The forgotten victim of a domestic dispute.

There was an incident in Ireland last week where a police officer was called to a house to attend a domestic violence incident. When he entered the house with the woman who had made the emergency call, they were both shot by the perpetrator, who was the woman’s partner. The police officer, Tony Golden, died, and the woman, Siobhan Phillips, is critically ill in hospital.

When Siobhan was shot by her partner, she was already black and blue from sustained abuse and attacks.

This case has become about the death of a police officer and the salacious details of the killer’s IRA past. The perpetrator was facing charges of paramilitary activities and was out on bail at the time of the incident, the Guardian ran the story with the headline: “ State funeral held for Irish garda shot dead by republican dissident”. The angle is all wrong here. It’s misleading and you’re capitalising on buzzwords and ignoring the fact that this was a murder committed by a man who was violent and angry and basically got away with it for his whole life until he nearly beat his partner to death, shot her and killed a man. 

It’s horrific, and so, so sad for the policeman’s family, but at the heart of this is domestic violence. I read an excellent comment earlier from a woman in another forum about how the police in Ireland (and lots of places) are not trained how to respond to domestic violence, and in this case it resulted in the death of an innocent man and near-death of an innocent woman.

The word “domestic” waters it down, makes it seem like it’s a man giving a woman a slap or shouting a bit too loudly every now and again, and gives the impression that a peacemaker can just walk in and help sort things out. It also makes it seem like it’s only the problem of the people in the household. It isn’t. It’s my problem and your problem, not only because we should care for other humans who are in trouble but also because it might be us one day or it was us at some time in the past.

1 in 5 women in Ireland who have been in a relationship have been abused by a current or former partner.

In 2014, there were 16,464 incidents of domestic violence against women disclosed during 13,655 contacts with Women’s Aid Direct Services.

There were 10,653 incidents of emotional abuse, 2,470 incidents of physical abuse and 1,746 incidents of financial abuse disclosed.

In the same year, 595 incidents of sexual abuse were disclosed to the Women’s Aid helpline, including 176 rapes. 

I’m not for one second saying that the police officer shouldn’t be mourned or that we shouldn’t be outraged, but this is about domestic violence, not terrorism or cop-killing. RIP Tony Golden and I pray for the recovery of Siobhan Phillips. 

The Case For Yes: Don’t Create A New Generation Of Irish Outsiders

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Start spreading the news, I’m off to New York for a little jaunt in a week or so. It’s my first time there and I am weak at the thought of it. I’m a substantial lover of Irish history, not an expert now mind you, expert would suggest I could discuss it after 4 sherries at a dinner party, when all I’d do in reality is sing Raglan Road and fall asleep under a coffee table, but I love reading about it and carry it dear to my heart as an expat abroad.
I was booking some New York stuff this week, and realised that on the 22nd of May, I’ll be taking a tour of an old tenement that housed immigrants from all over the world, but this particular tour explores the world of Irish immigrants to New York and is called “Irish Outsiders”, referencing the fact that the Irish were outsiders in the US even amongst other immigrant communities.
The 22nd of May also happens to be the date of the referendum concerning the 34th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, also known as the Marriage Equality Referendum. As the name suggests, this is a chance for Ireland to state whether are not it fully accepts its gay brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mammies, daddies and everyone else as an equal citizen in the eyes of the constitution. It will be a day that many of my friends and family go to vote, and I’ll watch from NY with crossed fingers and a wish on my lips that a Yes vote comes through (I cannot vote as an irish expat of over 3 years.)
I started having a little think about what would happen if the No vote does win out. What will it be like to be an LGBT person in Ireland, knowing that a majority has voted against you? This is not just a vote on marriage, it is a vote on whether Ireland is ok with LGBT people being deemed equal to those who identify differently to them. It’s about acceptance and fairness. You don’t have to even be ok with homosexuality, nobody will ask you to be the Grand Marshal in next year’s Pride Parade, you just have to say Yes to agreeing that nobody on this island is worth less than anybody else.

