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
I will begin by welcoming the delegates. I apologise for the small attendance, but we have been overtaken by events. Usually the turnout is better. It is welcome that Senator Mary Moran has arrived to remove some of the pressure. The committee has representatives of both genders. Ms Michelle Gildernew, MP, was supposed to be present. I do not know what happened, but she was definitely on her way and may still arrive. She was going to take the lead on this issue for my party.
I am also conscious that we are meeting against the backdrop of what is happening in Nigeria. We are discussing the UN Security Council resolution on the safety of women, particularly young women. For many, it is a shock that louder voices were not being raised about what was happening in Nigeria. I am glad that saner persons are coming forward and starting to speak up. I hope there will be a stronger response to what are appalling events.
There was reference to the Women's Coalition and the positive role it had played in the process, particularly in the discussions leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. To some extent, parties have woken up to the fact that there is a need for more women to be involved. I do not know whether that is a positive for them, but what has happened is that the Women's Coalition has been squeezed out by parties which are moving into that space, with the result that there are now more women involved across the political parties, particularly in the North. I suppose the fact that they are there means they are expressing a view. However, one aspect that shocked many, particularly in the South, was the attitude of some, probably not in unionism but others in society, towards women, particularly in the discussions leading up to the Agreement.
I recall that people were shocked by the response to Liz O'Donnell, when she was involved in those negotiations as Minister of State. It was a wake-up call to middle-aged men taking a middle-aged attitude towards women. That was reflected in much of the discussion. Mo Mowlam encountered similar difficulties when dealing with these parties, which had problems not only with her politics but also the fact that she was a strong woman. It was a shock for some of the males involved in those discussions. The cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement was supposed to be equality and parity of esteem but much of this has not yet been rolled out. I acknowledge that we have the civic forum and the Bill of Rights but many of the reforms have been delayed because certain parties do not agree with, for example, LGBT rights. Supposedly, that is a big difficulty for some of the Unionist parties and is one of the reasons they are giving for holding back.
In regard to victims, I agree about the nonsense of there not being an armed conflict in the North and the British failing to do that. If we can push that forward, it would make sense. Republicans also made many mistakes, particularly in our attitudes towards prisoners coming out of jail. In many cases the supports that were available at the time were not taken up. We had the attitude that they were part of the community and that their issues could be resolved there. However, men and women who came out of jail after lengthy sentences did not get the supports they needed in many cases. That was reflected in the difficulties that arose in their home and family lives. The world had changed for these people by the time they left jail. I recall speaking to one individual for whom the thought of going into a bank or dealing with officialdom was a source of concern. ATMs and traffic lights were new to some of these people. That was part of getting back into society and there could have been more support for them. The committee met women prisoners to discuss the difficulties they faced in regard to adoption and fertility issues. Everyone sympathises with these people but it is the same situation. They have not seen the new beginning and reintegration into society that was promised for prisoners.
Prisoners need to be given supports in the North and the South. It is not solely a Northern problem. There are victims in the North and the South. The question arises of how we provide such support. Justice for the Forgotten was one of the groups which were unable to access funding. I welcome that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has agreed to fund it because it was unable to get PEACE money from the EU. We know from experience that people from throughout Ireland have been affected by the conflict. We must do more to support victims in the Twenty-six Counties in the context of the UN resolution on rehabilitation and recovery. I would support an all-Ireland approach to the resolution on that basis. I do not think we should put people in boxes. There were also victims in Britain. Perhaps we should also consider east-west structures.
I welcome this discussion. It is one of the big gaps in terms of progressing the situation. The civic forum can help in this regard. I could speak about what Sinn Féin is doing, but the question arising is not so much the number of women candidates as whether they are contesting winnable seats. It is not enough to pursue the tokenism of reaching quotas. We have tried to meet these goals. Women from Sinn Féin were involved in the Haass talks, for example. They were not involved as token women. They are strong women who reflect their society and they had a lot to say. They are not quiet women in the background supporting their men. I agree we need more women in politics but we also need to change the way politics is organised in this country, North and South. Politics must be made more family friendly and inclusive. What happened to that young woman in Tallaght was disgraceful. Other candidates were quick to support her, however, and we would like to see similar support in other areas.
We need to be conscious of what is happening in terms of domestic violence but we also need to develop support structures for women. A crisis exists in this city of domestic violence against women. Paramilitaries or micro-groupings - call them what you want - are also operating in this city. These difficulties are not confined to the North.