BOGOTA – Negotiators for rebel group FARC — engaged now in historic peace talks with the Colombian government — received an interesting visit in Havana last month. During a pause in negotiations with Bogota officials in the Cuban capital, FARC loyalists met with a group of former members of the IRA.
Indeed, the veterans of Northern Ireland’s Irish Republican Army would have worthwhile experiences to share with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerrilla “people’s army” in search of a peace deal after a decades-long war with the Colombian government.
Putting emphasis on their disarmament strategy implemented in the early 2000s, which eventually led to the success of the Northern Irish peace process, IRA members shared their experience.
Of course, the transition to a post-conflict Northern Ireland was by no means easy. In his paper The IRA disarmament process in Northern Ireland: lessons for Colombia, Vicença Fisas, director of the School for the Culture of Peace at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, warns that the Good Friday Agreement — signed in 1998 and marking the official start of the Irish peace process — did not explain in detail how to proceed with regard to disarmament. Instead, the agreement limited itself to expressing the advisability of disarmament, and inviting the parties to collaborate with the International Independent Committee for Disarmament (IICD).
There was much skepticism, Fisas recounts, even though it was clear that resolving the problems surrounding disarmament was essential to the negotiations. The IICD was led by Canadian General Jon de Chastelain, who was responsible for overseeing the gradual disarmament process and the destruction of collected weapons. In total, the IICD supervised four IRA disarmament acts between October 2001 and September 2005.
Guerillas weigh in
But it is not just former IRA members who have been in discussions with the FARC negotiators. There has also been talk about the continued presence of former Central-American guerrillas — from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front in El Salvador, now one of the country’s two main political parties following the 1992 peace process, and from the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, also now a main political party — as well as others from South Africa.
To advance discussions about demobilization and disarmament, the FARC has also made enquiries about another sensitive topic: pardons and reparations to victims. “The simple fact that we are discussing these topics already enables us to move negotiations forward and, for this reason, there are some who dare to say that the final agreement could be very close,” says a source close to the negotiating process.
Regarding the thorny issue of disarmament, one proposal purportedly gaining favor is the possibility of surrendering weapons to the custody of an international or humanitarian organization. The FARC may have warmed to this idea after their meeting with the IRA, particularly if they have taken into account the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signalled that he won’t allow the group to enter politics while they are still armed. The government has viewed very positively the fact that the guerrilla group is taking an interest in successful peace processes from around the world.
The FARC aims to re-enter politics
Whatever route the negotiations may take, everything is pointing toward a single overarching objective: establishing political participation. This would be the logical next step following disarmament and the signing of an agreement to end the conflict. And the government’s recent decision to return legal status to the Patriotic Union (UP), the FARC’s political wing, is intricately linked to what is happening in Havana. In fact, according to sources consulted by El Espectador, the FARC has apparently started to solidify plans to fully re-enter the political arena, focusing on the local and regional elections in 2015.
This is why many people have not been surprised that the discussion about peasant reserve zones — one of the points still waiting to be discussed, now that the first topic on the agenda, namely agricultural policy, has been closed — has migrated from Cuba to Catatumbo in the blink of an eye, becoming one of the most important issues for protest leaders in that region. Next week Catatumbo protestors will be joined by more striking miners, and it is believed that other agricultural sectors will also go on strike. These sectors are key for the guerrillas, who are trying to establish new topics for discussion to help guide their position at the negotiating table in Havana.
The aim is for these protests to mark the beginning of the FARC’s agenda for the elections to Congress next year — if negotiations reach a final agreement in time — or the local and regional elections in 2015. That said, the FARC must convince the other side to allow different conditions for its political wing, given that the law currently requires any movement or party to collect almost 450,000 votes in order to maintain its legal status. This figure is almost certainly unattainable for the FARC, but there is talk of creating a “special peace circumscription” that would aim to guarantee its political survival at a national level.
Regardless of how the situation is resolved, both the government and the FARC are well aware that the decision from the Council of State (which advises the Colombia government on administrative matters) to legalize UP has enabled the talks in Cuba to take several gigantic steps forward. And although nobody will admit it, discussions about the international “blind eye” — which needs to be turned to crimes against humanity, drug trafficking and money laundering for the sake of the peace process — have been underway for a little while.
