I’ve been circling in on the theory of late that liberals have replaced Catholics as the principal source of dogmatism in our intolerant little isle.
While freely admitting I maybe guilty of confirmation bias, the issue of fluoride fits quite beautifully into the thesis.
I believe that the addition of fluoride into public water supplies is one of the greatest health initiatives in the western world.
The first national dental carie (cavity) survey of children was carried out in 1952, and it revealed that only 1pc of children aged 12-13 in Ireland had no cavities.
The average number of decayed/missing/filled teeth in children was 6.9.
Remember, this was a time when children weren’t consuming anything like the quantities of sugar they are today.
Faced with this dental health crisis, public health officials considered a policy of mass extraction. But the state’s dental advisor Seamus McNeill had researched water fluoridation in the US.
As a result he proposed it as a means of prevention of tooth decay. This was eventually implemented in 1964, but immediately an organisation called the Pure Water Association was established to object.
One member of the PWA was Brian McAffrey, President of An Rioghacht, The League of the Kinship of Christ.
Catholic social teaching emphasized that the rights of the individual and the family were sacrosanct and therefore, fluoridation was contrary to Catholic teaching.
Sean McEntee, the then Minister for Health, subsequently had to assure the Dail that the fluoridation of our water was not anti-Catholic.
A Gladys Ryan pursued a constitutional case all the way to the Supreme Court on the issue where her counsel, the politician Sean McBride, argued that fluoridation was in violation of Article 41 of the constitution that dealt with the authority of the family.
Mr Justice Kenny ruled that food and drink did no such thing.
The taxpayer had to fund the cost of the ridiculous case and Department of Health memos characterised the opponents as cranks.
Modern day objections, such as those articulated this week by Senator Mary Ann O’Brien, are remarkably similar.
Senator O’Brien, using the quack science arguments employed by those who oppose other public health programmes like vaccinations – is quick to emphasise the rights of the individual.
Gladys Ryan resorted to the constitution.
Similarly, Senator O’Brien repeatedly refers to fundamental human rights.
Because just like those ultra-conservatives in the 1960s, individual rights are the core ideology of the middle-class liberal.
But I don’t believe that choice is necessarily the highest priority.
Choice is all very well for those who have the means to choose – bus or car, private or public health, public or private school.
But what about those who haven’t the power or money to choose?
Every benchmark in life is based on class – most especially health. And dental health is no different.
Middle class people who support the abolition of fluoride in public water have the means to maintain better dental health, starting with regular visits to the dentist.
They also spend too much time on the Internet reading silly conspiracy theories about governments drugging the citizenry.
But if fluoride were removed from public water it would impact on poor people most.
Protecting the poor rather than indulging the middle-class is rarely achieved in Ireland.
It’s why fluoride is a rare success, and why we should keep it in the water.