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Author Archives: Stephanie Lord

Ungovernable Wombs – The Abortion Pill and the Erosion of the Eighth Amendment

Between 2010 and 2015 the rates of women travelling from Ireland to access abortion services in the UK fell from 4,402 per annum to 3,451 per annum. A total of 27,800 women travelled during this timeframe. Anti-choice groups congratulated themselves because of the drop in numbers, choosing to interpret the British Department of Health statistics as evidence of a drop in the rate of abortions taking place as a result of their work. Pro-choice groups were at pains to point out that this was incorrect; the British DOH stats simply show the decline in the numbers of women travelling from Ireland who access abortions in England in Wales, but they do not represent the total numbers of women from Ireland who are accessing abortions. The 27,800 figure was *never* accurate; it doesn’t include women who travelled from Ireland but gave UK addresses or in some cases used UK NHS numbers. It doesn’t include migrant women who travel to Eastern European states to access services there. It doesn’t include women who travel to other EU states that aren’t the UK to access abortion services there instead.

So the paper published today shows that during the period which *official* numbers travelling to the UK declined by 951, there were 5,680 women who requested the abortion pill to take at home within the island of Ireland from an organisation called Women on Web. The numbers willing to risk a criminal penalty to have an abortion at home are increasing year on year. That said, given that customs seize some of these packages, we don’t know how many made it through to the women who requested them or how many women actually took the medication once they managed to get them. But even if only 50% of women managed to get the abortion and actually take them, it pretty much cancels out the reduction of numbers women travelling to the UK for terminations. Fifty percent is actually a remarkably conservative estimate considering that Customs only managed to seize 68 of these tablets last year, and given that there are more websites than Women on Web who will provide the drug (including Women Help Women) and migrant communities who have their own word of mouth suppliers as well as less reputable black market suppliers online, it’s quite likely that there are a few thousand more who have requested and taken the abortion pill since 2010.

It’s good to see coverage of this issue, and specifically of Rebecca Gomperts’ research paper but it doesn’t tell the whole story about women who are willing to risk a prison sentence (such as the woman in the north who took pills and was subsequently reported to the police by her tout housemates). The pill was supplied by Women on Web to 1,642 women between 2010 and 2012 and they managed to conduct follow-up research on 1,181 of those women (72%).

What report does tell us is that the law that criminalises abortion north and south in Ireland, and allows the state to jail women if they breach it, is completely irrelevant to women who need to access terminations and can’t travel. They are going to take the risk and order the medication anyway. The women who accessed the abortion pill from Women on Web were generally between 20 and 30 years old and the majority of them were already mothers, and 97% of them reported that accessing and using the medication at home was the right thing for them with 98% saying that they’d recommend the experience to other women. The only negative thing for the women accessing abortions at home is doing it outside of the law.

While the Citizens Assembly pontificates on the rights of women in Ireland to bodily autonomy and control over their reproductive systems, women can and will break the law in order to end their pregnancies. The abortion pill is a safe drug, in fact, it’s safer than viagra, and while well-meaning obstetricians like to point out the risks of taking medicines without the supervision of a medical practitioner, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that in an Irish context, those concerns are as much about women in Ireland challenging the State’s control over their bodies as they are about taking a safe dose of misoprostol following an online consultation with a medical professional overseas. Continuing the prohibition against abortion and forcing women to go to term with pregnancies they do not want to carry is a form of structural violence against women.

The fact that women ordering this medication clearly believe it is safe should tell the State and the Citizens Assembly something. More and more women are now taking the pill and recommending it to their friends who can’t or simply don’t want to travel. Furthermore, even if women don’t believe it’s safe, they are willing to take that risk as well as the risk of arrest and prosecution in order to end their pregnancies at home here in Ireland. At this stage, for women in Ireland whether they travel or order medication online, abortion is a pretty normal event. It isn’t certainly isn’t a rarity. No one is put off ordering drugs whether they are risking a 14 year prison sentence or life in penal servitude, or their own health or life when it comes to disreputable black market sellers. Women on Web and Women Help Women alongside the activists who are supplying them with information, contact details, assisting them in getting the medication and providing them with safe spaces in which to take their medication are changing women’s health care in Ireland. Of course, this medication is only available for early terminations, but the power of it becoming more normalised and giving women control over their own bodies should not be underestimated.

