1 March 2007 Edition
Fionnuala O’Connor’s sisterly solidarity
View by Frank Farrell
Feminism is a natural ally of republicanism but liberal feminists usually choose their class before their feminism when confronted with the political force that is republican women. A remarkable piece of contorted, biased journalism was composed by Fionnuala O’Connor, The Irish Times successor to Mary Holland, last Friday which managed to praise the SDLP and condemn Sinn Féin for more or less (and allegedly) doing the same thing.
In an article about women candidates in the Six County Assembly elections, O’Connor told her South Dublin readership, which loves to hear good news about the efforts of civilised people in the North, that certain parties – the SDLP and Alliance – have promoted female candidates even if others have not. According to O’Connor: “The SDLP is rightly proud that 14 (women) of those 46 (candidates) are theirs, the outcome of a deliberate and protracted effort”. O’Connor also gave the Alliance Party a pat on the back for running seven women out of 18 candidates.
Funny, that. None of the many republican feminists and activists engaged in women’s issues in the North have noticed an upsurge of activity from members of either gender from either party. Such republican women ought to know; they are, unlike members of the above mentioned parties, active in all kinds of issues that affect women’s lives, in working class parts that O’Connor may not reach.
Presumably, neither Alex Atwood nor David Ford (nor even O’Connor) would boast that it is as a result of “a deliberate and protracted effort” that the overwhelming bulk of SDLP and Alliance candidates are middle class – that’s just a natural process of middle class careerists joining middle class parties.
O’Connor spent much of her column also pointing out the painfully obvious, ie that the Unionist parties are reactionary, anti-women parties who are still in the dark ages in their male-dominated membership and politics. And then she got to the feminist elephant in this particular room – Sinn Féin.
O’Connor is a journalist and she knows that outright denial of reality is hard to get away with, even in Irish Times coverage of the North. She therefore conceded that: “Sinn Féin has probably more women at all levels than any other party” coupling this remark with the ever so politically-correct jibe that this was “despite roots in the macho world of a paramilitary army”. This ‘macho’ army included women like IRA members and Hunger Strikers, Mary Doyle, the late Mairéad Farrell and Mairéad Nugent, to name just three of countless women who played a role in the IRA’s struggle.
O’Connor then proceeded to deride the way that Sinn Féin “play their photo-opportunity stars” in that clichéd manner in which commentators constantly deride the party for doing what others have been doing with their candidates for decades. Worse, the feminist-minded O’Connor then went on to sneer at such as Lucilita Breathnach’s dress sense – it was designed, apparently, to signify the end of IRA violence – and dismissed, with sisterly solidarity, Breathnach and Mary Lou McDonald as not “serious players” in the republican leadership.
How strange it is that middle class liberals can be as vicious in their anti-republican rhetoric as any unionist and, even more significantly, how they dump their feminism whenever the battle ground, political or military, broadens into a liberation struggle. O’Connor, who could hardly dismiss Rita O’Hare in such a cavalier way does not mention her leadership role in the resistance of the ‘70s and ‘80s nor her contribution, along with Lucilita Breathnach, McDonald and others to the Peace Process. She simply dismisses such women as “more to do with image than anything else”.
If a male, especially a male republican, made such contemptuous remarks about women in any political party he would rightly be castigated as a sexist bonam. But O’Connor knows that middle-class, Irish Times readers want to be reassured that their partitionist prejudices are politically correct, so she constructs a most convoluted and distorted article about women in struggle. What’s the PC, feminist term for Uncle Tom women?
Mediaview was so relieved that the only recently civilised Irish people, die-hard GAA fans and backward, reactionary, red-neck, (OK, OK - Ed) republicans did not disgrace themselves last Sunday at Croke Park. The media had predicted (some of them nearly demanded) riots, bloodshed and anarchy on the streets and at Croker. Sadly, republicans failed to deliver.
The political dimension to the GAA’s leasing of its ground to the Irish rugby team was always more important to anti-republicans than anybody else. The fevered media coverage never reflected feeling amongst republicans who, while mindful of Bloody Sunday but mindful also that last Sunday was only a football match, could not get as excited about the event as did South Dublin rugger buggers and others. Given the absence of such protest from Sinn Féin or most other nationalist groups, the media had to focus on Republican Sinn Féin who, with all due respect, represent little in 2007. As a result, the media pretended to breath a collective sigh of relief, with much theatrical comment, that we did not shoot up the town last weekend.
Given the astonishment of many hacks at the emotion engendered by 80,000 people singing the national anthem with fervour, it’s clear that few of them have attended an All-Ireland final. But hopefully, they will attend a special ceremony at Croker to be held shortly when Gerry Adams will lay a wreath to commemorate the massacre of 15 English men and true by the Irish rugby team last weekend.