Tag Archives: Gary Gannon

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From top: O’Connell Street, Dublin: Gary Gannon

Most Irish women avoid certain places for fear of harassment or violence.

Gary Gannon writes:

Our city isn’t safe. Since the recent spate of killings through Dublin, this has been the mantra of both the tabloids and the broadsheet media.

Crime was a major election issue, the calls for greater Garda resources ever present in early morning radio talk shows. I have spoken many times on the issue, in print media and on radio.

I’ve called for more resources for education, for community youth programmes. I’ve fought hard against a narrative which I believe demonises my hard working and vibrant city centre community.

I’ve used this column to deal with the issues of reproductive rights and violence against women before. Women’s equality is a passion of mine, and I am conscious of always trying to advocate for feminist policies as an elected public representative.

And yet, when I talk about crime, and demand long term thinking on crime prevention from our political and community leaders, I don’t mainstream gender into my thinking.

The city isn’t safe is is a mantra I fight, when discussing the Hutch-Kinehan ‘feud’, yet it is true for so many women in Dublin.

Sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces is a serious problem throughout the EU, with one in five women reporting that they have experienced sexual or physical violence since the age of 15.

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agenda shows us that the problem is even worse in Ireland, with one in three Irish women reporting such an experience.

Because street harassment is so prevalent, the fear of violence is ever present, with 52% of women in Ireland reporting that they avoid certain places or situations for fear of harassment or violence. This figure is the second highest in the EU.

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to walk down the street, and never feel truly safe. And yet, that is exactly what these figures mean for the majority of women in Ireland, that their freedom to full participate in society is curtailed by a fear of violence.

A Dublin City Council report into sexual harassment in Dublin City was completed in 2015. The study findings show that sexual harassment is a frequent and distressing occurrence for women and girls in Dublin City, and captured that for many women walking the streets of Dublin, cat calling, wolf whistling, and being shouted at from cars is an everyday occurrence.

I was only made aware of this report when it was highlighted in May’s edition of ‘The Dublin Inquirer’. It has yet to be presented to City Councillors and nor has it featured as a topic on the Joint Policing Committee. In fact there doesn’t appear to have been any follow up on the findings of this report.

There exist practical suggestions in this report which if implemented could vastly improve the level of safety that many people as they engage with our city.

Improving street lighting, confronting dereliction and reorganising pedestrian spaces and parks so that they can contribute to urban safety are just of the recommendations that were made.

In addition there was also a call for a public awareness campaign expressing a zero tolerance attitude for sexual harassment on our streets.

It was also suggested that councils should take the lead in providing educational programmes for the employees of State agencies, the Gardaì and schools to make clear what exactly constitutes sexual harassment on our streets.

That men’s sexual harassment of women and girls has become normalised is indicative of a culture which allows men’s violence against women to flourish.

Throughout the recession, we have witnessed frontline violence against women services being cut to skeletal levels, with some being forced to close their doors.

As one in five women experience sexual or domestic abuse in their lifetime, we still only have one third the recommended refuge spaces for women.

Budget 2017 affords our government once again the opportunity to ringfence funding that can finally lead to the implementation of the Istanbul Convention which leaves no room for doubt; it is the obligation of the state to fully address violence against women in all its forms and to take measures to prevent it, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators.

In 2013, Dublin became the first city in the developed world to join the UN Women’s Safe Cities Programme. In doing so our State has already recognised the need to take much greater consideration of gender in our public and planning policy but action rather than lip service must be the culmination of this positive step.

When we talk about crime, we need to ensure that long term planning is our focus as well as crime prevention. We also need to ensure that long term thinking incorporates ways of making cities safer for women to go about their everyday life.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. His column appears here every Friday usually before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

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From top: Heuston Station Luas stop yesterday; Gary Gannon

Dubliners need a figurehead who has the democratic legitimacy to engage with business, academia, unions or if necessary our own government.

Gary Gannon writes:

There exists a democratic deficit in the City of Dublin.

The Chief Executive of Dublin City Council is by far the most powerful official in our nation’s capital with no electoral mandate from the people of Dublin yet makes decisions which impact daily upon the lives of Dubliners.

We had no say when our waste management services were privatised.

There is nobody that can be held to account for the dereliction that blights the aesthetic quality of our City Centre.

A single accident on the M50 motorway regularly brings our entire city to a standstill.

The time has long since arrived for Dublin to have an identifiable and accountable structure of leadership.

The people of Dublin should be afforded the chance to vote for a directly elected Mayor with appropriate powers and a budget to enact upon an agreed vision for our capital city.

As Dubliners we are often accused of being a little overly confident by those who reside outside of The Pale. With the expectation of a 26th All Ireland Championship arriving this weekend, it may be considered impolite to further highlight the significance of the capital as the economic heart of the country but the facts speak for themselves.

Economic activity in the Dublin region accounts for 47% of our entire GDP. As a comparison, London accounts for only 20% of the UK’s. According to the CSO figures of 2011, 49% of all the employees in the State are located in Dublin where they contribute to 55% of Ireland’s entire income tax.

There are currently four ministers at cabinet level with responsibility to some degree concerned with the affairs of rural Ireland but not one with a sole focus on Dublin despite the obvious importance of the City to the country as a whole.

This is an oversight which leaves Dublin vulnerable to being overtaken by European Cities who we are competing with on a multitude of levels.

Recent years have provided several obvious examples of where an absence of an identifiable person with a responsibility for the Dublin region has been to the reputational and economic detriment of the city.

The Dublin Web Summit for example brought 30,000 people into the RDS in addition to a wealth of global tech innovators each year. Much public scorn has been directed at the organisers following their decision to relocate the Web Summit to Lisbon but their conditions upon which they would stay were not entirely unreasonable.

