Regulation not Prohibition

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The interminable debate over proposals to criminalise purchasers of sex took another turn this week with the publication of the report by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Predictably it recommends the so-called “Swedish model” but it also includes draconian proposals to treat visitors to prostitution websites as sex offenders and ban the provision of premises for prostitution. Senator David Norris yesterday condemned the proposal to criminalise purchasers as “horribly sanctimonious”.

The provisions criminalising the grooming of children for sexual purposes are welcome. But the other provisions concerning only consenting adults are fatally flawed. Experience has shown that the Swedish model endangers women and drives the trade underground. It also contrasts sharply with the more liberal direction of many EU member states.

In 2009, the EU-funded Daphne II study found Sweden had the highest per capita incidence of rape in the EU, and that statistical reporting differences do not account for it.

In Sweden, 46 incidents of rape are reported per 100,000 residents.

This figure is double as many as in the UK which reports 23 cases, and four times that of the other Nordic countries, Germany and France. The figure is up to 20 times the figure for certain countries in southern and eastern Europe.

The study, which is financed by the Brussels-based EU fund Daphne II, compared how the respective judicial systems managed rape cases across eleven EU countries. Sweden is shown in an unfavourable light, according to the study.

The high figures in Sweden can not it seems be explained purely by an increased tendency to report rapes and other more minor sexual offences.

Rape simply appears to be a more common occurrence in Sweden than in the other EU countries studied, the researchers argue.

Over 5,000 rapes are reported in Sweden per annum while reports in other countries of a comparable size amounted to only a few hundred.

As with abortion, the Swedish model is an Irish solution to an Irish problem. The trade would be driven underground or abroad. After an initial drop after Norway adopted the Swedish model, reports indicated that within 18 months, it had returned to its previous levels. A November 2010 report in Sweden also found an explosion in prostitution in neighbouring Nordic countries after the new laws came in there in 1998. In Sweden itself there was evidence that while street prostitution had declined, online prostitution had increased.

Quite apart from the moral/religious element in this debate are the implications for the safety of the prostitutes themselves. By proposing to outlaw the provision of premises for the purposes of facilitating prostitution, and to criminalising the viewing of prostitution websites, the report risks driving prostitution back onto the streets, with all that implies for their safety.

By moving towards prohibition, Ireland sets itself at odds much of Europe, where liberalisation is the dominant approach.

- In the Netherlands, prostitution has been legal and regulated since 2000. The ban was lifted for two reasons: first, to improve the sector as a whole and the position of sex workers by introducing licences, and second, to tackle abuses by taking firmer action against businesses operating without licences. Article 273f of the penal code outlaws forced and child prostitution, profiting from it, and forcing prostitutes to surrender their earnings. Regulations on premises specify the minimum size of working areas and govern safety, fire precautions and hygiene. For instance, every working area must be equipped with a panic button, and hot and cold running water. Condoms must be provided.

- In Italy prostitution is legal, but organized prostitution (indoors in brothels or controlled by third parties) is prohibited. Brothels became illegal in 1958, but single sex workers working from apartments are ‘tolerated’. A 2010 court decision created a new precedent, that clients who did not pay the worker would be considered guilty of rape. This was considered a major breakthrough for sex workers’ rights. Of 558 workers attending a STD clinic in Bologna between 1995 and 1999, only 1.6% tested positive for HIV.

- Prostitution is legal in Germany. Prostitutes may work as regular employees with contract, though the vast majority work independently. Brothels are registered businesses that do not need a special brothel licence; if food and alcoholic drinks are offered, the standard restaurant licence is required. Every city has the right to zone off certain areas where prostitution is not allowed. In Bavaria, law mandates the use of condoms for sexual intercourse with prostitutes, including oral contact. Pimping, admitting prostitutes under the age of eighteen to a brothel, and influencing persons under the age of twenty-one to take up or continue work in prostitution, are illegal. It is also illegal to contract sex services from any person younger than 18. In 2006 Cologne took in 828,000 euros through taxing prostitution.

