July 20, 2021   5 mins

Ireland is the trans activists’s trump card. Whenever debate flares up about self-identification or the Gender Recognition Act or transgender rights, campaigners can say “There has never been any trouble in Ireland.” And governments believe them.

The Irish “success story” has been trotted out and swallowed down whole. Ireland was an early adopter of “self-ID”: since 2015 the state has allowed individuals to change their “gender”  — their legal sex, effectively — just because they want to. There are no background checks and no medical reports.

Let’s be clear, that is an affront to safeguarding. But that has not stopped activists claiming Ireland to be an example of “international best practice”, and framing it as a great model for Westminster and Holyrood. But while politicians may still be lapping up whatever activists tell them, recent polling suggests that the Irish public is not convinced.

It does not take a legal expert to see the dangers. If biological males can access women’s single-sex spaces including hospital wards and prisons simply by making a statutory declaration, it was only a matter of time before there was an outrage. In fact, there have been at least two in one prison.

Barbie Kardashian is a troubled teenager who was “born a male but identifies as female”, and has a history of particularly nasty physical and sexual violence towards women. Having previously torn the eyelids from a female care worker, Kardashian was jailed last year in the women’s wing of Limerick prison following threats of violence against two individuals. According to the court report, Kardashian was “very anxious she be detained in a prison facility for females, as she identifies as a female”.

Already there was a “pre-operative, pre-hormone therapy”, male-to-female transgender prisoner who had been convicted of ten counts of sexual assault and one count of cruelty against a child.

Whatever Irish politicians had been thinking when they waved through the 2015 Gender Recognition Act, there had not been any proper public debate to inform the new legislation. But that is not surprising; the law was changed swiftly and quietly, just the way the activists like it.

“Nobody spoke about the GRA,” says the Irish writer Stella O’Malley. It wasn’t even mentioned in the media: “We were all about the gay marriage referendum and the GRA just didn’t come up. I’ve always been interested in trans issues and I would have noticed if it had.”

This strategy is straight from an activists’ handbook, or to be precise the “Denton’s Document”. This guidance – officially titled, Only adults? Good practices in legal gender recognition for youth – was published two years ago. Backed by an unlikely triumvirate of Dentons (the world’s largest law firm by number of lawyers), Thomson Reuters Foundation and IGLYO – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Youth & Student Organisation – it was an instruction manual for lobbying groups who wanted to extend gender recognition to young people with or without their parents’ permission.

The tactics are detailed in full within the handbook, including the instruction to “avoid excessive press coverage and exposure.” And specific reference was made to Ireland where, “activists have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum.”

O’Malley was right: the events of 2015 had been carefully managed.

“In Ireland, Denmark and Norway, changes to the law on legal gender recognition were put through at the same time as other more popular reforms such as marriage equality legislation. This provided a veil of protection, particularly in Ireland, where marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support for.”

It’s only now, six years on from the Irish Gender Recognition Act, that the public has been consulted. Not by the government, even now, but by The Countess, an Irish campaign to restore the privacy, dignity and safety of women and children in schools, workplaces, sport, changing rooms, toilets, hospitals, prisons and refuges. Opinion polling carried out for them by Red C – found that respondents were not impressed.

Only 17% agreed with the 2015 law that allows someone to change their birth certificate as soon as they self-identify as the opposite sex. Rather more (34%) thought it should be permitted once a trans person has partially or fully transitioned through hormone treatment and/or genital surgery. But 28% felt that individuals should not be allowed to change the sex on their birth certificates at all.

Even younger people (aged 18-34) favoured no changes to birth certificates, as opposed to the laissez-faire approach that was pushed through parliament. Overall, men were more cautious than women —  perhaps because they better understand what men can be like.

Birth certificates are the last line of defence for service providers trying to maintain single-sex provision for women. If these can be changed on demand, then the safeguards become worthless. We can probably safely assume that few men would ever seek a Gender Recognition Certificate but mixed in with those suffering from gender dysphoria — a diagnosable medical condition — would be those who women need to worry about most. There’s little point of locking a door if a potential abuser can cut his own key.

As the polls show, while Irish politicians were captured by the transgender activist lobbying, the Irish public understands the dangers. When asked about transgender people who had not been through gender reassignment surgery, more people than not opposed their inclusion in changing rooms, sports, refuges and prisons. Clearly, the naïve government policy that led to the outrage in Limerick women’s prison is not supported by the electorate.

Laoise Uí Aodha de Brún, founder of The Countess said, “This is the first time the public has been given a say on gender self-identification. When the government passed the Gender Recognition Act in 2015 it did so with little thought of the effect it would have on the wider community, let alone consultation with groups that would be most affected, particularly women.”

This does not mean that The Countess and the Irish public are transphobic. Rather they are pro-science, and supportive of the rights of women to defend their own boundaries. As a transgender person myself, I know transphobia when I see it and this is not it. It is not hateful to make factual claims such as “transwomen are not female and therefore not women”, nor is it transphobic to apply safeguarding procedures appropriate to an individual’s biological sex. That is necessary to protect everyone’s welfare. Accusations of transphobia are thrown around far too easily and they deflect attention from genuine hate.

Unfortunately, though, the Irish self-identification “success story” has been misrepresented and disseminated by activists who are desperate to extend it far and wide. On this side of the Irish sea, the Westminster government has, to their credit, thrown out self-identification, despite the howls of protest from some quarters — but gender recognition is a devolved matter. North of the border, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government seems determined to make the same mistakes as the Irish one, despite the furore surrounding the debate. Scotland has already cited alignment with “international best practice” as a rationale for introducing self-identification, using Ireland as an example.

All these leaders have been hoodwinked by a narrow group of self-interested activists who have seized the agenda and are loath to let go. I’m a teacher and my pupils are taught to think critically. Some of our politicians need to learn a similar lesson. Instead of following blindly, then need to start asking themselves some hard questions. I suggest they kick off with “Who told us that self-ID was international best practice and why did we believe them?” Because this polling suggests that their electorates would like some answers.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.