A Guide To Failing Sexually Abused Children

Hazel Aged 9
Me, aged 9. I’d already been a victim of sexual abuse for 7 years when this photograph was taken.

 

CW: Child Sexual Abuse, Rape, Incompetence
Help:  https://www.rapecrisishelp.ie/find-a-service/
https://www.samaritans.org/ireland/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/
https://www.mentalhealthireland.ie/need-help-now/

Yesterday, Sarah McInerney wrote a piece in The Times about my late friend, Shane Griffin, and how he was let down by a number of systems in Ireland: The Eastern Health Board, the HSE, TUSLA, and the judiciary, to name a few.

It was a lovely tribute to a lovely man and it mentioned how the abuse children suffer is compounded by the neglect they (we) are then subjected to by the very institutions that are supposed to mind them (us). The problem I have with the piece is not the piece itself,  but the fact that it tells us nothing new, and it amounts to nothing more than a bit of hand-wringing, and an invitation (which was taken up by many on Twitter) to have a big, online, hand-wringing fest.

We have known for years that children who are sexually abused in Ireland have their abuse compounded by the further abuse and neglect of those who are supposed to help us. The Journal has been reporting on this for years – just have a look at this and this and this and this and this  : All pieces giving details about children who were sexually abused, and how their suffering was compounded by government agencies, individual social workers, doctors, psychologists etc. who did nothing and who were promoted for their lack of action. Our government, our government agencies, and individual social workersdoctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and others who work for those agencies are complicit in the abuse, neglect and suicides of people in this country. No one is held accountable, and victims struggle to survive in a country that doesn’t support us.

For example, if (God forbid) your ten-year-old child were sexually assaulted and you went to get help for them. This is what would happen:

  1. You would phone somewhere like CARI, St. Clare’s Unit, or St. Louise’s Unit, or your local social worker, begging for help.
  2. You would not receive help.
  3. The service / social worker you contacted would, in turn, contact TUSLA and report the information. (Note: If this isn’t done online – bearing in mind that only 20% of HSE workers have access to the Internet – the documents will be returned. Estimates vary on how long this will take.)
  4. TUSLA would put your child on a waiting list to be assessed. This waiting list is currently years long.
  5. A social worker from TUSLA would interview your child and decide whether or not they were lying about the abuse. They call this determining whether or not the allegations are ‘founded’ or ‘unfounded’. (More about this below).
  6. If they decide that your child is not a liar, your child will be referred to CARI to be put on their waiting list for help.
  7. If you wanted to access services through the HSE, you would have to involve the Gardaí, as well. St. Clare’s and St. Louise’s Units will not put you on their waiting lists unless you have done so.

Don’t forget that, for the years you’re waiting for help, you’ll have been dealing with a child whose mental health is suffering, you’ll have been grappling with your own pain and feelings of guilt, fear, and your mental health will also be suffering. Your child may be suicidal. Your child may be self-harming. Your other children, and your partner / spouse will also be suffering in a similar way.

If the abuse was perpetrated by a member of your family, the mental anguish will be compounded. There will be no help or support for your abused child, you, or your family members unless you know how to find a competent therapist and pay for therapy yourself.  Good luck with that.

Founded / Unfounded

Whether or not your child gets help depends on whether or not a social worker in TUSLA says they’re allowed to access this help (such as it is). How do they do this? Well, the truth is that nobody knows. Social Workers in Ireland receive no training in how to determine the veracity of a claim of abuse. Nor or they trained in how to treat abuse victims or victims of trauma. (That is changing, however, as Dr Joe Mooney has just introduced a module in UCD for those studying there.)

I’m not being at all flippant when I say that they may as well just flip a coin to decide whether or not a child’s allegations are taken seriously. If you think I’m joking, have a look at the PQs (Parliamentary Questions) 445 – 447 asked by Róisín Shorthall at the end of 2018 and the Minister’s response.

Just today (January 13th, 2020), I got word from a friend – I’ll call her Anna, though that’s not her real name – who contacted TUSLA in 2010 to report abuse she had suffered when she was a child. Make no mistake, this is a brave thing to do. Anna was raped 3-4 times a week, from the age of 14 until she was 17. She is aware that she is not the only person this rapist raped. One other woman has had conversations with Anna about being raped by this man, too, but she’s afraid to go to the Gardaí. Of course, he’s an upstanding member of his local community in Wicklow, so when he was asked – more than eight years after the abuse was reported – if the allegations were untrue, he denied it.

And that was that.

Anna’s mental and physical health are suffering because of the damage this man did to her, which has been compounded by services which are supposed to put ‘Children First’. Anna no longer lives in Ireland because she can’t bear to live in a country that cares so little for raped children. I cannot say I blame her.

Getting Personal

I’m not going to pretend to be objective. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t personal. Because it is personal. I am one of the children who was let down by the system. I have encountered nothing but obstacles from every institution, service and individual – with the notable exception of one social worker who alerted me to the fact that a file on me existed. This she did, almost as an aside at the end of a conversation in 2010. It took me two years of constant requests before I was given access to my (heavily redacted) files.

This letter refers to a case conference that took place in November 1988. I was, at this time, 15 years and two months old.

Case Conference Nov 1988 croppedI think it’s worth noting that I never, ever met a single one of the people present at that ‘case conference’ – except for Imelda Ryan.

This is borne out, in part by this (heavily redacted) letter from Rosemary Cooke, who was at the meeting referred to in the correspondence above:

I Have Never Had Contact With Hazel

At the same time, she declares herself the key worker in my ‘case’.

I remain the key worker

And, as you can see from the top line, she asserts that there is ‘little social work intervention possible.’ This woman is still in practice, by the way, and has added the role of ‘Mediator’ to her suite of offerings.

It would actually be funny, if it weren’t so serious.

Let me draw your attention to lines 21, 22, 23, and 24 of the first document. Please bear in mind that everyone at that meeting knew I had been sexually abused by my elder brothers, and was being sexually abused by my father. It was further accepted that the younger children in the house were also at risk of being / were being abused.

But, as you can also see, my mammy didn’t want my daddy to leave the house. So no one interfered. Fifteen-year-old me is referred to as being ‘very disturbed’, ‘not liking my father’ and wanting him ‘out of the house’. It is absurd that this is even noteworthy – or that it is noteworthy, but no further explanation is required. ‘Dr’ Ryan suspects this is a plot on my part. Imagine being 15 and wanting a rapist out of your family home in order to protect yourself and the other children in the family! Clearly quite the little plotter. I was the only person prepared to do anything to address the situation. That should not have been my job. Please also note that I am vilified for disclosing that I was suicidal (line 24). Please also note that, even though the Gardaí were referred to – though I still have no idea how they were expected to ‘control the family’ – they were never contacted by anyone about this abuse until I knocked into my local station when I was 18.

