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The Murder of Toyosi Shittabey and Racial Tension in Dublin

April 19, 2010 2 comments

Some weeks ago (on Good Friday, in fact) a 15-year old boy was killed in Tyrellstown, Co Dublin. Toyoshi Shittabey was walking home from the swimming pool when, it is reported, he and a friend were subjected to a racist verbal assault. It has been reported that while Shittabey and his friend walked away from the scene, the assailants went to a house, acquired a knife, followed the youngsters to their car, and stabbed Shittabey in the heart. The Gardaí have charged one young man with manslaughter. Although there has been a huge public outpouring of grief and solidarity with the family of Toyoshi Shittabey and with the Nigerian community in Tyrellstown in the wake of the stabbing, this murder exposes potentially deep racial fault-lines in Irish society and poses difficult but important challenges for the Gardaí. It also poses difficult questions for the criminal law in this jurisdiction.

The Gardaí’s investigation has not officially ended, and it is possible that the final charge will in fact be murder and not manslaughter, but the investigation of this crime takes place within a palpable atmosphere of racial tension and poses challenges that one hopes the Gardaí will be able to face. Should it come to that point, the sentencing process will also be challenging for the court. If it is established in the course of the trial (whether that is a trial for manslaughter or for murder) that this homicide was racially motivated, ought that to be taken in to account in the sentencing decision? We previously discussed the lack of hate crimes legislation in Ireland here, and this may well be a case that helps us to gauge how well our criminal justice system can calculate prejudice in sentencing without specific law in this relation. However, the killing of Toyoshi Shittabey is not only a challenge for the Gardaí and the Courts; it is a challenge for Irish society in and beyond Tyrellstown. Read more…

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The Labour Party’s “One Ireland” and a Constitutional Convention

April 18, 2010 4 comments

Last night Éamon Gilmore gave the leader’s address at the Labour Party’s annual conference. Entitled ‘One Ireland’ the conference has had a distinctive emphasis on moving forward, as a country, away from what is conceived of as broken or corrupt and towards a more mature political life in this jurisdiction. The Gilmore speech, which can be watched in full here or read here, was extremely strong on this theme and—regardless of the colour of one’s politics—is worth watching or listening to as an exercise in oratory and speech writing. What struck me in particular, however, was the proposal by Gilmore that there would be a constitutional convention with a new constitution being ready for enactment in 2016 (at the centenary of the 1916 Rising).

I have written before on HRinI of my anxiety about populist constitutional reform. What Gilmore suggested seems to have been something at once more radical and less populist than what we have seen proposed by Fine Gael recently. Gilmore suggested that we would establish a constitutional convention made up of experts and a randomly selected portion of the community (he did not mention how large the sample would be) to debate and propose new constitutional structures. The justification given for this was that the Constitution is a document written in the 1930s for the 1930s when there was considered to be one Church in Ireland and one role for women (I am paraphrasing but, as you will hear if you listen to the speech, not by much). Similar themes were recently in evidence at the excellent political cabaret, Leviathan, which suggested a new Constitution and Second Republic earlier this year. Fine Gael’s New Politics which we have written about before suggests some major constitutional reforms but does not suggest a whole-scale redrawing of the Bunreacht. Read more…

Whitaker on Politics and the NI Bill of Rights

April 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The latest issue of Irish Political Studies features an article by Dr Robin Whitaker entitled “Debating Rights in the New Northern Ireland”. We have written before (here, here, here, here, here and a guest contribution here) about the difficulties ongoing in the NI Bill of Rights process and this article lends a useful political science perspective to this debate and ongoing commentary. The abstract states:

The 1998 Belfast Agreement provided for a Bill of Rights ‘to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland’. Opinion poll evidence indicates strong approval for such a charter. Diverse civil society groups have offered support, as have all the main parties. Yet, over a decade on, the Bill of Rights remains among the unfinished business of the Agreement. What Northern Ireland’s ‘particular circumstances’ demand in terms of codified rights is a matter of considerable dispute. Political unionism supports a narrow interpretation and a minimalist bill; nationalists argue for an expansive reading, encompassing socio-economic issues. Debate about rights looks at first glance like just another battleground for constitutional conflict. However, an examination of the scope of the debates together with their substance complicates any such reductionist reading, although this complexity tends to recede where the demands of formalised cross-community consent are strongest. Read more…

