Unlawful Carnal Knowledge in the 21st Century

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I wrote my dissertation on sexual assault against women and teenage girls in twentieth-century Ireland. I’ve published an article on the crime that used to be known as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a teenage girl aged 15 to 17” that demonstrated that Irish law did not really care about this crime. In fact, in almost all cases that were prosecuted, the girl in question had become pregnant as a result of the encounter. The law cared about pregnancy outside of “wedlock,” but did not really care about the trauma to the teenage girls in question, or their ability to say yes or no to sex. Jury verdicts reflected this–in large part, though not exclusively, because juries for most of the 20th century were all male, and girls were seen as tempting Eves.

How far have we come? Well, the following story appears in today’s Irish Times“Man slept with underage girl his son was dating, court told”. The article describes a situation in which an adult man in his early 40s had repeated sexual encounters with a 15-year-old girl. He took pictures of her in “compromising” positions. She performed oral sex on him, and they had intercourse on many occasions. The man has been charged with 31 counts of having intercourse with a child (under the 2006 Sexual Offences Act). He has also been charged with 8 counts of “defilement of a child” for the acts of fellatio. The man denies all of this, despite the girl’s testimony and text messages that prove the relationship.

There are so many problems here that, as a historian, I’m not equipped to count them all.

  1. The Irish Times should be ashamed of itself for this headline. The man “slept with” an underage girl? No, the man raped an underage girl. There is no legal concept of a 41-year-old man “sleeping with” a 15-year-old girl. By definition, that act is illegal because a 15-year-old girl cannot consent to sex with an adult man. The editors of the Irish Times should know this and the paper’s headlines and writing should reflect this.
  2. The man took photos of the teenage girl in “compromising” positions. Why wasn’t he charged with anything related to child pornography? These photos probably still exist. They could have been uploaded to the Internet (or, more likely, the dark web), and they could still be used against the victim/survivor, who is now an adult woman in her mid-20s.
  3. The article focuses on the fact that the first time the man met the victim, she was wearing a very short white miniskirt, that turned him on. Why is this fact relevant to anything? It’s not relevant to whether the crime took place. It’s not relevant to consent, which is not a factor in statutory rape cases anyway. The only purpose served by the focus on her miniskirt is to sexualize a teenage girl and mitigate the man’s responsibility in the case because she was wearing an outfit that one could classify as “provocative.” [She was likely trying to turn on her boyfriend, the man’s son, not the 41-year-old man.] This harkens back to the old fashioned idea that women were tempting men, and that the male sex drive is so powerful that men simply cannot resist. Surely we’ve moved past that notion in 2019, right?
  4. Why does the law distinguish between sexual intercourse and oral sex here? Both acts are SEX. Both occurred with an underage girl and a man in his 40s. This distinction is absolutely draconian. The acts of oral sex should be classed as rape also. A teenage girl cannot anymore consent to fellatio than she can to vaginal intercourse, and the law should not distinguish between these offences.

Here we can see that there are enduring problems with the ability of Irish law to protect underage girls (and boys, too) from sexual predators. The law doesn’t take seriously the inability of teenagers to consent to sex with older men. Thankfully, the law does accept the legitimacy of consensual sex between teenagers. Progress has been made.

But the law, and apparently the writers for the Irish Times, still buy into gendered tropes about how a girl was dressed and different types of sex (vaginal, oral, anal). I am eager to see the verdict in this case, to see whether the Irish people accept these tropes. Will the jury acquit this man because of the girl’s miniskirt? Will they accept the idea that the 15-year-old girl consented to sex, and therefore the crime wasn’t so bad, even though the law says differently? The girl didn’t become pregnant from the encounters, so if things are basically the same as they were 50 years ago, the jury will acquit the man because without a pregnancy, the crime really wasn’t so bad.

Stay tuned for the verdict.

Should the Irish diaspora vote for President of Éire?

