Tag Archives: Ireland

The unsung heroes of the #8thRef – Amended

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(Note: This is similar to a post I wrote prior to the #8thRef. However, I wanted to repost this with amendments to reflect the momentous weekend it’s been)

As I was watching the Pat Kenny Show a few days ago, and I heard (yet again) the phrase ‘we don’t want the same set-up the UK has’, I suddenly heard the dog-whistle in it. The slight sneering undertone. And I was angered by it. Let’s be honest about this. We’re all taught to be suspicious of the British a bit. We justify it by referring to our mutual pasts, oppressed and oppressor. It can be a hard habit to recognise. But today, I really heard it. And I was affronted.

 

Now, I’ve done my fair share of Brit-bashing. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’ve had the odd conversation (or 5,000) about the evils of empire, the class system, the screwed-up voting system. Etc. Etc. Etc. On the other hand – I’ve lived here almost 20 years and I’m speaking about these topics from a place of actual insight and experience, unlike certain people on the No side that I’ve heard saying this. And I’ll say something else about this, that has to do with the #8thRef.

 

Ireland should be so lucky to have a healthcare system like the NHS. Were it not for the wonderful institution that is the NHS, that bright, shining beacon of compassionate and free healthcare, Irish women would be worse off. Even when a corrupt government is trying to sell it off, it still welcome those whose country abandoned them. It still will welcome them until the repeal of the 8th is ratified in law.

 

I cannot wax lyrical enough about the NHS. I’ve had experience of 4 healthcare systems: the US, the Irish, the German and the British. Now, the German healthcare system does have the edge on the NHS. But: the NHS has taken care of me in so many ways, and the absolute compassion and care that is mainly taken with people here is amazing. When I needed an ultrasound to detect ovarian cysts, it came free. When I sprained my ankle in a freak accident and couldn’t move without help to get out of my flat, they sent an ambulance to collect me, free. For the multiple smear tests, doctors’ appointments, treatments for various conditions – all FREE (Did I mention that?). There would be no X case here. There would be no Savita Halappanavar. No Miss P. Given the circumstances and evidence, that sneering attitude is bred of a misplaced sense of superiority.

 

I also have mainly only received kindness from British people. I may abhor the Tories, I may despair of the voting system here, the class system might do my head in, but from my very first week here, I’ve been shown kindness by British, and, because I live in London, more specifically, English people. From the stories that have been told that I’ve read, kindness wasn’t lacking from the English, but from our own country. Care for vulnerable women wasn’t found wanting from the UK, but from Ireland.

 

Now we hope that will change. In terms of the wonderful result of the referendum, that is changing. Many of us hope that will change as soon as possible, but in the meantime, the story of the 8th Amendment is a British story too. A story where they come off as by far the more compassionate side. A story where they’ve quietly and patiently and unquestioningly provided a solution to a particularly Irish problem. Where they’ve taken our hand as a nation. Where their staff have literally and figuratively held the hands of distraught Irish women over decades, when they’ve had to take the plane or the boat. It’s time to let that hand go.

 

While there are sheroes and heroes emerging, the story of our neighbours, their NHS and all that work in it that took care of pregnant Irish women in crisis, that didn’t treat them with judgement or derision or scorn hasn’t been acknowledged as much as it should have been. We owe it and them a debt of gratitude, not derision. It will, until the repeal is overturned constitutionally, still be welcoming 9 women a day – approximately 1,620 in the next six months. It will do so quietly, patiently and with dedication. This institution is under attack from its own government – and it still welcomes Irish women seeking help. It, and all those who work in it deserve to be more than a footnote in our history. The old enmities have no place here.  How much worse would it have been for Irishwomen, had they no access to the possibility of abortion in the UK? Having read countless stories over decades and in particular, the last few months, I cannot fathom the answer to that question. It hardly bears thinking about. There’s been a growth of understanding through the campaign to overturn the 8th Amendment and now it’s time for us, as Irish citizens, to be gracious in understanding our debt of gratitude to our former enemy, at least on this score.