- Spain decriminalised prostitution in 1995, while pimping remains illegal. Owning an establishment where prostitution takes place is in itself legal, but the owner cannot derive financial gain from the prostitute or hire a person to sell sex because prostitution is not considered a job and thus has no legal recognition. The Catalan government licenses brothels as “clubs”, though in some areas street prostitution is fined.

The correct approach is a legalised, regulated and taxed sex industry. Regulations can reduce STDs by enforcing the use of condoms and the rights of sex-workers to adequate pay and conditions and to non-violence.No such recourse exists when the trade is driven underground as in this country.

It will be for the Government to decide whether to proceed with the report. The supporters of prohibition range from the Catholic Right to the Feminist Left. Biblical denuniciations of prostitutes as “fallen women” do not fit comfortably with feminist conceptions of gender equality and agency. Feminist arguments that the trade exploits women fail to account for male prostitution.

This debate has followed a depressing pattern familiar to observers of Irish politics – namely the forced consensus. The forced consensus has done this country great harm in the past. Forced consensus once silenced the victims of the Church in the industrial schools and the Magdalene Launderies (once managed among others by present Ruhama trustees the Sisters of Charity). Wexford TD Mick Wallace and Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White had the courage to question the prohibitionist consensus in the past but were browbeaten into silence by what the latter called “extreme leftwingers and those on the high moral ground”. If our democracy is to survive it is imperative that there be diversity of opinion on matters of conscience such as this.

Labour’s problem is lack of substance, not communications

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Somebody needs to tell the Labour Party that their problem with the voters in Meath East, or anywhere else in the country, has nothing to do with ‘communications’. By the time a quarter of the boxes were opened in the count centre in Ashbourne, and the extent of the collapse in Labour’s vote was becoming apparent, it was obvious the main story emerging from the Meath East byelection was going to be about a leadership crisis within Labour.

Continue reading ‘Labour’s problem is lack of substance, not communications’ »

Complicated polling questions generate muddled results…. Damn Lies and Statistics

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This post is written by Eoin O’Malley, political scientist at DCU, and appeared on 21 February on  It provides an excellent guide to polling questions in general as well as a valuable critique of why the findings of the recently published poll on behalf of the Pro-Life campaign, which asked what action people want taken on abortion legislation in Ireland, should be approached with caution.

 A poll released today by the Pro-Life Campaign seeks to ‘challenge the notion that there is broad middle ground support for abortion in Ireland.’ This polls claims to show that two-thirds of Irish people want ‘legal protection of the unborn’ and suggests that this means Irish people are against legalised abortions. This should surprise some as it follows on from a IpsosMRBI poll in the Irish Times recently which showed a substantial majority in favour of legalised abortions in a variety of circumstances. Continue reading ‘Complicated polling questions generate muddled results…. Damn Lies and Statistics’ »

Keeping the lawyers busy

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Denis O’Brien won his defamation case against the Irish Daily Mail’s Paul Drury yesterday because the Mail’s “honest opinion” defence of Drury’s column failed since they could not establish the truth of the facts which formed its basis. The honest opinion defence was introduced into Irish law by Michael McDowell in the Defamation Bill of 2006, which eventually became law in 2009.

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Who fears to speak of 1998

Read more about: Fianna Fail, Nationalism, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Sinn Féin, Unionism     Print This Post

Irish Times citing Martin Mansergh reacting to a comment of Gerry Adams (full Adams interview and exegesis at Slugger) –

Dr Martin Mansergh said Gerry Adams’s assertion on the RTÉ Radio programme This Week that the governments of that time refused to push or promote the repeal of the [Government of Ireland] Act, partitioning Ireland, was at complete variance with the record. Dr Mansergh said former taoiseach Albert Reynolds had always said the Government of Ireland Act would have to be on the table with Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. “The demand, which was acceded to, was maintained right up to the Good Friday agreement and was never taken off the agenda,” Dr Mansergh added.

