An interference with democratic process: the right to vote in Ireland

On 12th May 2014, I attended a conference on women in the media, during which one of the speakers, Katie Orenstein, posed a powerful question:

What is the cost to society if so many voices and minds are missing? Image: The OpEd Project-EDUlibs

What is the cost to society if so many voices and minds are missing?
Source: The OpEd Project/EDUlibs

This question is relevant including and beyond issues of sexism and exclusion of women from positions of power and influence. Yesterday, it emerged (not for the first time), that election canvassers are prohibited from canvassing at direct provision centres in Ireland.

There are approximately 4,360 asylum seekers and survivors of human trafficking residing in direct provision accommodation in Ireland. Every adult among them has the right to vote in local elections.

If candidates for political election are impeded in canvassing the views of some of their constituents, then what becomes of those views? And how can the eventually elected politicians properly represent members of society in their constituencies?



Working out in war zones: fitness app reveals military sites

Where privacy and (in)security collide.


If you’ve ever used an app to record your walking, running or cycling, you’ll know how handy they can be. You may even have seen friends sharing their progress with automatic updates published on their social media accounts. Personally, I prefer to keep my details private, and never publish them – in-app, or beyond.


Last night (27 January 2018), twitter came alive with the news that fitness app, Strava, had released a global heat map of user activity – including sites in conflict zones, areas of military operations, and other sensitive locations.

Researchers, analysts and others had a – somewhat alarming – field day.

Nathan Ruser of IUC Analysts appears to have been first off the mark:

Think-tanker and Syria researcher, Tobias Schneider, picked up on Ruser’s theme:

Journalist, John Beck, also noticed:

As well as Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat:

His response to a query provides a very succinct explanation, for those unsure of the implications of Strava’s release of this mapped information:

Dan Murphy also summed it up, thusly:

And Joshua Forman of MIT gave his summary:

The news, naturally, continued to quickly spread. Some tweets from someone interested in tracking government-supplied arms in MENA:

Here’s journalist Adam Rawnsley of the Daily Beast, also looking further afield, including the South China Sea, Iran and Somalia – and Area 51, naturally:

Adam shared this link to a Foreign Policy piece by Jeffrey Lewis, to provide “an idea of what a reasonably competent adversary could do if they pwned Strava”:

Adam also took a peek at Strava data elsewhere in the US:

He wasn’t the only one – the aforementioned Jeffrey Lewis tweeted:

Kate Oh, of the ACLU, explained Jeffrey’s finding:

Which he also later elaborated:

Across the pond, there was also this find by Phil Chamberlain, Head of the School of Film and Journalism at UWE Bristol and author of Drones and Journalism:

You can almost make out the early modern design of the original fortress defences, intended to deflect cannon shots.

But it’s not all about military installations. The cause of this flurry of activity on twitter and these finds originates with personal data.

Lawyer, Tiffany C. Li, of The Information Society Project at Yale Law School wrote in relation to the privacy aspects:

Here in Ireland, Pat Walshe recalls GDPR requirements and a previous overview of Strava’s data protection compliance:

All of the data used to populate Strava’s heat map derives ultimately from personal data – those people using the app, logged in with their personal details while the app gobbles up and processes data relating to everything they do while using it.

To generate the map, Strava may strive to ‘anonymise’ the data. This may be successful (I stress: may be) in a large and busy metropolis such as New York. However this anonymity breaks down in sparsely populated areas.

In low population areas, it may become easy to identify individual activites – if not the individuals themselves. If this is the case, the data are no longer anonymised: they have become personal data. And, as this information involves location data, this may also amount to sensitive personal data, according to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). (A guidance note from Ireland’s ODPC can be read here.)

Consider, for instance, the example found by one tweeter last night. This (which I am not linking to here) was of a remote compound in a conflict zone which has seen multiple mass atrocities over recent years.

From its appearance, there is a possibility that it is a UN compound. On the Strava heat map overlaid on the site, we can see multiple, overlapping perimeter routes and tracks.

However, we can also see where the individual has kept their device on when they re-entered the compound, and they can be traced through the compound into individual buildings – including their destination building. This may be assumed to be either washing facilities, accommodation, office or (given the small size of the compound) all three.

Let’s say, if I had been based locally and was watching this individual from afar, and wished to know where to access their private rooms, now I know.

Oh yes, by the way: today is 28 January. Happy Data Protection Day!

A letter to Claire Byrne Live

I emailed the Claire Byrne Live programme this evening. They cannot say they did not know.

* * *

Date: 9 January 2017 at 20:22
Subject: URGENT: Claire Byrne Live 09/01/2017

Dear all,

I understand that tonight’s Claire Byrne Live (Monday, 9th January 2017) is to include Nicholas Pell among the speakers on the programme. Presumably, this will relate to a discussion on far-right extremism or similar.

I am urgently calling on the Claire Byrne Live team not to run with this item. As broadcasters, you have an ethical, moral and legal duty not to engage in such dangerous acts.

