Irish Labour women organise an excellent conference on the objectification of women

Labour Party
Mary with Emer Costello MEP, Nessa Childers MEP, Joan Burton TD (Irish Minister) on her right, Zita Gurmai MEP and Phil Prendergast MEPon her left

Mary with Emer Costello MEP, Nessa Childers MEP, Joan Burton TD (Irish Minister) on her right, Zita Gurmai MEP and Phil Prendergast MEP on her left

A conference organised jointly by the Party of European Socialists Women and Labour Women Ireland  to mark the Irish presidency of the EU agreed that legislation to target the buyers of sex was the best way to deal with prostitution. The conference entitled “Objectification of Women” held in Dublin on Saturday also celebrated the Irish Labour Party’s centenary.

I want to thank Labour Women Ireland for hosting a great event. The panel discussions were lively and inspiring.  I was particularly pleased to see my three Irish Labour Party MEP colleagues, Nessa Childers,  Phil Prendergast and Emer Costello, taking part in each of the three panel  sessions.

The first of these on women and the media was introduced by financial journalist Margaret E Ward from the Irish organisation “Women on Air”, which aims to get more women on television and radio.  The next session tackled the thorny issue of  women in decision-making, politics and the labour market starting with a very full presentation from Nat O’Connor from the Irish think tank TASC.  Patricia King, General Officer of the SIPTU trade union, gave an inspiring and moving talk on her road to the top.  The last session, “Women as objects: European response to human trafficking and the sex trade”, looked at ways to end the exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls by introducing the kind of laws  Sweden has had for over a decade whereby the buyers not the sellers of sex are the wrong-doers. Sweden has, in fact, seen a reduction in prostitution and organised crime since this legislation was put on the statute book.

My particular thanks to Sinead Ahern who organised the conference and to all the other women involved.  I came away feeling energised as well as having enjoyed spending time with such a lively and committed group of women.






Honeyball’s Weekly Round -Up

Labour Party

This week the news emerged that Savita Halappanavar has died in Ireland after contracting septicaemia and E coli after being denied an abortion on an unviable foetus.

Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, died of septicaemia a week after coming to the hospital with back pain on 21 October at University hospital in Galway.  It later emerged that she was miscarrying.

After the 31-year-old dentist was told that she was miscarrying, her husband reportedly said that she had asked for a medical termination a number of times over a three day period, during which she was in severe pain.  But he said these requests were denied because a foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told at one point: “This is a Catholic country.”

Medical staff removed the dead foetus days later after the heartbeat stopped but Savita died of septicaemia on 28 October.

This is a deeply upsetting case and has understandably brought the abortion debate in Ireland in to sharp relief.  Savita’s husband Paveen has said that he will now campaign to get the abortion laws changed in Ireland “because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else”.  Alongside this on the streets of Dublin there was palpable anger over the death. More than 10,000 people marched from the city’s Garden of Remembrance to the Irish parliament chanting “never again”, while a leftwing Dáil deputy Claire Daly said the Indian woman died due to “political cowardice” among Ireland’s establishment.

When the marchers reached Merrion Square at the back of the Irish parliament a minute silence was observed in memory of Savita.

In their interview, Savita’s parents said: “We want the government of India to put pressure on Ireland to change the law so that this cannot happen in the future.”

In Dublin thought, the demonstrators encountered some hostility from a small group of anti-abortion activists in O’Connell Street. One nun beside held up a placard opposing abortion. It read: “Must millions of innocent unborn infants be sacrificed to satan for the death of one woman?”

I hope that this will wake Ireland up and make them confront their confused, hypocritical and dangerous attitude towards abortion.  As things stand, 3,000 women a year leave Ireland, mainly to the U.K, to get abortions.  This was not an option for Savita and her death was as tragic as it was completely avoidable.  My colleague, Irish MEP Paul Murphy, has organised an open letter to the Irish Prime Minister asking them to reconsider Ireland’s position on abortion.

An answer to the democratic deficit as Ireland votes

Labour Party

With Ireland  going to the polls today in a referendum on the European fiscal pact, the debate on the future of the Euro continues to rage.

On the one side is a considerable body of opinion that believes there will have to be some form of political integration between those countries who have signed up to the fiscal pact in order to make the Euro zone work. On the other side we have assorted, mainly right-wing, doom-sayers predominantly from the UK.