U.S. looks to be on board
Peace is the ultimate goal, and it is believed that the United States would be willing to respect the compromises made to end the conflict in Colombia. For the time being, it is understood that the negotiations in Havana must cover many points and pass through many sets of hands, but the FARC wants to enter politics, and legally.
Speaking to El Espectador from Havana, leader of the FARC Jorge Torres Victoria — better known by his alias Pablo Catatumbo — declined to comment on any progress that may have been made on the topics of demobilization, disarmament or legal immunity for the guerrilla leaders. “Those issues will be discussed in depth in the future,” he says. “What we have said is that we will talk about them very seriously — but when the moment to do so arrives, according to the timetable established for the talks. For now, those topics aren’t on the table.”
But the FARC negotiator did mention the current crisis caused by the peasant strikes in Catatumbo in the north of Colombia: “We are concerned by the way the government has handled the protests, because it openly contradicts the message about laying down our weapons in order to defend our ideas in the public space. But when the peasants protest, they are stigmatized and repressed.”
Those unfortunate to find themselves interned by remand, despite not being found guilty of anything, can be imprisoned for lengthy periods with no sign of either a date for trial or release. Political internees can find themselves in gaol for up to 2 years, or more, under this repressive, draconian policy, awaiting a trial… – Stephen Murney. 1/6/13.
Stephen Murney is a political and community activist, who lives in Newry in the north of Ireland. He is also a member of Eirigi (Arise) which is a legal, registered Irish socialist republican political party. Stephen has frequently documented, photographed and recorded incidents of harsh PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) stop and searches of people, house raids and other rough treatment in the Newry area. Stephen regularly highlighted these issues in local newspapers and on the internet.
In late November 2012, Stephen Murney wrote a letter to a local newspaper expressing his strong condemnation of several early morning raids by the PSNI on homes in the Derrybeg Estate, Newry. He stated that these incursions were causing deep distress to the targeted families and maintained the raids were excessive, unnecessary and avoidable.
On November 28th, some 24 hours after Stephen’s letter was published, in scenes similar to those he had described and criticised, police smashed in his front door and stormed into his home in a dawn raid. Police officers searched his house, seized a computer, political literature and a flute band uniform and arrested Stephen.
The PSNI then three days later charged Stephen Murney with three ‘offenses’. The first charge is, collecting information which maybe of use to terrorists. The second charge is, distributing information which maybe of use to terrorists. The third charge is, possessing items which could be used for terrorist purposes.
The first charge concerns Stephen openly taking photographs of people, including PSNI officers at a protest rally in Newry in June 2012. The PSNI didn’t question, or arrest Stephen, or confiscate or examine his camera/phone or ask for certain images to be deleted at that time. The police did ask him to stop taking photographs and he promptly agreed and did so. The second charge relates to Stephen later posting the same photographs on Facebook, as well as having other political images on this computer. The third charge is in regards to the items of clothing (flute band uniform), two airguns and political literature seized from his home.
At a hearing on December 21, Stephen’s lawyer said the photographs had been openly taken, that Stephen had stopped when instructed and that the posting of some photographs was also for a perfectly legitimate purpose. Some of these photos were taken by Stephen at political protests, commemorations and other events. But most of the photos were downloaded from the internet, many were old, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement in north of Ireland in the late 1960s. The lawyer added that the items that could allegedly be used for ‘terrorist’ purposes consisted of flute band uniforms, possessing two ball-bearing airguns (belonging to his son and are legal and widely available throughout Ireland), legal political leaflets and images freely available to the public on the internet. Many supportive references from community organisations in Newry in support of Stephen Murney were also presented to the court.
It is common practice for political activists around the world to take photographs of demonstrations and of police at political protests. In fact, legal and human rights groups regularly advise political activists to record such protests and any instances of police harassment or mistreatment that occur. Like many hundreds of thousands of other people Stephen loads this information on his computer and sometimes posts some of it on social media sites.