Emails published by the Web Summit between they and the office of the Taoiseach showed that the four main issues that the organisers were concerned with were traffic management; public transport; the costs of hotels and the poor standard of wifi in the RDS.

It should never be the role of a Taoiseach to organise wifi or present a traffic management plan to a single event but the fact that Dublin City Council and its elected representatives were impotent on this issue was unjustifiable.

In those same emails one of the organisers of the Web Summit expressed his astonishment that he had been unable to attain a meeting with the chief executive of Dublin City Council but had regularly held meetings with the prime ministers of other countries.

Dublin as a major European city needs a figurehead who has the democratic legitimacy to engage with business, academia, or if necessary our own government.

It is estimated that just under 500,000 people travel within Dublin City Centre every day.

These include 235,000 work related trips, 45,000 education related trips and 120,000 trips that comprise of domestic visitors, tourists and shoppers. At an absolute minimum these people need to feel safe in our capital city but yet a total of 314 Gardai were removed from the Dublin North & South Central Policing Divisions since 2009.

Polls regularly show that people do not feel safe walking in Dublin City Centre and yet the removal of so many Gardai from the Central Divisions occurred without much opposition or fanfare.

Whether it was prescribed in legislation or not, a person elected by the people of Dublin to serve its need would be expected to be involved in these decisions or to at a minimum offer a counter political narrative.

Just yesterday it was announced that Dublin Bus workers will engage in a further 13 more days of strike action throughout the month of July following the refusal of the company to engage with workers.

This is an issue which has impacted on almost 400,000 passengers in Dublin and yet the political response to the industrial conflict has been largely mute with the exception of a couple of useless platitudes calling on both sides to engage.

A directly elected Mayor for the City could surely bring some much needed political leadership to this issue.

It would be inconceivable that Sadiq Khan in London or Bill De Blasio in New York would not seek to intervene or act as intermediaries if such a dispute was to occur in their respective cities.

A directly elected Mayor for the City of Dublin could never get away with the type of indifference that is regularly shown from cabinet to issues that face our capital.

There is a much broader discussion to be had on the extent of the powers that would be afforded to such a position but at a minimum a directly elected Mayor would have authority over the areas of transport; planning; waste management and water services in Dublin.

I would also add policing to that list on the understanding that policing in our major cities presents different challenges to policing in towns or rural areas but I imagine that this suggestion would be a little audacious in our current political culture.

The branding of Dublin that is projected on to the world stage is one that is intrinsically associated with its people but yet this is not reflected in our political structures.

A directly elected Mayor is in many ways the embodiment of that cities people and we should not neglect or be fearful of the public relations aspect of the role.

European Cities are increasingly in conflict with each other for potential commercial investments or greater access to tourist markets and Dublin is desperately missing a person that can be the public face of those campaigns.

Dubliners care about their City and deserve to have a say in who is in charge.

In 2013 over 18,000 submissions were made to Dublin City Council concerning the naming the bridge that became The Rosie Hackett.

One can only imagine the level of civic engagement that would occur if they were presented with the opportunity to choose a Mayor that could lead our city in to the future.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. His column appears here every Friday usually before lunch but a little later today owing to an editorial mix up. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

Previously: Derek Mooney on the Dublin Mayor Nightmare

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From top: The Social Democrats canvassing on Grafton Street, Dublin 2 during the General Election 2016 campaign last February; Gary Gannon.

Losing a founder member is a blow, but the Social Democrat ranks are brimming with people of exceptional calibre who remain committed to the movement.

Gary Gannon writes:

I celebrated an anniversary this week. On September 4 it was exactly one year to the day that I was launched as a candidate for the Social Democrats. The Party had itself only recently been announced at the end of that July and I was among our first wave of new candidates.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that this anniversary coincided with the departure from the Social Democrats of one of our founding members.

I had considered not mentioning Stephen’s decision to leave the party this week but had I of done so; I would have waived the opportunity to thank Stephen for helping to build this political party where I now feel so at home.

If a week is a long time in politics, then I assure you that a year can feel almost like an eternity when one finally stops to reflect on all that has occurred in those intervening 365 days.

In joining the Social Democrats I never sought a revolution. It was the Marriage Equality referendum which demonstrated to me how enjoyable politics could be if I simply relinquished my anger at what I considered to be an unequal State and instead spoke only of the type of Ireland which I wished to be part of.

I found it impossible to return to being an Independent after May 2015.

It was the first time that I truly felt part of a political collective. It is a testament to the importance of those three months in my political formation that the Dublin Central branch of the Social Democrats is populated heavily by people who first encountered one another while knocking on Inner City doors in the name of ‘Yes Equality’.

It was indeed anger, however that sought me to enter politics and seek election to the City Council in 2014.

As the son of an Inner City street trader my earliest interactions with the State were invariably of the negative persuasion. Memories of my school holidays include being regularly chased alongside my mother and her pram full of fruit from Henry Street to Capel Street by an old Garda who the traders affectionately named, ‘Boots’.

Adulthood has ascribed a nostalgic tint to those childhood memories. However, I was also working and volunteering in the community development sector throughout the period of austerity and I watched closely as the people who never benefited in any meaningful way from the Celtic Tiger were disproportionately targeted under the banner of austerity.

My entry into politics was a form of protest but I very quickly learned that this was a futile exercise. The system does not change simply through hatred of it alone. Progress requires engagement.

There are only two types of politicians who really matter: those who can say ‘I wish to continue on the good work of’ and those who can object by asserting ‘here’s what I would do differently’.

