Latest news from abortion-free Ireland

RTÉ has just carried the shocking news that women in Ireland are illegally ordering Mifepristone, the abortion pill, from an online site hosted outside the country.

At least, the news is shocking to RTÉ and to a doctor interviewed for the segment. Not shocking at all here in Wednesdayland, where it was predicted almost two years ago.

Apparently the authorities have contacted the site's owners informing them that the sale of mifepristone is illegal here. Which is, of course, precisely why the site exists. The owners have not responded yet, and probably won't. And there is virtually nothing the law can do about it - except, that is, to allow women to obtain the pill safely and legally from their GP. If we're not going to let that happen then we had better get used to the fact that women will find some other way to get it.

Incidentally, the site in question can be easily located with a Google search and one thing I can guarantee you is that plenty of Irish women who saw that RTÉ report will now be Googling desperately.

Why the Offences Against the State Act needs to go. Part 342

Breaking news today:

Mark Doran, of Poacher's Lock, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, was convicted of membership of [the Real IRA]...the court was told that, during a search of Mr Doran's flat, gardaí had found military manuals, books and DVDs, raffle tickets used during a fundraiser for the families of IRA prisoners, and two bodhrans, one with a picture of a woman with a rifle and the other with signatures from several Port Laoise prisoners.

Delivering the court's judgment, Mr Justice Mc Menamin said that such material was "consistent only with significant paramilitary involvement".

'Innocent until proven republican' is still the law in this country, so it seems.

On another matter...

... I don't know what the fuck is going on in the Six County Department of Education, but I would like to disassociate myself from it completely.

Sin é.

An dlí is an teanga

An email found its way into my inbox this week, asking for my signature on a petition to oppose the Labour Party’s new Legal Practitioners Qualification Amendment Bill. The purpose of this bill is to remove the Irish language requirement for persons wishing to train as solicitors or barristers. According to the petition, the consequences of its enactment would be as follows:

1. That this bill will damage the status and usage of the Irish language generally, and especially damage the status of Irish in the legal system.
2. That it will be impossible for Irish speakers to obtain their rights in the courts of this country if this bill is passed.
3. That court cases and services in Irish should be offered in all Irish courts, in order to give equal rights to Irish speakers, rather than proposing to take away these rights.
4. That this bill will pose a threat to the Irish language under the Constitution, as our first official language. There will also be implications for the status of the Irish language in Europe, where Irish-speaking lawyers are in demand.
5. That this bill has implications for the coutnry's [sic] independence. If the requirement for an oral Irish exam for lawyers is abolished, our legal system will be able to slide back into the English legal system, as matters stood before 1921.

Let’s look at the background to this. Under the original act, which dates from 1929, and the Solicitors Act 1954, any person wishing to train as a solicitor or barrister in the state must pass Irish language examinations at an early stage of their training. The examinations are both oral and written and there are no exemptions (except for solicitors trained in other countries who wish to have their qualifications recognised here). The standard of Irish required to pass the exams is said to be fairly low for those training as solicitors, higher - although I'm not sure how much higher - for those training as barristers.

So how valid are the objections raised in the petition? I’m going to discount #5 straightaway because it is, frankly, ridiculous. I think #4 is a weak argument too. There are no proposals to remove Irish as the first official language, and it’s not clear what the ‘implications for the status of the Irish language in Europe’ would be. If Irish-speaking lawyers are in demand in Europe, then surely that demand itself would act as an incentive for prospective lawyers to learn Irish, with or without a requirement that they do so. (A similar argument can be made for #2, although I think there’s a more pertinent issue on that one, which I’ll come to later.)

#1 is based on a generalised view that Irish language requirements are an essential component in maintaining the status of Irish. I think it has to be said that the (de facto) status of Irish in this country is poor enough even with these requirements and if they are what we are counting on to save the language, we’re in big trouble. This is not an argument against compulsory Irish per se – I would still strongly support it for primary and secondary students, up to Leaving Cert level, albeit with a vastly reworked curriculum to ensure that they are actually learning the language and not memorising only the amount that they need to pass their exams. If we had that in place then perhaps the language would be used enough to create a real need for Irish speakers in a wide range of professions. But the current half-arsed situation, in which only a small minority of people will ever have to use the language after they finish school, seems to me to do as much harm as good to its status.

So that leaves us with 2 and 3. Leaving aside the former's hyperbole, I think these are the strongest arguments in favour of retaining the requirement. Irish is the first language of the state, and its speakers must have the right to use it to conduct their official business. But there’s a serious question as to whether the current law actually protects that right. As I noted earlier, the solicitors’ exams are, by all accounts, fairly easy – meaning you don’t have to speak Irish particularly well to pass them. Is a Gaeilgeoir who wants to conduct their legal business through the national language really protected by a system that admits persons with only a rudimentary knowledge of that language? Given the intricacies of the law, and the extreme degree of preciseness needed in drafting and responding to legal documents, wouldn’t any such person be sure to seek out a fluent Irish speaker rather than someone who’d just managed to pass a couple perfunctory exams? I have no idea how many fluent speakers there are in the legal profession; this category, unfortunately, was not included in the recent Census breakdown of Irish speakers by occupation. But if there are many, it’s obviously not because of the law - as the law does not require fluency - and so the law is unnecessary for this purpose. And if there are few, then the law is failing this purpose. So either way, the case really isn't made for its retention.

Now having said all this, I don’t like the Labour Party bill either. It would replace the compulsory Irish exam with a 'voluntary system of recognising competence in the Irish language' – so you get a little star by your name in the Golden Pages or something, I guess. This is not the way I would go about reforming the present system. I don’t think there should be no requirement for solicitors and barristers to have Irish – but the requirement should be meaningful, and should be implemented in such a way as to actually encourage and facilitate learning of the language, and of course to not form a barrier to access to the legal profession. The recently-introduced policy of the Garda Síochána seems to me to be a common-sense way to go about this: Irish is now a mandatory part of the training regime for those applicants who don’t already have it.

I’ll conclude by (re-)stating the obvious: this dilemma wouldn’t exist if the government cared enough to ensure that the language was taught properly in the schools in the first place, and to provide adequate Irish education for adults.

Republican revisionism and the GFA

I've just been listening to Newstalk 106, where Des Dalton of Republican Sinn Féin was briefly interviewed on the subject of that party's Ard Fheis, to be held this weekend.

In the course of the interview it was put to Dalton that the people of Ireland, north and south, voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. Dalton denied that this was true: "The people of the 26 Counties didn't even get a chance to vote on the Stormont Agreement," he said.

This is an allegation the GFA's opponents have been levelling for years, and it baffles me. Did they not bother to read the text of the constitutional amendment they (presumably) voted against in 1998? The very first line of it reads:

The State may consent to be bound by the British-Irish Agreement done at Belfast on the 10th day of April, 1998, hereinafter called the Agreement.

You can't get much clearer than that. Obviously the most emotive part of the referendum, for most people in the 26, was the removal of Articles 2 and 3 but it's pure historical revisionism to claim - as RSF and the others constantly do - that that is all the southern electorate voted on.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of the GFA, but I really don't see any credible argument that its passage wasn't the will of the Irish people as expressed at the time.

It’s reported today that the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland will officially come to an end in 2009.

I say “officially” because the Irish government has been unilaterally ignoring the agreement for some time now. I’ve noted this as a semi-regular traveller to Britain: it’s been years since I’ve encountered any kind of passport check upon arrival at an airport in that country, but there are always checks when I come home. So it seems the Brits are just bringing their policy in line with ours. Which is ironic, given our frequent trotting out of the excuse that we can’t do this or that because it might affect the CTA – an excuse that is usually bullshit, as in this instance, for example. In the Dáil today, the Taoiseach also confirmed my long-held suspicion that the CTA excuse previously offered for us not joining the Schengen open border arrangement was only a pretense:

…should we join Schengen, the answer is "no"

It’s also been confirmed that the new arrangements will not apply to the land border between the two jurisdictions. No surprises there. I don’t believe either government would have had the stomach for that. So what will probably happen instead is that border security will be beefed up at Stranraer and Troon (I gave up that Parkhead season book just in time!). No doubt, there will be more instances of Irish nationals being subjected to racist requirements that they write their names in English, something that would never occur to the British authorities to demand of Polish or Spanish passengers. But it's interesting to contemplate the psychological effect of moving the de facto border back to where it belongs.

The other ironic thing about this is that its announcement takes place the same week that the Irish government finally introduces legislation to outlaw human trafficking. As everyone in the migration field knows, but politicians stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, tightening border controls actually facilitates rather than hindering traffickers. It means that there are more people unable to avail of legal means of migration and having to resort to illegal means; a larger and more lucrative black market in forged documents, which in turn provides a greater incentive to criminals to get involved in the business, and often a greater debt for the victim to have to repay to their trafficker, meaning a longer time they are held in debt bondage. Western countries in recent years have tightened their borders considerably and at the same time, the trafficking rate has increased. This isn’t a coincidence.

