When you’re wrong, admit it March 8, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Democracy, Human Rights, Inequality, Irish Politics, LGBT.
Five years ago, the government of the day made an unusual decision: it withdrew an appeal to the Supreme Court, accepted that a new law needed to be introduced, and set in train a process to prepare that legislation. Since then, however, the actions of the various governments have been clumsy, poorly informed, and at times offensively insensitive to the people affected. The specific issue is legal gender recognition for trans people, but the history of how it has been dealt with illustrates a deeply embedded flaw in our governments — both current and previous, and both elected and permanent.
The bill to fill the gap in Irish law was dealt with by the Seanad in February, and last week the Dáil held its first debate on the bill.
Among the amendments in the Seanad were two from the government which only make sense when you realise that the government knows it is wrong but does not want to admit that. What is depressing is that, in the case of one those amendments, trans people will be humiliated and, in the case of the other, strung along for some years, and in both cases this is in order to spare the embarrassment that the policy makers — it is unclear in this case if that is the elected politicians or senior civil servants — would face by doing the right thing.
The purpose of this post is not is not to re-state the problems with the Gender Recognition Bill, but one of them is the subject of one of the government’s amendments. That amendment concerns the process for applying for a gender recognition certificate. Originally, the government intended that obtaining a gender recognition certificate — a legal document — would require a trans person to obtain from a psychiatrist or endocrinologist (but not their GP — that particular exclusion is the focus of another battle to amend the bill, with two professional medical bodies weighing into the debate) a certificate confirming that “based on a medical evaluation of the applicant” the psychiatrist or endocrinologist is satisfied that the applicant fully understands the consequences of his or her decision to live permanently in his or her preferred gender.
Activists object to the pathologisation of trans people and opposed this provision. Having been pushed on the issue during the committee stage debate in the Seanad, the government introduced an amendment at the final (report) stage to delete the phrase “based on a medical evaluation of the applicant” from the bill, while still requiring a psychiatrist or endocrinologist to provide the certificate. In doing that, it was grudgingly admitting that the administrative procedure of obtaining a gender recognition certificate is not a medical matter. But it left in the bill the humiliating, and unnecessary, obligation on trans people to get a medical professional to certify that they are who they say they are.
The second amendment that reveals the government’s incoherent position is a new clause to have the legislation reviewed two years after it comes into operation. The original proposal to do this was made by Senators Averil Power and Katherine Zappone, who recognised early that the government would not budge in any meaningful way on a range of problems with the bill. Their manoeuvre was designed to ensure that these problems with the bill would be revisited. However, the details of the government’s decision to accept a review clause raise questions about how this legislation is seen by the government. Power and Zappone proposed two reviews, the first within two years and a second within five years. Their original proposal was that the reviews would compare the new law against “international best practice in the field of gender recognition and [the bill’s] compliance with national, regional and international equality and human rights standards”. That standard has been stripped out by the government’s proposal, as has the second, medium-term, review.
Despite all that, one thing is clear: the principle that a review is to be undertaken is an odd one for the government to accept if it is so sure that the legislation is as good as it can be or ought to be.
The government’s behaviour on these amendments can probably be explained by problems within the group of those who are making the key decisions, though I do not know if those problems are the result of tensions between different ministers or between ministers and officials, or are the result of ministers not mastering their brief and being in control, and accepting substandard ‘compromise’ proposals from their officials. What is clear is that this problem arises because TENI, the organisation that has been leading the campaign to have the bill improved, has mounted one of the most effective lobbying campaigns, creating from nothing a strong body of support from opposition and backbench government politicians. And the support has come from sources that would have surprised many. A month ago, who would have predicted that Paschal Mooney would propose or that Labhrás Ó Murchú would vote for an amendment to give trans school students a legal right to wear a school uniform appropriate to their preferred gender? (It was defeated.)
The willingness of TDs and senators to speak on a bill that is never going to be a vote winner and the shortcomings of that bill can be traced to differences in a single factor: human contact. When the 2010 government decided to abandon its Supreme Court appeal and to legislate, it set up an advisory group to prepare proposals. The intention was worthy, but the content was fundamentally flawed. The advisory group consisted entirely of representatives of government departments. Not only did it not have the ultimate expert, a trans person or somebody nominated by trans people, it didn’t even have the a psychiatrist or endocrinologist, experts whose role the government sees as central to the operation of the legislation. The result was well-meaning but utterly inexpert officials blundering around preparing proposals on something they misunderstood. Instead of looking to best practice or human rights standards, they looked across the Irish Sea and took out-dated UK legislation as their model.* In contrast, senators and backbench TDs on all sides have said in the debates that they have had the benefit of meeting trans people and of hearing them explain their experiences and why the bill imposes indignities. And they listened.
