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Sex worker healthcare access in Ireland

Guest post by Georgina Burke, a recently retired sex worker

A couple of months ago, I found myself in probably the worst depressive episode I’ve had to date. One of those ones you can see coming for months, but you’re there trying to battle away at general life things and you don’t have the time to deal. It creeps up on you.

So, I needed to find a doctor and a counsellor. I needed antidepressants, therapy, and time off! I called someone who we shall call Sarah. I knew she worked with outdoor sex workers and understood the issues we face. She began to look for a doctor that could treat me. The healthcare system is even trickier to navigate for sex workers, than it is normally for others. I and close friends of mine made call outs for a doctor that would be able to treat me, in case Sarah came back with nothing. In the past, I had the experience of doctors tell me to ‘get a job’ when I explained my work, I didn’t want this to be the case again, especially in my vulnerable state.

I spent my days calling up different organisations and individuals trying to find a counsellor that wouldn’t have views on my work that would impact on my trust of them and the quality of therapy. Most replied to my questions with ‘this is a non-judgmental service’. I don’t know what it is about that phrase, but it turned me off them immediately. I was so worried that my occupation would be blamed for my depression due to negative opinions on the sex industry. I knew that my depression was creeping up on me a long time and I had a fair idea why, and it wasn’t to do with sex work.

“You could just not tell them what you do” This thought ran through my mind a lot. How can you properly receive counselling without mentioning your work? If you have any doubts or slightest mistrust in your therapist, it’s just not going to work, is it? Therapy is supposed to be a supportive environment. Lying to a therapist just seems ridiculous. I had also just moved to Dublin, and so I needed to find a doctor that I could use long term, not just for this particular episode. Again, It just seems largely unhelpful to have to lie to your doctor about your occupation.

After a couple of weeks of no luck, my friends were getting increasingly worried about my health. They called an ambulance for me one night. I couldn’t get in the ambulance. I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t be stigmatized by hospital staff. I felt like the HSE was the last place on earth that would be the caring and supportive environment that I so badly needed. The day after, I agreed to attend a counselling session in a mental health charity, and when I disclosed my work, I was asked what my parents would think of me. I was asked about the danger in my work. Even when I stressed that I have several methods of keeping safe and nothing of note has ever happened to me, this woman could not accept my answer. I left with the feeling of stigma reinforced more than ever.

It was some time after this I heard from Sarah, who managed to find a really amazing doctor who wasn’t fazed by my work at all. She gave me a full screening, and prescribed me medication and was extremely helpful in finding a counsellor. The counsellor I had was amazing, I felt supported by her and I trusted her with my issues.

I think the issue that really arose from this, was the distrust of healthcare professionals not being able to dissect their personal opinions and their professional responsibility. But, of course this is all due to receiving mostly negative messages about sex work in the media and general society. I don’t believe that any healthcare professional purposely sets to stigmatize or further isolate any client of theirs. When they are hearing constantly of how awful the sex trade is and that the government are all set to criminalise the clients of sex workers, of course they are going to hold the view that it is inherently bad. The problem with this is that it affects sex workers incredibly.

It’s ironic that just before I fell ill, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation held a conference on the effects of prostitution on health, and I bet none of these issues were raised once.



Criminalising purchase of sexual services is a daft idea, part infinity: enforcement issues

I wrote a bit about this here, but I’ve been having more thoughts about this lately and I think it’s worth a separate post about how problematic it’s going to be.

Not long ago, Swedish cop Kajsa Wahlberg visited Ireland on yet another PR junket to promote the law. In amongst the usual codswallop about trafficking reduction and sex workers not hating the law really, she made one interesting comment which was reported by Kitty Holland in the Irish Times but not, as far as I can tell, really noticed anywhere else:

She said it was resource intensive legislation, requiring many man-hours to track, locate and prosecute illegal trafficking and management of prostitution.

“It involves a lot of ‘listening in’ to conversations, translating. It is very resource intensive and very costly.”

Now the first problem with this ought to be obvious to anyone who’s followed the news in Ireland lately. Where exactly are we going to get all these “man-hours”? What crimes are we going to deprioritise so that the Gardaí have more time and money to peer into people’s bedrooms? True, there is provision in Budget 2016 for additional Garda resources, but the public seem pretty convinced there are nowhere near enough cops to deal with the things that are already illegal. It’s hard to imagine there’d be much support for giving them new – and “resource intensive” – offences to focus on, at the expense of their attention to burglaries and the like.