But let me go back to the ‘psychiatrist’ involved – the woman who was supposed to have my welfare at heart. Bear in mind, I was between the ages of 14 and 16 when I was attending St Louise’s Unit. Bear in mind that it was confirmed I was being sexually abused (or, in today’s parlance, my allegations were ‘founded’) . Yet, here is a sample of things that she said about this very scared, very vulnerable teenager:

‘Hazel is “seeking attention”, and has on more than one occasion, cut her wrists’. (Letter dated (05.12.1989). Could you imagine the audacity of a suicidal teenager trying to kill herself. Clearly, still plotting!

Perhaps even more disturbing, however is this gem:

Actually, it's called rape

I’m particularly disturbed by the use of the term ‘sexual intercourse’. Even in the 1980s, ‘sexual intercourse’ with a child was called rape. I would expect a professional, in a letter to other professionals, to use correct terminology. Maybe I expect too much.

I have reams of documents recovered from the HSE and St. Louise’s Unit, but I won’t bore you by reproducing them all here – I think you get the gist.

Of course, I am the first to admit that I am no spring chicken and these documents date from the late 1980s and early 1990s. BUT the system is still the same – actually, you could even argue that it’s a bit worse because ‘self-referrals’ like mine was, are no longer accepted by these units. Imelda Ryan was the director of this unit until a few years ago (2016 if my memory serves me correctly) when she retired. The culture that she inculcated is still very much alive and well in the Unit. In fact, this disdain for victims is evident in almost every single service that is meant to care for us.

The problem is the system, and the culture that supports it. It would not be easy to overhaul the system: There would be huge resistance, and we’d have to change the culture in which we live and operate. But that’s not really the Irish way, is it? We’ll continue, instead, to wring our hands with bone-crunching intensity and cry at the funerals of our friends. Friends whose deaths were entirely preventable if only we had competent people in positions of power. Or even people who cared.

Uninvited Women

The Uninvited Women.png

Today – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – marked the publication of the first edition of the Uninvited Women Journal. I was thrilled to have a piece in it, which is reproduced below. The other contributions were written by inspiring women from diverse backgrounds and cultures. I encourage you to follow the link above, and read their stories.

VICTIM BLAMING, SHAME, AND MALE ENTITLEMENT: HOW THEY CONTRIBUTE TO A RAPE CULTURE IN IRELAND.

Like any culture, rape culture is a collection of elements. Three of these elements are victim blaming, male entitlement, and shame. The latter foisted on the shoulders of the victim, not the perpetrator. Victim blaming occurs when individuals blame elements of the victim’s behaviour to hold the victim at least partially responsible for their own assaults. It is often maintained by strong religious ideology. Shame, as an emotion, is socially constructed, and intertwined with disgust: The origins of disgust can be traced back to when our cave sisters and brothers rejected toxic foods because they triggered a sense of disgust. As human beings became more sophisticated, we projected our sense of disgust at certain actions and behaviours onto the actors of those actions and behaviours – creating shame within them.

Shame, then, has become linked to the idea of ‘normality’ and ‘acceptability’. I believe we need a cultural sea of change so that the disgust we feel at crimes of sexual violence is directed towards the perpetrators, rather than their victims.

Male Entitlement. Entitlement is an unhealthy personality trait that can lead to greed, aggression, a lack of forgiveness, hostility, and deceit. This sense of entitlement may lead individuals to believe that they deserve sex when they want it, without considering the wants and needs of the other person. When entitled individuals do not receive what they want, they may become hostile or violent: Higher rates of self-reported sexual aggression have been found among college males who also reported a higher sense of entitlement.

THE IRISH CONTEXT

I have three words that explain – to a large extent – how victim blaming, shame, and male entitlement manifest in an Irish context. Those three words are Roman, Catholic, and Church. The rise in religiosity in Ireland can be traced back to what the colonising English called ‘The Famine’, and the Irish refer to as An Gorta Mór 1 , when English parliamentary commissions indicated that the ‘civilising of Irish society depended on giving more power to the Catholic Church’.

1 ‘THE GREAT HUNGER’

The population of Ireland was thirded by starvation and emigration as a result of An Gorta Mór. Those who remained developed strategies to ward off similar catastrophes. These included religion, education, and culture, which the Roman Catholic Church took ownership of. I think it’s safe to say that there is a strong religious ideology in Ireland. Regular mass attendance is down, but people still do their hatching, matching, and dispatching in churches; and most children are still forced through three sacraments before they start secondary school.

Shame itself is constructed in Irish society with reference to Roman Catholicism. But there’s also a peculiar Irish complexion to shame that doesn’t cast equally on men and women. Women’s bodies are policed, their actions, educations, and possibilities, are mediated by peculiarly Irish social norms. Catholic notions of sexual morality proved to be especially oppressive for Irish women, who were told their bodies were shameful – but, apart from that, they were not discussed. It was not uncommon in 1950s Ireland for women to marry without basic reproductive knowledge.

Male entitlement in Irish culture is underpinned by our patriarchal, hierarchical, paternalistic norms, which favour men. Economics, social policy, and law, all reflect, and are reinforced by, dominant ideologies, constructed by men. The structures they underpin are patriarchal. Sometimes, these structures have with a paternal gloss to intimate a protection of women and children, but which undermines, and limits, women’s agency. Women are only considered in their proximity to, and relationships with, men; and our differences are seen as aberrations from a male norm.

 

The Lack of Provision for the Special Educational Needs of Children of Gifted Intelligence in the Republic of Ireland is a Breach of their Human Rights.

 

pexels-photo-256541.jpeg

I know, I know, it’s a mouthful.

It’s also the title of a paper I presented at the SLSA (Socio-Legal Studies Association) Conference in Lancaster in 2016. If you want to read it (with the added bonus of my slides attached!), you can do so here. 

Savage That There’s No Funding for SAVI

savi-report1.jpg

The Irish Government has said that there isn’t enough money in the coffers for a new SAVI report. The last one was produced in 2002.

A new SAVI Report is vital in order to get an idea of the current beliefs, attitudes, and – crucially – experiences of men and women in Ireland. Significantly for me, my eldest daughter was born in 2002, which means it’s very easy for me to remember that year. It’s not just nearly 16 years ago, it is a very real year for me. It means I can easily pinpoint 2002 in my memory, and compare and contrast now with then.

I am aware of how much technology has changed since then; how simultaneously enabling and disabling it is. I am aware of how much our attitudes towards sex and sexuality have changed since that year. I am aware that people are more aware, and more articulate around, sex, sexuality, and their sexual experiences now than they were then. I am aware that people who were young children in 2002 are now fully-grown adults. I am also aware that people who were young children in 2002, and who were being abused then, are now fully-grown adults who may, or may not, have ever had the opportunity to disclose and discuss their experiences. We need to capture this data.