The mess we now have shows the need for our policy making processes to be changed. Those who will be affected by legislation need to be brought to the table at the start, and to be at it throughout the process. It is unhealthy for our democracy that civil servants can draft proposals with limited understanding. In addition to that over-arching change, at this stage for this particular bill, they and their political masters need to be told to follow Ogden Nash’s advice to new husbands: “When you’re wrong, admit it; When you’re right, shut up.”
*It’s not the first time we have copied the British. In 1983, when the legislation to establish Telecom was being debated, the late John Kelly complained: “Naturally we have to dress it up in a little green jacket, with silver buttons, a dudean in his mouth and a caubean on his head and call it Bord Telecom Éireann.”
A thought on the “Yes Equality” campaign? February 19, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Human Rights, Inequality, LGBT.
Two of the principles that the ‘Yes Equality’ coalition — the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, and Marriage Equality — have decided they will follow in the campaign on the referendum on marriage equality are (a) they will run a positive campaign and (b) that the referendum is not about children, as the question of children is being dealt with by the Children and Family Relationships Bill (which is to be published today).
It will be a difficult task. Their opponents are using negative campaigning and have insisted that the Children and Family Relationships Bill is at key part of the issue.
And by negative campaigning, I don’t mean merely critiquing the case for marriage equality, but insinuating stereotypes about gay men.
Last weekend’s RTÉ Radio 1 programme Saturday with Claire Byrne dealt entirely with the Children and Family Relationships Bill. It is a long and complicated piece of legislation (the most recent draft that has been published before today is 123 pages long — PDF here) and it covers a myriad of possibilities in how a child might be conceived and raised. One of the participants in Saturday’s programme was Bishop Kevin Doran. During the programme, Claire Byrne asked him to identify the substantive problem he sees with the Bill.
The core of his argument, and the Roman Catholic church’s, is that, when the genetic mother and father are not in a position to raise the child, it is preferable for a child to be brought up by a man and a woman. He picked one — and only one — example to elucidate why he thinks this is important:
Let’s just put it very simply. Take a young woman of 14, 15, 16 years of age growing to maturity and her two parents are two men. They may be the most loving, caring people in the world, but how can they respond as two men to the human, personal and feminine needs of a young woman growing up?
When he finished, the host, Claire Byrne, responded: “OK. There are probably some men who feel quite offended by that if they are bringing up a child, say a female child, on their own”, before turning to another panelist.
His opponents on the programme were three TDs: Alan Shatter, Róisín Shortall and Sean Fleming. Bishop Doran and the other “anti” panelist on the programme, Ben Conroy of the Iona Institute, were vigorously challenged about a different claim that lone parents are less than ideal when it comes to adoption, in particular by Sean Fleming whose father died when he was in school and whose mother raised him and his siblings alone.
However, none of the TDs challenged the homophobia in the bishop’s comment, none of them challenged the bishop’s assertion that two gay men would unable to respond to their daughter’s ‘feminine needs’ when she reaches puberty. And it is a theme Bishop Doran has returned to this week when he delivered a speech to a meeting in Sligo on Tuesday evening:
Bishop Doran’s attacks are crying out for a “mini Panti moment”. The next time he is on radio or television, the bishop needs to be asked what exactly is it about two men, and two gay men in particular, in contrast to a widower, that is less than ideal when it comes to raising a daughter? How does he think widowed fathers deal with the onset of menstruation in their daughters? Does he think that two gay men raising daughters are shunned by their sisters, leaving their daughter without an aunt who can take her niece to get her first bra? Indeed, does he think heterosexual fathers with wives ought to ignore their daughter’s ‘feminine needs’?
I do not know if the Yes Equality coalition declined an invitation to take part in Saturday’s programme or were not invited, but they have been notably silent this week while the suitability of two gay men to be parents has been attacked in the debate about the Bill that will, among a myriad of other things, make that possible for the first time in Ireland. However, the explicit homophobia in the broader debate needs to be challenged, even if that means modifying a commitment to be positive and an intention to focus only on the referendum. However much GLEN, Marriage Equality and the ICCL may not like it, the question of children is now part of the debate. We saw on Saturday that we cannot depend on straight allies to expose the homophobia, but if it is left unchallenged, it will damage the Yes campaign.
It’s not just the referendum – “Our little private gesture” January 9, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Inequality, LGBT.
