Fingal By-Election

The Fingal by-election is happening this Friday, 29 November. Even though this is only one small slice of Ireland, this election is important because it has consequences that could be significant for the Alt-Shite movement. If the constituency elects another Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party, or Sinn Féin TD, we’ll be fine. I honestly have no skin in that game since, as you know, I live in New York City.

I, and every right-thinking person, does have skin in the game in terms of the potential election of conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty. I don’t expect her to win a seat in the Dáil, but that’s hardly the point; rather, if she receives any significant number of votes, she will be buoyed to continue her campaign of insanity.

Gemma O’Doherty is more dangerous than many people think. While I know that it’s tempting to laugh at her for the many ridiculous stunts that she pulls, I urge Irish people not to write her off as a wacko. Don’t get me wrong–she is definitely a wacko. But she is a hateful, spiteful, and fucking smart as shit wacko with the potential to disrupt Irish politics.

Gemma knows what she is doing. She understands that a large group of people who care about the world, but who are under-educated and/or under-informed, are vulnerable to her peddling of conspiracies. She capitalizes on weakness and prejudice. It’s easy to believe some of the crap she says if one doesn’t have an alternative base of knowledge. For example, you can see that she believes that 5G Internet causes cancer:

It sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Ireland does have the third-highest cancer rate in the world, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. If you think 5G is “radiation” and you know that “radiation” causes cancer, you can make this leap. After all, some forms of radiation do indeed cause cancer, especially in high concentrations. Ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, gamma rays, and other high-energy radiation can disrupt the DNA-replication process and result in malignant tumors. That’s 100% true. HOWEVER, 5G and low-energy radiation from cellular phones is not the kind of radiation that causes cancer. She takes advantage of people’s ignorance in order to portray herself as the lone truth-teller in a sea of corrupt politicians from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green, Sinn Féin, etc.

She also conflates related concepts in order to portray politicians and individuals as perverse. On Facebook, she equated masturbation with paedophilia:

She promotes this notion as a criticism of the new sex-education curriculum, which will allow young people to be agents in their own sexual development–and agency will prevent actual paedophilia and actual sexual assaults. Plus, people who have knowledge will have healthier sex lives as teenagers and adults, and they will know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thus resulting in fewer unwanted children and fewer abortions. Masturbation is a healthy and safe way to explore one’s own sexual desires. With access to the Internet, kids can learn about sexuality in very unhealthy ways that will teach them incorrect notions about what a healthy sexual relationship looks like. Or, they can be given knowledge by educators in a safe environment, and they can use that knowledge to empower themselves. Sex is an important part of being human, and to deny that is to deny our own humanity. After all, very few other species engage in sex for fun. It’s part of what makes humankind unique.

The Bible is the only justification for such a point of view–and Ireland is no longer a state dominated by the Catholic hierarchy. Gemma wants to return to the bad-old-days in which John Charles McQuaid was “ruler of Catholic Ireland,” and the government took its orders from the church.

Gemma also condemns “globalism” on a near quotidian basis. Here’s a representative statement that she posted to Facebook today:

Lots of “scary” words here, right? Ooooh, the boogeyman is coming with “Big Pharma” and “Satanic worship” and vaccines! HIDE YOUR CHILDREN!!!

No, really: abortion is a medical procedure. LGBTQ+ people are, well, people who live their lives peacefully. Vaccines save billions of lives. Fluoride improves dental health. Climate change isn’t a hoax. I guess we can all get behind the idea that “degeneracy” is bad, but I think Gemma would define it differently than most sane, right-thinking people. Fast food…well, I’m not going to defend that one, but I condemn it on the grounds of animal cruelty, abuse of workers, and promotion of obesity (I’m honestly not sure why Gemma hates fast food).

Glyphosate and “Big Pharma” deserve a bit of time, though. Gemma’s attack on glyphosate is one reason why she is so smart and so dangerous. Glyphosate is an herbicide, which kills plants; because plants have different cellular structures than humans, pure glyphosate is actually rather harmless to people. But, glyphosate is usually combined with other chemicals, and those chemicals make glyphosate more toxic to humans. Gemma isn’t wrong about this one; she doesn’t lie about everything. Less savvy consumers of media might then be inclined to think that she is telling the truth about other things, too. But just because one idea isn’t a lie doesn’t imply that her other notions have truth. Be careful.

As for “Big Pharma”….she thinks that pharmaceutical companies have an agenda to promote “unsafe” vaccines. Do companies make some money off of vaccines? Yeah, they do, but vaccines actually aren’t the major source of income for these companies. New drugs, that retain their patent, are the most expensive products and the biggest cash cows for pharmaceutical companies. This is a big part of why companies continue to research and produce new, and more effective, prescription drugs. People can live with HIV because of pharmaceutical companies. I don’t love how expensive drugs are, especially in the United States if you lack health insurance. But, this is where capitalism is a force for good: most life-saving medications are developed in the United States, where they are most profitable. I don’t like that people have become uber-rich by gauging people for medications that will save their lives; it’s somewhat unethical because we all know that most people will shell out any amount of money to save their own life or the life of someone they love. Still, profit is a powerful motivator. Gemma is misguided here, but major companies are also an easy mark, and attacking corporations is a line that cuts across class divisions and political allegiances. Again: she’s smart. Don’t fall for this nonsense. Vaccines save lives.