Finally, I have to wonder what the effect will be on the immigrant women in this country who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies and now face yet another barrier to obtaining a safe and legal abortion. A recent report in The Lancet (summary available at that link; free registration required for the full article) proved what some of us would call the bleedin’ obvious: laws against abortion don’t prevent them but merely make them more dangerous. In this country, we’ve largely been shielded from the latter effect because of the safety valve of travel to England – but many immigrant women don’t have that option. There is already some evidence of illegal abortions among this population and the only reason there haven’t been more is that the Irish government has quietly granted re-entry visas to women who wish to travel for this purpose (I don’t have a link for that, but it's accepted by activists on both sides of the debate). When Britain starts checking the passports of everyone who goes there from here, these women will need to ensure they also have a British entry visa and I’m not sure how willing the Home Office will be to accommodate them. Some increase in the number of illegal abortions here seems inevitable – and the consequences of that could be dire.


I realise I’ve said more in this post than I previously had for the whole month. Apologies for my quietness of late, and thanks to those of you who still check in regularly. I can’t promise to keep up as often as I’d like to, particularly given what looks to be an increasing workload for me, but I will always do what I can.

Note to my northern comrades

When the Assembly is having a debate on abortion, it would be a good idea to have at least one woman MLA speak.

Quick note on the Paul Quinn case

As readers in Ireland will know by now, IRA members in South Armagh are being accused for the beating death of a young man near Castleblayney, County Monaghan.

On the killing itself, the comments of our local TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin are worth repeating:

Whatever circumstances are behind the attack there can be no justification for this type of violence. I strongly condemn the attack which took place in my own constituency and urge that anyone with information relating to the murder go to the gardaí immediately.
I would caution against a rush to judgement about the perpetrators. Just because the family believes republicans were involved doesn't mean they were. See my previous post on Joe Rafferty's murder, and remember also the case of Gareth O'Connor, for whose disappearance the IRA was widely blamed until it was revealed that he had been touting to the PSNI on his comrades in the Real IRA.

Whoever was responsible, though, it should be obvious that - after Paul Quinn's family - the last people who would have wanted anything like this to happen are Sinn Féin. Whereas some of our opponents, in the media and on other web forums, seem to be nearly wetting themselves with glee.

For the sake of everyone and everything involved, I hope this is resolved as quickly as it can be, and with a minimum of political point-scoring.
Today's Times (subs required) reports that black taxi drivers are finding it difficult to pick up fares in Dublin and other areas. They say that passengers at ranks are going past them and getting into cabs with white drivers.

The National Taxi Drivers' Union president, Tommy Gorman, denies that racism is involved and suggests that people may have had previous experience with "coloured" drivers (what century are we in again?) not knowing where they were going.

Of course, this never happens with white Irish drivers. Oh no. I never had to give a white Irish taxi driver directions from Heuston Station to Dundrum. I never had to give a white Irish taxi driver directions from O'Connell Street to Phibsboro, for fuck's sake. Yes, Phibsboro. I never had a white Irish taxi driver get hopelessly lost trying to get me from Cabra to the Coolmine rail station. These incidents must all be figments of my imagination.

Gorman made his comments in the context of suggestions that white drivers should refuse to take these fares. He was defending the white drivers for failing to do so. That's understandable. He's a union leader, and the role of a union leader is to stand up for the union workers. But what he seems to be missing here is that he's the president of all the NTDU workers - including the black ones. He should be standing up for them, too, not suggesting these occurrences are their own fault.

The suggestion that taxi drivers should have to take a local knowledge test is a sensible one. If implemented, it would surely weed out most of those drivers (Irish and non-Irish, black, white or whatever) who don't know where they're going. But will it, as Gorman suggests, weed out those passengers who refuse to get into a cab with a black person driving it? Somehow, I don't think so.

What a difference a year makes … or maybe not

I’d kind of forgotten all about this post. It was brought back to me when I had a look at my visitor stats and noticed someone with an ISP from Fianna Fáil headquarters doing a trawl for blog posts on ‘Bertiegate’. A little worried up at Mount Street, are we?

In retrospect, of course, I think I was a little easy on de Taoiseach. I’m still of the view that there isn’t – so far – hard evidence of anything beyond general sliminess and misjudgement. The inconsistencies that have arisen since then obviously strengthen the case against him, and darken the cloud over his head, to a degree that would embarrass most western leaders into stepping down. But again, this is Ireland we’re talking about, and Fianna Fáil. Even if Bertie goes – and don’t get me wrong, he should – the state is still going to be run by people to whom the going rate of a terraced house is money to be casually handed out to ‘friends’. And it’s still going to be run for those people, which to my mind is the real scandal.

I’ve been struck by this over the past couple days, with the news about Tuesday's Garda shooting in Dublin. That’s obviously a serious and newsworthy story but for God’s sake does nobody see the link between the greed that leads to that kind of behaviour, and the kind that results in fatcats having enormous sums of cash to distribute in ‘whiparounds’ for politicians, and the kind that results in stories like this one? What, apart from the social class of the participants, is the real difference? Thousands of people die in this country every year as a result of poverty, inequitable access to essential health care or other forms of government malfeasance which occur as a direct result of the privileging of the business class at the expense of everyone else - are their lives worth less than the relative handful of people killed by working class gangsters? I don’t think so.

The plain fact of the matter is that this state is controlled by people who have no regard for the law, no concern for anyone else’s well-being and no interest more pressing than stuffing their own pockets. It should hardly come as a surprise to them that some of the proles want in on the action, and are equally indifferent to the consequences of the means they have at their disposal.

Quick note on the unmarried fathers case

Good news in this case. I haven't followed it closely, and I understand it's probably only a limited victory, but it is certainly a good decision - not just for the man in question and his children, but also for common sense.

I have a problem with a lot of the fathers' rights crowd. Too often their complaints about the Irish legal system descend into rants on feminism - as if the legislators and judges who came up with our family law were all mad women's libbers, rather than ultraconservative Catholics trying to discourage extramarital sex and believing that women should mind the kids, preferably while standing barefoot and pregnant [but only by their husband] in the kitchen.

But the underlying argument - that unmarried fathers in particular are grossly discriminated against in Irish law - is virtually undebatable. Today's decision may be only a small step toward reversing this ridiculous injustice, but it's a welcome one.

A little Friday brainteaser

Which TD, from a government party, was spotted chatting away on his mobile while cycling down a busy city centre street today?

Latest news from the Land of the Welcomes

Prime Time last night carried a report on EU citizens whose non-EU spouses are being threatened with deportation on the grounds that the couple did not live together in another EU state before moving to Ireland.

This is happening because of the government’s interpretation of a recent EU directive which, ironically, was intended to strengthen the family rights of EU citizens.

I have a friend who recently fell afoul of this law. David has been married to his wife (a citizen of one of the “old” EU states) for about eight years. They have lived in Ireland for most of that time, having previously lived in David’s native country. He entered the state legally, with his wife, and was granted residency as the spouse of an EU citizen. This permission had to be renewed annually, so every year, he and his wife would go to the Gardaí to verify that they were still married, and he would get a stamp for another year. He is now eligible for Irish citizenship and has filed an application, but the waiting list is very long and it could be 2009 before his application is approved.

So a couple months ago, when his stamp was due to expire, he and his wife went for what he had every reason to believe was just a formal appearance before the Gardaí for another year-long stamp. Except this time they wouldn’t give it to him. “The law has changed,” he was told, “and you no longer have any right to reside here.” Within a few short weeks he would become an illegal immigrant; his employer would be required by law to let him go, and a deportation order could issue at any time.

Fortunately, it hasn’t come to that for David. He has a few advantages that many others in his situation don’t have: his employer is fairly well connected, and David is a white, native English-speaking westerner (this isn’t supposed to make a difference, but I guarantee you that it does). In his case the authorities relented – at least for this year.

So why is the government all of a sudden deciding to make legal immigrants illegal? Their explanation is that they are cracking down on “sham marriages”. Right. And the only way a couple can prove that their marriage is not one of convenience is to demonstrate that they lived together in another EU country first? My arse.

What happened is this. The government’s solicitors are under instructions to scrutinise every immigration-related EU law in order to determine the most restrictive way it can be applied. In this case, the solicitors found that this new EU directive could be interpreted to say that family rights only had to be granted to couples that had previously lived in another EU state. That, of course, was never the EU’s intention, but no matter. The government saw a loophole and jumped through it like a circus horse. And then made up this nonsense that it was all about "sham marriages".