In the one year since our launch, the Social Democrats have set the standard for offering an alternative vision for how our country could operate.

When we took the decision, pre-election, to state categorically that we would not erode the tax base by cutting the Universal Social Charge, we showed that the Irish people were no longer willing to be bought off with the allure of individual offerings.

The departure of one of our founding members will of course come as a blow to us but although things may seem a little different, our vision remains the same.

The vision for a strong economy that will provide quality public services to its citizens remains as necessary today as it was one year ago.

For Social Democrats who operate outside of Leinster House, we now have the opportunity to step forward and progress our movement into every city, town and village.

We already have some exceptional members who will make competent legislators in this country.

Niall O’Tuathail is our candidate in Galway West. He recently told me that in the next election that he was going to be explicit about his desire to be a Minister for Health in this country.

He is an incredible guy with a young family who could be successful in any walk of life, but has chosen politics because he believes simply in the idea of civic contribution.

Our ranks are brimming with people of exceptional calibre who remain committed to this movement. Glenna Lynch is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. She is a successful business owner and a person who has already made an enormous impact outside of electoral politics.

Cian O’Callaghan has been a champion of progressive politics for as many years as I can remember. Jennifer Whitmore is an extremely well respected councillor from Greystones who has already contributed significantly to the development of the Social Democrats since our very inception.

The reality is that the Social Democrats in a strong position. One year on from joining the party I am emboldened by the strength of our collective organisation.

Building a political Party that will enter government on its own terms was always going to be a process that took longer than a single year but that remains an aspiration, one that is within our grasp.

As long as we are persistent in our pursuit of social democratic values, we will continue to grow.

I have loved every minute of these past twelve months and look forward with renewed vigour to this forthcoming year

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. His column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

Previously: Dan Boyle on Thursday

Anne Marie McNally on Wednesday

Rollingnews

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From top; Clodagh Hawe; Gary Gannon

A man can kill his partner and we care more about his ‘motives’ than her life.

Gary Gannon writes:

I was curating the @ireland account on Monday, when the story of the ‘tragic deaths’ in Cavan broke.

We heard in hushed tones how the police were ‘not looking for anyone else’ and how ‘the answers lay within the family home’, how five people had lost their lives unnecessarily like there had been some sort of unprecedented carbon monoxide incident.

In the aftermath of these ‘tragic deaths’, I learned that a man can literally get away with murder.

He can kill his partner and his children and we will still eulogise him. We will care more about his ‘motives’ than her life. We will even go so far as attribute some sort of nobility to his well-intentioned but unfortunately murderous actions.

You know what the worst thing is? Not just that the murder of a woman and her children becomes the footnote in a story about a man’s mental health, but that the woman is totally disappeared in all media discourse.

The Irish Times screamed ‘Wonderful children who will be greatly missed’. The Independent asked poignantly ‘How could he kill those boys?’

What about their mother?

Her name was Clodagh. She was a teacher. She had a life, thoughts, opinions. She mattered.

On Tuesday morning, I tweeted the Women’s Aid statistic that never fails to shock; one in two women murdered in Ireland will die at the hands of a male partner.

Men murdering women is unfortunately not unusual; an average of one woman is murdered every month and in half of resolved cases, it was by an intimate partner, someone she is supposed to be able to trust the most. In the majority of cases, this occurs in her own home.

By Tuesday evening, I was engaged in full blown @ireland Twitter rant about the media’s failure to name the murder of a woman and children as murder.

The support received was tremendous, from hundreds of people who were also sitting at home, wondering why Clodagh Hawe’s photograph was only just released when her husband’s face had been smiling at us all day.

Wondering why we knew about his job, his hobbies and his normal, everyday life, than anything about Clodagh. Wondering why we were so intent on minimising the culpability of the man who murdered Clodagh, and her children.

There was also criticism. Why was I speculating? Didn’t I know this wasn’t the time? Why couldn’t I wait until I was sure of the facts?

To these people, I ask – is there any other crime in which we hold the perpetrator’s reasons to be more important than his actions? It is not speculation that he murdered his wife but let’s be clear, it is the absolute height of a culture of violent misogyny that we are not allowed to say this.

In Ireland, our silence kills us. It enables us to lock women behind Magdalene walls, to force them to different countries for essential healthcare, to minimise the violent tendencies of abusive men and to allow coercive, controlling perpetrators of domestic abuse up and down the country to sleep easy.

In refusing to name the murder of Clodagh and her three children as the violent actions of an abusive man, we enable ourselves to reach the logical conclusion that this man was A Good Man, one who simply snapped.

We act like their murders were inevitable, that even Clodagh couldn’t have seen it coming. We let him, and all men like him, off the hook.

The reality is, many women living in abusive relationships do ultimately fear that they will be killed. Many can’t leave, because the coercive control exerted by their partners is so absolute, or because they are so isolated by silence, and a lack of support structures, that they see no way out. Heartbreakingly, for women who do leave, it is the most dangerous time for them.

The lies about ‘The Good Man Who Snapped’ allow us to continue to underfund women’s shelters and front line violence against women services.

We enable the horrendously stupid argument about USC cuts to dominate the airwaves in the lead up to the 2017 Budget. How can we afford tax cuts when we apparently cannot properly fund support services to enable women to leave abusive relationships? (I’ll leave the argument about political choices for another day.)

We can make Ireland the safest country in the world for women and their children. We can do this by facing the fact that one in five women experience domestic violence, and that for many of these women, this violence ends in their death and in cases like Clodagh’s, the deaths of her children.

In response to the murders of Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan, we can and must pledge to properly resource the full and immediate ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention, as Women’s Aid, Safe Ireland and the National Women’s Council of Ireland have been screaming for, for years.

