Originally published in Volume I, Issue 3 on 9th November 1994 by Observer Reporters.
A number of stickers containing information described as “dangerously misleading” by medical experts and AIDS awareness campaigners were given out to a University Observer reporter in the offices of the Knights of Columbanus in Ely Place. An Observer reporter posing as a student sympathetic to the sticker campaign was referred to the Knights’ H.Q. by Dr Gerard Casey, a senior lecturer in the Philosophy Department.
Dr Casey, who is chairman of the newly formed Christian Centrist Party, told him, “if you want to stick a few, great. Every little helps. Your best bet is the Knights.” When questioned on the matter later by the editor of the newspaper, Dr Casey confirmed that he suggested that our reporter contact the Knights of Columbanus. He claimed that he had spoken, “off the top of his head” and would be surprised if the Knights were involved. He denied he was a member of the organisation.
The Knights of Columbanus are an all-male catholic organisation whose influence is most felt in the world of business. They also engage in charitable works. When asked if he believed the information on the stickers were true, Dr Casey said, “I’m neither a rubber expert nor a doctor, but yes, it seems to be true. There’s a scientific debate about this at the moment.”
According to medical experts and AIDS activists the information contained in the stickers is false and misleading. Dr Alan Shattock of the Department of Medical Microbiology in UCD said, “all the scientific research shows that condoms are a very reliable way of preventing HIV infection during intercourse.” Mags Geraghty of AIDS Alliance commented, “while [the stickers] tell you that the virus is incredibly small, they don’t tell you that it cannot move through the condom of its own accord. It must be transferred in the fluids that are cells which make up semen. These are hundreds of times bigger than the pore in a condom and, unless the condom bursts during intercourse, the virus cannot pass through a condom.”
Dr Gerard Casey is a well-known conservative catholic activist who was active in the campaign against the primary school “Stay Safe” programme, designed to combat child abuse, on the grounds that is was poorly constructed and anti-family.
A batch of stickers was given to our reporter by a staff member in the Knights’ headquarters. When our reporter informed her that he had been referred by Dr Casey, she produced seven of the stickers from her handbag, explaining, “I always keep some on me. We have a huge roll of them downstairs, but I don’t have the key.” She also claimed that Dr Casey was a member of the Knights of Columbanus, a claim he later denied. She gave out reporter the name and telephone number of a former senior member of the Knights, who she said wanted to distribute the American produced stickers around the country. “But the rest of the Knights decided it would be extremely embarrassing to be associated with this sort of stuff.”
Subsequently, our reporter was refused permission to speak to the member of staff in question. He was informed “that this would be the end of the matter.”
When contacted by this newspaper the former member denied any knowledge of the affair. He said that the secretary had not been working at the Knights’ headquarters for long and must be mistaken. He also threatened legal action against the University Observer, should his name appear in connection with the matter.
Mr Niall Kennedy, General Secretary of the Knights of Columbanus, told the University Observer that the dissemination of such information was not a policy of his organisation, and the matter have never been discussed at national executive level. When questioned as to whether individual members of the organisation were using its facilities for such purposes, he said, “I think it’s highly unlikely but I can’t say what other organisations our members are involved in.”
The Registrar of UCD Dr Caroline Hussey, said, “ I don’t like to see students targeted by any group with its own agenda, and I don’t like to see these groups on campus unless invited by a specific department or a society.” As regards the prevention of AIDS on campus, she said, “We believe that students should take all sensible precautions.”
The Stickers: What they tell you
The text of the stickers is as follows: “Warning Condoms do not protect you from the HIV virus” and in an inset, accompanied by a diagram of a mature HIV, “If this model was the actual size of the HIV virus…then a DOUBLE DOORWAY would be the size of a naturally occurring pore found in ALL LATEX CONDOMS. In other words, ALL CONDOMS contain pores that range from 50-500 times the size of the HIV virus.”
The source of the information is said to be Rubber Chemistry and Technology, Washington DC and dated at June 1992. The address of a post office box in Baltimore, Maryland is also given although no information is given as to who is responsible for their printing or distribution.
What they don’t
No claims on the stickers are actually false; it is the implication created by the juxtaposition of the biological data and the warning about all condoms which has caused the most worry. Students have approached the welfare office in the Students’ Union to enquire whether it is true that the HIV virus can pass through a condom. AIDS Alliance have pointed out no such conclusion can be drawn. The virus is not a fluid itself and must be transported by larger cells within body fluids; the carrier cells are far larger than HIV and far too large to pass through the pores of a latex condom.
As the Department of Medical Microbiology and AIDS Alliance have confirmed, a condom is not a failsafe method of protection against HIV infection. However they say that the dangers are caused by incorrect application or by the condoms tearing or splitting during intercourse, not by the structure of the condom itself.