After querying the vague nature of the charges the judge granted Stephen bail. But at the request of the PSNI, the judge imposed several draconian bail conditions, including: banning Stephen from living at home with his wife and family, banning him from entering Newry, his home town, where almost all his family and friends live and banning him from attending any political events or meetings. The judge additionally, ordered that Stephen, reside at least five miles from Newry, report daily to the PSNI barracks (a further 12 miles away), accept a daily curfew from 7pm to 10am and wear an electric tagging device at all times.
Stephen rejected the humiliating bail conditions the court imposed, declaring his total innocence of the charges. Several efforts by Stephen’s lawyers to change the harsh bail conditions were refused and he remains in imprisoned in Maghaberry Gaol.
The Orwellian State of Affairs in the North of Ireland.
‘There has been an accelerated erosion of legal rights since 1998’ – Pat McNamee, former member of the Stormont Assembly and former local councillor.
At a recent protest, a former member of the Stormont Assembly and friend of Stephen Murney, Pat McNamee stated, that only through entering the world of ‘newspeak’ could we obtain the answer as to why Stephen Murney is imprisoned. He said:
Newspeak is the term used by Orwell, in his book 1984, to describe the language employed to oppress people in what was a fictional totalitarian state. That state is not really so fictional nowadays.
Stephen Murney is charged with having a band uniform that he wore whilst a member of a local republican flute band. In ‘newspeak’, that is having a paramilitary uniform and being equipped for terrorism. Stephen Murney is charged with having photographs of protests he had taken part in, which inevitably included images of members of the PSNI, who were also present at these demonstrations. In ‘newspeak’, that is having information useful to terrorists. Stephen Murney is charged with having his son’s toy guns in his home. In ‘newspeak’, that is having an imitation firearm. In ‘real speak’, Stephen has been held in prison for over six months solely because he is an effective republican and community activist.
Congratulating all of those present at the rally, Eirígí activist Shane Jones said that it was representative of a growing awareness of the plight of Stephen Murney across the country and of the excesses of the British state. He said:
However, if those within the British establishment, its puppet parliament at Stormont, its compliant judiciary or its corrupt police force thought that they could isolate Stephen Murney and smother his criticism of their collective actions, they have misjudged the situation. People once unaware of the true nature of the continued British presence in Ireland are being exposed to it across the country. Over the past couple of weeks alone pickets, protests, leaflet drops and information stalls have been held in Newry, Offaly, Wexford, Wicklow, Belfast, Galway and Dublin, with many more to come.
Concluding the rally, Davy Hyland, independent councillor in Newry and Mourne District Council, vowed that he and those assembled would continue to raise the case of Stephen Murney until he is released and allowed to return to his family, home and community. Despite The Good Friday Agreement, Injustice Continues.
Despite all the supposed “changes’, many of the old repressive injustices remain, including internment, political policing, Diplock courts and ongoing M15/ British army military activity – Stephen Murney.
Highlighting that Stephen Murney is but one victim of an increasingly oppressive British state apparatus, Pat McNamee said that after two decades of ‘peace processing’, the rights of the individual, rather than being protected through a Bill of Rights, which was but one of a number of promises enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement that had been reneged upon without sanction. Pat McNamee stated.
Through extended periods of detention, increased stop and search powers, the reduction of the right to a trial by jury and ‘closed evidence hearings’, where judges are presented with secret ‘evidence’ which can neither be disclosed to nor challenged by the accused or their legal representatives, the British state apparatus is more draconian now than at any time during the years from 1969 through 1999. Instead of moving forward with human rights, it is they who are dragging us back.
Stephen Murney is a victim of British injustice in the north of Ireland, but he is one of many of those suffering from an increasingly oppressive British state system. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) offered better times, a period of peace and healing, yet people’s human rights and civil liberties are still constantly violated. And the basic rights that were meant to be upheld by the GFA process are being grossly abused.
Calls for the Release of Stephen Murney Grow.
Since the arrest and imprisonment of Stephen Murney a number of Irish republican and various other organizations have campaigned for his freedom, including Eirigi, Republican Network for Unity, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Republican Sinn Fein, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, as well as local Councillors and other individuals.