The reality, of course, is that our police won’t be spending a Swedish level of resources to enforce this law. They don’t have the power to do all the “listening in” the Swedes do (one of the reasons the PSNI told the Stormont Justice Committee the law would be pretty much unenforceable in the North, which, so far, it has been). And since the Minister sensibly didn’t accept the Oireachtas Justice Committee’s truly asinine proposal to treat people who visit escort sites the same as people who download child abuse images, they’re probably not going to be doing a lot more internet monitoring, either.

It strikes me that the most likely ways the law will be enforced are these:

Staking out known sex workers/“brothels”. This already happens to some extent; the Gardaí know – and keep an eye on – many of the premises regularly used for commercial sex, but don’t tend to disturb the occupants unless there are at least two sex workers there (bringing it within the common law definition of an illegal “brothel”). It’ll be a different story when the presence of even one person selling sex automatically means a crime is being committed.

Now since – and I know the law’s supporters have a tough time grasping this, but it’s really fairly obvious – sex workers like everyone else don’t want to lose income, which tends to happen when all their customers get arrested, a consequence of this is that many will feel they have to work in premises not known to the vice squad. As a practical matter, this usually means outcalls (in which they go to the client, rather than vice versa). It means they go to an unfamiliar location, where they don’t know who or what or how many people are waiting for them; where they can’t have an escape route mapped out in the event things go wrong. The Swedes admit that this has been an effect of the law, which is one of the reasons you know they’re lying when they claim it hasn’t made sex work more dangerous.

The other likely enforcement method is the sting operation: cops place fake ads, arrest people who answer them. The first consequence of this is that it will enormously strengthen the hand of sites like Escort Ireland, which clients will rely on to ensure the booking they make is legit. It will also make it harder for escorts to opt out of reviews – something I find particularly ironic in light of that odious Invisible Choice campaign (no, I’m not linking to it) which has nonsensically utilised the review as an argument for the Swedish model. And if they do this on a regular/sustained basis, it means that the women of An Garda Síochána (and there aren’t that many of them) will be disproportionately delegated to this particular line of duty. Not that I’d rather they were out bashing the heads of water protesters, you understand, but are these stings really the most appropriate use of their abilities? I mean, no little girl thinks “When I grow up I want to be a cop pretending to be a prostitute.”

Of course, the sting is already in use at street level – where buying sex has been effectively criminalised for 22 years under the soliciting law – and it hasn’t had any lasting deterrent effect there, so you’d wonder why people expect so much from the new law. A curious thing about which is that it will actually provide for a lower penalty than the existing soliciting law: the latter can you get you a Class D fine (€1,000) or four weeks in prison for a third offence, but under the new bill a Class D fine is as bad as it gets. So what the government’s doing is trying to “end demand” by introducing a less punitive variation of a law that’s already proven ineffective in ending demand. This is a notable and probably significant difference in context between Ireland and Sweden, where there was no criminalisation of clients until paying for sex was outlawed.

A few days ago, but after I wrote the above paragraphs, this article appeared in the Indo. It’s about the next report due out from the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is expected to recommend limited decriminalisation of drugs. The different approach shown in these comments by Committee Chair David Stanton is striking:

Mr Stanton said he believed the model would free up garda and court resources to tackle drug dealers and traffickers rather than those using drugs recreationally.

“What we are talking about is radical and I don’t think we could have had this discussion 10 years ago, but I think it is definitely a system we should seriously consider,” he said.

“We should be targeting the serious dealers and traffickers and not spending our time and resources with some kid in the court system because they were caught with a joint,” he added.

Of course some of us were having this discussion 10 years ago, but he’s right that Irish parliamentarians couldn’t have been among them. Not because decriminalising drugs was any less worth considering then; not because there was any less evidence then of the harms of criminalisation nor, of course, because it wasn’t any less harmful. No, the discussion couldn’t be had 10 years ago because Irish society was still too mired in a drugs panic to think about the subject rationally. Sound familiar?