Recognising that taking abortion out of the constitution and criminal law and treating it as a public health issue, is absolutely essential. This is about women’s rights and self-determination There are clearly public health consequences as a result of this domestic criminalisation – not every seller is as ethical as WoW or WHW. Forcing women to a point where they order medication online, though potentially empowering from a bodily autonomy standpoint, is pretty demeaning and dangerous in the context of a potential jail sentence if they are caught; if you thought your home abortion wasn’t going quite according to plan and you were unsure whether you were bleeding a bit too much, would you ask a doctor knowing they might feel obliged to call the Gardaí?

The Eighth Amendment might still be in the Constitution looming over everyone with a womb in Ireland, but like the women of generations past who handed down details of Queen Anne’s Lace seeds and Pennyroyal tea; email addresses and website details and safe houses to have packages delivered to are handed down by the current generation. If there is no safe house for delivery there might be a drone delivery.  In all jurisdictions where abortion is illegal women will find a way around it regardless of criminal penalties. The existence of the internet makes a mockery of the 1995 Regulation of Information Act that tightly controls the circumstances under which you be given information about abortion; literally anyone with a smartphone could potentially tell you when, where and how much an abortion will cost. Whether you have the funds to access it is a different thing altogether. Even if you do have the funds, the ability to access it in a post-Brexit Britain is in question.

When the Eighth Amendment is repealed, it must not be replaced with a semi-liberalised system that allows for abortion in certain highly restricted circumstances that requires women to jump through bureaucratic hoops designed to degrade them by requiring the narration of their experiences for panels of doctors who decide whether their reason for wanting to end their pregnancy is good enough, or whether the risk to their health or life is risky enough. The treatment of Ms. Y during her engagement with the panel (that ordered the termination of her pregnancy by a c-section at 24 weeks rather than the abortion she requested at 9 weeks) has taught us that the State will not make owning your own body straightforward for women. The Eighth Amendment must be replaced by a system that allows for free, safe, and legal abortion where a woman decides it is best for her, in a venue that is convenient and accessible for her – whether that is in a clinic or in her home. Continued refusal to allow this to women will simply mean thousands more travelling every year and thousands more ordering abortion pills online.

The 1,642 women who received illegal abortion pills in Ireland between 2010 and 2012 are the tip of a very large iceberg that is not going away no matter what the Citizen’s Assembly decides.

 

“He’s sound on economic issues” – Hypocrisy around misogyny on the left

CN: for sexual violence

A Craiglist ad posted on a friend’s facebook account caught my attention the other day.

craigslist ad

 

I laughed and promptly posted it on my own page. In isolation, it’s funny, and given that I and other feminists regularly have men message us on twitter and facebook asking the most basic googleable questions of us, it wouldn’t be surprising this person exists. It also shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of broke feminists and gender studies experts who would happily take on the task of teaching some bloke they never met Women Are Equal 101.

Hell, most of us are doing it for free anyway.

However, it then came to light via a piece by Ruth Graham on Slate yesterday that this was not a mother looking to help her chump of a son out, but a man called Nader Kashani who is well known for harassing women online who concocted a fictional profile in order to make contact with feminists. The Slate read is disturbing. Kashani’s views on rape even more so.

The thing that made Kashani’s Craiglist ad and the Slate piece so remarkable is that Kashani got caught out, and the internet gasped as we all wondered what exactly the motivations were. It’s almost the two year anniversary of the Isla Vista shootings in which Elliot Rogers gunned down six people in retribution for his hatred of women. The conclusions that many came to about Kashani’s motivations and commentary that the whole incident was “terrifying” were certainly not unreasonable. There was too much effort put into it for it to be simply written off as a bad joke.

