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 welcome the delegation to discuss UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. As members will be aware, the national action plan on the Council resolution on women, peace and security was launched in November 2011 by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the former President, Mary Robinson. The plan sets out how Ireland will, across Departments and agencies, promote and implement the objectives of the resolution in the prevention of conflict, including gender-based violence, the participation of women in decision making, protections from gender-based violence, the relief, recovery and rehabilitation of women affected by conflict, as well as the promotion by the Irish Government of the resolution at national and international fora.
The national action plan also established a monitoring and evaluation group to track its implementation, comprising representatives from the relevant Departments, agencies and civil society organisations. I hope my preamble is not stealing anything from the scripts of the representatives. On behalf of the committee I welcome representatives of the monitoring and evaluation group, which includes Ms Liz McManus, its independent chair; Ms Helena Keleher, deputy director of the conflict resolution unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice, director of the reconciliation fund in the Anglo-Irish division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and Dr. Melanie Hoewer, school of politics and international relations, University College Dublin. We look forward to exploring how we as a committee can assist in the implementation of the resolution.
Before commencing, I advise that the witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only comments and evidence connected with the subject matter of this meeting are to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside the Houses, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. While Ms McManus knows the drill, it is no harm to refresh her on these matters.
Before calling on Ms McManus to make her opening statement, my colleagues will join me in thinkingof all the good work being done at community level, within our respective constituencies by many women in dealing with post-conflict issues, not necessarily only in Northern Ireland but in the Border areas. They have been at the vanguard at a community level. I would like to see how we can work as a committee to achieve the objectives and aims of the monitoring group, towards which it is working, but also to develop the capacity of the human infrastructure. Many women's groups involved in cross-Border activity have lost out in terms of funding, perhaps because of a two year or three year funding stream. They have built up the capacity and the relationships and are ready to move on to the next stage in dealing with many legacy issues and post-conflict challenges. Today's meeting is an opportunity to explore a few of those issues. It is great to have representation from the reconciliation unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is good to see Ms McManus again. I invite her to make her presentation.
Ms Liz McManus:
I thank Chair. That the Chair and the committee have agreed to receive us to make a presentation is much appreciated. I wish to set out the international context to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the Good Friday Agreement and its relevance in respect of what has happened to women and what is not happening to women in Northern Ireland and in Border areas.
UNSCR 1325 is all about the unique and disproportionate impact of conflict on women. We have a stark reminder of that impact given that hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls have been abducted by armed terrorists. This is not unique to Nigeria. It has also happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was noteworthy that Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face by the Taliban for going to school, referred to these young girls as her sisters. It is a global issue of which we are all cognisant. That is the reason the UN agreed on a resolution and the reason Ireland, in response, has a national action plan to implement the principles of that resolution.
As a monitoring group, we must ensure the NAP is functioning. We have a clear balance between civil society organisations, the Departments, agencies and academia represented on the monitoring group. Within the group we have concerns about Northern Ireland because it is in rather an anomalous situation in that the Republic of Ireland has a national action plan which is published and up and running and has been reviewed while the UK has a national action plan which is outward looking but does not refer to Northern Ireland because the British Government considers that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were not of an armed conflict nature. There is a lacuna there, and it is matter of great concern to women in Northern Ireland who are dealing with the issues of post-conflict situations, whether domestic violence or lack of women's participation. These are important central issues and yet they are not being addressed within the context of the 1325 principles. That is central to the reason we are appearing before the committee.
Within the NAP, commitments have been made by the Irish State in two areas which are particularly important. One is in respect of funding and support for women's organisations to encourage participation, representation and decision-making. During the question and answer session I will invite Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice to outline that commitment because a considerable amount of financial and technical support has been provided in accordance with that specified in the NAP. The second commitment in Ireland's national action plan is to promote the principles of UNSCR 1325. There are issues in that principle on which we seek support and action by the committee.
The national action plan was launched in 2011. While I had nothing to do with the plan, it is a very good one with very specific and very clear targets, some of which are achievable and some not. We have been able to review the plan to see how we have succeeded in meeting those targets. The review was carried out by Karen McMinn and Bronagh Hinds who produced the mid-term progress report. Therefore, we have much information about the need for data collection and about where the achievements and failures have been. There are two achievements I wish to highlight - Irish Aid overseas and Anglo-Irish funding which has been provided. There is also a very interesting development of which many people are not aware in relation to the Defence Forces. We have very active participation in UN missions. Within the Irish Defence Forces, a progressive approach has been taken on the promotion of women and the encouragement and participation of women in peace building. That is something of which we can be proud.
One of the difficulties highlighted in the review is the challenges in respect of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is not covered in either NAP. We have a difficulty in relation to the British Government which considers that this was not an armed conflict and, therefore, the aftermath of armed conflict is not included in any specific way in the British NAP. Obviously, we have our limitations.
