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25 March 2010 Edition

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Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

Ireland’s Greatest?

RTE wants to know who is Ireland’s greatest person? They want to know so much they have decided to run a series of surveys, online polls and TV programmes to resolve the matter.
First off they commissioned MRBI to poll 1,000 men and 1,000 women. The result was a shortlist of 40 people, which can be read at www.rte.ie/tv/irelandsgreatest/
Now, our national broadcaster is asking us to vote online for one of the shortlist to whittle it down to five finalists.
The winners of this second heat will be the subject of five hour-long documentaries, each charting the individual’s impact and contribution to Irish life, as interpreted and championed by a well-known personality.
The documentaries will be broadcast on RTE One in September.
The final stage of this great contest will take place after the five programmes have been broadcast. We, the public, will once again have the opportunity to vote online.
And with all the gravitas and importance that he possesses, Ryan Tubridy will announce the winner on The Late Late Show in October.
So, how is the great contest going?
A quick look at the shortlist highlights a glaring omission. Of the 40 names only three are women. Of them only two could be considered in any way great, Mary Robinson and Sonia O’Sullivan.
No Anna Parnell, founder of the Ladies’ Land League. No Countess Markievicz, Europe’s first woman cabinet minister. None of the country’s great women novelists such as Edna O’Brien or Maeve Binchy get a look in. Nor do any of our outstanding artists like Rita Duffy or Evie Hone.
For a country that has produced so many great women musicians and actors they are also strikingly absent. No Maureen O’Hara, Brenda Fricker or Sinead Cusack. No Sinead O’Connor, Enya or Mary Black.
A number of our top sportswomen are also absent. No Katie Taylor, our twice world champion boxer, or Olive Loughnane, our world class race walker.
Ireland’s religious communities have also produced women who have made a remarkable contribution to academic and social life. The historian Margaret McCurtain and the social justice campaigner Stan Kennedy being just two of many.
As a republican my vote would go for either Hanna Sheehy Skeffington or Mairéad Farrell, though clearly these great Irishwomen would have a more limited popular appeal.
These twenty women have all made a major contribution to Irish public life. Indeed they have each made a contribution well in excess of many of the men in the RTE shortlist of 40. It is hard to believe that people really think that Stephen Gately, Louis Walsh, Joe Dolan or Daniel O’Donnell deserve the title of Ireland’s greatest person.
But of course it’s not RTE’s fault. Nor is it the fault of the polling company MRBI. In fact we only have ourselves to blame. We were asked to come up with the list. And just like at election time, our decisions left women grossly underrepresented.

An Phoblacht
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