The Istanbul Convention leaves no room for doubt ; it is the obligation of the state to fully address it in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators.

There can be no real equality between women and men if women experience gender-based violence on a large-scale and state agencies and institutions turn a blind eye.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. His column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

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From top: last Sunday’s Sunday Independent; Gary Gannon

It is not the role of the State to misappropriate the personal information it contains on private citizens to gain political advantage.

Gary Gannon writes:

Those of us who retain the ideal that ‘The State has no right to enslave a conquered people’ watched with some bewilderment this week as Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar announced that he was to seek permission from the Data Commissioner for ministers to be allowed to pass comments on individual cases were they believe incorrect claims are being made.

We often hear about data protection in the context of regulating what companies can do with our personal information such as our contact details. Most of us would seek to ensure that private companies cannot profit from selling on our email addresses or our phone numbers to other private marketers or worse.

Such expectations of data protection are even more important when it comes to our relationship with the State.

We can mostly choose not to share our data with private companies- we don’t have to sign up to club cards, mailing list or even social media sites. As citizens of a state however, we have no choice but to disclose our personal data to the multitude of different service providers that exist to serve the everyday functions of the State.

If we register to vote, or wish to have a medical test done, or pay tax, or apply for an entitlement then there is inevitably a form to be filled that requires personal information to be offered to the State.

It is an important component of the modern social contract that we fill out a lot of forms and in doing so; we must be able to trust that the personal information which we relinquish to the state is used solely for the intended purpose under which it was disclosed.

Where data protection has been breached – the bulwark against abuse is the Data Protection Commissioner. Ireland’s record on data protection is not great and in the past we have had to go to European Courts of Justice to get the State to conform to its obligations.

Now we have a minister proposing to pierce a great big loophole in our already pretty weak legislation.

The European Court of Justice has made it quite clear that Data Protection Agencies must act impartially and remain free from any external influence, including that of the State. As such, it would be interesting to see how the Minister’s proposal would hold up if it were to be brought through the European courts.

Independence in the case of Data Protection Agencies precludes not only any influence exercised by supervised bodies, but also any directions or other external influence which could call into question the performance of those authorities of their task consisting of establishing a fair balance between the protection of the right to private life and the free movement of personal data.

A spokesperson for the Minister quoted in the Irish Times stated that he “was not seeking to waive confidentiality in every case but specifically ones that make their situation public through the media.”

The state should not have the power to circumvent privacy legislation when it suits its own PR purposes. What is the logical extension of this? It can lead to silencing of people – it basically means that the price for speaking up about failures of the state becomes giving up yours and your family’s privacy.

Minister Varadkar’s request to the data commissioner came in the same week that his office had put out a press release which pertained to the high profile case of Erica Fleming and the fact that she had been vocal in the media regarding her declined application for Back to Education allowance.

The Minister in his press release to the media felt compelled to set the record straight on this issue as it was his fear that “a lot of inaccurate information had entered the public domain due to a high profile individual case that might cause lone parents to pass up educational opportunities.”

It was an extremely unfortunate week for Erica Fleming in regards the State and her personal information.

On the issue of data protection, an internal report that was prepared by Dublin City Council detailing Erica’s interactions with the council was leaked to the Sunday Independent.

This report gave the false impression that Erica had declined two housing offers while remaining as a campaigner on the issue of homelessness.

There are no indications that this report was leaked by any particular government agency but that it was passed to a journalist was clearly done on the basis that it would discredit Erica in the eye of the public.

This has now been referred to the office of the data commissioner for investigation. The circumstances around how the article came about will undoubtedly raise a multitude of difficult questions for Dublin City Council as its appearance in the public domain is in direct contravention of its own data protection code of practices.

Therein lays the danger of this desire by the minister to seek approval from the data protection commissioner to comment on individual cases should they appear in the media.

As a society we should we should encourage people to come forward as a whistleblowers who highlight malpractice within State services.

This is the duty of all citizens that reside within a State. It is not the role of the State to misappropriate the personal information it contains on private citizens to gain political advantage.

It is only the people who are sovereign, the government must remain distinct and accountable to the collective good.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

Previously: Erica’s Education

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Gary Gannon

Speaking about abortion can be uncomfortable but it is nothing compared to the burdens that our medieval regime has placed upon women in this country.

Gary Gannon writes:

This Saturday I have been asked to be a speaker at an event that is being organised by ‘The REPEAL Project’ which is taking place in the Temple Bar Gallery.

The event itself is sold out and I am just a little bit anxious about the contribution that I can make not only to this event but to the debate more broadly.

I harbour no personal ambiguity on the topic of abortion. I am completely pro-choice on the very simple grounds that I trust women to be the ones best capable of making choices that concern their own bodies.

It is easy for me to say that I am a pro-choice male who is committed to repealing the eight amendment to our constitution. I literally have the jumper. The source of my anxiety is that there is decades of hurt, pain and suffering behind that grotesque amendment which I can never fully understand.

It will never be me exported from this country for a basic medical procedure. Pregnancy will never limit the opportunities that may arise in my life and nor will the eight amendment ever impede my access to medical best practice in an Irish hospital.

I do not wish to unnecessarily take up space with my voice and my thoughts, when there are brilliant pieces and reasons and campaigns out there from the likes of Tara Flynn and Róisin Ingle, from campaigners such like Ailbhe Smyth and from groups like the National Women’s Council and the Abortion Right’s Campaign.

I can confidently speak as an elected representative of a constituency that has a large proportion of low-income and migrant communities who are most disproportionately affected by our State’s restriction on reproductive choices.

We rarely speak of the reproductive inequality that exists in our State. It is well documented that over 4000 Irish women travel abroad each year to avail of abortion services in neighbouring countries at a very significant financial cost.

This option is of course not available to women of low-income so the eight amendment further compounds the structural injustices that already exists in our State.

I can reiterate that I believe in choice. Childbirth comes with enormous economic penalties and I believe that a woman should get to choose if she is going to spend the next several decades of her life living in poverty.

While canvassing for the 2014 local election, I met a lone parent mother who over a discussion concerning my position on the issue of water charges brought me in to her kitchen and showed me the contents of her fridge.

She had the meals for herself and her son prepared in Tupperware boxes for that week but she informed me that there was one day each week were she wasn’t able to provide a meal for herself. The fear that woman expressed regarding the imposition of water charges, or a call from the land-lord informing of a rent increase was palpable.

I have witnessed similar levels of poverty manifest itself regularly in the years since but for me as an adult male, it was the first occasion that I realised the true nature of what gendered inequality looks like.

I raise that story because it demonstrated to me that it was motherhood which became the material basis for that woman’s poverty and her story is certainly not unique in my experiences over the past couple of years.

I can also talk on Saturday as a person who aspires to be a legislator at some point in the future.

When politicians talk of finally offering bodily autonomy to women in this country, most seem only able to do so in the most extreme cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

I do not believe that regulating for abortion only in these most extreme cases is practical or moral and I would have serious reservations concerning how a woman who has experienced the trauma of rape would be asked to prove an attack had occurred in such a short window of time.

It certainly wouldn’t be through the courts. For example, of the 567 rape cases that went through the central criminal court in 2013, only 17% of those tried for rape were convicted. Let us not replace one barbarous and restrictive amendment with another.

I can argue that when we repeal the 8th amendment, we need to ensure that we replace it with regulation ideally, or legislation, that ensures women have access to free, safe and legal abortion.

We are long past the stage of incremental change.

As a person who has always sought not to be constrained by the political spectrum, I can present my belief that free, safe, legal is a centrist position that is actually achievable.
Free for the very obvious economic reasons that I spoke of earlier.

Access to reproductive healthcare should be available to everyone who requires it. Although many people do opt for private healthcare, women are entitled to free reproductive health services, and abortion must become part of this.

For those concerned about term limits, removing the financial obstacles to abortion would ensure that such treatments occur in the earliest possible stages of a pregnancy.

Safe, because quite frankly the system that we have at the moment certainly isn’t anywhere close to meeting this standard. Twelve women per week are officially making this journey to Britain or mainland Europe for an abortion.

They are returning from these procedures without any recourse for aftercare supports or checkups. There are many more woman who are self-medicating by purchasing pills online.

Access to safe medical procedures is a fairly low bar for any modern country.

Legal so as to condemn to the annals of history this frightening system that is currently in place where Irish doctors are reaching for Bunreacht Nà hEireann before deciding which medical treatment would be in the best interest of women in this country.

Speaking about abortion can be uncomfortable but it nothing compared to the burdens that our medieval regime has placed upon women in this country.

I am a man but I am also a citizen of this Republic and as such will play my part in making this a more humane country for the other 50% of the population.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

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From top: Gary Gannon; and Erica Fleming; Bill Tormey’s most recent tweet; Gary Gannon.

Erica Fleming, who secured a place at Trinity College while homeless, has been told she  is ineligible for the back-to-education allowance (BTEA).

Gary Gannon writes:

I often talk about the importance of education in my life. I am from a post code where less than 21% of the population have a third level degree so it isn’t difficult to measure the advantage my degree has giving me over many of my childhood friends who haven’t been so fortunate in this regard.

I am approaching thirty. I currently have two jobs which I enjoy and my rent is always on time.
It wasn’t education alone which changed my life though. There is a secret to university life that is known only to those of us privileged enough to have benefittd from it.

That secret is that for many people, the hardest thing about university is actually being accepted into one.

My life changed drastically on the very morning that I was granted a place on the Trinity Access Programme (TAP). It changed my identity; it altered the aspiration I possessed for my own future and it immediately enhanced my earning potential.

Very briefly, TAP is a pre-university year that provides an alternative means of entry into Ireland’s most prestigious university for students who come from socio- economic groups who aren’t strongly represented in higher education.

Erica Fleming is both a friend and a person I have the utmost admiration for. Having witnessed first-hand the affect that single room living can have on the mental health of those forced into this existence, I am constantly amazed at Erica’s strength in being able to stand and so passionately hold our system to account.

I met Erica in late February of this year. By that time she had already spent a considerable amount of time in single room accommodation with her daughter Emily.

She was organising a demonstration to bring further attention to the issue and was requesting any advice that I could offer in this regard. I was useless on the topic of protest but we got to speaking about our lives and I shared with Erica my story of Trinity and how access to education had radically altered my life’s course.

Erica spoke of how strongly she desired for her daughter Emily to go to college and I was surprised that somebody as obviously intelligent as Erica wasn’t considering university as a path that was in anyway open to herself.

I strongly encouraged Erica to apply for TAP as I was then as I am now convinced that she would thrive in such an environment.It took a little persuasion but Erica did indeed apply for the Trinity Access Programme and it was little surprise to me that she was accepted on to the course for this forthcoming academic year.

I miscalculated though and I was somewhat ignorant to the fact that the impediments to Erica entering college were much more pronounced than those which faced me previously. I had no children, a part-time job which funded my social life and I lived at home at the time.

This week the department of social protection saw fit to deny Erica’s application for Back to Education Allowance on the grounds that she was not in receipt of the appropriate payment from the department.