The Good Friday Agreement addresses this issue in certain ways. It commits the UK and Irish Governments to provide for "the right of women to full and equal political participation" and achieve "the advancement of women in public life". While these might be considered to be very general points, they specifically place an onus on those who signed up to the Agreement to promote the role of women in peacebuilding and ensure their role in public life is advanced . The report the United Kingdom submitted to the United Nations in 2009, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, acknowledged that "within Northern Ireland, UNSCR 1325 is widely acknowledged as an important international commitment to women’s equality and empowerment, particularly as regards women's access to politics, public life and decision-making". They are saying it is important, but they are not following through on it in the way that is needed.
One of the advances was the establishment within the Northern Ireland Assembly of an all-party committee to advance the principles of UN Resolution 1325. The committee which is chaired by Paula Bradley, MLA, who represents the DUP held hearings at Stormont before Christmas through the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security at Westminster. I was asked to sit in on these meetings as an observer. I am very pleased that the Northern Ireland Women's European Platform which was involved in this received financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The all-party committee heard wide-ranging evidence from groups such as the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, women's groups and political parties. The whole gamut was represented at the hearings. I would like to refer to some of the key issues raised. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission stated in its submission that it believed UN Resolution 1325 was central to women's representation and participation and could play a key role in addressing the legacy of the past and promoting good community relations. The legacy of the years of violence, in its various manifestations, was largely dealt with in private session, which in itself is an indication of its sensitivity. This legacy can manifest in domestic violence or the control of local communities by paramilitaries. Many woman said they did not feel able to speak out because of the historical control that still pertained.
It might not be a surprise that women have a low participation rate in Northern Ireland politics, given that the rate is low here, too. However, the quota changes being introduced here indicate that we are making progress. Serious issues must be confronted in a society that is, in a sense, reconstructing itself if women are to have their place in the sun. Just 23% of local councillors and 19% of MLAs in Northern Ireland are women. In fact, just one quarter of the candidates standing in the local elections are women. That is a source of dissatisfaction and concern for women who are organising at community level and in non-governmental organisations, etc. I think there was just one woman at the Haass talks, for example. When we are planning for the future, we should consider the women who were promised opportunities through the Good Friday Agreement but have not actually been able to achieve them. That is an important central plank of what we are saying.
In 2013 the committee on the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination of Women concluded that the UK Government should "ensure the participation of women in the post-conflict process in Northern Ireland in line with Security Council Resolution 1325". On a recent visit to Northern Ireland the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, called for the development of initiatives in Northern Ireland "to ensure the increased participation of women at all levels of decision making and in mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict." While these are important principles, we have to be realistic. It does not seem likely that the British Government will change one of its basic policies on Northern Ireland by drawing up a national action plan for Northern Ireland, or by including Northern Ireland in the UK national action plan. It is a tribute to the resourcefulness of the women in Northern Ireland who are engaging with this issue that they are working on the basis of establishing the principles of UN Resolution 1325. That is what matters. It does not matter what it is called - the principle of enabling women to participate in power-sharing and peace-building is what is important. A great deal is being done, particularly at civil society level, to bring this to a greater level.
We are asking members of the joint committee which has obviously been charged with examining the Good Friday Agreement and considerable influence in that regard to promote the cause of UN Resolution 1325 with their counterparts in the United Kingdom and civil society organisations and encourage implementation of the principles of the resolution. We are also seeking the help of the committee in the consultation process being engaged in by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the next national action plan. We have all felt a greater assessment of the situation in Northern Ireland should be made. More thought should be given to how we can make progress as regards women. We cannot have a lasting peace without their being involved. We cannot ignore the fact that they suffered hugely during the Troubles. I appreciate that men suffered aoso but women suffered in particular ways.
I was very struck by two points that came up at the hearings and a subsequent conference. First, a woman who was speaking about domestic violence, which tends to be a real issue in post-conflict situations, made the point that women were often trammelled in speaking out against perpetrators. This might be because the perpetrator is a prisoner who has been let out on licence, for example. A woman might be concerned that reporting this crime might affect the peace process. Regardless of the reasons for this silencing, there is a need for what has been expressed in the safety of these discussions to be heard. The second point that struck me was made by a woman from a loyalist community who said she felt the continuing control of paramilitaries in her community meant that women had no means of expressing their needs or participating in decision-making in the community. As long as that historical control still pertains, we have to be conscious that we do not have true peace in its full meaning.
UN Resolution 1325 certainly gives us possibilities and opportunities to do good. The Republic of Ireland has played a leading role, with other countries, in making sure we live up to our obligations. This is part of our obligations. I am very grateful to the joint committee for giving us an opportunity to speak. I will ask Ms Keleher to say a little from the Department's point of view.
Ms Helena Keleher:
I am deputy director of the conflict resolution unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I will speak about UN Resolution 1325 in an international context. I will also go through the process for developing the next national action plan.
The first thing to note about the national action plan is that it was informed by an extensive and inclusive period of consultation with civil society organisations, academics like Dr. Hoewer and other experts in the field of women, peace and security. It was also informed by an innovative and unique cross-learning initiative which brought together women who had been affected by conflict in Liberia, Timor-Leste and Northern Ireland.