What angers me most about this is the utter disregard it shows for the human needs, let alone human rights, of the people affected. Not all of them will be deported, of course. With a little luck (and a cerebrally-functioning Supreme Court) maybe none of them will, apart from that small percentage who genuinely did marry for convenience. But they don’t know that. Try to imagine the fear that someone in this predicament must feel. Someone who has spent years in this country, entirely legally, playing by the rules, building a life here for themselves and their family. And then to have a threat like this dangled over their head.

It is a cruel and disgusting way to treat people who have done absolutely nothing wrong.

...let him wear his turban

I actually struggled with this one a bit: at first glance, it appears to pit two of my most deeply held principles – pluralism and secularism – against each other. On the one hand I most certainly agree that Ireland should make reasonable accommodation to the cultural traditions of newcomers, and allowing male Sikhs (how many are there here? A thousand or so?) to wear their turban strikes me as eminently reasonable. There is no suggestion that it will interfere with their job performance in any way, or cause anyone else any harm or offence.

On the other hand, I am strongly sympathetic to the argument (as expressed in a couple letters in today's Times, subs required) that religion should be kept out of public life entirely. The state should not be involved in promulgating faith in general, or any faith in particular – and police officers, when on duty, are agents of the state. If a Catholic Garda wanted to wear a big fuck-off crucifix I wouldn’t be complaining if he or she was told to take it off.

But there’s a key difference there - and I’m not talking about the lack of an onus on Catholics to wear crucifixes, in the way that Sikh men feel they have to wear turbans. I think the crucial issue isn’t the beliefs themselves but the socioreligious context in which this dispute is taking place. The south of Ireland is, in most respects, and notwithstanding the undeniable (if far too slow) changes that have taken place over the past couple decades, still a country permeated with Catholicism. Our population is 90% Catholic. Our schools are 95% Catholic. Our elected representatives (on a parliamentary level, anyway) are about 97% Catholic. And this is still, unfortunately, reflected in many of the laws and policies that affect our daily lives – including the lives of those of us who want nothing to do with the Church and its teachings. To have Gardaí going around wearing crucifixes would just reinforce the essentially Catholic-theocratic basis on which this state is still to an unacceptable degree run. You can hardly say the same about a Sikh policeman in a turban.

Now the logical conclusion to this is that Sikhs and Catholics would have to be treated differently: the former given permission to openly display their religion, the latter prohibited. It’s not a position I’m entirely comfortable with, framed in those terms. But in a way, I think it boils down to the same question that has divided the US in recent years with regard to affirmative action, or the Six Counties on the 50-50 PSNI recruitment issue: is differential treatment acceptable to achieve equality of outcome? I have always felt that it is, at least under some circumstances. It’s all well and good for the law to say that everyone is equal and no distinction will be made but, in practice, in societies where the dominance of one category of people has been firmly entrenched, such a policy usually just ends up reinforcing the status quo.

The questions we need to ask here are what kind of Ireland do we want, and what policy will best help us achieve it. As I've stated, I want one that is pluralist and secular. Allowing your man to wear the turban would obviously promote the first of these; as for the second, it probably wouldn’t help, but I’m hard pressed to imagine how it would hurt, either. We aren't a secular state, and we aren't going to become one by limiting the rights of minorities to practice their religion. They are the wrong target for us 'aggressive secularists'. When we have a society where belief is genuinely a matter for the individual, and the state actually is no longer promulgating religion in general or any religion in particular, I'll revisit my views on this issue. But until then...

And what if it was a vaccine against prostate cancer?

A member of a Government expert panel has criticised the delay in recommending whether a cervical cancer vaccine should be provided under a National Immunisation programme. link

OK, let's look at the facts.

  • Studies suggest that up to 75% of people may contract the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, at some point during their reproductive years.

  • Ireland has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Western Europe.

  • 180 Irish women are diagnosed with this illness every year.

  • 80 Irish women a year die from it.

  • In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to be 100% effective against the types of HPV linked to most cervical cancers. Link.

What about this is a tough call?

Aer Lingus: It's the electorate, stupid

Fintan O’Toole annoys me as much as the next person, but when he gets it right does he ever get it right. His column in today’s Times (subs required) says exactly what I have been wanting to say since this Aer Lingus story first broke. Actually, it says exactly what I’ve been thinking since the election. Undoubtedly, it says what I’ll be thinking after the next election too, because in all likelihood the Irish voters will grumble and whinge for the next five years about what a shower of bastards we have in office and then on polling day they’ll go right back and put that shower in again. And then complain when they do the things that Irish politicians do. And so on, ad nauseum.

But we all know this; the question is what do we do about it. Usually the problem is identified as the peculiarly clientelist nature of (southern) Irish politics, and electoral reform is put forward as the solution: get rid of the dual mandate, for example, and TDs won’t have to focus so much on issues properly in the purview of councillors.

That hasn’t worked.

Increasingly the multi-seat constituency is coming under fire: TDs are competing with their party colleagues, the argument goes, and so there’s a great incentive for them to try to build up support from the voters through parish pump type stuff. I’m not convinced by this. For one thing, it doesn’t happen in the US, although the primary system there also means that candidates compete with party colleagues. Of course the party whip system doesn’t exist in the US so party colleagues can compete with each other on ideological grounds, something they can’t do here. But Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can’t really be said to be competing on ideological grounds, either, so a system under which their candidates are competing with each other (and other parties) rather than first and foremost amongst themselves is hardly likely to eliminate the incentive for them to boost their support through constituency work.

Some of my own party colleagues are in favour of introducing some sort of list system, in which, for example, half the Dáil is elected in the current manner, while the other half is selected by party officials according to the percentage of vote that each party receives. Presumably, the ‘appointed’ TDs would not be bound to do constituency work, not having any constituency to be bound to. There’s merit in that argument, but I can’t help thinking that there is something fundamentally undemocratic about allowing them to be chosen by appointment rather than directly by the people. We complain about this in the Seanad (not that that stopped us … well I won’t go there for now) so I don’t really see how we can support it in the Dáil. The wild optimists also think that this system would increase the extent to which the electorate votes on ideological grounds, because they know they are not just voting for their candidate but for his or her entire party. Again, unconvincing. At the last election voters knew they were voting not just for their TD but for their government, and what did they do? Voted in the same shower of bastards they keep complaining about … again.

I’m not sure what the answer is, or whether it can be found through electoral reform at all. Clearly a cultural change is needed - Irish voters do need to stop thinking of their TD as their councillor, social worker, all-purpose-fixer-upper – but there’s no guarantee that would stop them electing the same old crooks time after time, anyway. I’m sure I don’t need to point to examples in other countries to demonstrate this. Whether it’s PR-STV, FPTP, party list, whatever, the bottom line is that nothing is going to change until the voters take it upon themselves to decide that they aren’t going to put up with it anymore.

And if you think that’s going to happen any time soon, I have a landing slot in Shannon to sell you.

Normal service resumes!

I am back from my holidays, rested and ready to get back in the swing of things around here. Slowly, though. For now, just a brief comment on today's Irish Times report that an investigation into serious allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Quinn Direct insurance company, in cahoots with serving members of the Garda Síochána, has concluded that the smoking-gun document was forged.

This investigation was carried out by ... the Garda Síochána. What did anyone expect them to find?

Justice has been done.

I'm on holiday at the moment but, predictably, I'm still checking the news from Ireland every day and as might be expected from this post I've particularly been following the Joe O'Reilly trial.

The verdict today was exactly what I'd expected, and hoped for.

Apparently there is some disquiet about it because of the nature of the evidence (circumstantial rather than physical/forensic). I think this is a misunderstanding of the law. Circumstantial evidence is every bit as valid in building a case against a defendant; it's easier to explain away, but the crucial thing is that the defence has to actually do so (explain it away, I mean) - and Joe O'Reilly's didn't.

The jury has to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt - not beyond any doubt. They have to find that it is reasonable to believe that somebody other than the defendant could have committed the crime. With the evidence that was presented, and with Joe O'Reilly's lack of any explanation of it, combined with the virtually incontrovertible proof that he lied about his whereabouts at the time of the murder, it would really take a stretch beyond "reasonable" to imagine that it wasn't him. "Theoretically possible", sure, but that's not the standard required. If it was, you'd hardly ever get a conviction for anything.

Anyway, I'm sure that now the trial's over we'll start hearing all the details that weren't allowed to be introduced in court and that should seal it for any remaining doubters.

RIP Rachel.

The Dáil session 2006-2007: and so it ends

... much as it started, with the sitting suspended on two out of the three days this week because of the Government's failure to schedule enough legislation.

Good thing they didn't agree to the Opposition proposal to come back on September 11 (hmm) instead of the 26th. God knows what they'd find to talk about.

More Leinster House redundancies

A little bird has told me that a number of TDs on the Government side of the chamber - including at least one newly-appointed Junior Minister - have decided to sack their long-serving support staff and put family members in their place.

Not that this would surprise anyone, of course. But I thought it was worth a mention.