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The Republic of Ireland is finally going to hold a referendum on the right of members of the Irish diaspora to vote in presidential elections in Éire. Enda Kenny vetted the idea when he was still taoiseach, and it seems that the Oireachtas, now led by Leo Varadkar, is going to let this referendum go forward. According to RTÉ, the government is currently drafting the referendum, which will be put to the Irish people in October 2019. If it passes, people around the world who claim Irish citizenship will have the right to vote in presidential elections beginning in 2025.

I have a lot of questions in advance of the draft legislation:

  1. Will all Irish citizens around the world be allowed to vote absentee? Or, will it be drafted so that all Irish citizens can vote, but they must be in Ireland on election day in order to do so?
  2. Or, will there be limits on the presidential franchise based on residency and/or duration of time living as an ex-pat? Ireland has fairly lenient qualifications for becoming an Irish citizen if you can prove Irish ancestry. If your parents or at least one grandparent was a natural-born Irish citizen, you can become a citizen of Ireland. And, per the preliminary terms of this referendum, all of these people–approximately 70 million around the world–could be allowed to vote.
    1. Of course, this includes all Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland.
  3. Will there be any provision for non-citizens who are legal residents of Ireland to vote in these elections? Ireland revoked birthright citizenship after 2005, so there may be people living in Ireland who are not citizens but who have much more of a link to Ireland than most of the Irish-Americans or Irish-Australians who will be allowed to vote but haven’t spent even 10 days in Ireland in their entire lives.

I have to say, I’m perplexed as to why Fine Gael would put forward this proposal. Fine Gael will most certainly NOT be the beneficiary of this legislation. Indeed, I think that in general much of the Irish diaspora couldn’t tell you what Fine Gael stands for as a political party, or Fianna Fáil for that matter–all joking aside about the majority of Ireland not knowing what these parties stand for, either.

When the Irish diaspora encounters Irish politics, these encounters typically take the form of Irish nationalism as represented by Sinn Féin and, in the past, of the Provos (IRA). Sinn Féin has a fundraising arm in the United States (Friends of Sinn Féin), and benefits grandly from telling stories of British oppression of the Irish, from depicting the Great Famine as a genocide, and reminding Irish Americans that they have a duty to “their” homeland to support Irish unity. I see this manifestation of “Irishness” on certain websites and diaspora message boards, notably IrishCentral.com, founded by famous American-Irish supporter of Sinn Féin, Niall O’Dowd (who was a key player in getting Gerry Adams a visa back in 1994).

So, of course, Sinn Féin is the political party that stands to benefit most from allowing the Irish diaspora to vote in presidential elections. The president of Ireland, currently Michael O’Higgins, is largely a ceremonial position, but has been held in recent years by some quite illustrious figures, notably Mary Robinson, who went on to become the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Despite the president’s notable lack of actual political power, the president is a visible figure with moral authority. And, Sinn Féin would certainly love to see Gerry Adams elected president of Ireland. Allowing the diaspora to vote would most certainly help to bring this about–as much as most of the Republic of Ireland itself would find “President Gerry Adams” to be quite distasteful. There is a sense among many Irish citizens that Sinn Féin can’t be trusted; that, yes, the party does advance some socially liberal positions such as LGBTQ+ rights and abortion rights, but that the party does so for spurious reasons. [Incidentally, in a nod to Professor Richard English–he suggested to me almost 15 years ago in a private conversation that he thought that Gerry Adams would be president of Ireland someday. I’m not sure this is what he had in mind, but interesting that he predicted it.]

I would therefore propose that there be limits on precisely which Irish citizens are allowed to vote in presidential elections. Surely, Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland should be allowed to vote, as they have a personal stake in the fate of the island. But what of the children or grandchildren of Irish citizens who listen to “Danny Boy” and “The Fields of Athenry” but have never so much as been to Ireland? These are people with no real connection to the fate of the island.