The right to freedom of expression is not absolute. It is limited. These restrictions are found in international treaties, such as the ICCPR and ECHR, and were included as a direct response to the events which led to the violent atrocities of the Second World War. Per ICCPR Article 19:

The exercise of the rights provided for in […] this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.


These principles inform the Prohibition on Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989, as well as the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016. And they are found in the Broadcasting Act 2009, Section 39(1)(d):

39.— (1) Every broadcaster shall ensure that—

(d) anything which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence, or as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State, is not broadcast by the broadcaster


Mr Pell is an avowed far-right extremist. This is publicly known, and he does not deny it. These are precisely the circumstances envisaged by the drafters of the exemptions to freedom of expression in the aftermath of World War II.

As Franz Frison, an Irish survivor of Holocaust, wrote in a letter to The Irish Times on 12 December 1988:

Having experienced fascism in the flesh […] If fascism could be defeated in debate, I assure you that it would never have happened, neither in Germany, nor in Italy, nor anywhere else. Those who recognised its threat at the time and tried to stop it were, I assume, also called “a mob”. Regrettably, too many “fair-minded people” didn’t try to stop it, and, as I witnessed myself during the war, accommodated themselves with it when it took over.


People who witnessed fascism at its height are dying out, but the ideology is still there, and its apologists are working hard at a comeback. Past experience should teach us that fascism must be stopped before it takes hold again of too many minds, and becomes useful once again to some powerful interests […].


I campaigned for marriage equality in 2015. Though the outcome was that which we sought, our volunteers experienced sneers, insults, and physicial assaults – some so severe that the Gardaí investigated. I recall that during Germany’s Weimar Republic, a nascent movement for decriminalisation of homosexuality had begun. Just a few years later, these people were being sent to their deaths in concentration camps by the Nazis.

This is not a game. You who are now reading this email may not realise the real danger of proceeding with tonight’s programme and this item, including Mr Pell. However, there are many amongst your colleagues and viewers who do.

I urge you to accede to my request.

Yours sincerely,

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: Ireland’s marriage referendum


Yesterday, the day after Leo Varadkar’s coming out, the first shots of Ireland’s marriage referendum campaign were fired.

What the day’s discussions across national radio and television revealed – to me, at least – is that the Yes campaign is wholly unprepared and has been outmanoeuvred at the outset.

Although there are four months of this to go, the initial skirmish has undeniably been won by the No advocates.

The debates yesterday demonstrated that the No side has, as in other debates in the past, mastered the three key elements needed for success:

  • Political opportunity
  • Framing
  • Mobilisation

    Already, the Yes advocates are on the back foot. This seemed apparent to me in the morning, listening to Newstalk FM.

    By midnight, it was absolutely beyond doubt, in my view, that Monday, 19th January 2015 saw a resounding victory for the No campaign – before the campaign has even begun.

    Here’s how I think they achieved that.


    On “the equal right to life of the mother”


    The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

    Above, Article 40.3.3° of Bunreacht na hÉireann,
    as inserted in 1983 by the 8th amendment to the Constitution.


    Today, a case comes before the High Court of Ireland to decide whether a 16-week pregnant woman who has died must remain on artificial life support interventions to vindicate the Constitutional right of the foetus.

    In this case, “the right to life of the unborn” applies to a foetus that is not viable outside of the womb; while “the equal right to life of the mother” applies to a deceased woman.

    Is it possible here to respect, defend and vindicate (“as far as practicable”) the right to life of a foetus, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, where the mother has already died?

    What is being equated in these circumstances?

    What is the right to life of the deceased?

    How does a deceased person fit into the equation presented by Article 40.3.3°?

    This is a dreadful and horrific case. Whether any of these questions will arise in court today remains to be seen.


    The US Senate’s CIA report and Ireland


    Earlier tonight, on the eve of International Human Rights Day, the United States Senate report on the use of torture by the CIA (PDF) was finally made public.

    Compiled by members of the Democratic party on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the report details the scale and range of techniques used during the detention and interrogation of individuals in the custody of the CIA, post-2001. According to the Committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, these techniques amounted to torture. As noted by Channel 4 News this evening, many of the techniques detailed in the report were not previously publicly known.

    Where does Ireland feature?

    Where is Ireland situated in the context of these latest revelations?


    The problem with Clare Daly’s proposal on bodily integrity


    I saw this on Twitter this morning:


    Clare Daly TD proposal tweet 400x313


    The proposal by Clare Daly TD is to insert the following into Article 40 of the Constitution, replacing the existing Article 40.3.3°:

    The state acknowledges right of all citizens to personal autonomy and bodily integrity.

    Presumably the intention here is to remove the restrictions around abortion in Ireland, which many have argued have led to abortion effectively being exported abroad, most especially to England.

    This is the existing text of Article 40.3.3°, which was insterted following a referendum in 1983:

    The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

    One of the problems with Daly’s proposal is that it is exclusive, affecting only “citizens.”