Joined-up thinking, Fianna Fáil style

Two actual Parliamentary Questions and their replies, published yesterday:

Q: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a non-EU citizen whose work permit has expired and who has since married an Irish citizen needs a further work permit to resume employment here.
A (Minister Martin): A work permit is not required for an employee married to an Irish Citizen. The person can regularise their status by contacting the Department of Justice.

Q: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform how a non-EU citizen whose work permit has expired and who has since married an Irish citizen can obtain a residency permit.
A (Minister Lenihan): Marriage to an Irish national does not confer an automatic right of residence in the State. Applications of this kind take approximately twelve months to process. Should the person wish to continue employment while the application is being processed, they should renew their work permit.

Narrow nationalism 1, international solidarity 0

Earlier this year, immigration 'reform' legislation was introduced in the Dáil. The legislation contained some of the most draconian provisions ever announced in this country, including harshly punitive measures for most undocumented immigrants, and limitations on their right to challenge the Government's decision on their status; biometric ID requirements; new restrictions on the right to family reunification; and the creation of an underclass of temporary migrant workers with few labour rights and no prospect ever of permanent residency. The bill was strongly opposed by civil liberties organisations and many of the country's leading trade unions, as well, of course, by left or left-leaning political parties such as Sinn Féin, Labour, and the Greens, who condemned its obvious human rights violations.

If the above paragraph doesn't sound familiar, it's because I've changed a couple details. The bill I'm talking about is real (and so are all those measures, and the bit about the civil liberties and trade union opposition), but it wasn't introduced in the Dáil - it was the US Congress. And far from condemning it, every major political party in this State lobbied heavily for its passage. Including the left or left-leaning ones. Including my own.

The reason, of course, is because of one of the few positive provisions in the Bill - the regularisation process for those undocumented immigrants who can afford it. For the sake of a relative handful of Irish people to whom, let's face it, the worst that could happen is that they'd have to come back and live in Ireland, we have not only accepted but actively supported legislation that we would never in a million years agree to in this country.

I understand the realpolitik involved, and I'm sure that if I had a loved one in the US who I hadn't seen in years because of the current immigration regime (as opposed to just a lot of friends in that situation, which I do have), I'd probably be more concerned about them than about the millions of people - mostly poor, brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking - who are going to suffer greatly when this legislation is finally passed.

But it still makes me a little bit sick.

Interesting note re the Greens' ministries

I was just looking over the list of Junior Ministers in the new Dáil and something struck me that I hadn't noticed before. See Tony Killeen? Minister of State under Gormley and Ryan with "special responsibility for Environment and Energy". There isn't a Junior Minister with special responsibility for Heritage, for Local Government, for Communications or for Natural Resources; it's only the Environment and Energy that a Fianna Fáiler has been put in charge of.

Is it any coincidence that those happen to be the two portfolios that the Greens would have wanted those Departments for in the first place?
Following on from my post on Saturday, I thought it would be a useful exercise to list all the Private Members debates initiated by Sinn Féin in the previous Dáil:

* The organ retention scandal
* Enshrining neutrality in the Constitution
* Restoration of the northern Assembly
* Enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution
* No confidence in the Minister for Health (Martin, at the time)
* Rural development
* Childcare (note that this was several months before the Meath by-election, in which the Government was reportedly "surprised" that this was an issue)
* Special Needs education
* Privatisation of Aer Lingus
* Reunification
* Establishment of a Department of Labour Affairs
* Drugs
* Part V of the Planning and Development Act (the developers' "get-out clause" for social and affordable housing)
* Domestic violence

If we hadn't tabled these motions, would another party have taken the initiative? Would there have been any debate on these issues? Maybe, in some cases. Probably not, in some others. Definitely not in a couple. And that's not even to mention the myriad of issues that we (and sometimes we alone) raised at Leader's Questions, Priority Questions and in the course of Second Stage debates.

The point here is that the loss of speaking rights for our TDs isn't just our loss. It means that fewer of these issues will be discussed in Leinster House. With us and Gregory silenced, Higgins and Healy gone, and Finian and the Greens bought, Labour will be the sole voice of the left(ish) in the Dáil - and their own poor showing relative to Fine Gael's means it will primarily be the latter who benefits from the demise of the Technical Group. Partisan Labour supporters and SF opponents may celebrate our exclusion, but it can hardly be seen as a good thing for progressive politics in this state.

An interesting rumour from across the pond ...

... has former Georgia Democratic Congressperson Cynthia McKinney going forward as the Green Party candidate for president, with Cindy Sheehan as her running mate. I hope it happens. It'll be amusing to watch Gormless & Co's attempt to claim ideological congruity with this ticket, as they sit in a government that the would-be USVP has accused of being "complicit in war crimes".

Actually, quite apart from that, I'd love to see this happen. I'm still allowed to vote in US federal elections, and it would be a nice change from having to hold my nose and vote for the lesser evil, or for some Peace and Freedom Party no-hoper you've never heard of (come to think of it, I've never heard of most of them either - even when I lived in California), or to just not be arsed because they're all crap. This would be one American presidential campaign I could really get behind.

Three pictures

Meg Walsh

Rachel O'Reilly

In February of this year, Sinn Féin introduced the following Private Members motion:

"That the Dáil,
recognising that:
— the grave threat to life and limb and to the mental health and quality of life of women, children and men posed by domestic violence is undermining the fabric of our society and our belief in equality;
— an estimated 1 in 5 Irish women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives;
— of 126 women violently killed since 1996, 81 were killed in their home and just under 50% of victims whose cases have concluded were killed by their partner or ex partner;
— in 2003 on average more than 23 incidents of domestic violence were recorded by Gardaí each day compared with an average of 11 other assaults recorded;— more than a third of all calls to the Women’s Aid national phone help-line went unanswered due to inadequate funding in 2005;
— women are 70% more likely to be raped, severely assaulted or murdered after they access the legal system and attempt to leave their abuser and therefore victim safety and offender accountability must be at the centre of every intervention; and
— there is an unjustifiable shortage of refuges and other front line provisions;
believes that:
— an effective sanctioning system is essential if the incidence of domestic violence is to be reduced and therefore law enforcement bodies and agencies involved in the administration of justice must prioritise the prosecution of domestic violence crimes on indictment where possible rather than simply as breaches of orders;
— the variation in Garda practice across the state and within stations is a serious problem and can impede women from making complaints or even undermine the cases that are brought forward, and therefore the existing Garda policy on domestic violence and practice must become subject to monitoring, support and supervision to ensure it at least achieves the level of response expected and set down by that policy;
— consideration should be given to the appointment of a Commissioner within An Garda Síochána tasked with ensuring domestic violence is treated as a serious criminal matter, and domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse crimes should be named as crime priorities in the Garda Annual Policing Plans;
— greater investment should be made in specialised training and ongoing in service training for Gardaí given the distinct nature of crimes of domestic and sexual violence;
— guidelines should be introduced detailing criteria for the granting of safety, protection and barring orders, as should regular information seminars for the judiciary on the dynamics and impact of domestic violence, the latest international research into effectively stopping domestic violence, and responding to the needs of victims, children and offenders;
— all key agencies, including the HSE, Probation Service, Courts Service and Housing Authorities, should be obliged to develop and implement, in conjunction with the expert agencies, a domestic violence policy and training to govern their work;
calls on the government to:
— make the necessary provisions for the introduction of an effective and consistent sanctioning system;
— publish and schedule time for legislation amending the Domestic Violence Act 1996 as a matter of urgency, including amendments to:
— remove the restrictions caused by residency requirements;
— list the name of the agency/practitioner responsible for taking sworn information, for serving orders and/or summons and providing evidence to the court regarding the response of the respondent;
— provide for the immediate communication to the local Garda station of the granting/extension of an order for priority entry onto the Pulse system;
— provide for applicants for orders to automatically be given a copy of their sworn information;
— provide for the immediate seizure of any firearm legally held by a person against whom an order has been granted; and
— clearly specify the data protection provisions governing the sharing of information by agencies;
— re introduce and resource a role for the Probation Service in family courts producing safety reports and risk assessments to inform judges’ decisions;
— ensure the supervision of child access where necessary to protect against further abuse;
— make provisions for the extension across the state of the inter agency work model developed by the NDVIA and the systemic changes achieved by them in the pilot areas of Dun Laoghaire and Bray District Courts;— prioritise and guarantee core funding to frontline services including refuges, outreach, counselling, court accompaniment and transitional housing on a multi annual basis to allow for the strategic development and delivery of services; and
— introduce measures to overcome language difficulties and other barriers, including the prospect of deportation, experienced by immigrants, ethnic minorities and others attempting to access services and protections."

Believe it or not, this was the only debate on domestic violence in the life of the 29th Dáil, despite our justice and equality spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh regularly calling for one.