We need to capture this data in order to inform policy, practice, and funding for people and services who care for those of us who are affected by sexual assault and abuse. We need to be visible and vocal about the fact that we are gathering this data so the people who are directly affected by it feel, and are, heard.

To commission a new SAVI Report would cost approximately €1m. The government has claimed they don’t have the budget. They do, however, have €64m for Irish Racing; they also have €16 for greyhound racing; they found an extra €500,000 for National Parks; and, of course, Leo the Liar easily found €5m for his own spin doctors

All of that tells us that sexually abused and assaulted children, women, and men in Ireland are worth less to this government than racing horses, bloodsports, trees, and Leo’s own personal public relations unit.  As if our self-esteem hadn’t taken enough of a battering already.

 

 

More on Poverty & Education

My piece yesterday on education and poverty struck a nerve with many of you. I received a slew of messages here, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on my phone, from women who found themselves in similar situations. Women who tried desperately hard to educate their way out of poverty. Women who tried to grab life by the scruff of the neck and gain an education for themselves so they could lift their families out of poverty.

Some of us end up pursuing more than one degree in an effort to improve our circumstances. Unfortunately, in Ireland, if you want to pursue a second degree that is not higher on the NFQ than one you already have, you will not receive state funding. That means that if you find the MA you have isn’t enough to secure employment – and you can’t, for whatever reason, pursue a PhD – you will have to self-fund. This is what I ended up doing. My intention was to use the money from a settlement for sexual abuse to pay my fees (and for the therapy I need as a result of the abuse to keep me mentally healthy).  The problem is that one of the brothers who raped and otherwise sexually abused me decided not to honour the settlement. In desperation, I launched a Go Fund Me campaign explicitly, exclusively and entirely to ensure that I stay fit enough to parent, and that I can finish my degree and graduate.  And, then, maybe – just maybe – get a job somewhere. Anywhere.

It struck me earlier today how gendered this all is. The men walk away from their financial obligations, and abuse the children they have decided not to support. They further abuse the women to whom they don’t pay child support because they know that (most) mothers will go hungry before they allow their child/ren to suffer.

The structures of our society and our legal system are patriarchal and allow men who do not wish to support their children, to walk away from their obligations. The women who are then responsible for every aspect of raising the children are then vilified by the society that does not men to account. This, in turn, enforces the belief that many of these men (and, to be honest, I am thinking of specific men; not necessarily men in general) hold; that women deserve to be abused. That women who stand up to the men who bully them need (in my ex-husband’s words) ‘to be taught a lesson’.

Even before I became a mother, I knew one thing; no woman creates a child on her own. Not even those who have virgin births or those who claim impregnation by entity. To continue to promulgate the myths around mothers who are forced to raise their children on their own shifts the focus from those who are doing nothing for their families to those who are doing everything they can for their families. Those who are doing all they can to make their lives, their children’s lives and, therefore society better.  Ironically, we are frustrated by the very society we are trying to improve as we are trying to improve it.

Ireland may no longer lock up lone mothers and sell their babies, but it has a long way to go before it can become in any way congratulatory over the way it does treat them.

 

 

Educated Poverty

Pic of Student Card number erased

Yesterday, I read this piece in the Journal. I didn’t write it – but I could have.

Those of us who parent alone – and the vast majority of us are female – experience the highest rates of deprivation: Nearly 60% of those in single-parent households live with the lack of basic necessities. And, according to the CSO, more than half a million people live in one parent families. That’s a lot of lack.

Like many poor people, lone parents are blamed for their circumstances and for their poverty. In spite of the fact that many women are married, or in stable relationships when they have their children, they are judged as feckless ‘young wans’ whose only desire is to ‘sponge off the state’. May of the comments on the piece I’ve linked to above demonstrate this. One of the things that bothers me about nasty comments and judgements aimed at single mothers is the fact that those who deride them are picking on the wrong parent. They are picking on the parent who is actually parenting. They are picking on the parent who didn’t abandon their child. They are picking on the parent who is doing their best, in spite of the odds, which are stacked against them.

For the longest time, the accepted narrative is that the only way out of poverty is education. Sadly, that’s only half the story. As a woman who has been parenting on my own in Ireland for nearly 12 years, I have direct, personal experience of this. I returned to education when my eldest was 3.5 years old, and my youngest was just 16 months old. Four years later and I was able to put the letters BA (Hons) after my name. Now I had a degree, I was sure I’d find (or make) work for myself.

Sadly, I was wrong. I graduated in 2009, when the Celtic Tiger was in its death throes. Few places were hiring. Even fewer were hiring new graduates. Even fewer would even acknowledge an application from a single parent of two young children. After a year of trying to secure gainful employment (and giving many, many hours for free to NGOs and charities and publications), I returned to education. In 2012, I added ‘MA’ to those letters after my name. Now, surely, someone would hire me.

Again, I was wrong in thinking that I would be offered a job by a company in Ireland. To add insult to injury, several of those employers who deigned to employ me had no difficulty accepting my services for free before they had ‘openings’ for which I applied. Repeatedly, when applying for jobs I was already doing for NGOs and other agencies for whom I had done volunteer work, I was told that I lacked the ‘law piece’. So I applied, and was accepted, to the Law School at Queen’s University in Belfast.

In between finishing my MA and starting my LLM, I was accepted on to a PhD programme at Trinity College, Dublin. I did the first year ‘off books’ (a term meaning that – while I was studying – I hadn’t paid fees, so I wasn’t technically registered, and my access to certain things was restricted). When it came time to start my second year at Trinity, I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t commit my kids to another three years of poverty. I opted to go to Queen’s instead, thinking that I was better off to spend a year studying intensely and get myself a degree at the end of it, than spend a year studying intensely and still only be part way through a degree. Even if that degree was a PhD. So far, the idea that a primary degree and two Master’s degrees will open up employment opportunities has proved unfounded – but I live in hope (because, frankly, I have little else).

Tertiary education, to me, means being hungry. I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally. When I’m studying, I can’t afford to eat three meals a day. So I don’t. I drink a lot of coffee (that I bring from home), and insist that it’s all in a good cause. And anyway, I can afford to lose a few kilos. Plus, I’ll get a job at the end of it, I tell myself on the days and nights when the gnawing in my stomach distracts me from the words on the page. That last, so far, has proved to be a lie.

No matter how highly educated you are in Ireland, you can’t be sure you’ll get a job. I think part of the reason for that is a lack of ability on the part of Irish employers to recognise, and understand, the value of transferable skills. The idea that the skills single mothers use on a daily basis – financial juggling, multi-tasking, fire-fighting, negotiating, prioritising, communicating with government departments, healthcare, etc. etc. – are useful in the workplace, completely escapes Irish employers. There is also a reluctance to acknowledge that people can retrain, change direction, and bring their previous experience with them. The Irish way is that you have a box that you have been put in, and you must stay in that box forever. Especially if you are a woman. And most especially if you are a woman raising children on your own.

