Every weekday at 1pm pro-choice activists are assembling outside government buildings to urge a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, in a protest organised by Amnesty International.
Their number includes Carol Hunt, who writes:
Who knew the American anti-choice brigade were such wimps? Don’t they have the courage of their anti abortion convictions?
Donald Trump came out with the logical deduction this week that, if we view abortion to be a crime against an innocent being, then it follows that women who commit this crime should be punished for it.
Yet they all seemed shocked and terribly upset that the man could even think such a thing.
Trump had to do several U-Turns and admit that criminalising women for having abortions was never going to be a winner – not even in the most rabidly anti-choice states.
To which the million, trillion dollar question must be; “Why not?”
If anti-choice groups believe that abortion is murder – as they tell us all the time – then surely justice demands that a woman who procures one is a criminal – of the worst kind – and must be punished accordingly?
The anti-choice lobby are made of much sterner stuff over here. Up until 2013 abortions were punished under the archaic 1861 Offence Against the Person Act. A woman who “procured” one could get “penal servitude for life”.Yes, as I said, archaic.
And so in 2013 the Fine Gael/Labour government replaced this life sentence with… up to 14 years in prison for any woman who had an abortion in this jurisdiction.
Maybe Donald Trump heard about this on his last visit here – the one where they rolled out the red carpet and the Irish colleens for him.
But no-one will ever be sentenced, say our own home-grown anti-abortion rights groups. Really?
Well, yesterday in Northern Ireland, where they still apply the old Offence Against the Person Act, a 21 year old woman was given a three month suspended sentence because she had bought drugs online which induced a miscarriage.
She hadn’t enough money to travel to the mainland and abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland. While she was suffering this awful trauma her housemates called the police – I kid you not – and she was then subjected to an investigation which found her guilty of a serious crime.
Many people in Ireland don’t know that we introduced a 14-year sentence when the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill was brought in.
Actually less than one in 10 of us are aware that a woman who has an abortion could face a 14-year prison sentence. But I bet every single one of those 12 women who leave here each day to travel abroad for medical care they are denied here, do.
They know damn well what the consequences are.The logic seems to be that if they do their “dirty work” in a different country it isn’t classed as a crime at home.
But then we realised that we couldn’t jail everyone for travelling out of the country, so the “right to travel” as well as the “right to information” [about abortion] was decriminalised.
Which was great, because it meant the customs lads didn’t have to confiscate every copy of Cosmopolitan that came into the country (with ads for Marie Stopes clinics in the back pages).
But it’s still a crime to have an abortion in Ireland – unless your life, as opposed to your health, is at risk. This, despite the fact that two thirds of people living in this country want abortion to be decriminalised, according to a recent Red C poll commissioned by Amnesty Ireland.
Asked whether the Irish Government should decriminalise abortion, 67% agreed and 25% disagreed. And 81% are in favour of significantly widening the grounds for legal abortion access in Ireland.
Yet repealing the 8th amendment [which criminalises abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is at risk] is not part of any of the main parties agendas as they discuss forming a government.
And so currently, Amnesty Ireland – and a whole host of other people – are staging a series of protests outside Government Buildings.
Every day the 12 women who leave the country to avoid a possible 14 year sentence are represented in a lunchtime vigil.
The numbers participating are growing and the tone of the gathering is upbeat and positive. We know that we can’t be ignored forever. If we want to call ourselves a functioning democracy we will have to have a referendum soon on repealing the 8th amendment. It’s that simple.
So, come on down and join us. Every day at 1pm. At Government Buildings. Bring your mates. Bring your Mammy. Bring your lunch. Or coffee. Or even cocktails if that’s what you’re into. We had balloons on Sunday. And chocolate cake.
Maybe some local businesses would like to send us down tea and sandwiches, or coffee or, dammit okay, cocktails would be fine too. We’re not going away you know. Because if even Donald Trump realises that criminalising women for having much needed abortions is disgustingly inhumane, cruel and unjust, then why can’t we?
Carol Hunt is a 2016 Seanad candidate for the NUI panel. @carolmhunt
The Berlin-Irish pro choice solidarity group are holding a protest [details below] outside the British Embassy today, Tuesday at 5pm to voice anger at the suspended sentence handed down to a 21-yearold Northern Irish woman who miscarried after purchasing abortion pills online.
From top: Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri [founder of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council]; The launch of an ‘anti-extremism declaration’ by the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council in Trinity College Dublin on Thursday night; podcast of yesterday’s Talking Points
Newstalk’s Talking Point with Sarah Carey yesterday morning, discussed the response to ‘Islamic terrorism at home and abroad’.
The panel included Declan Power, security analyst and former soldier who has worked in support of UN missions; Roja Fazaeli, lecturer in Islamic studies at Trinity College Dublin; Carol Hunt, Independent Alliance Seanad candidate on the NUI panel and Sunday Independent columnist; and Julien Mercille, lecturer at UCD and ‘sheet columnist.