This decision is a consequence of Labour’s ‘activation’ reforms. Erica works part-time and as her daughter Emily is over the age of seven, she was moved from the One Parent Family payment to the more restrictive Family Income Supplement.

As you will imagine, Erica did not take this decision lying down and was once again this week being held up as the physical embodiment of poor government policies which are impacting so negatively upon the lives of real people.

Erica terrifies the establishment in this country as she does not fit neatly into their trite understanding of what a person of low-income looks, acts or sounds like.

As Erica has held a looking glass up the woefully ineffective policies of this State, she has of course had to endure quite considerable abuse not only from the conventional trolls of the online world but also from public figures who seem disjointed by Erica’s audacity in challenging them.

I watched in disbelief some time back as a former government appointed Senator not long out of office attempted to smear Erica by claiming that she was a ‘homeless campaigner’ who had in brackets, ‘turned down offers of help’.

It was one of the most egregious acts of smear that I have witnessed from a person who has held high public office towards a citizen of the State and as yet, that former representative has failed to elaborate upon or divulge her source of information in making this claim.

Former Fine Gael Councillor Bill Tormey was a lot more conventional in his abuse of Erica. In classic right wing fashion, the good doctor Tormey tweeted “How many taxpayers are needed to pay for this Fleming woman weekly” in response to Erica’s call for Minister Varadker to provide a common sense solution to these nonsensical policies of his predecessor.

In those statements, Dr Tormey captured perfectly the  ignorance of those who have long since used education as a means of locking in their privilege.

Erica has gone on record to explain that she saw university as her way of escaping poverty and even a crude calculation of that ambition can highlight the flaw in Bill Tormey’s ignorance and Joan Burton’s ‘activation’ policies.

If she was to accept her place in Trinity, it is Erica’s intention to pursue a four year degree in Social Studies while availing of a Back to Education Allowance of E219 euro a week.

Over a four year period, this payment would come to a total of E45,552.

The starting salary for a qualified Social Worker in Ireland is E43,000 per annum according to grad Ireland. At current rates of taxation, Erica would contribute E8,068 per year in taxes from her first year as a professional social worker.

The entire cost of Erica’s education to the State would be repaid within a period of nine years.

The thorough tragedy of Erica’s situation is that she is just a single example of a policy which will in the next couple of weeks prove to bar hundreds of young women and men from gaining the possibility of entry into our education system.

Bill Tormey and his ilk rarely raise their head when tax payers’ money is being wasted to the tune of some E46 Million per year on hotel accommodation for homeless families in our State while measures such as providing security of tenure against ever-increasing rent hikes or the building of social housing were ignored throughout the period of austerity.

It all comes down to who Bill and those who have written policy over the last couple of years have saw fit to place their trust in.

Providing greater access to education and investing in those who are seeking to escape poverty would reap considerable payback for the State.

We must seek to eradicate bad policies that have saw fit double down on the intersectional inequalities that are crushing real people in Ireland today.

Education shouldn’t be a tool by which people like me can be held up as an example of what others may aspire to when the reality is that this is not at all the case.

Erica Fleming is once again championing this cause but as with her campaign on homelessness, she is merely embodying the frustration of the thousands of people in similar situations to her who are experiencing the effects of poor policy formation from this disabling State.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

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From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Public Expenditure  Paschal Donohoe in Dublin’s North East Inner City last monthl to meet with local community leaders; Gary Gannon

If Enda Kenny is serious about confronting the challenges of Dublin’s Inner City then he should  put an end to the falsity that the Inner City is an exceptional case.

Gary Gannon writes:

Just a little over two weeks ago the Taoiseach announced that 1.6 million would be invested into Dublin’s North Inner City as a consequence of the fact that in the months previous to this announcement, seven men had been killed on the streets of our nation’s capital in an increasingly violent feud between an international drug cartel and a local criminal outfit.

I should be happy.

The commitment of 1.6 million into a community that has throughout the last several decades witnessed considerable economic deprivation will undoubtedly have positive ramifications.

At least that’s the hope anyway but the recent history of the North Inner City has proven that this may not in fact be the case.

It is important to state that I do in no way doubt the earnest intent with which Enda Kenny has sought to implement this Inner City Taskforce.

I have personally attended three meetings with the Taoiseach on the subject and watched with great interest as a multitude of different community groups and interested parties detailed to him the many, primarily budgetary afflictions which have served to impede their work on a daily basis.

While the Taoiseach appeared more than willing to listen he seemed woefully ignorant to the fact that this is not the first time in recent history that the more dramatic manifestations of poverty in the Inner City have culminated in the State promising to readdress decades long indifference with the promise of a large pay-off for all those who had the confidence to pick up a microphone during the tumultuous periods.

The State appears to find a conscience in regards the affairs of the North Inner City once every decade and without question the greatest example of this can be found in the Gregory Deal of February 1982.

That many of the terms agreed between Charles Haughey and the late Independent TD Tony Gregory never actually materialised appear to have done little to hamper the fact that this special agreement for targeted financial investment into the Inner City area has long since furrowed its path into the annals of Irish political folklore.

It is less well documented but the most intense period of sustained investment into the community infrastructure of the Inner City was in the period after the murder of Veronica Guerin.

It was in 1996 that the fourth pillar of Social Partnership was added in the form of ‘The Community and Voluntary’ sector which may very well have been pushed into the North Inner City inside a large wooden horse.

It essentially resulted in the professionalising of community activism as a State response to the increasingly uncontrollable nature of communities who were self organising and mobilising against not only drug dealers but also against the apparatuses of State who were once again accused of neglecting the most marginalised.

