A remarkable piece of scholarship from Ruth Cleary from 2002 can be found here, with selected excerpts below.


Domestic violence is a complex issue that has been the focus of much research and debate since it became a public and political issue in the 1970s. Since then, domestic violence has been synonymous with women in the sense that women are perceived to be the main victims. Feminist ideology interposes a model for understanding the root cause of this violence. It focuses on the concept of patriarchy as the underlying cause of men’s violence towards women.

This view has dominated research and policy to such a degree that research that did not fit this model was largely ignored or dismissed to the detriment of the analysis. Through an examination of international and national evidence, this thesis asserts that there are other forms of domestic violence and other victims to be considered, namely mutual violence and male victims. The limitations of the feminist paradigm are exposed through a critique of the Domestic Violence Act, 1996.

This is an example of a one-sided analysis of domestic violence leading to flawed policy that discriminates against a section of society. The Act has come under increasing scrutiny, and commentators have suggested that it has been at variance with the rights and civil liberties of citizens, and that it is repugnant to the Constitution. This thesis is timely as challenges begin to be mounted to test the constitutionality of the Act.


Challenging the Feminist Analysis

The feminist ideology, "concentrates on domestic violence as integral to assigned gender roles wherein women become the main victims of abuse by their male partners" (European Women’s Lobby, 1999:9). It would seem that societal attitudes to violence are so clear on these assigned gender roles in heterosexual relationships that it is hard to accept that women are also beating other women. "That domestic violence is not some fatality inscribed in the male-female relationship is apparent if we look at the different family forms which have generated violence" (Segal, 1990:262). The recognition of lesbian-battering in the US has meant that women’s violence inrelationships is slowly coming into the public arena, so then why is it so inconceivable that women can also be violent towards men on a large-scale in domestic relationships?

Emerging evidence would suggest that if there were an acknowledgement of women’s violence to any significant degree by feminist theorists, then the whole basis on which feminist ideology stands, that is the power of men over women, would no longer hold true.

The false universalism of feminist theory that claims that men have all the power in society is questioned in the following anecdote which describes that when a man was asked who makes the decisions in his family, he replied that his wife makes all the little decisions and she lets him make all the big decisions.Pressed to clarify, he explained,

My wife decides what neighbourhood we live in, what schools are best for the children, how to budget our money, where we should go on a vacation and things like that. But I decide the big issues, like whether we should trust the Russians, whether the government is doing a good job and what we should do about the economy (Rohr, 1996:42).

This story illustrates the complexity involved in the male/female power structure.


The Women’s Movement in Ireland

Domestic violence in Ireland was rediscovered by the Women’s Movement in the 1970s. Some commentators attribute this to developments taking place internationally.

The civil rights movement in the USA, anti-Vietnam protest, student rebellion in America and Europe, the strengthening of radical protest generally in the West during the 1960s were influential in generating a climate of change and protest in Ireland (Smyth, 1993:246-247).

The birth of the refuge movement abroad did not go unnoticed in Ireland. The refuge movement began in Chiswick, outside London, where Erin Pizzey opened the first shelter for battered women in 1972. "Sometime later Ms Pizzey requested that a refuge be opened in Ireland, as numbers of Irish victims were travelling to England to avail of shelter there" (Casey, 1987:7). In response to her appeal, the first Irish refug was opened in Dublin in 1974.

Many groups emerged at this time and these included the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM), which was established in 1970 and Irishwomen United (IWU), which was formed in 1974. These groups sought to raise women’s consciousness about the role of women and adopted new ways of organising. They were involved in direct action tactics such as illegally bringing back condoms through customs from Belfast (kelleherassociates, Nov. 2001:12). These organisations gave rise to a new questioning on previously taboo issues with the result that, "radical feminism of the 1970s spawned a proliferation of self-help groups and organisations, dealing with health, pornography and male violence" (kelleherassociates, Nov. 2001:12).

By far the most significant development in Ireland at this time was the setting up of the Council for the Status of Women (CSW) in 1972 (known today as the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI)).

The Council for the Status of Women increased its base of support throughout the 1970’s, a major indicator of social movement advance. From the outset the Council worked closely with the State, employed a hierarchical structure, had several affiliate members and was a mass based, umbrella social movement organisation (Connolly, 1997: 555).

It is important for this thesis to review the Council’s origins and strategy, in order to comprehend the circumstances that gave rise to feminist ideology dominating public policy in the area of domestic violence in Ireland.

In order to trace the origin of the Council, we must examine the role of The United Nations (UN), which had been laying down the blueprint for these Councils in a series of World Conferences, culminating with Mexico City 1975. Women’s groups, in response to a UN Directive which encouraged all non-governmental women’s organisations to lobby their respective governments to set up a National Commission on the Status of Women (Connolly, 1997: 555).

In 1970 the Commission on the Status of Women was set up by the Irish government. Its terms of reference were to examine and report on the status of women in Ireland and to make recommendations on the steps necessary to ensure the participation of women on equal terms with men in the political, social, cultural and economic life of the country. By 1972 it had issued its recommendations in a report to the Minister of Finance.