The thing that struck me about this was the amount of left activists of all genders, who shared the Slate piece commenting on how threatening it seemed. It’s heartening to see people acknowledge that these types of men *are* a threat to women. On the other hand, it was disappointing nobody (that I’m aware of) made the connection between a random dude on the internet posing as someone needing to learn about feminism (or at least representing themselves as not being actively hostile to it) and the men who walk among us posing as feminists or pro-feminist activists that eventually turn out to be abusive misogynists.

Suzanne Lee spoke at the Anarchist Bookfair over the weekend about her experiences in feminist struggle. If you haven’t seen her contribution, you should watch it (Suzanne begins around 23:24 in to the video). She makes the valid point that there were people who couldn’t attend a panel on feminism because they’ve made the decision that they can’t engage because the activist community still welcome certain known abusers in to their circles. I’m not pointing to any one particular group or organisation here, because as far as I have seen this action crosses political differences and factions but a lot of the time it’s common knowledge when someone is “dodgy” but it is women who are expected to be the ones to avoid places and disengage from the situation.

It is a sad reflection on Irish activism that there are women who can’t go to anti-domestic violence demonstrations because the last time they went to one they were faced with their own abuser standing shoulder to shoulder with the others attending – and it certainly wasn’t because they saw the error of their ways. There are men who tried to force their partners to have abortions against their will wandering freely at pro-choice demonstrations. There are men who have been violent towards their partners welcomed in or left in activist circles without comment. Women who are open about their illegal abortions are expected to get on with the work of fighting austerity alongside those who march against them in anti-choice demonstrations. I have literally lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard allegations of rape and sexual assault and domestic violence being made about male activists, and I’ve lost count of the number of times their victims have been branded as “mad” “liars” and “bitter” as a result.. Everyone knows these men are abusers and nobody says so. Meanwhile women quietly leave the room – and their activism as a result – and their abusers revel in the knowledge that these women will likely never engage with the architecture of the state system of courts and justice and they do the same thing all over again. I doubt there are many men on the left who text ahead to a friend or comrade to see if a certain person is at the meeting, demo or event they want to go to. It’s ok to criticise Nader Kashani because he’s very far away, but when a man who harasses or abuses women is in the meeting/ on our demo/ holding our mic everyone else is very quiet.

I don’t have any answers to this. I don’t know how this can be addressed. I do know that this post will be seen by many as an attack on the left, when the “real enemy” is elsewhere, but ultimately there isn’t much difference between a man like Kashani using feminism in order to abuse women and some pseudo-lefty who uses feminist activism in order to perpetuate their own brand of misogyny.

The result is still the same; women being abused.

 

@stephie08

 

After #ge16, where to now for #Repealthe8th?

pro choice002

The results from count centres across the state are slowly trickling in as I write this, and Labour activists and supporters are shouting that #Repealthe8th is dead as quickly as their candidates are dropping out of the race. They need to stop.

I presume they genuinely believe what they’re saying, just as they believe that we wouldn’t have marriage equality were it not for the Labour Party, but peddling that view damages the pro-choice movement.

Labour might have been confident that they could deliver a referendum on the eighth amendment, but pro-choice activists of all political stripes and none haven’t forgotten that they delivered legislation on X to allow for abortion where a woman would be a risk of dying that contained a 14 year jail sentence penalty for inducing a miscarriage, and the horrifying case of teenage refugee pregnant as a result of rape enduring what was ostensibly a forced c-section at 25 weeks, despite medical professionals acknowledging that she was suicidal. The #Repealthe8th campaign exists in spite of Labour, not because of it. Perhaps Labour in government after #ge16 would have delivered a referendum, but what would that have looked like?