 

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The unsung heroes of #8thRef

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As I was watching the Pat Kenny Show today (current affairs show in Ireland), and I heard (yet again) the phrase ‘we don’t want the same set-up the UK has’, I suddenly heard the dog-whistle in it. The slight sneery undertone. And I was angered by it. We’re all taught to be suspicious of the British a bit. It can be a hard habit to recognise. But today, I really heard it. And I was affronted.

Now, I’ve done my fair share of Brit-bashing. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’ve had the odd conversation (or 5,000) about the evils of empire, the class system, the screwed-up voting system. Etc. Etc.Etc. On the other hand – I’ve lived here almost 20 years and I’m speaking about these topics from a place of actual insight and experience, unlike certain people on the No side that I’ve heard over the last few days on Irish TV. And I’ll say something else about this, that has to do with the #8thRef.

Ireland should be so lucky to have a healthcare system like the NHS. Were it not for the wonderful institution that is the NHS, that bright, shining beacon of compassionate and free healthcare, Irish women would be worse off. Even when a corrupt government is trying to sell it off, it still welcomes those whose country has abandoned them. I cannot wax lyrical enough about the NHS. I’ve had experience of 4 healthcare systems: the US, the Irish, the German and the British. Now, the German healthcare system does have the edge on the NHS. But: the NHS has taken care of me in so many ways, and the absolute compassion and care that is mainly taken with people here is amazing. And, for the most part, FREE. (Did I mention that?). There would be no X case here. There would be no Savita Halappanavar. No Miss P. Given the circumstances and evidence, that sneering attitude is bred of a malign piety.

I also have mainly only received kindness from British people. I may abhor the Tories, I may despair of the voting system here, the class system might do my head in, but from my very first week here, I’ve been shown kindness by British, and, because I live in London, more specifically, English people. From the stories that have been told that I’ve read, kindness wasn’t lacking from the English, but from our own country. Maybe that will change. Maybe that is changing. Many of us hope that will change tomorrow, but in the meantime, the story of the 8th Amendment is a British story too. A story where they come off as by far the more compassionate side. A story where they’ve quietly and patiently and unquestioningly provided a solution to a particularly Irish problem. Where they’ve held our hand as a nation. Where their staff have literally and figuratively held the hands of distraught Irish women over decades. It’s time to let that hand go.

While there are sheroes and heroes emerging, the story of our neighbours, their NHS and all that work in it that took care of pregnant Irish women in crisis, that didn’t treat them with judgement or derision or scorn hasn’t been acknowledged as much as it should have been. And when you look at it from that perspective, there’s all the more reason to #Repealthe8th.

#ThankYouNHS #Together4Yes

No Country For Irish Women

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No Country For Irish Women

Once upon a time, over a hundred years ago, a green land was governed by a cruel and malign force. This force had starved them, taken their lands, tortured them, raped their women, hung, drawn and quartered them, quashed mercilessly many uprisings over 800 years of their tyrannical reign. ‘No more!’ some people of the land cried, and they rebelled. Six of them were martyred, and the rest of the country, men and women alike, fought for freedom from the malign force. Finally, they gained it.

But the promises of freedom are never what is imagined, and as the teller of the tales of those called handmaidens once observed ‘Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.’ Human beings, being human, will arrange themselves into leaders and followers, and into the breach left by the malign force stepped the one who is known as Diabhal Éire, or the Devil of Éire, more commonly known as DeValera and a brotherhood of men only known as The Church. Beware the man who clings to power! For men are poor curbers of their own excesses. In this new land of freedom, only half the population were free; the other half were kept as the subordinates, for every new land will inevitably ape the worst aspects of their captors, and, in a cruel twist of irony, become what they most hated. As a Wilde man once said ‘Each man kills the thing he loves’, and that includes freedom for the many, not just the few.

