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Tradition, Travellers and Schools November 19, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Inequality, Travellers.
7 comments

The ‘baptism barrier’ in Irish schools attracted plenty of media attention this week because the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill was debated in the Dáil. Some, but less, attention was given to the ‘Traveller barrier’. From my quick scan this morning of the published transcripts of the debate, the issue of Travellers and access to schools seems to have been spoken about in a substantive way by only two TDs (some others referred to Travellers in a list of discriminatory grounds that are included in the equality legislation).

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: It is a tradition in this country that children generally attend the same school as their parents. For us to put a barrier in that regard is wrong and it is not fair to either the children, their parents or the schools.

I welcome the Minister’s statement that he is open to discussions on this matter. I note that he stated a maximum limit of 25% of places could be available for the children of past pupils. However, I foresee problems with such an approach. For example, what happens if children of past pupils apply for, let us say 35% of the places available? In such a case we would be back to a situation whereby a number of applicants would be treated unfairly. There is no easy solution to the issue. I do not believe we can solve it by simply stating that 25% of places should be reserved for the children of past pupils. My view is that the children of past pupils should always be given the option to attend the school their parents attended. As I already stated, that is the tradition in Ireland and one I would like to see retained. I am not favour of tinkering with long-held traditions that have worked successfully in the past and continue to work successfully now and will into the future. I welcome and acknowledge the Minister’s statement that he will listen to all views on this matter when the Bill is on Committee Stage.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: I take issue with the Minister retaining the past pupil rule. In effect this is a continuation of the old boys and old girls network. People who end up in university together studying law, medicine and other prestige courses tend to have gone to the same schools. It is simply a continuation of that culture. This rule was used recently to discriminate against a Traveller getting in to a school. The school circumvented the equality legislation by arguing that the child’s father had not attended the school. The Minister must explain why he has not removed this rule. It will be used as a further ground to keep people out. These people are already marginalised and we have had enough marginalisation of the Traveller community in this country. The rule affects immigrants and people who have come to this country in a similar way.

I wonder if Deputy Fitzpatrick and the schools that are lobbying for the retention of ‘tradition’ will be asked when the Committee stage is held if that includes the ‘tradition’ of excluding Travellers from certain schools.

When you’re wrong, admit it March 8, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Democracy, Human Rights, Inequality, Irish Politics, LGBT.
2 comments

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.”

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*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.”

Coltan, Congo and a missed opportunity July 3, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Choice, Ethics, FairPhone.
1 comment so far

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.

Bishop Supports SF on Abortion – Or Does He? April 17, 2014

Posted by Garibaldy in Choice, Sinn Féin.
4 comments

Fascinating report on the BBC website about a row between the Catholic bishop of Dromore and elements of SF over a letter distributed in west Belfast claiming he supported its position on abortion. The BBC quotes the bishop as saying

When I became aware of party political literature which was jointly issued in the names of Sue Ramsey MLA and Councillor Matt Garrett of Sinn Féin, which stated that I ‘share’ their position on the ‘termination’ of unborn human life, I was appalled

The Deputy First Minister and Paul Maskey MP (West Belfast) both acted to get the letter removed. The BBC quotes Paul Maskey as saying

Sinn Féin accepts that references in the letter to Bishop McAreavey were inaccurate.

“These letters should have not gone out.

“I apologise unreservedly to the bishop for any hurt and distress caused.

“I can assure the bishop that all reference to him on this issue has now been removed from all print and electronic literature. Sinn Féin has also removed the offending comments from Facebook.

A very revealing story as well as a fascinating one.

Would you want to set up FairPhone? January 14, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Community, Employment Rights, Environment, Ethics, FairPhone, Human Rights, Technology, Workers Rights.
5 comments

Who in their right mind would want to set up FairPhone? Obviously you can check out their site to find out who actually did set it up as a Dutch social enterprise, but would you want to?

Park, for a moment, the ‘fair’ bit and think about what is involved setting up a company to make a new smartphone. Smartphones are complex products, with chips, capacitors, resistors, glass, sensors, casings, displays, batteries, cameras, speakers, antennae, sockets and other bits and pieces that I don’t know about. And you’d need software. You would also need to design all of this, or get people to do that for you, and to set up or find a factory to make it.

If you did do it, you would be going into a market with big brands like Samsung, iPhone, Sony, Nokia, HTC, and so on, so you would need a pretty strong selling point to attract customers from the products offered by those heavy-hitters.
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Galway Pro-Choice: Passing of legislation a historic moment in Ireland, but not one to be celebrated. July 12, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Choice, Irish Politics.
4 comments

FROM Galway Pro-Choice

21 years since the X Case Ruling, the Irish Government has finally introduced legislation to provide for life-saving terminations. However, instead of protecting women, it has made the route to their constitutional right to be so arduous that it effectively encourages them to continue to travel abroad even when legally entitled to a termination in this country.

For the first time in Irish law, this Act defines ‘unborn human life’ which was given an equal right to life to that of the woman, as a fertilised ovum from the moment of implantation. Consequently this bill does not offer the right to choose a termination to women in Ireland who are pregnant with a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. It makes no provision for abortion in cases of rape or incest, during an inevitable miscarriage while there is still a foetal heartbeat, nor indeed does it serve the needs of women whose health is at risk if a pregnancy is continued.

Orlaith Reidy of Galway Pro-Choice stated:

“Forcing women who are suicidal to face panels of between 3 to 7 medical professionals is such an ordeal in itself that women entitled to a legal abortion here will continue to travel abroad, rendering the legislation ineffective. There is also no provision to ensure those against terminations in all circumstances cannot sit on these decision making panels raising the possibility of a woman not being granted a termination regardless of her case including if there is a genuine risk to her life.”

Savita Halappanavar died in Galway University Hospital after being denied a termination of an inevitable miscarriage. The inquest into her death found that had she been granted it when she made the request, she would most likely still be alive today. T.D’s, including five from Galway voted against this legislation as they believe it is too broad and will equate to ‘abortion on demand’. Yet this legislation is so incredibly narrow it would not have saved Savita’s life.

Dette Mc Loughlin of Galway Pro-Choice said:

“Under the bill ‘illegal’ abortion continues to be a criminal offense, carrying a 14 year prison sentence for the woman, and also for a doctor that performs such a termination, putting undue pressure on medics. This will affect only the most vulnerable women; mostly the thousands who order abortion pills online and take them without medical supervision. This will have potentially devastating consequences as women will be afraid to seek the medical care they require.”

Galway Pro-Choice concludes that we now must move towards repealing the 8th amendment (Article 40.3.3 of the constitution) to deliver what women in Ireland need and deserve, and the majority of people in Ireland support. We, along with other groups in Ireland, are calling for a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment and will be launching our campaign with a public meeting at the end of the month.

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