Besides, Labour aren’t in government now, and unless there’s some kind of divine intervention over the next twelve hours it doesn’t look like they will be. They had five years to work to hold a referendum and didn’t. We can acknowledge that Labour were in government when the Marriage Equality referendum happened but it was won because people mobilised and worked their rocks off to get it passed; People who were never involved in politics before came out alongside grassroots groups and got Ireland to a place where it said yes to valuing people as equals. So instead of throwing the toys out of the pram and acting all hard done by, Labour activists would do better to channel their energies into the pro-choice campaign and work for a repeal of these laws. There is nothing to be gained by trying to undermine the positivity of pro-choice campaigners by getting in a huff, throwing hands in the air and saying we should all just forget it now.

That said, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of a deciding factor abortion was in this general election given the number of Fianna Fail TDs that have been returned and their unwillingness to commit to a referendum – but there have been huge returns for independents and political parties who are very much in favour of holding a referendum. The people of Dublin Bay South waved goodbye to Lucinda Creighton, one of the most staunch anti-abortion voices in the Dáil and while this is to be welcomed, this is not a time for pro-choice activists to rest on our laurels. Clare Daly has championed reproductive justice and been returned to the Dáil alongside Joan Collins. Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny are all pro-choice. Sinn Féin have a policy in favour of repeal the eighth. There is a recognition, even amongst conservatives such as Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald that a referendum is inevitable. It is easier now to be pro-choice than it ever has been before and thanks to the work of pro-choice activists and an increase in public support, the stigma surrounding the subject is ebbing away. Now is the time to send a clear message to the returned members of the new Dáil that a commitment to repeal the eighth amendment must form a part of any new Programme for Government. Women must no longer be blocked from accessing appropriate healthcare. Public opinion on the need to repeal the law and provide legal abortion for women is far more progressive than what is represented in the Dáil now, even with the addition of the large range of socialist, republican and left of centre voices. This public opinion needs to be converted into action on the ground.

We must make no mistake, the anti-choice groups that are happy to see women die for want of medical care, will consolidate their efforts in order to keep the eighth amendment in place. They will continue with their bitter newspaper columns full of demonisation and blame, and their shaming billboards and they will continue their misrepresentation and campaigns of outright lies against people who provide women’s healthcare in Ireland. Their attacks on the IFPA and others are not about women’s healthcare, they are about muddying the waters so that they can portray themselves as being something other than religious fundamentalists who want to keep women in the dark ages. They have no intention of stopping so we have an onus to build our movement, to keep up the pressure no TDs and tell them in their clinics, in the streets, in the courts, and in their media streams that they must fight to repeal the eighth. We can’t only depend only on TDs to argue these points in the confines of the Dáil chamber; there is an onus on us to keep speaking to our families and friends to reduce the stigma, to help women accessing abortion care, to publicise information and to counter the outrageous propaganda and lies bandied about by anti-choice activists. We must organise and march in the streets and stand shoulder to shoulder with others campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion.

Pro-choice groups are ready for this fight. Are you?

#Repealthe8th

@stephie08

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

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.

#Repealthe8th

@stephie08

This is why we can’t have nice things; Upping the price of drink in Ireland

The Oireachtas Health Committee is due to launch a report soon that will propose the government introduce a law to ensure that there is a minimum price per unit of alcohol. Much is being made of the fact that this will mean you won’t be able to buy a single bottle of wine for less than a tenner anywhere in the state. Compared to many other European states, the price of alcohol in bars is already ridiculous. The Vintner’s Association must love this. They’ve been banging on about how they’re losing business to people drinking at home for a long time, so an Oireachtas committee has decided to help their businesses by trying to prevent people from doing that by making it more expensive under the guise of a health initiative.

Despite the fact that Alcohol Action have been banging this drum as a health initiative for quite a while it’s painfully obvious to anyone who isn’t after necking a bottle of wine that using price to control behaviour unfairly penalises those on low incomes. There can be no equality of outcome in this situation.