I offer the ‘fairytale’ above somewhat facetiously, and somewhat to make a serious point. Our interpretation of history can depend on many things: what is recorded; what is remembered accurately; whose stories gain precedence; whose stories fade into the background; whose stories are repressed; sex; gender; race; religion. During the past two years, and in particular the last 5 months, I’ve been thinking about the long sidelined Women of the 1916 Rising, and indeed, of the Republic itself. The 1916 Proclamation, essentially the battle cry of our republic, starts with the phrase: ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’.  It’s an immensely important document, setting out a vision of a pluralistic, forward-thinking nation that failed to be realised. We failed. Our forefathers and foremothers had a great vision of the Ireland they wanted, and by and large, as a nation, we have failed them. Two paragraphs in particular struck me, when re-reading this great document during the 1916 celebrations, and they are as follows (bold markings are my own):

“…The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

“…We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine.”

Looking back at the last 102 years of the Irish republic – who can honestly say that the women of the new republic have had the equal rights and opportunities they were guaranteed? In De Valera’s original text for ‘The Ireland that we dreamed of’, he talked of ‘the contest of athletic youths’ and ‘comely maidens’ (later ‘happy maidens’ in the broadcast). The implication is clear – contrary to what had actually happened a mere 27 years beforehand, women were being relegated to passive figures in their own lives and in the imagination of the nation.

As an Irish-American living in the Ireland of the 1980s, my main impression of the church of that era was the word ‘dour’. The dour learning of catechism by rote. The dour drone of prayers on various holy days and occasions. The dour atmosphere in the churches themselves. The dour insistence of the clergy on being recompensed by their congregations, and their following up of those who didn’t. The bitter, angry tirades from the pulpits over the abortion and divorce referendums. These made an impression, perhaps, because I had something to compare them with in the American half of my split personality – the joyful congregations, the positive sermons, the warm, open arms to all, the donuts and coffee, the sense of uplift and celebration. I could understand why someone would want to be a Catholic in the US.

My first real epiphany came from reading a book by David Yallop, called ‘In God’s Name’. I recommend it highly. As a teenager who sensed there was a huge disconnect between the fundamental teachings of Jesus and those teachings enacted in what I witnessed around me, it provided a history to my suspicions that the Catholic Church, and particularly the Catholic Church in Ireland, did not view men and women equally. I moved to Dublin, where a whole aspect of a world that I didn’t know existed, sheltered as I was in the rural Ireland of my youth, the gay nightclub scene. A fan club around the film ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. A Dublin of lock-ins and clubs that were open till 6am. I found it all utterly fascinating. But my social conscience was really awakened by the X case and the marches that ensued. Suddenly it became clear. Ireland didn’t love or trust its daughters, and never had. They hated and mistrusted them so much that they would force a 14-year old girl to go through with the pregnancy of her rapist. Females were a problem, not to be solved, but to be kept in check.

In the mid to late 1990s, I did a production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in the Everyman in Cork. In that production was an actress over from London, Phyllis MacMahon, who played Ms. Prism. She had been a novice in a Magdalen laundry and was so traumatised by what she witnessed that she left, went to England and became an actress (She later consulted on the film The Magdalene Sisters). A short while later, I did a play called ‘Eclipsed’ by another ex-nun, Patricia Burke Brogan, playing the Mother Superior. There were children of the Magdalene women in the audience, and they were absolutely clear that my portrayal, in its severity and cruelty, was accurate. On top of all this, news items and documentaries were coming out about what happened in those laundries – in an ironic twist of fate, they couldn’t wash away the sins of Ireland’s dirty little secret.

Where this really struck home though was much later. About 6 years ago, I went to hospital to visit an older female relative. Not one for public displays of affection, she started crying as she told me about how, as a young woman, she had known someone who was in a Magdalene laundry, but being a young woman herself, and therefore vulnerable, she didn’t dare speak out. It really struck me, as I left the hospital, the very real dilemma that faced Irish women and girls of a certain generation. There were consequences for females defying the rule of the Church, which was essentially the rule of the land. Who, in their position, would want to take that chance? While it may be frustrating that certain of the older generation vote No on Friday, in this context, it is understandable. Defiance had real life consequences. Indoctrination is a hard habit to break.