The Government, unsurprisingly, defeated our motion, replacing it with their usual self-congratulatory muck about how much they had already done and promising to do more - just not as much more as we were calling for.

One wonders whether those promises would have been made at all if not for our motion. With SF effectively gagged in the 30th Dáil, we won't have the opportunity to initiate another such debate, and little opportunity to "remind" them to stick to their promises.

In the meantime, we can only hope that justice will be done for Rachel, Meg, Siobhán, and all the other women killed or maimed while the Government is busy patting itself on the back for its meager achievements.

They're definitely taking the piss.

Conor "Kebabs" Lenihan as Minister of State at the Department of Justice with special responsibility for integration.

I'm going to wake up tomorrow and this is all going to turn out to be one long, surreal dream, right?

Are they taking the piss?

The Green Party has indicated that it will not be seeking to re-route the M3 motorway away from the Hill of Tara during the next five years... [Eamon] Ryan said the decision to construct the motorway alongside the Hill of Tara was a decision of the last Government and "this is a new Government".

From here.

Sometimes, I don't even feel the need to add my own comments... some things just speak for themselves.

The Greens' first sellout

In 2002 the Green Party repeatedly protested and called for a change to Standing Order 114, which denies speaking rights to parties of fewer than seven members.

A motion has just gone through the Dáil which would grant speaking rights only to parties with at least seven members. Anyone care to guess what position the Greens took?

Many more similar instances to follow, no doubt.

News from Kildare Street

Joe Higgins's office, in the corridor with the Shinners, Greens and Tony Gregory, has been vacated. It is now being occupied by ... Jackie-Healy Rae.

My God, what a depressing five years we have ahead of us.

A short note on the Greens' deal

It will probably go through, but it doesn't seem to me like they've got much out of it. No scrapping of co-location. No end to US troops at Shannon. No M3 re-routing. So what are they getting? Carbon tax - a fairly minor concession, in the grand scheme of things. More spending on education - won't begin to address the problems endemic in the Irish system. Local government reform - desperately needed, but the kind of changes that would make a real difference would do so at Fianna Fáil's expense and does anybody think for a moment they would let that happen?

I hope those within my own party who had hoped for us to be in the Greens' position now are learning a lesson from this. The kind of radical changes we propose are never going to be agreed by an FF or FG-led government - it would be turkeys voting for Christmas. The prospects for an alliance of the left may seem bleaker than ever after this last election, but ultimately I can't see any other road to real change in this country.

Paisley Jnr in sensible comment shock

I've finally got around to reading that interview with Ian Paisley Jnr and, while his comments about gays and lesbians are every bit as vile as reported, I was surprised to find a bit of sense rarely seen in Irish politicians - north or south, republican, nationalist, unionist or other. Asked about segregation in schools, Baby Doc said:

Believe it or not, I went to an integrated school. I believe parents should have the choice, but I believe that if you want to have the choice of a religious, exclusive school then you should pay for that choice - it should not be paid for by the State... I understand that the churches have a huge input into all this, but I think the churches need to stand back and the sooner the better.

I continue my long wait for Sinn Féin to adopt such a sensible, progressive position.

Incidentally, toward the end of the interview Paisley Jnr also refers to the problems that could arise in the event of abortion law liberalisation in the South. Is he bothered by the potential deaths of Irish "babies"? Does he worry that it could encourage similar moves north of the border? No, his specific issue is solely to do with the existence of different laws in different parts of the island. Er, isn't that part of what unionism is all about?

Election 07: What went wrong

The big spin, of course, is going to be that "all the small parties were squeezed". And there is something to that. But it's notable that in most of the constituencies where we expected to make gains, there was at least one left candidate whose votes could have seen us through - but we didn't get them. Why didn't we? You'd have to suspect that left voters were turned off by what seemed to be an already-made decision to prop up a Fianna Fáil government, and the fact that we'd already shown ourselves willing to discard certain left-wing policies (such as the increases in corporation tax and PAYE for high earners) in order to do so.

As for those voters who wouldn't necessarily be described as "left" but who we'd nonetheless hoped to get the support of, well, it seems pretty simple. The anti-FF ones didn't want to vote for us because we all but said we'd support the government. And the pro-FF ones just voted for FF. Some of them transfered to us, but nowhere near enough.

I'm gutted for people like Larry O'Toole and Dessie Ellis, who've done absolutely stellar work in their constituencies for years and deserved to be rewarded for it. And for Seán Crowe, a truly dedicated public rep. And I can't even bear the thought of Aengus Ó Snodaigh losing his seat.

If there's any silver lining, there were a few constituencies where we performed better than most of us were expecting, such as Cork East, Limerick East and Kerry South. A lot of those who missed out are young enough to have a good go at it again in five years. And of course, there's the PD/Michael McDowell wipeout. But it's really not much consolation. We had a terrible election, and we need to learn from it. I'm not at all confident that we will, though.

As for the other parties, it's interesting the way that the media are spinning some of their results. Have a look at the end of this article, where Labour is described as having "recovered well" - by holding even or losing a seat. The Greens' poor results are glossed over although they look like doing the same. We could end up losing no more seats than either of those parties - yet we get the "big losers" tag and they don't.


I'm aware that this will seem like sour grapes, but it has to be said that the results don't show the electorate in a particularly good light. Look at some of the baffling decisions they have made:
  • In Monaghan, a constituency where the biggest issue is the pending loss of the local hospital, the voters turfed out the hospital candidate (who was admittedly a bit useless) and voted in a member of the party whose government is responsible for the loss of the hospital.
  • In Galway West, where the water's been undrinkable for months, a member of the Government tops the polls.
  • With a similar situation unfolding in Wicklow, the Environment Minister gets nearly a quota on the first count.
  • And I'm not even going to get into some of the things I heard on the doors during this campaign. Let's just say that this was a big victory for clientelism over any sort of ideology.

Finally, while I generally support PR-STV because of the unique ability it gives to small parties and independents to get elected, questions do have to be asked about the fairness of a system under which a candidate who gets 939 votes can get in ahead of candidates who poll over 3000 (see the Dublin Central results). But of course, since Fianna Fáil have benefitted from this system, it will never change.

It's a depressing five years we have ahead of us.

Harney to nurses: vote Sinn Féin

On the 1.oo news today, Minister for Health Mary Harney noted that Sinn Féin are the only party who fully supports the nurses and therefore, if they want their demands met, they and their families should vote for us. Cheers for that Mary, the cheque's in the post.

On another matter, I was relieved to hear that the judge in the Miss D case has shown humanity and compassion - and pulled this country back from the brink of international ridicule - by deciding that the State has no power to prevent a 17-year-old travelling to Britain for an abortion. I'm sure the politicians are relieved too, thinking the issue will die down now. It's important that the growing pro-choice movement doesn't let that happen.

Now for the hard part

Believe it or not, I'm not disappointed that my scepticism about Paisley's intentions currently looks as though it was misplaced. I like being able to say "I told you so" as much as anyone - but the prospect of yet another delay, yet another extension of the Single Transferable Deadline, and above all yet another concession was just too grim to gloat over. So I'm happy if I've been proven wrong ... on this count. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the DUP are going to genuinely share power, or are merely going to use theirs to hold us back.

The media are all agog with reports of this "historic day". Some of you will probably say I'm just being cynical again, but I think that's a bit of an exaggeration. After all, haven't we already been here? Granted it's Paisley and McGuinness, rather than Trimble and Mallon/Durkan, at the helm and I accept all the blah-blah about Dr No finally saying "yes" but at the end of the day how much further along are we, really? I mean if you see the peace process as a vehicle to achieve a united Ireland - as the leadership and party faithful have always insisted it was - rather than merely as a conflict resolution device.

I remain of the view that we made a serious tactical error when the Assembly collapsed. Instead of telling the UUP "fair enough boys, it was your idea to begin with" we allowed ourselves to be sucked into the notion that the peace process depended on its restoration. In doing so, we handed rejectionist unionism the leverage to extract whatever it wanted from us. Now, after concession upon concession, the SF leadership has done well to convince most of the grassroots that getting the process back to where it was several years ago is "progress". We've really just come full circle, and it's still very much an open question whether the revived institutions will provide us the means to actually move forward.

Rally in Response to the ‘Miss D’ Case

Just a quick note to ask that anyone who's willing and able to do so, please make it down to the GPO on Saturday at noon for a rally in response to the Miss D case. Full details on the rally (and the case, for those not familiar with it) are on the Choice Ireland blog (see link to the right of this post).

I, unfortunately, had already chosen this weekend to go visit a friend of mine in Bulgaria, but I fervently hope for a large turnout. It is really time that all parties - including my own - get the message that this subject cannot be ignored for much longer.

