In this article which originally appeared on FeministCurrent, Megan Murphy is talking with two members of the Irish Women’s Lobby about their fight against the Gender Recognition Act and its consequences for Irish women.

By Megan Murphy

The Irish Women’s Lobby (IWD) launched on March 8, 2021. I interviewed three members of the group recently about their goals and the particular issues they are dealing with in Ireland.

Meghan Murphy: What is the purpose of the Irish Women’s Lobby? What are your main aims and fights? 

IWL: Well I guess the first thing we’d say is that, as Irish women, we’re in a very peculiar and disturbing time in Irish history. We are living in an environment and time where not only are our rights being eroded in Irish legislation, but the erosion of our rights is being championed as progress by people who should know better — among them some who are well paid to know better. There’s nothing unique about our situation, we see this being rolled out all across the Western world, but it is significantly more advanced in Ireland than in many other nations, and we have the “self-ID” [this is shorthand for this kind of legislation, allowing essentially anyone to self-identify as the opposite sex, easily] aspect of the Irish 2015 Gender Recognition Act to thank for that.

We set up the Irish Women’s Lobby (IWL) in response to this and other situations women are currently facing here. Ireland has become an increasingly hostile environment for any woman raising her voice in defense of her own sex-based rights, and this has been increasing year after year since 2015, but at this point we have reached a ludicrous level. Our predicament might have some comedic value if it weren’t so likely to cost some women their lives. This is because the situation here has advanced to the point where male sex offenders are now being incarcerated in female prisons.

The problem here is that Ireland passed the Gender Recognition Act in a form which allows legal “gender” changes without any requirement for medical intervention or evaluation. This was introduced with virtually no discussion and certainly no real investigation into possible negative repercussions. The enactment of this legislation has created a scenario where trans-identifying males can gain access to any spaces or services designated for females, with zero safeguarding. Alongside the legislation there has been relentless campaigning from “social justice” activists, propagating an environment where feminists are unable to voice their concerns without fear of retaliation.

Reflecting the power of the lobby, the takeover of the policy-making arena and NGOs in Ireland is extensive, and of course it is women who are targeted. The Irish Health Service removed all mention of “woman” and “women” from an ad campaign to prevent Cervical Cancer, apparently in an effort to be “inclusive.” Following protest spearheaded by Radicailín, a radical feminist group made up of Irish and migrant women, the ad was updated, but it still uses “woman” only once, and “people” five times (“women” doesn’t appear at all). Meanwhile, in Ireland, unlike with cervical cancer, prostate cancer remains a men-only disease, and has not magically become “gender-neutral” in an effort to be “inclusive.”

The public, for the most part, are largely unaware that the Gender Recognition Act is in place, nor do they understand the level of threat it carries for women and girls. The IWL is attempting to raise these and other issues, and create room for discussion across the public narrative. We are, of course, bullied and abused for it in a multitude of ways, as feminists are and always have been.

Our first and most urgent aim is to provide media and political representation for women in Ireland. This is because the National Women’s Council of Ireland is actively working against women’s rights. They — along with Amnesty International, Trans Equality Network Ireland, and other well-funded NGOs — signed a petition calling for the removal of “legitimate representation” from women like ourselves and others who “defend biology.” In a situation where we have the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Amnesty International demanding that any Irish woman (or man for that matter) who speaks out against the damaging and harmful effects of the 2015 Gender Recognition Act be denied media and political representation, we had no choice but to insist on our democratic right to that representation. When that letter was signed by those groups, and the National Women’s Council of Ireland in particular, we knew that as Irish women we had no choice but speak out in defiance of those who signed on to a call to silence Irish women in the public sphere. We feel the facts here speak for themselves; it should be plainly apparent that the signatories to that letter acted in a manner that was aggressive, disturbing, and blatantly totalitarian.

MM: How does the Irish women’s movement differ from the women’s movement in other parts of Europe and North America? 

IWL: The women’s movement here differs in all sorts of ways, one unfortunate manifestation being the number of women who declare themselves feminists while undermining or outright aggressing against women’s sex-based rights. You’d have to despair for a feminism that doesn’t recognize its own purpose. All of this is of course heavily underpinned by social class, as is everything in Ireland. You could say class is to Ireland what race is to the United States – of course they’re not the same thing, but there are some startling parallels. In Ireland, class is the great unmentionable — you’re not supposed to talk about that. The problem is deeply rooted in our history of British colonialism, and has persisted for centuries.

Every part of the West will have its own regional issues. For us, a shift towards the left was socially necessary in order to counterbalance a national narrative that had leaned too heavily towards religious and social conservatism for too long, but we are knee-deep in neoliberal nonsense now. Some parts of the Western World have issues with the political narrative going too far right. We have the opposite problem: we’ve gone too far left — but like so many other places, it’s a “left” that has abandoned a class analysis, and with it, the working classes, both female and male. Ireland’s woke brigade have got drunk on their own Kool-Aid, but we’ve all got to share the hangover.

MM: What is the situation with prostitution currently? 