Earlier this month the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council [IMPIC] released an ‘anti-extremism declaration’ stipulating that it should be a visa condition for foreign speakers.
IMPIC held a meeting in Trinity College Dublin last Thursday in which visiting muslim speaker Shaykh Fakhruddin Owaisi, chairman of the Council of Sunni Imams in Cape Town, South Africa, signed the declaration.
Both Declan Power and Carol Hunt had attended the meeting alongside diplomatic staff from France, Egypt, Turkey and Iran, and the Pakistani and Belgian embassies to Ireland.
Grab a tay…
Sarah Carey: “Declan Power, you were at that seminar in Trinity during the week about preventing radicalisation and, at it, a statement was produced. The person running it was Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri [founder of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council] and it’s a statement that he wants all visiting Muslim lecturers to sign and it says things like, ‘I unequivocally reject, disown and condemn all terrorism committed in the name of Islam by any militant group… I believe that terrorism is never a legitimate and honourable act of war, but is always a cowardly act of indiscriminate murder’ and it goes on. Now, I can see what they’re trying to do. That if radicalising lecturers are coming in, they want them to sign this and, if they don’t, we’ll know that they’re one of the bad guys. But could you imagine, in the 1980s, going to the UK, and you want to give a lecture somewhere and somebody produces this statement that you have to sign…”
Power: “Yeah, yeah.”
Carey: “Is it not really insulting?”
Power: “Well now hold on…”
Julien Mercille: “Yes.”
Power: “There’s a number of…”
Carey: “It was brought up..”
Power: “It was brought up, yeah, and there’s a couple of points here that we can’t gloss over and, just to take what Carol [Hunt] was saying, just to take it a stage further. Despite the repressive era, I wouldn’t dispute anything you’re saying, but that didn’t produce terrorism in Ireland in itself. Not to get bogged down in that..”
Carey: “I’m… yeah..”
Power: “But there were a number of other factors and this kind of links in with what both Roja and Julien were saying and the varying factors. We can’t ignore it. The former Australian soldier and practitioner and theorist in counter insurgency David Kilcullen talks and wrote about the accidental terrorist. And an awful lot of people in this current iteration of terrorism have found themselves becoming terrorists by a combination of bizarre and unusual factors of disenchantment, of a whole variety of things. Like, for instance, IS prospered largely because the Iraqi officer core were disestablished and they weren’t ideologues so much themselves. But they were mad as hell that their prestige had been taken away from them, their rank in society and they gave IS their military prowess, the planning and the execution of the military operations that gave them success. They’re not the guys you see cutting people’s heads off or roaring and shouting. They’re not into that side of things. And we kind of forget some of the factors. And, you know, Kilcullen is scathing in his criticism of the US in terms of how they misinterpret it, things and they did, so it comes back to, in terms of dealing with terrorism what you’ve got to do is, first of all, not alienate those who are on your side which now brings me to your point. Eventually, I apologise. But I think it was important, maybe, just to give context.”
Carey: “Yeah, that’s OK.”
Power: “I hear, I don’t know about the rest of you, but every time there’s an attack of an outrage of some sort there’s usually some very hard-nosed people who will say, oh, you know, ‘why don’t they give out about it, we don’t see the muslims standing up for it’. And I will usually counter it and say, ‘well I’ve heard X or Y’. Now here in Dublin we’ve seen Shaykh Al-Qadri and a number of others, you know, he’s not just talking of his own benefit, stand up, a muslim-driven initiative within the muslim community and where they’re not asking the State to do it, they’re attempting to give leadership to their own community to say, ‘well this is what we stand for’ and they’re using this as an exhibit, like it or lump it, this declaration. They’re not asking all muslims to have to sign it or even all mosques. They’re talking about people coming into our lives..”
Mercille: “There’s a bit of a trap there though.”
Power: “Hold on, I support the concept of that..”
Hunt: “There were muslim people there who supported this absolutely.”
Power: “They’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t.”
Mercille: “There’s a trap there.”
Talk over each other
Hunt: “By saying that you’re infantilising them, that they can’t make their own decisions.”
Mercille: “As Sarah was saying to ask muslims, ‘oh, do you, do you oppose this act of terrorism?’ Like you said we don’t do that to any of us when some of our states bomb Syria and Iraq right? Muslims are not responsible.”
Carey: “Roja, how do you feel about this statement?”
Roja Fazaeli: “To be honest, well I wasn’t at the talk so I suppose the discussion that went on is important to understanding it as well. I read some part of it, I read the Irish Times. The statement itself I don’t have a problem with and I agree that, you know, there is always talks about the muslims themselves doing it even though I have a problem even with saying ‘the muslims’ because who are these muslims? The diversity and so on. You just take so much away from even lumping everyone as ‘muslims’. I know Shaykh Al-Qadri and I know where his heart lies and I don’t think it’s a negative thing for this to be out. I don’t know how it’s going to be implemented, it will be interesting to see where it goes…”
Hunt: “He did say it was a work in progress.”