There’s one important difference, though. The crackdown on drug use, for all its serious flaws, did spring from a legitimately grassroots, community-based campaign. It happened because the Gardaí were (eventually) prodded into action by people who’d been seeing their families and neighbourhoods torn apart by drug addiction. The inevitable consequence of that action, that “fighting drugs” would become just another way to criminalise the working class, was assuredly not what they wanted; but they did, understandably, want some action to be taken against what was a genuine blight on their lives. There is no such grassroots call to criminalise sex workers’ clients: it’s a top-down, libfem NGO and convent-driven campaign against something that offends the campaigners’ moral and/or ideological sensibilities. When the ordinary people of County Louth have Adrian Crevan Mackins and things like this to worry about, do you think they want their local Gardaí spending time snooping around hotel rooms to arrest people having the wrong kind of sex? Has anyone bothered to ask them?

A Tale of Two Tragedies: Anti-Traveller Media Bias and The Carrickmines Fire

A friend of mine is from near Carrickmines. He told me last night about how there was a fire in a house in the Rockville estate a few years ago, and how all the neighbours rallied round because everyone was so sad that a dog died in the fire. It’s nice to see a community band together in the face of tragedy. I don’t know much else about Rockville Drive except that according to property price register the last two houses sold there in 2010 and 2012 sold for €305,000 and €250,000 respectively, so by 2015 prices their houses are probably worth a few bob, and that the current residents are adamant they don’t want the Travellers who managed to survive the Carrickmines fire in which ten of their family members perished, to be housed temporarily on land beside them.

The bias in the media towards the Carrickmines families is a reflection of the discrimination that Travellers face in wider Irish society on a daily basis. In June of this year a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California, in which five Irish students died. It was without any doubt a tragedy. The tale of young people faultlessly snatched in the prime of their lives while innocently enjoying themselves made for saturation media coverage in the weeks that followed. If you search the Irish Times website from 15th to the 21st June 2015 for “Berkeley Balcony,” the week following the accident, it turns up 63 results including reports of what happened, extensive coverage of their families planning to bring the victims remains home, the Dáil being adjourned as a mark of respect, former president Mary McAleese’s letter to the New York Times regarding the US coverage of the story and Minister of State for Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan laying a wreath at the scene saying he had “never seen such an outpouring of grief and sympathy” for the victims and their families and friends. Deenihan was correct of course. For days afterwards, Liveline, RTÉ, Newstalk, were all at pains to provide live coverage of the latest instalment of the grieving families’ stories. The Irish Times had two feature pieces one the balcony collapse; one profiling the survivors and one profiling the victims and a story of how a charitable foundation donated $150,000 to the families. The detailed itemisation of their academic credentials, sporting achievements and popularity are gut-wrenching to read. I know where they were from and the nice schools they went to like Loreto in Foxrock and St. Andrew’s in Booterstown, and the colleges they went to afterwards, and what sports they liked to play. The point of it all, I suppose, is to make sure that their short lives are marked in some way.

I know very little about the ten people who died in the Carrickmines fire, other than that they were all part of the same extended family, and five of them were children under the age of ten. If you search the Irish Times website from the 9th to the 15th October, the week following the fire, it turns up 33 results. Six of these are actually covering how the Rockville residents do not want the now homeless survivors being accommodated temporarily near where they live. A couple are actually articles about Garda Tony Golden who was shot in Omeath the same weekend as the fire, some are results from the Letters page, two are about the homeless man who died in the city centre the same night, and one is about the election. Kitty Holland’s coverage is probably the nearest to a comprehensive profile of the story and its aftermath in that particular paper.

You don’t need to do much analysis to demonstrate a bias in how the stories of settled versus Traveller deaths are covered. It is literally a case of hitting a search button and counting the results in media websites. Radio broadcasts have been just as bad. Carl O’Brien reports here that one in five people would deny citizenship to Travellers. Colette Browne’s column noting the discrimination and antipathy towards Travellers is excellent but very much the exception to the rule in Irish journalism. What attention that was being paid to the unfortunate fire victims has now been switched to covering the feelings of the settled residents who the council want to house them beside. Imagine if following the Berkeley tragedy, the neighbours didn’t want the remaining J1 students housed in their building. There would have been outrage. The point is not that Berkeley didn’t deserve coverage, but that the lives of those who died in Carrickmines and the family they left behind are worth as much as those who died in Berkeley and their relatives.

