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I’m in an Abusive Relationship with my Country

Dear Ireland,

I’m sorry to have to say this but we need to break up.

You see I just finished reading this book called “Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men” and I now realise that I am in an abusive relationship.

With you.

See abusers have a sense of entitlement, and you have that Ireland, you really do. You think it’s ok to treat women like second class citizens, to lock up asylum seekers, to allow the elderly, disabled and children in care to be abused when you’re supposed to be looking after them, you think it’s ok to expect Irish people to pay twice for wateryou make racist jokes and you think it’s ok to discriminate against children who aren’t Catholics.

I know now all of these things are indicative of your deeply held sense of entitlement.

Abusers also have a core belief in inequality and again Ireland, you have that in spades. Women are  woefully underrepresented in politics (and other positions of power), paid less than men and have their right to bodily autonomy taken away from them when pregnant. Not much equality there Ireland. Can you see how unfair you are?

Plus you really aren’t respectful of my body, like when I’m pregnant you have more say in what happens in and to my body than I do. You can even force me to stay pregnant against my will, force feed me, touch my body and even cut me open – all against my will.

Other countries recognise that legally as assault, torture even.

I have less rights than a corpse around you Ireland and that really sucks. I mean who in their right mind would actually want to stay in a relationship with someone that would hold all that over you? Someone WHO WOULD ACTUALLY DO THOSE THINGS TO YOU. And if I try and reclaim my body you threaten to lock me up and take away my freedom. That’s pretty dark Ireland. You’re in a dark place.

Abusers have no respect for their partners and you clearly have no respect for me. I’ve seen the way you treat other women too, you just don’t give a shit about us do you? I’m worried about my daughters, growing up with you. Will you treat them as harshly as you’ve treated me? Will they have to go through what I and the women in your past have gone through?

I’m pretty angry Ireland. I’m bloody wild about how you’ve been treating me and I’m not going to let you get away with it. I’m going to keep telling everyone what a shit you are until you change your abusive ways.

All I want is some basic respect and access to my human rights. I can’t believe you continue to deny me them.

Sincerely,

A Woman of Ireland.

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.

 

A pro-choice voter’s guide to the Stormont elections

We are happy to share this communication sent to us yesterday:

Just wanted to let you know that some NI pro-choicers have compiled a spreadsheet of MLA candidates and their stance on abortion in the run up to #AE16.

We’re keeping our names anonymous in the public sphere but there’s an email [in guidelines] if people want to get in touch.

Here’s the spreadsheet. And the spreadsheet guidelines are here.

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

An Appeal to the Left from Sex Workers

Posted on

On Friday 15th February, a sex worker was found murdered by a client at her place of work in Aberdeen, Scotland. The media reported on this with the sole purpose to sensationalise, dehumanise and victim blame.  They set about doing this by using her full name; giving details of her hourly rate; giving detailed information from her bio on her escort site; reporting information from her personal social media site to support their depiction of an irresponsible mother living a double life rather than a working mother.  

In all of this reporting, the focus is completely on minimising the murder of a woman of colour rather than on the murder itself.  We know all of these largely irrelevant personal details about her, yet all we know about the alleged murderer is that he is 25.

If any other worker had been murdered on the job, we would be hearing about this from the left. Especially when laws exist that prevent those workers from taking measures to protect themselves from harm. Instead there has been a deafening silence, so challenging the sensational articles has been left to fellow sex workers who are grieving and scared.

Not only are we not hearing about this from people on the left, but we are currently being told to vote left. This will mean in some cases, voting not only for those who are silent on this, but also for those who are actively campaigning for the very laws that created the conditions for this murder in the first place.

Those who do not support sex workers struggle for bodily autonomy and worker rights on the left are the AAA/SP (Anti-Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party) and the Workers Party.

AAA/SP 

The AAA/ SP actively campaign on issues that affect sex workers negatively. When these activists say ‘my body, my choice’ they don’t mean that sex workers are capable of making an active choice over what they do with their bodies – they just mean reproductive choices.

They consistently patronise sex workers and question the choice they have made and the conditions under which they have made it under. Not only this, but they talk about the work sex workers do as something that is happening to them, rather than something they are actively participating in. When they say they will fight for workers rights, they don’t mean sex workers rights as can be seen here:

Ruth 3

Or here, where Ruth relies on an article from Anti-Choice site LifeSite News:

Ruth 1Ruth 2

When the AAA/SP hold a ROSA meeting on violence against women, you won’t hear them mention the abuse that the sex worker women face as part of that narrative. This all serves to further perpetuate the violence sex workers experience.