Terence Wheelock and Garda Accountability

April 13, 2010 2 comments

Mark Coughlan of TheSory.ie has this afternoon published an extensive and illuminating post on the version of the Terence Wheelock report that was released to the family. As we noted here and here, this version differs in some respects from the version that was publically released. In this post, Mark notes that one of the Gardaí involved in the Wheelock incident had previously been subjected to disciplinary procedures in respect of a strikingly similar set of events where a young man was physically assaulted upon arrest. A very interesting aspect of Mark’s post is his illustration of how difficult it is to get any information about disciplinary proceedings within an Garda Síochána or to ensure any level of transparency in this respect. Mark concludes as follows:

To the detriment of the public interest the Garda Siochana remains a closed, secretive, impenetrable organisation whose members are largely unaccountable to the public which they serve. Ashamedly our police force is the only one in western Europe which falls outside the Freedom of Information process.

The family of Terence Wheelock are calling for a full and open investigation into the circumstances of his death. As we noted here, Vicky‘s new book (The Blue Wall of Silence: The Morris Tribunal and Police Accountability in Ireland) is released this week and deals also with accountability in policing in Ireland. These difficulties of accountability and transparency are recurring in respect of the Gardaí and investigative journalism such Mark’s as well as scholarship such as Vicky’s are fundamental to trying to break down that ‘Blue Wall of Silence’.

StandUp: LGBT Awareness Week

This week is LGBT Awareness Week, during which–among other things–BelongTo, a fantastic organisation for LGBT youth, are running their StandUp campaign. According to their website, the campaign “is aimed at creating positive understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and their issues”.

Awareness of the needs of younger LGBT people in our schools, universities, sports clubs and society in general is vital to ensuring full flourishing. Being young and being gay, bisexual, trans or intersex is not a whole lot of fun for many people, particularly before they go to university and discover lots of other people “like” them. If you work somewhere with younger people, why not print out one of the posters or logos and put it in your office space or on your door. Show the young people in your environment that you support them and their friends and colleagues who are not LGBT that they should support them too. Even if there are not many younger people in your work place, put the poster up. The likelihood is that one of your colleagues or friends has an LGBT child, relative or friend. Supporting their children supports them. If you are a parent, this might be an opportune time to ask the principle or teachers in your child’s school about their policies on homophobic bullying and diversity within the school and express your support for ensuring a safe educational space for all young people.

Stand Up and support your LGBT friends and colleagues.

Cohabitation, Default Protection and the Civil Partnership Bill 2009

April 7, 2010 4 comments

have written before on the Civil Partnership Bill 2009 focusing mostly on the introduction through the Bill of civil partnership as a legally recognised relationship form for same-sex couples. We have, however, spent some time on the cohabitation proposals both ourselves and in an excellent guest contribution from Andrew Hayward of Durham University. The last few days, however, have seen a surge in analysis of the cohabitation provisions of the Bill with various voices, including Prof John Mee of UCC, expressing concern about the default protections within the Bill as it stands. Indeed, last night’s Prime Time on RTE featured a long report on the implications of the Bill for unmarried and un-civilly-partnered cohabitants. So what is the cause of this concern?

First of all there is the fact that certain protections, entitlements and obligations kick in automatically following a three-year cohabitation period or, if there is a child of the couple, a two-year cohabitation period. If a couple should manage to live together without getting married or civilly-partnered for two or three years, depending on the context, they will be termed ‘qualifying cohabitants’ and these default provisions will apply. The definition of a cohabiting couple (i.e. a couple in relation to whom we can start to count time in order to see whether they are ‘qualifying’) is contained within s.170 of the Bill. Read more…

Why the UK General Election Matters for Human Rights in Ireland

As Cian noted earlier today, the UK election has begin in earnest. This election, of course, has potentially very significant ramifications for the future of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Bill of Rights process in Northern Ireland. In particular, the Conservative Party-currently enjoying what seems like a healthy lead in the polls-has proposed the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 upon election and its possible replacement with a ‘British’ Bill of Rights. In this post I want to just briefly expand on the concerns about this proposal noted by Cian in that earlier post. Read more…