    This wording creates a category of individuals in the state whose right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity is recognised – citizens of Ireland – and a category of individuals whose right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity is not recognised – those who are not citizens of Ireland.

    One obvious consequence of this approach is that a situation such as the case of Miss Y from earlier this year remains unaddressed.

    Thus, a fundamental right that is made contingent on citizenship status is no right at all.


    The “right to travel” has always been denied to asylum seeking women


    Ever since my time working with refugees in Ireland (from 2007 until 2011), I have been troubled by the effective blanket bar on allowing asylum seekers to leave the State.

    This emanates from Section 9(4) of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended):

    Leave to enter or remain in State.

    Section 9(4) An applicant shall not—

    (a) leave or attempt to leave the State without the consent of the Minister […]

    Irish citizens are free to exit Ireland’s borders and, being citizens of a member state of the EU, have the freedom to travel to over 28 European countries without the need to apply for a visa application and a grant of permission from immigration officers to cross borders.

    Most other people residing in Ireland with an officially recognised immigration status have the freedom to exit Ireland in a similar way. In practice these are generally citizens from countries outside of the EU. Whether from Canada or Cameroon, those seeking to travel within the EU, therefore, will need to apply for permission to enter another EU state.

    Asylum seekers are in a class of their own. They must seek the permission of the Justice Minister of the day if they wish to leave the territory of the state. (They must also, if the consent of the Minister has been obtained, seek permission from the other state to enter.)

    Asylum seekers in Ireland are seeking international protection from this state. While the rationale behind requiring such a person to remain within this jurisdiction throughout the duration of their application is understandable, this blanket rule is inherently problematic.

    During the almost five years of my work with refugees I encountered significant numbers of women who claimed to have been subjected to various forms of violence and torture, including sexual violence. Some were subjected to trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Some came from conflict zones, where the systematic use of sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. Some had become pregnant as a result of rape. Some had been subjected to intimate partner violence before or after arriving in Ireland. Some were children under the age of 18, including separated children in the care of the HSE.

    None of them could exercise their right to travel, if they so wished and had the resources to do so, without the consent of the Minister for Justice.

    This remains the case today.


    Broadcast coverage of Ireland Women’s rugby


    On Saturday, confirmation of Ireland’s qualification to the semi-final round of the IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup was followed by this tweet from RTÉ’s 2FM:


    While increased coverage in Irish media of women’s sport is welcome, is it really satisfactory for the state broadcaster to announce radio-only coverage half-way through a major international tournament?

    Could we even imagine a world where this would be the kind of coverage given to the senior men’s rugby team?


    I’ll try to respond to Damien in this post, since 140 characters isn’t nearly enough.

    To give credit where it is due: RTÉ News’ sport bulletins have improved over the couple of last years – to go so far as leading with reports on the women’s squad, even before the recent New Zealand win; and there has been consistent coverage and reporting of the Irish women’s rugby squad’s achievements from the likes of Damien O’Meara and Game On 2FM, RTÉ’s Michael Corcoran, Mary White of The Irish Examiner, Gavin Cummiskey of The Irish Times, Dan Sheridan and Billy Strickland of Inpho, the photojournalists of Sportsfile, and precious few other Irish journalists.

    Indeed, reporters are more often than not present at fixtures and events.

    The question is whether or not Irish eyes can fix on moving images of women on a playing pitch: through the medium of television. Will a report or footage end up on the cutting floor; and if a piece is published or broadcast, just what treatment will it get?

    We can only judge on what has gone before, so let’s work back from this latest tournament.


    Getting it first, but not getting it right: An example of journalistic failure?

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    Diario El Universo. Image: © Alfredo Molina/Creative Commons 3.0
    Diario El Universo. Image: © Alfredo Molina/Creative Commons 3.0.
    Image: © Alfredo Molina/Creative Commons 3.0


    This morning, An Garda Síochána in Dublin closed of part of a city centre thoroughfare due to a major incident.

    The incident, which had been unfolding from around mid-morning and which has reportedly now been resolved successfully, attracted significant attention among members of the public using Twitter. Some of these people posted written comments; some of these people posted images.

    Not long afterwards, well-known Irish journalists, blogs, publications and broadcasters were on the story. They, too, posted comments and images of the incident on social media, as well as on their own websites.

    Shortly after that, several members of the public (including me) posted comments, as well as replies, on Twitter to draw attention to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting on such incidents.

    To their credit, some individuals and blogs removed their tweets and content from their websites. To their shame, the established media organisations did not; instead, they continued to update their social media accounts and online reports with live updates, photos, videos, embedded tweets, and so on. (To date, many of these remain available to view.)

    Image: Screengrab: @Oireachtas_RX (Oireachtas Retort) - 11:46 AM, 1st July 2014

    Image: Screengrab: @Oireachtas_RX (Oireachtas Retort) – 11:46 AM, 1st July 2014


    The problems with the reporting on today’s incident