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Could wolf-whistling be outlawed in Ireland?

It was suggested last week that wolf-whistling could be banned in the UK – but it appears that the controversy emerged from a Council of Europe convention on violence against women. Ireland is currently studying its recommendations.

Competitors compete in a wolf whistling competition in Irvinestown Co Fermanagh in 2010
Competitors compete in a wolf whistling competition in Irvinestown Co Fermanagh in 2010
Image: Paul Faith/PA Images

WOLF-WHISTLING WILL not be banned in the UK, according to British Prime Minister David Cameron. There was controversy last week when it was suggested that a new EU agreement could see those making sexist comments about and wolf-whistling at women could be carted off to jail.

Cameron pledged to sign up to the Council of Europe’s convention on violence against women but The Sun reported that Cameron has since stated wolf-whistling will not be made illegal.

Ireland is yet to sign up to the convention although, so far, 18 countries including Germany, France, Ukraine and Portugal have pledged to protect women from all forms of violence.

So should Irish men be wary of making any suggestive comments to women for fear of a jail sentence? Well, not yet. The Department of Justice and Equality told TheJournal.ie that it was examining what is a “very detailed convention with a broad scope across a number of policy areas”. The statement continued:

Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, an executive office within the Department of Justice & Equality, has examined the convention and has requested observations on potential policy and legislative implications from relevant government departments and state agencies.  Following receipt of the observations, consideration will be given to any issues which need to be addressed.

The statement added that it is hoped that the process will take place quickly so that a submission can then be put to the Government on the question of signature to the convention by Ireland.

The clause in question that is causing contention states that “unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

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A Daily Mail article last Friday – with the headline, “You want to ban men from wolf-whistling? That’s a cute idea, sweetheart” – criticised the new measures with author Rick Dewsbury stating that a “band of bony fingered killjoys” see wolf-whistling as sexual harassment.

The Guardian reports that former British attorney general Patricia Scotland, who worked on the convention, said the clause on sexual harassment was not intended to cover less serious incidents such as wolf-whistling and public teasing.

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