Health initiative

County View


Mayo doctor leads health initiative


A Castlebar-born doctor, now working in Cork, is helping to spearhead a campaign to alert sports people and spectators of the dangers of sunburn. Dr John Bourke, a native of Maryland and now a consultant dermatologist at University Hospital in Cork, has linked up with last year’s All-Ireland winning Cork hurling team to highlight the dangers of unprotected exposure to sun. Dr Bourke is concerned at the incidence of malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, which is on the rise in Ireland. It is a condition which affects all ages and is one of the most prevalent causes of cancer in young men in the UK. The main risk of melanoma comes from sunburn, so Dr Bourke and his colleague in the campaign, Dr Fergus Lyons, stress the importance of sports people, such as GAA players who mainly play in the summer months, to protect their skin from the sun.
Equally, they are advocating that team supporters be aware of the dangers posed by standing for several hours in hot sunshine while they urge on their favourite teams to success. Spectators, they say, should use sun block and wear wide-brimmed hats, to protect vulnerable areas such as the tips of the ears from the ravages of sunburn.
To highlight the campaign, Dr Bourke and Dr Lyons linked up with the Cork hurling team last week just before their training session at Páirc Uí Rinn, where the entire squad underwent a screening for skin cancers.
The entire project is being organised by the Health Services Executive, which has made considerable advances in the Cork region in the early detection and treatment of melanoma. A dedicated lesion skin clinic at University Hospital is staffed by a multidiscipline team which offers speedy treatment of suspect cases of melanoma within seven days.
Up to now, says Dr Bourke, melanoma occurs more frequently in women than men, but men tend to leave it much later to do anything about it.
Thanks to the co-operation of the Cork hurlers, the aim is to drastically reduce the incidence while greatly increasing the speed of response as soon as a melanoma is discovered.

A bad week for the wigs
It has not been a good week for the legal profession. The bungling in the office of the Minister for Justice which caused such outrage from the public was mirrored in that damning Prime Time Report on how solicitors treat their clients.
Prime Time pulls no punches when it embarks on a crusade, and the special report on the legal profession was no exception. Fearing not to name names or to quote chapter and verse in relation to individual cases, the solicitors under scrutiny wisely opted for the strategy of keeping their thoughts to themselves and their faces away from the cameras.
It would have been interesting to hear the explanation of how a retired couple were misled into buying their dream cottage only to discover, too late, that the boundary of their property actually ran through their living room.
Another interviewer explained how his solicitors had pressed him to sign a letter of clearance, drawn up by themselves, when they were found guilty of charging him illegally for representing him in a claim against the redress board.
This was sharp practice on the grand scale, and it was left to Ken Murphy, director of the Law Society, to convince an increasingly sceptical interviewer that the self-regulation regime of the profession was indeed sufficient protection for the public from unscrupulous solicitors.

A gentler Rotary
Castlebar Rotary Club will mark a signal breakthrough this month when, for the second year running, a lady member will don the chain of office.
Vivienne Kyne, founder and CEO of 21st Century, wrote the first page of history this time last year when she took the top Rotary post. For many years, Rotary had existed as a male-only organisation, and it was only after lengthy and passionate debate that the walls came crumbling down to admit the fair sex.
Now, Castlebar is set to repeat last year’s innovation when local restaurateur Dolores Burke takes up where Vivienne Kyne leaves off.
She will have her work cut out to match the work rate of her predecessor, but nobody doubts the ability of Ms Burke to get the wheels spinning when she takes up the task. As vice-president last year, high profile charity events and overseas tours were organised without a hitch. The coming year will be even busier.

Raising standards, or lowering the bar?
If you come from an era when three honours in the Leaving Cert marked you out as a star pupil, you might be forgiven for thinking that we are now rearing a generation of young geniuses.
The huge increase in the numbers of students gaining high points in the Leaving has led to conflicting views as to where the cause lies.
For example, when the points system was introduced in 1992, only one in 25 Leaving Cert students managed to score 500 points. Today, that figure is down to one in ten. Last year, 145 students got the maximum 600 points in the Leaving; ten years ago that would be considered a near impossibility.
One school of thought puts it down to papers being marked more leniently than before, of high marks being given in certain subjects so as to encourage greater participation and that the opening of marked scripts to candidates has made examiners more wary of what marks they give.
The opposite view – mainly held by the teacher unions – is that marks are going up simply because teachers and students are working harder. They dismiss claims that there is a dumbing down of examinations, pointing out that international comparisons show Irish students to be among the most literate and best-educated in the world.
Critics of the points system argue that it is not a measure of real ability, and that it serves purely as a comparative yardstick which decides who gets into third level, and what career options are open to them.