They continue to ignore the fact that many sex workers are mothers, many sex workers are students, many sex workers are working class, that sex workers are in fact workers. Their insistence on excluding sex workers struggle from their worldview is continuing to have a dangerous impact on women involved in the sex industry. As I said, they don’t just exclude sex workers, they actively campaign to ensure they are put in more danger and harm than they are already, and this is a problem.

Ruth Coppinger’s record of treating sex workers in a repulsive manner goes relatively unchallenged on the left. If it was any other type of worker, this kind of thinking would just be unheard of and completely condemned by everyone on the left.

During the time that the Sexual Offenses Bill was making its way through the Dail, it was difficult to tell the difference between Ruth Coppinger and any other Labour TD attempting to gain opportunistic support from the anti sex work lobby, or otherwise known as the conservative or religious right. When a socialist TD is as enthusiastic about a bill as Labour or the anti-choicers are, then it might be time to question what exactly they mean by socialist.

In fact, given Ruth’s record on the issue, it is quite incredible that she is running in the general election under ‘Women for Ruth’ banner – quoting that ‘Ruth will fight for your rights’ – but only if you aren’t repulsively selling sex or going off making immoral choices about your bodily autonomy that Ruth says you’re incapable of making.

 

ROSA (Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) is the feminist side-project of the AAA/SP. They held a talk on the sex industry at their last Bread and Roses Festival where Ruhama attended, spoke, and posed for a PR photoshoot with them. The second wave was spoken highly of by Laura Fitzgerald of the SP, and a conflation of sex work and trafficking occurred throughout.

 

The Workers Party

The Workers Party yesterday released the following statement in a message when requested to clarify their position on sex work:

“The Workers Party is firmly opposed to sex-slavery, sex trafficking and the commoditization of women’s bodies. We believe that the conceptualisation of sex work / prostitution as a “choice” undermines the very real material and cultural deprivation and exclusion which overwhelmingly drive women into prostitution under capitalism. People diving in sewerage or collecting cans for remuneration similarly engage in labour which is exploitative, and which as socialists we believe should be eliminated. Prostitution should be seen in this light. The Workers’ Party advocates eliminating the material conditions that drive workers into exploitative situations. Primarily this should involve providing comprehensive access to social housing, decent employment and social welfare, and the creation of respectful and dignified state bodies to support women in transitioning into less exploitative employment.

This strategy must necessarily be accompanied by harm reduction measures in the immediate term. In relation to how harm reduction for those involved in the sex trade can be ensured, the Workers’ Party does not support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, recognises the evidence that it has not been successful in other countries. Neither have we taken a position to support full decriminalization. We continue to debate the issue within our party, within a frame which respects women, recognises the flawed model of “choice” often used to justify legalization of prostitution, but also recognising the difficulties which criminalisation of sex work poses to ensuring harm reduction.”

The minute you conflate sex trafficking with sex work, your position is completely flawed. The argument that sex work should ideally be abolished because of its ‘exploitative nature’ only stems from the influence of the religious right, whorephobia and moralism and neglects the fact that all work is exploitative.

The jobs that the Workers Party refer to above are valuable jobs, and include work that is and will be necessary even under parliamentary socialist reforms. However, to compare sex work and by extension, predominantly women sex workers, to diving in sewage really takes the anti sex worker rhetoric to a new vile low.

Let’s go with it though for a moment: Sewage diving is carried out by professional divers who are usually trades people first and it involves high-tech diving in places such as sewage farms, basements and drains of hospitals.  It takes careful planning and is a very serious job with stand-by divers ready in case something goes wrong. It is essential work especially in instances where bacteria is used to break down solids instead of chemicals or where repairs are required to the machines used to breakdown sewage.  It is difficult to imagine a situation where the Workers Party would not support requests by sewage workers to support measures that they deem would keep them safe while working, such as being able to work in teams for example.  However, where sex work is concerned, the Workers Party state that they have not taken the position requested by sex workers which will keep them safe, namely decriminalisation.  Their insistence on using the term ‘prostitution’ is indicative of the disregard they have for sex workers self-determination. But we shouldn’t have to be talking about sewage work when trying to win rights for sex workers that will keep them alive.

It is the experience of sex workers that no other work gets imagined as being redundant in the future as much as sex work.  The fixation on this can only be due to moralism.The questioning of choice is a familiar obsession of many on the left and it contains sexist undertones where predominantly women sex workers are deemed unable to make an active choice to engage in sex work. Regardless of the factors that drive women to engage in sex work, questioning the very notion of that choice clearly says that the Workers Party don’t trust women to make their own choices and think that they know better than the women themselves, thereby stripping women of autonomy.