Independent Councillor Davy Hyland from the Newry and Mourne Council stated that, ‘Stephen has been held … on the most spurious charges … he tried to get bail, but was given the most atrocious conditions that he couldn’t possibly meet.’ He added, ‘Stephen’s treatment has been absolutely deplorable.’ Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan Curran said the bail restrictions imposed were, “excessive and unacceptable” given the “dubious” charges.
And human rights groups are starting to take up his case. On 14, June, Justice Watch Ireland wrote to the British Secretary of State Theresa Villars and Justice Minister, David Ford, calling for the immediate release of Stephen Murney. JWI also issued a press release on the facts of the case and their conclusions. JWI’s press release said:
Justice Watch Ireland are more than concerned that Mr Murney may be a victim of the most blatant abuse of the Justice system seen in the last decade. We are equally concerned that should this practice of Judicial Abuse be allowed to continue unabated, it could well threaten the democratic rights of all citizens in the future. We call on all politicians and those opposed to losing their democratic and human rights, to voice their disapproval of such abuses continuing. Justice Watch Ireland calls for Stephen Murney to be released on unconditional bail as a matter of urgency. We believe his detention is nothing short of ‘Interment’ by definition. ‘Internment by remand’ is being claimed by many, in which we are currently investigating, but in this case our conclusion is that Mr Murney truly is interned by definition with the use of the remand process currently being implemented.
Support Stephen Murney, Imprisoned Republican Political Prisoner.
Political policing and internment is nothing new. They are practices which have been in place for some decades, practices that we in Eirigi have been to fore in highlighting, exposing and opposing. As a result, those of us who have been most vocal in opposing these unjust activities and our families have paid a heavy personal price in the form of constant PSNI harassment, frequent ‘stop and searches’, house raids, assaults, threats, intimidation and ultimately, the loss of liberty – Stephen Murney
Stephen Murney is imprisoned, not because he has done or planned to do anything unlawful, but he is in jail due to his dissident political views and because he is an active, outspoken and effective Republican and community activist. In a normal, civil society in another place there would have to be substantial evidence against Stephen Murney to warrant the serious charges he now faces. But the British occupied north of Ireland is not a normal, ordinary place. So, instead of these charges being clearly recognised as weak and ridiculous, in the six counties, they are depicted by the PSNI as a very grave matter and bring the prospect of lengthy prison sentence if Stephen is convicted.
The British authorities have used a policy of selective internment against Stephen Murney in an attempt to silence him and other opposition. A political activist is now in effect interned without trial on the basis of the most ridiculous ‘evidence.’ Stephen Murney has done nothing wrong, but freely exercised his democratic right to attend political demonstrations, to take photographs and to be critic of PSNI actions and of British rule in the north of Ireland. Stephen Murney is innocent and his imprisonment is utterly unjust. The flimsy charges against him should be dropped and Stephen should be immediately and unconditionally released.
Internment was wrong and unjust in previous years and it remains as equally wrong and unjust today. I would encourage all those that disagree with its continued use to organise and publicly oppose internment in its current form – Stephen Murney.
Guest writer Steven Katsineris, Vice Chairman of the James Connolly Association, Melbourne, Australia with a piece on republican prisoner Stephen Murney.
