Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Time to Say Enough

So here I am throwing open my window and shouting out into the night – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”. Something has to change and it has to change now. The past week has been a bad week to be a woman in Ireland. Actually not just a woman, it’s been a bad week to be in Ireland.

On Saturday, 70% of the voters in this country were too confused or too apathetic to go to their local polling station and vote on the rights of children. In a country that has seen countless children abused and ignored over the history of the State, you’d think this would be a subject that people might have feelings on. There were strong feelings on both sides but they did not translate to votes. Of the 30% who voted on an amendment that was supported by every major political party, not to mention the majority of advocates for and protectors of children, 40% of that 30% voted No.

On Wednesday the country awoke to the news that a healthy 31-year-old woman, expecting her first child, had died needlessly and avoidably while doctors stood by staring at a foetal heart monitor while the mother died of septicaemia. As the world now knows, last month Savita Halappanavar arrived at University College Hospital, Galway complaining of back pains. She was miscarrying at 17 weeks and her amniotic fluid was leaking. Instead of bringing her in and helping her through this traumatic event safely and speedily, doctors waited until there was no foetal heartbeat before acting. She died in agony a week later after repeatedly asking doctors to terminate her pregnancy. They failed to act. Savita’s husband has said that on at least one of the occasions his wife asked for an abortion she was told that option was not available as Ireland is a Catholic country. There will be an inquiry into what happened in Galway but it’s no surprise to anyone familiar with Irish abortion law that the legal situation is a mess. There’s been a lot written about Savita all over the world over the past two days and there will be a lot more but here in Ireland we’re good at talking and not so good at acting.

Also on Wednesday 39-year-old graphic designer Mark Jordan, with an address at Donabate, North County Dublin, who beat journalist Jane Ruffino and left her scarred for life, walked away from court with a suspended sentence and the price of her suffering was put at €5000. Sadly, as the linked article points out, this sentence was not unique. The judge, former garda Martin Nolan has considerable form but here in Ireland this kind of story might cause outrage but it’s a weary outrage dampened by overuse for as long as anyone can remember. Those who attack women or children here are rarely sentenced to more than a couple of years in jail. Sentences of more than eight years are rare. It’s a subject that has angered me since I started working in the courts and one that I’ve written about often on this blog.

So that’s one week, seven days, that have shown the dark side of Ireland. The side that would prefer to stay in the shadow of the Church, ears closed against the cries of the vulnerable, in pursuit of a life of piety and obedience. This is the holy Catholic Ireland of legend where dissent is quashed, the Church reigns supreme, men are men and women and children shut up and do what they are told. It’s hard to see this Ireland in 21st Century Dublin on a day to day basis but there are certain things that make it show it’s face. Any time the Family is mentioned you will see it. It’s the reason why successive Irish governments have taken more than 20 years to act on the X case. It’s the reason why there’s also no legislation on Assisted Human Reproduction here and why the country’s fertility clinics are unregulated. Make no mistake, holy Catholic Ireland is very much alive.

There are plenty here who’d like to go back to that Ireland. They feel safer there, wrapped in so much moral certainty, but what about those who don’t want to go back? What about those who are happy with the more secular, more liberal country we have now? Who have been ashamed of their country as the world watches the story of Savita’s tragic death unfold? What about those who didn’t come from that tradition in the first place, plentiful in our increasingly multi cultural society? Savita and her husband are Hindu but they were bound by the laws of old holy Ireland. There are plenty of couples who aren’t religious who go through fertility treatment every year but have to endure the the taboo that still exists around it because of these attitudes. But they are vocal, these inhabitants of holy Ireland. They try to shout down voices raised against them, just as they always did. So governments fail to act. The people fail to speak up, to shout stop. But it’s time we all stood up and said we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more. It’s not ok that men can attack women with little consequence. It’s not ok that women in desperate need of medical care are forced to travel outside the State if they have any hope of receiving it. It’s not ok that people don’t stand up, don’t speak out, don’t demand change. It’s not ok that couples are judged because they have IVF.