Here’s the thing that is changing: While the Ireland of the twentieth century talked about the ‘fallen women’, it never talked about their partners, the equally culpable (by Catholic logic) ‘fallen’ men. Unless the Church and State were pretending that they didn’t exist, in which case Ireland has produced miraculously ten thousand virgin births, which does throw a central tenet of Christianity into question. So really what the almost first 100 years of the Irish republic was partly built on was the forced enslavement, imprisonment and labour of women, in collusion with the Church. This is why the vote on Friday to repeal the 8th is, in essence, about the democratic rights of women to choose that most basic of human principles: autonomy over their own bodies. Until we understand, and own up to, the physical, psychological and societal traumas faced by every Irish citizen who happened/happens to be female, and seek to redress that, as our forefathers, and, more importantly, our foremothers envisioned, we are a republic only in name, not deed. Until that happens, Ireland will not be a nation free from the effects of imperialism, but rather a victim turned oppressor to half its population. When you treat livestock better than you treat citizens, there is reason to question what path we have taken, that has taken us so far away from the vision in the 1916 Proclamation. We will see by the weekend whether the Republic is committed to “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally“.

 

 

 

Britain – it’s time to talk

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Pull up a chair, Britain and sit down. We need to have a long overdue chat. And we need to be honest, so shudDUP and let us talk. Yup, pun absolutely intended. Never let it be said that we Irish don’t try and inject a bit of humour into every situation.

But after Friday, and yet another kick to the proverbial nuts, and yet another betrayal, and yet another situation where serious risks could be posed to Ireland as a result of English foolhardiness, the niceties are over. It’s time for the truth bombs. I think many Irish friends living in England feel the same. Hell, even our Taoiseach, Enda-ThirdWay-Kenny, has issued a little slapdown to the British government. So in the interests of inter-island dialogue and a baseline of understanding, and having been asked questions by so many English friends on Friday (which I’m always glad to answer) ranging from ‘Why don’t Sinn Féin do a solid for Corbyn and take up their seats’ to ‘What’s so bad about the DUP’, let me take you through a potted history of Ireland, and in particular recent history, and why this recent move on the part of the Tory party is beyond the Pale (that’s a little joke for Irish readers – British readers, you may have to do a little Googling).

Ok. 800 years of British rule, which was barbaric, unjust and brutal. I’ll skip through most of this section except to say that even dating back to Tudor times, the English have a nasty habit of believing and cultivating xenophobic divide and conquer tactics. The Paul Dacre of his day, Sir Edmund Spenser, described the Irish as savages; a description that stuck while they were being stripped of their lands, their languages, their culture, and even their crops (which caused the ‘potato famine’ of the mid-19th century – the lie is that it was a famine, it was more genocide for profit. No foodbanks at the time, so the native Irish either starved to death or left. The population was halved to 4 million. Some ate stones and grass in a bid to stay alive). Being hung, drawn and quartered was a punishment remembered in Irish songs like Robert Emmett. You get the picture. Being occupied is not fun. Hopefully it explains why we support anyone but the English in football matches.

So we then enter the 20th century, and let’s speed through the 1916 Rising. The Black and Tan lads added to the general jolly japes of the history of the British in Ireland with mass burnings of properties, scalpings, rapes and so forth. We come to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, whereupon the deal was made to leave most of Ulster in the UK and the other 26 counties as the newly-formed Republic of Ireland.

Let’s shoot forward to the 1960s. It was clear that there were civil rights abuses by the mainly Unionist political class against nationalists by this time, which lead to civil rights marches inspired by those in the US at that time. These culminated in Bloody Sunday, whereupon British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in the Bogside in Derry who were involved in a peaceful protest against internment. This led to a cover-up by law-enforcement institutions across Northern Ireland and by the British government. It also led to a huge recruitment drive to the IRA.

British readers will know all about the bombings on their mainland. I’m not condoning the bombings or the killing of innocent lives. They do have to be placed in the context of loss of life on both sides, however. Loyalist terrorists were no slouches in that department either, which is why it is important to understand the DUP, the ‘confidence and supply’ partner of the Tories and their ties to them. So here are some interesting #DUPfacts  that the general British public may not be aware of:

1. Many of their politicians have roots in paramilitary activities – not unusual in Northern Ireland, but after all the Tories’ smear campaign against Corbyn for merely talking to Sinn Féin, this is a bit much.