Also, Gemma harasses peaceful, private citizens, such as the owners and employees of a small halal meat shop. Look, I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 25 years. I truly hate meat. I hate the meat industry. I have no love for pork producers (I do, however, have love for pigs. They’re cute and very smart). But it’s way out of line to walk into a butcher shop with a camera and ask for pork, and when she is told they don’t have pork, Gemma asks “why not?” using as justification for her stupid question the fact that she is in Ireland, and “Irish people” allegedly love pork. There are plenty of Irish vegetarians and vegans and Jews and Muslims who don’t love pork, but that’s not really the point at all. (Although she wouldn’t consider Jews and Muslims to be Irish, regardless of their birth or parentage.) You can view this video here:

So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking Gemma O’Doherty is crazy but ultimately harmless. She is savvy; she knows how to fool vulnerable people into supporting her. She capitalizes on people’s weaknesses and prejudices for her own personal gain. Stop her while you can, before Ireland has its own version of Donald Trump.

Vote for literally anyone except Gemma if you vote in Fingal.

Sentencing of Ana Kriégel’s murderers

On Tuesday, at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, Mr. Justice Paul McDermott sentenced the two boys who were found guilty of the murder of 14-year-old Ana Kriégel. The boys, known as Boy A and Boy B because they were only 13 years old when they committed the murder, will spend much of their lives behind bars. Boy A, who was found guilty of murder and aggravated sexual assault, was sentenced to a life term that can be reviewed in 12 years. Boy B, convicted ofmurder, was sentenced to 15 years with the sentence to be reviewed in eight years. 

The two boys are the youngest people ever to be found guilty of murder in Ireland. As a result, there was no precedent for how to sentence the boys, and Justice McDermott exercised some discretion in meting out punishment. In Ireland, murder carries an automatic life sentence, but the young age of the boys was a mitigating factor. The judge was quoted in the Irish Times as saying, “Her family will have to bear their grief for the rest of their lives. At least you will have the opportunity to reconstruct yours in a positive way.” And, he posed a challenge to them, “Will you take it?” I hope that they will, because Ana Kriegel will never have that opportunity.

Both boys will serve their time in Oberstown child detention facility until they turn 18, at which point they will be transferred to a prison for adult offenders. Although the verdict was handed down in the spring, sentencing was delayed until this week so that the boys could undergo psychological evaluations. The Court also considered the victim-impact statement given by Ana’s mother, Geraldine. Ana’s mother expressed how much they miss their daughter, and how this grief will stay with them for the rest of their lives. She said, “Life without Ana is no longer a life, nor is it even an existence–it is a misery that we must endure for the rest of our lives.” 

Boy A now acknowledges that he murdered Ana (though he denies the sexual assault), but Boy B continues to deny any involvement in the murder. Their acceptance of responsibility will likely be a factor when the court revisits their sentencing in 12 or eight years, respectively.

Ana Kriégel. Photo credit: Irish times.

The press mishandled the reporting of Ana Kriégel’s murder. Gruesome details of the killing and the state in which Ana’s body was found have been published in newspapers in Ireland and around the world. Ana’s parents have to live with the agony of their daughter’s death, and they also have to live with the knowledge that millions of people know what happened to her. At the same time, the boys responsible for killing Ana have been given legal protection: their names have been withheld, and people in the courtroom can be prosecuted if they reveal the boys’ names to the public. 

This contradiction is deeply disturbing. Some people have argued that the boys’ names should be revealed now that they have been found guilty, and that their families should have to live with shame as Ana’s family must live with her death.  But an “eye for an eye” does not seem to be an appropriate response. Rather, the media should be more sensitive in publishing the gory details about the murder of a teenager. Nothing can be gained by publishing the private information about the two guilty parties. 

The other controversial issue is one of appropriate punishment for this crime. Ana lost her life, and it is easy to argue that the people responsible should also lose theirs–at least by withering away in prison. And yet, the boys were 13 years old when they committed the crime. Should 13-year-old children be kept behind bars for decades for any crime? Consider, even if they live just to be 70, that they will have spent 57 years in jail. 

This question leads to a larger philosophical quandary about the purpose of custodial sentences in the criminal-justice system. Clearly, people who are duly convicted of crimes need to be punished for doing so, or we would have no system of justice to speak of. But can a custodial sentence also serve to educate and rehabilitate offenders? Or, do violent offenders forfeit their futures because they have essentially opted out of society?

As an American, I struggle with this last question. Our prisons overflow with nonviolent offenders (mostly for drug crimes) and with people who committed a series of minor offenses but find themselves incarcerated for long periods under so-called “three strike” laws–because it’s a great idea to apply the rules of baseball to meting out punishment for criminals? Until 2005, states were allowed to execute people for crimes committed when they were under 18 (and 22 such executions happened between 1976 and 2005). 

