Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security: Discussion
It is great to have the delegates here and hear their presentations. I was struck by what Ms McManus stated about the disproportionate effect of violence on women in all world conflicts. Of course, that is true. I listened closely to what she said about how Ireland was implementing the action plan and how it had been positive in the Republic. Clearly, from what she stated, there are deficiencies in how the United Kingdom has dealt with the issue and the resolution. When anybody comes before the joint committee, I ask what can we do to advance what he or she is seeking. We need to write and make representations, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to the British Government on a specific action plan for Northern Ireland.
There are a number of issues that have not been dealt with after the conflict. Mental health services are particularly important. The delegates highlighted the issue of domestic violence. The reason women are affected disproportionately is that nearly all conflicts throughout world history have been started by men. If one looks at communities in Northern Ireland in which drug dealing is rife, control through fear by paramilitaries is the major issue. Unfortunately, that is still the case in some communities. We, therefore, need a specific action plan, in which there should be greater emphasis on mental health services. For those affected by the Troubles, these issues are ongoing and can affect their relationships with family members and everybody with whom they interact daily.
In terms of women's participation in politics, it was stated 23% of local councillors in the North and one quarter of candidates were female. When women have an opportunity to run in elections, they enjoy great success. The problem is getting on the ticket.
Gender quotas were mentioned. This is something towards which we are moving in the Republic. Many women, however, are opposed to quotas, as they do not want to be token participants in the political process. Obviously, others believe it is the only way they will gain access through the political parties to face the electorate. As I stated, the evidence is that once women get on the ballot paper, they have every opportunity of being elected and succeed in doing so on a proportionate basis. We need to advance the cause in that respect because we would have had a different Northern Ireland if the voices of more women had been heard from the early 1970s onwards. Unfortunately, young men get together in groups and decide how they will advance their political objectives and it generally takes a violent turn. If women were to the forefront in the political process, I do not think that would have happened. The problem is not unique to Northern Ireland; it is worldwide.
I do not know what specifically we can do as a group, but we need to challenge the attitude of the United Kingdom that there was no armed conflict in Northern Ireland, as, clearly, there was. For domestic political reasons, it chose not to see it in that fashion. What we can do is try to advance the idea that there is a deficiency in how the action plan is being advanced in Northern Ireland. Ms McManus has outlined what has been done in the Republic and we need to do something similar to advance the process in Northern Ireland.
On conflict resolution, I point to the role of women, for example, that played by Ms Margaret Urwin in Justice for the Forgotten. Generally, women are left to pick up the pieces and if there is constructive movement many years down the line, one finds that it is women who are trying to advance causes long forgotten by many. It is both welcome and important that the Government provided additional funding for Justice for the Forgotten through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore.