They have also claimed the Irish media are fuelling a ‘lynch mob’ mentality against Fitzpatrick and other Anglo bosses.
The comments were made as Fitzpatrick’s lawyers sought the early appointment of a trial judge to deal with disclosure.
They claim the appointment is necessary to prevent ‘a media frenzy whipping up a lynch mob mentality’ in relation to the upcoming trial of former Anglo Irish Bank executives according to the Irish Times.
The report says the trial of the bank’s former chairman Seán Fitzpatrick and two former directors was before Judge Martin Nolan at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in order to check on the progress of the case.
Fitzpatrick, William McAteer and Pat Whelan have been charged with 16 counts of allegedly providing unlawful financial assistance to individuals to buy shares in the bank.
Judge Nolan said the case would be dealt with in the usual manner.
The Irish Times says that lawyers for the men and for the State all stressed that that they felt it was necessary for the smooth running of the case to appoint a judge now to deal with the large volume of material and issues which may arise leading up to the trial on January 14th next.
Whelan’s lawyer Brendan Grehan said “I don’t think this case can be progressed to trial without a judge taking charge of it now.”
“Applications are going to arise, apart from issues of relevance and privilege in relation to disclosure in the case.
“It would also be appropriate to appoint someone to take charge of the trial now who can give directions not just to the parties but also to the media.
“In the six months leading up to the trial it is vital that an air of calm be restored to the public from which a jury will be drawn.
“We simply cannot have a fair trial take place where a media frenzy is whipping up a lynch mob mentality.”
State lawyer Uná Ní Raifeartaigh admitted: “The issue of publicity is of concern to the DPP. It is important that in the last six months the media would be mindful in matters that may ultimately lead to the postponement of the trial.”
The following statement was issued to the media in Cork this morning, on behalf of Cork’s ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group.
A serious issue arises from the weekend’s events in Cork that should concern everyone. A concerted effort was made by officials claiming to represent Cork City Council to stop the activities of the ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group. The group have organised an Anti-Austerity / Pro-Democracy stall in Patrick’s Street every Saturday for nearly a year, distributing leaflets and speaking with the public.
On Saturday, in successive incidents, up to six individuals approached the group’s information table to demand that the leaflet distribution stop, also demanding that the group stop speaking with the public. Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, spokesperson for the group, said that “despite being advised that we were entitled to be on the street the officials demanded that we ‘move on’, they claimed authority from Cork City Council for doing so.”
At one stage the speaker at the stall was man-handled while addressing the public, at other stages the officials lined up in front of the stall, face to face with members of the group – invading personal space in a threatening manner.
Ó Cadhla said, “Thankfully the Gardaí came to the scene and after some discussion they advised the officials that we were acting within our rights and our work continued uninterrupted.”
Mr. Ó Cadhla says that the ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group will be lodging an official complaint and is already in contact with City Hall in this regard.
Ó Cadhla said “apparently City Council decided that last Saturday was a ‘festive day’ and for ‘fun’, our likes were not wanted … street performance was organised for entertainment and public money spent on it.”
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla noted that “the incidents on Saturday follow a number of earlier attacks on our work against Austerity made by Councillors and Management at City Hall”. He continued, “whether these incidents are related or just some officials ‘going maverick’, it remains a most serious matter – either way we want clarification and an apology from City Council”.
Mr. Ó Cadhla asked “Why does City Council feel it should stop citizens discussing the lack of democracy in our country/city and the unjust imposition of policy on the people?”
He also asked “Why does City Council feel that the people of Cork need more ‘festive’ and ‘fun’ days while so many thousands of families are facing destitution?”
Given that the Constitutional role of Local Government is to provide a “forum for the democratic representation of local communities” why isn’t City Council providing such a forum for the people? rather than distract them with trivia and try to silence anyone who speaks out?
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla 086-3805005
Cork for DEMOCRACY! c/o Ionad an Phobail, 99 Sráid na Dúghlaise, Corcaigh.
Note: It is understood that the event organising was undertaken by a Dublin based company, Emergent Events, who were sponsored and assisted by Cork City Council
Ali Charaf Damache (47), an Algerian with Irish citizenship, has begun to sue several Irish institutions claiming that he was not permitted to practice his Muslim religion while being held in a Cork prison in 2011.