Interesting election item

Given Bertie's recent (and revealingly partitionist) comments about Sinn Féin "imports" from the Six Counties helping out with Mary Lou's campaign, I was amused to note, on my way down the Cabra Road this evening, that the car driving people around to put up Fianna Fáil posters had northern-registered plates.

The posters themselves are worthy of comment, too. A picture of Bertie, beneath which are the words:
So not only are FF not attempting any vote management, again, but even here in what should be Mary F's strong patch, she's relegated to their third choice candidate. Given that almost nobody puts Brady in with even the slightest hope it's looking like a fairly straight contest between us and the Greens for that fourth seat.

PDs play the race card

The Minister for Justice has this morning published his long-awaited Immigration Bill.

It's a huge piece of legislation which doesn't so much overhaul the current unfair, inefficient, non-rights-based regime as put it on a statutory footing (in such a way as to nonetheless leave him an unacceptable amount of discretion in many crucial matters). There is absolutely no chance of it clearing the Oireachtas before the election - unless the Minister intends rushing it through with little or no debate, something I don't think even he would have the neck to do.

So why publish it now? Clearly there is one reason, and one reason only: to use it as part of his election manifesto. To tell voters that if they return him and his party colleagues to office, this xenophobe's charter will become law. It is campaigning on the issue of immigration and thus effectively, unavoidably, playing the race card - something that violates at least the spirit of the anti-racism protocol that all 26 County parties signed up to before the last elections.

Shameful. But not in the least surprising.

Another election, another Martin Ferris arrest

I've just heard the news that Martin Ferris has been arrested on suspicion of drink driving.

My first thought is that the timing of this is awfully curious. Remember this? When did that happen? Oh yes, just before the last general election. The circumstances of the latest arrest would certainly lend themselves to a stitch-up: a random check, at a roadblock near his home. And the Kerry Gardaí do have something of a track record here; see also this case.

I won't be defending Martin if it turns out that he was over the limit. There's never an excuse for drink driving, and SF have been critical enough of the Fianna Fáil politicians who've managed to get away with it, like Jim McDaid driving the wrong way down the N4, and GV Wright mowing down a nurse.

But frankly, I wouldn't put anything past the Garda Síochána. Especially at election time.

Looks like an election is imminent

The Government has today tabled a motion to extend the Offences Against the State Act for another year. The OASA doesn't expire until the end of June so there's absolutely no need for them to table this motion now ... unless they aren't planning for the Dáil to be around much longer to put it through. (Edit: they've now scheduled it to go through next week.)

I've nothing new to say about the OASA that I haven't already said before. It needs to go.
In the latest episode of the long-running saga of Ireland's slow progress toward modernity, it seems that parents are being asked to produce baptismal certificates [free registration required] to get their children enrolled in their local school, where said school is run by the Catholic church (as over 90% in this State still are) and is oversubscribed (no figures, but that number seems to be increasing too, thanks to the widespread and ludicrous policy of building housing estates first with schools to follow later - often years and years later).

Anecdotally, some non-believing parents are even having their children baptised, for the sole reason that doing so is the only way to secure a place in the local school.

Readers from other countries should understand that this is not a case of social climbing parents just trying to get their kids into the best school. In large areas of this State, the local Catholic school is the only school. If there is no place for your child in it, there is nowhere else in the vicinity for the little munchkin to go.

This is ridiculous.

Church officials are defending the policy on the grounds that these are, after all, Catholic schools, and since the Church is running the schools, it has the right to decide who can attend. But that's just not good enough. The extent of the Church's control over education in this State means that Catholic schools are, de facto, State schools. They are even called "national" schools. Their teacher salaries are paid for by general taxation. They are not just some minor private enterprise operating on an optional basis with the right to minimal government interference.

The Minister's response to this crisis (no link, sorry; I heard it on the radio) has essentially been to wash her hands of it. The affected families have little recourse under State law, as both the 1937 Constitution and the relevant legislation were effectively drafted in such a way as to protect the Church's right to decide how the majority of our children will be educated.

But when the reality is that children are being discriminated against because of their (or more accurately their parents') religion - and that some parents are even being forced to "convert" their children in order to secure an education for them in their home communities - it is plain that a serious human rights violation is taking place. If the State won't do anything about it, the parents should go to the ECHR. My general misgivings about the European Union notwithstanding, as long as we're going to be a part of it we may as well take what benefits we can get from it - and anything that helps drag this country kicking and screaming into the 21st century is definitely a benefit worth taking.
I see that Gerry Adams has announced that Sinn Féin now "fully support the police".

Were the last two paragraphs of the Ard Fheis motion struck off when I wasn't looking?

That the ard chomhairle is mandated to implement this motion only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the ard chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred.

Or if this does not happen within the St Andrews timeframe, only when acceptable new partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement are in place.

Classism, sexism and the Irish justice system

I was utterly disgusted today to hear the news that yet another* rapist has walked free thanks to a judge's decision to impose a suspended sentence.

The details are as follows: a young man named Adam Keane from Co. Clare broke into a woman's house and raped her as she slept. He denied it, blaming drink and drugs for a memory loss, but DNA proved his guilt. He was found guilty by a jury, but he will serve no time, because the judge gave him a three-year suspended sentence.

This is the same judge who, on the same day, imposed a 15-year sentence on another rapist, Joseph Cummins of Tipperary.

Why such a glaring discrepancy?

The judge, Paul Carney, is reported to have said that he felt "uncomfortable" handing Adam Keane a custodial sentence because he believed Keane's testimony that the action was "out of character" for him. Excuse me? He's supposed to be punished for a crime, not for a character. Is a rape somehow acceptable when committed by someone who thinks of himself as a decent fella? That's the message this decision is sending out. The fact that Adam Keane has a regular job, and is reportedly from a "good family", as compared with Joseph Cummins's "disadvantaged background", was another obvious factor in the discrepancy. Anyone who tells you that there is no class bias in the justice system is talking out their arse.

But I think there's another big difference here: the difference between the victims. Joseph Cummins's is 75. Adam Keane's is 33, and looks younger. Nearly all rape victims who come forward will tell you that they encounter a certain amount of disbelief, a suspicion that they somehow "asked for it". But nobody is going to suspect a 75-year-old of "asking for it". Did the judge find Adam Keane less guilty than Joseph Cummins because he subconsciously thought that Adam's victim just might possibly not have been the innocent party that Joseph's victim "obviously" was? (It's interesting to note here that two of Adam's jurors voted to acquit - despite the DNA evidence against him.) Is there a hierarchy of victims at work here, based upon stereotypes of the sexuality of women of different ages? There might well be.

Adam Keane's victim has courageously waived her right to anonymity and has asked the DPP to appeal the sentence. I certainly hope she succeeds.

* I was thinking of one Irish case in particular from maybe four or five years back. I can't find the details of it now, but as I recall, the judge declined to impose a custodial sentence on the grounds that the defendent "didn't hurt" the victim - apart from raping and threatening to kill her. Adding insult to injury, as the case concluded, the judge said to the rapist, "I wish you well."
For anyone who wants more information about the rogue agency I mentioned in yesterday's post, there's an excellent summary up at Indymedia.

Happy International Women's Day

I "celebrated" the day by taking part in a demonstration against a rogue agency operating on Dorset Street, about 15 minutes away from my home.

This agency advertises itself under the names "A Choice for Women" and "British Alternatives". Names that are obviously designed to attract women considering abortion, under the guise that they will provide the information and referrals these women seek.

Instead, however, they try to terrorise the women out of their decision. They do this by lying about the future that awaits women who choose not to continue their pregnancy. They tell women that abortion leads to breast cancer (lie), to child abuse (lie), to congenital depression (lie), to whatever they can come up with to scare the woman out of terminating the pregnancy. They use delaying tactics such as telling the women that it is not possible to have an abortion before two months (lie) or that they have to have an ultrasound first (lie). Apparently, in the anti-choice mind, any woman who decides to go ahead with an abortion ought to at least be forced to have it as late as possible, to make it as unpleasant as possible. If they can't prevent an abortion, they can at least punish the woman who has one. And they wonder why we say they are anti-woman.

The agency that we demonstrated in front of made it very clear that they do not have a position they can defend. They tried to stave off the demonstration by covering up the front of the building with a canvas and scaffolding. I'd like to post the photos I took, but I keep getting error messages on this stupid blog hosting site, so you'll have to take my word for it (although there are pictures up on Indymedia if you're really curious).

The bottom line in any case is that this agency and others like it are now on notice that they cannot continue to LIE to women who find themselves pregnant about the choices available to them. We are watching you, and we will continue to watch - and we will take action against any of those who are found to be trying to force vulnerable women to live by their own moral code.

Oh, and apparently there was an election in the North today, too. I'll post about that later.

One more note on Croker

Watching the news reports on the protest, I spotted one fella holding up a sign that read "No to Foreign Games". I thought at the time that that was a poor choice of slogan, suggesting that the issue was one of the narrowest of nationalisms, rather than the history of England's presence in Croke Park.

