Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

20 February 1997 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Two women

by Mary Nelis

This is the story of two women. Both ordinary women, normal sensible human beings. Women who have never seen each other, living in the last colonies of the British Empire. Both subjected to intense media coverage destined to change their lives forever.

Both eyewitnesses to the deaths of young people, killed 10 years and 1000 miles apart but interconnected by the conflict in Ireland.

For Lorraine McElory, life as a ``newsworthy'' item is only just beginning. For Carmen Proetta, life as a newsworthy item ended in the law courts.

Carmen Proetta was standing at the window of her flat in Gibraltar in March 1988 when she saw three men emerge from a police car, jump across a barrier and repeatedly shoot two people - IRA volunteers Mairéad Farrell and Daniel McCann. She described Daniel and Mairéad having their hands raised in the air as if ``giving themselves up''.

Lorraine McElroy was sitting in her car at a British army checkpoint in Ireland last week. A British soldier was checking her licence when she described ``hearing a crack and seeing a flash'' and the soldier fell to the ground. She herself was grazed in the head and taken to hospital in the same ambulance as the soldier, who later died.

The deaths of Stephen Restorick, Mairéad Farrell, Daniel McCann and Seán Savage are part of what a former Bishop of Salisbury graphically described as ``the outworking of a history for which England is primarily responsible''.

In different circumstances, these young people could have been friends.

Stephen Restorick wanted to be a soldier and was second-in-command to a self-propelled gun detachment unit of the Royal Horse Artillery. Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann were also soldiers, volunteers in an army which has been part of an almost continuous people's resistance to a foreign oppressor.

The two women eyewitnesses did not ask for media fame in tragic and heartbreaking circumstances. Yet the media made judgements on their lives, as well as on the lives of those who died.

From the moment Carmen Proetta gave her account in Gibraltar, it was obvious what she saw would have devastating consequences not just for the SAS men who carried out the killings and but for the whole concept of British law and order.

Because of this, sections of the British and Irish media began a witch hunt against her. She was described as the ``Tart of Gib'', as a prostitute, as a ``madam'' running an escort agency; her husband was labelled a ``sleazy drug peddler''. She was called anti-British, her husband and children vilified and their lives threatened. The attacks were led by the so-called respectable paper `The Sunday Times'.

Carmen Proetta was not offered any help, any counselling for post-traumatic stress, she was not invited onto TV shows.

By contrast, for Lorraine McElory, the media immediately elevated her to the status of saint and heroine. Headlines described her as ``the checkpoint heroine'', the brave woman of tragedy, of peace, etc.

While Carmen Proetta, who was born in London, was described as a liar and anti-British, Lorraine McElroy has been described as the true voice of the Irish and British people. Councils have sent her good wishes. She has received numerous invitations to TV shows. Doctors and psychologists are being called on daily to pronounce on her post-traumatic stress symptoms. She has, through no fault of her own, become a darling of the British and Irish establishment.

The Sunday Life even credited Lorraine's words with moving the UDA, whose normal occupation is killing Catholics, to postpone such activities.

The Irish News editorial proclaimed that Lorraine did something good. What did she do? She gave an eyewitness account of a violent death. Carmen Proetta also gave an eyewitness account of two violent deaths. No newspaper wrote an editorial saying she did something good. Why?

The difference of course is that by speaking out on the death of a young British soldier, Lorraine McElroy, in the eyes of the British establishment and the media, is somehow pro-British.

For Carmen Proetta, telling what she saw, if it meant putting Britain in the dock, was not ``cricket''.

Saint or sinner - it is the Rupert Murdochs who make the decisions on these women's lives.

In the midst of this, no one in the media, not even Lorraine, thought to ask the relevant question. What or why was Stephen Restorick doing standing on an Irish road, with a gun in his hand, stopping Irish citizens going about their business?

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1