The Irish Independent reports that Damache, who is wanted in the US on terror-related charges, has since been moved from Cork Prison to Cloverhill Prison in Dublin. He will remain there pending the outcome of the extradition request from the US.
Damache has since brought proceedings against the governor of Cork Prison, the Irish Prison Services, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General. He claims he was subjected to abuse and insults from both staff and inmates at Cork Prison and was prevented from practicing his religion.
In his claims, Damache says his constitutional rights and rights under the European Convention to practice his religion freely were violated while he was held in Cork Prison. He is also seeking damages.
Damache says he was not provided with halal meat, nor water to wash with before praying, nor an Iman for Friday prayers. He also said he had to use chamber pots in the cells and the hygiene in the prison’s toilet area was poor.
The action has been opposed by the State which denies his rights were breached. The action before Justice Elizabeth Dunne continues on Thursday.
Damache is famously connected to the ‘Jihad Jane’ case. The two reportedly conspired to kill Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist whose 2007 portrayal of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, angered Muslims around the world.
Last year, Damache unexpectedly pled guilty to placing a menacing phone call to the Michigan-based attorney Majed Moughni. He was sentenced to four years in jail with the final year suspended. Due to time already served, Damache was released from custody.
However, upon being released, Damache was re-arrested in relation to extradition charges from the US in which he is accused of providing material support to terrorists. He is still being held in Cloverhill Prison in Dublin.
The woman died in January 2012. An inquest has not yet been held into the woman’s death as the police investigation is continuing.The husband said the couple was told that treatment of the condition could involve a procedure that would leave her infertile. “We were worried about what would happen when she became pregnant again,” he said.
“She was sick, but we were told that nothing could be done in Ireland. We were left on our own to deal with it. We didn’t get any help at all,” he said.
I AM ONE of the Bethany survivors group. I live in Sydney, Australia, which has been my home for the last 40 years.
I was born in the Bethany Home Rathgar, but I was adopted by a family from Belfast. This family was very wealthy, however I had a terrible life with them. They abused me on daily basis. I left their home at the tender age of 14 never to return.
I became an alcoholic
I got married and had three children, but I was a drunk. Life was terrible and I was in hospital many times. We came to Australia hoping for a better life, however I continued drinking. I was to meet an Irishman who convinced me that I could get better. I have not had a drink for over 30 years and thankfully, I have a wonderful life. I served as Deputy Mayor here and also assisted the Irish Olympic Team during the Sydney Games.
After starting the long journey to recovery it was suggested to me that I should look into my background as this was one of the many problems I had. I contacted a solicitor in Ireland and instructed him to find my mother and what had happened.
I never knew I was born in Dublin as the papers I had showed that I was born in Belfast. I found my mother, but regretfully she had died just months before. She had seven sisters and I made a very emotional visit to Castlederg to visit one of them. That was a wonderful time in my life as I discovered I had a family.
The mystery around my identity
I found that my name was Maurice Johnston, so I went to Dublin and obtained a copy of my birth certificate and went to Rathgar to look at where I was born. I have had some health issues and most of these according to my doctor were a result of my treatment in Bethany. I found out about Bethany Survivors group by accident when I was looking for information on Bethany and I came across Derek Leinster, Chairperson Bethany Survivors Group.
Derek has become a good friend and without his help my anger and depression would be a lot worse. He has himself taken on this task and I know I speak for all of us when I say he has helped a lot of people understand why they feel different.
One of the strange problems involves my passport. I applied for a visa to visit USA, but the passport office came back and told me that there was no record of a Paul Graham being born in Dublin nor was there any record of a Paul Graham being born in Belfast.
The only person that understood
Eventually, we finally got the visa. I spoke to the Irish embassy about this and they said that as I had an Irish birth certificate it was legally possible to issue me a passport under my name of Maurice Johnston however they said it could cause a lot of legal problems.
I often wished that my childhood could have been different; I would love to have been normal and become perhaps a doctor, however this was not to be. I am now 74 and I have the beginnings of dementia, but I am finally happy after all these years. I have three wonderful children who have stood by me and a wonderful wife of 53 years.
She is only person who has understood that I was not bad, just sick.