The incorporation of the Community & Voluntary sector was an admission by the State that gang violence had gone beyond their control. The murder of a well respected journalist was a grotesque illustration that the violence was no longer confined to the flat complexes of the Inner City.

‘Tough on Crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was to become the mantra of Tony Blair’s New Labour which were swept into power in Britain in 1997 and this was not a markedly dissimilar approach to what was attempted here in the aftermath of this tragedy.

The Criminal Asset Bureau was established in the final year of the Rainbow Coalition but in the Inner City there also emerged a number of well intentioned community organisations that are still in existence today.

The Inner City Organisation’s Network (ICON), the North Inner City Drug’s Task Force and The Inner City Community Policing Forum are just some of the organisations that evolved from the street protests of the mid-nineties.

Social Partnership and the proliferation of community organisations charged with confronting the challenges of poverty have proven ineffective in stemming the tide of rising inequality, addiction and crime.

This is of course not the fault of these organisations whose work over the past two decades has been commendable but if Enda Kenny is actually serious about confronting the challenges of the Inner City then perhaps he should consider putting an end to this falsity that the Inner City is in some manner an exceptional case.

The marginalisation and social exclusions that exist in the North Inner City are replicated elsewhere throughout the State.

It is national policy and the choices that were and are being made by the governments which he has presided over which have created the conditions by which people are willing to kill each-other for control of illegal drug markets.

It was a choice of his government to cut the funding of community development projects nationally by 38%. This was of course we are reminded constantly a consequence of national belt tightening but the cut to community development was far more disproportionate than to any other sector.

As I sat in those rooms with the Taoiseach and the community groups some weeks back I was wondering if he was even aware of the impact that his choices had made not only on this community but on others like it throughout the State.

I appreciate that it was the violent killing of seven men which enamoured in our Taoiseach an earnest desire to intervene but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the Taoiseach was aware that the most recent figures available from the Health Research Board showed that 679 people lost their life to what the HRB termed ‘drug related deaths’.

I digress though. I of course welcome the  investment into the North Inner City but question the manner in which it is being allocated. Poverty is killing people on our streets and this will not stop that from happening.

If Enda Kenny is hoping to pitch his legacy to the development of the North Inner City then I would advise him that there is an actual metric for progression which has never been fully confronted in a meaningful way.

Only 23% of students in the North Inner City progress on to 3rd level university. That figure is one of the lowest in the country and provides a challenge by which radical change can occur in this community.

To make achievements in this regard will require a long-term strategy that must begin with intensive funding of early years initiatives which have an evidence based approach to breaking the cycle of poverty early on in a child’s development.

Of the investment, we are told that over a million euro is going to be spent on sporting facilities throughout the Inner City.

I certainly don’t doubt the importance of this measure but in seeking to provide ‘mini-pitches’ could we also ensure that are schools and centres of second chance education are equipped with the facilities to provide STEAM subjects that are suitable for matriculation into both our Universities and jobs markets as they currently stand.

The issues facing Dublin’s inner city are replicated throughout the State. If there is to be a specific intervention then make it meaningful and not merely concerned with containing rather than eradicating poverty.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column appears here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

 

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From top: Clr Gary Gannon  at government buildings last month; Gary Gannon

The age of political spin is fading. What is emerging is a desire to understand what our elected representatives actually stand for.

Gary Gannon writes:

It has almost become a pejorative label in our society but I’m just going to come right out and say it; I am a politician.

I am currently a City Councillor who does aspire to be a national legislator and as such, I will contest the next general election in the constituency of Dublin Central.

I am a member of the Social Democrats. Along with others with whom I share similar values, I am committed to building this political party to the point where we can enact legislation and create budgets in the manner that we feel reflect the wishes of Irish society today.

The above is only really important in the sense that each week I intend on sharing my views with you, the readers of Broadsheet.ie on a variety of different issues.

You should be aware though that at an unspecified time in the future I will be requesting that you might place your trust in my party, over the others that may be on offer.

I won’t be overtly using this particular column for that purpose, but nor should I insult your intelligence by claiming that it isn’t a factor in my considerations.

Last week I wrote an article for Broadsheet.ie which detailed our inhumane system of Direct Provision. In the week previous to that I had requested the opportunity to present a weekly op-ed for Broadsheet.ie and was thrilled when the response came back positively.

I chose to write about Direct Provision first because it is an issue which often keeps me awake at night but I perhaps should have begun by outlining my reasons in requesting this opportunity in the first instance.

This week it was my full intention to examine the issue of alcohol-related health campaigns that are funded by commercial interests. At Monday’s [Dublin City] council meeting I had a motion passed which will in future prohibit the granting of advertising space to these campaigns so this column would have been a very obvious place to elaborate upon why I felt this was an important issue.

I very well may do so in the future but for the moment, it just felt a little wrong to dive straight into that type of conversation.

You see, I am conscious that I am not an impartial commentator. Nor am I an opinion writer or a columnist. These people play an important role in society in terms of generating debate or offering an alternative perspective to the topical issues of the day.

This country, or indeed this world, does not need just another moralising politician who can highlight the ills of society without actually offering a ‘So, here’s what I/we would do differently’ paragraph.

I strongly believe that a politician should have an actual opinion on a multitude of issues that they will potentially have to legislate for or against in the future.

I want a space where I can show to as many people as possible that yes, this is what I believe and this is why I believe that to be so. I requested this column not so much because I feel my opinions or actions are particularly revolutionary or inspiring; I requested this column because I want to be held to account for them.

The term ‘new-politics’ has been sullied recently but I am a person who believes in transformative politics which can re-imagine the cultural landscape of Irish society.