Fazaeli: “And I think that’s important.”
Carey: “But say, if you had a colleague from a university over from a university in the UK and you were inviting them over to give a talk to your class and this statement was produced and they were asked to sign it. I mean would you ask them to sign it?”
Fazaeli: “Who is going to implement this? Who’s going to…”
Carey: “Ok, let’s say..”
Talk over each other
Mercille: “It’s very insulting. I would never go to a talk if I was asked, ‘do you renounce the violence of Ireland?‘”
Power: “Sorry, Sarah..”
Carey: “Do Julien, do you understand why they’re doing it. That they’re afraid of radicalised lecturers coming in here to sell a message.”
Mercille: “Maybe politically it’s a good thing because everybody is asking him to do it but it’s a trap that you don’t want to fall into. You don’t want to have to set a standard by which muslims have to apologise for everything…”
Hunt: “They’re not apologising…”
Mercille: “Well, they’re saying, ‘I renounce..'”
Power: “No, hold on a second, the key thing and I heard Dr Al-Qadri talk about this, I think, in this station. The key thing he’s asking is that visiting clerics would sign a declaration that they wouldn’t attempt to radicalise while in this country. That they wouldn’t preach against the values of this country. And this is coming from a muslim voice. And there’s one other point I wanted to give: a parallel. It’s not that long ago I can remember reading letters to the Irish Times signed by various worthy academics wanting academic boycotts of Israel and various other types of limitations in Israel. Now I’m not saying that Israel doesn’t have issues to answer, at times, but I’m always very uncomfortable about things where you’re trying to limit people. So I did give this whole thing consideration. And, at the end of the day, if I was an Irish academic in the 1980s going over to lecture in history or something like that and the British state asked me to sign a declaration…”
Hunt: “But it’s not the state, it would be…”
Power: “Well sorry, yeah..”
Hunt: “Fellow Irish..”
Power: “Even if the British state had asked me to sign it I would sign it because I would understand how important it was for Irish people at that time to be able to stand up and say, ‘I’m an Irish citizen and what they’re doing, this group, is nothing to do with me and I don’t want to be seen as an instrument of radicalisation’.”
Carey: “I want to let Roja back in on that.”
Fazaeli: “You said something there Declan about this being signed by muslim clerics because I hear kind of contradicting, is it clerics? Or lecturers? There’s a huge difference. So…”
Power: “As I understood it was aimed primarily at visiting clerics who are coming to preach who would be in a powerful position to influence.”
Talk over each other
Hunt: “The analogy that was given that there are in universities in Britain, they said they had heard very extremist talks given in lectures and that’s what they tried to stop.”
Carey: “But Carol do you not see how it’s setting up a dichotomy? That there’s us and them and they have to declare themselves…”
Hunt: “No but they, and this was actually brought up at the discussion and the muslim representatives, the clerics there said no, it’s not us and them, it’s us. This is all us. This is what we are trying t do.”
Carey: “So the fact that it’s coming from them, from the muslim community…”
Hunt: “From them, yes, they said this is what they are doing, this is the important thing.”
Talk over each other
Hunt: “Not me that’s what they said, the same arguments came up and that’s what they said.”
Fazaeli: “As I said I wasn’t there that night but there is something to be said again, saying that, you know, Shaykh Al-Qadri is speaking for all muslims in Ireland because there is..”
Power: “But he’s not..”
Hunt: “No he’s not..”
Fazaeli: “He’s not, no but we shouldn’t think that he is or..”
Power: “I agree, I agree..”
Fazaeli: “And he is a good voice, it’s not that he’s not but he’s…”
Power: “He’s an alternative voice.”
Fazaeli: “He’s an alternative voice, exactly.”
Power: “I agree. The best thing, I think, to come out of this is that it reminds us, this goes back to the earlier points that Roja was saying that there are layers and nuances and differentiations within the Islamic community in Ireland and elsewhere and it’s giving a platform to a debate within the muslim community being had in public. And I, for one, welcome it and I endorse it…”
Carey: “So Julien does it make any difference to you that this is coming from within the muslim community, it’s not, you know, Christians in Ireland imposing this.”
Mercille: “Well it’s OK but for the reasons you said I agree with you, it’s setting up this us and them thing. In Ireland, you know…”
Carey: “But it’s coming from them, this statement is coming from them…”
Mercille: “It’s ok yeah, it may be better than non-muslims forcing them to do it but it doesn’t mean I think the statement is amazing or anything like that. I don’t think it’s the worst thing ever.”
Power: “But do you not welcome the bit of discussion and debate that it’s giving rise to…”
Talk over each other
Mercille: “But when you force people…Look, the thing is, let’s say you want to talk about Ireland, what we should do. We talked about the muslims now for 45 minutes, right? We should talk about what the Irish government can do…Shannon Airport hasn’t been mentioned yet on this show.”