We had a series of workshops and discussions. A report was prepared and presented to the head of UN Women, which had just been founded by Michelle Bachelet. Even before we had a national action plan, NAP, the report was a good example of how Ireland had been leading the way in this field. The report contained recommendations for UN Women and the UN system on how to further engage with women affected by conflict. This consultation and consultative process also informed the NAP which describes itself as a living document. It is supposed to be iteratively improved and that is why it is being reviewed. It is a living document that will address the challenges and incorporate new lessons through regular monitoring and evaluation processes. The monitoring group, uniquely, is established by the NAP itself. Most other countries do not have this process.
The monitoring group is chaired independently by Liz McManus. The group also oversaw the production of a mid-term progress report, again, commissioned and carried out by independent consultants, Karen McMinn and Bronagh Hinds, who have extensive expertise in this area. The mid-term progress report was presented to the Tánaiste and President Higgins last summer. The consultants also met with the chair, colleagues within the Department, other relevant Departments and agencies to further examine the steps in implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution, UNSCR ,1325 and also met with civil society members of the monitoring group.
The conflict resolution unit where I work has two functions in regard to UNSCR 1325. First, we are the policy desk that has responsibility for driving the process forward but also we act as the secretariat to the independent monitoring group. There are two hats involved. The report, which was completely independent, identified challenges and examples of good practice and made recommendations for the second half of the NAP. Liz McManus has already spoken about the specific actions under Pillar 2 participation and Pillar 5, the promotion of UNSCR 1325, so I will not speak on them. What I would emphasise about Ireland’s NAP in comparison to other countries is that being a western country that is often a donor and has quite a high profile in overseas development aid, ODA, it is completely unique for us to have a national action plan on women, peace and security that also includes a domestic focus. The NAPs of most of the other countries that are major ODA donors focus on what they will do overseas, on peacekeeping and in funding aid programmes. The idea that we have a recent experience of conflict is pretty unique and is something that has been picked out by various multilateral organisations, including the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and even our colleagues in the UN as a unique and positive thing and an example of good practice.
Liz McManus already mentioned the fact that we are in the process of developing the successor to the current NAP and setting up a consultative group which will be about 50% comprised of State actors who have a role in UNSCR 1325 and about 50% civil society and academic members. During the summer we hope to do a public consultation process. Rather than necessarily inviting particular organisations to make an input, anyone can make an input. That will be really valuable and hopefully will open up the level of inputs we receive, make them broader and have a wider perspective.
The last point I wish to flag about UNSCR 1325 is the international context. Liz McManus spoke about the importance of women’s voices being heard in peace building. We know that the majority of conflicts that exist in the world today are relapses of previous conflicts. Areas where peace has lasted are where women’s voices have been included in the peace-building process. There has been a shift in UNSCR 1325 at the UN level in recent years. The resolution was originally agreed in the year 2000. Our national action plan was a result of the ten-year anniversary of that. Since 2000 there have been seven resolutions on women, peace and security. Next year in 2015 it will be the 15th anniversary and there will be a high level review of what the UN is doing on women, peace and security. There is a very clear transformative shift towards the key participation and empowerment of women. It is not necessarily that women are simply victims of conflict or negatively suffer the impact of conflict, but also that they have a role in preventing and building peace, which is hugely important.
In terms of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we are firmly committed to the issue both internationally and to the Ireland-Northern Ireland aspect. My colleague, Orlaith Fitzmaurice, from the Anglo-Irish division is present and she can talk specifically about the Ireland-Northern Ireland elements.
I thank the members of the monitoring group, in particular the civil society and academic members represented by Melanie Hoewer who have given freely of their time in calling the officials to task and making sure that the plan is being implemented and revised as it should be. Part of our appearance today is to ask for the committee’s help and for the meeting to provide an additional level of oversight and monitoring. We look forward to hearing what members think and to answer any questions members might have.
I welcome the witnesses, especially Liz McManus who was a friend and colleague for many years in the Labour Party and a person from whom I often sought advice. The advice was always forthcoming. I greatly appreciate her time and dedication to the party and to anything I ever asked her.
I notice when I am asked to address a school by teachers that it is mostly girls who ask questions. They are vibrant in terms of what they want to know about the political scene. They are very conscious of what is going on compared to some of the boys in the class. That is especially evident in a co-educational school. The big question is what happens after that. I am often amazed that we find it so difficult to get women to participate in politics. The local elections are a prime example of the difficulty in getting women to participate. Recently in Tallaght, our candidate was blackguarded by people who should know better. Such an affront-----
It is typical of the affronts to women who participate in politics. Women are well able to converse and debate but no one can participate when presented with such blackguardism. It awakened me to the difficulties involved for women who participate in politics.
I visited Northern Ireland with my committee colleagues on numerous occasions and also as a member of the Labour Party group which has an interest in Northern Ireland. We have had many conversations with our party leader, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, on the matter. Many of the groups we met were dominated by men. It was always a breath of fresh air when women spoke to us or made presentations. They showed knowledge and understanding of their communities. In spite of that we do not see women coming forward in numbers to become involved in politics. I do not have the answer but we must work from the ground up, starting with schools, colleges and universities to give a positivity to participation by women in politics. Any of the women with whom I have been involved have a willingness to participate and in many cases a better ability than men.