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Back to the 1980s – Unemployment, Economic Doom & Gloom, and Abortion. What next? Northern Ireland!

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Government faces formidable challenges in 2013, and the Meath East by-election brings them all to a head

Sometimes it feels like we all woke up one morning and there we were – right back to the 1980s. Lost in a decade of rampant unemployment and emigration; where the only news on the economic front is the bad news of still burgeoning deficits and an unsustainably mounting sovereign debt burden; flaky banks and building societies teetering on the verge of collapse and looking to be bailed out by the state; and of course, the lingering socially corrosive impact of a bitter debate surrounding the ‘right to life’ amendment to the Constitution. Northern Ireland was a fine old mess in those days too – a completely failed political entity; which is much what it increasingly is beginning to resemble as the promise of the Peace Process is overtaken by unresolved political tensions. The stuff of nightmares, those old intractable issues. And they’re all back. Only this time it’s even worse. So pity the government.

Continue reading ‘Back to the 1980s – Unemployment, Economic Doom & Gloom, and Abortion. What next? Northern Ireland!’ »

Cuts in alarms security for elderly adds to cynicism about government commitment to ‘protect the most vulnerable in our society’.

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It’s all over the media this morning – how the government has targeted the most vulnerable in society in possibly the most mean-spirited of all the mean-spirited cuts in Budget 2013. From now on, social monitored personal alarms will only be made available to 65 year olds living alone, who qualify for the scheme, to a maximum cost of €230 per alarm. The budget for the scheme, administered by the Department of the Environment,  which over the past three years has benefitted some 7,000 elderly people annually, has been cut from €2.4m in 2012 to €1.15m this year. Over the past three years the scheme has cost the Exchequer €8.3m, which is less than the amount paid out in TDs’ allowances and expenses per annum. Continue reading ‘Cuts in alarms security for elderly adds to cynicism about government commitment to ‘protect the most vulnerable in our society’.’ »

We had good company

Read more about: Europe, Fianna Fail, Foreign Affairs     Print This Post

The Irish Times has a nice set of articles on the papers released under the 30 year rule, which cover 1982 — quite a year in Irish politics. Among the points of interest is the strain in UK-Ireland relations caused by the Falklands War. Deaglán de Bréadún gets perhaps a tad ambitious though in seeking to make the position of the Haughey government on the war into an entry in what would be a short book entitled Good Things About Charlie Haughey. Now credit where it’s due, Haughey’s reported description of the evolution of Ireland’s position is excellent: he was an intelligent man who understood a foreign policy brief as well as any foreign minister:

According to the newly released record of the meeting, he continued: “Argentina was certainly responsible for starting the conflict in the first instance but we feel that after that the matter should have been dealt with in the United Nations – the Security Council – and through negotiations.” The issue had “caused us some difficulty” in Ireland, he said, adding: “The EEC/Ten had wished to impose sanctions. We were prepared to do so but only as long as they were in support of political and diplomatic action. “Once it became clear that the UK was not prepared to pursue this course but had switched to a military approach we felt we had no option but to withdraw from sanctions. “Our approach, therefore, is that Argentina was wrong in the first place and that it should withdraw. This would mean a general cessation of hostilities. “A solution should then be found through the United Nations, the UN secretary general and the Security Council,” Haughey is reported as saying.

As he recognized, Mrs Thatcher was determined to pursue a military solution, and Ireland’s reluctant position was causing major friction, with the radical idea being floated (privately) in the UK of withdrawing de facto citizenship rights for Irish citizens resident in the UK, which had existed since 1922. So, can it be as Deaglán de Bréadún says, “that it could be argued that, for all his well-publicised failings as a political leader, this was, in the Churchillian phrase, Charlie’s finest hour?”

