I was asked yesterday to give a sense of the extent to which situations like that of G and D – the Northern Irish case of two young girls who were at risk of being forced by their parents into marriage in Pakistan which we wrote about here- are of relevance in the Republic.
I am not aware of any ‘G and D’ type cases which have come before our courts. As yet, forced marriage does not seem to be seen as a mainstream ‘family law’ or ‘women’s law’ issue in the way that it is in the UK and Northern Ireland. In 2007, the Minister for Health and Children stated in the Dail that she was satisfied ‘that all reasonable measures are in place to prevent forced marriages and to provide a remedy where full, free and informed consent is absent’. She referred to the law of nullity which allows a marriage to be set aside where it was contracted in the face of fear, duress, intimidation or undue influence. She noted that the criminal law provided several bases upon which violence used in the context of forcing another into marriage can be prosecuted. Read more…
Today, Senator Ivana Bacik of Labour (pictured left) will be introducing a Bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation in the Seanad during the Labour Party’s private members’ time. The Bill and its Explanatory Memorandum are available here. The Minister for Health and Children has welcomed the Bill, indicating that it will be read a second time in a year or so. Labour’s press release notes that FGM Bills were introduced by Labour TDs Liz McManus (see Bill here) and Jan O’Sullivan (see Bill here) in the Dail in 2009 and 2001. Senator Bacik has said:
We urgently need a law specifically criminalising this barbaric practice which has destroyed the lives of so many girls and women world-wide. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to address this issue, but there has already been a great deal of work done on developing a legal framework, and delaying the introduction of this legislation by another year is unacceptable.
Senator Bacik’s Bill would:
- Introduce an offence of performing female genital mutilation on a woman or girl (note the gender-specific nature of the offence), the penalty for which shall be a fine or a term of imprisonment up to 14 years or both.
- Have extra-territorial effect so that an Irish citizen or resident who performs FGM outside of Ireland still falls within the terms of the Act.
- Rule out any defence of parental consent in the case of a minor.
- Allow a medical defence where the procedure was performed by a registered medical practitioner who ‘honestly believed, on reasonable grounds, that the operation was necessary to safeguard the life or health of the woman or girl concerned or to correct a genital abnormality or malformation’.
The Bill appears, to some extent, to take its cue from the UK Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. In that jurisdiction, the legislation has fallen at the prosecution hurdle, and thus appears to have largely symbolic and perhaps deterrant value. For open-access articles which critique the UK legislation see this study by Sadiya Mohammad on the legislation’s efficacy and this article by Moira Dustin and Anne Phillips which considers the legislation in the broader context of UK law-making in the general area of women + gender + culture.
On International Women’s Day, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg released a viewpoint which argued against restrictions on women’s religious dress. He stated that:
Those who have argued for a general ban of the burqa and the niqab have not managed to show that these garments in any way undermine democracy, public safety, order or morals. The fact that a very small number of women wear such clothing has made proposals in such a direction even less convincing. Nor has it been possible to prove that these women in general are victims of more gender repression than others. Those who have been interviewed in the media have presented a diversity of religious, political and personal arguments for their decision to dress themselves as they do. There may of course be cases where they are under undue pressure – but it is not shown that a ban would be welcomed by these women.
Hammarberg seems to be in something of an unfashionable minority.In the past fortnight, three significant stories have broken about the regulation, in France, Belgium and Quebec, of the niqab and burqa worn by some Muslim women.
AkiDwa, a leading minority ethnic-led national network of African and migrant women living in Ireland, has published Am Only Saying It Now; a report which documents the experiences of female asylum seekers in Ireland, and gives space to a great deal of important direct testimony by women living in direct provision centres. Susan McKay, who is Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, contributed a very insightful response to the report to the Irish Times on Thursday. The report is short, accessible and thought-provoking. It recommends that:
• Gender guidelines in asylum and reception processes should be introduced and implemented . Gender guidelines in asylum processes should be introduced into pending immigration legislation in Ireland.
• A mandatory code of conduct, a comprehensive training programme and Garda vetting should be introduced promptly and fully implemented for all personnel, management, accommodation owners and government department officials working with individuals seeking asylum, protection and leave to remain in the direct provision accommodation system.
• Mandatory training and capacity building should be conducted on a regular basis with key providers of State services to individuals seeking asylum, protection and leave to remain and should include gender based issues and the prevention of, and response to, abuse and exploitation.
• An independent, transparent and confidential complaint and redress mechanism should be fully put into place for individuals seeking asylum, protection and leave to remain, and made accessible to all residents in direct provision.
• An independent commission of inquiry should take place to assess the mental, emotional and physical effects of long term confinement of individuals seeking asylum, protection or leave to remain in Ireland
The Irish cabinet reshuffle (see here, here, here and here) has resulted in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform , being divested of issues relating to equality, disability, integration and human rights. These important areas will be subsumed into the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. The comments below are some initial reactions to this news.
Justice, Equality and Human Rights-Why?
I do not believe in making structural changes for their own sake. Too often, changes in structures can be pursued to disguise a lack of clear priorities or the determination to implement them. This Government has a clear agenda which I am determined will be driven forward with energy and commitment. There is no time to be wasted on extensive restructuring at the expense of action to implement our policies.
An Taoiseach Brian Cowen T.D. 23 March 2010
From 1992 until 1997, there was Minister for Equality and Law Reform, however post the 1997 general election, this was subsumed into the Department of Justice (to become the Dept. of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR).This was a time of enormous economic growth within the Republic of Ireland and a number of months before the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The thrust of today’s speech by An Taoiseach’s recognised the need for a re-invigorated economy based on job creation and innovation. For reasons highlighted by the statement of An Taoiseach above, structural changes were made to a number of departments.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the direct provision and dispersal system, FLAC launched its report One Size Doesn’t Fit All. The report updates the 2003 FLAC report Direct Discrimination? which looked at the way in which asylum seekers and persons seeking other forms of protection were accommodated in Ireland, set apart from other destitute individuals. The title of the report refers to the way in which the direct provision and dispersal system is operated: Residents are not treated as human beings but rather as a collective group without individual needs or personal circumstances.
Direct provision and dispersal was introduced as a nationwide policy in April 2000. It was introduced initially to alleviate the housing shortage faced by the Eastern Health Board due to the high numbers of people coming to seek asylum in Ireland. Ireland is a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and it is important to understand that anyone who comes to Ireland “to seek and to enjoy… asylum from persecution” is entitled to enter and remain here until a final determination is reached on their protection status. Despite the dramatic decrease in the number of asylum seekers, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR) continues to operate the policy of accommodating persons seeking protection in centres where they are given three meals a day at set times and a weekly allowance of €19.10 for an adult and €9.60 for a child. This is the only social welfare payment never to have increased.
Two important new reports have been published this month which may be of interest to readers.
Travellers’ Health Matters (available here with an accompanying briefing on Traveller accommodation and planning) links poor halting site accommodation to depression, anxiety, diabetes and kidney problems. Findings on the terrible living conditions at the Carrowbrowne halting site are available here. For further reports on Irish Travellers and government policy, see the website of the Irish Traveller Movement.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All (available here with a press release here) is a FLAC report which ‘critiques the system of direct provision and dispersal as one that serves the needs of bureaucracy rather than the needs and rights of a vulnerable group of people to whom the State has a defined duty of care.’ Media coverage of the report is here , here , here and here. Liam highlighted the issue of direct provision on this blog in September, October and November of last year and it was the subject of two posts in our Immigration and the Politics of Belonging carnival.
We hope to have further analysis of the issues covered in these reports in due course.