Ireland's double standard on violence against women

Those self-congratulatory media reports of Mary Robinson's praise for Ireland in combating global violence against women did not convey the whole truth of what the former president said.


Robinson paid a 14-hour visit home on 27 November for a conference in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Joint Irish Consortium, an alliance of 13 aid and human-rights organisations targeting gender-based violence abroad. Reported rapes in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to escalate, up to 75 per cent of women in Liberia have been victims and between 250,000 and 500,000 females were raped in the Rwandan conflict.

The former UN Human Rights Commissioner commended the agencies on driving the international agenda against rape, murder, female genital mutilation and sex trafficking. She welcomed the adoption of two of the consortium's six recommendations: a response mechanism implemented by international organisations and a programme for understanding the context of these crimes.

However, at a breakfast briefing for journalists in Iveagh House before the conference, Robinson, the founder-director of the New York-based Ethical Globalisation Initiative pointedly steered the conversation around to the scale of violence against women in Ireland.

She was responding to a suggestion that it is hypocritical of Ireland to be leading the way on global violence against women while the Irish state continued to deport women to countries where genital mutilation is practised. She was asked if that policy should be abandoned.

“If there's a very high risk [of female genital mutilation], it's obvious that has to be taken into account,” Robinson said in relation to the asylum process. She added that on her flight home from Ghana, via Amsterdam, the previous night she had been reading newspaper reports detailing the prevalence and violence of sexual and domestic crimes in her homeland. None of the journalists present pursued the subject.

Later, during a general press conference, Robinson, who consciously supported various organisations that help women victims of crime during her presidency, urged the consortium  to link up with the rape crisis centres in Ireland. She said she was glad that the issue of crimes against women in Ireland had arisen in the general question-and-answer session.

Having made it clear that she had deliberately raised the matter of crime against women in Ireland, the impression Ireland's most celebrated president left behind, as she departed for a lunchtime flight to Berlin, was one of deep dismay at the growth in such crimes since she left the country nearly a decade ago.