Power: “Well do you want to mention Shannon? I read your piece about Shannon…”
Talk over each other
Power: “And I noticed that you left out the two UN resolutions.”
Talk over each other
Carey: “Let him make his point about Shannon.”
Mercille: “Shannon Airport is the one contribution Ireland has made to allow US troops to go bomb the Middle East, right? So if there’s one thing we could do to reduce the threat of terrorism on Ireland it’s to close Shannon Airport to US troops.”
Mercille: “Because terrorists react to foreign policy. If you don’t understand that you shouldn’t be part of the discussion…”
Hunt: “No they don’t. No, no, no, no, no, actually”
Mercille: “Yes, they do.”
Hunt: “No, no.”
Mercille: “Intelligence agencies agree with me, right? It’s not just me. CIA knows that very well. If you bomb the country and there’s a response to it you shouldn’t be surprised and there will be more on Europe, there will be more on the US…”
Power: “That’s very irresponsible.”
Talk over each other
Power: “I have to come in there because there’s a degree of, Julien, with all due respects, I read your piece. It was in The Journal and again everyone’s entitled to their opinion but I’ve a concern here Julien because you’re kind of doing this from the luxury of not giving full context. First of all, the reason that Shannon is in use, there are two particular points here that are very relevant. The reason Shannon is in use is not because of some little secret agreement between the Irish government and the US – there are two UN resolutions that underpin the reconstruction and stabilisation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. And as part of that it’s facilitating those US, those UN resolutions. If it was another…”
Mercille: “So Shannon is being used for the reconstruction of Iraq, is that what you said?”
Power: “Hold on a second..”
Mercille: “That’s what you said.”
Power: “That’s not what I’m saying, it’s not what I’m saying, it’s what the United Nations are saying and we’re members of the United Nations and we can’t pick and choose..”
Mercille: “That’s just not true, look.”
Power: “Oh you want to dismiss…”
Mercille: “If you don’t understand that Shannon is used to bomb the Middle East..”
Power: “You’re an academic, I suggest you get your facts right…”
Mercille: “If you don’t understand that Shannon is used to bomb the Middle East just go talk to soldiers or something..”
Power: “Hang on a second, hold on a second. I was, let me finish this. I was a soldier, I’ve gone beyond the lofty halls of academia.”
Mercille: “You’re arguing that Shannon Airport is used to reconstruct Iraq? That’s…”
Power: “Hold on, hold on, no there’s an important point here Julien, I don’t mind you disagreeing with me but let’s stay in the realm of fact. For a start, the aircraft that fly through Shannon are transport aircraft, they have troops on them, they have a certain degree of their personal weapons and whatever else. And they’re flying out as part of UN-sponsored, UN-endorsed missions. Now, do you accept that fact?”
Mercille: “The US military there…”
Power: “Do you accept the fact?”
Mercille: “The US military there is going to…”
Power: “Because we’re going to be arguing at cross purposes here…”
Mercille: “…Afghanistan right and operations in the Middle East right. If you want to pitch that under a UN fig leaf or some…”
Talk over each other
Power: “You seem to think I’m making this up as I go along. Ok, we’re not going to get anywhere on this. You don’t accept that there are two UN resolutions underpinning the use of Shannon Airport.”
Mercille: “I don’t accept that Shannon Airport is used for peaceful purposes by the US military.”
Further to Independent Alliance seanad candidate Carol Hunt’s article on ‘defending Western values’ and challenging ‘those who do not unambiguously oppose Islamist terrorism’ in last weekend’s Sunday Independent, Dr Julien Mercille’s piece on Islamaphobia and the media in these quarters on Tuesday, and the subsequent tweet-off…
Sat @ 9: In tackling Islamic Terrorism, should we challenge Muslims to condemn the violence w/o “whataboutery”? Or is that “Islamaphobic”?
From top: Chair Of The Irish Muslim Peace and Intergration Council Shaykh Dr Umar Al Qadri addressing an Anti-racism rally at the GPO last year; Dr Julien Mercille
It’s time reach out to Muslims in constructive and peaceful ways to counteract ISIS propaganda.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
And here we go again. Another terrorist attack on Europe claimed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), on Brussels this time. This post explains the strategy that ISIS employs and two types of reactions in the media and commentary.
The first, and dominant, response puts oil on the fire. It is xenophobic and Islamophobic. And in fact, it plays into the hands of ISIS because it is exactly what the terrorists want: a divided people.
The second type of response, in a minority unfortunately, is to react by rejecting the black and white view that ISIS seeks to propagate and to reach out to Muslims.
1. Create chaos where there is calm (for example, by hitting unsuspecting targets in cities like Paris and Brussels).
2. Use vicious methods to polarise populations. Most Muslims live happily in secular societies. They live in what ISIS calls the “grey zone”. The objective is to drive them toward extremism either by attracting them through displays of power or by instilling fear in them or by scaring non-Muslims into taking revenge on them: in short, the “grey zone” needs to be transformed into a black and white world of “Good” versus “Evil”.