Many countries including the United Kingdom have limits on the rights of ex-patriots to vote in elections. In the UK, an ex-pat can vote for up to 15 years after leaving, so long as that person was registered to vote when s/he lived in the UK. Such limits seem to me to be quite reasonable, as per the “connection to the fate of the country” idea that I discussed above. I hope that Éire will include such limitations, so as not to permit everyone claiming Irish citizenship to participate in a presidential election and sway the outcome in favor of a result that the vast majority of people actually living on the island would strongly dislike.




Celebrating Bloomsday

Bloomsday as you may or may not know is celebrated on June 16th, which was the day in 1904 in which Leopold Bloom took his (in)famous stroll around Dublin in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

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If you haven’t read Ulysses, and most people haven’t but like to pretend that they have because it makes them sound erudite, this book was considered scandalous when it was first published. Whatever of the revolutionary stream-of-consciousness style, the book includes some passages that were considered quite salacious at the time, such as this one:

Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.

Quite tame by our standards in 2019 when every kind of kinky porn you can imagine is a few clicks away, but such words certainly garnered the attention of the morality police (censors) in the early 1900s.

There are a lot of ways to celebrate Bloomsday if you are so inclined:

  1. Possibly the most popular way is by getting drunk. Allegedly the first people to inaugurate this celebration attempted to retrace Bloom’s steps around Dublin, but only made it halfway because they passed out.
  2. Go on a first date! June 16th is the day that Joyce met his great love, Nora Barnacle. You never know who you’ll meet!
  3. Masturbate. Leopold Bloom did.
  4. Get a hand job. Ibid.
  5. Go to one of the multitudinous Bloomsday celebrations around the world.
    1. Symphony Space is hosting an event this year.
    2. Irish-American Bar Association of New York has its own event to remember the lawyer who represented Joyce’s publisher in the obscenity trial.
  6. Read a book by James Joyce or another Irish author.
    1. On this note, Joyce is frequently associated with the Gaelic revival/Irish cultural nationalism that blossomed around the time the book was written. Playwrights and authors worked to revive the Irish language and celebrate Irish works–hence the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.
    2. I’m not a Joyce expert, so I would have to do some further research, but my guess is that Joyce would be wary of being associated with some of the major figures of the Gaelic revival such as Lady Gregory. And I say that because Leopold Bloom, who is Jewish, encounters some antisemitism in Ulysses, and so I’m not sure how Joyce felt about the obsession with Irish identity. Could a Jew be Irish? Maybe this is not at all what Joyce had in mind, but it strikes me that he wasn’t fully on board with the obsession about what it means to be Irish as were the major anti-colonial figures such as Patrick Pearse.
    3. If you need a different Irish author, you might consider Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Maeve Binchy, Roddy Doyle, or Sally Rooney.
  7. Any other ideas!!? Let me know in the comments.

Gerry Adams: It is Ireland’s “duty” to plan for unity

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On his personal blog, Gerry Adams has asserted that there should not be a border poll in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland until there is a cogent plan for what a united Ireland would actually mean in practice. In his view, we all learned a lesson from Brexit: “A referendum without a plan is stupid.” Maybe there should be a border poll in the near future, but Adams doesn’t make a terribly convincing case in his blog post.

Certainly, the debacle in the aftermath of the Brexit vote has shown Adams to be correct that there should be a clearly defined plan in place in the event of a vote for Irish unity. He also said that it is the “duty” of the government of the Republic of Ireland to plan for that poll and the potential result of a vote in favor of Irish unity. To support his optimistic claim that Ireland is on the verge of voting for unity and an exit from the UK, Adams cited data fro the 2011 Northern Ireland census. Specifically, he notes that only 48% of respondents in Northern Ireland self-identified as British; a professor who examined the results noted that there is a “measurable trend” towards a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland. Adams seems quite optimistic that those two ideas combined translate into a majority in favor of Irish unity.