Four congregations say they are willing to assist in all other aspects of recommended package
The four religious congregations that ran the Magdalene laundries have told the Government they will not make any financial contribution to the multimillion-euro fund set up to recompense former residents.
The Mercy Sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters have informed Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in recent days that they will not pay into the fund, which could cost up to €58 million.
However, it is understood they have said they are willing to assist fully in all other aspects of the package recommended by Mr Justice John Quirke in his recent report, including the assembly of records and looking after former residents who remain in their care.
A spokeswoman for Mr Shatter said he was “disappointed” with the decision of the four orders not to make a financial contribution.
He will brief his ministerial colleagues about the situation at the weekly Cabinet meeting this morning.
Three of the four orders contacted through a spokesman were not prepared to make any comment at this point in time.
The Government announced the scheme last month after Mr Justice Quirke had conducted an examination of the various options to compensate the women who lived in the laundries, many of whom are now elderly.
The minimum payment was €11,500 for women who spent three months or less in a laundry and the maximum approved was €100,000 for those who were residents for 10 years or more.
Groups representing the women argued that higher awards should have been made available to those who had been long-term residents.
There was no onus on any applicant to show they had suffered hardship, injury or abuse. Some 600 women are reckoned to be eligible. The scheme is expected to cost between €34.5 million and €58 million.
When the scheme was announced, Mr Shatter said taxpayers expected the four religious orders to share the burden and make a contribution to the scheme. He would not be drawn on the amount he expected them to contribute.
The scheme follows on from a full apology on behalf of the State made to the survivors by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil this year, in which he said that nobody should have been subjected to the conditions they endured.
That apology came in the wake an investigation by former senator Martin McAleese into the running and conditions within the laundries which were in operation for the best part of a century.
The report also established that the State had played a significant role in the continued operation of the laundries.
The Murphy Report was published in 2009, following an investigation into child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin. At the time of its publication, certain material was held back for legal reasons. The redacted Chapter 19was published in December 2010, and now Chapter 20 has been released and it paints a horrifying picture. The archbishops of Dublin were not only aware that their priests were raping children but, despite the impression they sought to create in subsequent years, were also fully aware that the activities of those priests were criminal in nature.
They failed to report the crimes to our national police force, but perhaps there was no point, since the report accuses that police force of connivance, of stifling complaints and failing to investigate others. It describes the decision by the Gardai to permit an abuser to leave the country as shocking. Crucially, it points out that, but for information uncovered in diocesan files, it would not have been aware of the Garda role in covering up the crimes of child sex abuse. In other words, our national police force failed to cooperate with the investigation of a monumental crime. This failure is not something that happened in the distant past. Within the last decade, senior gardai were conniving to frustrate an official investigation into the activities of sex-abusing clerics and it’s highly likely that many of these people are still in office.
Coming in a week when we learn that a member of our parliament wrote to a bishop before voting on a government bill, this is highly disturbing. To what extent does this official deference still survive?
Read more at
Catriona Dowling, holding her son Cian, 6, and Cathy Davis celebrate after learning that DOMA has been struck-down.
An Irish woman has made history as the first lesbian to receive a green card since DOMA, the Defence of Marriage Act, was struck down.
Dowling also from Dublin is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The couple met on a climbing trip in the Himalayas.
Davis is the first immigrant to become a permanent resident in the U.S. through marriage to her same-sex spouse according to the website americablog.com. The couple have three adopted children.
The blog says the couple joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their marriage in June of 2012 to prevent their family from being torn apart and to demand equality under the law.
They hit a problem last year when an extension of Cathy’s work visa was denied.
The report says that after filing a green card petition and the application to adjust status to permanent residence, Cathy received an employment authorization card which allowed her to work and contribute financially to support her family.
The interviewing officer however put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway.
The first stand alone green-card petition was approved on June 28 for Julian Marsh and Traian Popov in Florida.
The blog outlines how the approval of a green card petition filed by a U.S. citizen is the first of a two-part process through which the spouse obtains status as a ‘lawful permanent resident’ and receives the actual green card.
Marsh and Popov will complete the second part and receive a green card later this year. Cathy and Catriona, who are raising a family together, are the first same-sex couple to have a marriage-based green card issued by USCIS.
Monsanto Finance Holdings Ltd, an Irish-incorporated company with an address on Lower Hatch Street, Dublin, made a profit of €2.5 million in 2012 but paid no tax, according to accounts just filed.