There have been conflicting answers from various members of the Workers Party when questioned on their position, so sex workers say that they need to immediately retract this position, publicly apologise to sex workers and make a clear statement on the position they do have, if it differs from the one they released yesterday.

Appeal from sex workers 

Sex workers lives are at risk if the left continues to ignore their voices alongside conservatives, so sex workers are finding themselves in the unusual position of having to protest the left to change their position. Protest and pressure work.  We’ve seen many pledges in advance of this election yet none for sex workers who are some of the most margianalised in society.

The time to pressure those looking to be elected is now and it’s not fair to expect sex workers to remain silent on a matter that literally involves endangering their lives or to call those supporting them sectarian for doing so. In this respect, following the murder of Bianca in Scotland, a sex worker based in Ireland put out a call for people voting in the elections to not vote for AAA/SP candidates.  She asked that we extend our pro choice priority to sex workers. She said:

I would like to ask people not to vote Paul Murphy or any other AAA/SP candidate and stop singing praises for him/them. Him and his party supports the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients. It frustrates me to no end, that people turn around and say, well his policies on other issues important to lefties are good, but a shame about the sex work issue and but I will vote for him anyway. We wouldn’t accept this with abortion, so why do we allow it with sex work?

I got some sad news that a sex worker sister was murdered recently. Criminalisation of sex work and stigma was why she was targeted – and this will only get worse with client criminalisation. Please stop tooting the AAA’s horn, cause if it was up to them – they’d ignore evidence-based policy and sex workers’ voices, and would rather endanger their lives even more in the name of ideology.

 

…I want people to understand, that the next “dead hooker” story could possibly be a comrade.”

Not even 12 hours after this call was made however, leftists continued to promote AAA/SP election material and promote their politics as a chance for a ‘united left’. This completely ignored sex workers demands in favour of their own ideas of good politics.

This continued denial of the reality of sex workers lives and struggle is only further damaging sex workers lives. The longer we ignore this, the more likely that one of our own comrades is going to suffer the fate that Bianca did, along with so many others. We cannot, as feminists, leftists and activists, continue to throw our sex worker comrades under a bus. Voting for those who continue to abhorrently disregard sex worker rights will only serve to increase the violence that sex workers experience and worsen the stigma that sex workers face every day.

A vote for those who deny sex worker rights is not a pro choice vote and it is not a women’s rights vote, nor is it a workers vote. Women can’t wait, say the AAA/SP and they are right!

After the Russian Revolution, Innessa Armand didn’t seek to abolish, or ‘end demand’ of sex work, but she actually decriminalised it, therefore providing sex workers more safety and autonomy over where and with whom they work. In the words of Inessa Armand: “If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.”

We see you, writing us out of history. Again.

The radio was on this weekend while I was in the kitchen. I was doing about seven different things at once at the time so I’m not sure what show it was or who was on it, but it was some male author or playwright or actor or some such being interviewed on it by a male presenter. The interviewee was being asked about his favourite authors and was predictably listing off Joyce and Beckett et al, and talking about taking part in a production of Waiting for Godot when younger with a listing of his male relatives and how lifechanging it all was and it suddenly occurred to me that what I was listening to was the ongoing act of removing all women writers and thinkers and playwrights and artists and dramatists and actors from the accepted list of ‘important’ work yet again.

We see it everywhere really; male bloggers and self-appointed, as well as actually appointed ‘political analysts’ only commenting and retweeting and talking to one another in their all-men’s social media echo chambers that may as well be the all-men’s exclusive social clubs of yesteryear and not even noticing that the voices of women and other not male people are missing from their conversations. It becomes particularly obvious when they start offering their (generally incredibly facile and poorly thought-out) opinions on women’s bodies, women’s health, and women’s rights as though they and their opinions were both revolutionary and also the final possible say on the matter. We see you.

We see you, men of the left who wouldn’t give up a platform to a woman even if you were paid to, suddenly proclaiming that the women of 1916 are revolutionary unsung heroes and listing all of their names and achievements; a list you have absolutely definitely lifted from the academic research of other women of today whose work you didn’t even credit in  your oh-so-feminist shout-out.

We see you, men who call yourselves feminists who absolutely Never Ever even think to include a single solitary work by a woman in any of your social media listings of your absolutely favourite, groundbreaking writers, artists, social commentators, thinkers, musicians, and creators. You claim you think we’re people too; just not people with anything of import to ever say about the world.

