The 158-year-long battle for abortion rights in Northern Ireland

This year, as with years gone by, International Women’s Day is a chance for women in Northern Ireland to remind the world that reproductive rights are still not a given in all parts of the UK.

Women in Northern Ireland have severely limited access to abortion compared with the rest of the UK (Credit: Rachel Lee)

A lot has changed for women in the United Kingdom in the century since International Women’s Day was first established. The 20th century saw strides made in voting rights, access to contraception and equality in the workplace. For a contemporary issue, the official theme of International Women’s Day 2019 is “balance” – balance across boardrooms, media coverage, sports, and other less-than-progressive sections of society.

But for women in Northern Ireland, the most pressing issue of today is more fundamental – and one that has its roots all the way back in 1861.

It was in that year that the law governing access to abortion in Northern Ireland was passed and remarkably it still stands today, ostensibly unamended, 158 years later.

That’s why for many activists and human rights organisations the current battle over reproductive rights is what International Women’s Day (IWD) 2019 is all about.

“In Northern Ireland, we can’t talk about any other area feminism until people have the right to control their own bodies,” says Emma Campbell of Alliance For Choice, the largest pro-choice campaign group in Northern Ireland.

“The impact that has on the rest of your life – it’s economic, it’s mental health, it’s physical health, it’s about your family life and your job prospects. It kind of covers everything.”

These sentiments are shared by other activists who want to place the focus of IWD on reproductive rights.

“Whilst it’s fine to celebrate the gains made by women in the last 100 years, IWD has to be a protest against the massive oppression women still face in society today,” says Cerys Falvey, of the campaign group ROSA, a socialist party affiliated women’s group.

Northern Ireland is unique in Western Europe for having the tightest controls over abortion, behind even the Republic of Ireland which voted in favour of legalising abortion during the “Repeal the Eighth” campaign of May 2018.

The 1967 Abortion Act that governs access to abortions in the rest of the UK was never extended to Northern Ireland. Instead, there’s only the Offences Against the Person Act, which makes it illegal for any woman to cause herself to have an abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.

Punishment for violating the 1861 Act can include life imprisonment. This is prompting many campaigners, including the Labour MP Stella Creasy, to point out that it is theoretically possible in Northern Ireland for a rape victim who has an abortion to be given a harsher sentence than her rapist.

This has lead to a situation where women have to choose between having an abortion illegally, most commonly by taking pills bought online, or travelling to Scotland, England or Wales to seek out safe, legal abortions.

According to Amnesty International, an average of 28 women a week make the journey to mainland UK in order to terminate their pregnancies.

This statistic was used by campaigners in late February, when 28 women, including actors from the popular BBC series “Derry Girls”, delivered suitcases filled with petitions to Westminster calling for the relaxing of Northern Irish abortion laws.

Actors from the hit TV series “Derry Girls” were among the women who delivered Amnesty International’s petition to Westminster in February (Credit: Amnesty International)

“28 women shouldn’t be travelling to the rest of the UK a week. We really need people in England, Scotland and Wales to put pressure on their MPs because our MPs in parliament, half of them don’t sit and the other half are the DUP who don’t properly represent the wishes of even their own voters” Campbell says.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning parliament for over two years, which some people say prevents any hope of reform as health is a devolved issue.

But in June 2018 the UK Supreme Court ruled that access to abortion for women was not only a health matter but a human rights matter as well, which would make Westminster responsible.

The UK’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, who has been facing calls to resign all week has contradicted this verdict, however, and there is no sign yet that Theresa May’s government will tackle the issue. To many critics, this appears to be down to the Prime Minister’s need for the support of the anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party to get through the Brexit process.

“Until the DUP formed an unholy coalition with the Tories many people in the rest of the UK didn’t even know who they were and how much they’re holding us back,” says Campbell.

“And honestly, I think if the Tories didn’t need the DUP for Brexit at the moment, then we probably already have had extension of the rights to Northern Ireland.”

It seems unlikely, given how desperately Theresa May needs the DUP’s support at the moment, that Westminster will legislate for the changes they are obliged to by the Supreme Court.

ROSA “Time 4 Equality” campaign makes a list of five demands including access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland (Credit: ROSA)

Groups like ROSA look to the tradition of protest action in helping bring about change. International Women’s Day itself was brought on 110 years ago by mass demonstration and socialist campaigns.

“It would be a mistake to think we will be granted bodily autonomy from the goodness of politicians hearts… but with the right kind of campaign I’m confident (these changes) could happen quite quickly,” Falvey says.

“But I’m not one for making predictions.”

Alliance For Change’s “I’m a Life” campaign has been launched in time for International Women’s Day 2019. 