We can react in two ways to ISIS attacks and propaganda: either we support their Machiavellian plans, or we counteract them.
The first option is to fall into their trap and put more oil on the fire and thereby help ISIS spread chaos and boost their recruiting drive.
That’s what politicians like Donald Trump are doing by claiming that there is some sort of divide between the “fanatical Muslim world” and the “reasonable Western world”.
In the wake of the Brussels bombings, Trump said: “I would close up our borders” to prevent dangerous Muslims from getting into the US. Previously, after the Paris attacks, he had called for a temporary ban on all Muslims who wish to enter the US. He also promised to use waterboarding and even go beyond that when interrogating terrorists.
Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who was a strong ally of George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq, is also of that mindset.
He wrote an article this weekend in which he declared that. “We are at war with Islamist extremism” and need to be, “preparing for a conflict that is longer than anything we have seen in modern times”.
Because what we face are extremist Muslims of which there are, “many millions… across the globe”.
Blair says that we need to be ready to send Western military troops on the ground in the Middle East. In short, we must “rediscover our muscularity”.
And we must also use our allies.
But who are they?
Blair says: “Saudi Arabia is our ally” and “Israel is also our ally”.
The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia are two extremist forces spreading chaos in the Middle East is irrelevant for Blair.
In Ireland, some commentators seem also to have fallen into ISIS’s trap.
For example, Carol Hunt, who is running for the Seanad for the NUI panel, wrote in the Sunday Independent that we shouldn’t be scared of criticising Islam and all its problems.
After all, we have “to protect Western values” of openness and plurality against the bad Muslims. She asks suggestively: “Can we be unambiguous in our belief that some cultures are indeed superior to others”?
And: “Can we admit that a culture which espouses universal human rights is indeed superior to one which treats some individuals as lesser beings because of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief?”
In short, Western culture is superior to Muslim culture.
However, this assertion works only if you remove the part that there is a big culture of militarism in the West in which a lot of people are cheering on their militaries to invade other countries; and if you remove the fact that Western governments don’t care about “universal human rights”; etc.
But there is a second option: reach out to Muslims in constructive and peaceful ways to counteract ISIS propaganda.
For example, Juan Cole, the professor of history who specialises in religion and Islam, wrote an excellent piece in which he made the following remarks on how to react to the tragedy in Brussels:
1. “Stop suggesting that there is something wrong with Muslims that they keep producing terrorists. All the major world faiths produce violent people. In the Rwanda genocide of the 1990s, Christian Hutus murdered between 500,000 and 1 million other people, and the Christian churches were deeply involved in enabling this slaughter.”
2. “Muslims are a sixth of humankind and hail from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, and languages. There are 40 million Chinese Muslims. There are 23 million Russian ones. Ethiopian Muslims and Senegalese Muslims have little in common despite being African, and neither has much in common with Bangladeshi Muslims. To tag all of them with the actions of some violent Brussels slum-dwellers of North African heritage is weird. It is exactly like assuming that all American Christians want to kill Tutsis, just because Hutu Christians did.”
3. “Show your Muslim neighbour some love. ISIS does these horrible things to get people of Christian heritage to be beastly to the Muslims in their midst, spreading hatred and anger and a sense of victimization. ISIS is hoping to use *you* to drive other Muslims into their arms. They want to make you a recruitment officer. They want you to hate and they want you to fear. There is only one way to combat this tactic of sharpening contradictions. Refuse to hate and refuse to be afraid. Bend over backwards to be nice to Muslims.”
So we must choose: Do we want to be on the side of ISIS by supporting Islamophobia and throwing oil on the fire?
Or are we ready not to fall into their trap and reject their ridiculous black and white view of the world?
Julien Mercille specialises in US foreign policy and terrorism and is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille
Journalist and Independent Alliance Seanad candidate Carol Hunt writes:
“Have you lost your mind?” is a question I frequently get asked these days. Occasionally a person might inquire solicitously, “Is it some sort of addiction that you could get therapy for?”
What they’re referring to is the fact that after a gruelling five months which started off with no money, no team and very little knowledge of how to go about planning a general election campaign, and ended in a fairly respectable vote outcome in the constituency of Dun Laoghaire (the only one to buck the trend and end up with 3 Fine Gael TD”s out of 4), we’ve decided to keep going.
What can I say? Running for election was perhaps the most positive, interesting, enlightening and humbling experience of my life – so far.
I initially decided to run because, for the past seven or eight years, I’ve been writing about the growing inequality gap in Ireland, the choice of our last government to introduce five regressive budgets in a row, the fact that the most vulnerable people in society ended up paying the highest price for the crash.
