Archive for November, 2010

Picture this:

A healthy labouring woman, fully dilated, is ready to start pushing. She has taken the responsibility of informing herself of the pros and cons of hospital and home-birth and has chosen the best and safest option for herself and her family; a home-birth. She is eagerly awaiting the birth of this child – her fourth – and is happy that her labour is progressing smoothly. She feels powerful and energised. Confident of her body’s ability to birth, this woman is surrounded by carefully chosen birth attendants: Chief among them is her midwife, who has cared for this woman since the 8th week of her pregnancy.

This midwife has met with this woman and her family a dozen times during the pregnancy. She has nurtured her and her family throughout. Her kindness, care and experience have helped create an atmosphere of calm. She has met with the family in the comfort, safety and privacy of their own home and answered all their questions. She has worked hard and diligently with the family to achieve the optimum birth. She has earned their trust.

Just as the pregnant woman is about to start pushing her baby into the world, there is a loud rapping at the door (in spite of the note pinned to it asking callers to return later, as a birth is in progress). When the bewildered father-to-be answers the door, he is confronted by uniformed Gardaí. They have come to arrest the midwife. The HSE has decided that her attendance at this birth is illegal because the woman’s last baby (her third) was over 9lbs in weight.

This midwife faces up to 10 years in prison and a €160,000 fine for exercising her profession to the best of her ability.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s exactly the scenario that could be enacted up and down the country if the HSE has its way. The Department of Health is currently preparing to put a Bill before the Dáil which would virtually outlaw homebirth in Ireland and leave self-employed midwives at the risk of being vilified, arrested, fined and imprisoned.

The proposed Bill would strip midwives, who attend women outside the criteria dreamt up by the HSE, of insurance. Most of the criteria currently proposed by the HSE are not evidence-based and violate a woman’s right to make an informed choice with regard to where she births.

These guidelines and sections form an architecture of coercion. Mothers who fall outside the draconian and prejudicial terms laid down by the State may be forcibly hospitalised. Midwives who, like other professionals, seek to exercise their autonomy may face a jail sentence of up to 10 years. Draft HSE guidelines recently circulated go so far as to define the Garda Siochána as ‘relevant stakeholders’ in home birth.

‘Section 40 of the Bill, in effect, undermines women’s rights by withdrawing access to midwifery care in childbirth. Women have the right to appropriate health care, to bodily integrity and to self-determination. They also have the right to decline medical intervention. This Bill effectively denies women the freedom to give birth as they wish’, said Dr Krysia Lynch of the Home Birth Association.

Self-employed midwife Philomena Canning puts it most succinctly: ‘The Bill, as it stands, threatens the future of midwifery, criminalises autonomous midwifery practice, conflicts with a midwife’s duty of care and denies midwives the right to run their own profession, a right enjoyed by all other health professionals in law.’

‘The Bill places the midwife in an intolerable dilemma,’ she continues. ‘She must decide whether to assist the mother under circumstances where she is no longer indemnified––and possibly be jailed for doing so – or stand idly by. Withdrawing care from a mother who suddenly ceases to conform to insurance criteria in mid-labour is an appalling vista.’

I sit here and wonder how I have ended up raising daughters in a country where women’s and children’s rights can be systematically trampled over by its own government. This is a witch-hunt against midwives who want to practice their profession. It is another attempt by the government of Ireland to violate women’s human rights. It is another example of the Irish government telling Irish women that they must do what they are told – that they must conform and be ‘good girls’. It is another example of the Irish government deciding it knows what is best – even if international research and evidence does not support their stance.

I am shocked and saddened that Irish society has progressed so little. This treatment of women, by the Irish government, is not a million miles from what they did to women in the infamous ‘laundries’. I am disgusted at the lack of respect this proposed Bill shows for women and children.

This issue is not about home birth versus hospital birth. It is not about hippy women ‘refusing to listen’ to doctors. It is not about ‘stupid’ women refusing medical care. It is not about women who ‘just want to be different’. It is about the proposed violation of the rights and integrity of the women and children in this society. Peace on earth begins with peace at birth. Women must feel respected and at peace with their decisions when they give birth. They must be allowed to make informed decisions based on their own histories and their own research.