Education, on its own, won’t help lone parents lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a start – but it’s not the complete solution. We need access to jobs once we’ve graduated – and access to quality childcare, and employers who understand that we are no less committed to our jobs than our childfree colleagues. In short, we need support from the state and the society we’re living in. We need the opportunity to put our expensive educations to good use.

 

The End of the LPA

Today, like thousands of other parents – primarily other mothers – I lost my lone parent’s allowance. Well, that’s not strictly true; I didn’t lose it – it was taken from me. That money is the only guaranteed income for my children and I. It is all I have to count on and now it’s gone.

Minister Joan Burton – who has taken this money from me and those like me – either has no idea what she’s done, or she doesn’t care. She is throwing thousands of families into further uncertainty and worry. We’re already poor, and bearing the stigma that goes with that (particularly in Irish society), now we’re further stigmatised because any notion that we should be allowed to choose to stay at home with our children has been completely removed from us; the idea that there is something dignified about raising your children has been dismissed by the Minister for Social Protection (a misnomer if ever I read one!).

This removal of the LPA is a cynical move by this government. It implies that those of us who are living on the grand sum of €181, plus €33 for each dependent child, are content on that amount of money and make no true or meaningful effort to enter or obtain paid employment. Apart from anything else, I find that implication hugely offensive. I do not know one person who is content to live on €181 per week and raise a child on an allowance of €33. How can any child be fed, clothed, shod and educated on that amount?

Actually, it’s a misstatement to talk of ‘living’ on LPA. You can’t live on that amount, you can merely try to exist. Worry and fear and shame and failure sit inside you, mingling and curdling and paralysing you. The obvious effects of a constant, chronic lack of money – otherwise knows as consistent poverty – are things like essential bills going unpaid: Of your light, heat and home being at risk of being taken from you; of being unable to buy enough nourishing food for your family, of being unable to buy clothes for your children or yourself.  Long-term poverty means more than that. It brings social isolation for you and your child/ren. You can’t throw a birthday party for your child if you can’t afford it. You can’t send your child to a party without a gift for the birthday boy or girl, so more often than not your child has to refuse invitations. You can’t go to the movies, buy books, or enjoy a night out anywhere without funds. You can’t even go for a nice drive in the country and enjoy a picnic if you can’t afford the petrol or the bus-fare to do so. You can’t get the extra educational supports your children need if you can’t afford them.

In her wisdom, Minister Joan Bruton has decided that it would be far better for me and my family if I had a job. I have to say I agree with her. A job would not only bring income, it would bring social engagement, it would bring an increase in self-esteem, and it would bring hope – the hope that dreams could come true for me and my girls. But her suggestion that taking our only source of income away from us will somehow prompt and prod me to get a job is repugnant. As if I – or any lone parent – needs to be forced into work! The sad truth is that we would happily if there were work available with childcare options that would mean our children would be properly cared for in our absence. Every woman I know who is raising children alone would love an income – we are currently trying everything we can, running little businesses from home, educating ourselves so we’re better equipped and skilled for the workforce and many of us are wishing we could afford to emigrate.

The myth of the social welfare cheat and the single mother who is a feckless young wan spreading her legs for  any young fella who comes along so she can get a free house and live high on the hog is tiresome. But it’s easy to believe by those who want someone to blame for their increased income tax – a bit like people who still refuse to relinquish their belief that the MMR vaccine creates autism.

Taking Lone Parent Allowance away from parents who are raising children on their own is punishing the parent who stayed. It is punishing the parent who didn’t walk away from their child. It is punishing the parent who is trying their best. It is punishing the parent who has faced up to her (or, in the small minority of cases, his) responsibilities. It is punishing the parent who who is prepared to parent.

Our government should know better – and be better – than that.

A Thousand Germans

I learnt something tonight.
After WWII, there was fierce hardship all across Europe – including in Germany. People were starving.
Ireland, under Dev, made the humanitarian gesture to home 1,000 German children. They were welcome to stay indefinitely.
Many went home to their families when things in Germany improved.
Many more stayed here – because their families were dead, or couldn’t take them back, or couldn’t be found. This is right and proper. These children were not monsters. They had done nothing wrong. They were children.
Anyway, the Irish gov REFUSED to take Jewish children from Germany or anywhere else..
Eventually, under pressure (from the UK, I believe), they ‘gave in’ and said they would take 100 Jewish children. No, that’s not a typographical error. One thousand ‘Christian’ Germans. One hundred Jewish children.

But these children were only welcome for one year.
After that, they had to go back to Germany or wherever they had come from – never mind that their families might well have been exterminated by the families of the one thousand German children who were given succour. Never mind if they had nowhere to go.
I am so ashamed. I am so ashamed that this was how my country treated a people who had been tortured and belittled and shamed and stripped of everything they possessed and even their dignity. People who had been beaten and starved and abused in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.

Do you know who told me?

A Holocaust survivor.

He wasn’t bitter. Just hurt. It came up in conversation after dinner as we sat and chatted about what he and his beloved had been up to since the last time we’d seen each other. He didn’t go out of his way to tell me in order to make a point.
‘Ireland took 1,000 German children. That was good….humanitarian….the right thing to do.’
Then his voice dropped.
‘But they could have taken 1,000 Jewish children too.’

He is right, of course.

I am ashamed. We are not a decent people. We try to tell ourselves we are, but we’re not. This is how Ireland treats those who come to her desperate, frightened, weary, starving. Our attitude to vulnerable people has not changed. If you don’t believe me, take a trip out to Mosney some day.

Misogyny, Double-Standards and Witch-Hunts

As a woman, Ireland is not a great place to be. Not just because of the patriarchal hierarchy but because of the blatant denials that the patriarchal hierarchy exists in the first place. I’ve been giving this quite a bit of thought lately – not least because I am a woman and I have two daughters. I’ve also been thinking about it in the context of this workshop that I’ve designed and am offering at the end of the month.

Part of the problem with Ireland’s peculiar brand of misogyny is a constant denial that it exists. Or the mansplainers telling us that, really, we women have a grand old time of it in Ireland. For example, a doctor told me a few months ago that ‘the feminisation of medicine is a real, documented thing’. I tried to argue that, no it’s not really; that medicine is still patriarchal, but he was having none of it.

‘Look, the facts don’t lie. There are more women entering medicine than men. In a few years, a male doctor will be a rarity,’ he lamented, while with that one phrase – ‘I’m not going to argue about it with you’ – doing what the patriarchy does best, shutting women up and dismissing their arguments (or even their right to argue) while insisting on having the last word.

The problem, as I see it, with this doctor’s assertion is that more women in medicine does not a more feminised medical establishment make. Sadly. As women, we share a deep and real problem; we live in a world created by and for men. We are desperately trying to to fit into a society that values its creators – men – more than it values us. Men make the rules and we, as women, desperately try to live by them. Men create the rules we work by, the rules we play by, the rules we love by. They set the bar that we try to reach. In politics and across all professions – the standards, the expectations, and the rules are set by men.