I’m not so sure. A look at the summary report from the 2011 census (found here) shows that only 25.26% of the population self-identified as “Irish only” and 20.94% of the population identified as “Northern Irish only.” That’s about 68% of the population that does not self-identify as Irish. There are other statistics with smaller numbers for people who self-identify as more than one of these three groups. But I think the statistic for “Irish only” is important: only ¼ of the population of Northern Ireland believes itself to be exclusively Irish. An additional 2.74% of people include “Irish” in their self-identity, along with another category.

From these statistics, it’s impossible to determine how people will vote in a border poll. Adams is certainly too optimistic in his blog post. That doesn’t mean a border poll shouldn’t happen though–certainly it should happen in the next few years; indeed, wouldn’t it make sense to hold a poll on a periodic basis, with other elections? 

But what of the notion that Éire is duty-bound to plan for unity? What does such a plan entail?

Safe guards for Unionists are essential, but I foresee the fear of persecution being greatly exaggerated. Adams notes, too, that dialogue must exist to make Unionists feel as though they will be safe and their rights will be protected in a united Ireland. Éire is an increasingly diverse country, and I see no reason why northern Unionists/Protestants would be persecuted–indeed, if anyone has anything to fear, it’s non-Irish immigrants to the island, based on deep-seeded prejudices that are not unique to Ireland. Éire is a liberal democracy that is not dominated by the Catholic hierarchy, and I have every reason to believe that Unionists will be welcomed.

The exchequer also requires great planning. Currently, the North receives a millions of pounds per year from the UK purse, and it could lose that money upon Irish unity. In theory, it would lose that money. Might there be a plan to slowly ween the North off of British money? Also: what of the civil servants in the North who will probably lose their jobs when a single government takes over? 

Adams doesn’t seem to have considered money in his call on the government of the Republic of Ireland to prepare for Irish unity with a detailed plan. He’s right that a plan is necessary, but I think perhaps many people in Éire would object to putting money toward that when there is a housing crisis; rural populations lack access to the Internet; and a massive percentage of people want the government to take meaningful action to help stem the tide of climate change. Plus, by most accounts the British NHS is far superior to healthcare available in the South, and I don’t imagine northerners want to give that up–so surely the South will have to pour a lot of money into improving health services. That’s a lot of work already, and all of that costs money. Will the people of the Republic want to allocate valuable resources toward planning for Irish unity? Maybe, but I definitely don’t think I’d bet my house on it. (And on this subject, the statistics Adams gives for the percentage of people in the South who favor Irish unity is somewhat absurd in its interpretation, even if the raw numbers are accurate.)

So now to address the optimism Adams expressed about the triumph of Irish unity in the event of a border poll. If we can return to the comparison with Brexit for a moment: we are left with the question, “If there had been a plan for Brexit-ing and post-Brexit UK, would the people still have voted to leave the European Union?” Maybe the plan would have resulted in a greater number of people supporting Brexit, as they could have been reassured of their economic security in advance of the vote. But, on the other hand, maybe tangible details would have scared people in the UK and eliminated much of the vote for Brexit that was essentially “protest” vote. We have no way to know, but I think this possibility is possible for an Irish-unity vote, too. Plans for unity may be comforting and reassuring, or they might scare people. So again, I think people who foresee Irish unity on the immediate horizon (that is, within a couple of years) are overly optimistic–particularly if Brexit never pans out at all (October is the next deadline).

On this note: will Sinn Féin support membership in the EU in the event of Irish unity? Sinn Féin is historically opposed to the European Union, because, as per the party name that translates to “ourselves,” they want the island of Ireland for the people of Ireland, and therefore oppose intervention from Brussels. I think Sinn Féin needs to do a bit of soul-searching itself as they push for a border poll and plans for unity–and let the Irish people know exactly what their vision is, as the most vocal advocates for reunited the island.

Irish History & Politics Consultant

The school year is coming to an end, and as soon as I finish grading 26 papers on McCarthyism, I’ll no longer be a secondary-school teacher anymore. I’ve learned a lot from the four years I’ve spent teaching teenagers.

