Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

International Women's Day: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Tom ClonanTom Clonan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. On International Women’s Day, I wish to speak about the women in my life. My grandmother, who was born in 1900 in Killorglin, came to Dublin at 16 years of age to become a primary school teacher. She participated in a citizens’ assembly in 1916 – the Rising – where she took matters into her own hands to achieve a republic of equality, which is explicitly articulated in the Proclamation. My granny retired after many years teaching in Scoil Bhríde. She went to Scoil Bhríde in 1919, which was Ireland’s first Gaelscoil, and participated in the War of Independence with the south Dublin brigade of the IRA. She was a typical woman, as we remember them on International Women’s Day. She was a teacher by day and an arsonist and freedom fighter at night. The south Dublin brigade of the IRA burnt down several police stations around the city. She was a typical woman – a multitasker.

My granny came to live with us in 1965 and I was born in 1966. She looked after me until I was ten years old. I know from growing up with my grandmother the role that women played in the liberation of this State and the role young women took putting their lives on the line to ensure that all citizens of this State – men, women and children – will enjoy equal rights and be cherished as set out in the Proclamation.

It was because of her and her stories of the role women played in the liberation of the State that I joined Óglaigh na hÉireann as a young man. It is also why I my PhD research into the experiences of my female colleagues, which revealed shockingly high levels of sexual assault, sexual abuse, discrimination and rape. I brought that forward and was subject to a campaign of the most appalling reprisal, which continues to this day. It has been reanimated because a judge-led inquiry into this culture was put in place by the current Government.

I am a feminist and I am proud to speak here on International Women’s Day. Twenty-three years ago, at the height of that reprisal, my beautiful mum passed away. Her last words to me were, “Don’t be afraid.” Those were her last words to me: do not be afraid. I then lost one of my beautiful sisters to cancer at age 41, some 21 years ago. I then lost my daughter, a little girl called Liadain, the “grey lady”. I remember my hand on her mum’s tummy, feeling her jumping and kicking. She died as a result of a cord accident at birth. I have been at all of the births of my five children and this was completely silent. My daughter would have been 21 this week.

On Friday, I will go to the polls. I have a concern about the wording of the care amendment because it gives constitutional expression to the view that the family are primary carers for people with additional needs – disabled citizens like my son. The Government edited out the recommendations that there be independent supports for full participation in the economic, social, cultural and artistic life of the State for people like my son.

Because care is primarily the responsibility of the family and because of the dysfunctional and abject discrimination against disabled citizens, my daughter, Ailbhe, who is 19, has often had to care for her older brother. Many times when she was 15 or 16, she would have to come home from school and toilet her 17-, 18- or 19-year-old brother. That is what this wording gives constitutional expression to. People will disagree with this but my views are informed by 20 years of lived experience. I have deep concerns about the wording of the care amendment because it will confine women, in the main, to caring duties within the family. Some 98% of unpaid carers within the family are women and girls and, therefore, I will vote against that. I know people will disagree with it but I do it in honour of all the women in my life, all the women of Ireland and, echoing Senator Flynn's comments, women from every ethnic group and all of our new citizens. The people of Ireland will have their say on the care referendum on Friday. Whatever the outcome, I hope we can all work together to further the rights of disabled citizens.


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