St. Patrick’s Day in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! Sláinte!

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I have compiled a list of ways that we can all celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without the traditional venues of pubs and parades. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments.

  1. Dye the water green before you wash your hands.
  2. Watch movies with fake Irish people and determine which one does the worst Irish accent. Here are some suggestions:
    1. Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own
    2. Tom Cruise in Far and Away
    3. Sean Connery in The Untouchables
  3. Compete with your neighbors to grab the last box of Lucky Charms cereal off the grocery store shelves. Bonus: this is good exercise, too!
  4. Make a list of all the things St. Patrick could have potentially vanquished from Ireland, in addition to snakes. For example, some of my Twitter friends hate mushy peas, and would probably have appreciated St. Patrick vanquishing improperly cooked peas.
  5. If you’re Irish American, you can spend time pondering what “percentage” Irish you are. Kill time!
  6. Read Irish newspapers and see what a country with a leader other than Donald Trump is doing to protect its citizens. I know Leo Varadkar isn’t anyone’s idea of a visionary, take-charge leader, but feck sake, he’s better than the Dotard-in-Chief.
  7. Replay video of Ian Paisley  denouncing Pope John Paul II as the antichrist.
  8. Re-read some of Paisley’s more colorful denunciations of Catholicism. My favorite: “Priest Murphy, speak for your own bloodthirsty, persecuting, intolerant, blaspheming, politic-religious papacy, but do not dare to pretend to be the spokesman of free Ulster men . . . Go back to your priestly intolerance, back to your blasphemous Masses, back to your beads, holy water, holy smoke and stinks and remember . . we know your church to be the mother of harlots and the abominations of the Earth.”
  9. Tell Irish jokes to everyone you live with. There are many repositories online. The bonus points for the person who can use the word “cunt” the most times in a single joke.
  10. Try to grow potatoes in your garbage can. Here are instructions. 

Shameful Paddy’s Day Celebration on Staten Island

The New York Times reported today that the morons in charge of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Staten Island are continuing to ban LGBTQ+ groups from marching in the parade and celebrating their identity as queer and Irish-American (or just Irish). Or queer and Catholic.

According to the Times, Larry Cummings, the bigoted president of the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade committee, stated, “Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture. It is not a political or sexual identification parade.” He later said, “Here’s the deal, it’s a nonsexual identification parade and that’s that. No, they are not marching. Don’t try to keep asking a million friggin’ questions, OK?”

Cummings’s statements are total bullshit, though, because by banning displays of LGBTQ+ identity, he IS politicizing the event, and he IS making it a sexual display–heterosexual only. His remarks are naive at best, and pathetically disingenuous at worst. Fuck this guy.

Some Catholic officials have distanced themselves from the event, claiming that the the parade doesn’t represent the Catholic church. Good for them for not being overt bigots. But the official policy of the Catholic church continues to be to refuse to perform or recognize same-sex marriages. So, therefore, zero points given to Pope Francis for his “Who am I to judge?” remark. In fact, no points will be given until Pope Francis stands up in public–I’d prefer it to happen on Easter Sunday–and declare that God loves gays (why else would He keep making them?).

To imply, as the organizers of this parade are doing, that it is celebrating Irish culture WHILE refusing to recognize LGBTQ+ individuals AS SUCH shows a disgusting disregard for the heritage these idiots claim to be celebrating. Ireland in 2020 is not the Ireland of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and Éamon de Valera. To the contrary, Ireland legalized same-sex marriage through a referendum in 2015. It’s out-going taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is an openly gay Irish man. As a whole, Ireland welcomes the queer community–policies of the dumbass Catholic church aside.

This kind of attitude, as perpetuated by Larry Cummings, is the same attitude that keeps religious animosity endemic in certain elements of Irish and Irish-American society. “Irish” and “Catholic” are not synonymous. There are Irish Protestants and Irish Jews and Irish Muslims. You can be queer and be Irish; you can be hetero and be Irish. In my considerable experience living in Belfast and Dublin, as well as earning a PhD in Irish history, I can testify that Ireland has changed a lot–it is a society that values liberal individualism, and it is open to all kinds of people.

