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Friday 22 June 2018

Marchers 'stand with her'

Thousands rallied yesterday to show solidarity with the woman at the centre of the Belfast rape case, writes Alan O'Keeffe

Supporters gather outside the Department of Justice on St Stephen’s Green during the Rally for rape trial victims.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Supporters gather outside the Department of Justice on St Stephen’s Green during the Rally for rape trial victims. Photo: Tony Gavin

Alan O'Keeffe

More than 3,000 people marched through Dublin yesterday as rallies were held in four cities, including Belfast, Cork and Galway, to show solidarity with the woman in the Belfast rape case and seek changes in legal procedures involving charges of rape.

Two Ulster and Ireland rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, were found not guilty of raping the woman.

In the marathon trial that ended last Wednesday, their friend Blane McIlroy was found not guilty of exposure and Rory Harrison was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and not guilty of withholding information.

Up to 400 attended a demonstration in Belfast, 200 attended a rally in Cork and around 100 were present at the Galway event.

In Dublin, thousands marched from City Hall to the Department of Justice in St Stephen's Green. The marchers were predominantly young women with females outnumbering males by four to one. The marchers walked through the busy city streets carrying placards and chanting. At one point, when the marchers lapsed into silence, a woman opened a third-floor window overlooking Aungier Street, waved a yellow flower, and shouted: "We stand with her." The chant was immediately taken up by the passing crowd below.

Traffic was diverted outside the Department of Justice in St Stephen's Green and several speakers stood on the steps of the building to address the crowds. They called for changes in society's attitudes to women and for an end to gender inequality.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger told the crowd: "We demand that society be educated about consent and what it means. That it starts now in our schools with proper sex education with consent at its core.

"Start by properly funding the rape crisis centres - something the Irish establishment has consistently refused to do - and radically change the adversarial court process." She quoted the American writer Angela Davis: "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change - I am changing the things I cannot accept."

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said: "We need total change in our attitude and our laws and the manner in which we treat women."

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said there needs to be a restoration of funding for surveys on sexual violence in society. The last official survey was back in 2002, she said.

Roseanna Shanahan, a student at UCD, spoke of efforts being made by a group at the Dublin university to raise awareness about sexual consent among students on campus.

Marchers who spoke to the Sunday Independent during the Dublin protest spoke of a growing need to change attitudes and legal procedures so that women are not deterred from coming forward to report sexual violence.

"Women should not be reluctant nor discouraged from coming forward," said marcher Peter Homan (55) from Dublin.

Dubliner Jean Sinclair (39) said it was important to use the momentum of the protests to bring about change.

Laura McCabe (28) said she was marching in solidarity with women all over Ireland.

She said there needs to be more education and awareness around the issue of sexual consent.

Cllr Fiona Ryan told the rally in Cork that people will no longer accept slow incremental change in the search for gender equality.

And at the march in Galway City yesterday, Jessy Ni Cheallaigh of the Rosa feminist group, called for improved sex education in schools, a reversal of funding cuts at rape crisis centres, and a change in court procedures in rape trials.

Sunday Independent

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