The firm made a profit of €3.69 million in 2011, when it again paid no tax.
The firm has no employees and its three directors have addresses in Bermuda.
The firm’s balance sheet shows that at the end of August 2012 it had financial assets of €50.8 million. Accumulated profits at that stage were €53.3 million and shareholders’ funds were €103 million. The firm is owned by a Monsanto company based in Switzerland, and is ultimately owed by Monsanto of St Louis, Missouri, US.
The Irish Government has received a request from the US authorities to arrest fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden. The provisional arrest warrant received by the Irish Government from the US authorities is now being handled by the extradition Unit in the Garda’s crime and security branch based in Garda headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin. The warrant has been issued as a pre-emptive strike against any effort by Mr Snowden to evade the US authorities by flying from Moscow to Havana on a commercial flight that stops off at Shannon for refuelling. The warrant would enable the Garda to arrest Mr Snowden under the Extradition Act 1965.
He could be brought before a District Court where a judge could detain him in custody for up to 18 days during which time the Americans could execute a full extradition process to bring him back to America to stand trial.
He is wanted for questioning in the US following his releasing information outlining how the US government was engaged in the wholesale interception of email and telephone messages.
He is believed to be in the transit lounge of Moscow airport.
While the receipt of the provisional arrest documentation by the Department of Justice yesterday appears based on the possibility he may try to travel to Havana on the regular Aeroflot flight via Shannon, security sources in Dublin believe this is unlikely.
“We would think he’ll stay in Russia for at least a while but the papers are with us now so the option of using Shannon to get to Cuba is probably out for him,” one source said.
Mr Snowden (30) has already made efforts to seek political asylum in a large number of countries including Ireland. He could not make such an application unless he was physically in Ireland.
However, if he travelled via Shannon as part of his efforts to get to Cuba and was arrested under the provisional arrest warrant pending an extradition process by the American authorities in the Irish courts, he could apply for asylum while being held in prison here.
The plane of Bolivian president Evo Morales was denied permission to fly over some European countries on Wednesday after leaving Moscow when it was suspected Mr Snowden could be on board.
He worked for the National Security Agency as a contractor in Hawaii, has been trying since June 23rd to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in theUnited States on espionage charges.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is unwilling to sendMr Snowden to the United States, with which Russia has no extradition treaty.
In his latest interview, former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive Mr Drumm again refused to say whether he would return to Ireland to answer questions on the collapse of the lender. The US-based ex-banker said he believes the explosive Anglo tapes were …
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Independent party to investigate source of Anglo tapes leak
The investigation will try to establish if the tapes, published by the Irish Independent last week, came from Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, which was established to wind down Anglo’s operations, or KPMG, Anglo’s special liquidators. The recordings …
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Canadian HR Reporter
garethmoore. TWO HUNDRED PEOPLE handed formal letters to gardaí at Pearse St garda station this evening calling for charges to brought against three Anglo Irish Bank staff. The letter, as seen by TheJournal.ie, calls for an investigation under section …
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|Noonan warns against ‘contaminating’ Anglo evidence
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has warned against “mucking about” with recordings leaked from Anglo Irish Bank so as to ensure the evidence needed for criminal trials related to the failed lender is not contaminated. “The guards are the people who …
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|Gilmore refuses to answer questions on Anglo tapes knowledge
TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore has declined to answer calls to say who knew what and when about taped conversations between chiefs at the bust Anglo Irish Bank. Related Articles. Dukes ‘sang dumb’ about Anglo tapes, Dail hears. Also in this section …
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It’s a freezing Saturday afternoon in Dublin and, on the corner of O’Connell Street, a nervous young man called Dennis wants me to sign a petition with a picture of a dead baby on it. Dennis is 21 years old and doesn’t like abortion one bit. Especially not now that there’s a chance, for the first time in a generation, of liberalising the law just a little to allow women at risk of actual death to terminate their pregnancies.
“I’m trying to keep abortion away from Ireland,” repeats Dennis, churning out the slogan being yelled by stern older men behind him. “If [a woman] doesn’t want a child, there’s obvious steps she can take to not have a child.” Like what? “Well, for example, abstinence,” he says, looking down at me uncomfortably. “Purity before marriage.” What about sexual equality? Dennis is blushing, despite the cold. “Well, I’m here against abortion. I wouldn’t have anything to say to that.”