The doctor I was talking to a few months ago had missed the point; that there are more women in a profession does not make it more ‘feminine’ or more ‘feminised’ – it just means that there are more women trying harder to play and succeed at, a man’s game. Even in so-called ‘female’ professions – teaching and nursing for example – while there may be more women in these professions, they don’t get promoted as often as men. Why? Because it’s a man’s world and we’re trying to operate within it.

Today, I’m thinking in particular about the current witch-hunt against midwife Philomena Canning.  (I think the term ‘witch hunt’ is very apt in this case as midwives were often burnt at the stake because of their women-centred care and their reputations as wise women.) So far, the best article in mainstream media was written by Michael Clifford in the Irish Examiner. You can read it here. (And, yes, I am aware that Michael is a man – but it is possible for men to be feminists!)

This is where the double-standards bit comes in: A number of mothers and children have died under the ‘care’ of the HSE recently – you can read about them here, here, here, here, here, here and here. And these are just a few of the ones that I’m aware of. Not one of the medical people involved in these cases has had their insurance revoked, their livelihoods threatened, their reputations smeared, or their practice suspended. Even though they were directly implicated in the deaths of women and/or children. Unlike Philomena Canning, who is not political, and who is passionately focused on women, babies and their care. No one has ever made a complaint about Philomena and the care she provided them and their families in her 31 years of practice. No one. Ever. In 31 years. That’s some record. Could it be that the HSE is threatened by women who put women first?

Courage in Woman is often mistaken

Germain Greer summed things up rather succinctly when she told the Irish Examiner that “Women still have very little power. They still have to become men. They can’t make real things happen for themselves in the workplace. Or it’s still extremely difficult. If they get stroppy, they’re removed. They can’t get real redress when they’re wronged. They can’t get redress anywhere.”

If you fancy doing something to support women, babies, families, human rights, Philomena Canning and the 25 women who are booked to give birth under her care in the coming 7 months, you can sign this petition. I believe there is to be a rally at the gates of the Dáil on the 8th of October, but I can’t find any details to link to, unfortunately. If you have more information on that rally, please post the in comments, or email me so I can add a link.

Update: Thanks to the lovely Heike Eberwein, I can now add that link – Rally in Support of Philomena Canning.

Garth Brooks

Honestly, I couldn’t care less if Garth Brooks plays one night or twenty or none. I completely respect that he’s a talented musician, but I don’t like his music, so I wouldn’t be going to see him. Nor do I live anywhere near Croke Park, so the concerts would not impact on my life at all. The most impact I can imagine these (proposed) concerts would have on me would be that, were I in the city centre before or after a gig, I might see more people with ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots than usual. That’s it. That’s the sum total of the impact it would have on me.

 

Garth Brooks and his (proposed) concerts in Dublin are under huge discussion in the Irish media at the moment because a licence was not granted for all five of the proposed gigs. The tickets themselves were bought and sold with the caveat ‘subject to licence’. The promoter didn’t even apply for the licence until April – two months after the tickets had gone on sale. Dublin City Council deliberated over the granting of the licence and decided that – based, in part,  on the objections of residents of the area (and let’s not forget that Croke Park is slap-bang in the middle of a residential area) – they were only going to grant a licence for three of the five days.

 

Then Garth Brooks himself weighed in and said he couldn’t choose which of the dates to play “To choose which shows to do and which shows not to do, would be like asking to choose one child over another.” Well, don’t worry your pretty little head about that, Garth – Dublin City Council has made that decision for you. You don’t actually get to decide. The Council has granted a licence for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night gigs. The Monday and Tuesday ones have been axed.

 

Garth Brooks then told anyone who was interested that it was ‘five gigs or none’. Playing ‘just’ three nights wasn’t acceptable. What a spectacular spitting of the dummy! It’s his ball and he’s taking it home.

 

As I said earlier, I couldn’t care less if Garth Brooks never sets foot in Ireland again. The man, his music and his musings have absolutely no relevance to my life. I have no skin in this game. What I do have, however, is a concern for the fact that this man seems to be having a problem with his memory! He seems to have no recollection that, initially, he was only going to play two nights in Dublin. Then, due to the fact that the tickets for those nights sold out in something like 0.07 of a second ( I exaggerate, but only slightly), the performer and his team generously offered another night. They kept offering extra nights until they had reached the magic number of five.

 

So, this is the bit that has me puzzled – if, initially, he was only going to play for two nights but then managed to offer the Irish public five, why is he so upset that Dublin City Council is ‘only’ granting permission for three gigs? I mean, if I agreed to work for someone for two days and then they said they needed me for five, and then they revised that figure and said, actually, they only needed me for three, I’d still see it as a win.

 

Clearly, I’m not rich or famous enough to understand how being offered work for three nights when you’d initially only planned to work for two is a bad thing. I must be one of those friends in low places I believe he sings about….

No Country For Fertile Women

Oh dear, Ireland. What are you doing? What are you doing to the women who live within your jurisdiction? When will your patriarchal misogyny end? When will your tyranny wear itself out? When you start to treat women like equals? Are you completely incapable of learning from your past?

 

It is 2013 and women in Ireland are dying for the want of access to legal, safe, abortion. Savita Halappanavar is not the only woman who was treated inhumanely when she arrived at NUIG, in the early stages of a miscarriage. This is how women are treated in hospitals in Ireland.

 

We’ve been here before. Women have had to leave this country in their thousands for abortions that they cannot legally procure in Ireland. Now, in the past 48 hours, we have heard that our government is set to propose abortion legislation that will ‘allow’ women who are pregnant, a termination of that pregnancy if they are suicidal. Provided no fewer than six (six!!) consultants – two obstetricians and four psychiatrists – concur that she is, indeed, suicidal. Oh yes! And one of those psychiatrists must be a perinatal psychiatrist – of which there are only three in the country.

 

I don’t know where to begin with this one.  Do you know how difficult it is to assess suicidal ideation with any degree of certainty? To be blunt, you can only be 100% sure that someone is suicidal when they have completed suicide. Do you know how difficult it is to get six people to agree on anything? Let alone six medical consultants who bring their own moral, ideological and religious beliefs to the consultation?

 

When and how would these assessments take place?  Six different appointments with six different consultants? Or one appointment with all six? Where would the assessment/s take place? In a hospital? If so, of which variety – mental or maternity? In the woman’s home? Or somewhere else entirely?

 

Who would foot the bill? What if the woman had a medical card? Some consultants don’t see public patients.  And – have you seen the waiting lists for consultants? You could be waiting months to see one. I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s part of the plan, though. That if a woman who is four weeks pregnant has to wait six months to see a consultant, by the time she does so, it will be too late to terminate the pregnancy. Or she’ll have already killed herself, thereby relieving the consultants of calling it either way. Or, as is more likely, she’ll have taken the boat or the plane out of this jurisdiction to somewhere the laws are more humane.