And so, after months of saying, repeatedly, that “somebody should do something”, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and enter the election. It was hard work, it was expensive but, and this might sound corny and if so I apologise, it was a privilege. I would recommend running for office to everyone in the country. It’s an eye opener.
Two days after the election count – broke, tired but very glad that I had made the decision to go for it – I got a call from a colleague in Leinster House advising me to run for the Seanad. Dear God, I thought. I’ll be divorced – by my children if not my husband – and we’ll have to sell the house.
But it made sense. I had a brilliant campaign manager and a small but dedicated team, who wanted to keep going, and as I had been to the forefront in the campaign to retain and reform the Seanad and make parliament – rather than just government – answerable to the democratic process, it seemed like the right thing to do.
But what did it entail? This is where the fun started.
First up, we had to get a nominator, a seconder and eight other signatures on one form. All had to be graduates registered to vote in NUI Seanad elections. I put the word out. “Not a problem”, was what I heard back from many friends who were NUI grads.
But yes, there was a problem. It’s quite extraordinary the amount of graduates – that is, people who have third level qualifications – who don’t know that they aren’t automatically put on the register to vote for the Seanad.
These include my husband, my campaign manager, my sister, most of my friends, my hairdresser, my dentist …. you get the picture.
And as we only had 48 hours to get the names – on the one form, which meant I had to physically proffer it to each individual for signature – this was going to be harder than it seemed.
Myself and my campaign manager did it with an hour to spare. Dr Jane Suiter nominated me, Professor Sabina Brennan seconded me and I managed to get 8 other assenters who were registered.
We felt like debt collectors who have a time limit to get the cash to the boss before being threatened with knee-capping. We met people in pubs, called to houses that we’d never been to before, one woman jumped into the back of the car, signed then jumped out, and I even spent time waiting, with some other dubious looking individuals, outside criminal court number one, down by Heuston station – all to get to the magic number ten.
There are three seats to be filled on the NUI panel. I was advised to try for this one as two of the incumbents are retiring (Fergal Quinn and John Crown).
Obviously I wasn’t the only person to think this would be a good idea. Counting on my fingers as the chancellor of NUI read out the names declared and accepted for candidature, it came to thirty. THIRTY. For three seats! Two really, if you consider that Rónán Mullen will most probably retain his.
Many of the other candidates are people I would love to work with: New, passionate about human rights and social justice, genuinely interested in reform and fairness. Some are has-beens who think they have a divine right to public office, jobs for the old-boys club and all that.
But what I would really love to see is as many people as possible using their mandate and voting for their preferred candidate for the Seanad.
Only if the public take it seriously and those who can vote, VOTE, can we hope to implement the reforms the Seanad – and our entire parliament – so desperately needs.
Get the word out. Do you have a vote? Are you registered? Ask your family and friends. It’s time to vote to change the way the Seanad works – by using the vote that you have and changing the people who get elected to it.
Independent Alliance candidate Carol Hunt canvassing in Dun Laoghaire
The threats of chaos from Fine Gal and Labour are too late.
What people are saying on the doorstep would make you weep.
Carol Hunt writes:
You’re not supposed to cry when you go canvassing. It doesn’t look good. Particularly if you’re the candidate. You’re meant to have a bright, open smile, a warm demeanor and a cheerful manner when you present yourself at a person’s doorstep.
Which is all very well, but what happens when you hear, not one, two or three, but a veritable avalanche of tragic stories from the people who open their doors to you?
What do you do when a woman tells you about her son who died by suicide, because there was no care available for him when he presented in distress?
How do you react when a couple shake their heads and ask what was it all for? Their children and grandchildren forced to emigrate, themselves struggling to remain in the family home that was once their pride and joy, now just a reminder to them of all they have lost.
What does one say when tired, frustrated mothers tell you they have no hope that their disabled child will ever get the help they so need and deserve; when elderly retired people, who worked all their lives and paid exhorbitant tax rates, reveal that they can pay their electricity or their property bill but not both, and that they’re living in fear of Revenue taking every penny from their pensions.
How do you react when you hear, over and over again, stories from people – ordinary people, of all ages and classes – who are truly suffering, who have been, not just let down but ravaged, destroyed, chewed up and spat out by the system, tell you the most personal stories about their lives?
What you don’t do is cry. And so last weekend I found myself walking away from a door and unable to knock on the next one. At least not until I could compose myself. Not until I could ensure that I wasn’t going to erupt into a volcano of emotion at the whole bloody injustice of it all.
A woman had told me her own story, that of her son and her family and their awful tragedy – which could have been averted if only our public services were fit for purpose. This was not a story in isolation. The morning had been dominated by tales of tragedy, and by angry, frustrated people explaining to us why they had no belief, no trust and no faith in the current political system.
Our public services are in chaos. Mental health services, in particular are not fit for purpose. The squeezed middle – those hundreds of thousands of families, couples and individuals who seem to pay for everything but qualify for nothing – are raw from the scalping they have received.