I want to live in a country I can be proud of but after the week that’s in it, that country isn’t Ireland. There might be a chance to change things though, even after this horrible week. There are demonstrations and vigils all over the country and beyond in the wake of Savita’s death. Let this be a catalyst for change. One that both the politicians and holy Ireland will have to listen to.

4 Comments

  1. mpjordan@gmail.com

    13th December 2012 at 3:53 am

    I am the man who hit Jane. I took full responsibility for my actions from the moment I’d realised what I had done. I didn’t call the police, I called emergency services. I didn’t have several pints, I had three.I don’t know where to continue pulling holes in your court reporters efficacy but that’s immaterial at best. I hit my partner and as soon as I had done so, I assumed full responsibility for my actions. I feel there is a difference between my terrible action and that of a man who treated his victim as a piece of meat in a packet that “provoked” him.

    I am fully available to discuss my unreported part of this story, but if it puts Jane at further risk of being hurt, then perhaps no.

    • Hi Mr Jordan,

      Thanks for your comment. First up I’d like to point out that slagging off my colleagues and my profession isn’t exactly the best way to ensure a sympathetic hearing. Fiona Ferguson who wrote the piece I linked to is a court reporter of many years standing and someone whose ability to fairly and comprehensively report proceedings I would trust, hence the use of her article here. I used your case for illustrative purposes to describe a worrying wider trend in Irish courts where judges, and in particular the judge on your particular case, have awarded compensation to victims regardless of their wishes. Only last week Central Criminal Court judge Barry White, in sentencing a rape case, refused an offer of compensation in the case of Indian national Kapil Garg, on advise from prosecuting counsel that such an offer repulsed Garg’s victims. At the time he commented on the fact that victims should not be forced to accept compensation. As I was referring to this trend in the article your case absolutely fits along side the more serious ones as an example.

      In terms of your offer to tell your side of the story, I’m afraid I will have to decline as I’m reluctant to step outside the facts as established by the courts. If I had a fiver for every convicted criminal who believed that their case had not been put in the most favourable light, the minute details that had been missed, the discriminatory slant that had been allowed, I would be a very wealthy woman. If these cases have any merit they generally end up before the appeal courts otherwise, after all these years of covering the courts, I am inclined to believe that these are simply systematic of a perpetrator’s need not to condemn themselves. If you had fully taken responsibility for your actions as you say I doubt very much you would be approaching journalists offering to tell your side of the story. Since you are aware of my blog it should be fairly easy to establish my views on domestic violence which I have written about many times in connection with the numerous murders of women by their partners that I have covered. It only takes one instance of violence to maim or kill someone. Previous good character doesn’t really come into it. As many journalists privately commented during the Eamonn Lillis trial “there but for the grace of God”. We’ve all had bad fights in long term relationships. The majority of us haven’t resorted to violence. Lives can be changed or taken so quickly that it is never OK to attack a partner. Once you cross that line there is no return. Your choices are limited, you can pretend it never happened and risk it happening again or do something about it. At the very least counselling to ensure that it never, ever happens again. You don’t have to tell me that human relationships are complicated, I’m very well aware of that, but violence is an utter breakdown of that relationship and is never, ever justifiable. So stop trying to justify and get help to ensure that you never find yourself in this situation again. Stop wasting your energy trying to mitigate for something that has already happened. Face the consequences.

      This post was about something completely different, about how women are treated in Irish society. You have steamrolled it into a discussion of your actions. You’re hardly helping your case here.

  2. Pretty revolting that a convicted criminal is not only not jailed for his criminal temper tantrum, he is then allowed to stalk his victim via third party sites. It’s disgusting. Irish judges should be ashamed. So should this child.

  3. I’ve received several comments on this post that I can’t approve. I cannot allow defamatory comments or invasions of people’s privacy no matter how valid other points contained in the comment may be. If you wish to get involved in the debate that’s running below please bear that in mind. I’d prefer it if you kept discussions to what happened in court and what was subsequently reported. I know this is an emotive topic but this isn’t the place for personal insults, especially not anonymous ones.

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