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A senior Irish politician who helped push through the country’s gender self-identification law has admitted there are "glaring gaps" in the policy as feminist activists warned that Scotland is making the "same mistakes".
Regina Doherty, the leader of the Irish senate, backed the SNP plan to introduce a similar scheme for changing legal sex in Scotland, but under questioning from MSPs, acknowledged there were "omissions" within the Irish system which she had not previously considered.
She said there was no system in place for ensuring people who officially changed their gender in Ireland were still called for potentially life-saving medical checks, such as breast screening or prostate exams, and revealed she was “embarrassed” by deficiencies in data collection.
Senator Doherty also told a hearing of Holyrood’s equalities committee that Ireland had “probably about nine genders”, defended a push to rewrite legislation to refer to “pregnant people”, and insisted people other than women “can absolutely get pregnant”.
Asked how Ireland had ensured people who formally changed their sex on health records were still called for medical checks required because of their natal sex, she claimed the issue had never been raised.
“Embarrassingly, none of these things were identified around the time of the enactment of the legislation,” she said. “We couldn’t tell you how many pregnant people [as opposed to women] there could be in Ireland because we don’t know how many trans women there are, trans men there are, how many non-binary people. We haven’t collected that data.
“To my mind it’s a glaring gap in policy formation because you’re enacting a policy to be all-encompassing without knowing how many people you’re enacting the policy for.
“We have no knowledge for our public services, such as prostate check, breast check, cervical check, none of those would include any of our new gender-registered people. That’s a glaring omission.”
She urged MSPs: “So learn by our mistakes. I’m not even sure we realised it is a mistake until you told me here today, which is a poor show.”
Feminist campaigners in Ireland said that they were watching events in Scotland “with a sense of dread” and warned that a process that led to Ireland’s flawed law being passed was being repeated.
Ireland brought in a model of gender self-identification in 2015, with Senator Doherty admitting the changes “went under the radar” with little public debate or opposition.
Trans rights activists in Scotland have repeatedly cited Ireland as an example of a system Scotland should follow and claim that changes there have led to no problems.
However, discussing access to female jails, Senator Doherty admitted that “a number of prisoners” had gained access to a women’s jail in Limerick after taking advantage of the Irish system only after they had been charged with a crime.
She acknowledged there was a “real suspicion” that the prisoners had only changed their gender to get into a women’s jail and said it would be left to prison wardens to ensure other biologically female inmates would be kept safe.
However, she insisted it was “fanciful” that women could be put at risk by the proposed changes in Scotland.
Feminist campaigners have repeatedly warned that SNP plans, which would remove any checks before a person changes legal sex, are open to abuse and pose a risk to women’s safety and rights.
Laoise de Brun, founder of The Countess campaign group in Ireland, said the rights of women there had been “eroded overnight” and that a biological male who had threatened to kill his own mother was among the prisoners in a female jail.
“Here in Ireland we are watching events unfold in Scotland with a sense of dread,” she said.
“We recognise all too well the unfortunate model of only hearing from one stakeholder group; those people who are trans identified, their lobby groups and their allies. We urge parliamentarians not to make the same mistakes that we made here in Ireland.”