Keeping us alive – but for what?

17th January 2001

MY LOCAL supermarket used to have a counter where you could make up your own pizza. You chose the base and then there was a good 10 or 15 toppings to pile on to it. I loved it and was a frequent visitor – once a fortnight at least.

Then some bureaucrat decided it was a health risk and closed it down.

Just like that.

They didn’t ask for comments. They never said why they made the decision. For that matter, they never said who made the decision.

That’s the way it is, you see. Being a safety official means never having to say sorry.

The supermarket kept the counter going by getting a staff member to make up the pizza while you told them what to pick. I tried it a couple of times but the whole good had been taken out of it. I haven’t been back since.

I imagine that some suit somewhere is delighted with the 0.13973678385% decrease in the rate of food poisionings revealed in some annual report and is telling himself how well he’s done.

So it is with a due sense of dread that I learned of the proposal for a new super authority with overall responsibility for public safety in this State.

This is the main recommendation of a report on public safety published by Tainaiste Mary Harney over Christmas.

Ominously, according to the press release, the report says that Government agencies “should prioritise public safety in the decision making process”.

Not a word about personal liberty or choice. We are to be protected from ourselves whether we like it or not.

This safety culture, which has been gaining momentum over the past 30 years, will eventually strip individuals of all autonomy.

It is by far the biggest threat to civil rights since fascism or communism.

What incenses me about all this is the contempt for the individual’s right to assess his or her own risks.

For example, in the case of the pizza counter, the health authority (or whoever) could have put up a sign warning people about the dangers. Then people could make their own mind up.

The St John’s Wort controversy last year shows how few rights we actually have. St John’s Wort is a herbal remedy for depression. The Irish Medicines Board decided that it can not be made available to the public and now you need a prescription to get it.

Individuals who had been using St John’s Wort for years are subject to the same dictat. Once again an arm of the State is allowed to assume complete control over the decisions of citizens.

The problem in this country, and indeed all others, is that the rights of individuals are so weak in the constitution.

In my view the State should have no right to interfere with the decisions of individuals where there is no threat to the rights of anyone other than that individual.

Therefore the State should not have the right to force you to wear a seat belt. The State should not have the right to stop you taking any drugs you wish. The State should not have the right to override a personal assessment of risk. And the State should not have the right to keep you alive if you don’t want to stay alive.

The State should only have the right to regulate social affairs, not personal affairs.

I would like to see a constitutional amendment to enshrine the primacy of individual decision making above State laws.

The new Article 40.4 would read something like: The State must defer to the right of individuals to decide issues that relate solely to themselves as individuals.

Under this provision the people would have access to whatever drugs they deemed suitable for themselves, whether they wanted to wear seat belts and whether they want to take the risk of food poisoning in making pizzas in a supermarket.

What we have at the moment is a tyranny of the majority where the State is granted all power over individuals because 50% plus one of the electorate think it’s ok.

There is no point in living unless you are free. I hope the new safety authority grasps that fact.

As well as that…

The seat belt law started the rot

THE worse thing about the seat belt law is not the restriction it places on drivers.

The worst thing is that it sets a precedent. Once the logic of the seat belt law is accepted then no area of human activity is free of the dead hand of the State.

The people who advocated the law, mainly surgeons, guards and the relatives of accident victims, made their case in good faith. Given the appaling injuries suffered by people not wearing seat belts, it is hard not to agree that the law is a small price to pay.

But the question must be asked – does the law prevent injuries in the long term?

A recent survey showed that up to 70% of people still don’t wear seat belts. I believe that the more important role of public education was sidelined by the quick fix of legislation.

If the Government were unable to pass such a law far more work would have been put in to convincing drivers to belt up.

Also, there is growing evidence that safety inside cars only promotes drivers to drive even more recklessly. Cocooned by airbags, crumple zones, noise reduction, bull bars and seat belts, drivers have become unassailable.

A total of 83 pedestrians were killed on roads in the South last year. The seat belt law wasn’t much use to them.