The big problem is that Ireland was not actually alone in its lack of enthusiasm for the way the Falklands conflict was headed. Among the peripheral Atlantic countries with ancestral links to the UK that were not too keen was … the United States of America! The Daily Telegraph has a good account of the deep divisions within the US government about how to handle it, with President Reagan’s instinctive leaning to Maggie’s position running into a significant view in Washington that their longer-term interests lay with keeping Argentina and Latin America more generally onside; the USA’s western hemisphere roots were definitely showing. And as one reads through the full package of IT articles on the crisis, it becomes clear that there was a large group of unhappy countries looking to slow down the rush to war, including Italy and Spain. Certainly knowing in hindsight that GUBU was just months away puts a touch of class on Charlie’s positioning on this issue. But overall it’s a ledger still too deep in the red to be rescued by one stance that was well within the logic of Irish foreign policy.

A lot not done, a lot still to do

Read more about: Fianna Fail, Referenda, Social Policy, Women's Rights     Print This Post

Micheál Martin as Minister for Health & Children, in the Dail on 25 October 2001 to push through the legislation for the 25th Amendment to the Constitution –

The purpose of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill is to provide a secure and effective constitutional basis for a legislative approach to the protection of human life in pregnancy. The proposals are designed to ensure that women can continue to receive all necessary medical treatment during pregnancy, while at the same time ensuring maximum protection of the unborn and maintaining a clear prohibition on abortion.

The mechanism proposed is that a referendum will be held to approve the insertion into Article 46 of the Constitution of the text of proposed amendments to Article 40.3 of the Constitution. These are (i) a new subsection 4º in Article 40.3 to provide that the life of the unborn in the womb will be protected in accordance with the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002; and (ii) a new subsection 5º in Article 40.3 to provide that any future proposal to amend or repeal the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002 will have to be approved by the people in a referendum … The new law will, therefore, define “abortion” in a way that clearly excludes such ethically legitimate procedures from being termed an abortion for the purposes of our criminal law. Doctors may provide any medical treatment which, in their opinion, is necessary to safeguard the life of a pregnant woman. The doctor’s opinion must be formed in good faith and there is an explicit requirement that regard be had to the need to preserve unborn human life, where practicable. It is important to emphasise that doctors, when treating a pregnant woman, make every effort to safeguard not only her life, but that of her baby. This will not change after the passage of the Act.

Questions for the current leader of Fianna Fail given the context of the Savita Halappanavar case: do you still believe that legislation to cover what doctors can do in the case of life-threatening pregnancies needs to be embedded in the Constitution, and do you believe that the formula you outlined in 2001 for guiding such treatment is still relevant?

Don’t type controversial opinions

Read more about: Communication, Democracy, Oireachtas, Referenda, Social Policy     Print This Post

On 12 October 2012, a process by which an opinion column written by opinion columnist Kevin Myers on the opinion pages of the Irish Independent newspaper had been hauled before Ireland’s statutory Press Ombudsman came to an end. The Press Ombudsman ruled that opinion columnist Kevin Myers had used his opinion column on the opinion pages of the Irish Independent newspaper to express opinions not supported by “facts.” Specifically Myers had made various disparaging remarks about the links between the legalisation of homosexual activity and gay marriage and various societal ills to which Myers was of the opinion that these measures had contributed –

The ombudsman found the newspaper had failed to “distinguish adequately between fact and comment”, and the breaches were “capable of causing grave offence”.

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The politicians’ ‘gutless’ failure to legislate on abortion is no longer acceptable

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The political message of protestors on Kildare Street on Wednesday night last was clear: Irish abortion policy is a shambles, and the blame for that shambles rests at the gates of Leinster House.

Whatever the outcome of investigations into the circumstances that led to the death of Savita Halappanavar in University College Hospital Galway, the failure of successive governments since 1983 to legislate on abortion is no longer acceptable. The problem is not just that all parties, and party leaders, shied away from legislating following the 1992 X case ruling. As highlighted by the judge in that case, nine years after the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to life of the unborn, there was no legislative framework to provide it with meaning or effect. So it’s not twenty years of inaction we have to complain of. More like, thirty years on, as a result of political cowardice, appaling uncertainty persists. Inevitably, and tragically, a case would arise which would light a fire under the pusillanimity of our political elite. Continue reading ‘The politicians’ ‘gutless’ failure to legislate on abortion is no longer acceptable’ »

A casualty in the War on Reilly

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Content gone from the Irish Times digital front page on Tuesday. The link is busted too. The not-quite-a-correction looks out of context without the original material. Sometimes a feeding frenzy leads to indigestion.