Let us not forget that this proposed Bill is also unconstitutional: Article 40.3.1 of Bunreacht na hEireann and Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights state that ‘free and informed consent is the cornerstone of medical treatment.’ For consent to be free and informed, it must be based on information and choice, neither of which feature in the proposed legislation. Thousands of Irish men and Irish women stood by and allowed the government – aided and abetted them, even – to treat Irish women and children despicably in ‘homes’ and ‘laundries’ and ‘under State care’ until the 1980s. Are you going to stand by and allow them to repeat their contemptuous treatment of women and children?

If not, you can voice your opposition by signing the petition to have the Bill amended: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/39693.html

Hazel Katherine Larkin is a mother,  journalist, writer and doula who spent 10 years in Asia working in the media before returning to Ireland six years ago. She is currently working on a memoir and looking forward to returning to Asia in 2011 – chiefly because she believes Ireland is no place for young women.

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When the Guardian wanted to feature a feminist reaction to the proposed IMF 5 percentage point tax reduction for women returning to work they turned to the Antiroom – where else? I was thrilled and honoured to write this rather provocative piece broadly in favour of this radical proposal. Please do leave a comment on the Guardian Comment is Free site. You don’t even have to agree with me, just don’t call me “idiotic” please!

Also, the Antiroom gets a mention and a link in my profile.

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Like many people in Ireland on Monday, I spent the day in a state of near-paralysis. I had the radio permanently tuned to news and current affairs programmes. It was almost impossible to tear myself away from Twitter. Because I follow a lot of people in the Irish media and journalism, the tweets were pouring onto my screen so fast I could hardly keep up.

No way out? (Photo: Associated News US)

There was endless media analysis of what our European bailout/loan/whatever will mean, how much we will finally borrow, links to the apocalyptic headlines Ireland is making around the world. Irish bank shares were down, Portuguese bond yields were up. Political upheaval followed financial upheaval. Rumours of a big announcement from Government junior partners, the Green Party. Later in the day, more rumours – this time of an announcement from the Taoiseach at 7pm. My children waited in vain for their dinner as I sat in front of the TV to hear what he had to say.

I don’t understand economics or high finance, so what did I learn from mainlining all this news? That this teetering Government needs to hang on grimly, long enough to get the budget passed on 7th December. This is because the budget is already a done deal, the €6 billion in cuts is already agreed with the IMF. If the budget fails, the deal is off. But the deal is essential to keep our banks afloat. Despite the billions upon billions that we have already thrown into their gaping maws, Irish banks, like heroin addicts, need another fix. This time, a fix of another €30 billion or so. Banks normally borrow money at 1% interest rates. But nobody is willing to lend to our banks anymore, so we are borrowing it at 5% on their behalf. We’ll be paying this back, along with the countless other billions we are borrowing, for generations.

That’s my no doubt simplistic understanding of the situation today. My reaction to all this is; what have I done to my children?

It was all so different ten years ago when I returned to Ireland with my husband and first child, after 14 years away. The grim and depressed country I had emigrated from in the 80s was a distant memory. Ireland had changed; it was vibrant, young and optimistic. Things were on the up.

I had been very happy with life in London, but felt a strong urge to return to Ireland once we started a family. I had to work hard to persuade my non-Irish husband to move here, and our first few years were completely tied up with work. He set up a new dental surgery in the north inner city and worked hard to build it up from nothing. He gave me a crash course in dental nursing and dental reception and I did both jobs until we could afford to start employing people.

Working long hours and having a young family meant we were largely off the social scene and we both found it difficult to adjust. But we had a loving family here, and that made all the upheaval worthwhile.

Things settled down and the surgery established itself. After the first few years we stopped leasing the surgery building and took out a huge loan to buy it. We worried about taking on so much debt, but the economy was booming and the future looked bright.

At the same time, I wondered why my children’s schools were so run down. Why did I find myself helping out at so many school fundraisers? Why do Irish parents, almost alone in Europe, have to pay for school books? It was a shock having to pay so much for GP appointments, even for children. Having a long-term medical condition which I knew would eventually require surgery, I guiltily purchased private medical insurance so that I could skip the public queues when the time came. As a middle class person in Ireland, it’s just accepted that that’s what you do. But with all the money swilling around, why were public health and education services not being radically reformed? Given the state we are in now, there is little hope that this will ever happen.

The events of the last two years have been disastrous for Ireland but we have been lucky compared to so many others. We have had to make cutbacks at the surgery, following large cuts to publicly funded dentistry in recent budgets. No doubt there are more to come, but we are hopeful that we can put our heads down, work hard and get through.