It is only a short step from finance to politics, and once the governance of the European Union is put in the frame, the dreaded democratic deficit raises its ugly head. This week’s Economist makes its view that the EU has such a deficit abundantly clear. That magazine and those many other voices sceptical about the EU’s democratic credentials, do, indeed, have a point. If you were to ask the simple question “who elects those who lead the EU?” you would get a less than straightforward answer.

In point of fact, the European Union law-making bodies do have clearly defined boundaries. The European Commission comprising one Commissioner appointed by the governments of each member state for a five-year period proposes legislation. The increasingly important Commission President emerges at the beginning of each Commission term from among the Commissioners by some impenetrable form of osmosis. The second institution, the Council of Ministers, is made up of member state governments, who are at least elected. The Council is joint legislator with the European Parliament, directly elected by the people of the EU every five years.

The system was, of course, designed to prevent any one group getting too powerful. This may have been a laudable aim and a necessary condition when the EU was first founded. Now, however, when Europe should be providing financial leadership with the consent of the people, the largest and most prosperous member state is taking power unto itself in what appears to be a profoundly undemocratic way.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has never in its history been given anything that may be described as a democratic mandate. True, member states go to the polls at the same time in June every five years to elect me and my fellow MEPs. Yet there has not been a European Parliament election in the UK fought on a meaningful manifesto for the European Parliament which gave those elected genuine legitimacy.

The current demands for a referendum on EU membership have, I believe, come directly out of the woeful failure to have proper elections to the European Parliament.  European Parliament elections should be fought on strong manifestos put forward by the political groups in the European Parliament and adapted for use in individual member states. The hard issues should be there as the European Parliament now has legislative power on environmental matters, transport, employment and social issues and the EU single market, amongst other things. Voters should have a proper chance to evaluate what the political parties intend to do on issues where the EU has competence.

This has certainly never happened in the UK. I have now fought three European elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009. On each occasion the election was fought almost exclusively on domestic issues and appeared to be more a test of opinion on the Westminster government than an election to the European Parliament. I have, of course, been provided with a mandate as a Labour Party representative. I have, however, never felt I have been elected on any kind of platform for the European Parliament.

This has to change if the EU is to be democratic rather than be the tragic bearer of a “democratic deficit”. While talk of directly electing the Commission President is useful, the first and easiest change would be to allow the European Parliament to act like a real parliament. This would be a relatively easy reform to put into place but one which would also be very effective.


The Euro is bigger than Party Politics and the British Government has done the Right Thing

Labour Party

So our Con-Dem government – more Con than Lib-Dem it has to be said – have been part of the Irish bail out. While I think this was absolutely the right thing to do, the Eurosceptics are spitting blood.

The fact that Britain is taking part in the three way bail-out – through the IMF, the European Union and by providing a unilateral loan is obviously significant.  The UK’s Conservative (and Liberal-Democrat) government has admitted that a euro zone country in difficulties should receive assistance and that euro-free Britain should make a substantial contribution. (For the record, the UK contribution to Ireland is estimated at somewhere near £10 billion

We also now hear that the special euro stabilisation mechanism, worth €13 billion may be activated against Britain’s wishes if Portugal and Spain need rescue packages – a very real fear as the financial markets get ever more jittery.

Although in one sense the UK may congratulate itself in not being part of the euro as it goes through this difficult crisis, we are also justified in asking ourselves what we have gained from being outside the single currency. £10 billion spent on propping up one of the euro zone countries strikes me as high a price as any Britain would have had to pay were it in the euro.

On a narrower point, this bail out of Ireland has surely spelt the death throes of the Eurosceptics.  There cannot possibly be any credibility left for any political credo which maintains that Britain is not part of Europe and should withdraw from the EU.

The crisis of the euro has shown in very graphic terms that the UK is in Europe and cannot ignore what happens in other EU member states when it comes to their economies.  Britain has ended up paying out a very considerable sum of money. I doubt if it would have been any more if Britain had been a fully signed up member of the euro zone.

The last Labour government, it is true, refused to take Britain into the Euro.  I have always been in favour of joining the single currency and, I must say, am once again beginning to feel vindicated that my point of view is the best one for our country.