2. They opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

3. They are the biggest anti-choice, pro-forced pregnancy party in the UK.

4.They are against equal marriage and fought hard against LGBTQ rights. Even David Cameron disagreed with their stance on this. Though he also toyed with the idea of aligning with them in 2015, had he not won a small majority. ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, eh?

5. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, worked with Enoch Powell,  when he was expelled from Tories, and claimed he was one of the ‘great voices of unionism’

6. They are climate change deniers who raked money off biofuels in a ‘cash for ash’ green energy scandal.

7. Accepted a £435k donation from Scottish Tory Richard Cook, from the shady Constitutional Research Council (links with Saudis), and ran pro-Brexit adverts in the Metro free-sheet in the UK.

The Good Friday Agreement, voted for in a referendum in good faith by Irish people both North and South of the border, has been the cause of almost 20 years of peace. The process broke down in March this year over the green energy scandal, in which Arlene Foster was deeply implicated, and which Theresa May would have known about. They’ve lost two of the major poster boys of the GFA, the late Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Given the history of the British government in Northern Ireland, their support of the interests of the Protestant political class over that of the nationalist community, to have been courting the DUPs since last summer for their support and then to enter into an ad hoc partnership with them beggars belief. It throws any pretence of the stance of neutrality on the part of the British government regarding Northern Ireland out the  window, and contravenes the tenet of neutrality on the parts of the British and Irish governments within the GFA. And it is a major security risk; not just for the people of Britain and Ireland, but most especially for the nationalist community of Northern Ireland. Unionists do not have a history, much like their English ancestors, of wielding power graciously.

The frustration on the part of Irish people like myself is that yet again, the interests of Ireland have been placed as secondary to those of the English, and in particular recently to the internal wranglings of the Tory party. Ireland took a massive hit in 2008 for the British and German bondholders. The pain was certainly not shared on that occasion. There was then the fallout from Brexit, where the impact on exports and the border between Ireland and the North wasn’t even considered. And now this. The most apt description I have come across about the DUP is from George Monbiot, as an organisation that are like ‘UKIP, supercharged by religious fundamentalism’.

The only very small silver lining from this is that it may inadvertently cause more of an understanding of Irish politics, and the politics and history of Ulster in particular. If the peace process doesn’t get shafted completely, we will all be very lucky. Suffice it to say, you have been warned. You think the Tory Party is the ‘Nasty Party?’ You ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

B-Day

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So now B-day has come – and yes, I am naming it as such phonetically, after the French contraption that blows water up one’s arse. Here’s my prediction for what will happen:

There will be a short spike in the markets, which will make the Brexiteers feel smugly justified in their choice. Keep in mind that the markets love stability and decisiveness, so a decision is naturally going to create that hump.

For no apparent reason whatsoever, perhaps on the advice of Sir James Dyson, famous for inventing machines that blow hot air, manufactured in the ‘far East’, Theresa May’s government is heading for a ‘hard Brexit’. Even Thatcher, the much-loathed and excoriated, would never have agreed to this – on this she was very clear. Like her or loathe her, she was an astute politician. Imagine we were in the 1700s and the UK had decided to cut off all ties with Europe and close its trading ports. This is as visceral as what’s about to happen in a less visceral age.
EU migrants will leave – what incentive to stay now? And in fact, countries like Poland are offering their migrants incentives to buy houses, to work and graft in Poland as they have here. As Brexit austerity kicks in for real, in a couple of years, and there is no money to be made, and the mutterings of ‘non-Brits coming in, stealing our jobs’ grows to a roar, there will be no reason to stay. The funny thing is – I’m not sure British people want to be the baristas and builders and NHS staff, having worked on the recruiting side of things once. There’s a reason the Empire went out to conquer the world.

