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Irish Tour Day 2 – From Teenagers to Tipperary

Updated: May 9

Today was an early start, and it was a school day!  I arrived at Portlaoise’s Mountmellick Community School as the students’ day began, ready to deliver an hour long session to a year group of 16 – 18 year olds.  The school already has a positive and effective partnership with Laois Domestic Abuse Service. Their young people’s worker Roisin delivers the DAY Programme with some of the older year groups.  The DAY Programme is the train-the-trainer course I wrote for young people back in 2009 that we still deliver training for now.  It was great to hear from Roisin and Mountmellick about how positively the DAY Programme materials work with students.

 

Ruth, Laois' Child and Youth Development Worker, met me at the school, armed with a rather large box of sweets to hopefully keep the students engaged as I, an aging and somewhat decrepit, elderly Millenial sought to help them understand abusive behaviour and perhaps identify it in theirs or their friends' relationships.


Ruth, Roisin, me and some Mountmellick students
Students discussing during my presentation

The students and their teachers were really great.  They listened, and when invited to discuss what abuse was and why someone would be abusive, they were fully engaged.  On introducing a music quiz with various songs which promote abusive behaviour, some students were pretty appalled at the existence of lyrics like, “I treat the fanny like a speedball, pummel the clit. I great the fanny like a punchbag, roughin' it up. She let me stick in her ringer, yeah, I doubled it up." (For those desperate to get their ears around such misogyny, the song is “Just How You Like It” by K.A.D and Kak Hatt). Lewis Capaldi’s song “Forget Me” song was also in the quiz, and while much less sexually explicit, creepily has Capaldi crooning about how he would rather his ex was tormented by remembering him, rather than her finding happiness and forgetting him.

 

Leaving the wonderful Roisin and Ruth at Mountmellick as they began a second hour of workshops with the students, I drove some winding roads to the lovely Midlands Park Hotel in Laois, where I was greeted by the fantastic Marna Carroll and the rest of the Laois Domestic Abuse Service team.  It is surreal to meet in person women that I’ve spent five days online with, when they participated in Own My Life training.  This Irish trip is my first chance to do this since we started rolling out the training in 2020, and so it is a very precious time. 

Me, Mary and Marna

The Midlands Park event was organised by Laois Domestic Abuse Services, with seventy or eighty individuals from local organisations including the Guards (Irish Police), social workers, support agencies and others.  Safe Ireland's CEO Mary McDermott and I were the two speakers for the event, with Marna kindly introducing us both. 

 

Mary spoke first. After initially mapping the landscape around abuse, she was keen to ensure attendees understood that responses to domestic abuse in the area must be much more than simply refuge provision.  She explained that political will in Ireland to respond to domestic abuse has been significantly propelled forward after public awareness of domestic abuse rose during the COVID lockdowns and since the EU began requiring member countries to outwork the Istanbul Convention.  Part of this includes ensuring refuge provision for women, and any children, fleeing an abuser.  As a result the Irish government have found significant funding for refuges to be built.

 

This is similar to what took place in the UK in the early noughties.  Brilliant and committed feminist collectives worked ridiculously hard to successfully mobilise political will to resource responses to domestic abuse, and suddenly there was government funding available to fund domestic abuse organisations.

 

Initially, Irish Government funding will be provided to organisations deeply rooted within their local communities, who were established in the 1970/80s and are run by brilliant women with decades of experience. Similarly, in the early noughties, UK government funding benefitted the organisations and collectives within the women’s movement who had years of expertise in supporting women.  However, two decades later this is no longer the case.

 

Mary McDermott was very clear in her presentation that refuge alone is not a solution to domestic abuse.  Without meaningful support, move-on accommodation, support for children, and a wider community working to become a safe place for women and their children, refuges will simply be “cul-de-sacs” that women get stuck in.

 

My presentation focussed on how we must all avoid colluding with abusers, including getting slightly enraged at the idea that a man ever “babysits” his own children (it’s called parenting).  I achieved my (not very difficult) ongoing life goal to be the first person in the room to mention the word “clitoris”, including waving one of our charity’s vulva teatowels to the gathering (why yes, you can purchase them HERE). 

 

Next was a panel discussion.  A question was asked about what changed in the UK for the women’s movement to no longer be the recipient of Government funding for domestic abuse support. Partly it is that women’s knowledge and expertise is undervalued and ignored. When there was no funding, it was absolutely fine for the women’s movement to do the work as there was no power, status or money in it.  When the funding came in, women’s knowledge became sidelined in favour of KPIs set by external budgeteers.  The budgeteers needed to ensure they were getting value for money and so contracts had to be bid for. The power, status and money on offer led other organisations (without the knowledge or expertise of the women’s sector) to suddenly gain interest in running domestic abuse services.


This funding turned a women’s movement into a "domestic abuse sector", with communities of women now “service providers”.  Every three years, their service provision contract is up for renewal and another organisation may come along and offer a similar service for a cheaper price.  The priceless knowledge and expertise that sits behind the women’s movement became optional.  The contract that was initially given to the community of women who have been expertly caring for women and children since the 1970s given to another organisation who can do the job cheaper. I urged the gathering to hold tightly their precious women’s organisations, and resist efforts to turn them into “service providers”.


The Laois Domestic Abuse Service team with me and Mary McDermott

The event finished with much clapping and an opportunity to chat with paricipants, and then a delicious meal with the Laois team, after which I drove an hour south to Tipperary (it was not a long way)[i], to meet with the wonderful Ascend team, which is part of North Tipperary Development Company.


With the Ascend team

With Ascend, we had a lovely intimate gathering with some local organisations who were interested to know more about Own My Life.  I explained how Own My Life was developed and how the course works.  It was also joyous to hear from Ascend worker Karen Ryan about how Own My Life is working for their organisation, and also about her delivery of the DAY Programme in schools with young people. She shared that the young people love it so much, particularly the way it utilises chart music.  As I walked back to my car with Ascend team member, Mary Callanan, she said that as I’d arrived and stepped out of the car, she had noticed a woman across the road who had previously attended the Own My Life course, and said how well she is now doing.  As I drove away, my heart felt a little fuller.


 

My evening was then spent having a delicious meal with Madeleine Mc Aleer from Haven Horizons.  After spending years pioneering work to change women’s lives Madeleine now runs accredited training for those working to support women subjected to domestic abuse.  I enjoyed a very delicious apple crumble as we finished putting the world to rights,[ii] then waved Madeliene off before settling down ready for what tomorrow will bring.

 

 

 

 


[i] This is my attempt at being hilarious.

[ii] Incidentally, I have learned that Irish crumble is in a pie base, that Irish sticky toffee pudding NEVER has dates in and that Irish swimming pools require compulsory swimming cap wearing.  







All the blogs from my Irish Tour:

 

·      Day 0 (Sunday) - Travel Travails

·      Day 1 (Monday) - Brilliant Women and My Trusty Trolley

·      Day 2 (Tuesday) - From Teenagers to Tipperary

·      Day 3 (Wednesday) - And My Heart Got Fuller

·      Day 4 (Thursday) - Women Are Not "Hard To Reach"

·      Day 5 (Friday) - Women Are Badass

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