It’s illegal for a woman to have an abortion under almost any circumstances in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if she might die in the delivery room. Every year, thousands of women with crisis pregnancies scrape together the money to travel overseas to have abortions – and that’s if they’re lucky. If they’re unlucky – immigrants, shift-workers or too poor to afford a red-eye Ryanair flight to London – the only options are to take black-market abortion pills or be forced to give birth. Right now, members of the Irish parliament are trying to push through legislation to allow women to have abortions if they’re at risk of suicide, but the Catholic hard-right are fighting back.
Since 1967, when Britain made abortion legal, over 150,000 Irish women have gone to England to end their pregnancies. They go in secret and, since that figure only covers those who list Irish addresses, the true number is probably much higher. It’s a situation that has been tacitly accepted in Irish society for years: abortion is sinful, but we’ll put up with it as long as it happens far away and the women involved are shamed into silence. “It’s an Irish solution to an Irish problem,” says Sinead Ahern, an activist with Choice Ireland. Now all that might be about to change.
A protest against Ireland’s abortion laws in Dublin after the death of Savita Halappanavar.
Last November, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia in a Galway hospital after being refused an emergency abortion. The inquest into her death is ongoing, but Savita’s husband and family are adamant that she would be alive had the doctors not insisted that, because there was still a foetal heartbeat, a life-saving termination couldn’t be performed. If the results of the inquest show that Savita died as a direct result of Galway doctors’ refusal to abort, she will not have been the first woman to die in great pain because of the Irish Catholic Church’s war on reproductive rights.
In 2010, Michelle Harte – a cancer patient who had to travel to England to have the abortion that would have prolonged her life – spoke before she died of how Cork doctors turned her away. It’s happened before, and without legislation it’ll happen again. But it’s the story of Savita Halapannavar that has drawn global attention and outrage to the situation.
Suddenly the grisly reality of women being forced to go through months of pregnancy and painful labour, begging to have dead babies removed from their bodies and sometimes dying in pain has a name and a face. Vigils have been held for Savita across Ireland. Pro-choice marches are being held in a country where calling yourself “pro-choice” is still a risk to your job and your safety. Answers are being demanded from the government, and now the government is being forced to listen.
Something is changing in Ireland. For women across the country, shame and intimidation are no longer quite enough to stop them from speaking out about abortion, about contraception and about sexual equality. A majority of the population now agrees, according to the latest polls, that the laws need to be relaxed. In response, Ireland’s pro-life movement, backed by big money from the United States, has poured its energies into a massive propaganda campaign, informing women that if they have abortions they will go mad, get breast cancer, kill themselves or, with any luck, all three.
On O’Connell Street the rain is blowing in horizontally. Two little girls in matching red jackets who can’t be more than six years old are handing out pictures of oozing, bloody foetal corpses. Muffled up in scarves and mittens, they look like they’ve stepped off the front of a Victorian biscuit box and smile as they offer you leaflets telling you that your sister, your mother, your best friend is a sinner. “We call these street information sessions,” says 29-year-old Rebecca, a spokeswoman for Youth Defence, one of Ireland’s largest pro-life organisations, which has recently attracted controversy because of its acceptance of large financial donations from the Christian right in the United States.
Rebecca tells me that opposition to abortion in all circumstances is “a value that’s held deeply by Irish people”. She is quite correct that in both the Republic and the North, and on both sides of the sectarian divide, anti-choice proselytising is one issue where religious men in positions of power find common cause. “In the North, where in previous years there would have been conflict between Catholics and Protestants, this is the one thing they both agree on,” says Rebecca. Her broad lipglossed smile seems to indicate that this is a good thing.
Some of the more extreme pro-life campaign groups make exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape, reasoning in their generous, Christian way that women who didn’t want to have sex in the first place should not be punished by being forced to carry a child to term. Even that, however, is too liberal for Ireland’s Youth Defence. “Rape is a horrific crime”, says Rebecca, “but even though that child is conceived in a non-ideal situation, two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The smile seems to be sprayed on to her face, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. Although they claim to represent a broad, grassroots movement against abortion, most of the pro-life groups operating out of Ireland list the same address as their base of operations. That address is 6A, Capel Street, Dublin – a building called Life House. Its facade is the colour of arterial blood.