Inquiry into Glasgow school of art fire should be held, say MSPs

The Glasgow School of Art was destroyed in a 2018 fire (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the Glasgow School of Art fires should be launched, MSPs have said. 

Holyrood politicians on the Culture Committee made the calls in a highly critical report into the 2018 fire, published today.

The report scrutinised what fire prevention methods were introduced between the first fire in 2014 and the second, which totally destroyed ‘The Mack’ building in central Glasgow, in June 2018.

The report criticises the Glasgow School of Art board and makes a recommendation that the building be placed in the care of a trust in the future.

“The Committee is not convinced that the GSA gave sufficient priority to the safeguarding of the Mackintosh Building” the report concludes.

“The Committee considers it would have been desirable for there to have been more specific expertise at Board level which reflected the importance of the Mack.”

‘The Mack’ before the 2018 fire (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Glasgow School of Art building is known as ‘The Mack’ because it was designed by renowned architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

It first opened in 1909 and was widely considered a world class example of the Art Nouveau style.

The building stood for over 100 years before being almost totally destroyed in a fire in 2014.

Reconstruction was nearly complete when in June 2018 another fire broke out causing even greater damage than the blaze four years earlier.

The cause of the 2018 fire has not been conclusively proven, as the damage to the building and surrounding Sauchiehall Street was so severe. Much scrutiny has been focussed on the contractors, Kier Construction, although no liability has been established.

Stephen McKenzie, the independent fire, security & resilience advisor to the Holyrood Committee gave evidence to the report, saying:

“I suggest that there is a potential need for a full, detailed forensic investigation of not only the fire ground, but all the project documentation, roles and responsibilities. As in 2014 and 2018, because of the complexity of these hearings, I press upon the committee that there may be a case for a public inquiry”.

The full report can be read on the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee website.

BREAKING: Airshow pilot found not guilty of manslaughter

A pilot who crashed a plane onto a public road in 2015, killing 11 people, has been found not guilty of manslaughter. 

Andrew Hill, 54, was taking part in the Shoreham Airshow near Brighton when he lost control of his ex-military plane after attempting to perform a manoeuvre.

Mr Hill was charged in The Old Bailey in London with 11 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence, which he has denied.

His lawyers argued Mr Hill suffered from “cognitive impairment” at the time of the crash.

It has emerged that one of the jurors was discharged during the proceedings after stating that he would never consider convicting anyone over the Shoreham crash, according to reports from The Telegraph.

The judge presiding over the trial, Justice Andrew Edis, said: “just to say to the families, I am enormously impressed and grateful for the dignified way you have all behaved.”

Lord Ahmed charged with attempted rape of young girl

Lord Ahmed official portrait (Credit: Creative Commons)

A member of the House of Lords has been charged with attempted rape of a young girl. 

Lord Nazir Ahmed, a 61-year-old former Labour Peer, has been named by prosecutors along with two other men in relation to allegations dating to the 1970s’.

The charges include attempted rape of a girl and indecent assault involving a 13-year-old boy.

Ahmed would have been aged 14-17 at the time when the alleged crimes took place.

Ahmed and the two other men are due to appear in Sheffield Magistrates’ Court on 19 March.

Originally from Pakistan, Ahmed moved to Rotherham along with his family in 1969. He joined the Labour party aged 18 and went on to be elected a councillor before being made a Lord by Tony Blair.

Ahmed was suspended by the Labour party in 2013 under accusations of antisemitism after he claimed a Jewish conspiracy was responsible for a prison sentence he received after being found guilty of dangerous driving resulting in the death of a man in 2007.

 

Thai Princess runs for Prime Minister: podcast with journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall

 

Andrew MacGregor Marshall is an investigative journalist who specialises in Thailand. Marshall was the former Bureau Chief for Reuters in Bankok and previously was Middle East Managing Editor for the news agency. He currently teaches journalism at Edinburgh Napier University.

EN4News News Editor Ailean Beaton spoke to Marshall about the announcement that a member of the Thai royal family, Princess Ubolratana, is running for Prime Minister in upcoming elections.

Marshall was the first journalist to break the news. In this podcast, Marshall outlines the significance of the news, calling it “the biggest news to come out of Thailand in ten years”, and discusses what this could mean for the future of Thai democracy.

BREAKING: Scottish Tory MP referred to Discipline Panel denying sexual touching claims

A Scottish Conservative MP has issued a statement admitting that he has referred himself to his party’s discipline panel while denying that he had groped young men, saying the reports are “completely false”. 

Ross Thomson was removed from a House of Commons bar by police on Wednesday night after claims were made of “sexual touching”.