To embody those principles means that I really have no interest in shaking hands with people at the back of mass or finding the cleverest way of saying nothing at all.

Rather I feel what this country has lacked is politicians who are prepared to share honest opinions that may result not in the dreaded loss of votes but in affording citizens the respect of knowing what the person they are voting for actually represents.

It has only ever been in the rarest of moments in Irish politics that we have been presented with the opportunity to hear the true authentic voice of our politicians. We should know what motivates a person to seek an office where you will make decisions daily that will impact upon the lives of other people.

The age of political spin is fading. What is emerging from the electorate is a desire to understand what our elected representatives actually stand for.

Social media and online journals such as Broadsheet.ie lay down the gauntlet to us as public representatives to demonstrate the courage of our convictions by simply taking a position on an issue that can be challenged if necessary.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column will appear here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

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From top: Mosney Direct Provision centre; Gary Gannon

it is time to open up Direct Provision institutions, give people facilities to cook their own meals and let the adults work.

We won’t be sorry.

In the first of a new Friday column, Gary Gannon writes:

February 19th 2013 was a unique day in my political lifetime. On this particular evening, Taoiseach Enda Kenny rose to his feet in Dail Eireann and spoke not only on my behalf, but on behalf of the entire nation.

His words were perfect and his passion in the delivery of each single syllable was matched only by the dignified courage that was emanating from the public gallery where twenty survivors of state sanctioned abuse sat gazing over that evenings proceedings.

It was two weeks on from the release of the McAleese report into the State’s involvement in the Magdelene Laundries and our Taoiseach was at long last, in the process of recognising the State’s role in that horror.

I felt personally that he was apologising for not only the State’s role in the institutionalising of women throughout our short history, but that he was apologising for us all through our societal complicity in what he rightfully described as ‘our nation’s shame.’

We will never truly understand the barbarity of these religious work-houses where women who had ‘fallen’ in the eyes of an ever moralising society where sent so that moral Ireland could maintain the veneer of purity.

The dark shadow of these laundries, mother & baby homes or the variety of other institutions where we banished the poor and the different should hang around our necks like an albatross but yet, does the existence of Ireland’s system of Direct Provision for asylum seekers show that old habits are indeed hard to kill?

The Taoiseach, in making that apology which I felt spoke for me and the society I wished to be part of said rightfully;

‘In a society guided by the principles of compassion and social justice there never would have been any need for institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries.’

I completely agree but I have to ask why then, in a society which claims now to be guided by those same values is there a need for 679 people* to kept in what are effectively privately run detention centres?

Why are adults who live in this country prohibited from cooking their own meals?

Why is Ireland, with our emphasis on compassion and social justice, one of only two European Union countries who restrict asylum applicants from the labour market for the entirety of their process?

A more important question, with our history of inhumane cruelty in regards the forced institutionalising of those we consider to be different to the mainstream, what arrogance is it that makes us think that this time it will be any different?

Many, giving the extreme depravity of the laundries or the mother and baby homes, will argue that there is no comparison between these institutions and the current Direct Provision centres.

Of course, there is no expectation on people in direct provision to clean laundry as a physical (profitable) embodiment of their sins being washed away, but rather, we expect children and adults to sit without opportunity for life progression for periods exceeding eight years in some cases while an unidentified official of the State makes a decision on their fate.

That is a cruel practice.

It is not to our credit either that we no longer charge religious institutions with the responsibility of caring (said very loosely) with the needs of those we consider unfit for inclusion in the agora of Irish society; instead we hand over that responsibility to our new gods, the private sector.

The post-apocalyptic Disneyland that is Mosney Irish Holidays plc, earned almost 9 million euros in 2009 after converting into a Direct Provision centre.

While we continue to prohibit many of our asylum seekers the facilities by which they can cook and prepare their food in accordance with their cultural preferences, East Coast Catering has received some 90 million euros from the State for services rendered in regards Direct Provision.

We have always been good at turning poverty into profit but at the same we ask adult asylum seekers to live off E19.10 a week!

This is not only State sanctioned poverty it is also a prime example of the State making millionaires out of those they consider worthy of catching the tears of the suffering.

Make no mistake about it, in these Direct Provision Centres there is an abundance of suffering that has been well documented and poorly acted upon.

The Irish TimesLives in Limbo’ series captured the voices and stories of those in Direct Provision in a manner that hadn’t emerged previously.

It was from that project that I first learned that an asylum seeker in Ireland was up to five times more likely to suffer from depression or mental health related illness than in the wider community.

It was here again that I got a snapshot into the conditions present inside where overcrowding, sub-standards of hygiene and families living in single-room accommodation that was infantilising adults while restricting the development of children were all described.

It was in this series too where I first read of the damning prediction that was made by Former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness who predicted that a future government will be publicly apologising for the damage done by the direct provision system.

That is terrifying and with our past transgressions in this regard so closely wrapped around us still, we, as in all of us must be quicker to respond.

The issue is of asylum is undoubtedly complex but our values, humanity and past experiences should always be to the fore-front of our considerations.

In that regard, open-up these institutions, give people the facilities and the means by which they can provide meals to their own families. Allow adults to work and the dignity that comes with this primal need.

Allow asylum seeks who have gone through the first two stages of our education system to compete for places in 3rd level universities on the same terms as their classmates.

As the children of Direct Provision become adults and more stories start to emerge, we may still have to apologise for this degrading system, but we can act now to prevent having to apologise for tomorrow.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats Councillor on Dublin City Counicil for Dublin’s North Inner City. Gar’s column will appear here every Friday before lunch. Follow Gary on Twitter: @1garygannon

* Number of people still in Direct Provision centres who have received citizenship here.