 

There’s something that worries me more than this six consultants nonsense (for it is nonsense): In this country, under the 1871 Lunacy Act – which is still in force today – it takes just two doctors to decide that a person should be forcibly detained in a mental hospital. So, theoretically, a suicidal pregnant woman could present, seeking six consultants to decide whether or not they believe her (I’ll get to that in a second) and two of them could have her committed to a mental ward for the duration of her pregnancy. THAT scares me.

 

Then there’s the notion that women are devious little feckers who run off and get pregnant on a whim and then decide to fake their suicidal ideation in order to hoodwink doctors into ‘allowing’ them to have abortions. That sickens me. It speaks of how women are still infantalised in Irish society. How they are presented as generally un-trustworthy and incapable of making decisions for themselves and their families.

 

In the same vein, attendees at the Home Birth Association’s annual conference today were reminded that, should they dare to attempt to birth at home without ‘permission’ from the HSE, they can be forcibly removed from their homes by members of An Garda Siochana and brought to a hospital. Once there they be subjected to procedures that they neither want nor need – and many of which, are in fact, not evidence-based.

 

Why does Irish society fear women so much? Why does Irish society fear our wombs so much that it feels the need to control our reproductive rights?  Let’s not forget that this is the only country in the world where the CEO of a maternity hospital is called (and insists on being called) a ‘Master’.  That single fact tells us so much about how women are perceived in this country. We’ve a long way to go – and for the moment, Ireland is no country for fertile women.

 

 

Why I’m Voting No

I’m not perfect. Nor am I a perfect parent. Though I do try. I want to be the best parent I can be. More than anything else, being the best mum I can for my children is the most important thing in my life.

In the 10 and a half years since I became a parent, every decision I have ever made has had the good of my children at its centre.  In fact, for the 10 years it took me to become a parent, I thought a lot about parenting and my values and what was important to me – and important to pass on to my children.

That, I believe, is how it should be.  Becoming a parent – no matter how one comes to it – is the most important thing a person will ever do.  How a parent treats a child will have profound reverberations and repercussions for generations to come. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact.

Ireland is going to the polls a fortnight from tomorrow (November 10th) to vote on a proposed referendum to the Irish Constitution. This has not come about because our government is committed to children and because we, the Irish people, have clamoured for years to have the rights of children enshrined in our Constitution. No. This referendum is taking place because the Irish government has been shamed in to it by the UN.

Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child over 22 years ago, yet we have done nothing to ensure that our laws are in line with it .

This proposed referendum is a mealy-mouthed sop to the people of Ireland so that the government can say ‘See? We gave you a referendum on the Rights of the Child!’
Honestly, it’s like giving a barefoot child a pair of socks with holes in them – it’s better than nothing, but not a whole lot better.
The referendum should address all the articles of the CRC and it doesn’t. As one (small) example, Article 42 of the CRC states:

“States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.”

And yet, I have never walked into a school or a Garda Station or a library or a church or any other place where children gather and seen the Rights of a Child displayed. (They are, however, displayed in my own home – UNICEF produced a beautiful, clear poster years ago which we have and which is stuck up – at child height – in our hall).
One of the other things that really bothers me about the proposed amendment is the way that the constitution is supposed to be flexible in order to accommodate the wording of any future law. Surely our constitution is supposed to be the instrument on which our laws are based, not a malleable document that should bend to accommodate our laws?! Shouldn’t our laws be based on our constitution and not vice-versa?
Another thing that bothers me about the proposed wording is this notion of ‘the best interests of the child’…..who gets to decide what the best interests of the child are? A panel of ‘experts’? People the child has never met before? People the child has known for all (or the majority) of his or her life? Or just one person? It’s not spelled out and it needs to be.
If I voted ‘Yes’ in this referendum, I would not be able to look my children in the eye – because I would know that I would not have done my best for them. My children deserve better than what this referendum is offering them. So do yours. So does every child on this island – and those who are yet to be.

Half a Loaf is NOT Better Than None

Monsoon Wedding (2002) is my favourite film. I can watch it again and again and again and my heart will still be caught by certain looks, gestures and lines. One of those lines is when Lalit Verma (played by the hugely talented Naseeruddin Shah) the patriarch, talking about his family, says – his voice thick with tears he is trying to check:

‘These are my children, and I will protect them from myself even if I have to.’

 

In spite of the fact that I have seen Monsoon Wedding several hundred times in the 10 years since it was made, the delivery of this line always chokes me up. I think it’s because I wish to God that I had meant enough to someone that they would have had the same thoughts and feelings about me. I’d love to think that I would ever have meant as much to even one of my parents. But I didn’t. I was abused and neglected by parents who should never have been allowed to keep dogs – never mind children.

 

The state knew. I have several documents in my possession that unequivocally mention that people in the (then) Eastern Health Board knew I was being verbally, physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and sexually tortured, and how my needs were being sorely neglected.  There are mentions over a number of  years of the ‘dangerously dysfunctional’ situation I was living in. There are references to how the Gardai needed to be involved and to how I needed to be removed from the situation for my own safety. Well, guess what? No one ever called the Gardai. No one removed me from that ‘dangerously dysfunctional’ situation and no one, not one single person – and there several who knew – lifted a finger to help.

 

At one stage, a member of the clergy (because, of course, members of the Catholic Church knew) told me that, while he would have a word with a few of the people who raping and otherwise abusing me several times a week, if they didn’t stop, I needed to remember that ‘Boys will be boys’.

 

As a little girl of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10  I used to dream of being kidnapped, stolen, taken away. Rescued. It was what I comforted myself with at night when I cried myself to sleep, my heart like a stone in my chest, my head wondering what I had done that was so bad that meant I deserved to be treated like this, and my vagina on fire from the treatment of rough and uncaring hands, mouths and pensies (yes, dear reader, plural).

 

By the time I was 10, however, I realised that I was never going to be rescued and I’d just be better off dead. So I tried ever-harder to kill myself and felt ashamed that I never managed to pull it off – imagine being such a failure that you couldn’t even kill yourself.

 

So, when I heard that Irish people were finally, finally, going to get the chance to vote on something that would make life better for little children on this island, I was delirious with excitement. Finally, little Irish babies and little Irish children and big Irish children and Irish young people – and even babies and children and young people who weren’t Irish but who lived here – would be cherished (isn’t that a lovely word?) and nurtured (another lovely word) and maybe even shown some love and kindness.

 

Then I read the proposed wording and my heart sank. This legislation doesn’t even begin to touch the hem of the skirt of child protection. It is a mealy-mouthed sop that will not prevent children from being abused, it will not rescue children who are being abused, and it will not confer on the state any more rights to intervene than the state already has. Crucially, it won’t demand that the state use the power it already has.