Following the report on the Status of Women in 1972, an ad hoc committee of ten women’s organisations formed itself into a council and asked other organisations interested in raising the status of women to become affiliated with a common objective of ensuring the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission’s Reports. The new organisation called the Council for the Status of Women now acts as an umbrella organisation for the many women’s groups. The organisation received almost its entire funds from the state through the office of the Minister for State for Women’s Affairs in order to assist its activities (Department of the Taoiseach, 1987:18).

By 1987 the government was required to report back to the United Nations. The report was prepared by the Department of the Taoiseach and was a statement of progress over the previous fifteen years. What it stated was very revealing. The activities of the Council, it said, were to liaise between government departments and women’s organisations; to press for the implementation of the Report of the Commission; to consider any legislative proposals of concern to women and to examine and contest cases of discrimination against women (Department of the Taoiseach, 1987). What the report reveals is that through the activities of the Council, women’s groups have been placed at the very heart of government, with a mandate to press for the implementation of their agenda by targeting legislation. The downstream effect of this will be seen in Chapter 4.

In the report there was also a detailed list of "ongoing activities" of the Council. These are now listed, item by item, to indicate the comprehensive nature of what was being put in place.

1. Provides an information service for women throughout the country,
2. Monitors legislation, particularly affecting women
3. Submits proposals for amendments and conducts political lobbying on behalf of women.
4. Highlights women’s issues in the media,
5. Publishes quarterly Newsletter
6. Organises courses for women in assertiveness training and sexuality,
7. Provides meeting facilities for women’s groups
8. Organises and assists in the organisation of special conferences relating to women’s issues.
9. Funds and facilitates the National Women’s Talent Bank to ensure the
participation of women at policy making level
10. Represents women at home and abroad through International contacts
11. Gives advice and financial help through the European Community Funds to member organisations who wish to organise conferences, seminars etc. on subjects relating to the E.C.
12. Accesses the consultative body to the Curriculum and Examination Board of the Department of Education (Department of the Taoiseach, 1987:18).

An analysis of the above indicates that the UN’s plan was to form a Council that would draw together all women’s groups under one leadership and one voice. The Council would have access to funds upon which the women’s groups depended. Control of funds meant control of the agenda, and the Council could decide which groups should be granted membership.

Through a programme of International Conferences and contacts, through training and seminars, women would be empowered, instructed, and leaders would be selected to go forward for election and to influence policy. Through the various constituent groups, other women could be recruited and trained. By targeting the media, promoting the interagency work of feminist based organisations, producing extensive reports on women’s rights issues, and vociferous campaigns, pressure could be exerted on legislators to deliver not just a policy to deal with violence, but a wider international programme of change.

Some commentators, who might have considered themselves mainstream at that point, were able to spot the seismic shift that was about to take place in Irish society. Soon society would be engulfed by a demand for, ’legislative and attitudinal change’ in which the Council for the Status of Women, part of the powerful and extensively institutionalised international women’s movement in Ireland - is active and vocal.

Faced with the feminists’ unremitting demand for "equality" and with the relentless highlighting of injustices that accompanies it, how do we keep our balance? Do the demands expressed through the CSW in pursuit of this "equality" represent those of the majority of Irishwomen? A glance at the Council’s aims and structures suggests that it was established and funded not so much to represent our views but more as an agent for changing our way of life (Talpa, 1992).

The Council’s work in lobbying for radical change was reinforced through its organisational structure. Each affiliated organisation, be it the (then) 23,000 strong Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) or the various separately affiliated Rape Crisis Centres, was allotted one vote (Talpa, 1992). "The Council for the Status of Women operated out of the Taoiseach’s office, its access to power was guaranteed and its representative status totally skewed to sideline the mainstream and to advance a particular ahistorical alien agenda" (Holmes, 2002:1). It was clear that there was very little room in the Council for groups with more conservative ideas.

It seems difficult to comprehend that the UN should be advancing a radical agenda within nation states such as Ireland. The fact, that the radical feminist agenda and that of the UN bureaucracy are almost synonymous, is now widely understood and has been commented on by one US observer as follows:

These (UN) committees are pushing an agenda that counters traditional moral and social norms regarding the family, marriage, motherhood and religion. The advice that these agents of the UN give individual signatories often violates the language of the UN’s own founding documents and undermines a nations sovereign right to determine its own domestic policy. The policies and laws they push also promote behavior that ultimately will cause greater harm to women and children, increasing family breakdown and the many problems associated with it (Fagan, 2002).

The success of UN strategy and its acceptance at the very highest level within Irish institutions may be gauged by the following remark made by a third-level educator, describing the Irish women’s movement, "We have the best organised institutional movement in Europe; it constitutes a state within a state, and the state is convulsed with us inside it" (Jackson, cited in Holmes, 1999:4).

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