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“Our little private gesture, like Schrödinger’s cat, is altered simply by being observed”
A list that was mentioned in the Dáil November 18, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Employment Rights, Uncategorized, Workers Rights.
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Looking through the Committee stage debate in the Dáil on the Workplace Relations Bill earlier this month, I came across the following contribution to the debate by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to identify which category of people intimately associated with a company is missing from the list in the second sentence.
If there is a breach of duty on the part of a director which causes damage to the company, he can be sued or held liable for damages. Claims can be brought by shareholders, by a financial institution or on a director-versus-director basis.
Those remarks were part of a response to an amendment proposed by Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín. He had support on the point from Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary:
Often, company law does not respect the fact that people work in companies.
Tóibín followed that with a broader observation:
Often, we get to a position like this and the Minister will go as far as to say that he understands there is a problem but this is simply not the place to sort it out. We had similar debates when discussing the Companies Bill, and we were told then that it was not the right place to sort it out. Most likely, I will bring in legislation to amend the Companies Bill to deal with this issue if we are not successful here. Perhaps the Minister might indicate his openness – I understand he cannot make a promise based on something he has not seen – to tackle this issue of the corporate veil.
Two things strike me as interesting about the Minister’s response to this issue. First, after over three years in his second stint as Minister in the relevant department (and two and a half years in essentially the same department in the 1990s and I don’t know how long as spokesperson when in opposition), he said:
I am not an expert in the field.
The second striking feature of his explanation is that he came back to the following point on why he would not accept Tóibín’s amendment:
The legal advice is very strongly against it.
And stopped at that. He did not summarise that legal advice or explain what the legal problem is. Parliament, when making laws, should have all the legal information it needs to understand barriers it faces in making those laws. Unfortunately, neither Tóibín not Calleary pushed him on what the legal problem is, although Tóibín did indicate that he is looking to introduce a bill to deal with the problem.
The planned marriage referendum: Some sense in the Dáil October 10, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Inequality, LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Uncategorized.
Yesterday in the Dáil, Michael McNamra made an interesting contribution to the debate on a bill amending the Civil Registration Act. At last somebody has asked this rather obvious question,
Another issue is impediments to marriage. This is an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which was the first legislation to note that being of the same sex is an impediment to marriage. The Government tells us there will be a referendum on this but I question the need for that. Can we not simply legislate for the issue? It will be a divisive and hurtful campaign for many people and it may not be necessary to engage the public in a referendum. After all, we Members of the Oireachtas are paid to be here and the Constitution says we are legislators, although Departments are the de facto legislators and we merely apply the rubber stamp. Do we need a referendum? I am led to believe a former Attorney General said a referendum is required on this in an opinion supplied to the Government. I have not seen this opinion nor has anyone else because no one sees the opinions of Attorneys General. Can an exception be made in this case? Is there a reason such opinions are not made available? Should such opinions be made available as a matter of course? If it is a matter where the State is being sued and there is a potential liability to the State, the Government will not wish to show its hand by publishing an opinion. Surely, however, opinions relating to matters of public importance that require the time and expense of a referendum could be published. Very few people want a referendum on this issue if it can be legislated for. That is certainly the case for most of the gay people who want to marry and to whom I have spoken. Why is it not possible to legislate for this?
I am aware of cases relating to this topic such as Murray v. Ireland and a high-profile one involving Senator Zappone. In Murray v. Ireland Mr. Justice Costello of the High Court and once of this House said the Constitution makes clear that the concept and nature of marriage, which it enshrines, are derived from the Christian notion of partnership based on irrevocable personal consent. It is clear, then, that the judgments refer to the Christian notion of marriage in the Constitution and on this basis the court found it was acceptable for Ireland to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages from abroad. There is a world of difference, however, between saying it is acceptable for the Oireachtas not to recognise same-sex marriages and saying it would be unlawful for the Oireachtas to legislate to recognise same-sex marriages or allow same-sex marriage in Ireland.
It is clear the notion of marriage in the Constitution is based on a Christian notion of marriage, but that does not mean civil marriages are unlawful in Ireland. Even divorce is lawful in Ireland since the constitutional referendum on that issue. Our notions of what provisions of the Constitution mean constantly evolve. Many people accept that gay marriage is part of the right to have a family, that the security of family life should apply to heterosexual and homosexual people equally. I question the need for a referendum on this issue if it is possible to legislate for it.
Is health insurance a scam? August 14, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Health, Medical Issues.
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Is health insurance a scam?