 

I know that a constitution is only a set of aspirations. It’s a wish list upon which we base our laws – a public declaration of what we would like most and best for the good of our people – not the actual  set of laws. It’s a reference point to remind us of what we want for our people. Given that, I believe we should aim for the moon and settle for the stars.

 

The proposed amendment is not an exercise in moon-reaching, it is an exercise in optics. In looking at the moon through a telescope, shrugging and saying ‘Shure, that’s too far away, we could never reach there at all, at all’.

 

We’re telling people – we’re telling little girls who are the little girl I was 30 years ago – that, really, they don’t matter.  It’s not enough for our children. It’s not enough for my children. I’d like to think that, were they ever in danger, they would be protected – even from myself if they had to be – but this proposed amendment won’t do that.

 

 

Breastfeeding Awareness Week

This week marks Breastfeeding Awareness Week – a week when we take stock of the rates of breastfeeding in our country and take stock of new research and evidence with regard to the benefits of breastfeeding.

 

 

Sadly, in Ireland, we have very low rates of breastfeeding our children. Only five out of ten babies will leave hospitals as breastfed, and fewer will be breastfed for very long. We really need to ask ourselves the hard questions with regard to feeding our babies ourselves in this country.

 

According to an article on the radio earlier this week, women in Ireland are more likely to breastfeed their babies if their husbands/partners are non-Irish. What does this tell us about Irish men’s attitudes to breasts and their being used for the reason they were invented? What does it also tell us about how easily Irish women are influenced by their men?

 

I struggle to understand why any woman who can – and that’s over 90% of women- does not breastfeed her baby. The short, medium and long term benefits far outweigh any initial discomfort. Whenever I hear a woman talk about how hard it is, I am reminded of a dear friend of mine who adopted a baby and induced lactation in order to breastfeed the infant. Her determination was fierce and it was not an easy road, but she was adamant that her child would not lack anything another child born to her might get.

 

From my own research, it would appear that Irish women believe the baby-formula hype (lies) that formula is as good for babies as breastmilk – especially after six months. This is complete nonsense as breasts are amazing things and will adapt the milk they produce to ‘fit’ the child they are feeding. Indeed, if a baby and a toddler are fed at the same time, the breasts will produce different milk for each child.

 

Apart from ignorance, I think lack of support – social, medical and familial – is a huge barrier to breastfeeding. As is mothers’ sad lack of comfort with their own bodies.

 

We need to stop pitting bottle-feeding mums against breast-feeding mums. We need to stop judging mothers who bottle-feed and make breast-feeding the unquestioned norm. If we could make child abuse normal in this country, surely we can do the same with child-nurturing?

Choices

Image

Abortion is a hot topic in Ireland and in the Irish media again. It’s 20 years since the ‘X Case’ that rocked Ireland to its core and divided the country. SPUC-ers termed themselves ‘pro-life’ as if everyone who held a different view was, somehow, ‘anti-life’ and feminists clamoured for a woman’s right to information and to choice.

The arguments often contained rhetoric like ‘you don’t know what you’d do if you were in that situation’. Or they pulled on emotional extremes like ‘what if your daughter was raped and then got pregnant?’  Well, when I was 12, I spent a few months worried that I was pregnant. It turned out I wasn’t. Years later, I learnt that one of the side-effects of the sexual abuse I suffered was that my reproductive system was so damaged, I actually couldn’t conceive until after I’d had surgery in my 20s. If I had been pregnant at that time, I’d have been pregnant by a relative as a result of rape (obviously!).

I was terrified. What would the baby be like? What would my mother say? (I knew she’d blame me). What would happen to me? This the worst case scenario that many people cite  in order to underscore how valuable abortion is – and how it should be available to women in this country. Obviously  they argue –  in this position, every woman would want an abortion.

Actually, no, they wouldn’t. Had I been pregnant, I wouldn’t have had an abortion. But that’s me. That’s my choice. I have absolutely no right to force my decision on anyone else. None.

Years later, just before I turned 30, I discovered – to my astonishment – that I was pregnant. The father of my child, as I have mentioned on this blog before, ‘suddenly remembered’ that he was married. To his cousin. Who was living in India, while he lived with me in Singapore.

I had already married and left two abusive men, and I had a 17 month old daughter from my second marriage. When I told people I was pregnant, many people assumed I’d ‘get rid of it’. At work, one of the people senior to me took me to one side and put pressure on me to have an abortion. He iterated how easy it was to have an abortion – compared to how hard it was to be a single parent.

‘And you already have a child,’ he reminded me. As if I needed reminding.

‘How much harder do you think your life is going to be with two?’ he asked.

He put a hand on my shoulder.

‘Give yourself a break,’ he counselled. ‘Have the procedure done this weekend. You’ll be back in work on Monday and no one need ever know.’

I didn’t have ‘the procedure’. I had my reasons for not wanting one – but they were my reasons. I had no right to foist my reasons on anyone else. Not then and not now. Which is why I support women’s right to choose. I support legislation that would make abortion legal in Ireland. Not just for medical reasons, either – because all that does is pit one type of woman against another. All sanctioning abortion ‘for medical reasons’ does is allow one group of women the right to choose, while removing the right to choose from another group of women.

Ireland needs to start treating women like adults; allowing them to make their own choices, and supporting them in the choices they make. Instead of, like it does now, turning away from Irishwomen who must journey overseas to have abortions for whatever reasons they make those decisions.

Homesickness

So here I am, an Irishwoman who was born in Ireland, who grew up in Ireland, who currently resides in Ireland – and I’m homesick.

 

Most people I say that to have great difficulty understanding it.  I spent ten years  – and the happiest days – of my life in Asia. India and Indonesia are the only places in the world where I have ever felt truly happy and truly at home. At home in myself and my surroundings. There, I have been physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally at my best.  I’ve looked and felt my best. And I’ve felt like I belonged. Everywhere else I’ve ever lived, I’ve felt like I was approximating happiness – striving for it and hoping I’d find it. In India and Indonesia, it didn’t feel hard to find.

 

A few years ago, I read ‘The Geography of Bliss‘ where home is described as where you want to die. I don’t want to die in Ireland. I don’t want to live here, either. I don’t want to bring my children up here. I want, not necessarily more for my girls, but I do want different for them.

 

I want to bring them up in a place where I can get the education for them that I want them to have. They won’t get that in Ireland. I want them to be raised in a place where, if they need medical care, they will get it in a timely fashion. They won’t get that in Ireland, either.

 

I’m not blinkered in my approach to Asia. I know that the places I crave to live are not perfect – but nowhere is! The secret is to find the place you’re happiest and make the most of it. To embrace the joy and do your best to change what chafes. Or, if you can’t change it, to accept it with serenity.

 

The longer I am away, the more I miss ‘home’.