Thomson’s full statement reads: “A series of serious allegations have been made against me that have featured in the media. I would like to state that these allegations from anonymous sources are completely false. No complaint has been made to the Police, Parliament or the Conservative party. Never the less, in the interest of openness and transparency I am referring myself to the Conservative Party’s Disciplinary Panel of the Code of Conduct. This has been a deeply distressing time for me and my family but I intend to be back at work on Monday.”

The Conservative party rules state that complaints to the discipline panel will trigger an “investigation…conducted by someone with appropriate experience and no prior involvement in the complaint”.

EN4News Morning Brief

Today’s papers (Credit: Ailean Beaton)

Good morning from a rainy and wind-battered Edinburgh. Here’s the morning news brief. 

In the papers: Brexit, Instagram and the Edinburgh Tourist Tax 

The Scotsman and Times today are focussed on the announcement that the City of Edinburgh Council have backed plans to introduce a tourist tax. The £2-per-night charge isn’t certain to go ahead until next year at the earliest, but it’s been an item of contention for local businesses for a while. Check out some of our previous stories on the issue.

The Herald have a striking front page featuring pictures of EU nationals who have made their homes here in Scotland. “They said we’d have to wait until after Brexit is done”: immigrants discuss their uncertain futures with the paper as part of their “Brexit Voices” story.

Brexit also dominates in the national papers as Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Dublin to discuss the Irish Backstop.

Sturgeon in Canada

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues her jaunt across North America, discussing trade, Brexit, Independence as well as fine Scottish cuisine. Our reporter, Rory Hill, will have a round-up of Sturgeon’s US and Canada trip on the website later this morning.

Bezos’ private business

Amazon founder and richest man in the history of the world, Jeff Bezos, has published a rather scandalous post on Medium. Following news of the break-down of his marriage, Bezos has claimed that the National Inquirer magazine are holding him to ransom with some very sensitive images.

This seems to have been a weird theme on social media through February.

In Tech

A huge story for those following Facebook, as Germany orders the social media company to halt the process of combining user data from across their products. Germany has always had the lead on social media regulation, although the question of how to safeguard children from harmful content has been dominating in the UK this week.

That Friday Feeling (no longer)

Westminster, like Holyrood, doesn’t normally sit on Fridays. But with all the Brexit stuff taking up parliamentary time over these past few months, members will be sitting today to power through a long list of Private Members’ Bills. All this after our MPs have lost out on their February recess week too, aww.

And the Weather

Here in Edinburgh, the wind and rain are due to stick around through the day, with a wee bright spell around lunchtime. 10 degrees and wet into the weekend.

Thanks and make sure to visit en4news.com for all the latest news and culture.

 

Scotland in the global misinformation crisis

MisinfoConX took place in Stirling. (Photo credit: Buster Brown Graphic: Hacks/Hackers)

Under the freezing fog on Thursday morning, some of the leading Scottish experts on misinformation gathered in Stirling to discuss ways to bring back truth and clarity to our online discourse.

MisinfoConX Scotland was a day long “unconference” organised by Scottish media academics in conjunction with Hacks/Hackers, a loose-knit global collective of journalists and hackers aiming to bridge the gap between the two practices.  

Much like the TedX series of lectures, MisinfoCon events have taken place across the world, from D.C to Kiev. Discussion on the day placed Scotland and the UK firmly in the international milieu of Fake News, in part due to the divisive atmosphere surrounding Independence and Brexit. But the spirit of the gathering was good-humoured and constructive, with a focus on the latest technological and policy-based ideas for tackling the issue.

“Today’s not just about talking shop on the problems in Scotland” said Dr Jennifer Jones, one of the organisers of the event. “It’s actually about getting together and talking about ways we can come up with solutions”.

Over the course of a few hours, attendees watched presentations from cyber security experts, fact-checkers and citizen journalists and took part in a diverse series of “breakout sessions” that reflected the breadth of the issue at hand.

MisinfoConX saw media and cyber security experts gather with students and journalists in Stirling’s Codebase. (Photo credit: Ailean Beaton)

Defining the problem

The term “Fake News” was discarded early on in the day in favour of terms like misinformation, disinformation and “Information Disorder”. A wide range of sources were identified including partisan bloggers, unscrupulous politicians and state-sponsored propaganda.

Dr Jones used part of her opening remarks to address some of the coverage surrounding the conference itself, which had been very much in keeping with the theme of the day.

“This conference has been funded with $200 for the Post-it Notes and the coffee, thanks to Mozilla. We’ve also had lunch bought for us by Secarma” she said.

The announcement of the conference had provoked an angry and mocking response from a Russian state-funded media outlet, which described the event as a gathering of the “Western deep-state”. The small grant from Mozilla, designers of the Firefox internet browser, was cited in the story in an attempt to cast doubt over the independence of the event as was encouragement from MPs like Stewart McDonald.