This is being kept out of the media, both in Ireland and the USA: From the organization “HARK.” Zachary Gelevinger is a young man from Wisconsin who arrived in Belfast Wednesday to enjoy a long-timed planned first trip to Ireland, the home of his Grandmother and a lifetime dream that has turned into a nightmare. Zachary had been corresponding with Political Prisoner Christine Connor and as a gesture of kindness, had organised a visit with Christine on her birthday, arranged by Christine’s mother. This act of good will was forever tarnished when the visit was cut short and Zachary was taken out of the visit by the PSNI in handcuffs under suspicion of “Dissident Activity.” Please note again that Zachary had not stepped foot in Ireland until Wednesday. The American Embassy was not contacted as is proper procedure and in fact when outside sources contacted the US Stated Department at the Embassy, their calls to speak with Zachary weren’t allowed through…again violating International Law. Zachary suffers from epilepsy and may not have access to his medicines. His case has been picked up by the law practice of Madden and Finucane and just this morning the police were granted an additional 72 hours to hold Zachary for questioning by a Belfast Judge. What we have here is the arrogance of the PSNI at it’s most disgraceful. Citizens in the North of Ireland have lived with constant violations of human rights by the police for longer than anyone can remember, but now visitors to the North can be arrested and held for dissident activity, even if they have never set foot in Ireland before? By arresting a foreign citizen visiting Ireland on holiday, the PSNI have shown that as we’ve seen in the recent actions in the April appeal of Brendan McConville and John Paul Woottton, that they are answerable to no one, that they feel that they are above the law. In this new atrocity, in ignoring the US State Department and not following proper International procedure, they are showing that the feel they are even above International law. I beg you, do not remain silent in this case. Zachary Gelevinger came to Belfast to visit the land of his birth and sets in chains because he chose to reach out to a Political Prisoner on her birthday. A lot of words have been tossed around lately about this horror. Outrage. Unjust. Evil. There are no words to describe what this man in his early 20’s is going through and absolutely no description to describe the arrogance and vanity of the PSNI in arresting a visiting citizen from America. If a citizen from another country has no rights in the North of Ireland, how does NI ever expect to become anything but isolated and alone? We suffer enough in the fight to bring awareness of our own continuing human rights violations and governmental challenges to the rest of the world. We can not allow the same to start happening to visitors and tourists. You might as well lock the borders and toss away the key. Please share Zachary’s story everywhere you can. Caroline Ceallaigh via Zachary Gelevinger Kidnapped By PSNI – Indymedia Ireland.
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
Many people have rallied in support of controversial Independent TD Clare Daly after her extraordinary attack on the visiting U.S. president Barack Obama and his family
Daly didn’t miss any punches on Wednesday morning in the Dail when she hit out at Obama, describing him as the “hypocrite of the century,” and “a war criminal.”
She pointed out while he was in Northern Ireland talking the merits of peace to teenagers there, his administration had increased drone attacks by 200%.
Daly said she was surprised Taoiseach Enda Kenny hadn’t asked his ministers to wear leprechaun hats and carry stars and stripes flags. She said Ireland’s government is “the lapdog of US imperialism.”
Six out of nine posters on The Independent’s forum page devoted to the outburst drew support for Clare.
“I never thought I’d see the day when I agreed with Clare Daly,” ‘Ewan’ wrote.
‘John B. Reid’ posted, “Fair play to Clare Daly for saying the unsayable regarding Ireland’s political and media prostitution of itself in the face of the Obamas. Not to mention the considerable amount of Irish taxpayer money spent (on An Garda Siochana, etc) chaperoning the Obamas’ ostentatious and grotesquely-sized entourage around Dublin and Wicklow.”
“I don’t believe that we should be discourteous to any well-known guests, but we need to maintain some self-respect,” he added.
‘Nuthatch 222’ said “she’s was right. spot on. i want to shake clare daly’s hand. stay in politics, clare, puhleeze.”
‘Stewie Griffin‘ provided the most extensive post. “It’s a sunny day in Ireland when a politician is telling the unvarnished truth in public about Ireland’s relationship with the United States,” he wrote. “It’s interesting to see how posters here criticize Clare Daly for being a “mouth”, ‘negative’ and ‘moaning’ because she refers to the fact that Barack Obama is a war criminal and the fact that he is a mammoth hypocrite.”
“Make no mistake: these are facts. Every Tuesday, Obama reviews and approves a list of names of people whom the US war machine has designated as a target for elimination,” wrote Griffin. “Those people, along with anyone in the immediate vicinity, are then destroyed by drones. Obama is therefore directly responsible for the slaughter of innocents. It would come as no surprise if he had signed off on another batch of people to be annihilated whilst staying in Fermanagh.”
“What is wrong with being negative in the face of such outrages? A negative stance with regard to imperial criminality and its facilitators is a positive stance with regard to justice, freedom and peace,” Griffin continued. “The real negativity comes from the slavish halfwits in Ireland who say you should keep your mouth shut in case the tourist industry takes a dive, or in case the Foreign Investment Fairy flits away somewhere else, and from the morons who lick up to Barack Obama and his family apparently because they transmit some sort of political glamour that means you can ignore his criminality and the fact he represents the interests of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.”
