Talking without listening and victory without annihilation

Mick has covered the criminalisation of users of prostitution debate and the spat between Dr. Graham Ellison and Jim Wells ain the Stormont committee below. I thought there might be some merit in looking at what this shows about the DUP’s view of itself, others views of it and how the DUP deals with these sorts of issues. This episode seems to be a case of two sides talking without listening.

I am not going to enter into the merits of the proposals to criminalise users other than to say that there seem people who could be described as broadly progressive both supportive of and opposed to the change.

Critics of the DUP have suggested that their support for this bill is largely based in a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible; moral disapproval of sex outside marriage; misogyny and often spiced with a bit of homophobia and topped with a good dose of sexual repression.

As a semi relevant aside the Bible, whilst condemning prostitution, is frequently complementary about prostitutes. The classic example being Rahab who sheltered the Israelite spies. Numerous attempts have been made to suggest that she was not a prostitute but she is referred to as such in the Bible in Joshua and then very approvingly by both the writer to the Hebrews and James.

The problem seems to be that the DUP genuinely felt that Lord Morrow’s proposal was needed and useful. In addition they felt genuinely that it was progressive and liberal and would be supported by the “right on” just as much as the Bible-bashers.

In contrast those liberals opposed to the changes seem to start from a position that any and all DUP proposals in such a field must stem from bigotry, misogyny, homophobia (and probably sexual repression). There may be a bit of truth somewhere in that in terms of the DUP’s motivations but essentially people like Dr. Ellison seem to believe that there must be an overriding devious and mendacious motive from the DUP.

The DUP’s reaction has itself been characterised by a degree of suspicion: some of its maybe justified but in danger of overreaction. Revealing Dr. Ellison’s intemperate email was probably fair comment (if a little cunning) and pointing to the links between a number of the Bill’s opponents and prostitution is very definitely part of normal political debate. However, to assume that all opponents to the bill are by definition supportive of prostitution, the exploitation of women and fundamentally opposed to the DUP is unlikely to be fair.

The DUP have fairly clearly won this battle. It is most unlikely that Dr. Ellison will want to take on the DUP in the near future. However, the possibility of the DUP seeking to have Ellison disciplined seems a bit disproportionate and unfair.

More politically important than any fairness, however, is the fact that any attempt to discipline Ellison would be to play to the narrative of the backwoodsmen, fundamentalist DUP stifling debate and imposing their antiquated moral values. The fact that Ellison’s views are far from universally held in liberal, progressive circles would likely quickly be forgotten and he might become a martyr whilst the DUP would likely be seen as even more ogreish than they often are.

This would weaken any kudos the DUP might gain from this bill especially as there is a bit of a move elsewhere to follow their essentially Scandavinian model of criminalisation of prostitutes’ users rather than the prostitutes. If the rest of the UK and RoI followed suit they, the DUP, could ironically be the progressive pioneers. That might itself help in some of their outreach to any gnomes (liberal garden centre Prods) and unicorns who might be inclined towards them.

The DUP win frequently in their battles. However, one of their failings is that they keep kicking their opponent when he is down which can lessen their victory as it creates sympathy for the defeated and makes the DUP look churlish. Accepting the armistice can be victory: planting the Red Flag on the Reichstag is not always necessary (that said if we had kept going and planted the Union Flag there in 1918 we might have saved a lot of bother – a debate for another day).

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  • I think thats fairly reasonable.
    The better nature of Christianity is to condemn the Sin and support the Sinner. Although I think its fair to say that a lot of Fundamentalist Christians dont get that.
    Leaving aside “religion and morality”, Prostitution does pose a problem for conservatives, liberals and socialists.
    Does a conservative simply follow the free market principle?
    Does a liberal simply go with the human rights aspect?
    Does a socialist oppose the exploitation.

    Throw in Morality and we have a bigger problem.
    Few seem to view Prostitution as a sensible career choice. I dont suppose 16 year olds get career guidance and brochures or work experience.
    If not…why not? We surely have to believe that if Society believes it wrong…and illegal then there are bigger illegalities, including paedophilia and trafficking.
    I daresay that most pot dealers in East Belfast could obtain cocaine.
    I daresay most fuel smugglers in South Armagh could probably point you in the direction of dodgy cigarettes and vodka.
    So how then to deal with the Bigger Criminality…in this case people trafficking.
    seems there are two approaches….the Morrow approach to further criminalise prostitution .
    Or the alternative …legalise prostitution and trafficking and exploitation will stop.
    After all….1930s USA…they ended Prohibition and the Mafia disappeared.
    I declare an interest. I dont drink alcohol. Life-long non drinker.
    And after all ….1960 in England they legalised betting shops. And …actually I do like betting shops.