This representation of “Irish” heritage that we will see on Staten Island is an archaic manifestation of de Valera’s “comely maidens” bullshit. In fact, I would argue that de Valera’s narrow-minded idealistic view of Ireland never did exist. Statistics on sexual activity and pregnancy outside of marriage bear this out, among many other trends.

Staten Island’s Paddy’s Day parade, and Larry Cummings in particular, need to cop the fuck on. Let the LGBTQ+ community represent their Irish heritage AND their queerness in the parade.

General Election 2020: Let Sinn Féin Have a Shot

On Saturday, February 8th, the people of the Republic of Ireland went to the polls to decide which party or parties will guide the country’s future for the next chunk of time—up to 5 years.

The votes are still being counted as I write this, however it seems clear at this point that Sinn Féin had a very good day. There is a near three-way tie among Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin. Independents pulled in about 11% of the vote, and the Greens also had their best-ever showing. Labour, by its own admission, got pounded at the polls. So, too, did the rampant bigotry pushed by Gemma O’Doherty’s “Anti-Corruption Ireland” and Ceannaire Justin Barrett’s Irish National Party.

What does Sinn Féin’s surge mean for Ireland? Most immediately, the popularity of SF in this election indicates a strong preference for progressive policies on social and economic issues.

Sinn Féin’s surge is not an indication that Irish unity is around the corner. Sinn Féin’s boost in the polls was largely among younger voters. These voters, mostly in their 20s, are far removed from the revolutionary generation, and don’t necessarily choose their political allegiances based on what side their ancestors fought for in the Civil War from 1922-23. Moreover, Sinn Féin has adopted a host of progressive social policies that have nothing to do with the “national question,” its raison d’être. Most notably, Sinn Féin takes a liberal stance on women’s rights and the rights of LGBTQ+ people, issues on which young people are almost universally more liberal than older people.

Sinn Fein’s manifesto addresses issues that are important to young people, who likely don’t earn as much money as more experienced professionals. Sinn Féin’s has pledged to abolish the USC on the first €30,000. They have also embraced the politics of climate change, and have vowed to invest an additional €1bn in public transportation in order to cut down on pollution from cars.

Sinn Féin has shown that the party understands how the electorate is changing. Ireland’s two entrenched parties, FG and FF, will not be Ireland’s future if they cannot understand the importance of generational change. In addition, Sinn Féin also understands that people vote with their emotions, not an intellectual evaluation of the various parties’ manifestos. Countless political science and psychology studies have demonstrated this trend—here’s one, for example.

I would be interested to see which factors people name in explaining their votes. Because, back to Sinn Féin’s raison d’être, the party has also pledged to pursue Irish unity by producing a White Paper on the subject and by pushing for a border poll. I’m pretty sure that this factor is NOT the deciding factor for many people who voted for the Shinners. But, when you support Sinn Féin, you know that you’re also supporting their goal of holding a border poll within five years. At the very least, their policies on Irish unity were not a deterrent—nor was the party’s history as the “political wing of the IRA.” Other political parties in Ireland need to wake up.

Of course, Sinn Féin signed up to the so-called “unionist veto” when it signed on to the Good Friday Agreement. So, Irish unity can only occur with the consent of a majority of the people in the Republic of Ireland and a separate, concurrent majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

That means, for my American readers, that we’re not dealing with a majority of people on the island of Ireland—which is, historically, the majority that Sinn Féin cares about, tracing the mandate back to the election of 1918.

Is there a majority in Northern Ireland in favor of Irish unity? I seriously doubt it. The national question is still very much alive in the North, and it still has potency that it lacks in the south of Ireland. See, for example, the 3-year governmental vacuum because Sinn Féin and the DUP wouldn’t agree on basic principles of equality. I personally think Sinn Féin’s shifts on abortion and same-sex marriage are tied to a desire to pull socially liberal unionists into the view that their “natural” home is in a 32-county republic, and for that reason, I tend not to trust the Shinners. If one’s platform is based on cynical political expediency, and not genuine belief, they will just as quickly change their tune once their goal of unity is accomplished, or once they are entrenched in power.

I say this, moreover, because Sinn Féin is not known for being a particularly democratic party in its internal operations. Although I do support an anti-imperialist platform, and therefore I support Irish unity, I have serious qualms about trusting Irish unity to Sinn Féin.