Ballina looks for its seat back
Michelle Mulherin can hardly be blamed for her rap on the knuckles for RTÉ over ‘The Week in Politics’ coverage of the Mayo constituency battle in the next election.
Granted, the Ballina-based town and county councillor did have an axe to grind in that she is confidently expected to be on the Fine Gael ticket when the nation next goes to the polls. But that said, the programme was notable for its concentration on what might happen in Castlebar and what impact Beverley Flynn would have on matters as an independent candidate.
Michelle Mulherin’s claim is that Ballina will be a hotbed of politics in the coming months, with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seeking to fill the void in Dáil representation. Even more importantly, there is a palpable desire among business and community interests, and across the wider public, to see Ballina have a representative in the Dáil once again. The town is losing out, it is agreed, by not having a voice to push Ballina interests at national level.
This is not a new song, of course, and Ballina has an unenviable reputation of throwing out its most influential TDs for reasons which don’t make sense. Dr Tom Moffatt was the most recent victim of Ballina’s propensity to cut off its own nose, despite his acknowledged influence in the corridors of Leinster House. The same fate had befallen Paddy O’Toole of Fine Gael, a full cabinet minister in the coalition of Garret FitzGerald, who was unseated by his own in favour of his party rival Jim Higgins in 1987.
Unsympathetic outsiders say that Ballina deserves what it gets, and if it is suffering neglect in terms of Government spending and investment, it has only itself to blame.
All that should change next year when Dara Calleary for Fianna Fáil and Michelle Mulherin for Fine Gael – should her plans continue on target – will battle to restore a seat to Ballina. The Fine Gael solicitor can quite properly claim that her party has the upper hand; taking four out of six seats in the last County Council election was an achievement of some merit.
Either way, she has put down a marker to the national media that, contrary to what Seán O’Rourke might think, it’s not all about Castlebar and Beverley.

The Fianna Fáil Airport
The aforementioned Paddy O’Toole would have reason to hold bitter-sweet memories as he surveyed the celebrations to mark the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Knock Airport last week.
It is easy, two decades on, to forget what an influence the Knock Airport project had on national politics. Over the six years of its planning and preparation, it had been championed by Fianna Fáil, berated by the Coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour, and sneered at by a Dublin media and intelligentsia which dismissed it as a total white elephant.
When the late Monsignor Horan invited Charlie Haughey to perform the official opening of the airport 20 years ago, it was both a calculated snub to the then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, and an affirmation that, had it not been for Fianna Fáil, there would be no airport at Knock.
On September 25, 1980, the then Minister for Transport, Pádraig Flynn, signed the Government’s approval to the development of an airport at Knock. It was the culmination of the efforts of Monsignor Horan, the realisation – or so he hoped – of his dream.
Now, with government backing secured, there would be no looking back.
But he was wrong. Although the bulldozers were on the site within months of Flynn’s signature, conservative interest in the Department of Finance were battling against the project. It was a waste of public money, they said, a scandal, the rabbits would be running across the runway on which no plane would ever land. The naysayers were thrown a lifeline when Haughey’s government lost the 1981 election, and Garret FitzGerald’s Coalition took power.
Labour’s Barry Desmond, an arch critic of the airport, was now at the levers of power. Come December 1981 and the terse announcement said it all – the Government was withdrawing all funding from the airport at Knock.
“That’s an end to the lunacy,” said Desmond. Jim Mitchel, Transport Minister, came down to Galway to rub salt into the wounds.
“Not another penny will be spent on a foggy, boggy hill in Mayo,” he said.
But little did he know of the fighting spirit of Monsignor Horan, and the strength of the commitment given by Flynn, Albert Reynolds and Ray McSharry, but also, crucially, by Haughey personally. The day after the shock announcement, Flynn and Reynolds paid a symbolic visit to the airport site. There, on the top of Barnalyra hill, they told the Monsignor that when Fianna Fáil returned to power, the airport would be finished to the last detail.
The rest is history. This year, 650,000 passengers and 70 flights a week will provide the proof of Monsignor Horan’s vision. A triumph for the plain people of Ireland over those who thought they knew better.