But what of my two young children? The country in which I actively chose to bring them up is a sorry mess, an international laughing-stock. I am worried for their future and dread the day when they may be forced to take the same journey I took back in the 80s. And if they do, I will bitterly regret my decision to move back here.

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Flash Mob

It’s probably happened to you – you’re on public transport minding your own business, and then you realise that some creepy perv is either rubbing up against you or fiddling around in his pants. When I was in college, I was going home on the No. 16 bus one night when a man with a slightly odd demeanour sat next to me (despite the fact that there were lots of empty seats) and, after a few minutes, opened his fly, got out his junk and started wanking away. I wish I’d acted like this woman.

Instead, I leaped to my feet in silent horror, whereupon the perv got up and went downstairs. But soon I realised he hadn’t got off the bus and was possibly ready to perv again, so I went downstairs and told the driver, who rang Whitehall Garda Station, which we were quickly approaching. Realising that he was going to get arrested, the wanker tried to stop the bus and get off early but, quite awesomely, some passengers who’d noticed his behaviour upstairs intervened and barred his way. The last I saw of him, he was being led away by the gardaí. Still, I wish I’d actually told him what I thought of him, same as I wish I’d told the various other flashers and public masturbators and would-be frottagers I, like most of us, have encountered over the last few decades. The problem is that often we think we’re going to yell and make and fuss and then when something actually happens we’re so shocked and disturbed that we kind of freeze.

So what about you? How have you dealt with public pervery?

Link via Jezebel and Veronica Walsh

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Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest

As you may have noticed, we’ve had some great guest posters on the site recently. We’ve had a few questions from readers about contributing, so this is a reminder that suggestions for guest posts that you think would work well in the Anti-Room are always welcome. Short, epic, serious, funny  – tell us all about it! Send any suggestions, along with examples of your writing, to theantiroom  @  gmail.com

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The sentencing last week of Stephen “Rossi” Walsh for the sexual assault of a seven-year-old girl some 20 years ago is simply one of the dozens of crimes against women that pass through the Central Criminal Court each year.

62-year-old Dubliner, Walsh hit the headlines because of his long and glittering career as a criminal and arsonist.  This week, the papers pointed out that this was the man who won prisoners the right to vote from jail, picking over the juicy details of a long and varied career as a manipulative thug.  He received 15 years in 1993 for torching a pub but this week he received a mere three for simulating sex on a little girl.  During the trial last month, he actually handled the cross-examination of his victim himself, asking her why it had taken her so long to come forward.

He’s already serving a 10-year sentence for the rape of a 9-year-old girl in the 1990s.

His case makes me angry, but sadly it’s not particularly unusual.  Every day the Central Criminal Court deals with similar trials.  Working there, you see a constant procession of crimes against women – murder, rape, abuse.  The official figures might show a drop in rape trials passing through the courts, but it’s hard to see that on the ground.  In the court list for this Monday – which includes both trials due to start and cases that have not yet come to trial but need to be raised before the judge for any number of reasons – nine out of 12 cases are crimes against women.

Most of these cases will not be reported.  Rapes do not make headline-grabbing copy.  Both accused and alleged victim have the right to anonymity until a verdict, so any reports must take care not to identify either.  In practice, this means being vague about locations and using a lot of pronouns.  When the case is one of incest, then the accused cannot be identified even after conviction, for the sake of his victims. This is only right, but as a journalist I can see the value in naming and shaming.  I genuinely think that the public has a right to see the faces of these dangerous men and to see what they are capable of.

I can understand the view of victims who want to move on with their lives and would like to forget what happened to them; who would rather the case sank into obscurity.  The French student viciously raped by murderer Gerald Barry made a strong case in her victim impact statement against the media coverage her case would receive.  But less than two months after he had raped her, Barry had gone on to kill, and possibly also sexually assault, Swiss language student Manuela Riedo.  The likes of Gerald Barry and Larry Murphy may generate hysterical headlines but there are other cases that can never be reported.  Men just as vicious, just as brutal, just as manipulative and dangerous, who will never be known.

Covering the Central Criminal Court, you see the shattered lives of numerous women.  The childhoods crushed and blighted, the fumbling, terrifying attacks, false imprisonment, manipulation,  men who think of women as a lesser species.  In the worst cases we hear of lives snuffed out. Husbands unable to deal with the breakdown of a relationship or unable to cope with a strong woman as a wife after a coddled youth.  Men unable to let go.  Even when it’s a woman in the dock, the story is often of a wife striking out after years of abuse.  The courts give you an in-depth view of the darker side of the relationships and a real sense of how much further there is to go for women in this country.