At the end of the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland on Tuesday night, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel will hop on a plane bound for Berlin together. Merkel has already boasted that she will make their meeting an awkward one, promising to ask uncomfortable questions about the Prism affair. The image that comes to my mind is that of a pinscher yapping at a great dane, while the great dane just benignly gazes into the distance.
Of course, the pinscher has every reason to bark its lungs out. Surveillance of worldwide internet communications, as practised by the National Security Agency (NSA) through Prism, is the stuff of Orwellian nightmares. Any democratic system rests on the idea that its citizens can think and act freely – but no individual can act and think freely while being watched. The very fact of being watched means that we act differently. Unsupervised communication between individuals is an essential precondition for a functioning democracy.
There will always be people who dismiss complaints about state surveillance as hysteria. Since 11 September 2001 it has become increasingly easy to discourage those who care about their fundamental rights. Just insist that a new measure will aid the fight against terrorism, and that legitimises it. Particularly in Britain and the US, many people seem surprisingly blase about the idea of the state watching over them.
I despair at such indifference. Germany endured two totalitarian systems in the 20th century. Not just Nazism, but the GDR too, built a dictatorship on the surveillance, registration and selection of individuals. People became objects who were divided into nebulous categories. The fight against terror requires a similar division of civil society according to sex, age, ethnicity, religion and politics. The problem with such machine-led screening methods is not only that it is very hard for people to escape them once they get caught, but that they no longer presume innocence – everyone is now a potential suspect.
Because of this, Germans have traditionally been more sensitive to assaults on their private sphere. There are fewer CCTV cameras, and Google’s Street View project was met with widespread resistance in 2010: click yourself through a map of Germany and you’ll still find large areas still pixelated. A few weeks ago, Germany published its first post-reunification census – the previous ones in the 1980s were widely boycotted on ethical grounds. But that Germany hasn’t reached the level of the US is not thanks to politicians’ sense of history, but to the so-called “basic law” that anchors our constitution and the federal constitutional court that protects it. One “security law” after the next has been proposed and then rejected by the court for infringing on civil rights.
But being a little more sensible on civil rights issues than other European states will no longer do. On the contrary: with its unique historical background, Germany should be leading the charge against any form of Big Brother system.
Having been raised in East Germany, Merkel especially should know what is at stake here. She experienced in her youth how long-term surveillance can demoralise the human spirit and distort the character of a society.Explaining that to her American counterpart would be a start for Merkel. She should explain to him that there is a lesson for the rest of the world in Germany’s history. In the 21st century, modern technology will take the possibility for total surveillance to a completely new level. Compared with what Prism allows you to do, Stasi activities look like child’s play: the size and speed of the data flow threatens to overwhelm the lawmakers who are meant to control it.
My fear is that Merkel’s protest will be hard to take seriously, and that Obama will notice this. Since 9/11, Merkel’s government has also passed laws that allow the state to virtually x-ray its citizens. Der Spiegel recently reported that Germany’s equivalent of the NSA, the BND, is planning to expand its web monitoring programme over the next five years.
Ultimately, Merkel’s emphatic concern about the Prism affair stems from the fact there will a federal election in Germany in September. It’s a convenient chance to demonstrate a bit of political spine. Once the pinscher’s done with the yapping, the great dane will give her a kindly smile and assure her that everything is happening within the law. After that, the excitement about Prism will soon evaporate, and they in America and we in Europe will continue collecting data.
Data protection is to the communication age what environmental protection was for the age of industrialisation. Back then, we lost decades because we didn’t realise how severe the damage we were causing really was. Let’s try not to make the same mistake twice.
• This article was amended on Tuesday 18 June. Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg, not East Germany, as the seventh paragraph originally stated. She was raised in East Germany.
The parade and rally at the cordon around Lough Erne Golf Resort passed off without major incident, although at one point around 20 protesters briefly breached an outer wire fence in front of the main security wall, two miles from the hotel.