No matter how you see it, though, this general election signals a major change in the politics in the Republic of Ireland. The challenge that the three major parties have now is in forming a government, as no one has anything close to a majority. Some parties still say they will not form a coalition with the Shinners; others will. Those parties that refuse to govern with Sinn Féin refuse at their own risk—it seems to me that any government that does NOT include the Shinners is not a democratic representation of the people’s wishes. 

Put Sinn Féin in government and let’s see how they run the country.

Remembering the Royal Irish Constabulary

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has taken the bizarre decision to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Justice, has stated specifically that the commemoration will not honor the Black and Tans nor the Auxiliaries. The latter two organizations were particularly notorious for sectarian brutality against Irish Catholics.

But what of the commemoration of the RIC and DMP? On the one hand, these forces were largely made up of Irish people. On the other hand, these Irish people were acting as agent’s of the British government, and they opposed the democratic wishes of the majority of Irish people to be fully independent from Britain. Still, many living Irish people in Éire have ancestors who were members of the RIC and DMP; they might argue that their relatives were merely doing a job, and that their relatives didn’t actively oppose the Irish people who fought for independence. Indeed, many members of these forces abandoned their jobs when the people began to boycott them–they were socially ostracized, which became extremely painful. So, the taoiseach may intend to honor the memory of these people, some of whom died in the War for Independence.

I’d say there is legitimacy to that point of view. HOWEVER, Varadkar is choosing to include the commemoration of the RIC and the DMP as part of the Decade of Centenaries, which is designed to honor the fight for Irish independence. This choice is definitely strange.

I recommended on Twitter yesterday that, instead, Ireland/Varadkar/Fine Gael consider instituting akin to the German Volkstrauertag, a day that remembers the war dead from all nations around the world, including victims of violent oppression. Such a day of remembrance could include the RIC and DMP without giving them a place of honor alongside freedom fighters such as Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Pearse, Connolly, et al. Surely we can all agree that the RIC and the IRB were not morally equal forces in Irish history, right?

There’s one other important issue to consider here: the on-going fight for Irish unity. Remembering the RIC and DMP is some fashion could be extremely meaningful to Unionists. Will Unionists have a place in a future 32-county republic? Will their history be honored in a unified Irish state? Will their ancestors have a place in how Irish people learn about their history, and what will that place be? We have an obligation to remember the past as it was, and to attempt to have empathy for historical actors. We can recognize that individual members of the RIC/DMP, forces of the British government in Ireland, were bad people who committed atrocities against Irish people– because that is the truth. But that wasn’t true of all members of these forces. To see these people as a monolith is an inappropriate black-and-white view of history, which really exists in infinite shades of grey. If Unionists are to feel welcome in a united Ireland, we must find a way to include their history in a way that doesn’t condemn all Unionists and their ancestors in the way that we characterize Nazis (why which I mean all members of the NSDAP).

 

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Provisional IRA

If you look around, you might notice that the Irish seem to be everywhere today. As someone who has spent her entire adult life studying the history and politics of this small island in the north Atlantic, I can’t help noticing the ads on Netflix for the popular series Derry Girls about five teenagers living in the midst of political violence in Northern Ireland. In 2018, an Irish author, Anna Burns, won the prestigious Booker Prize. U2 is on tour again almost 40 years after the release of their first album. 

As a historian, I ask you to pay attention to the date. December marks the 50th anniversary of the advent of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It comes as the drama of Brexit has stoked tension in Northern Ireland, which may result in renewed political violence. As a result, this occasion is an apt time at which to look back on the legacy of the IRA’s nearly 30-year “armed struggle” to force the British government off the island of Ireland. During this period, euphemistically known as the Troubles, over 3,500 people lost their lives to violence. 

Today, as our thoughts turn toward this anniversary, we should also take note of a troubling trend: the rewriting of history for personal and political ends. I have spent a great deal of time considering the question: what, if anything, did the IRA accomplish? An honest appraisal of the IRA must conclude that the paramilitary failed to achieve its goal, and Sinn Féin’s leaders have rewritten history in an effort to bolster the political fortunes of its leaders. 