    But will Exploitation (of women) really stop if Prostitution is legalised?
    Are all women in prostitution exploited? Probably not. After all there are madames.
    Are all men exploiting? Probably not.

    But it seems that moralists weaken their own case against trafficking by concentrating on the “sex trade”. Why not agriculture, catering and the gang master (oops Agency) culture that seems to have sprung up over the past twenty years?
    Wouldn’t that get the liberals and socialists on board?
    And it seems to me that those advocating legislation change to legalise prostitution weaken their own case by associating rather too closely with the “trade”.
    maybe some think its an honourable profession….but …for your daughter ….or son?

    There is of course a side-issue.
    There is a certain tension between 108 MLAs and the Academic Class.
    To be honest. “Turgon” is right. The DUP won the battle. Fair play to them. They were right.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I’d never heard of Ellison before this recent matter. I thought what was done here was dirty politics of the worst and most dishonourable kind. The DUP chose to publish a private conversation, and attempted to use it to inflict damage on an individual within the public sphere who dared to criticise their party, and with the side benefit of taking the media focus away from the DUP’s other problems. I thought it was despicable.

    Regarding the issue of the bill itself, given their other utterances I find the idea that the DUP are so concerned about the health and wellbeing of women to be kind of hard to take seriously. This is the party whose leading members used to shout “get back in the kitchen” and other chauvinist insults when members from the Women’s Coalition spoke in the Assembly. I also haven’t seen a single shred of evidence that making prostitution illegal is going to either prevent trafficking (which is already illegal) or effectively prevent women from going into prostitution. Moreover, I can’t help thinking that we have other, more serious problems going on that need to be addressed, like the UVF’s stranglehold over East Belfast.

  • uglymugsie

    If only the people who will suffer as a result of this legislation if it is passed had a platform. People like the author of this post might finally realise that people selling sex (prostitutes) are not getting any decriminalisation under this legislation and both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking will continue to be criminalised under it. It brings with it more criminalisation for the buyers of sex, but it doesn’t bring with it any decriminalisation for the sellers of sex. I say this as the person who gave evidence directly after Graham Ellison last Thursday. Please go to 48:40 in this video of me giving evidence: This is where the DUP allege they are offering decriminalisation, I call them out on that, but nobody wants to know. It is amazing that I actually managed to get in to give evidence at all. In the South all of my ilk were banned from giving evidence at the behest of the Magdalene sisters. The media have no interest in my evidence though as I’m not an academic or a politician. But folks, if this Bill passes, please note that sex workers and victims of sex trafficking will still be prosecuted, get criminal records, go to jail etc under that. I am here saying this, just so you know. Thank you.

  • Charles_Gould

    It’s one of those spats that leaves me thinking less of both sides.

    in my training I am told to treat email as insecure, public domain.. It wa incredibly unprofessional to write such a thing.

    But it is not good manners to publish other peoples private email..

    That said, given that he sent such an email, he probably should not be surprised.

  • Our politics is Dirty….Very Dirty.
    To describe this amusing encounter as Dirty Politics of the worst kind is the worst kind of hyperbole since the last worst kind of hyperbole.

    I dont suppose Id want my reflections on politicians and parties…which I give in emails …to get into the public sphere.
    But let’s be honest here …of any journo or indeed member of any other party ….had access to confidential DUP email,…would they have used it or politely declined?
    The Academic Community is not used to scrutiny.
    Was it in the public interest to point this email out at a Committee meeting?
    I think it was.

  • Charles_Gould

    Fjh, the academic community are not all as daft as to push send on an email like that.

  • notimetoshine

    I am surprised at the level of outrage and surprise from some quarters over these remarks. It almost appears as if the DUP do not expect to be challenged on their policies/remarks.

    Having said that it is not limited to the DUP. Just look at the response of residents living close to Casement Park regarding the development of the pitch and their challenging of Sinn Fein.

    It seems as if these parties are not as monolithic as they would first appear, but political commentators and indeed the parties themselves almost seem to register some sort of surprise at the depth of opposition, especially when we are talking about issues that aren’t necessarily constitutional in nature.

  • Any attempt to stop prostitution is destined to fail. It’s not called the oldest profession for no reason. Some women do voluntarily become prostitutes because it can be very lucrative for those at the higher end, for a few years anyway.
    The vast majority do not enter voluntarily though. They do it because they believe there is no other way to support themselves. Society should concentrate on helping those unfortunates and persuading other vulnerable women not to start instead of messing about with laws.

  • Charles_Gould

    Mister Joe

    A very astute observation.

  • Neil

    Maybe a better way of reducing prostitution would be to approach some of the pimps in the UVF. Now if only the DUP knew someone who was in some way connected to that organisation.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well indeed Neil. And a less softly softly approach towards dissidents and some provisional republicans might also be in order. Don’t hold your breath though.