Well-meaning but misinformed lobbyists have consistently put forward lines which are untrue such as “Minimum pricing, by definition, impacts on those that drink the most.” Clearly this is incorrect – the impact will be felt by those on lower incomes. The subtext of the statement from Alcohol Action is that those that drink the most are poor –  and they must be stopped from drinking. They must be saved from themselves. Increasing the price of pints wouldn’t have stopped TDs from drinking and then getting up to vote or speak on some of the most important Bills in the history of the current cabinet. Ensuring that a bottle of wine is more than €10 would not have stopped former TD Jim McDaid from getting behind the wheel of the car while absolutely hammered and tearing up the wrong side of the dual carriageway on his way home from the a race meeting at Punchestown. Nor would the cost of alcohol per unit have stopped other political figures such as Liam Lawlor, Labour’s Michael Bell, Senators David Norris, Joe O’Toole and Deputy Ruairí Quinn from being convicted of drink driving. That isn’t really how drink driving works. I hate cultural stereotypes that position all Irish people as pissed up, because they aren’t correct and are the product of anti-Irish racism of Victorian England. In saying that, Ireland is probably one of the only places where you can be convicted of being drunk behind the wheel and still have a reasonable run at a presidential election or subsequently hold the position of senior government Minister. Our attitudes to alcohol are simply different to other places, and making alcohol more expensive isn’t going to change the practice of well-paid middle class parents in south county Dublin who put Cabáiste and Quinoa to bed at night and then neck two or three bottles of wine. That leads to long term negative impacts on an individual’s health and the healthcare system – but that’s ok because it’s not poor people doing it. The cost of the drink isn’t the issue, it’s actually the mind of the people drinking it and the culture that surrounds them. Bags of coke don’t come cheap but that doesn’t stop people snorting Dickhead Dust to beat the band in certain circles. The price, or legality for that matter, is irrelevant.

Rightly or wrongly, drinking is a culturally accepted social past-time in Ireland. The Guinness toucan is an internationally recognised symbol of Irish cultural experience and we play up to it. We celebrate writers like John B. Keane and Brendan Behan whose grá for a jar is well known. Yes, alcohol contributes to a lot of terrible aspects of Irish society; Dublin is like a warzone after 3pm on St. Patrick’s Day; we’re a pretty depressed population and drink doesn’t particularly help that; and our A&Es are overrun with people getting charcoal stuffed down them at the weekends when staff and hospitals are already near breaking point. But increasing costs isn’t suddenly going to mean that there’ll be less vomit on O’Connell Street early on a Sunday morning. It just means that when someone rings in to complain on Joe Duffy, a government Minister can say “Well, it’s not our fault! We did something!” and some people will have a bit less in their pockets to pay for their breakfast rolls in Centra that afternoon.

Budget day always brings a collective whinge from the nation when there’s an increase in the price of alcohol, but adding a set rate per unit of alcohol simply stops those on lower incomes from engaging in what is a cultural norm without having the evidence to back up whether this is going to have a significant public health benefit for those you want to target. The definition of poverty is if people’s income is so inadequate they are precluded from engaging in activities and having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society. Why shouldn’t someone who goes out and is exploited by doing a week’s work on Jobbridge for €50 quid on top of their dole and the luxury of keeping the social welfare off their back have a drink of something cheap at home at the end of it? Those drinkers aren’t really the problem but they’re the ones who will pay for it.

The problem of alcohol consumption in Ireland, like drug abuse, isn’t going to be solved overnight, and this is just the latest proposal that’s well intended but isn’t going to change anything. Headshops were closed down and people are still doing yokes. The price of drink will go up, and government TDs will still be in the Dáil chamber three sheets to the wind. The more things change the more they stay the same and a policy that looks like it has emanated from the mind of someone with a superficial grasp of Leaving Cert economics won’t even scratch the surface of deeply embedded social problems.

Don’t go anywhere: Risk management for women

You leave your house very early in the morning. It could be anywhere between 6am and 8am, but it’s mostly around 6.30am. You take the bus to work. The streets are deserted. Most mornings, your boyfriend walks your dog down the road beside you to the bus stop. Some days, you are on your own. On your days off work, you would like to walk your dog across town at 6am, the route you would take in the daytime when there is hustle and bustle, but maybe it isn’t safe enough when it is early. There aren’t enough people about.