The Provisional IRA emerged in December 1969 in order to defend the Catholic/nationalist community against repeated assaults by the forces of the British government and by loyalist citizens. Catholics were an oppressed class in Northern Ireland, a state that had been carved out of the island in 1920 in order to institutionalize a Protestant majority that would have been a small minority in a 32-county Irish republic. But the defensive modus operandi soon changed to an offensive strategy.

IRA leaders believed that a blitz of violence and destruction would break the resolve of the British government and it would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What was supposed to be a short “war,” however, turned into a decades-long “armed struggle” of attacks and reprisals. Britain accidentally stoked IRA membership by committing a series of inexcusable assaults on the nationalist community including “Operation Demitrius” in 1971, in which 342 Catholics were arrested and interned without trial, and “Bloody Sunday, 30 Jan. 1972, when paratroopers killed 14 unarmed protesters in Derry. On the IRA’s part, on Bloody Friday, 21 July 1972, the paramilitary set off 22 bombs in Belfast, killing nine people and injuring 130. On 23 Oct. 1993, an IRA bomb in the heart of Protestant West Belfast killed 10 people and injured dozens more. These atrocities are only a small sampling of the brutality of the Troubles.

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998 ended the Troubles and came as a relief to a country that was weary of funerals and fear. With the tireless help of US Senator George Mitchell, the leaders of the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland, David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), forged an agreement to share power, foster equality, and establish consent as the only means through which the British would withdraw from Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin, then the political wing of the IRA, signed on to the Agreement, including the requirement that the IRA decommission its weapons. The “war” was over, and the IRA had not achieved its stated goal.

Then the rewriting of history began.

Gerry Adams and his supporters have promoted a story in which he is the hero of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Adams became president of Sinn Féin in 1983, at which time he is widely believed to have also been a leading member of the IRA’s ruling Army Council, although he denies all accusations of IRA membership. Adams argues that the IRA’s campaign made the GFA possible, and so, paradoxically, the relative peace in Northern Ireland exists because of IRA violence. From this perspective, the story goes, Adams persuaded the IRA–of which he was not a member–to end its war and support constitutional politics. This storyline was so successful that Sinn Féin quickly eclipsed the SDLP as the most powerful political voice of Irish nationalism in Northern Ireland. Martin McGuinness, a former IRA leader, became Deputy First Minister in a power-sharing government. Irish-American publisher Niall O’Dowd has compared Gerry Adams with Nelson Mandela.

This interpretation of the history of Northern Ireland is a deliberate distortion. In December 1973, the Sunningdale Agreement offered terms that were similar to the GFA–prompting SDLP leader Seamus Mallon to remark that the Agreement was “Sunningdale for slow learners.” A comparison of Sunningdale and the GFA shows that the IRA’s campaign did not make substantive gains for the cause after December 1973, contradicting justifications for violence after this date. In addition, Trimble and Hume were the architects of the peace process, not Adams, yet their names have nearly vanished from the contemporary narrative, demonstrating Sinn Féin’s successful rewriting of history. 

Plus, empirical evidence corroborates the claim that Adams was an IRA member. In 1972 he and three other IRA members flew to Britain to hold talks with William Whitelaw, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Why would Whitelaw engage with three bona fide IRA members plus one noncombatant? Also, writing as “Brownie” in Republican News, Adams stated in May 1976, “Rightly or wrongly, I’m an IRA volunteer.” Adams acted on behalf of the IRA in a time in which he did not foresee the political power that he would later attain–power that demands that he deny his role in paramilitary violence in order to support his image as a statesman.

Despite Sinn Féin’s claims to the contrary, if Irish unity is a tangible possibility today, that has little–if anything–to do with IRA violence. Demographic changes and economic aftershocks of Brexit might shift the scales. Importantly, too, Sinn Féin has changed its policies to embrace abortion rights, marriage equality, and the European Union: these issues cut across lines of national identity and align with policies in the Republic of Ireland. So, Sinn Féin also has the potential to convince socially liberal unionists that they will be more free and more equal in a united Ireland. None of these changes was incumbent upon 30 years of anti-state and sectarian violence. 

Sinn Féin’s evidence-free “revision” of the history of the IRA exemplifies how political actors can  exploit the past for their own ends. Manipulating history in this way, especially when the people doing so are famous and powerful, will distort the record for future generations of scholars and obscure the truth about pivotal events. More immediately, though, the manipulation of history is a form of lying; and support garnered through falsehoods is unearned. 

