has been a decrease in deaths on the road; the figures for 2012 from N Ireland were the lowest since records began in 1931. There has a certainly been an increase in deaths by suicide in both parts, more obvious in N Ireland.

There is, however, another factor at work; the traditional response to financial, social and economic problems in Ireland—emigration. Without emigration, it’s likely that there would have been many more deaths from suicide.

In the following diagrams, numbers above the line represent net immigration inwards, negative numbers represent net emigration outwards:

N Ireland

(Numbers on the vertical axis are actual numbers)

Net migration NI.jpg

(Source; NISRA, from here)

Republic of Ireland

(Numbers on the vertical axis are in thousands)

Net migration Ireland.jpg

(Source: CSO, here)

It’s quite clear from these two diagrams that net emigration in the South began earlier than in the North, and involved considerably greater numbers of people.

Net emigration isn’t a new phenomenon. David McCann wrote about it on Slugger in August 2013, here. He wrote of  the greatest challenge to N Ireland being the loss of the next generation.

Recession II

If ‘economics’ originally meant something like ‘household management’, today it’s synonymous with the management of wealth and productivity of a country. Economics is a largely theoretical activity, and it’s beliefs (or models) are highly politicalised. Since WWII, three models have dominated in the western world:




Economy made up of




Individuals are

Selfish, rational

Selfish, but layered (unquestioning acceptance of tradition)

Not very rational

Policy recommendations

Free market or intervention

Free market

Active fiscal policy, income redistribution to the poor

Response to recession





(Almost) any

Conservative (usually)


Source: based on Ha-Joon Chang, 2014, Economics: The User’s Guide

In the ’thirty glorious years’ after WWII, neo-classical theory was dominant; Thatcherism and Reaganism, from the early 1980s onwards, were based on the neo-liberal model of von Hayek and the Chicago school. This emphasised a reduction in the size of the state, the belief that markets knew best and should be interfered with as little as possible, and that the state ought not to be a provider of services. It also believed in the ‘trickle-down’ theory of wealth generation and distribution. Neo-liberalism reaches its apotheosis in the simplistic ideology of the ’Tea-Party’ faction of American republicanism, and in ‘libertarianism’, the extreme exposition of laissez-faire economics. (Laissez-faire was, after an initial stutter, the early response of the UK government to the Irish Potato Famine; it advocated ‘do nothing’, the market will take care of things. While Ireland exported grain to England, the population starved, died or emigrated.) The neo-liberal response to recession is austerity.

In the UK, the implementation of neo-liberal beliefs lead to the sale of state assets (or privatisation) and deregulation of the banking industry. The NHS, for example, was then expected to develop ‘internal markets’; more recently, the trend has been to open services to competition between all providers (also known as ‘creeping privatisation’).

If growth in the thirty glorious years was unspectacular, it was mostly positive, so that Supermac could boast, rightly, that ‘you’ve never had it so good’. (He, Macmillan, was able to build, at a time when the UK was still raddled economically after WWII, some 300,000 new homes per year.) Neo-liberalisation saw a massive increase in the banking industry, and a similar decline in manufacturing industry. Banks began to look for ever more ingenious methods to make money, because they now could. Mortgages were sold, predominantly in the US, to people who were poor risks; but packaged and repackaged with ‘insurance’ and sold as ‘risk free’. In reality, these products were junk, and were the root cause of the Great Crash of 2008/09.

The Labour government in the UK organised a massive credit package for its banks, on the basis that they were ‘too big to fail’, and attempted some modest stimulus to try to stave off a recession. When the Coalition government took power in 2010, they proceeded on a policy of austerity; a reduction in state spending, particularly on ‘benefits’ but with no rise in income tax. The Conservative part of the Coalition blamed the Labour party for the crash initially; as well as them, so-called ‘benefit-scroungers’, a supposedly vast pool of the idle and work-shy were blamed, as well as ‘health-tourists’ and the obese.

Recessions in the past have been (usually) associated with rises in unemployment, rises in poverty, rises in suicide, and other health problems. The economic cycle generally recovers, with a return of growth and prosperity, though recovery when austerity policies have been invoked is, historically, the exception. Part of the theory of austerity is that, by ‘getting a grip on government finances’, confidence will return to investors more quickly.

Despite Mrs Thatcher’s assertion, there is an alternative. John Maynard Keynes was the leading economic thinker of the 20th century. In a recession, he advocated increased government investment on infrastructure projects, and support through social welfare for those affected. Increased government spending could be financed by borrowing; the quid pro quo was that in good times, the state should build up reserves, for the natural state of economies is cyclical. This was said to be one of the failures of the recent Labour governments; they borrowed in good times to pay for extensions of the welfare state, or ‘benefits’, when they should ideally have been saving.  The graphic says otherwise, and shows that the debt ‘problem’ began with the Great Crash and the bail-out of the banks. It’s possible that the increased borrowing under the Coalition actually relates to some Keynesian social welfare stimulus, no matter that this isn’t the general understanding.


Source: Daily Telegraph