Irish Travellers are simply not accepted by mainstream Irish society. Policy approaches are grounded in how to solve the Traveller “problem” and have swayed between enforced assimilation to complete exclusion and marginalisation. Intergenerational poverty is embedded alongside low educational attainment and unequal access to healthcare and housing.

They are isolated and forced to live in poor conditions because their culture does not tally with what settled communities view as normative ways of life, and are regularly positioned as deviants. There has been a blanket failure by Governments to provide adequate housing, or even transient sites allowing nomadic lifestyles to be facilitated, and there has been a refusal to acknowledge their different ethnicity. Anti-trespass laws specifically designed to exclude Travellers from particular areas are enforced with vigour. Traveller children can be legally denied school places because of parental legacy rules prioritising children whose parents attended the same school – a bar that is much too high for many members of a nomadic ethnic minority. A community in South Dublin sees a family of adults and children who have survived the trauma of a horrific fire in which ten of their family members have died as a threat to their way of life. While journalists covering this story are quite happy to report how the Rockville residents are defiant in their belief that they are not racist against Travellers – they just don’t want Travellers beside them, Colette Browne aside, no one is asking why this family were living in prefab structures that most people would associate with use as temporary offices on building sites? Why had they been living in accommodation that was designated as “temporary” ten years ago?

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said the Carrickmines site met fire, health and safety regulations in a statement afterwards. Perhaps it did, but there are serious questions to be asked about what exactly those fire regulations were. Imagine if that fire had taken place in a school and not the home of Travellers – there would be demonstrations outside the Dáil in protest. There are hundreds of Traveller families in similar accommodation and many without access to water or sewerage facilities, in prefab akin to less-sturdy single story tenements and the Government simply doesn’t care. What use is the Knowledge Box to you when you’re living in a death-trap?

The deaths in Carrickmines are heart-breaking and the settled community who voted in the shower that housed them in prefabs have a responsibility to make sure that this never happens to another family and also to confront the anti-Traveller racism that would see them and their children on the streets before the land beside them.




House of Lads: Subconscious Misogyny on Budget Day

When Mary Lou McDonald TD gave her contribution on Budget 2016 yesterday evening in the Dáil chamber, Taoiseach Enda Kenny sat across from her and punched the palm of his hand with his own fist as she spoke.

It’s that move that eight year olds do across the playground to indicate that they want to knock lumps out of each other. It’s also an action that many women who are victims of domestic violence will recognise as a precursor to a beating. I am not for a second saying Enda Kenny was actually consciously threatening Mary Lou McDonald – but I would like to know what exactly was he thinking when he sitting there smacking his hand? Was he thinking anything at all? Does a speech from a member of the opposition outlining the effects of austerity not warrant even the most basic level of brain engagement from the Taoiseach?

The clip below lasts all of twenty seconds but the body language is clear. I mentioned the mocking and sneering from Government benches in this piece on Budget 2016 from last night. If you watch the clip you’ll see junior Minister Sean Sherlock briefly turn and look at what the Taoiseach is doing, then he smirks and goes back to reading what I can only presume is the Budget document (but there’s nothing to say that he doesn’t have a copy of the Beano stuck inside).

This is the disdain with which women in the Oireachtas are treated. Regardless of anyone’s politics, it is highly inappropriate that the head of government can sit literally punching his own fist in absent minded disgust as a woman from the opposition speaks. Actions speak louder than words sometimes, and these actions are repulsive.



#Budget2016: Thatcher would be proud

Use this Feminist Ire Budget Calculator to assess how #Budget2016 affects you!

Are you a multinational company paying little to no corporation tax, or one of the richest people in Ireland? You are? Excellent, then you’ll have even more money.

Are you an ordinary person earning an average wage or a person surviving on social welfare payments? You are? If you’re waged, you may come out with a fiver extra a week but the Government will want it back from you in property tax and water charges, and the increase to minimum wage probably won’t mean much because Labour (the party of work) haven’t done anything about zero hour contracts.

Are you living in your car with your child because you’re scared to go into a homeless hostel? You will get €5 extra in your children’s allowance. NAMA will fund private developers to build houses now but tough shit you’ll never be able to afford it.

Budget 2016 is an exercise in appalling political cynicism. People voted for Labour and Fine Gael because they wanted something different. What they got was years of austerity. Howlin and Noonan were at pains to tell us that this was a pro-family non-austerity budget but it’s just more of the same. The great big giveaway budget we’ve heard so much about means people entitled to fuel allowance will get an extra €2.50 in each payment. Congratulations, that will get you an extra briquette each week, burn it wisely!