Haven’t we had enough Irish Outsiders? Whether or not people realize it, a No vote in this referendum will turn LGBT people into outsiders in their own communities. We hear stories all too often of people who felt they had to move away to come out and realize their sexuality. How wonderful it would be for Ireland to establish itself as a country where all of its citizens had the potential to be as comfortable and open as possible in their own skin.

I don’t have any more words to explain it any better, so I asked a few lovely people to tell me their own thoughts on what a No vote would mean for their relationship with Ireland. I’ll leave it to them:

Eimear: “if the No Vote goes ahead I will leave Ireland permanently. I always thought that if I ever had a family of my own I would stay in Ireland as I’m very passionate about my heritage but if No wins, I’ll cut all ties. I would have to for my own self respect and the rights of my (hopefully) future family. It’s been very difficult to listen to people talk about “people like me” like we’re a circus freak show and if the majority of the country feels that way I wouldn’t be able to bear living here. I’d be very much lying if I didn’t tell you that being gay in England made me feel normal and that’s a massive pull, as opposed to here where its still ‘not the normal thing'”

Senan: “I think what worries me most is that there are a lot of people who don’t think that this affects them. I overheard a woman I work with today saying she didn’t mind which side won as it didn’t really effect her. She’s in her 20s, I know she has gay friends and she knows I am a gay colleague so I was surprised that she didn’t connect the impact of this referendum with people she knows. I find it hard to visualise an Ireland after a No vote. I try to think that I would carry on as normal but I know in my heart that it would hurt and I would find it very hard to feel the same about Ireland. I love Ireland and I don’t want Ireland to decide it doesn’t love me. I don’t know if I would leave but it would definitely push me in that direction and make it a lot easier to not look back. I have never felt different to my straight friends and colleagues before to a major extent but if the No side wins I feel the Ireland will have branded me as different and less than them.”

Aoife: “I absolutely visualise my future differently should a No vote happen in the referendum. It is honestly unbearable a thought. It will be a hammering blow to people if it is No, and it will have much broader consequences than halting the campaign for marriage equality.
If the country votes no, it will first and foremost be a horrible message to LGBT people and their families that their fellow citizens do not view them as equal, or view their relationships as equal, or view their families as equal. This is an awful message to have reinforced. Behind these debates about marriage are real people, living their lives, having families, and trying to get by. A no vote will tell all those people that their relationships and their families are just not as good as their heterosexual counterparts, and they will be getting a strong message that their families do not deserve constitutional protection.”
I am currently in a little family of two with the most wonderful partner in the whole world. We cannot wait to have children, and to have our little family grow, and this is something that is incredibly important to us both. We were both relieved when the Children and Families Relationship Act passed because we now know that when our children are born we will both be recognised as their parents. This is good for them, and it is good for us. No longer will our children be denied the security of a legal relationship to their non-biological parent. These children have been denied this for so long. Our children will have two loving parents, who jumped through hoops and went through physical, financial and emotional hardships to bring them into the world. And they will be so loved. And now the law will recognise those bonds, and will protect the children’s rights to us both.
Despite this, if the referendum fails, our family will not be afforded the constitutional protection afforded to ‘The Family’ in Ireland. Families outside of marriage are simply not recognised as a family under Irish law. The constitutional family excludes us. It excludes us because it is based on marriage, and it excludes us because it is for heterosexual couples and any children they chose to have.
Our family will always be ‘less than’ if this fails.
Of course this will impact on the future we see here in Ireland. My family deserve better than this, our children deserve better than this. It upsets me so much to think they would grow up in a country where they were not seen as equal and where their family was seen as  ‘less’.
We have spoken already about what we will do if this fails. I can’t see my future in Ireland if it is a No.”

An Ode To Hermann The German, or How Things Always Turn Out Grand In The End

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Hermann Dunkel was his name, but we called him Hermann The German. He was German, as you would imagine was the case, and for many, many years as a smallie I thought he must be the most Germanic of all the German people and was possibly even the King. Surely nothing could bind you more to your home country than having a name that rhymed with it?

