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TENI Policies

This is the third and final part of our series examining TENI’s policies, practices and governance. Since the publication of the first two articles in the series, Sara Phillips has stepped down as Chair of TENI. This article focuses on the impact of Phillip’s trans activism while at TENI and the negative impact these policies have had on women’s lives, particularly women in sports and women in prison, as well as skewing the crime statistics for women.


Sara Phillips claims to have “played a leading role in negotiating Gender Recognition based on self-determination in 2015”.

Since the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was introduced in 2015, at least 3 male-born individuals have committed violent or sexual crimes as men, been granted Gender Recognition Certificates to legally self-identify as women after committing the crimes and when convicted were sent to women’s prison. 

1. The first case was in 2019; according to an article in the Law Society Gazette by the Chair of the Law Society Criminal Law Committee, a “pre-operative, pre-hormone therapy, male-to-female transgender prisoner convicted of ten counts of sexual assault and one count of cruelty against a child”, was sent to Limerick women’s prison.

2. The individual in the second case was charged with four counts of making threats to kill or cause serious harm.

3. The individual in the third case assaulted 3 different men in an altercation in a pub and pled guilty to one count of assault causing harm and two counts of assault.

These 3 male-born individuals who were granted Gender Recognition Certificates to be legally recognised as women by self-identification, are not required to take any hormones or have sexual re-assignment surgery under the GRA 2015. 

Three prisoners does not sound like a large number but it is a very significant number when put in the context of sex differences when it comes to violent crime and prison. It is very rare for women to be imprisoned – women make up a tiny percentage (4%) of the population in Irish Prisons and females are imprisoned for violent and sexual crimes at significantly lower rates than males. The offences committed in these 3 cases are offences statistically much more likely to be committed by those born male rather than those born female.

These are not women’s crimes but as a result of self-id in the GRA 2015 they are counted in official records of The Courts and the Irish Prison Service as “female” crimes. 

Under the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, women in prison must be kept entirely separate from men. This rule exists to keep women prisoners safe from male violence. 

The majority of women in prison have suffered male violence including sexual violence, there is also a very high prevalence of mental illness, disability, and self-harm within the female prison population. 

In 2020 according to the Irish Prison Service, the number of females in prison for sexual offences was two . One of these prisoners was “pre-operative, pre-hormone therapy, male-to-female transgender prisoner convicted of ten counts of sexual assault and one count of cruelty against a child”, sent to Limerick women’s prison. Therefore one male-to-female transgender prisoner made up 50% of the “female” prison data for sexual offences in 2020. 

In 2020 according to Irish Prisons the number of females in prison for the offence group “Attempts or Threat to Murder or Assaults” was 20. The two other male-to-female transgender prisoners (one convicted of threats to kill or cause serious harm and the other convicted of assaulting 3 different men) constitute 10% of the average annual data for violent offences committed by females. 

Sara Phillips was quoted in the Irish Times on 13th June 2022  that according to TENI’s own estimates there are “5,000 trans people in Ireland today”.

Based upon Central Statistics Office there were approximately 3.5 million adults living in Ireland in 2016, so the trans population of 5,000 represents 0.14% of the general adult population, Consequently we would expect to see similarly vanishingly rare rates of transgender people in prison. Yet we are seeing rates of transgender prison committals constituting 50% of the average female prison population for sexual offences and 10% of the average female prison population for violent crimes in women’s prisons. All cases are male born individuals in women’s prisons. 

No-one is suggesting that being gender variant or transgender increases the likelihood of a person committing a violent or sexual crime. 

Rather, this data suggests that the GRA 2015 may be being abused, and consequently, vulnerable women in Irish prisons are being confined with violent males in violation of the UN’s minimum rules for treatment of women prisoners. 

Concerns about women’s prisons were raised in the public consultation on the GRA review in 2018, Phillips was a member of the review committee. The Terms of Reference for the consultation included “issues relating to the operation of the current legislative provisions” yet the review board which Phillips sat on, arbitrarily decided that arrangements in female prisons were outside the scope of the Act and therefore of the review.

Women’s rights in sport

In March 2022, in response to Irish Olympian and legendary female athlete Sonia O’Sullivan’s  thoughtful article in the Irish Times explaining how the inclusion of transgender males who identify as women in women’s sport is unfair to biological women, Sara Phillips appeared on Newstalk and RTE  arguing for the inclusion of transwomen in women’s sport.

On RTE Radio 1, Professor Niall Moyna from DCU also spoke on the issue and explained how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed transgender participation rules in 2015 based upon a single study of eight male runners who self-reported a reduction in their running times after undergoing hormone replacement therapy. Professor Moyna confirmed the points Sonia made about the irreversible physical advantages which male puberty provides, and how the IOC rules about testosterone levels do not mitigate the advantages of male puberty. Professor Moyna rightly said that 51% of the population will be disenfranchised if transgender athletes who went through male puberty are allowed to compete against women.  

Phillips made disingenuous and frankly offensive arguments on Newstalk suggesting that Laurel Hubbard the transgender weightlifter from New Zealand who is male but identifies as a woman, becoming an Olympian was not an issue because Hubbard didn’t win a medal. Phillips failed to mention that Hubbard took the place of a biological woman Roviel Detenamo from the island of Nauru at the Olympics.  It’s not just about winning medals, every transgender athlete who competes in women’s sports is taking the place of a woman, particularly at elite levels but also at every level all the way down.  

Phillips also suggested on Newstalk that excluding transwomen who are male is the same as when black women were excluded from sport, a preposterous, deeply offensive racist suggestion equating  black women with trans identifying males.

Isak Henig a transgender athlete (born female who identifies as a man) competed in the same NCAA women’s category as Lia Thomas. Phillips never mentioned Henig or explained why Henig who is female but identifies as a man could compete with women, yet Thomas who is male but identifies as a women could not compete with men.

Rehana Manier, is an inspiring Irish woman from Glasnevin, with 18 world records in powerlifting. In addition to representing Ireland in powerlifting, Rehana trains older women (including a 69 year old!) in Ballymun to achieve the same natural highs she gets from power lifting.

Rehana spoke on Newstalk about how she lost a world record to a transgender athlete in 2018. Rehana felt cheated because the transgender powerlifter who had the physical advantage of male puberty, was awarded her world record. Rehana filed a complaint but it was ignored.

Sara Phillips did not express any concern about Rehana an Irish female athlete losing a world record. Rehana said on Newstalk that she believes that if this situation is allowed to continue that women will feel cheated and they will stop competing.

On Newstalk, Phillips undermined the whole argument of gender identity inclusion over biological sex in sport by acknowledging that Phillip’s friend who is female but identifies as a man (a “transman”) who “wants to play rugby but is only 5 ft and lightweight would be in danger playing rugby with men”. So, Phillips recognises that male puberty matters in sport when their transgender friend wants to play rugby safely, but did not acknowledge that women deserve the same consideration as their friend.

The basis of Phillip’s argument on Newstalk was that inclusion of trans identifying males in women’s sport is a societal issue and that as a society we should sacrifice fairness and safety for women in order to include males who identify as women. The ones in society who will be impacted by that are women so it is not a societal issue it is a women’s issue.

On every one of these colliding rights issues, Phillips is clearly on the side of trans identifying males and not on the side of women.