 

I have such a list of things that I miss – from the simplest of pleasures to the greatest: I miss sari-shopping; the ritual and the ‘dance’ of the exchange. I miss the varieties of fruit I can’t get here. Where, for example, can one buy custard apples  in Ireland? I miss going shopping for ‘perishables’ on a daily basis.

 

I miss being able to pop into the Temple. I miss my favourite temple. I miss going for my daily walk and meeting people who go for their daily walk at the same time. I miss having live-in help so I don’t have to do everything for and by myself.

 

I even miss the things that drove me mad when I lived there – the attitudes and assumptions of a certain ‘type’ of middle-class Indian male. The preoccupation of a certain class of Indian female with one-upping you and your children with tales of the achievements of their children. (That was a game I very quickly learned to opt out of!).

 

I miss drivers who deliberately try to take you the long-way around, and drivers who agree a fare before you start off and then change it once you reach your destination.

 

I miss opening the window and hearing a variety of different languages being spoken; Marathi, Hindi, Punjabi, English, Bengali…..all in one moment.

 

I miss the sense of community – of being welcomed and made to feel like I belonged (conversely, when I returned to Ireland, people were suspicious and judgmental). Homesickness, then, is missing the feeling of being at home.

 

Homesickness is starting to cry when you’re driving on the motorway because you have a physical pain of longing to be somewhere else.

 

Homesickness is when  – with no warning –  tears splash down your face in the supermarket because this is not how you want to be buying vegetables; wrapped in clingfilm and sitting on little trays. This is not how I want my children to think that vegetables should be bought. I want to teach them to engage with produce; how it should look, smell and feel when it’s ripe.

 

Homesickness is dithering over whether or not to buy a jasmine plant: Part of me wants to because, if I do, then I’ll have the creamy scent I love around me all day. Part of me doesn’t because then I’d miss India even more. I’d miss handing 10 rupees to a mogra-wallah in the middle of busy traffic in exchange for jasmine flowers, strung together with thread and wrapped in sheets of newspaper. These, we’d take home and keep in the fridge, plaiting them through our hair the following morning, and using on our alter as offerings.

 

Homesickness is realising that you’d rather be dying there than living here.

Women On Air

The Huffington Post ran an article a few weeks ago about the dearth of women in media. Specifically, the few women in print. According to the Huff Post, only 10%-20% of opinions in newspapers are written by women.

Unfortunately, the figures are equally disheartening in other media; one Irish radio station has just two women broadcasters out of fifteen in total. Another – a national station – has just four women presenters out of a total of 21. None of these women broadcasts between the crucial listening hours of 7am and 7pm Monday-Friday.

Yet, women outnumber men in the ‘support’ areas of research and production. So why are so few of them making the transition from support to presentation?

Tackling this problem head-on is Margaret E. Ward, of Clear Ink. Mags has organised a number of ‘Women On Air’ seminars to which women who broadcast – or would like to – are welcome. The seminars have speakers from the industry who share their experiences and ideas with the assembled women. Afterwards, it’s across the road to Buswell’s for a bit of net-working.

While it’s a sad reflection on the state of the industry that ‘Women on Air’ seminars are necessary, their popularity proves their necessity.

Just so you know, we’re not a coven of mad witches sitting around moaning about the fact that the boys won’t give us jobs; we realise that most men in broadcasting are not misogynistic by nature. It’s just that men know other men more than they know women.

Think about it – they go to school with boys, they have male friends at university and they socialise with more men than with women. If you need someone for your programme, you’re most likely to ask someone you know – and if you’re a man, you’re more likely to know other men.

Personally, I have found the seminars very useful and would walk across hot coals scattered with broken glass to attend them. I love the comraderie of women who are in the same industry: Women who are open to the ideas and suggestions of other women, and women who want to help other women.

One man asked me why it was important to have women on air. He pointed out that Miriam O’Callaghan presents Prime Time – so, obviously, women are on air.  Yes, there are women on air, just as there are women in politics, but there are not enough.

Quite simply, women and men see things differently, react to things differently and are moved by different things. As women make up 50% of the population, excluding their voices from media means that we are only getting half the story.  It also means that a female perspective which is often – but not always – different to a male perspective, is never aired.

Since Margaret started her seminars, I’ve racked up over two hours of radio time,  made connections with women I’d never have been able to meet otherwise, and I’ve gained confidence.

I’ve had a piece on the financial state of Ireland published in the Singapore Business Times (which I would never have dreamt of doing a few months ago). I also pitched an idea – and later a regular column – to the editor of a new magazine. She was open to both ideas and commissioned pieces from me.  Oh! And invited me to appear on her radio show later in the month.

So, without wanting to appear evangelical, my message is that if you’re a woman with an interest in broadcasting, you need to contact Mags and get yourself an invitation to the next Women On Air seminar.

Mythbuster#1: The Irish Don’t Love Children

There is  a rumour being promulgated that Irish people love children. It irks me because, like many myths, it simply isn’t true. So let me take this opportunity to set the record straight; as a nation, Irish people do not love children.

I think this myth springs from the fact that Irish people had so many children – due, primarily, to the lack of availability of reliable contraception. Until years after I was born (conveniently) the rhythm method was the only method legally available to generations of Irish mammies and daddies. Let’s face it, using ‘natural’ contraception is a bit like saying that playing Russian roulette with a machine gun is safe once you know what you’re doing.  So Irish mammies and daddies had loads of children that they never touched – except to hurt; and rarely spoke to – except to give them orders, give out to them and give them an idea that they were, generally, worthless.

Irish people don’t love children, they tolerate them. If Irish people truly loved children, then the abuses that were visited upon this nation’s babies by members of the Catholic Church would not have been tolerated and condoned the way they were.

If Irish people loved children, they would not have allowed the Catholic Church to have sold their ‘illegitimate’ babies – which they did until the 1970s.

If Irish people loved children, we would not have heard Michael Murphy on the Late Late Show telling Ryan Tubridy very matter-of-factly and with great dignity about the abuse he suffered as a child.

What made Michael’s story worse was his acceptance and understanding that there was nothing at all unusual in an Irish child being abused physically and sexually by an adult within the home or close by it. It happened. It still happens – and it will continue to happen until we learn to love our children.

Of course, most individual mothers and fathers love their individual children, but our national identity cannot include a love of children because it doesn’t exist. It will not exist until our government does more to uphold the rights of children instead of merely paying lip service to them. It will not exist until children who are being abused are removed from abusive situations and properly cared for – which doesn’t happen. That cannot happen while our social workers struggle under huge caseloads. It will not exist until every child receives a decent education, which cannot happen where there are more than 22 children in the class. It will not exist until we accept that, as a nation, we have been getting it very wrong for a very long time – and we learn how to do it better.

My friend Noelle Harrison, wrote in her new novel (The Adulteress) that to be loved is to be treasured. How many Irish children went to sleep last night feeling treasured? I’ll tell you – not enough. Not nearly enough.