Hermann was a solid and much loved fixture of our youth. He would arrive from Stuttgart with mystical objects that might as well have been carved from moon rock, such was our fascination with them. We still to this day have a Duplo set in the house that consists of a little Duplo cowboy, a horse trailer and a horse to put inside the trailer. I still, at 31 years of age, sit and wheel the trailer around the table every time I’m at my Mam and Dad’s house. I thought of him today when a Cork Facebook page posted this beautiful picture of the Gorch Fock, the boat on which Hermann first visited Cork in the early 1970s.

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The story of Hermann started with a chance meeting between him and my Mam’s younger sister somewhere around 1970, as far as Mam can recall. They met in the Grand Parade hotel in Cork City where Hermann fell wildly in love with her but her interests were leading her elsewhere. When he came back to win her heart a few months later (accompanied by a pal for backup), she had no more interest in him than the man in the moon and he was stranded in Cork; a lone sailor with a useless wingman and a broken heart. Which is where my family comes in.

My parents looked after him and his pal and took them to see the coast and countryside and he fell deeply in love with the people and places of Ireland. My Mam says that he most strongly adored the beauty of West Cork, and Sherkin Island in particular.

Hermann came back to visit many, many times after that first trip. He came back with his children and his wife, and after she died tragically he brought his second wife here. Two happy marriages in one life is a testament to his good nature and wonderful spirit.

Hermann died last year, and we were all heartbroken to lose him. I would love to have seen him back in Ireland again with my parents and spending time in his beloved Cork Harbour. My Mam sent me a copy of the note below that Hermann left with them during his first stay when they rescued him and his broken heart. I just love that this story is a neat and beautiful illustration that a lifetime of joy and a new adopted family can emerge from what initially might seem to be a broken heart in a strange country.

“Dear Kay and Pat, only in case [you] don’t see us in the evening. This as a little souvenir for all you did for me. Before I started in Germany I had never expected that it could be so ‘grand’ here. Thank you very very much.”

And thank you Hermann, and goodnight.

Hermann Note

A long, long time ago…but was it really?

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I’ve sat for days now reading accounts of the so called Tuam Babies “scandal”. A scandal indeed, when the bodies of 796 infants were revealed to have been improperly disposed of in a Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway. A scandal is what you call an affair, an indiscretion, a minor theft, a jaunt into improper behaviour. The unknown circumstances of the demise and burial of almost 800 children is not a scandal, it is a criminal act and a travesty against everything the Catholic Church purports to stand for. 

One thing that stood out to me in many reports covering this story were the comments and responses that this type of behaviour and its associated misdeeds were long in the past. People calling for a memorial but not an inquiry. Let it lie now, sure doesn’t it represent an Ireland of long ago, when we didn’t know better, or as our very own Minister for Children put it “a time when our children were not as cherished as they should have been.”

Well, Minister, let me tell you as a 30-year-old woman that I witnessed trails of this behaviour and have been in a position where I could not help those who had been deeply and personally affected by it. I have spoken to people who came to search for birth records having been adopted out from Mother and Baby homes who will never know their family, I spoke to siblings of lost children who were told their kin had just died, no explanation needed as it would be too upsetting for them. I have heard stories from families who tried to gain access to parish records only to be denied at the last hurdle by bishops and priests in over-protective parishes. 

Most recently, I remember when I was in school in and around 1999 or perhaps 2000 in Cork. A girl, no more than 16, arrived at our school one day. She was terrified looking and very quiet; a rather marked difference compared to the behaviour of those around her. Within weeks we started to notice that she was pregnant. She kept to herself but we eagerly tried to make her feel welcome and relaxed and comfortable. She had come from a small town outside of the city and the solution to the problem of her being in the family way was to send her to stay in the big smoke until the baby came, then give the child up for adoption and have her return home like nothing had happened. We would sit through maths classes in our Catholic school and sweat together. I, because I am the world’s most hopeless student of numbers and her, because she was stuck in an unfamiliar urban landscape preparing for a hugely traumatic event. Her belly grew and one day she didn’t come back to school. I have no idea what happened. We did not talk about such things. 