Teenagers are energetic and funny and quite often frustrating. But, overall, I would say that they try to be good people and want to grow up to do good things in the world. Sometimes, as I’ve seen, this changes in college as they are pressured to major in a subject that will be lucrative (say, computer science), as opposed to one for which they have genuine passion (say, philosophy…or, in my case, Irish history). It makes me sad to see this happen to people who were once so gloriously interested in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

I’m an activist and a researcher, not a teacher. The moments I enjoyed most when I was in the classroom all connect with left-wing activism in some fashion. The most gratifying day for me as a teacher was my last day at my first teaching job, when I showed John Oliver’s interview with Edward Snowden. Afterwards, I asked my students if they thought that Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Every single one of my students answered that they thought he was an American hero, and I thought to myself, “I did a good job this year.” I had a similar experience when a student from my second school paid tribute to me before I left, by explaining how much joy he found in my use of Hasan Minhaj’s speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner–that I engaged them in history and current events, and made them think about their own beliefs. These moments put in sharp relief the thousands of other moments that people who love teaching would find satisfying, and yet I do not.

Teaching United States and World history also made clear how much I love researching and talking about Ireland. I tried to find ways to work Ireland into my lessons. I spend an entire day on the Battle of the Boyne when I teach the Glorious Revolution, and I play “Young Ned of the Hill” for my students. I hit on the Penal Laws, Catholic Emancipation, the Great Famine, and the juxtaposition of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Ireland is my country of choice when I teach about nations and nationalism. And yes, I cover the Unionist perspective and why Unionism is a form of nationalism. Many of my colleagues think all of this is a giant waste of time; but my students have enjoyed it most because it’s what I love to talk about. One student remarked that I’m a different teacher when I teach about Ireland.

I think that student was correct.

And so I’m ending my teaching career this June to return to researching and writing about Irish history and politics. I comment on Twitter, and of course I write here, too. I don’t know what my future will be–I hope there is a career to be had as a consultant on Irish history and politics–but I think this path will make me happier.

Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor celebrates her win against Delfine Persoon in the IBF, WBC, WBO, WBA, Ring Magazine Women’s Lightweight World Championships fight at Madison Square Garden, New York. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire

(Photo from the Irish Times)

I am not a particular fan of boxing, but it’s still pretty cool that Ireland can boast being home to the undisputed lightweight champion of the world, Katie Taylor, from Bray.

I know almost nothing about boxing, but I do know that a 10-round match that’s a near draw is exciting to watch.

The Irish Times will tell you more about it here.

Trump in Ireland

In an apparent abdication of her connection with reason, Queen Elizabeth II invited Donald Trump for a state visit to the UK, which is supposed to happen starting Monday. Leave it to the Orange Sphincter (thanks, Bill Maher) to manage to arse this up just days before arriving, by calling Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, “nasty,” when he was informed of remarks she made a few years ago that expressed distaste for the then-candidate Trump. Most of the rest of humanity will now consider that the Duchess has fine character and good judgement. I already thought so, as she is a Northwestern alumna.

In response, the Queen should certainly cancel the state visit and chastise the president for his utter lack of decency.

In addition, Leo Varadkar should refuse to meet Trump when he is in Ireland visiting one of his own golf courses. This rejection has nothing to do with what Trump said about the Duchess. Instead, there are other issues here:

  1. If Trump had been president in 1847, he would have reviled the Famine immigrants and tried to keep the starving people from a “shithole country” out of the United States.
  2. By publicly visiting one of his own golf courses in Ireland, he is bringing it publicity from which he stands to profit, and is thus violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
    1. (By the way, that’s an impeachable offense. Speaker Pelosi: Take note.)
  3. The people of Ireland think Trump is an ignoramus, who undoubtedly has no idea that the Irish prime minister is called Taoiseach, and definitely cannot pronounce the word at any rate. Guaranteed he doesn’t know that Ireland is a dual-language country, and will make some idiotic remark about the signage in the country. (Okay, the second part would be funny and just confirm that he’s a moron.)