Elderly people wonder how a government can get away with taking their pensions and leave them terrified about the future. Parents pray that their disabled child is deemed bad enough to qualify for some level of treatment and care. So many homes, so many hurt people with different stories to tell us. And boy, do they want someone to listen to them.
Initially we wonder why? Why are these people – who have never met us before in their lives – opening up to us, showing us their wounds? Eventually we understand. Because no one else is listening. Because they know what the government will say to them – they’ll list off all the reasons they have to be thankful for the wonderful work FG and Labour are doing on their behalf, and then they’ll tell them to stop whinging.
“Keep the recovery going”? Vast swathes of middle Ireland have seen no recovery, thank you very much, just more bills, fewer services and a disenchantment with Irish democracy that has never been so articulately or so passionately expressed before.
Some people tell us that will never vote again, that there is no point, they are just too sick of the whole charade of lies and broken promises. Most people tell us that they are voting independent and yes, I admit, initially I was surprised at the number of people who told me this.
But hell hath no fury and all that. The sense of betrayal is enormous. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour; voters count them off their fingers and spit out insults. Fool me once, they say, but not again. And yet the mainstream media and politicians seem surprised at the trend toward Independents.
Enda Kenny is complaining that “sometimes I find that people find it difficult to see any good anywhere anytime”.
I dare him to come and say that to the faces of the distraught victims of his austerity programme I’m meeting every day. I dare him come and tell mothers of children with disabilities or elderly people who cannot get a hospital appointment, that they should stop whinging and count their blessings. Fine Gael and Labour are now trying to terrify people with threats of chaos if they aren’t voted back in.
What they don’t understand is that so many people are already living with the chaos meted out to them by previous governments.
What they do not understand is that even those who have not suffered so much – who perhaps have felt some of this infamous recovery – are shocked at the treatment of other Irish citizens; of the sick, the disabled, the homeless, of vulnerable children. Ultimately, what they don’t seem to understand is that most Irish people are not complete self-serving bas***ds.
Who knows, this time we actually get our democratic revolution. Until then, I’ll keep listening – and try not to cry.
Carol Hunt is an Independent Alliance candidate for the Dun Laoghaire constituency. Following Carol on Twitter: @carolmhunt
From top: Children and parents of Portobello Educate Together demonstrate outside Leinster House for the need of a new multi-denominational school; Carol Hunt.
Legislation which contradicts the constitution is being used up and down the country in order to discriminate against children on the basis of religion.
Carol Hunt writes:
A quick legal lesson – In the hierarchy of Irish laws constitutional law always supersedes legislative law. That’s pretty easy to understand, isn’t it?
The highest law in the land is our constitution and all other laws are derived from it. That’s why the President can refer a piece of legislation to the Supreme Court if they’re not sure that it’s in line with the constitution.
Which is why I’m confused. And seemingly, so are a lot of other people in the country – particularly parents who are trying to get their children places in their local schools.
You see, Article 44 of our constitution guarantees religious equality for all Irish citizens. In particular, it states:
“ The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the grounds of religious profession, belief or status.”
That’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?
It means that the State, and one presumes, state-funded organisations that are providing services on behalf of the State, cannot discriminate against people on the grounds of their religious beliefs. One would assume that includes children also.
Children are people too, and they are entitled to the full protection of the law. In fact in Ireland even unborn children are entitled to their own, state-funded legal team. Which is why so many of us are confused. Because legislation which contradicts the constitution is currently being used up and down the country in order to discriminate against children on the basis of religion.
Under 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 schools under religious patronage can give preference to children of the relevant denomination in the enrolment process. In short, what this means is that state-funded schools can refuse to enroll local children if their “religious values” are at odds with the ethos of the school.
In addition, Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools 1965 insists on an “integrated curriculum” of religious values which makes opting out of religious instruction impossible.
What this means in practice is that, if you want to get your child into a local primary school – nearly 97% of them are under Catholic patronage – you will need to have them baptised into the Catholic faith and they will have to attend religious instruction in that faith, during school hours.
As the mother of two, non religious children, I have experience of the frustration and anger parents can experience when your child has no school to go to. Of when your child is refused admission to their local school because they haven’t got a piece of paper saying they are a member of the “right” church.
I’ve spent hours, days, months – what sometimes seemed like eternity – investigating the issues involved, studying the constitution and legislation, writing letters of complaint and appeal and eventually, of desperation. In short, I begged.
One of my children managed to gain admittance to a local school without a baptismal cert – for which we were very grateful, and consequently accepted the hours of catechism in a religion she didn’t belong to with placid tolerance. The other eventually got a place in an Educate Together school – a very long bus journey away, but well worth it.
More and more Irish parents – of all religions and none – are coming up against the baptismal barrier.
Last month, our Minister for Children, Dr. James Reilly, told the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child:
“Our school system evolved from the religious orders themselves and so it’s not surprising that we have such a preponderance of denominational schools with 95 per cent of primary and 70 per cent of secondary schools of a denominational nature.”