There are shady looking characters that lurk around the streets in the morning. You get nervous when you see them. You wonder should you alter your route to the bus stop but each route you would take would require you to walk down a street that might be a little bit too desolate at that hour. You need to weigh up the risk more.

You love the summer, because when you are going to and coming from somewhere, the days are lighter and longer and it means that you can see further ahead and further behind you. You used to only walk with your keys in your hand if you were alone at night.

You do it in the daytime now too – ever since you read about that woman who was attacked in broad daylight in the park. A 19 year old man pushed her in the river. She fought him off. You would like to walk your dog in the park at the back of your house but it is too quiet, too empty and too risky. A man told you on the beach last week about how he lets his dog off-lead at 5.30am in the morning when there’s no one around so she can get a good run. Your leashed dog is jealous of his dog. You are jealous of him.

You would not go to a deserted beach at 5.30am in the morning.

It would be too dangerous. What is it like to be completely alone on a beach and not be scared?  You do not know. You could go to the beach on your own of course, but if something happened people would say “that really wasn’t wise” and “what was she doing on a beach on her own at half five in the morning?”

You do not really go anywhere alone between 10pm at night and 6am. There is an unspoken agreement between you and your boyfriend that he will meet you from the bus or train if it is after 8pm, but definitely if it is after 10pm. You are jealous of the time that your boyfriend has with his thoughts when he wanders alone through empty streets before coming to meet and/or protect you on the way home.

You are jealous but you are glad he is there.

Your house is a ten minute walk from the nightclub, but you take a taxi at 3am. You use an app to take the taxi, because you don’t know who you are flagging down on the road. You text your Mam who is a bad sleeper and probably awake anyway to let her know you are in a taxi and on the way home. You are glad there is cctv outside the pub across from your house. You text your Mam again and tell her you are in your house. You wait for the texts from your friends to tell you that they’re home. Your boyfriend comes home from football and pints with the lads. He walked. He kisses you goodnight and goes to sleep but is not woken by the ping ping of his friends whatsapping him to tell them they are home ok. You envy their carelessness. They will not feel guilty for coming home and falling asleep straight away and forgetting to text their friend. They do not have to.

You lie in the space between sleep and wake until the last message is received from your friend to let you know she’s home ok. Her battery had died so you were panicking over nothing. That taxi driver was fine after all.

You take the bus to work but it’s busy so you can scan the seats for a space beside a woman. There are none, so you sit beside the man who looks the least creepy but you know that even that might not be a safe bet as you recall the time a friendly old man who did not look weird at all sat beside you on the bus when you were 19. You are in the window seat. He asks you about university and keeps touching your arm, but you feel he would think you impolite if you told him how uncomfortable it is making you. He gently places his hand on your left breast as if it is no big deal while he is talking to you and you are so shocked you have to get off the bus twenty miles from your house and ring your friend to collect you. While you are waiting you ask yourself over and over again, did that really happen? It happened.

Now you sit as close to the driver as possible but it sometimes means a split-second judgment call on whether the man in the seat beside your prospective seat looks like a weirdo. You wonder which seat is the safest. You text your friends to let them know you made the last bus.

Ten years later, you feel an uninvited hand brush your bottom as you stand waiting to cross at the lights. He looks you in the eye after and crossed the road. You wonder if that was an accident but you know that you do not accidentally touch someone with the palm of your hand while waiting for the green light that indicates it is safe to cross the road. You sit beside Molly Malone and watch him until he disappears and wondered if you should run after him but what would you say if you caught up? Would anyone believe you anyway? Something similar happened to your friend recently while walking her dog beside the canal. You are all running the gauntlet. Molly stands still. She has seen it all.

You wear longer cardigans and longer shirts now. You wear longer coats like a flimsy shield. Summer is good because the days are longer, but the coats are shorter or not there at all so it’s a catch-22 really. You remember how these things happened during the daylight and wonder why you ever thought daylight was a defence in the first place.