I discovered today VHI has been including home-birth cover in my plan for some years. Gay male, late 40s, and I will so need that! More fundamentally, I’ve been paying for healh insurance for over 15 years, but as I have been approaching 50 in the last few years, the cost has been rocketing. Is it a case of reasonable rates when you’re young(er) and healthy (healthier), but push them up when you get to the age you’ll begin to need insurance, not matter how long you’ve been paying without drawing down?
This year, the price has to the point where I looked at it and wondered “why pay this?”
This morning, as I was discussing the options on the phone with the rep, I kept coming back to “If I’m so ill that I need insurance, my concern is to get the treatment, not to be in a first class hotel-standard room.”
Coltan, Congo and a missed opportunity July 3, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Choice, Ethics, FairPhone.
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You might have seen the article in the Irish Times about a conference at NUI Galway, on the subject of women and leadership in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Apart from a one-paragraph nod towards Mary Robinson’s contribution, the Irish Times reported only about a plenary speech by Thomas Turner, who is a specialist for Amnesty International on the DRC.
Turner has written a number of books on the Congo and the war there. His message for the participants at the NUI conference dealt with campaigns on boycotting electronic equipment like mobile phones and games consoles because of the claims that the coltan, a mineral used in capacitors in small devices, contribute to rape and mass killings. His abstract for the conference is pretty clear on why that simplistic picture is a problem:
The latest such oversimplification, imposed by outsiders, concerns conflict minerals, mass killing and sexual violence. The Congo war is the bloodiest since World War Two, and the country is the “rape capital of the world”. However, there is a magic bullet that can put an end to the atrocities and that is banning “conflict minerals”. In recent weeks, it has been reported that most of the mines in eastern DRC are no longer controlled by warlords or militias, yet the level of rape and sexual violence remains high.
The Irish Times reports:
Mr Turner also cited the Kony 2012 campaign as another example where the public had been confused, with young people believing that if they bought a plastic bracelet they could eradicate use of child soldiers.
And this line that simple steps by western consumers and concerned citizens will not solve the underlying problems is reported in a review of Turnder’s book Congo:
avoiding the purchase of coltan-laden cell phones or mineral-containing gaming consoles is somewhat incoherent and unlikely to resolve the substantive issues
This has been a missed opportunity. I cannot tell if it was Turner or the Irish Times who missed it.
It is valid to point out the inadequacy of boycotts or of clocking up online views of the Kony video (99 million views since 2012).
But offering only criticisms of simplistic solutions is to do a disservice to those who engage with the messy complexities and work within them to try to bring real change. For example, Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, instead of boycotting coltan from the DRC has sought to secure sources of the mineral that reflect the concerns of the simplistic activists Turner criticises. And those who follow Fairphone’s work know that they are neither naive nor simplistic. They know full well that in a complex product like a mobile phone there are limits to what an organisation can do. But they also see the work they have done as only a first step.
By not exploring viable solutions and concentrating only on criticising those who are simplistic, Turner or the Irish Times, or both, missed an important opportunity.
The Economist on Piketty May 6, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Books, Capitalism, Economics, Inequality, Journalism, Marxism, Taxation Policy, The political discourse, The Right.
I bought the Economist because the cover said it has an article about Piketty. (Reading articles about his book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, is quicker than reading the book!)
The headline on the actual article is weird: “Bigger than Marx”. That is true neither of the physical heft of the book nor, if everything I have read about it so far is valid, of the contents.
And then the content of the Economist’s review: 13 paragraphs: two are neutral; four approving; seven critical of the book. The Economist cites five critics of his thesis or aspects of it and zero supporters.
Not that I’m terribly surprised at their overall view, but they might have been subtler. Or maybe I should applaud their transparency.
Basic Income Ireland 2014 Summer Forum April 28, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Equality, Inequality, Uncategorized.
Basic Income Ireland invites you to our
2014 Summer Forum
A half-day conversation about Basic Income.
Date: Saturday 7 June 2014
Time: 1:00 to 5:00, with informal discussion afterwards
Venue: Carmellite Community Centre – 56 Augier Street, Dublin 2
No charge. Donations/membership subs will be accepted on the day.
Registration: Please register in advance at http://www.basicincomeireland.com/basic-income-2014-summer-forum-signup.html
A Basic Income is a payment from the state to every resident on an individual basis, without any means test or work requirement.
It would be sufficient to live a frugal but decent lifestyle without supplementary income from paid work.
The idea of Basic Income is being advanced world-wide as part of the solution to the issues facing today’s world.