The extra €5 a week in child benefit will do nothing to meaningfully address the quality of life that children living in poverty currently have. It is not an investment in children, it’s an investment in electioneering soundbites that members of Labour and Fine Gael will use when they’re dressing up their brutal neoliberal politics as warm and fuzzy family friendly economics.The income disregard of those on JobSeekers Transition Allowance has been increased, but it won’t make much difference to one parent families who are really struggling. You can’t tell people you want to improve families’ lives when you don’t invest in childcare and afterschool care. Two weeks paternity leave is welcome but it is not going to make it easier for women to work.

What tiny increases that have been given are barely fit to call crumbs from the table of the corporate bodies and their private developer mates and landlords who have inflicted utter misery on people in Ireland for decades.  The Government have given a tiny amount to everyone in an effort to buy the election, but not everyone needs a tiny amount. The 1,500 children living in direct provision who receive €9.60 a week- a payment that hasn’t been increased in sixteen years – they need more. The 1,496 children living in emergency accommodation need more. The Traveller families living in dangerous conditions, forgotten and dismissed as if their lives are considered disposable by this Government; they need more.

They are telling us they’re giving  €900m extra for the health service when in real terms it’s about €100m which isn’t even enough to provide the same level of service in 2016. People will still die on trolleys.  They’re allocating the minimum number of extra teachers to cope with increasing numbers of children that are going to school and have the nerve to dress this up as a great policy move. As if providing their bare minimum of teaching staff was a gift to the population of children under twelve, thousands of whom will still attend school in a prefab.

Labour and Fine Gael gave commitments to not raise student contribution fees before the last election. They have raised them to €3,000 and actively pushed students out of education, not to mention how they made it more difficult for students to get grants in the first place a few years ago. They give with one hand and take with the other. There is a vague commitment to invest €3m in the Student Assistance Fund to provide support to struggling students however the exact figure won’t be confirmed until Spring 2016. The number of recipients of SAF monies has gone from 7,681 students in 2009 to 15,166 in 2014 which has resulted in an actual reduction in monies allocated to each student in real terms. The government persist in dressing up paltry sums and tell us that they’re doing vulnerable people a favour.

There’s no increase in the basic rates of social welfare payment or to dole payments to under 26s. I still can’t figure out how those under 26 need to eat less than the rest of us, but I’m all ears if someone in Labour wants to fill me in.

For every euro that the Government has given away in capital gains and corporation tax, it is money taken away from the people that actually need it. It is a shameful insult to the people to tell them that this budget is a good thing when the biggest beneficiaries from it will be the likes of Facebook and Google and other multinationals who’ll be handed even more tax avoidance mechanisms.

The gloating speeches from government benches were stomach churning. That might sound a bit hyperbolic, but there is something genuinely very nauseating about watching Ministers bleat on week in week out about how we could combat bullying in schools, and then they sit and sneer from the government benches. Richard Boyd Barrett only has to stand up for the snide comments to start. If some of Labour suddenly started pelting him with lumps of chewing gum one of these days, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me.

To make it worse, Ministers and their TD colleagues now expect cookies and a pat on the back for allocating €17million to homeless services when they allocated €50million to commemorations. It will take you 57 years to be reached on the housing list? Diddums, wrap yourself in this copy of the Proclamation to keep warm. Your autistic child doesn’t have an SNA? Well that’s too bad, but here have a tricolour instead. There’s always a lot of squabbling among Irish politicos about what the leaders of the Rising would have wanted but you really don’t need to be a genius to know that James Connolly would probably say that ending homelessness would be a more fitting commemoration of the ideals of the Proclamation than this. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher would find it quite fitting.


Breda O’Brien, clickbait and being devoid of empathy

Breda O’Brien, clickbait and being devoid of empathy

Breda O’Brien has a regular, offensive clickbait column in the Irish Times where she gets paid actual money to peddle her narrow, bigoted view of the world that doesn’t tally in any way with actual evidence of what happens in real life. She goes to great lengths to portray women who’ve had abortions as being at best cold and indifferent about their experiences and at worst, callous, unless they are members of Women Hurt. For Breda, the only time it’s acceptable for a woman to talk about her experience of abortion, is if it is in the context of being a negative experience in your life. Ideally, the more torment connected to it, the better – because it will be the only time that your experience has any value at all. It doesn’t matter for her or even the Irish Times, that her stories are possibly not actually true, it just matters that some people will believe them. If you throw enough stones, eventually you’ll hit something.  Today’s offering is no different.