I cannot equate any of that to the horrors of the Tuam discovery, but the shame is no less tangible. That was only a few years ago. It feels disingenuous and horrible and false to stand by and hear the Minister say it is a relic of times past. 

The last Magdalene Laundry closed in Ireland in 1996. This is not a shadow on our history, it is a pulsing part of our present. Memorials are fine and serve their place, but without answers and inquiries they mean nothing. To discuss these issues will lessen the shame for the many, many women who still suffer. To try and seal them over with a marble plaque will encase our shame in a sarcophagus that will undoubtedly shatter again in the future. 

People have done things for you that you’ll never even know about

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Growing up I didn’t see a lot of my Dad. It was not a sob story type affair, just a product of circumstance. I got up in the morning with my Mam, we had breakfast together, I went to school. When I came home in the afternoon, Dad was in bed asleep. I’d see him for a half an hour in the evening, much later, and then he’d go off at about 9 o’clock. This happened for many years and was normal to me. It was only much later that I learned why we had a family routine that was different to that of most of my classmates: My Dad was a baker (and had been since he was 14) and he worked nights in roasting hot bakeries far from our house, slogging through the night, even at Christmas, to bake hundreds of loaves of beautiful, fresh bread to make sure other families woke up to a decent breakfast and good food. Of course, he always brought home a loaf to us and still to this day I remember the taste of the soda bread he would leave on the counter for us when he crept in, trying not to wake us at 3 or 4 in the morning.

This week in Ireland there has been much talk of the work that is done by the Capuchin Day Centre, what is commonly known as a soup kitchen, that helps feed those who need a little extra help. It brought to mind one of the most astonishing stories I have ever heard.

A few years ago, I met a man who was directly involved with a similar inner city Dublin organisation that provided food to those in need of it. It was around the time of the beginning of the Ireland’s post-tiger difficulties, and this man told me of a family who would come in every day; father, mother and two small kids. The kids were in a school nearby and the father would pick them up and bring them to the kitchen at lunchtime. They would come to the bar with their trays in hand, get their hot lunch and the father would always head the line. When he got to the end, he would hand one of the volunteers a note or some coins, and they would squat down behind the counter, shuffle around and hand him back the exact money he gave them, but in the eyes of his children they were having a wonderful, special lunch with their parents, a treat out of a mundane day at school.

I never forgot that story, and I’ve never forgotten that man. I don’t know who he is but I think of him often, and his family, and hope and pray they are in a better situation now. I’m sure they are. If someone is prepared to carry out such a protective act every single day, then those children are very lucky indeed.

There are always people in the background, making sure you are alright and that you really don’t have to cope with the worst of what is going on. I wonder how many we never even know about?

To donate to the amazing work done by the Capuchin Day Centre, have a look here: http://homeless.ie/Capuchin_Day_Centre_2013/Capuchin_Day_Centre_for_Homeless_People.html

Got touched? Don’t tell. Well, that’s the advice from the Indo.

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I read the news today, oh boy. 

It has been a heavy week of breaking news: Racially charged legal decisions in Florida, unsavoury language being flung in the Irish Senate, the mysterious case of the NSA whistleblower, so it’s easy for things to just slip by unnoticed. One of these things that is threatening to disappear right under our very noses is a column in the June 17th edition of the Irish Independent by journalist Sarah Carey. The column relates to an incident in the Irish Parliament that took place during the debate concerning historic changes to abortion legislation. A male politician – and voter on the legislation – pulled a female politician onto his lap in full view of the cameras of the state broadcaster for the whole world to see. And that that it did.

Carey has delved into this event with all the sensitivity of a jackhammer to the face.