When sentences for rape are generally less than a decade and abuse cases usually end with sentences of less than half that, it’s no wonder violence against women doesn’t show any real sign of letting up.  According to the Rape Crisis Centre, a tiny proportion of rapes ever make it to court and it’s not hard to see why.  Stephen Walsh’s questioning of his victim was unusual, but there would be nothing to stop it happening again.  Until the moment the accused is convicted, he is an innocent man in the eyes of the law and perfectly entitled to act in his own defence.

As we’ve seen in the case of Dan Foley from Listowel, who had his hand shaken by dozens of men as he awaited a sentence for the rape of a local woman, even public attitudes can be shockingly biased against the victim. It takes a very brave woman to take the stand in a rape case, but thank goodness some do.

When their attacker is subsequently handed a sentence less than five years, few women feel it’s worth all the pain.  Stephen Walsh got 15 years for arson, for destroying the bricks and mortar of a pub.  For destroying the childhoods of his two victims he got a total of 13 years.  Drug offences can carry a minimum sentence of 15 years, but rape can result in a suspended sentence. Judges here cannot even opt to run sentences consecutively if they relate to the same series of charges.  The maximum the convicted man will serve is the longest sentence handed down.  Then every prisoner in an Irish jail has an automatic right to a quarter off their sentence.  A carrot to ensure good behaviour in jail, but surely not one that’s appropriate in every case.  When he was sentencing Gerald Barry, Mr. Justice Paul Carney pointed out that there are some who do not deserve  this light at the end of the tunnel, but he was not in a position to do anything about it.

Judges often make comments about the lengths of sentences they are permitted to impose, but nothing ever seems to change.  Until the Government introduces a sentencing structure for sex crimes that is a proper deterrent, it’s unlikely things will improve.  There are more  female barristers graduating every year and the media based full-time in the courts are predominately women.  It’s a shame that the system doesn’t show equal evolution and start treating crimes against women as seriously as they should be treated.  Surely we’ve come that far?


Abigail Riley is an author and journalist specialising in the courts.  She tweets as @abigailrieley and blogs at www.abigailrieley.com when she’s not writing for the Sunday Independent and other papers.  She’s currently working on her third book.



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Skeptical about cream cheese in a soup? Well all I can say is don’t knock it ’til you try it. In fact it might be worth giving this chowder a whirl, if only to prove that cream cheese doesn’t need the accompaniment of a bagel or cracker to sing. The truth of the matter is, however, that the rest of the ensemble make it equally worthy of your attention, with chunks of potato and salmon centre-stage, backed by a creamy chorus of leeks, while dill and lemon provide the harmonies. Together, they perform quite beautifully.
Potato, Salmon and Cream Cheese Chowder, Serves 3-4
  • 3 smallish leeks (white and light green parts – should yield about 200g)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 400g potatoes (2 medium sized spuds)
  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 150g cream cheese
  • 1 tsp fine salt or to taste
  • 250ml milk
  • approx. 150ml water
  • 280g salmon fillets
  • 2 tblsp chopped dill
  • 2 tblsp lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped flat leaf parsley and lemon zest to serve
  • Slice the white and light green parts of the leeks thinly and finely chop the garlic. Scrub the potatoes and, leaving the skin on, chop into approx. 1cm cubes.
  • Place a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and allow it to melt.
  • Add the garlic and leeks to the pan, sauté over medium low heat until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the potato cubescream cheese and salt and toss with the leeks. When the cream cheese has melted, add the milk andwater, enough to just cover the veggies.
  • Increase the heat to medium, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 25-30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
  • Meanwhile, chop the salmon fillets into approx. 1cm cubes, leaving the skin on if it hasn’t already been removed.
  • When the potatoes have cooked, add the chopped dilllemon juicesalmon pieces and a few twists of black pepper to the pot. Stir to mix and simmer very gently for 5-7 minutes or until the salmon pieces are just cooked through. The chowder will be fairly thick, so thin with additional hot water if you prefer a thinner consistency.
  • Remove from the heat and serve, scattered with some chopped flat leaf parsley and a little sprinkling of lemon zest.

Aoife Cox likes spuds. A lot. Her somewhat obsessive relationship with our national tuber will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her blog, The Daily Spud, or to those who loiter about in the vicinity of @DailySpud on Twitter.

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