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Ireland: ROSA faces court & fines for demonstrating against gender violence

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

In the first known charge of its kind under covid health regulations, members of ROSA, Socialist Feminist Movement, have been fined and face prosecution over safe, outdoor protests highlighting gender violence during the pandemic. A recent report found Gardai failed to respond to thousands of domestic violence 999 calls — yet advocates and activists are being taken to court.

A Limerick woman is the first to face court for being an “organiser” of a small socially distant standout calling for emergency action against rising levels of violence against women, known as the ‘shadow pandemic.’

Aislinn O’Keeffe, a Limerick ROSA member, is being charged with being an “Event Organiser” on Thomas St. The ‘Event’ was in fact a stationary protest involving 10 people, mainly women, following the murder of Sarah Everard, which highlighted the restrictions women must self impose to avoid violence and the stark increases in the incidence of gender based violence worldwide. The standout was the smallest of five called by ROSA in a number of cities.

Aislinn O’Keeffe explained : “ROSA fully supports public health measures — but the shocking rise in violence against women is in itself a public health emergency. We felt it imperative that this ongoing threat to women’s health and safety be highlighted. Protesting was a decision not taken lightly but which reflected the urgency of this situation. The protest was totally safe, masked, outdoors, with distancing and on a large street.

“Since the ROSA protests at least three women on this island have been victims of femicide. During the pandemic, gender violence soared worldwide and in Ireland calls to Gardai increased by 25% in one quarter and to Women’s Aid by 43% . It was already extremely difficult for women to leave abusive relationships due to lack of supports and a housing crisis, but they had no escape in lockdown.

“Services nationally are at breaking point. Refuges such as ADAPT in Limerick are at full capacity and must fundraise to maintain services. We protested that day for the 19 women SAFE Ireland says sought help for the first time, for the seven women turned away from refuges that day. What about their safety in the pandemic?

“This system perpetuates misogyny, a macho culture, victim blaming and violence. We need systemic change, but even with covid, we must be able to demand gender violence is made a political priority with education throughout society, proper resourcing for rape crisis centres and refuges and a radical overhaul of the legal system which has multiple barriers to pursuing abusers.”

Aislinn O’Keeffe outlined the measures taken for a safe protest in Limerick on March 18th.

“The Limerick stand-out was well planned for safety: Thomas Street is a pedestrianised spacious street chosen to allow for maximum social distancing. On the day, those of us who chose to protest arrived 30 minutes in advance to hang signs advising attendees to socially distance. Two metre spaces were marked on the ground to illustrate where people could safely stand; face masks, hand sanitiser and alcohol wipes were distributed. All participants were required to wear facial coverings. A steward was nominated to ensure this was all adhered to.”

Gardai were present nearby and indicated no issue with the protest. They requested my name, then walked away. Some media were also present and took photos and interviewed some of the women attending. Only as we were ready to start did Gardai return and issue a warning about a non essential event. This was a very contradictory turn of events. Three people spoke briefly and the entire standout lasted no more than 30 minutes.”

Speaking on behalf of ROSA, former TD Ruth Coppinger, said it was incredible that of all the gatherings that caused public outrage during covid, the state is choosing to use the Public Health Act to prosecute ROSA for highlighting a public health and safety issue for women.

“No prosecutions were taken by Gardai under this law for Golfgate, an indoor event attended by the well-connected in society. Nor was any taken against far right covid deniers who marched without any health precautions. Dublin footballers who gathered for training have also been told there’ll be no prosecutions. Instead, the state is prosecuting women and young people who took part in stationary and socially distant standouts that were fully Covid19 compliant and on an essential issue of the huge spike in gender based violence.

“When this legislation was introduced, it would clearly have been seen as designed to target dangerous, indoor or crowded events where public health was being flagrantly ignored, not a symbolic standout on gender violence. .

“Two young people are also being fined for attending the standout at the Spire in Dublin under the non essential travel grounds. Ironically, they were two young men acting as covid safety stewards on the day. No other ‘event organiser’ charges have thus far been received for the larger protests in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

“ROSA will mount a full challenge to these prosecutions. We will seek support, including financially, from the public. We call on the state to withdraw these charges. We also want answers from the political establishment as to why legislation designed to protect public health is being completely misapplied when clearly no threat to public health existed.

“This state has an appalling record for mistreatment and neglect of women. We’ve seen this with the mother and baby homes debacle. Women are paying the biggest price for covid — fighting the pandemic on the frontlines; three times more likely to lose jobs; and experiencing a surge in violence. Why then are Gardai choosing to prosecute women activists?

“The government is maintaining this legislation til November. There has to be a constitutional right to protest, as long as it’s done safely. Are we stay hidden and silent on important issues throughout the pandemic?”

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