However, it seems they still are not being given that additional space or perhaps protection. I use the word "protection" in the loosest sense, as women do not or should not need protection. However, when one then sees this aggravation and everything else that goes on, one asks why would they participate. I believe one must continue and I welcome the groups that are being set up. As has been requested, this committee will keep a monitoring role in respect of Northern Ireland and through its Chairman, Deputy McHugh, the door is always open to the witnesses to return before the joint committee to talk about it again. During one of the joint committee's visits to Northern Ireland, I see no reason to prevent the witnesses, as a group, from meeting members there to have a conversation with the people in Northern Ireland and to try to encompass as many people as possible in developing what we really seek, namely, equal status for women in both politics and general life.
If one looks at many of the groups that form our communities, men dominate them. I have been involved in sport for all my life and men dominate in that sphere. However, in recent years, women have come to the fore in many male-orientated organisations and have been a revelation in terms of their organisational ability, the proposals they have put forward and in everything they do. While it certainly is not happening as quickly as one would wish, it is happening in many areas. Nevertheless one must try to drive it forward and I suggest to the Chairman that the joint committee should link up with Ms Liz McManus and her committee. If it is possible, during some of our future visits to Northern Ireland, we should invite them along with members as participants. In that way, the joint committee should try to create and generate a common denominator for everyone. I see many different groups and what make the difference are co-ordination and linkage. We simply do not appear to have that, which in a way is a crying shame because it would make much more sense and above all, provide far more direction of purpose in what we are trying to achieve.
I wish the witnesses well and certainly will bring their thoughts to the Parliamentary Labour Party, of which I am chairman. If they wish to appear before that group, they certainly are welcome at any stage to address the Parliamentary Labour Party. As for this joint committee, I pray that members will be able to facilitate them on some of their visits to Northern Ireland.
I will get the response to Deputy Wall straight away because he is under time pressure but I believe that was a constructive suggestion with regard to the North. There may be an opportunity for the joint committee to contact Paula Bradley, as head of that delegation. The witnesses may have a few thoughts on that and I thank the Deputy.
Dr. Melanie Hoewer:
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to speak and I thank Deputy Wall for sharing with us his experiences and for the important comments he made on women's leadership. Women's leadership in politics is indeed one of the crucial challenges we face not just in the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, but more generally. Academic research has shown over decades that the national sphere of politics is mainly informed by male hopes, male aspirations and male experiences. This does not mean that men, such as those who are represented here today, are worse than women but it means they are different. They have different experiences, hopes and aspirations and they do not cover the hopes, aspirations and experiences of more than 50% of the population in many countries. Consequently, I greatly welcome those comments. The Deputy posed an important question as to what is happening, why women are not participating, why access points are not opening or why spaces are not being given for women's participation.
I share the Deputy's experience. I teach in a third level university in an academic college from which the majority of graduates are women at present. Consequently, the question is, where do they end up and why do they not go into politics? There is a fear that politics, as we see in national parliaments in Ireland, in Northern Ireland, are still very male-dominated. While changes are happening, there is still male dominance. This is one factor, namely, men speaking to one another. I do not wish to generalise by saying all men are the same and all women are the same; there are different experiences among both men and women. However, because we generally look at how we perceive normality, the perceived normality is that men are just in parliament and women predominantly are in the home. While changes are happening, how can one speed up these changes to happen more quickly? I believe the quota is very important. I do not advocate for long-term quotas but for a quota that ensures that access points are given. Access points, which Deputy Wall clearly has already identified, are not there yet. We have amazing women in politics and I am sure Liz McManus can also share some of her experiences from that angle as to how they got in. More structural, institutional access points, as I would like to call them, such as quotas are needed. In addition, we need champions. We need male and female gender champions who help and support women - in particular young women - to build up their leadership roles.
I wish to make a point on Northern Ireland before I hand over to Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice. It is interesting that during the conflict in Northern Ireland, there were many women in leadership functions in certain communities. We have much evidence that women can lead, can lead communities and can be very effective in politics. Despite the fact that the equality argument should not require that women must prove themselves to be equal to men to have access to local parliaments, during the conflict, there was a lot of female leadership within Northern Ireland. Since 1998, however, this female leadership has reduced in the communities. While I do not wish to repeat what Liz McManus and Helena Keleher have just outlined, I refer to the increasing fear, increasing control, increasing domestic violence and decreasing female community leadership in communities in Northern Ireland. Talking about fear, control, violence, etc., shows something has gone wrong in the time after 1998, with the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Women have played an instrumental role, albeit very minimal as regards numbers, in getting the Good Friday Agreement negotiated. I refer here to the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition. However, where they have made incredible changes, which is so important for the peace process in Northern Ireland, on human rights and equality institutions, what is happening on human rights and equality in Northern Ireland at present is a crucial question. This is yet another access point to get women into politics because it is a human rights and equality issue. I thank members for their attention.
Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice:
To add to the presentation that Dr. Melanie Hoewer has given, specifically our work in Northern Ireland is very much informed by and aware of the need for the participation and representation of women in politics and in decision-making at all levels. Obviously, however, decision-making at political level is one of the most significant and one of the most transformative. On a pragmatic basis, we fund a number of projects in this area. For instance, we work with the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, which has a long-standing women's leadership programme in which the centre identifies women with strong leadership potential in the political and community sphere to whom it provides mentoring training. A particularly hopeful feature at present is the fact the centre is building a strong alumni network from past participants in the programme who can use their experience and, as they move along, can mentor some of the newer members in it. We also support a number of groups, some of which are fairly self-evident. There is a group called Women into Politics, which is the only non-governmental organisation, NGO, in Northern Ireland active in that space and we have been able to support it in previous years for the project work it is carrying out.
I just might say a word more broadly on the support the reconciliation fund can give. Our fund has the objectives of promoting reconciliation and reducing sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
It operates in Northern Ireland and the Border counties and on an east-west basis.
We are very much aware of the importance of women in both the political sphere and civic society. My experience, in meeting dozens of groups every month, reflects that expressed by Deputy Wall that many women in community groups are inspiring, impressive leaders and formidable, but they sometimes find themselves hampered by circumstances. Sometimes they believe their actions are more effective in the community sphere and feel, perhaps, a level of political disengagement where they consider entering into politics is not the way they can best make the changes that they believe they need to see in their communities.
We are open to applications from women's groups and try to support them as best we can. We are drawing up a new strategy for the reconciliation funds and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, has stated he looks forward to consulting the committee on it. It is intended that within the strategy we will expressly identify UN resolution 1325 and its applicability in Northern Ireland. As part of this, women will constitute one of a small number of priority target areas. We hope to be able to expand our support for these groups in that way.
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.
I thank the Deputy for his intervention on two counts. It is only right to acknowledge the funding allocated to Justice for the Forgotten which formally thanked the joint committee for its intervention.
There is something we can do on the British-Irish aspect of the issue. There are a number of advocates present. Deputy Frank Feighan is chairman of the sovereign matters committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Deputy Seán Conlan is a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly also, as is Deputy Seán Crowe. Deputy Jack Wall is chairman of the social affairs committee. It is a social affairs issue, but there is also a sovereign matter element in lack of recognition of Northern Ireland as a conflict zone by the British. There are options, in respect of which there are plenty of advocates present.
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.
We will resume. I had an opportunity to congratulate Deputy Frances Fitzgerald on her appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. Reflecting on our deliberations and probably the informal conversation of members, the posts of Chief Justice, interim Garda Commissioner, Attorney General and Minister for Justice and Equality are held by females.
It is not a bad starting point but there are still challenges.
I welcome the delegation and I am delighted the witnesses have come before the committee because they certainly have played a huge role over the years on various issues. I was on a health committee with Ms McManus in 2002 and she was very insightful with regard to the issues. It is great to see her here today.
Many issues arise with regard to UN Security Council Resolution 1325. As we have seen with the Good Friday Agreement, a reporting mechanism is required. Sometimes we launch reports and forget, so we need timescales and timelines. As with the Good Friday Agreement and other issues, the committees must be part of the plan. The witnesses want to make a contribution and the committee will certainly support their inclusion in the deliberations.
Women are very much involved in peace building and mediation activities, and Deputy Jack Wall alluded to the huge clamour to get more women involved in local and national politics. I approached at least five or six women, who would have got a seat, to run in the local elections in my area but they asked me why. Women are much smarter than men. In the current climate politics is going to the lowest common denominator. We have Facebook, Twitter and local media. Politicians do not want preferential treatment, but the profession is being dragged down. Why would anybody with ability who wants to offer something get involved when one's character is immediately taken away from one? Someone stated 90% of murders are committed by males and all wars are started by males. If such a climate exists in politics only alpha males will get involved. A very good friend of mine who was a Deputy took his own life a year ago under horrific circumstances. Everyone is clamouring to get more women involved, which is absolutely fantastic and I support it. Fine Gael and all of the other parties could do more but we have done a lot. However, we may be missing the boat because if politics is so debased that one's character will be taken away from one, as women are much smarter than men, why would they get involved? We need to address this issue.
With Facebook and Twitter, politicians have 20,000 supporters and it is like having a private army. If I use Twitter to make a statement on behalf of the Government, I will be attacked. This means one does not participate. It is the same with reporters. Reporters state something about a certain politician and they are attacked. The only people who will stand up and be counted in such a herd mentality are the alpha males with the X factor. Those working behind the scenes will decide they do not need it. Unless this is debated we will not have more women in politics because why would they get involved? I approached at least ten women in my county of Roscommon about going on the ticket and they refused, including one woman who had been involved for ten years. We need to address these issues.
Deputy Crowe alluded to the 284 young schoolgirls kidnapped in the north east of Nigeria, and I would like to hear the witnesses' comments on this. This horrific issue is ongoing. What can we do about it? Perhaps this committee does not have a role in it. How do the witnesses think we can mobilise to stop this? Many such incidences happen throughout the world, of which we are not aware but of which the witnesses are. How can these be highlighted? We need to do more as legislators, as politicians and as members of the international community to address this.