Or, with time, counseling, and education, could Boys A and B heal and become positive members of Irish society? We don’t know the answer to that question, which is why their sentences will be periodically reviewed by the courts. They deserve the opportunity, though. And I know it offends people to hear that the murderers of an innocent, vivacious teenage girl “deserve” anything. 

Yet history is replete with stories of people who did terrible things, served their time, and became better people. Many of these people were nonviolent offenders such as Frank William Abagnale, the protagonist of Catch Me if You Can, who is a fraud consultant for the US government. But, consider also the case of Kweisi Mfume, who was involved in crime (the degree of involvement is controversial) and fathered five children while still a teenager; he went on to become president of the NAACP and a US Congressman from Maryland. And, there is the impressive historical work of Michelle Jones, who spent decades in prison for murdering her four-year-old daughter, and became a graduate student at NYU. 

I wrote my dissertation on sexual assault in the Republic of Ireland, so I know that this nation’s history is also replete with cases in which violent sexual predators have not received appropriate levels of punishment for their offenses–but this is not such a case. Justice McDermott meted out a harsh custodial sentence, and one that is especially unusual in a country that recoils from incarcerating minors. I am glad that he believes in the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption–and I’m equally glad that I did not have to choose the punishment for these boys. 

 

Defending Men’s Right to Procreate via Rape: Lessons from Ireland

In October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman living in the Republic of Ireland, died from a septic miscarriage. Doctors at University Hospital Galway detected a fetal heartbeat, but, fearing prosecution, they refused to perform an abortion that would have saved her life. Ireland’s now-repealed 8th Amendment recognized “the right to life of the unborn” and the state guaranteed, “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” that it would “defend and vindicate that right.” The state failed: both Savita and her fetus perished.

Memorial to Savita Halappanavar

Memorial in Dublin to Savita Halappanavar, who died from a septic miscarriage because doctors refused to perform an abortion. Photo: Buzzfeed.

Pro-choice activists have written widely about the dangers that will befall American women if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Still, these stories sound melodramatic to many anti-abortion activists. Like anti-vaxxers who have never seen polio, most opponents of abortion have never seen women suffer the agony of carrying an unwanted fetus, and believe these horrors to be the province of “third-world” countries. The example of Ireland is difficult to ignore, however, because the country is western, wealthy, and highly developed. Proponents of fetal-heartbeat laws such as the measure in Alabama that a federal judge blocked on October 29th, which made abortion a class A felony punishable by life imprisonment, should learn from Ireland’s experiences so the ranks of our obituary pages don’t swell with American Savitas.

Alabama’s law refuses exceptions in cases of rape and incest, and here, too, legislators can learn from Ireland. In 1992, in the X Case, Irish courts attempted to block a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country for an abortion. The girl was suicidal because of the rape and psychological trauma of pregnancy. After initial rulings that the child would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, protestors held signs that declared “Ireland Defends Men’s Right to Procreate by Rape.” In the end, Ireland’s Supreme Court ruled that X could obtain an abortion because her life was at risk. The original actions of the Irish government in X’s case, like Governor Kay Ivey’s statement that the Alabama law is a “powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is…a sacred gift from God” are nakedly hypocritical: they demonstrate a clear preference for the life of the fetus over the mental and physical well-being of women.

Savita and X were paradigm-changing cases in Ireland because both figures were innocent victims who could not be written off as “sluts” who sought abortions in order to avoid taking responsibility for their “sins.” Savita was a married woman; X was a child who was victimized by a predator. Both Savita and X represented the familial nation in crisis: their families were at risk not because of abortion, but because they could not access one.

Ireland has learned from its past and the government has put the nation on a cultural and legal path toward fully valuing women in society. Also on October 29th, the Irish government welcomed the report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception, which endorsed the provision of free contraception, including long-term methods such as intra-uterine devices and implants. Guaranteed access to contraception and sex education will prevent more cases like these two tragedies–and minimize abortion rates. 

Yet Alabama fails on this measure, too. The state does not require sex education in schools, and schools that do offer sex ed endorse abstinence over information. It is unsurprising, then, that the state has some of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the country. It is misogynistic to refuse to provide information on sexuality and contraception, and then force women to bear the burden of an unwanted pregnancy. 

To be sure, anti-abortion activists will argue that even if abortion is legal only in cases of rape and incest, a flood of women will cry rape–so abortion should just be outlawed altogether. But Ireland also shows that this scenario is pure fantasy: after the X case, Ireland recognized suicide risk as grounds for abortion, and Ireland didn’t see a glut of pregnant women claiming to be suicidal. This theory represents a deranged view of women as manipulative Eves, willing to do anything to erase evidence of their alleged wrongdoing. Regardless, women deserve to have the law dignify our full humanity by allowing us control over our bodies; arguments about rape and incest are adendums to that point.

Spurred by activism in the wake of Savita’s death, in 2018, the people of Ireland voted by an overwhelming majority to legalize abortion. Upon the repeal of the 8th Amendment, Irish people left notes at a memorial to Savita expressing sorrow that the measure was too late to save her. America must learn from Ireland before we have a Memorial to the Women Who Died in Forced Pregnancy.