Shortall Resignation: The Government needs a Doctor? Oh God no, not James Reilly!

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 “This government is sick”, writes Miriam Lord in today’s Irish Times.

Does it need a doctor? Not James Reilly, surely, who’s continuing his stint as lightning rod for the daily litany of woes besetting the government, of which Roisin Shortall’s shock resignation as Junior Minister in his Department is just the latest twist?

Roisin Shortall’s resignation is a matter of regret, and not just for Joan Burton who, taking Leader’s Questions in the Dail today, expressed that sentiment. It’s regrettable to all of us that a junior minister with responsibility for establishing primary care centres felt she was left with no option but to resign her position. Continue reading ‘Shortall Resignation: The Government needs a Doctor? Oh God no, not James Reilly!’ »

Personal insolvency, the ECB, and the shallowness of much political debate

Read more about: Economy, Housing, NAMA     Print This Post

If you had tried to follow the debate on the bill reforming personal bankruptcy in Ireland, what would you have learned over the last few weeks? From the opposition you’d have learned that awful Alan Shatter wants to take away people’s wedding rings, and from Alan Shatter you’d have learned that we had a massive problem of bling weddings in the boom and by God they’re not keeping those rings. The whole thing was ready made for Liveline, and no doubt whoever got the last chance to Talk to Joe would have a major influence on the eventual public attitude to the bill. That may be par for the course in Ireland, but in this case the departure of the popular understanding of the bill from its substantive effect is striking. For while the bill is well on its way to being viewed as an essentially Dickensian framework in the popular media, according to the just released opinion of the ECB on the bill, it risks being a disaster for the financial sector and the mother of all loopholes for medium-sized property speculators.

Continue reading ‘Personal insolvency, the ECB, and the shallowness of much political debate’ »

Politburo or Poltroons? It’s hard to characterise what the government strategy signifies for the lives of citizens any more

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Finally back to the Dail this week, the government is under pressure on a number of fronts, and not just in terms of the inevitable power wrangling between the big spending departments over the contents of next December’s budget. This post takes a brief look at a couple of those areas and question the approach taken by the Ministers directly responsible, and by extension their colleagues in the Cabinet who ostensibly endorse their actions.

Is it a sort of Politburo that we’re dealing with, or a collection of poltroons who, devoid of any imagination or strategic direction, are ineffectually muddling their way through in hope that it will all work out alright in the end?

Continue reading ‘Politburo or Poltroons? It’s hard to characterise what the government strategy signifies for the lives of citizens any more’ »

We need to talk about Brian

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The Irish Times is building on the foundation work of Gavin Sheridan and Karl Whelan and has determined that there are three letters from the ECB to Ireland in the critical October-November 2010 period. The odd thing is that none of them correspond to the date cited by Brian Lenihan in his BBC Radio 4 interview with Dan O’Brien, as coming on 12 November. The IT conjectures a bit:

The decisive conversation with Mr Trichet followed on November 12th, and it is possible that this arose following a fax or email reinforcing the points made on November 4th. In an interview with Irish Times economics editor Dan O’Brien, conducted after Fianna Fáil had lost power, Mr Lenihan was adamant that a communication from Mr Trichet had arrived on November 12th.

There is an obvious further conjecture: that Lenihan never read the November 4th letter, and the ECB became aware of this and felt the need to follow up a week later. Amongst the speculation that missing week was the possibility that Lenihan was considering a Fianna Fail leadership coup against Brian Cowen.

It probably didn’t affect the ultimate outcome, but the notion that internal party matters were distracting Ireland’s government from dealing with the financial crisis remains an uncomfortable backdrop to the How Did We Get Here question.