This problem highlights the importance of the professional practice of history. We live in an age in which powerful people deride verifiable facts as “fake news” and technology renders the filtering of truth from fiction difficult even for savvy consumers of media. By documenting the past and emphasizing the role of historical methods, historians can begin to blunt the use of history in the service of nakedly political goals, and promote the notion that a fact is not “fake” simply because it disproves a more appealing story. Historians often disagree about interpretations of facts, but we do not debate the facts themselves. If facts become legitimate topics for disagreement, then knowledge itself will become a quaint notion of a bygone Age of Enlightenment and powerful people will freely manipulate reality in pursuit of selfish ends. By telling people that they are repeating baseless lies, we can stop the illusion of truth that seems to lie in repetition.  Instead, I urge you to embrace facts as weapons in defense of a common reality.

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. 

 

Free Contraception

The report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception was released today. The report follows the commitment made by Minister for Health Simon Harris to make contraception free for everyone–men, women, nonbinary–by 2021. According to the report’s estimates this will cost €80-€100 million per year. While that amount might seem like a lot of money, the funds will be well spent.

The report notes:

“An economic rationale for a universal contraception programme has been advanced on the grounds that it has the potential to reduce the future burden of costs associated with unplanned or crisis pregnancies (including terminations).”

So, I hope that this reality will compel anti-choice zealots to support free contraception. Every reputable study of which I am aware–and I wrote my dissertation on rape, so I’m aware of many studies–demonstrates that the best way to prevent abortions is to increase access to contraception and information about how to use it. The most effective types of contraception are vasectomy, IUD, and implants, because they do not require people to remember to take a pill every day or put on a prophylactic in the heat of desire. Plus, I know that people complain that condoms reduce sensation. Awhile ago, Bill Gates funded a competition to design a “next generation” condom, and the last I read, this was the most viable candidate–it can last for up to 1,000 thrusts (and I’m pretty sure chafing would happen first).

Failure of anti-choice activists to support this bill will demonstrate only that they have no interest in preventing abortions; but, rather, their real interest is in controlling female sexuality, keeping women chained to the stove, and slut shaming. So, which is it going to be?

I also want to make note of two items in the report that the Irish Times pointed out:

“younger women aged 17-24…are more at risk of crisis pregnancy” AND “younger men hold a more negative attitude than older men towards women carrying condoms as a precautionary measure.”

Um, say what, now? Does anyone think that possibly these two facts are related? Clearly, the Irish Times doesn’t, because the paper of record did not relate them in the article, and noted them several paragraphs apart. But, these two findings seem to be linked, without question: if young women want to avoid being slut-shamed by potential sex partners for carrying condoms, they probably don’t carry condoms, and thus lack contraception when they have sex. Young men should be well ashamed for harboring such attitudes. –Hence, the need for more sex education in secondary school.

Finally, the report also vets the idea of changing the prescription requirements for oral contraceptives. This is an interesting idea, because it would reduce the burden involved in obtaining contraceptives. The report notes that in countries including the Netherlands and New Zealand, an initial prescription is required, but then women can access the pills over the counter (i.e., without a new prescription). In Ireland, as the law currently stands, oral contraceptives are a schedule S1B drug, meaning that women need to refill the prescription every six months. The six-month barrier can be significant, and I can see reasons why a lot of women would have difficulty meeting this requirement–going to see a doctor is a burden in terms of time, and cost, too, if one needs to take time off of work in order to see a doctor. Still, there are side effects to OCPs, and open access to prescription refills might not be a great idea, either, as a person’s health circumstances change over time.

 

 

Hate Crimes, Hate Speech, and Gemma O’Doherty’s Gobshite-ery

In another instance of overt gobshite-ery, notorious bigot Gemma O’Doherty has been shown as the root cause of the hate-fueled harassment faced by Fiona Ryan, her fiancé, and their son. The family, which is inter-racial, has posed for an advertisement for the grocery store Lidl.

Image result for lidl advertisement the ryans

“The Ryans,” photo from Independent.ie.

An article in today’s Irish Times reports that the family has fled Ireland as a result of death threats and on-going harassment. Racists like O’Doherty and Justin Barrett have accused Lidl of promoting “globalism” and “multiculturalism” at the expense of the Irish “race,” which they believe will be victimized by the so-called “Great Replacement.”