We see you, male curators of this year’s performances in the Abbey Theatre who decided that not a single solitary play by a single solitary woman was worth including in their year long celebration of Irish theatre. Teresa Deevy‘s entire body of work was utterly forgotten by an Abbey Theatre of 1937 onwards, who found her too uncomfortably revolutionary and feminist in Dev’s Ireland; the same is happening with the women writing and directing and performing plays in Ireland of 1990 onwards as their work, our work is being overlooked and ignored all over again by the men who continue interviewing each other and deciding that each other’s work and each other’s opinions are what is canon and important and Worth Reading.

We see you, Kate O’Brien, Edna O’Brien, Nell McCafferty, Teresa Deevy, Augusta Gregory, Eva Gore-Booth, Nuala O’Faolain, Éilis Ní Dhuibhne, Jennifer Johnson, and many many others and your works being written out of history, out of the context of 20th century Ireland, and left to gather dust. We see you Rosaleen McDonagh, Belinda McKeon, Sarah Clancy, Rita Ann Higgins, and the many other vivid, radical, angry women’s voices of 21st century Ireland who are only ever treated as the ‘other’ voice, writing from the edges; never as though their narratives were a genuine and driving one, on which entire stories and entire movements could be centred.

We see you.

 

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

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.

Marriage is not Equality: Thoughts on #MarRef from a worried radical queer

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This article is based heavily on the script for the 15/05/15 episode of my radio show, 30 km/s, which airs live online every 2 weeks on www.subcity.org

I also recommend reading this compilation of writings put out by Aidan Rowe, one of the many people in Ireland eloquently providing a radical critique of the very concept of marriage equality, as well as other real problems with the Referendum campaign, from an anarchist-queer perspective.

It’s been with interest and trepidation that I’ve been observing the campaign for the Marriage Referendum from afar, desperately wanting to be there. Between the overt homophobic abuse spouted by the ‘No’ campaign and the rather horrid effect of single-issue liberal politics and policing of identity from the mainstream, acceptable parts of the so-called ‘Gay’ community, I’ve felt quite homesick for Dublin, where I lived for 11 years.

While I’ve resided in Glasgow for the past couple of years, I came out as a trans woman and a lesbian, and began transitioning, in Ireland. I was heavily involved in the LGBTQ community/ies, both with the mainstream and the more radical elements. I’ve been a member of numerous LGBTQ organisations, such as TENI, and the late Queer Spraoi and PinC, and was the content editor for the defunct BoLT magazine, a magazine by and for LGBTQ women and trans people of all genders. I am still a strong part of the community with numerous bonds of friendship and solidarity with my LGBTQ friends living there, and I try to make it over at least a few times a year (especially for my fave Pride festival, Northwest Pride, when I can manage it!).

However, I feel the referendum has brought out some of the worst aspects of Irish society, both the homophobic, bigoted, misogynistic right-wing elements (church-led and otherwise) as well as the assimilationist, clean-cut ‘we are just like you’ part of the gay community, which seems more focused on adapting to a cishet norm than actually fighting for queers in the streets. To the extent of advising people to call the police on LGBTQ people who take down and vandalise the homophobic posters put up by the No campaign.

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re in Ireland, do I think you should vote yes, no, or abstain?

Vote yes. Clearly. Obviously.

Voting no is simply objectionable. Voting yes grants LGBTQ people rights that we should already have. If you’re a particularly politically minded LGBTQ person, abstaining should not be an option, considering the rather ghastly politics that make up the No side, from the homophobic and misogynistic Iona Institute to other typical right-wing, antifeminist elements in Irish society. And for many people, the rights granted are crucial and life saving: Adoption, citizenship, visitation rights in hospital, etcetera are all sorely needed. The state declaring that same-sex relationships are equal in the eyes of the law can have a strong effect on other parts of society as well.

Are we cool on that? Because from this point on, things get complicated.

Let’s start with the institution of marriage. If you’re in love, committing to someone for life, if that’s what you’re both into, that’s rad! Go ahead and do it, more power to you. But why do we need the state to get involved?

On a practical level, the issues around rights I’ve highlighted above are an obvious answer. But I ask you to take a step back and ask yourself: Why does citizenship depend on marriage? The fact of the matter is, historically, the state are heavily invested in regulating who comes and goes from their countries, and how family units are organised -a cursory look at the last 30 years of Irish history is proof of this. At different points in history, states will encourage immigration or discourage it through policies as well as promoting xenophobia, like we have seen in recent years. So I pose another question: why are our rights limited by whether or not we get access to a specific state-sanctioned form of relationship? What if we need those rights but we do not want the state involved in our affairs? What about the other things we have a right to but are often marginalised in? Housing and homelessness, unemployment, poverty, which studies in Ireland, the United States and UK show LGBTQ people overrepresented in those categories in proportion to the general population? Not to mention many other areas of discrimination in every day life I couldn’t hope to cover. Check out the following studies and reports that show marriage isn’t the only, or even the central, issue:

Ireland

List of publications by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (I couldn’t link just one they’re all bloody important)

United States

Injustice at Every Turn – A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey

New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community

UK

An Examination of Poverty and Sexual Orientation in the UK

Debunking the ‘Pink Pound’ – LGBT Poverty and Place in Scotland

One answer is that marriage equality is something that is achievable within our lifetime. All of your radical ideas about no borders, abolishing capitalism, etcetera, are all well and good, but they are unrealistic and impossible to achieve, the argument goes.