Come join us to discuss the Basic Income solution and to plan activities for the coming 12 months.
1:00-1:45 Welcome and light lunch
1:45-3:10 Recent developments in Basic Income internationally
Keynote speaker: Yannick Vanderborght, one of the leading figures in the new wave of basic income activists. Professor of Political Science at Saint-Louis University, Brussels; Chair of Regional Coordination Committee of Basic Income Earth Network; co-author with Philippe Van Parijs of L’allocation universelle (2005) and co-editor of Basic income: An anthology of contemporary research (2013) and other books on basic income.
Yannick will speak on transnational cooperation in the campaign for basic income and on recent developments in the theory and politics of basic income. Followed by a participatory discussion.
3:10-3:30 Tea and coffee break
3:30-5:00 Advancing Basic Income in Ireland
Brief presentation and participatory discussion
Afterwards: social gathering in The Swan, Aungier Street.
Further information on basic income is available at basicincomeireland.com and on Facebook – Basic Income Ireland and Twitter: @basicincomeirl.
Further information: Basic.Income@nuim.ie
Please circulate this notice to your friends and contacts.
Euro Horror ..still in fact going on March 26, 2014Posted by doctorfive in Capitalism.
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Just to highlight a few things while we are likely to be looking the other way. Crisis getting crisisier.
A letter from Mario Draghi on Monday. As you are well aware the Irish banking sector remains “a source of some concern with outstanding issues requiring swift and decisive action”
Despite the considerable progress made in recent years, there are several outstanding issues which still require to be addressed. These relate, in particular, to: (i) the completion of the banks’ restructuring and reforms; (ii) addressing the still very large stock of non-performing loans; and (iii) ensuring the viability of all nationalised banks
As stated on several occasions, the ECB is of the view that it would be preferable if these issues were to be addressed before the conclusion of the SSM comprehensive assessment.
Meanwhile, Obama is in Brussels, with an entourage of hundreds. Events in the East will alter the agenda to some degree but if you haven’t been following details of the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, it’s terrifying frankly and far from the panacea presented in the press over the last twelve months.
The EU’s international trade agreements, including corporate rights to access government spending, are actively promoted by transnational financial interests – well represented in the City of London.
The major component of the US/EU free trade agreement is ‘regulatory harmonisation’ between the US and the EU, harmonising existing but particularly new regulation for maximum benefit to transnational corporate investors.
This trade agreement, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) by the EU Trade Commission but the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US will be a neoliberal pact between the world’s two biggest economic blocs. The stated aims are not only to ‘harmonise regulation’ between the US and the EU, but also to pull in other countries including the big developing countries like India and China. In this way, the TTIP is meant to achieve the global corporate rights and benefits that the stalled World Trade Organisation Doha Development Round has failed to deliver.
‘Regulatory harmonisation’ will without doubt mean reducing corporate regulation to the lowest levels to produce the maximum corporate benefit,
This trade deal has little to do with removing trade taxes (tariffs). As the EU’s chief negotiator says, about 80% of it involves “discussions on regulations which protect people from risks to their health, safety, environment, financial and data security”. Discussions on regulations means aligning the rules in the EU with those in the US. But Karel De Gucht, the European trade commissioner, maintains that European standards “are not up for negotiation. There is no ‘give and take’.” An international treaty without give and take? That is a novel concept. A treaty with the US without negotiation? That’s not just novel, that’s nuts.
You cannot align regulations on both sides of the Atlantic without negotiation. The idea that the rules governing the relationship between business, citizens and the natural world will be negotiated upwards, ensuring that the strongest protections anywhere in the trading bloc will be applied universally, is simply not credible when governments on both sides of the Atlantic have promised to shred what they dismissively call red tape. There will be negotiation. There will be give and take. The result is that regulations are likely to be levelled down. To believe otherwise is to live in fairyland.
Last month, the Financial Times reported that the US is using these negotiations “to push for a fundamental change in the way business regulations are drafted in the EU to allow business groups greater input earlier in the process”. At first, De Gucht said that this was “impossible”. Then he said he is “ready to work in that direction”. So much for no give and take.
But this is not all that democracy must give so that corporations can take. The most dangerous aspect of the talks is the insistence on both sides on a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS allows corporations to sue governments at offshore arbitration panels of corporate lawyers, bypassing domestic courts. Inserted into other trade treaties, it has been used by big business to strike down laws that impinge on its profits: the plain packaging of cigarettes; tougher financial rules; stronger standards on water pollution and public health; attempts to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Wouldn’t blame the Commissioner for packing it in sometimes.