I am delighted the witnesses have come before the committee. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 is not something with which we are as familiar as we should be, but the witnesses coming before the committee will change this. We can work together on this. We have gone to Northern Ireland and throughout the country and we try to engage. We need the witnesses' views in this engagement. I look forward to their participation in Northern Ireland, throughout the island of Ireland and wherever.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation which was very informative as well as provoking a debate on the issue. If one considers the conflict resolution aspect, it is quite surprising the role of women has reduced since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. I take it this is primarily with regard to the Six Counties, and there are a number of reasons for it. During the conflict, more than 30,000 people on the republican side, predominantly men, were imprisoned. Women assumed a role and responsibility in the community and politically through political activism on the ground, raising awareness and bringing the issue to an international audience. When their husbands and sons returned to the community, and with the Good Friday Agreement and the end of the actual conflict, they willingly or otherwise went back to the so-called cultural role of what a mother and wife is supposed to be. This is one of the reasons for the reduction.
Women becoming involved in electoral politics and becoming elected representatives is mitigated against because there is a culture of unshared parental responsibility. The responsibility for children rests solely with the mother. We must change this culture, and to bring this about will be very thought-provoking for males. The essence of this is equality. If we have equality of parental responsibility and equality within the political and social systems, we will achieve 50:50 representation.
My daughter, who is a member of the party, is very critical of our policy.
She is also involved with politics. I disagree with her argument that when there is positive discrimination within a party in getting women involved, with a mandatory 30% or 35% figure, it is insulting to women. She believes that women should aspire to this in their own right rather than having a position manufactured. I disagree. If the playing field was level there would be no problem, but it is not. We must get to the bottom of the issue.
The kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria is terrible. The most grotesque performance I have ever seen on video was the leader of Boko Haram taunting the world about what he would do with these children. He stated he would sell them as slaves for predators, etc. The issue has struck a chord right across the developed world, but similar things happen in post-colonial areas which experience massive poverty and inequality, with absolute political corruption. This is in the parts of the world which are not fully developed. This matter must be resolved by all of us, as we have a role to play.
There is the matter of our responsibility regarding the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and there are aspects that have equality and parity of esteem at their core, as Deputy Crowe mentioned. We meet here every couple of weeks and we go to the Six Counties, etc., but some parties have never looked to participate in this committee. The two main Unionist parties have never taken part. In itself, that mitigates against the full implementation of the agreement from an all-party perspective. The Chairman has played an important role in facilitating us in going to communities that are not represented here in the likes of east and north Belfast. That involves meeting ordinary people and giving them a voice here. Political parties are failing in their responsibility to live up to the commitments made in an international agreement, which is disgraceful. It makes a mockery of the agreement to which they subscribed. We could invite parties to make a presentation on an individual basis, but I do not know if such an invitation would be accepted. There could be consideration of the role of women within the existing political frameworks.
Not just in the Six Counties but right across this island there is a prevailing culture mitigating against equal opportunities and rights for women in the political system as well as outside it. For example, 99% of the time a single parent is a woman, although two people are involved in the birth of a child. The woman usually has the responsibility of caring for the child. This debate is ongoing but we have not yet got where we want to go. As legislators and people involved in the political arena, we must be seen to lead this process and push it forward. My party is no different from others, and some people do not live up to what is expected of them within the party. Nevertheless, at a leadership level we are driving this forward to the best of our ability. Even as far back as the 1970s, the issue of women's rights in the party was driven by Deputy Gerry Adams. Anybody who has read his books will know his record on the role of women in society. The culture must be changed to afford women equality.
We must speak up for ourselves. I welcome the delegation, although I have met some of them and had discussions before. I thank the delegation for the presentations and apologise for my late arrival, as I had a previous engagement.
I welcome the comments made by my colleagues on women and the role they can play not only in conflict resolution but also in public life and politics. We have spoken about gender quotas and I still have not fully made up my mind on the issue. Given the right opportunities and circumstances, women are well capable of being elected on their own merit, but one can see both sides of this major issue. As somebody who has only entered politics in the past three years, I find the biggest obstacle to be the co-operation required both within parties and - particularly for women - by others who help with the caring role at home. Traditionally, with no disrespect to men in politics, Members who live down the country may leave home on a Tuesday and not return until Thursday, and there must be people in place to look after children in the meantime. No matter what job we do, women will always have that caring role. That is not to say they have more right to it than fathers, but women have traditionally had the bonding role. Before women can take a position in public life, we must have structures in place in both society and the home to ensure there are supports to enable women work in that sphere.
There is a crèche for young children in Leinster House but there is no facility for people with children who have special needs. Once a child is a certain age, the care provider will not take him or her. Nevertheless, some people here need extra support, particularly if there is an emergency, for example. It is important that all frameworks and possibilities are taken into account to ensure the correct supports exist for people who want to participate in public life or politics.
Others have referred to the Justice for the Forgotten group and its excellent work. It has events scheduled this weekend to remember the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I welcome the setting up of a new committee which is representative of all parties to support that work. I commend the Tánaiste on ensuring additional funding is available for the group in Glencree.