This isn’t quite true though. The National School system introduced in 1831 was a non-denominational one meant to bring together children of all faiths.
The original objective was to “unite in one system children of different creeds”. But then the churches put pressure on governments to allow them to take over and discriminate on the basis of religion.
Seemingly, that’s all about to change though. The government told the UN that “the ongoing Patronage Divestment process creates greater primary school choice for parents”.
Which would be great – except for the fact that it’s not true.
Only two schools so far have been successfully divested. The Catholic Church is clinging on with gritted teeth to its power base in the country, and the government seems loath to confront them on it.
This has to change. We live in a democracy – not a theocracy. And by allowing this religious discrimination to continue we’re making a mockery of our constitution.
Carol Hunt is an Independent Alliance candidate for the Dun Laoghaire constituency. Follow Carol on Twitter: @carolmhunt
A demonstration by pupils and staff at Gaelscoil Phadraig, Ballybrack, Co Dublin
A candidate for the Independent Alliance argues that all schools, like their pupils, are not equal.
Carol Hunt writes:
Sick of hearing it yet? The phrase; “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” has been bandied around for decades now, usually when we try to persuade ourselves that we don’t actively target children for abuse or neglect, but that sometimes bad things happen and sure, we’ll say an act of contrition and try to be better in future.
It’s long been argued that the architects of the Irish Proclamation didn’t specifically mean ‘children’ as such, when they included this line – they meant people of all faiths and none should have equal rights before the law in our shiny, new Republic .
Which is probably just as well. Because when it comes to “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”, you’d have to admit that we have failed spectacularly. In fact, you’d be forced to concede that the very opposite would seem to be deliberate government policy for quite some time now.
We’ve long known that Enda and his entourage suffer from a rather pernicious strain of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AWS); an illness which makes one’s perceptual reality distorted, where one doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not.
Currently they’re sending members of the Defence Forces around every primary school in the country, armed with tricolours and copies of the proclamation, telling all the children how lucky they are to be living in a Republic which “guarantees… equal rights and equal responsibilities to all its citizens.”
Except of course that it does nothing of the sort. The number of young children suffering deprivation in Ireland doubled between 2007 and 2014. But it’s one thing to cite statistics, it’s another to see blatant discrimination right in front of your eyes.
A couple of weeks ago I met a young mother, Grace Byrne from Ballybrack [Co Dublin]. She asked would I come to a protest organised by the teachers, parents and young students of nearby primary school, Gaelscoil Phadraig.
“If we can call it a school”, she added. The teachers were brilliant, she said, the curriculum excellent, the pupils loved it it but…they had no building.
Twenty years the pupils of this school had spent in pre-fabs, despite innumerable promises from politicians of getting a new school.
One mother points to former Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, and says; “she had the nerve to stand on my doorstep years ago and promised we’d have a new school. My husband wouldn’t come today [to the protest] because he was afraid of what he’d do if he saw her here again, looking for votes.”
I saw the pre-fabs. Some of them were damp, they had mould growing in them.They were a health hazard. Two floors were collapsing. Seriously. They were a danger area.
There was nowhere for the children to play safely. The children – enthusiastic, excited – stood around a tiny square with crayoned posters in their cold hands, singing “Twenty-years-a-waiting”.
The teachers are passionate and devoted to their students. They had, miraculously, won four green flags from An Taisce, despite having no school garden.
They wanted a library, a school hall, a place to safe and healthy place to learn. Is that too much to ask? Seemingly, it is. And despite the blatant disadvantages the school suffers for some reason it doesn’t qualify for DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) status [Dept of Education system for ‘identifying levels of disadvantage’].
They were assessed for it during the Celtic Tiger and just missed out. There’s been no assessment since although they’ve begged for it and a nearby school with same demographic gets it.
The next day I’m in another school just a few miles down the road. There is a new bright assembly hall, a big extension; gorgeous playing fields; a full library; warm, dry, well furnished rooms; lots of space and light and everything young students need and deserve to be educated in, to grow up in.
The children are the same though; enthusiastic, excited, hungry for knowledge. The teachers are just as passionate and dedicated to their young charges as those I met the day before.
Anyone who has the nerve to assert that we don’t practice blatant discrimination in the treatment of our children in this country obviously needs to get out more. Or at least that’s what I used to think.
But then I was told by the parents and teachers of Gaelscoil Phadraig that local politicians are very much aware of the dire conditions their young pupils have had to suffer over the past two decades. Many promises were made but none kept. There has been excuse after promise after excuse.
And still no school. Why is this? Is it because it’s not just children who are more equal than others, but also that there are voters who are more equal than others. Citizens who can be relied on to use their vote to retain the status quo are far more valuable to established parties than those who may choose to use it differently.
All voters are not equal you see. Consequently neither are their children. Or their schools.