These types of accusations are familiar to Jones, who has in the past faced trolling and abuse for articles she has authored. Often her approach is to troll right back.

But the tendency for fake news to spill over into the real world, where journalists can face threats and intimidation makes the problem harder to laugh off, according to Jones.

“What do you do when this happens?” she asks. “There are no clear guidelines.”

Organisers of MisinfoCon Bissie Anderson and Dr Jennifer Jones. (Photo credit: Ailean Beaton)

Unconference like

The first seminar came from Paul Mason of the cyber security firm Secarma. Mason described himself as an ethical hacker, using the same techniques as rogue or hostile actors to break into the databases of clients in order to identify weaknesses in their system.

The most surefire way to breach an online database, according to Mason, is by engaging with “the human bit between the keyboard and the chair”. The ability to mislead or impersonate an employee of the target business is an increasingly common approach taken by hackers, highlighting that disinformation is a security issue as well as a social and political one.

Mason rounded off his presentation by having members of the audience create their own automated Twitter bot–  a process he said can take just “five minutes and three keyboard commands”.

Following on from this, a chunk of the conference was dedicated to self-organised “breakout sessions” where audience members participated in group exercises dealing with issues volunteered by fellow attendees. Issues such as the “manufacturing of doubt” by agenda-driven outlets and “both-sideism” within traditional, balance seeking media were addressed. One particularly innovative session involved using role-playing to explore disagreements within a family or relationship environment.

The final presentation scrutinised fact-checking and content labelling with Scottish new media outlet The Ferret and source-rating project Newsguard.

Scotland’s leading Fact-Checker Alistair Brian of The Ferret Fact Service. (Photo credit: Rachel Hamada)

The methodology of the Ferret Fact Service was discussed and its pros and cons weighed by Alistair Brian, who has been fact-checking politicians and Scottish internet tropes for two years after receiving funding from Google’s News Initiative.

Along with Brian was a representative from Newsguard, whose product recently received attention for advising users of Microsoft’s new Edge browser that the Mail Online was not a trusted news source. The content “nutrition label” approach stirred attention but its true efficacy remained in question as the browser plug-in does not yet come pre-installed and so tends to be selected by people “who probably don’t need it”.

Imperfect solutions

The main solutions put forth during the MisinfoCon event are built around a list of recommendations put forward by a European Commission report on disinformation, published last year.

In the long-term it was generally agreed that Scottish policy makers should focus on developing media literacy in schools. Adults, too, could benefit from educational projects, perhaps modelled on the News Club project trialled in Brixton late last year.

In the more immediate term it seems like a combination of existing projects, like fact-checking, may be the best way forward while the future of well-funded investigative journalism continues to look bleak.

Some contributors encouraged a public health approach to the issue of misinformation and disinformation, drawing analogies between the changing social attitudes towards smoking.

The problems posed by misinformation and disinformation is a global one, but it now seems like Scotland could be a small part of the solution.

 

 

“They are willingly putting me out of business” – Leith Recording Company closes its doors today

Watch: Alan Moffat of Leith Recording Company on why he’s packing up the studio

The Leith Recording Company has closed down its music recording studio today due to the uncertain future of its premises.

Business owner and recording engineer Alan Moffat said:

“Emotionally, it was really tough. We built this place up over two years and in two hours it’s all been decommissioned”.

The Leith Recording Company is the latest business to be effected by the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the now famous building on Stead’s Place on lower Leith Walk.

The building has been at the centre of the Save Leith Walk campaign, a community protest movement that has petitioned the City of Edinburgh Council to block the demolition plans.

Drum Property Group, the property development company that owns the building and the land behind it, have submitted an application to knock down the building in order to make way for a block of student flats, a small hotel, shops and restaurants as well as some affordable homes.

Edinburgh university are known to be the preferred clients of the student accommodation block

Leith Recording Company was set up in 2016. As well as recording musicians from around the Edinburgh area, the studio space was also used by the Leith School of Music. Moffat was also involved in running a youth development programme, where primary school aged children would get a chance to record music for the first time.

Moffat says that he asked Drum Property for a rolling, month-to-month contract so he could continue to work until a planning decision had been reached by the council, but that the developers refused such a deal.

Moffat said: “The frustration is that Drum Property don’t have planning permission to do anything at all with this building just now.

“However they’ve refused to give me a month-to-month contract. They are willingly putting me out of business.

“Frankly, I think it’s disgusting.”

Paper Review 02/10/2018

 

Today’s papers with Ailean Beaton, David Paul and Luke Barry.

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