In a hotel lobby in downtown Dublin, six pro-choice activists are distracted by a baby. Little Ailbhe Redmond is four weeks old and freshly-baked, blinking and wriggling as she is passed from hand to hand by a bunch of excited young women who spend their free time being called baby killers by the Catholic right. Ailbhe’s mum, Sinead Redmond of Choice Ireland, was new to activism when she started an online campaign against pro-life propaganda this August.
Since then, over the course of a lot of rainy marches and a reeking heap of harassment, the women of Choice Ireland have become, amongst other things, good mates, and these women need all the friends they can get. Pro-choice activists in Ireland face targeted retribution – harassment of a kind that feminist activists in many other countries would struggle to comprehend.
Many have been individually targeted by right-wing groups. Over four days in Dublin, I spoke to women who had been followed home, had phone-calls tipping off their employers about their politics and made to fear for their jobs, and had graphic hate-mail and death threats delivered to their homes and the homes of their families. The favourite flavour of hyper-religious hate-mail is the delivery of a set of rosary beads in an unmarked package, which seems an odd message to send: “Jesus knows where you live.”
Sinead Redmond got a rosary whose individual beads were carved to look like foetuses in pain. She unhooks herself to breastfeed Ailbhe as she tells me, “Being pregnant made me so much more pro-choice. It brought it home to me how barbaric it is to force a woman to go through pregnancy, never mind labour.
Photo by Andrew Flood.
“Pregnancy is incredibly emotionally and physically debilitating. I would never, ever dream of forcing that on another woman and I don’t know how anyone who’s been through it can. Furthermore, having given birth to a baby girl, I don’t understand how anyone who’s the parent of daughters can not be pro choice. I just don’t get it.”
Fear of prosecution and of social backlash has kept generations of Irish women from speaking out against abortion and contraception. The paranoia is so pervasive that, of the many women and girls I spoke to who had had abortions, only two were willing to go on the record. “A lot of people talk about having abortions, but they don’t want to put their name or their face to it,” says 23-year-old Suzanne Lee, a shy mathematics student at the University College Dublin. Last summer, Suzanne ended an accidental pregnancy at six weeks by taking the abortion pill, which she ordered off the internet.
As one of the few people willing to speak out about her abortion experience, Suzanne has been interviewed on television before and received death-threats from pro-life individuals. “I knew if I was ever going to have a child I needed to be in a position where it could have everything,” she says, explaining her decision.
Ordering the abortion pill online is risky, but international organisations like Women on Web attempt to make the process simpler for those who can’t afford to travel to England. “What I’ve done is completely illegal,” says Suzanne, who had to cross the border and travel to Belfast to pick up the pills. “It’s weird knowing that I could be facing years in prison.”
A pro-choice group demonstrating outside the courts during the “Miss D” case.
“In some ways, I’m not the best face for this cause because mine was what they’d call a ‘social abortion’ – my life wasn’t at risk,” she says. “But the majority of women having abortions are probably having them for social reasons.” “Social reasons” would include: not wanting to go through pregnancy against your will, being too young or too poor to have a child or simply not being ready, which are – when you get down to it – the reasons most people decide that abortion is the best option for them.
Even if the new laws do pass, they won’t permit women any real choice about abortion unless they’re on death’s door, at which point a doctor will choose for them. Thousands of women will continue to travel abroad every year and risk their health by taking black market abortion pills, unless there are major changes to the constitution, which was amended in the 1980s to enshrine the “rights of the unborn” as equal to the rights of women.
The shambolic state of the Irish economy makes the situation more urgent for women in need. Unemployment in Ireland is 14.6 percent, and standards of living and income are falling all over the country. “A lot of it is to do with the recession,” says Bebhinn Farrell, an activist with Choice Ireland. “Before, there wasn’t as much talk about social issues, it was all about money and spending. If you needed to have an abortion, you went to England.” Now, however, with the economy wheezing and stuttering, the class divide between those who can afford to travel to England and have an abortion and the many who can’t has been brought home.