You go home and make dinner. You feel safe. Your house is your fortress. You remember when it wasn’t. You think of a time, in a former life, when someone else lived there. You hear the names he called you and the sound of the walls he punched. Daylight was no use to you then and you try not to think about it. There is a knock at the door but you aren’t expecting anyone so you ignore it. It could be anyone really. You wonder why pepper spray is illegal in Ireland but remind yourself to get the small tin of wasp-killer spray from under the sink and keep it in your handbag. You read that it does the same thing. You wonder is there a point to any of these Oprah magazine safety tips at all. You feel you should be more defiant. You double check the doors and windows are locked.

When you wake, you quietly wake up your boyfriend.

You need to get the bus to work.

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

RTÉ’s outrage over protesters insulting the president illustrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the media establishment. Let’s be frank here; no one in RTÉ gives a toss about ableism. Of course it isn’t nice to see someone being called a “midget parasite”. It is ableist language and pretty nasty, and not a word that should be bandied about like that.

I’m not unfamiliar with pointing out when people use rubbish or offensive terminology, but I’m finding it really hard to jump on the condemnation here. It’s not that I think this is fine behaviour or in any way acceptable, or that I have some special regard for the office of President (although while I’m on the subject I don’t think protesting against the president because he signed a bill into law and refused to do an Article 26 referral is a good politics. It’s silly and lacks an understanding of what the implications of a finding of constitutionality under Article 26 actually are). It’s just that I literally do not care that a bunch of people did this in Finglas to register their dissent given what’s going on elsewhere.

The media are gleefully hawking this video around like snuff at a wake but their fury has nothing to do with ableism or even affording appropriate respect to the office of President. Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins called it “incitement to hatred” on twitter mere weeks after tweeting about the “free world” and the hashtag #jesuischarlie. RTE expressed outrage, and anyone who wants to say Paul Murphy is an apologist for hooliganism is given a platform to air their views. Michael D is a man that goes to League of Ireland football games, so I’m pretty sure he’s heard worse and much less cares, but to RTÉ, Finglas is rapidly taking Jobstown’s place as Ireland’s home for a feral community intent on destroying civilisation as we know it. Production staff on Morning Ireland would probably save themselves time if they just played Tony Harrison from the Mighty Boosh on a loop screaming “It’s an outrage!”

But as I said, I don’t really care about what happened in Finglas.

I really don’t care that a bunch of people said some mean things to the President when he is surrounded by a gaggle of Gardaí to protect him. Sure. They shouldn’t have said it, but I don’t care because I have watched too many videos of people being beaten with impunity by the guards and having excessive force used on them.

I don’t care because as I type this a private police force decked out in balaclavas is roaming through Stoneybatter and Broadstone assaulting people, abusing pregnant women, and filming  people coming  and going from their homes all at the behest of Irish Water. I don’t care because I have listened and watched as Irish Water staff screamed at my next door neighbour that he was a “cunt” at the top of his lungs. There are plenty of videos on youtube where the Gardaí stand by and watch as Irish Water staff abuse and assault people, and more where the guards assault people.

I don’t care because two people using the word “midget” to the president is a convenient mechanism for distraction for a lazy media (including the government mouthpiece RTÉ) who can wring their hands over this instead of airing stories about communities under siege and families in poverty looking at prospects of Irish water bills that will push them over.

That protest was last week so why is the video only coming out now? Oh that’s right. There’s a protest this weekend. It’s the equivalent of throwing a stick for dog to distract him from chewing your shoe. If there was half as much righteous indignation in the media over Garda brutality and Irish Water and GMC Sierra as there was about name-calling, it would be in much healthier shape.

The feigned shock and condemnation is hypocrisy at its worst and there really are bigger and more urgent things to worry about. People need to stop falling over themselves to try and be the most respectable game in town.

Get over it.

Get organised.

Get out on Saturday and show the zero fucks that you give about this.