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Monthly Archives: October 2015

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?

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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.

 

@stephie08

 

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.

 

@stephie08

#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.

@stephie08