I didn't notice what the sign-holder was wearing at the time. Here's a picture.

And RSF wonder why nobody in this country takes them seriously!

On the Croker controversy

Most of the media coverage I've seen of this has been fairly predictable, so I confess I stopped reading it after a few articles. But I doubt that any of them could have been just so wildly inaccurate as this piece by - surprise surprise - a Sunday Independent columnist, Eamonn Sweeney.

Mr Sweeney writes that

when the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) voted to allow foreign games at the ground, England was hardly mentioned... That God Save The Queen would be played in the stadium was not uppermost in anyone’s mind.

Now, I don't know which debates he was listening to at the time, but I can tell you that that was certainly one of the key issues raised by republican opponents of the change to Rule 42. In fact, I can remember a few people having to deny that it was the only issue, because it was starting to get to the point where some were suggesting that there would be no problem if an agreement could be reached whereby the anthem would not be played. So the idea that this is a newly-thought up controversy is simply untrue.

Sinn Féin's position on the matter was reached at an Ard Fheis a couple years ago, just before the change to Rule 42, when we passed a motion stating that we would accept whatever decision the GAA took. It wasn't a unanimous decision on our part, and there remain large numbers of people within the party who disagree with it - and even those of us who voted in favour would have had serious reservations, among them the spectre of GSTQ and the union flag. But that it was the GAA's decision to make and not ours is, I think, not really debatable.

Which is why today's protest doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, if you think about it. Not that people who oppose England's presence at Croke Park don't have a right to protest - of course they do. But we all knew this was coming as soon as Rule 42 was scrapped, two years ago, and I don't recall any organised effort to prevent it in the intervening period, say by announcing a boycott of the GAA until the change was reversed. Indeed, a couple of the people I know who were most vocal against it have continued to give their money to the very organisation whose decision they'll be protesting today.

It isn't the England team, or the IRFU, who are ultimately responsible for GSTQ being played at Croke Park today. It just seems a little bit silly to me that they and not the GAA will be the protestors' target.


On another note, I've been asked to post up another letter on the policing issue which didn't make it into An Phoblacht. I'm happy to oblige, although I do want to point out (especially for any muckraking journos reading this) that the paper has published other letters dissenting from the party line on this issue.

A Chara,

I wish to reply to issues raised by Seán McGabhann's letter in the February 8th edition of your paper. In it, Mr McGabhann claims to have recently realised that joining the policing boards was the right way to go and that those 'misguided' individuals who opposed it, needed to be persuaded that the struggle continues.

The problem I have with Mr McGabhann's remarks are twofold. Firstly, he argues as if it is the existence of a politics-based route itself that is the most problematic aspect for those who opposed joining the policing boards. If this were the case, why would people have stayed for so long? I would argue that people who opposed this just simply did not see the same advantage in it as they did with say, the GFA. Essentially, the present policing arrangements are a solution imposed by the two governments, with some minor tweaking by republicans. If the policing boards were such a site of struggle, why did we have to wait until now?

Secondly, he fails to adequately explain how he came to this sudden conversion? What became so radically different in the past few weeks? Perhaps it is those who voted yes who need to be persuaded that the road to a unified Democratic Socialist Republic will be an extremely long one which involves much thinking outside the box, rather than jumping into bed with homophobic fascists (the DUP) and accepting Brit- influenced policing solutions, just because we worry that people won't like us. (What else is new?)

Is mise le meas
Donal O' Driscoll
Co Cork

Labour's lukewarm support for gay rights

It seems the Labour Party will use their Private Members' Time in the Dáil next week to introduce their Civil Unions Bill.

This is a positive step, and I hope the Government will accept the Bill (and I suspect they might just do so, although if they do, they will leave it parked until after the election).

However, I can't resist the opportunity to highlight Labour's record on this issue.

In February 2004, the Government's Civil Registrations Bill went through the Dáil. That bill provided for the registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces. Included amongst its text was a small line which would exclude same sex partners from the right to register a marriage. The Government inserted this line based upon legal advice it had received that without it, same sex marriage would effectively be legal.

Sinn Féin tabled an amendment to delete the line, and thus to give same sex partners the right to marry.

When our amendment was voted on, Labour (as well as Fine Gael) were mysteriously absent from the chamber.

In November 2005, the party's Deputy Leader Liz McManus
confirmed that the Labour Party are not in favour of gay marriage:

I do appreciate by the way that there are sections in the gay and lesbian community who ... would wish for full equivalence, both as regards rights and obligations and as regards terminology, between marriages as presently understood and gay unions.

That does not seem to me, however, to be a feasible proposition and it is not one that the Labour party advocates.

In the furious backtracking that ensued, Labour acolytes tried to suggest (with no real evidence that I'm aware of) that their party supported gay marriage in theory, but didn't think it was constitutionally feasible, and so supported civil union as a compromise.

I can't offhand think of any other situation in which the Labour Party, or anyone else, would say "Well, the Constitution as it stands won't allow that, so we won't support it." Generally speaking, if you think the Constitution prevents a basic human right, the answer to that is that you try to change the Constitution. At the very least such a view is no basis for refusing to register a vote in favour of that right when it comes up in the Dáil. It's not as though our amendment would have triggered a referendum, for heaven's sake - even if all opposition parties supported it, the Government still had enough votes to defeat it. It was simply a means to put support for gay marriage on record and Labour's failure to do so can only mean one thing: they don't support gay marriage. Full stop.

So credit to them for pressing ahead with this Bill. But don't misread it as real support for gay and lesbian equality.
I see that in this week's Metro Éireann, Labour's Dublin City Councillor Aodhán Ó Riordáin refers to the late PUP leader David Ervine as "a hero of mine". And "someone that I hope will become regarded as a founding father of a peaceful Ireland". He describes Ervine as "so special", his words so "uplifting and inspiring".

No, I'm not making this up.

WorldByStorm did a good piece about Ervine's death, and how he was eulogised by the same people (especially down south) who regularly dismiss republicans as barely reconstructed terrorists. Including the Labour Party. I don't need to repeat anything said there.

But one thing I would like to know is this: will Aodhán be mentioning this view while he's out on the canvass in his North Inner City constituency? Or will he be relying on the fact that working class Dubs don't read Metro Éireann, and are unlikely ever to hear of his hero-worship of a former loyalist paramilitary who headed up a party devoted to maintaining British rule in this country?

More Irish than the Irish themselves?

On another matter entirely, the Indo are leading with a story today about immigrants and social welfare fraud.

While I'm not denying that this exists, the Indo's coverage of crimes committed by foreign nationals has become disgracefully tabloidesque. For some reason, the nationality of the (alleged) criminal always merits a place in the headline when the person is not Irish. But you hardly ever see headlines like "Corkonians caught in PPS scam", "Clondalkin native jailed for drug smuggling", "Hunt for Kerryman on fatal assault indictment". When a suspect is Irish, as most of them are, that fact isn't seen to be worth mentioning, and the result is that a person reading the paper is subtly fed the idea that foreigners are responsible for all the crime in this country.

The funny thing about this article is of course that Irish people have been taking liberties with the social welfare system for decades. (I'm not necessarily condemning them for this, because the levels of social welfare in this state are quite low - far lower than they are in most European countries, and frequently not enough to live on - especially in the case of families.) There are parts of this city, not terribly far from where I live, where it's probably the rule rather than the exception. But I don't recall the Indo running any huge headline stories on that lately.

Indeed, shouldn't this be viewed in the context of the recent brouhaha sparked by Enda Kenny's call for immigrants to adapt to Irish society? Enda said that immigrants need to "integrate into our communities" and "respect our cultural traditions".

If the Indo's story is true, perhaps they're actually doing a better job of that than we know.

Should I stay or should I go?

Media reports on the Ard Fheis have made much of the lack of a walkout or a visible split in the ranks. And it's true that in that regard, the fallout has been less than it probably could have been. But it's also true that a lot of people had already left in the months immediately preceding - and I suspect a sizeable number of others are considering their options now, and may still vote with their feet.

I've thought about it too but, as deeply unhappy as I am with the decision taken yesterday, I don't think that leaving is the answer. For starters, where would I go? None of the alternative organisations seems to have a notion of how their idealised vision of a 32-county republic could actually be brought into existence. Without exception, their strategies all rest on the presumption that if only their voices could be heard, they could persuade the Irish people to rise up and demand the republic.

That's just not going to happen.

The SF strategy has its faults, obviously. But at the very least it's more plausible given that it rests on the persuasion of a far smaller number of people: enough in the North to tip the nationalist ratio over 50%, and/or enough in the South to put us in government.