O’Brien opens today’s drivel by saying that Irish women talk about their abortions all the time with her. Maybe there are women who talk to O’Brien about their experiences but she is hardly the most likely of people you would confide in;

“Breda, you are a well known anti-abortion activist so I need to tell you, I was raped at 14 and had an abortion at 6 weeks.”

“That choice was morally wrong and is exactly the same as drowning a three year old child. ”

“Um, thanks Breda. I’m glad I got that off my chest by talking to you.”  

Given the exposure Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle’s stories got in the Irish Times last week, it’s hard not to read O’Brien’s piece as a direct retaliation towards these courageous women. It’s basically an eight hundred word fuck-you to Roisin and Tara.

She also says that women have told her of going for post-abortion counselling in a pro-choice organisation only to be told, “you did what was right for you at the time. Put it behind you and move on.” But I find it a stretch that any pro-choice organisation would simply tell a woman “move on” after she said she found her experience difficult to deal with or that she had regrets. Because that is not how pro-choice people or organisations operate. That is a fiction. Unlike O’Brien, we recognise that women have different experiences while noting that the vast majority of women who have terminations do not regret them.

O’Brien says that these women feel dismissed and diminished, while not for a second noticing the irony that women who do *not* regret their decision are dismissed and diminished by O’Brien and her Iona cronies who are given a national media platform on which to do so. No person’s experience should be diminished, but the women who allegedly seek comfort from O’Brien should not be taken as representative of the sum total of women who have had terminations – just as the women who do not regret them are not the sum total, we merely note that they are the overwhelming majority. O’Brien goes to great lengths to couch her language in terms of pseudo comfort and “common humanity” and then denies to other women the capacity to make decisions for themselves believing that she knows better.

She  decries those of us who speak of cells and the right to choose and implies that we are the same as Roman men who left babies to die on the side of a hill as we dehumanise the “victim.” At no point does it register with her how she dehumanises women who make the decision to abort without regret; women who terminated because of the suffering that continuing the pregnancy might bring, or the risk to their health or wellbeing, or because they were in a violent relationship, or because they simply did not want to be pregnant.  If pro-choice feminists who advocate a woman’s right to choose are for O’Brien, like the Roman men who leave babies to die of exposure on the hillside then what does that make the women who actually choose to abort? This of course is the woman who is a spokesperson for the people that carry signs at their rallies saying “Abortion is Witchcraft” (forward to 2:52 of this video). Does that sound like empathy to you?  

Anti-choice ideology ignores that fact that legal and medical structures that deprive a woman of full control over her own reproductive system condemn women to being second class citizens. O’Brien attempts to portray herself as being understanding, attempting to make us believe she empathises with women in crisis pregnancies by saying if she had become pregnant as a teenager, she is “not sure what (she) would have done.” Perhaps that’s true. She wouldn’t be the first woman to be against abortion until faced with a crisis pregnancy and had she accessed a termination, she certainly wouldn’t even be the first anti-choice woman to terminate and subsequently stand outside that very same clinic and denounce the women who enter it.

But you are not empathising with a woman in a crisis pregnancy when you actively campaign in favour of laws that compel women to endure a forced pregnancy, a court ordered c-section, and then tell us that she should have been made to carry that pregnancy to term. Being empathetic does not mean heaping judgment on women who had abortions and telling them their decisions was morally wrong. Since when did empathy extend to stigmatising and criminalising women and advocating that they go to jail? You cannot attest to empathise with women in crisis pregnancies when you deny them a choice in their medical care that will literally result in their death.

O’Brien also carefully adds a sentence about Aylan Kurdi so that there is to be no misunderstanding as to where she stands –  comparing the drowned three year old to the terminated weeks old foetus. She could have written a column about how Europe should open its borders to the refugees, or about how Hungary is treating the thousands walking through their land, tired, cold, and hungry, searching for a better life. She could have even spoken about the reasons why women choose abortion and acknowledged that if you want less abortions, you need to make it easier for women to have children. That would be the logical thing, but this is not about logic, this is about curtailing women’s choices because Breda O’Brien views them as vessels and nothing more.