IWL: The vast majority of women in Irish prostitution — about  95 per cent — are migrant women, predominantly from the poorer countries of Eastern Europe but also from Nigeria, Brazil, and parts of Asia. The percentages will fluctuate, but foreign women in the Irish sex trade always figure somewhere at 90+ per cent. That’s been the situation for years; it’s very sad. It’s also very sickening to see the Soros funded pro-prostitution lobbyists relentlessly campaign to decriminalize pimps in Ireland. Migrant women are generally paid a pittance once their pimp takes their cut, and the push to decriminalize their pimps comes from women who charge 300 and 400 euros an hour in escort prostitution and are salaried to press for the full decriminalization of the Irish sex trade on top of that. They’re in no way representative of the women who would suffer most if they got their way in decriminalizing the pimps of the Irish sex trade.

It is now illegal to purchase the body of a woman (or anyone) for sexual use in Ireland, but male habits of sexual entitlement die hard, and we would say there are not nearly enough convictions, though there have been some. There are numerous problems in this area, including that some organizations and individuals who speak out against prostitution use apolitical language, like “sex work” and “the sex buyers’ law” etc. This kind of framing argues against itself: you cannot say that prostitution is inherently violent while simultaneously framing it as employment, and you cannot say that what men purchase in prostitution is sexual access to women’s bodies while at the same time referring to them as “sex buyers.” The international abolitionist movement and the survivor’s movement in particular has very strong ties to Ireland. That movement has a language all of its own, much of it framed by survivors. It’s a pity more Irish campaigners didn’t take the time to learn it.

MM: Can you explain the issue around language a little further? What is preferable?

IWL: Terms like “sex work”, “sex buyers’ law,” and “the Equality Model” are never used here — not by anyone political, strategical, or experienced. Irish abolitionist activists say “prostitution” to refer to prostitution, “punters” to refer to johns, and “the Abolitionist Model” or “the Nordic Model” to refer to abolitionist legal frameworks. Survivors who spent a decade fighting for the Nordic Model now have to listen to the corporate reframing of “the Equality Model,” which may work well elsewhere in the world, but that’s not what Irish women fought for. This language was imposed on Irish sex-trade survivors by corporate feminists who never took the time to ask. You’d be interested to know what they’re thinking, except they’re not thinking. Feminist organizations that ignore survivor groups in their anti sex-trade campaign planning are not thinking at all.

MM: Is anything else of note happening with gender identity legislation and ideology in Ireland? 

IWL: In 2007, the Irish High Court found that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights as it did not have a process to legally recognize the “acquired gender” of transsexual persons. In 2011, a Government Gender Recognition Advisory Group after broad consultation recommended medical gatekeeping, and living full-time for a two-year period in the “changed gender” prior to receiving a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The subsequent Gender Recognition Bill published in December 2014 required medical evaluation and certification.

However, following lobbying and subterfuge, the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) that was passed in 2015 had no such requirements, or any gatekeeping whatsoever. In fact, the GRA allows any person to download and fill in an A4 form, have it notarized, making them, for all intents and purposes, legally the “opposite” sex.

The lack of any gatekeeping whatsoever means that any man — be he a rapist, a pedophile, a voyeur, or any type of sexual pervert — can obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) that allows him to access all areas dedicated for women. That includes: hospital wards, changing rooms, prisons, domestic violence refuges, clinics treating victims of sexual assault, changing facilities etc. There are literally no limits. What’s more, “sex” is not a specific “protected characteristic” under Irish Equality legislation — “gender” is, rendering any defence of women’s right to single-sex facilities even weaker.

Because of self-ID, any violent male sex offender can legally identify as a woman, and demand to be imprisoned with vulnerable women in Ireland. This has already happened. One man charged with ten counts of sex offences was taken directly from the courthouse to the women’s estate in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. Another violent young man — whose court report states that the expert from the Tavistock gender clinic did not believe he had gender dysphoria — was allowed to obtain a GRC while in state care as a violent offender, and has been housed in Limerick Women’s Prison. His own mother had to move cross country to a secret location to escape him, such was the seriousness of his homicidal intentions, which are wholly transfixed on women. The Irish public, however, were fed a story in the mainstream press about “Ireland’s Homicidal Girl.” Needless to say, the safety, health, and welfare of the imprisoned women — most of whom, if not all, are victims of sexual and violent abuse — are completely disregarded. Ireland’s terrible history of abusing incarcerated women is being perpetuated, but this time in the name of the “new religion” rather than the old.

MM: The IWL has an upcoming online event, on April 29, called “Speak Up For Free Speech.” Can you tell me about that event and why you felt it was important to organize something specifically addressing free speech? 

IWL: The issue of free speech has become very urgent, both here in Ireland and across the Global North as legislation is being drafted and enacted to expand “hate crimes” to include “hate speech.” Wherever this legislation is enacted, it curtails our right to free expression in harmful and dangerous ways. Women face the prospect of being accused of a hate crime for stating biological facts, or even “misgendering.” If this bill passes, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Amnesty International won’t need to sign a petition demanding our right to political and media representation be removed, because those of us who “defend biology” will already be silenced by law.

Of the many pressing issues facing women and girls, the issue of free speech is absolutely crucial — if we are not allowed to say that women have the right to single-sex spaces, how the hell can we defend our right to those spaces?

We think the timing of this webinar is absolutely perfect — we are hosting Iseult White, who will be discussing free speech and cancel culture here in Ireland; Lisa Mackenzie, who will be talking about the Scottish experience, and of course we are really looking forward to hearing from you about what women across North America have been dealing with too.