The episode did not result in a physical confrontation with police, with the demonstrators withdrawing through the barrier when issued with verbal warnings by officers. There were no arrests.
The vast majority of the activists, who marched three miles from Enniskillen town, were in good spirits as they voiced concerns on a range of issues as the G8 leaders met inside.
Police estimated that 700 people took part but organisers put the figure at around 2,000.
Eamonn McCann, of the People Before Profit campaign group, criticised the scale of the security operation around the resort as he addressed the crowds.
“We are not negative, it is they who are negative, it’s them who have to have 7,000 armed personnel to defend them with a ring of steel. What a farce,” he said.
Hundreds of police officers who lined the route, many drafted in from elsewhere in the UK, were confined to essentially a watching brief from a discreet distance.
The event was the second of two major protests planned in Northern Ireland to coincide with the G8.
With Saturday’s rally in Belfast passing off peacefully, security chiefs will be relieved that contingency measures put in place to deal with potential troublemakers have not yet been called upon.
Around 260 additional police custody cells have been set aside and 16 judges have been on standby to preside over special courts in the event of disorder.
Protesters advocating a diverse range of causes and campaigns, local and global, took part.
Some voiced anger at proposals to bring the controversial fracking gas extraction method to Co Fermanagh, with others hitting out at the G8 leaders for their involvement in conflicts across the world. Many were simply making stand against capitalism.
Earlier, dozens of onlookers stood in shop fronts and at pub doors in Enniskillen town centre as the noisy spectacle passed by on its way toward Lough Erne.
Many demonstrators were keen to highlight their causes as they walked along.
Ciaran Morris, 48, was dressed in a Guantanamo Bay-style orange jump suit and clutched a Palestinian flag.
He said he was protesting against injustices like the treatment of the Palestinians as well as incarceration at the US military base on Cuba.
“All the forefathers of America would turn in their graves,” the Fermanagh man said.
Peter Worth, who lives in Bundoran, Co Donegal, was demanding an end to fracking. He said the protest had given him confidence that many more people shared his concerns about the practice.
“You meet like-minded people and you realise you’re not alone,” he said. “It helps that there are people that are also against this wholesale destruction of the planet.”
George Tzamouranis, 48, from Greece, who was brought up in Wimbledon, south-west London, but now lives in Belfast, said he turned out to express his anger at capitalism.
“I’m angry that capitalism is an unjust, unfair system,” he said. “My sister is a stock market analyst and is immensely wealthy, yet I’ve been out of work for 25 years.”
Mr Tzamouranis said he graduated with a degree in Oriental languages, has been unable to get a job with his education other than casual shift work and remains a victim of capitalism.
“I’ve been living on the ragged edge since 1991,” he said. “Living in hostels, night shelters and now they have put me in a tiny one bedroom flat in Belfast. Capitalists are running down companies here, exploiting people in the East and turning us into the unemployed, marginalised, excluded.”
Caoimhin O’Machail, 66, from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, said the decision to hold the summit in Northern Ireland was unforgivable.
“It is capitalism gone crazy,” he said. “The money they are spending on it is obscene – why don’t they throw them into the desert and let them get on with it?”
Frankie Dean, 50, from Ballinamallard, Co Fermanagh, said he wanted to speak up for gay and transgender people being persecuted in Russia and Northern Ireland.
“Also while equal marriage is coming into the UK and other countries, it is not in Northern Ireland – and that is because of religious influences. I want those in government to come away from these influences and respect people’s rights.”
James Pellatt-Shand, 42, from Canterbury, said the turnout was lower than anticipated and blamed protesters being scared off from travelling to the area, but said he was delighted with the carnival atmosphere.
His main concern was global hunger and poverty, which he claimed could be easily solved with goodwill between rich nations.
“But I think they’ll be more likely to discuss how many weapons to give Syria than how many children are going to bed hungry,” he said.
He criticised big companies who avoid tax in developing countries, saying: “They are just stealing the food out of poor people’s mouths.”
Anti-austerity campaigners from Donegal wore giant sized heads of German chancellor Angela Merkel, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, whom they accused of being her puppets.