The majority of people in this state are pro-choice despite all of us of child-bearing age having never had our say on the Eighth Amendment. My own mother wasn’t even old enough to vote when the Eighth Amendment was passed. Prochoice activists acknowledge that abortion can often be a difficult decision for a woman. We also acknowledge that the decision to terminate can be a source of great relief to many. The difficulty for anti-choice activists is that they cannot contemplate, due to being completely devoid of empathy, why it would be a relief  for many women and why not every woman struggles with it, so in order for them to understand it they must portray these women as uncaring monsters like the Roman patriarchs or of course, witches.

Anti-choice activists do not understand, much less care, that when a woman is pregnant, she is more than a receptacle to carry a foetus to term, with thoughts, feelings, financial pressures and very often, other children to take care of. Just as it would be wrong for a woman to be compelled to terminate against her wishes, it is wrong to compel her to carry a pregnancy against her wishes. Women are more than the contents of their wombs and their existence has more reason than bearing children, and if we want to talk about moral value, then we must acknowledge that an embryo does not have the same moral value as a living, breathing woman who bears it, simply because it has the potential to become a human being. The inability to empathise at the very core of anti-choice beliefs is the reason why there is a woman on trial in Belfast for supplying her daughter with abortion pills, and it is the reason that a woman who has an illegal abortion in this state will get 14 years in prison. Reducing a woman’s humanity and placing it on a par with a week old embryo is not empathy, it is stomach-churning fanaticism. Perhaps had O’Brien actually been faced with a crisis teenage pregnancy, she may believe that had she taken certain decisions that she should have faced 14 years in prison, although at that time it would have been a life sentence (presumably for her own good), but that is not empathy.

Believing that because you never had an abortion that nobody else should have one either is about as far away from empathy as you can possibly get.



Ireland: we need to drop the pretence of being a country that loves children

This post discusses intensely distressing topics, among them violence against women, violence against children, child abuse, and infant and child death.

Ireland, we all need to have a good talk. You know the way we all buy into this idea that there’s a massive overarching image of ourselves presented to the world and that somehow it matches up to the reality? That we’re the friendliest country to visit in the world, and other common or garden varieties of horseshit along these lines. We’re so invested in this portrayal that to question it is nearly tantamount to treason, and other tourism destinations found to ALSO be friendly in media polls is almost cause for the mass donning of sackcloth and ashes. Well, there’s one aspect of it in particular we really need to stop hawking and face up to it just Not Being True.

We need to stop pretending to ourselves and the rest of the world that we’re a country that loves children.