Many of those who can’t receive help from the Abortion Support Network (ASN), a group that funds and supports women flying from Ireland to terminate unwanted pregnancies. ASN sends money to hundreds of Irish who can’t afford the ticket to an English clinic, but because of the time it takes to organise travel and drum up the cash for the procedure, many don’t arrive at English clinics until they’re at a late stage of pregnancy.
A pro-life counter demonstration during the “Miss D” case.
That delay makes every difference. It means that the procedure is often costlier and more complicated than it needs to be, that British abortion law directly affects Irish women and that current efforts by British pro-life groups to reduce the time limit on legal abortion will have devastating implications for women travelling from Ireland.
Abortion is, effectively, the one issue where the laws of the English still hold sway over Irish citizens. “It’s really ironic,” comments Anthea McTiernan, a journalist at the Irish Times, “that the loyalists are fighting to keep the Union Flag over Belfast city hall, but we’re willing to have the flag of the Catholic church flying over the wombs of Irish women 365 days a year.”
“It’s a democratic issue about women’s bodily integrity,” says Ivana Bacik, a politician in the Upper House of the Oirechtas and a leading spokesperson for abortion rights in Ireland. It is pure chance, Bacik tells me, that the case of Savita Halappanavar hit international headlines just as the new laws allowing abortion in the case of a risk to the pregnant woman’s life started passing through parliament. These laws centre on the story of an anonymous woman 20 years ago, a woman known only as “Miss X”, whose human rights were found to have been violated by the Irish Supreme Court.
Demonstrations during the “Miss X” case. Photo by Andrew Flood.
Miss X, a 14-year-old rape victim, was denied permission to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy. The police found out about her travel plans after her parents asked them if DNA from the aborted foetus could be used to convict the rapist. Miss X was left suicidal as a result of being forced to continue to pregnancy and the Supreme Court ruled that, in her case and others, risk of suicide should be considered a case for legal abortion. By the time the ruling came through, Miss X had had a miscarriage.
That was in 1992. Wherever she is now, Miss X is 35 years old. It has taken 20 years for Irish politicians to even begin to implement the legal changes. This, according to Bacik, is “because the anti-choice lobby is so powerful that no politician has wanted to touch it. Until the last election in February 2011, there were only a handful of us willing to identify as pro-choice, but the mood has changed politically. We will bring in legislation before the summer,” she insists.
Ivana Bacik has been fighting the lonely battle for women’s sexual health since long before she entered parliament. As a student at Trinity Dublin, she was taken to court for providing information on abortion and contraception and almost went to prison. “The introduction of this legislation will undoubtedly change the culture in Ireland,” she says. Bacik, like many others, hopes that the extremely limited legal changes coming in this year will pave the way for real choice for women in the future. “Things are changing, and for many young women [the suicide exception] won’t be enough.”
Right now, though, thousands of women and girls continue to catch budget flights to London every year, alone and scared to have abortions they aren’t allowed to speak about without shame. Jan O’Sullivan was caught travelling to England to have an abortion 20 years ago at the age of 18. “I’d seen how unmarried mothers get treated,” says Jan, who now has two kids of her own. “There’s huge stigma even now – you’re damned if you have the baby and damned if you don’t.”
Contraceptives were only made legally available over the counter in Ireland in 1993 and the infamousMagdalene laundries were still open for any young woman who slipped up. “We’d been using condoms, but one broke and I ended up pregnant,” says Jan. “Sheer panic. I’d never left the country before, never been on a plane. Between finding out, trying to get an appointment and sorting out traveling and money, I was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant when we arrived in London. My hands shook nearly the entire time. We were terrified we’d meet people – we had already done so much lying about leaving the country for three days for a ‘romantic break.'”
“I woke up after the procedure to find I was lying flat on my front, and I knew before I was even awake that I wasn’t pregnant any more. It took a year to pay back the credit union loan.” Jan still believes it was the right decision, but the trauma of the journey has stayed with her over two decades. It’s a journey that thousands of desperate Irish women continue to make every year. “I haven’t been back to London. I’ve travelled plenty of other places, but not there, never there,” she says.
“Abortion isn’t rare in this country, it’s just not talked about.”
To find out more, or if you’d like to donate to the Abortion Support Network, visit abortionsupport.org.uk.
Follow Laurie on Twitter: @PennyRed