But let me ask you: would we have gotten to where we are now in terms of achieving same-sex marriage in many countries, if people had not fought for that specifically? The interesting thing is that back in the late 60s, when queens and dykes and faggots were being beaten up by police in New York, incarcerated and abused in my native Argentina, when the revolutionary voices of Stonewall and so many other places rose up, were they calling for a seat at the table of mainstream acceptability? Were they asking for marriage equality?

No. They were saying the table rests on the back of people like us. the poor. the disabled. the ones who are not acceptable faces of a marriage campaign. The migrants, the sex workers, the people of colour, the people with mental health issues and physical disabilities. Not to mention the majority of people who live in poverty. In the face of this, Gay Liberation was a call to arms for us who were considered deviant by society due to breaking gender and sexual norms, for us to reform society from the ground up for a radical concept of equality. Not equality based on a single law, a single yes or no question, but rather on true equality for all.

My problem isn’t with marriage per se, but marriage does not exist in a vacuum. The fact is that same-sex marriage will change absolutely nothing for 99% of queers I know. I accept that is a biased sample, but most of the LGBTQ people I know fall under one of the many following categories: Disabled with either physical or mental disabilities; people of colour; survivors of abuse; migrants; with experience of homelessness; sex workers.

What does marriage do for us? We are poor. We are kicked out of welfare systems designed to keep us in poverty. Trans people are frequently targeted to be kicked out of social welfare system due to conflicting documentation.

We have an asylum system in both the UK and Ireland that is despicable in its utter dehumanisation of people. And if you add to that the extra scrutiny afforded to LGBTQ asylum seekers, the picture is grim.

Sex workers struggle with the violence of a state that will deny the right of vulnerable people to try to make a living, often in really difficult situations.

Racism in Ireland and the UK is an everyday occurrence, as is xenophobia, ableism, misogyny.

And let us not forget the elephant in the room: how marriage equality does nothing for those members of the LGBTQ community that need an abortion and are not able to get one in Ireland.

We can’t address all of those issues at once, of course. But is ticking ‘yes’ on a box all we can really do? Is our political imagination so constrained? Why must we accept reducing everything we are and all we live and suffer through to whether this referendum passes?

Here’s where the rub comes in for me: the famous saying that a society or community can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. Let’s not kid ourselves: the Irish LGBTQ community as a whole has an appalling record in this regard. Racism, misogyny, ableism, and even transphobia have been rampant and unchecked for a long time within it, and not enough has been done to fight this. The mainstream LGBTQ community does precious little work for asylum seekers and people of colour. There’s virtually no campaigning around LGBTQ people with disabilities and/or in poverty.

So, with all of these issues, I have more questions to ask: Why are we campaigning for marriage now, instead of working to help the vulnerable sectors of the LGBTQ community in Ireland? Where is the money coming from for all the signs, vans, etcetera? And after the referendum, if it’s a Yes, where will all that money, energy, door-to-door canvassing, go to? If Ireland follows precedent, all that political mobilisation will vanish overnight. If we’re lucky, it will help mobilise for gender recognition for trans people as it did in Argentina, but even that will not fix all the other problems I’ve mentioned.

The fact of the matter is that marriage, in general, is a reform that is easy to attain and does not disturb the capitalist, patriarchal status quo. Marriage has always been, from the point of view of the state, about organising workers and property, determining who lives where and how. It is not a revolutionary institution and it will not bring about the change the most vulnerable LGBTQ people in Ireland sorely need.

Will the money and huge organising energy from the Yes campaign go to campaigns to abolish the direct provision system? Will money be raised by the big orgs to help out LGBTQ asylum seekers? What about campaigns to help improve the standard of living in local communities?

Ireland has a chance in this regard, because in all other countries, once they got what they wanted, these campaigns disbanded. They didn’t mobilise the LGBTQ communities over which they have so much sway to fight poverty, police violence, or for the decriminalisation of sex work. The system of global capital will still stand. Will the Yes campaigners stand with us?