Fiona Ryan and others have called upon the Irish government to enact comprehensive hate-crimes legislation in order to allow the gardaí to act against people who are stoking the racism and xenophobia that compelled the family to leave the country. Currently, hate speech in Ireland is governed by the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989. Under this law:

“It shall be an offence for a person–(a) to publish or distribute written material, (b) to use words, behave or display written material–(i) in any place other than inside a private residence, or (ii) inside a private residence so that the words, behaviour or material are heard or seen by persons outside the residence–or (c) to distribute, show or play a recording of visual images or sounds, if the written material, words, behaviour, visual images or sounds…are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or…are likely to stir up hatred.”

And, further:

“A person guilty of an offence under [this act] shall be liable (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £1,000, or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or to both, or (b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding £10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to both.”

In practice, this law has been invoked rarely: as of mid-2017, only five convictions have been recorded under this statute, out of 44 total prosecutions. Convictions are difficult to obtain because the law requires that the accused person know that the conduct for which s/he is being prosecuted was hateful and would incite hatred. Laws that have a mens rea (state of mind) requirement are inherently complicated because it is difficult to prove what a person knew or did not know. In rape cases, which rely on a “reasonable man” standard (don’t get me started on the patriarchal perspective written into this phrase, but it should be “reasonable person”) for whether the defendant knew the victim did not consent, convictions are notoriously difficult to secure.

It would seem to me, however, that Gemma O’Doherty cannot argue that she didn’t know her comments were hateful, but did she know that they would incite hatred?  She posted her comments on Twitter and on Facebook, two very public forums where she is followed by more than 32,000 people–so she cannot make the defence, allowed by the statute, that the comments were made in private and not intended for a wider audience. But did she intend to incite people to harass Fiona Ryan and her family? I’d say probably, but how can we prove what she intended when she wrote her racist screed? Maybe she just intended to provoke liberals with her nonsense about “globalism” and George Soros. Maybe she intended to whip up a mob of Internet trolls to drive this loving family out of Ireland. But, I would challenge even the most skilled Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to conclusively prove her motivations.

Hate-speech and hate-crime legislation are problematic because of this type of ambiguity. Unless a person says something to the effect of, “Go harass this family” or “Go out and kill purple people,” how can you prove incitement to hatred? Maybe the person has a diary that details his or her motivations, and the diary can be subpoenaed as evidence. Deborah Lipstadt’s legal team employed the diaries of notorious Holocaust-denier David Irving in her famous libel trial. Maybe Gemma O’Doherty also writes racist poetry in a notebook, or maybe she has daily affirmations posted around her house that say, “I can make people hate immigrants! I can do it!” A bloodsucker like O’Doherty might just have such evidence–but probably not.

On top of which, I oppose hate-speech and hate-crime legislation on principle. Is it a worse offence to assault someone because he is an immigrant or gay or Muslim than it is to assault someone because the offender wants to rob him? If you intentionally beat the hell out of someone, you have committed assault, regardless of your motivation for doing so. If we make the punishment more severe because the offender is a bigot, then we are punishing someone for what he or she thinks, and that is definitely a violation of free expression protections.

I think the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 should stay on the books, and the DPP should prosecute offenders under this act if evidence can prove that the offender intentionally whipped up people to harass or commit violence against a person or group of people. But, Ireland doesn’t need any further hate-speech or hate-crime legislation.

Fiona Ryan and her family have received death threats. Clearly, death threats are illegal, regardless of the motivation behind them. The people who made the threats can and should be tracked down and prosecuted for that crime. Harassment is also a crime. People who are harassing this family should also be tracked down and prosecuted. Online platforms should permanently ban people who are using the platform to engage in harassment (and we can discuss the absurdity of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in another post).

Ireland should also avail of its resources in order to combat xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and other types of hatred through education and by using governmental resources to support oppressed groups. The government should not, however, begin legislating against particular types of speech. Ireland has a long history of censorship–mostly of sexual content and “blasphemy”–and few people want to return to that regime of “containment,” to use the term preferred by the historian James M. Smith.

Even bigots have rights that must be protected–as long as their rights don’t infringe on the rights of others to live in freedom and safety.