“Possibly because I’m small and have a sense of humour, I’ve been on the receiving end of a bit of groping down the years.” Well Sarah, I’m rather large actually, 5′ 10″ or so to be more accurate, and I’ve had my arse and tit grabbed a few times. Rather unpleasant it was too I’ll have you know. So why did I feel bad Sarah? Why did it upset me and why does it continue to upset others when it happens to them? Well ladies, we have it all wrong. The key is to keep your moaning Myrtle mouth shut and carry on as usual. “Every single time I’ve carried on as if absolutely nothing had happened,” says Carey. Bingo. That’s it. Next time I am simply going to adjust my hem, pat my damp brow and smile sweetly to the heavens while some asshole toddles off to feel up the next mute woman he sets his gaze on. 

Problem is though, in the next paragraph Carey actually tells us she is not the quickest horse out of the box: “Why do I ignore the wandering hands? For many reasons. Firstly, I’m really slow. You could meet me in the street and we’d have a chat. Three nights later I’d wake up and say, “Hang on a second! When she asked me if I was on my way to hairdresser, she really meant my hair was a mess. What a cow!”‘

Excuse me? So you’re now saying it takes you several days to register that a grasping hand on your nether regions may have been an inappropriate action and you are telling us this as an authoritative voice in a national newspaper? 

This is a minor issue though. The most horrifying part of the whole shebang is her next admission. “The other thing is I hate scenes. Even if I do cop what’s going on, my instinct is to avoid a row,” writes Carey.

And isn’t that the very problem women face the world over? Don’t make a scene. You’ll embarrass yourself. You’ll embarrass your family. It’s not like it was rape, he only grabbed your arse, have you no sense of humour?

And she leads us to what she appears to believe is some well of feminist strength that we may all draw from: “Rather than him having power physically over me, I ended up having psychological power over him and reaped the rewards.”

Keep telling yourself that love. But don’t you dare come out on a national platform and risk that sentence being read by some girl or woman who is currently being bullied or molested. There is always help waiting, and this is not it.

 

 

Letters to a trainee tempter…

One of my main interests in Ireland was keeping abreast of the news as reported by Catholic newspapers. My, em, “favourite” was a freesheet called Alive!, which is basically a vehicle for the extreme right-wing views of a select group of people but is widely available all over the country and is sometimes pushed through the letterbox of unsuspecting citizens.

Alive! runs a stellar trade in unfounded reporting, badly researched articles, disguising opinion for fact and generally weak news dissemination. One of the things that always fascinated me was a regular feature called Dumbag Writes.

Dumbag is a trainee demon. He is a little horned, red devil, much like the cuddly toy Manchester United mascot, and he poses with his trident, pulling a letter out of his hellish mailbag. It’s not quite clear what the relationship is to the letter writer. Surely the actual devil wouldn’t have time to write individual instructions on letter headed paper, but who knows. The main gist is that a small devil is getting tips from a big devil on how to screw over the heathens of the world.

In the latest letter from Dumbag, he discusses how easy it is to tempt bad humans into seeking instant gratification through such evil, awful attractions as “bargain-hunting to pilled sex, from sun holidays to victory in sport”.

Pilled sex? Does he mean sexual intercourse taking place following the consumption of ecstasy tablets? Because if he does then he’s a very forward thinking demon. I’m a pretty forward thinking twenty-something year old and I still wouldn’t immediately list that in my top four cheap kicks.

Bargain hunting? Surely that’s alright. It’s better than buying something crazy expensive just to show off to your mates. Also, kind of boring. And sun holidays? The sun is grand, sound, it helps loads of things. It certainly does not drag people to hell as far as I know. I’m pretty certain at no point in the bible does it say you must remain milky white and in a cold climate to remain useful to the Lord.

And victory in sport? What the fuck is wrong with winning an egg and spoon race? Or kicking someone’s ass at darts? Or table tennis? There are immediate issues to be raised with a gom like Wayne Rooney making several hundred thousand pounds a second for being an alright footballer and a world-class idiot, but I don’t think you can just say winning at a sport lets the devil get your soul.

So many flaws, Alive! You missed the seven deadly sins by a long shot. I don’t recall there being anything in there about drugged riding or scoring a goal or getting a tan on your face in Torremolinos.