    Like the Belfast storm water tunnel this is another grand projet aimed at doing one thing but likely to effect quite another.

    If UVF territory is off limits for the cops, where are the trafficked and other working women likely to end up?

    As police disrupt the safer indoor practices of women elsewhere in the city, they will likely increase the market dominance of those ungetatable terrorist held zones.

    There’s no question but that the DUP has already gone after Dr Ellison, with the email (which has no direct bearing on his evidence he himself gave) as a pretext. An ugly game of man over ball with some cooling consequences.

    How many other people who get invited to Stormont as witnesses in front of a committee will find an angry DUP MLA banging down their employer’s door if they did not like what he said?

  • Barney

    “I thought there might be some merit in looking at what this shows about the DUP’s view of itself”
    Totally deluded would be my guess, attempting to pull off a little PR with this is akin to describing the invasion of Afghanistan as some kind of feminist action. The same rubbish is talked about Israel, the only home for gay people in the Middle East the island of tolerance and such nonsense. This liberal PR pitch really is the Emperors new clothes….

    When it comes to Ireland it’s clear that deeply repressive flat earth creationist homophobes don’t make good standard bearers for liberty or tolerance. Uglymugsie nailed their cant, they want more criminalisation. Women or sex workers are not their concern.

  • Mick….what exactly would a journalist have done if he/she had been given an email which claimed a political party was responsible for a group of people committing suicide.
    Lets be clear here …there is no suggestion that Jim Wells was given this information by illegal means. He was given the information.

    Lets also be clear that much information has been put in the public domain by phone and email hacking.
    As for the reluctance of witnesses to appear before a Stormont Committee, I ask in all seriousness if there is any power to force witnesses to attend.
    To be frank, if I was called as a witness for anything up there, I probably wouldn’t bother unless I had to under threat of jail.

    But as far as I can see, just about everybody are falling over themselves to get called as a witness to something or generally hang about the corridors, looking purposeful.
    Too many people want it both ways.
    Tweeting disapproval at the whole sham and lining up for photographs for the Ministers Departmental Website.
    If people are serious about getting rid of it all….then they really need to make their mind up.
    I certainly admire Jim Wells in this….if nothing else.
    I would have more sympathy for Ellison if he had replied in kind.

  • Mick Fealty

    Here’s UglyMugs talking with William Humphrey about a key problem in the Swedish model in which she seems to have uncovered a deficit in the DUP’s thinking on the matter:

    I also recommend listening to the committee chair SF’s Ray McCartney – the only nationalist (or Alliance MLA) in the committee that day – as he draws out some interesting information on the problem of non reporting of violence against prostitutes to the police:

    There’s an awful of power selling from committee members (Tom Elliot excepted) on the iniquity of prostitution and very little detail or focus on human trafficking.

  • Charles_Gould

    Its a pity that so few MLAs are going to what are potentially very important hearings.

  • Charles_Gould

    Credit to Ray McCartney, he made useful contributions. As I say these hearings are very important given how rare it is to get evidence of this type, and I can’t understand why so many are away. Important to get the law right, and this is a controversial law.

  • Comrade Stalin


    This is a committee. Different MLAs sit on different committees.


    Very well spotted and I agree completely. Opposing trafficking is motherhood and apple pie, nobody is going to be seriously against any kind of measures which have a prospect of making it easier to catch the people doing it and reduce the number of victims. This is about the DUP’s moral crusade.

    You also touched on the other aspect of the modus operandi, which is to undermine and destroy people who go up against them (SF are equally ruthless). I expect political parties to be ruthless when a serious attack on them is made in public, but not over petty name-calling in a private email.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS I know that. What I mean is that a lot of the MLAs who sit on that Committee were away.

  • quality


    “Any attempt to stop prostitution is destined to fail. It’s not called the oldest profession for no reason.”

    Really? That just seems like legislating based on anecdote.

    Ideally as a society we should want to strive for a society where people don’t pay for sex with exploited people. Legislation may not do that, it’s messy. It’s probably more of a cultural shift. But it’s certainly not impossible. Even if it is, isn’t it worth trying? (Similar to eradication of poverty)

    People often point to Amsterdam as some kind of model but, as someone who has walked around those back streets stoned, I’m not entirely comfortable with trafficked, scantily clad, dead behind the eyes women being shoved in boxes for perverts (of all ages, shapes and sizes) to ogle. And tourists to point and laugh at (and take photos on their iphone).

  • Reader

    Neil: Maybe a better way of reducing prostitution would be to approach some of the pimps in the UVF. Now if only the DUP knew someone who was in some way connected to that organisation.
    But the DUP are pushing legislation that seems likely to inconvenience the UVF (among others). Have you a theory to account for that?
    Speaking as someone who hates the UVF and despises the DUP, there is no clear side to choose in this fight, and I may be forced to (gasp!) contemplate the issues, before finally accepting that as a mere voter my views are irrelevant.