It’s a longstanding lie, and one we’ve told ourselves repeatedly throughout the years. It was even the primary basis for pushing through the horrendous 8th amendment, and all the toxic fallout of that that has been inflicted on women and children, of whom Miss X, aged 14, was one, in the 32 years since 1983. It should go without saying that if we loved children, we would allow those of them who needed and wanted to access abortions to do so, rather than force those children, some of whom have been abused and raped, as Miss X was, through the rigours, hardships, and dangers of unwanted pregnancy and unwanted birth.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t let the most vulnerable of them suffer as we do and as we have done consistently throughout the history of our nation. Look at the Mother and Baby homes and the Magdalen Laundries, the incarcerations and starvation and deaths and beatings and shame and forced adoptions and forced family breakups that went on in those institutions for decades, with the full support of the Irish state as well as the church.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t still refuse to investigate properly what went on in those homes, with local historian Catherine Corless having to bang the drum alone for the nearly 800 babies and children and 5 women the Sisters of Bon Secour, funded and supported by the Irish state, left lying in unmarked graves in Tuam as though they had never mattered at all. And of course to the church and to the Irish republic, they didn’t. After first attempting to paint Catherine Corless as an incompetent amateur attempting a gross exaggeration for some malevolent entertainment of her own, the government finally, grudgingly established a body to look into this. This body, The Commission of Investigation, is a year on still dragging its heels, not even bothering to reply to Catherine Corless when she provided them with her most recent research which indicates that there are 5 mothers buried on the grounds of the Tuam Mother and Baby home along with the hundreds of tiny children’s bodies also lying in the ground there. There have been no indicators of any progress being made in a paid and funded group of over a year’s work, despite having had another person’s extensive unpaid, unfunded research handed to them on a plate. No answers, no recognition of those children’s tiny lives and appalling deaths. No acknowledgement that those babies, those children, weren’t loved by us at all.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t ignore the truths of the stories that the Magdalen survivors tell us, many of whom were children when they were first incarcerated in those institutions, and many of whom had children stolen from them and sold with no regard to their best interests or their need for their mothers; how we patted ourselves smugly on the backs when the McAleese report came out, trumpeting that now justice had been done, they had been heard, never bothering to ask the women themselves how they felt about it. How they felt about it for very many was abandoned, betrayed, shamed and lied about all over again by the Irish state. The report spoke over, ignored and attempted to make liars out of the survivors of the laundries, the women whose needs it should have most urgently sought to meet and whose voices it should have been required to amplify. The women whose forgiveness the Irish state should be begging on bended knees every day for as long as they live. Justice for Magdalenes – co-founded by Claire McGettrick, who tweeted on this this week – published detailed research on the serious issues with the report. A key phrase from that research is “Most concerning was the Report’s contention that a very small level of physical abuse took place in the laundries” , a contention that is in direct contradiction of the evidence of the survivors of the laundries. It’s a key pointer to how little value and worth the authors of the report put on the testimony and accounts of survivors that their words weren’t considered ‘evidence’. The Irish state cares so little about these women, their stolen children, and their feelings and needs, and yet so much about its precious reputation abroad that it will even seek to prevent the media of other countries from broadcasting the truth of the McAleese Report.

If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t stand idly and quietly by as the Minister for Social Protection – what a heinous joke of a title – inflicted savage financial cuts on children living in lone parent families who are dependent on social welfare for their income, children who are already amongst the most marginalised and at risk of poverty in the country. Joan Burton had promised to only implement these cuts to the financial supports of children over 7 if a “Scandinavian style system of childcare” was implemented – which was also in her remit to do – thus proving she was more than well aware that depriving children of 7 and older of the care of their parents by rendering it financially impossible for their mother (87% of lone parent families are headed by women) to either stay at home with them or afford to access childcare is barbaric. Yet she implemented them anyway, with no support net for these children and no apparent interest in what happens to them. If we loved children, as a country, we would never allow this to happen. It is an outrage. It is beyond a disgrace.

If we truly loved children, as we love to claim, we would see instantly that Frances Fitzgerald telling the media that Ireland’s doing ‘more than its fair share’ in taking the absolutely paltry amount of refugees in that we are, and then forcing them into the horrors of direct provision indefinitely is nothing short of repugnant. Hundreds, thousands of people are drowning in the Mediterranean in an attempt to escape from suffering and misery while Labour and Fine Gael are intent on shoring up the walls of Fortress Europe. If we cared about children at all, we would be welcoming them and their families with open arms, cheering them on in their escape, not penning and corralling those who manage to survive against the odds like animals on the border points of Europe. Not forcing them to live for years with their family in one room of a run-down, miserable ‘hotel’ with no ability to cook their own food, or enough money to even buy it, or access public transport to go anywhere – if indeed public transport is accessible from the direct provision centre we’ve incarcerated them in.

There is no such thing as a ‘fair share’ of the work to be done when the drowned bodies of babies and toddlers continue to wash up on European beaches. The fact that anyone could speak of it so is something we should all find beyond comprehension.

If we truly loved children we would collectively remember when once it was the people living in Ireland who had to put their children on coffin ships in their hundreds of thousands, on water that was safer than the land on which they were starving, and cast themselves upon the cold mercy of an uncaring world. We would seek, urgently and desperately, to do everything within our power to prevent those horrors being inflicted on these other suffering and starving and drowning children of today. We would support this direct action group travelling with an aid convoy from Cork to the refugee camps in Calais, to alleviate the suffering and misery of those children and families and people who did survive but who are now trapped, without hope, in a Europe they hoped would be their promised land. We would campaign, furiously and energetically, arm in arm with the refugees living here to end direct provision in our own country and stop shutting our ears and eyes and mouths to the reality that incarceration of innocent suffering children is not a thing of yesteryear in today’s Ireland.

Until then, we have no right whatsoever to the claim.


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