Charlie McDyer said: “They are the instigators of austerity in Ireland. They have no consideration for anyone in this country apart from the elite.”
Four human rights observers with the Committee for the Administration of Justice in Belfast were asked to observe the rally by Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
With president at G8, Michelle Obama enjoys Irish links
DUBLIN (Reuters) – With the U.S. president locked in high-level meetings at a secluded hotel in Northern Ireland, first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters took the chance to investigate theirIrish roots. After arriving in Belfast with her husband …
Irish Prime Minister Says Faith Should Not Affect One’s Public Service
The pro-abortion Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who drew protests for delivering the commencement address and receiving an honorary degree from Boston College, has said that personal faith should play no part in legislation, reports the Irish Examiner.
G8 leaders enjoy Comber spuds and Irish coffees at working dinner
The new season Comber, or Comber early as it’s sometimes called, is regarded as the king of the potato crop in Northern Ireland thanks to the climate in which it’s grown, sheltered by the Mournes and the Ards Peninsula. It’s also harvested earlier than …
The Irish DO drink more than everyone else, with single-sex schools, cricket …
A map by researchers from the University College Dublin shows how much the averageIrish student drinks a year, by county. Students from counties shown in blue drink in excess of 351 units of alcohol a year. Students in Monagh, Donegal, Tiperrary and …
See all stories on this topic »
Parliament Committee, Irish delegation discuss cooperation
Petra News Agency
Amman, June 17(Petra)– Head of the Arab and International Affairs Parliamentary Committee, MP Talal Al-Sharif, met with an Irish Parliamentary delegation on Monday to promote friendly ties between the two countries in various aspects, particularly the …
See all stories on this topic »
|G8 Summit 2013:The most important issue in the civil war Syria at Belfast …
National Turk English
The Prime Minister David Cameron was speaking ahead of the opening of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, which looks set to be dominated by international tensions over Syria. The leaders of the world’s most powerful countries come together today in …
|G8 summit: 8000 police officers and drones deployed with thousands of …
Security has been stepped up as the G8 summit gets under way with up 2,000 protesters expected to take part in an anti-capitalist march. Prime minister David Cameron is hoping to kick-off the summit with progress on a free trade deal between Europe and …
|Spaniards hold anti–austerity demos
Deteriorating economic situation in Europe has created growing discontent among the European public, with many nations across the continent grappling with teetering economies. The European financial crisis began in early 2008. Insolvency now threatens …
Syria tops agenda as G8 opens in Fermanagh
David Cameron embarrassed by revelations that British secret service spied on delegations at G20 meetings in London
Read more at
Obama, Putin face tough talks on Syria at G8 summit
At their first private face-to-face meeting in a year, Obama will try to find common ground with Putin on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland after angering the Kremlin by authorising U.S. military support for the Syrian president’s opponents.
Ventura County Star
NOW that Northern Ireland is more peaceful place, it’s encouraging to see it being picked to host the laste G8 bunfight. The great and good (and look out for Mr G9 Bono in attendance) will mass at the Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh:
The Resort is the ultimate expression in old world heritage and new world luxury, set on its very own 600 acre peninsula, between Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne, just outside Enniskillen, with stunning panoramic views from almost every vantage point.
Unless you look to the right and see the barbed wire, armed uniformed goons and balaclava enthusiasts…
PS – When we’ve got them locked up inside, can we leave them there?
Issue date: Tuesday June 11, 2013. The police have diverted extra investigators, translators and forensic medical officers to the two custody sites at a former military barracks in Omagh and Musgrave Street station in Belfast to ensure cases are brought to court as quickly as possible. See PA story ULSTER G8 Courts. Photo credit should read: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Divers check water features in fields near Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit
Razor wire is laid in fields near Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.
A Water cannon at the main checkpoint and security fence near Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.
Sign on the security fence near Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.
Police man a checkpoint at the entrance to Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.
A Water Cannon passing miles of fencing erected around Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.
Razor wire is laid in fields near Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.
Main checkpoint and security fence near Lough Erne Hotel resort in Co Fermanagh, venue for next weeks G8 summit.