  • Comrade Stalin

    quality, I share your distaste for the whole thing but the point is that the DUP are trying to suggest that this legislation is about trafficking, when it isn’t.

    Also I don’t think wide scale prostitution occurs anywhere on this island to the extent it does throughout Europe.

    This is a solution in search of a problem.

  • quality


    I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. I am in no way suggesting Lord Morrow is a fantastic drafter of legislation. Or, er, a fantastic anything (I can’t speak for his record as an estate agent).

    It was more of an aside as, whenever prostitution comes up, people draw for that ‘oldest profession’ anecdote. It’s meaningless. I don’t think legislation, or criminalisation of prostitutes or Johns is the answer, it’s probably more of a (worldwide) cultural shift. Both in attitudes on paying for sex, but also attitudes to women (in particular) more broadly.

  • Charles_Gould

    Dear All:

    I watched the Committee in which Dr Ellison gave his evidence.

    Before I make my main point I want to say that Dr Ellison is rather distinguished. He is a Reader, which is one step down from being a Professor, and indicates he has made an impact on his subject in peer-reviewed publications. He has a research project financed by Leverhume and another external agency. I have a lot of respect these achievements. They are not easy at all. I am confident that he does good worthwhile research and that this research project falls into that category.

    My main point: this committee should be required viewing for all aspiring Professors out there, who would like to make a public policy impact with their research. This hearing was not good in terms of academic research making an in public policy.


    1. To send out an email that “plays the party not the ball”.

    [All email should be assumed public domain]

    2. The second mistake was in the response to the reading out of his email.

    [There is no doubt that he was “thrown a googlie” and was thereafter on a “difficult wicket”. But his response was too uncontrolled. Dr Ellison needed to kill the suggestion he was motivated by party political interests. This was Mr Well’s main point and it wasn’t killed. Hard to do, and some climbing back of the more intemperate claims in the email may have been needed, and a more dispassionate tone needed in order to achieve that.]

    3. The rest of the hearing was a bit uncontrolled, with too little sense of someone who takes a dispassionate view of the evidence, and too much sense of opinion dominating critical argument.

    I have a lot of sympathy with the arguments Dr Ellison was making. There was the opportunity for an evidence-based and dispassionate going-through of the arguments, but I think that the hearing was a good case study of how a good argument, and good research, can get undermined and derailed right at the start with not much recovery thereafter.

    If you want to see someone who is in complete control of what he is saying when giving evidence, look at Dr Birnie’s contributions to the Finance Committee. He goes through the arguments in a very dispassionate way.

  • Mr Gould makes good points but a lot depends on the witness …and the MLA.
    I still dont know the rules of engagement. Is it compulsory to attend a hearing or did Ellison attend on a voluntary basis?

    But I think there is too much sympathy for him.
    There are degrees of “party”
    In general media terms, UUP, Alliance and SDLP are the good guys.
    DUP and SF are the baddies.

    So consider for a moment that the witness was not a “civilian”. Consider that the witness was a DUP or SF Minister. Or a Special Advisor to such a Minister.
    Or even just a senior civil servant.
    And he/she was ambushed over an email…by a MLA from one of the “good” parties….I dont think there would be that much sympathy.

  • Charles_Gould


    I have sympathy partly because I wonder how I would have handled that. It was a private email however unwise.

    As an example of mistake #2 he got distracted onto a discussion of the DUPs attitude to gay people. That had nothing to do with the issue in hand. Another example… He should NOT have tried to represent the views of the recipient of his email: she was not present and I don’t think he should have tried to represent what he thought she might think of the DUP. It was not anything to do with his evidence or the topic.

    I think he needed to close down that whole angle as quickly as possible with some professionalism. Perhaps and some retraction of the more inflammatory language in the email was perhaps needed along with a promise to listen to the DUPs rebuttal of his email at a later time and that for now he wanted to focus on the findings of his research.

  • Charles_Gould

    PS I think attendance is voluntary, but no academic who wants to be relevant would turn down an invitation.

  • My own attitude to any DUP MLA who revealed an embarrassing email I sent (and most of my emails are embarrassing) would be to produce even worse things I had said.
    I dont take the point of relevance.
    Most Academics….would be pretty nasty in private about DUP. A bunch of Creationists for Gods Sake. They would not get house room in an academic forum. Of course that DOES produce an air of Entitlement and Superiority and I suppose anyone who has gone to Uni has encountered such folks.
    And I think most academics would be intolerant of SF for different reasons.
    And by extension, the business community, clerics, lobbyists.
    Yet we have the appalling spectre of people falling over themselves to talk to DUP andSF .
    Its long past time these people made some decisions.
    All they do is give the Farce some credibility.