Coming from the Border area myself, I have had dealings with one of the groups funded under this programme which was involved in peace and reconciliation and conflict resolution in the Dundalk area. I attended a conference it organised just over a year ago. The group came to Leinster House and I hosted a meeting with it and various Oireachtas Members. The feedback from the group on the work it was engaged in was great. I note that 19 different courses have been undertaken, but what happens when they are finished? Some of the women I spoke to told me they had really enjoyed the courses and the cross-Border, cross-party, cross-religion experience. However, they expressed a concern that when the courses finished there would be nothing else to follow. Is there any follow-up for people to ensure that the good work that is done continues?
In addition to what I said earlier, it is good that we are having the opportunity to discuss security resolution in the context of the stated aims of the Good Friday Agreement. We are all prisoners of history and of the current political realities across the globe. Politics here and internationally is confrontational and adversarial in nature. Moderate voices, of both men and women, tend to get drowned out when political conflict arises. The current situation in Ukraine is a case in point. The moderate voices of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the North were drowned out as the conflict developed there. Many people often feel that political movements are not for them because they have their own personal safety and integrity to preserve while people of a more violent disposition tend to take front-line positions.
The Good Friday Agreement highlights the fact that we have to find a new way of doing politics. By bringing these issues to the fore in forums like this we remind everybody of where we need to go in terms of the political structures in Ireland and also internationally. I do not want to be negative here. While highlighting the positives of the UN resolution and the stated aims of the Good Friday Agreement, we must also be conscious of the fact that almost all of the political parties in this nation who have been in power - including Cumann na nGaedheal, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin - are based on violence. The leaders of those parties and the way they assumed power originally was through muscle. That sends out a very bad message to people who have moderate political views, who are pragmatic and who want to advance causes through rational thought and argument. Our own history suggests that if one wants to assume power and take control of this nation, one must do it through muscle and violence. That sends out a terribly bad signal to everybody in this country. All political parties must find a new way to develop politics and encourage moderate people with pragmatic views across society to become active in the political sphere and in their communities. That is the challenge for all of us. That is also why I welcome the discussion this morning, because this is what we need to do over the next ten to 30 years. We must show that there is a better way. Unfortunately, if one looks at conflicts in places such as Nigeria or Ukraine, the same sort of political realities always present themselves. If one has muscle and acts violently, one is listened to, but if one is moderate, one tends to be drowned out, unfortunately.
I thank Deputy Conlan and other members for their contributions. It is obvious that there is an appetite among committee members to further deliberate on these issues after today's meeting. I now call on the panel to make their concluding remarks.
Ms Liz McManus:
I will ask my two colleagues to give brief interventions at the end of my contribution. First, I thank the members for their questions and comments. It has been an extremely useful engagement and we have covered an awful lot of ground. We do not have time to respond to all of the points that were made, but the general points about the lack of female participation in politics, the issues of child care and the historical issues are very clear in terms of challenges we face as a society in the Republic. However, there are specific issues relating to Northern Ireland which are not simply issues for one community or the other but affect people across the board and which are the result of a conflict that went on for an extended period. I am speaking here of issues such as domestic violence, fear of reporting, paramilitary control of communities and poverty, which affect women's lives. These are issues that we need to develop mechanisms to overcome.
It is important to stress that women do have a role and a say, however limited. We must acknowledge that, because otherwise people will think that women are never able to say anything. One of the champions of Resolution 1325 in the Northern Ireland Assembly is a woman and an MLA. She also happens to be a member of the DUP. She came to Dublin, spoke at a conference in the Department and was extremely helpful in setting up the Westminster hearings. That is a form of influence that we have to acknowledge. At the major Women and Peace Building conference held in Belfast, keynote speakers included Dianne Dodds, MEP, and Baroness May Blood, who has been a champion for women over many years. She speaks very plainly and bluntly in a way that I find refreshing. There are voices out there but there is just not enough capacity built yet within society in Northern Ireland. We must encourage that.
I came into this hoping that we would get an action plan within Northern Ireland. That seems to me to be the optimal outcome, but we are not going to get it, in my estimation, although I do not think we should stop looking for it. What we can get and what we should be very forceful in ensuring is that the principles of the prevention of violence, participation by women, protection of women and promoting equality are progressed to a considerable extent. There is much goodwill among the parties towards this approach. I am very encouraged by today. If one looks at what is happening in Nigeria now it is obvious that had capacity been built there so that women had more of a say and some kind of control over their lives, it is less likely that such terrible actions could have taken place.
This committee is dealing with Northern Ireland and its relationship with the Republic, and in this regard there are issues relating to women upon which we can make considerable progress if we support those people in Northern Ireland who are already doing good work. I have named some of them already, particularly in the Anglo-Irish division. The money keeps coming and people keep applying for it. One of the surprises was that we could have done with more applications in the last round. The next round is in the autumn and I look forward to that kind of initiative being taken into the future.
I thank the committee members very much. They have been extremely supportive and obliging with their time. Finally, I would like to thank Ms Ciara Gilvarry, Ms Helena Keleher, Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice and Dr. Melanie Hoewer, who have played a huge part in this project.
Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice:
I wish to address some of the specific points raised by Deputies and Senators, if I may. Domestic violence is obviously a universal issue, but there is a particular aspect to domestic violence in Northern Ireland as a post-conflict society.
We have been able to fund projects, such as the cross-Border project with the Fermanagh Women's Aid Group, exploring domestic violence as a legacy of paramilitarism.
A number of members mentioned LGBT rights and mental health, issues of which we are very aware from the context of the North of Ireland and that we support more broadly through other reconciliation fund programmes. We do not count them in our UNSCR 1325 funding, but we would be happy to follow up with individual members if they would like to explore any of those areas.
I thank the Chairman for his proposal with regard to engagement on UNSCR 1325 through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. We are very much aware that the ideal would be to have a national action plan for Northern Ireland, but we are conscious that we do not want the best to be the enemy of the good. We work by applying the spirit and principles and taking a pragmatic approach. An initiative does not have to be labelled UNSCR 1325 for us to support it.
Our next funding round for reconciliation work more generally is in the autumn. As Ms McManus has mentioned, the applications that we get from women's groups for funding under UNSCR 1325 tend to be of very high quality and we tend to say yes to a great many of them. We would certainly welcome more. There is certainly more scope for us to support them as there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done.
I will now address the question of what happens when the funding period finishes for groups. One of the key criteria against which we assess applications is their long-term sustainability and impact. Projects with a built-in long-term impact are more likely to be supported by us. Of course, groups can always reapply as well.
Dr. Melanie Hoewer:
Let me add to what Ms Fitzmaurice outlined so precisely. I thank the Chairman for this inspiring and very engaged discussion on these important issues. As an academic I am glad to be here.
I appreciate the remarks of Ms McManus and Ms Fitzmaurice on the national action plan, but let me clarify. The British Government has repeatedly stated that the conflicts to be dealt with under UNSCR 1325 have to meet the threshold of being identified as a conflict in the Geneva Convention. This is not accurate. The Secretary General has issued a statement that UNSCR 1325 does not seek to make any legal determination as to whether situations referred to in the Secretary General's report are or are not conflicts within the context of the Geneva Convention. We know there has been some contention in the Northern Ireland Executive about that issue. I very much welcome that we focus on the principles of UNSCR 1325.
Some of the Deputies have asked what can they do to support the implementation of those principles in Northern Ireland. The All-Party Group on UNSCR 1325: Women, Peace and Security, which is currently led by Paula Bradley, has been mentioned repeatedly. This all-party group has an idea of what they are supposed to do but not a real role. I would encourage taking good practice examples such as we have seen in Colombia, where they have no national action plan either but they have implemented or are in the process of implementing the principles from the bottom up. They have local plans. I agree with Deputy Feighan that one needs a reporting or monitoring mechanism; otherwise, one does not know what is happening. Everybody can talk about principles, but one does not know what is actually happening. The members might talk to their colleagues about giving a leadership role to the all-party group and engaging them more. The members of the all-party group do not have much motivation to engage with the group because they do not have that many tasks, except to organise very important hearings. Giving them a greater role would bring the process forward from a local level. That is a very important point.
There has been engagement in community at the local level but we need to take a multilevel approach to how we look at conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. The emphasis is on power sharing at the national and regional levels in the Parliament, but there is also a community dimension, which is mentioned in the Good Friday Agreement, and an individual dimension, which is also mentioned in the Good Friday Agreement but is not being taken into account in the same way. I think the all-party group could do a good job of taking on leadership and looking at those different dimensions and the different issues within the five pillars.
I thank members for their attention. Their interest is very encouraging and I hope we can move the process forward.
We have been given a great deal of information. I think members will agree that we will reach out to Paula Bradley and her group, and we will work with the delegates on that. We can still pursue the promotion of principles, but we appreciate the realism of the delegates. Ms Fitzmaurice mentioned the funding call for this October, and I am sure members are thinking of the different women's groups in their own areas that are doing great work. I am aware of the Inishowen women's outreach group, which has been involved in supporting women who experience domestic violence in the Inishowen Peninsula. If, following this meeting, we can get the word out and call for groups to submit applications, that would reverse the previous deficit.
I note that the delegates did not take the bait from Deputy Frank Feighan when he said that women are smarter than men. I think it is understandable. While it is good that the Government has set a quota of 30% female candidates, the debate has moved on. The cultural and traditional patterns of child rearing have changed. Men are engaged equally in rearing their children.
The location of one's constituency is an issue. Deputy Martin Ferris is from County Kerry and I am from County Donegal. Young men from those areas must consider whether to enter politics knowing they will not see their family for three days every week, whereas if one represents a constituency in Dublin one will see the children every day. There is an issue around geography that needs to be thrown into the mix. Male politicians have a responsibility to be more proactive in the debate. As things are changing the situation is becoming more complex. It is not all about children, because there are many who do not have families but are willing to work with organisations with a specific focus on the objectives of UNSCR 1325.
We look forward to our continued relationship and to working with the delegation, and if we are here to help if we can.