And if all the other organisations are out, that leaves only the option of becoming a non-aligned republican, which seems entirely pointless to me. Most of the people I know who've gone down that route end up doing little more than posting bitter rants about their former comrades on internet message boards. And often ultimately emigrating.

There's also damage limitation to consider. The enemies of republicanism are obviously delighted that we've signed up to colonial policing; they'd be even more delighted to see us decimate ourselves in the process. I don't want them to have that satisfaction.

And finally, leaving SF would mean not only turning my back on their policing policy, but on everything else that they're doing. I think most of the rest of what they're doing is good, and I still want to be part of it.

Now I know that some people who have recently left, or are considering leaving, read this blog, and I know they're probably thinking: yes, yes, yes, BUT. It's a matter of principle. How can I remain in this party after it's turned its back on such a key principle? And I understand that view, I really do. But at the same time - and at the risk of causing great offence, for which I do apologise and offer the usual disclaimers - I can't help thinking that there's something a little bit egotistical about it. It seems to me to be overly concerned with the thought that MY image, MY republican credentials are at stake if I stay here. Yes, I'd like to be able to look in the mirror and say without hesitation that I had remained true to all my principles, and no, I can't quite do that at the moment - but I don't see what practical benefit would derive from leaving the party on that basis. I don't see how it would help end partition and achieve the republic that we all want.

The party has made its decision and we're stuck with it, so we can only make the best of it that we can. I'm going to do this by continuing in my specific role within the party, where I do think we're achieving something, and by using whatever limited influence I have to try to prevent further bad decisions being made.

But who knows. I could still change my mind later.

My thoughts on tomorrow's Ard Fheis

Now that the internal debate is all but over, I think it's an appropriate time for me to go into the precise reasons why I oppose going on the policing boards.

The first and most obvious reason is ideological. Republicanism's primary raison d'etre at this time is (supposed to be) to oppose the Six County statelet. Signing up to an armed force which exists to defend that statelet is simply incompatible with that purpose. This is not a case of infiltrating to destroy; we are endorsing that armed force. I cannot get my head around this.

Now even having said that, I am a pragmatist and if it could be demonstrated to me that in doing this we would actually be hastening the demise of the statelet, I could accept it, nose held and all. But that hasn't been demonstrated to me. I do not see any way that this will actually advance the process of reunification. It may advance the restoration of the Executive but, as I've said previously, I think that's essentially irrelevant anyway. Bluntly, I just don't see the Executive as a prize worth sacrificing any more of our integrity for. And I have serious doubts as to whether that "prize" will be forthcoming as a result of this decision anyway; I think it's far more likely that the DUP will continue to move the goalposts... and that the governments will continue to let them get away with it. I just hope that at some point we find the sense to refuse to do so.

Policing supporters ask what the alternative is. Well, I don't know. But I don't think we've really explored the question. The choice has always been put to us as if it was either black or white and I just don't think that's the case. It seems to me that a lot of the 'yes' arguments are the same ones that the SDLP have been making for years. And I'm not convinced that there have been enough changes in the PSNI to justify the contention that we aren't making the same mistake they did and jumping too soon.

I also find that the attempts to portray this move as a "strategic initiative" fall flat. An initiative, by definition, cannot be a move that you make when you're under pressure to make that move - as we clearly are. I do not for one moment believe that we would be doing this if the governments had not made it clear to us that we have to, if we want "progress".

So far all those reasons, I voted for my cumann to oppose the motion. This position was adopted unanimously and as a delegate to the Ard Fheis tomorrow I will be voting No.

Now, having said all that, I want to say something else.

The debate that has gone on within the party has been described (mainly by our opponents within the broader republican movement, but also by some party members or new ex-members) as a sham debate. It has been said that tomorrow's result is a foregone conclusion and that no real dissent within the party has taken place.

I don't know about the rest of the country, but that's a load of bollox as far as Dublin is concerned.

I've attended about half a dozen meetings (apart from my cumann meetings) on the subject. At all occasions, debate has been robust and thorough. The leadership figures present have listened attentively and responded thoroughly and respectfully to all concerns raised. Obviously, their responses weren't sufficient to allay my objections, but at no time did I feel that those objections were just ignored or dismissed.

The leadership will win the motion tomorrow for the simple reason that they have managed to convince the majority of the membership that this is the right move. Now people can decide for themselves whether that's because the members are "sheep", or because their arguments were framed more persuasively than the opposition's were, or whatever. But the fact is that people have been given the opportunity to make up their minds and they have done so freely. The leadership have won the debate fair and square - I don't have to agree with them to acknowledge that.

I think this is a bad move for the party. I think it will come back to bite us on the arse. I hope I'm proven wrong. But I can't say that I have any real complaints about the way it's been handled.

I doubt that there is any other party in this country that would have dealt with such a crucial internal matter in such a creditable way.

The collusion report

If you don't have time to read all 162 pages of the report into police collusion with the UVF in the North, the following extract (reproduced verbatim) should give you the flavour.

The report finds evidence of collusion in the following areas:

• The failure to arrest informants for crimes to which those informants had allegedly confessed, or to treat such informants as suspects for crime;
• By creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; by failing to record and maintain original interview notes and by failing to record notes of meetings with informants;
• The failure to deal properly with information received from informants, so that informants were able to avoid investigation and detection for crime;
• By arresting informants suspected of murder then subjecting them to lengthy sham interviews by their own handlers at which they were not challenged and then releasing them on the authorisation of the handler;
• By not recording in investigation papers the fact that an informant was suspected of a crime despite the fact that he had been arrested and interviewed for that crime;
• By failing to take steps to hinder an attempted bombing by the establishment of an operation either to disrupt or arrest the alleged perpetrators whose names were known to Special Branch;
• By giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed, and that there should be no record of the incident concerned;
• By ensuring the absence of any official record linking a Special Branch informant to the possession of explosives which may, and were thought, according to private police records, to have been used in a particular crime;
• By withholding information from CID that the UVF had sanctioned an attack;
• By concealing from CID intelligence that named persons, including an informant or informants, had been involved in particular crimes;
• By withholding information about the location to which a group of murder suspects had allegedly fled after a murder;
• By the concealment on a number of occasions of intelligence indicating that up to three informants had been engaged together in murders and a particular crime or crimes;
• By routinely destroying all Tasking and Co-ordinating Group original documentary records so as to conceal an informant’s involvement in crime;
• By destroying or losing forensic exhibits such as metal bars and tape lifts;
• By not requiring appropriate forensic analysis to be carried out on items submitted to the Forensic Science Service Laboratory;
• by blocking the searches of a police informant’s home and of another location, including an alleged UVF arms dump;
• By not questioning informants about their activities and continuing to employ informants without risk assessing their continued use as informants;
• By finding munitions at an informant’s home and releasing him without charge;
• By not informing local police of an anticipated attack, and not taking any action to prevent the attack;
• By not using the available evidence and intelligence to detect a crime and to link the investigation of crimes in which an informant was a suspect;
• By some Special Branch officers deliberately disregarding a very significant amount of intelligence about informant involvement in drug dealing in Larne, and North Belfast and in punishment attacks linked to drug dealing from 1994 onwards;
• By continuing to employ as informants people suspected of involvement in the most serious crime without assessing the attendant risks or their suitability as informants;
• By not acting on witness and other evidence received in particular crimes when the suspect was an informant;
• By not considering or attempting to conduct identification processes when there was particular evidence from witnesses about a criminal’s appearance;
• By providing at least four misleading and inaccurate confidential documents for possible consideration by the court in relation to four separate incidents and the cases resulting from them, where those documents had the effect of protecting an informant;
• By not informing the Director of Public Prosecutions that an informant was a suspect in a crime in respect of which an investigation file was submitted to the Director;
• By their failure to maintain the record of intelligence which was the basis for applications for extensions of time in detention to the Secretary of State;
• By withholding intelligence from police colleagues including the names of alleged suspects which could have been used to attempt to prevent and to detect crime;
• By the practice of Special Branch not using and following the practice of authorisation of participating informants;
• By completing false and misleading authorisations and reviews of informants for the purposes of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act;
• By cancelling the wanted status of murder suspects “because of lack of resources” and doing nothing further about these suspects;
• This investigation has examined the activities of police officers responsible for informants over a period of twelve years. On only one occasion have PSNI provided any document indicative of consideration of the termination of the relationship which Special Branch had with any of these informants, despite the extent of the alleged involvement of these informants in the most serious of crimes.

For years and years republicans have said this was going on and have been told we were at best paranoid, at worst outright lying; that there might (might!) be the odd "bad apple" in the RUC; that there was no more than the occasional bended rule and that even that was probably excusable given what the police were up against. There's all that out the window now. And this report only covers collusion with the Belfast UVF; imagine how much more it could have found with a wider remit.

I wonder if the report will get the widespread coverage within Britain that it merits, and that the Cory and Barron reports never did. Somehow I doubt it.
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