And the UK – or such as shall remain of it – will be screwed over time and time again in trade deals with the US, India and China. I mean, it’s only business, right? To use any advantage available? As one of the former big business centres of the world, you understand that, yes? (Kapow! A gratifying blow for former colonies, at least).

However, to look on the bright side: Brexit has made a united Ireland more probable. An independent Scotland is possible. And the citizens of those countries have Nigel Farage to thank for that. I can’t quite believe I’ve typed that. The caricature of John Bull come to life, Mr. Little England himself. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the denizens of those places will not know whether to praise Farage, or to bury him. Even in Gerry Adams’, Martin McGuinness’, Alex Salmond’s and Nicola Sturgeon’s wet dreams combined would they ever have envisioned that Farage would be the deliverer of independence from England’s yoke. Tiocfaidh ár lá, and in the most unlikely of ways. For Adams at least that won’t matter – ever the political opportunist, a united Ireland by any means available.

And in 30 years time, when the die-hard anti-EUers are dead and the great English poet Donne’s admonishment of no man being an island comes home to roost, and those who are young enough and still alive to remember how some of their elders (and some of their peers) tried to sell the notion of freedom from laws they’d created, border control they’d refused, and the swapping of a relatively benevolent master Europe for the small and petty master England – fearful, isolationist, out only for cronyism of an inner and elite circle – then England will re-apply to be part of a community it should never have left. Prodigal, bowed, chastened. And sometimes, in post-imperial societies, this is how former great empires consign themselves to irrelevance.

#Brexit #A50

My Citizens’ Assembly submission for #Repealthe8th

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Why it is essential to the concept of the Irish Republic that we repeal the 8th

 

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising. An Easter Rising in which women fought, and sacrificed their lives to, the ideal of a nation that ‘….guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally..’. Where the women of the nation have been concerned, however, the idea of civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities have been denied, and, through an unholy alliance of Church and State, betrayed.

It is essential that we no longer betray our forebears who sacrificed so much on our behalf. The suffragettes who risked life and limb, and who had the added burden of not just being revolutionaries on behalf of their fellow citizens, but on behalf of their fellow female citizens. Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara and Elizabeth Farrell, Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell are names all but unknown now – yet the role that these brave women played in altering the course of Irish history needs to be honoured.

There needs to be reparation for the sins of the past, in particular the sins of the State in colluding with the Church to imprison and enslave generations of Irish women in the Magdalen Laundries. There needs to be reparation for the toxicity of a State that held the rights of its male citizens as paramount and sacrificed its women at their altar. There needs to be reparation for the lack of care given to the women who were unjustly denied abortions: Miss X. Savita Halappanavar. The endangered, unnamed migrant woman in 2014 denied an abortion by our courts. All the unnamed women who, for reasons of their own (which should be their citizens’ right to decide) have had to make the lonely trip to England. Oh the irony that their former colonial masters can provide the medical procedure that their own supposed Free State will not. What a bitter pill to swallow, on top of all the other bitter pills women have endured since the beginning of our nation once again. Same oppression, different master. In modern Ireland, the possession of the Y chromosome is paramount.

Towhit: either all of our citizens are free and autonomous, or none are. For anyone who considers themselves an Irish citizen, true to the values of the Proclamation, no matter one’s personal or religious beliefs, this is the crucial point to understand. To believe otherwise is to dishonor the very tenets upon which the Irish State was created. To believe otherwise is to betray those brave men and women who sacrificed their very lives on our behalves. To believe otherwise is but to ape the tactics of British rule, by which we were but second-class citizens in our own country. It is time to elevate women to first-class citizenship, whereby they have that most basic of human rights: complete bodily autonomy. Let’s finally do the right thing and be a shining example of transformation in the world. #Repealthe8th

Hope

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In the winter of 2005, I met the Clintons. All of them: Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. This came about because I was part of Sir Peter Hall’s second production of As You Like It, which, after a successful first run starring his daughter Rebecca as Rosalind, went for a second run with the then-unknown Dan Stevens as Orlando. After a fairly cold and inauspicious start in the yet-to-be-finished Rose Theatre in Kingston, New York welcomed and embraced us with open, warm arms. It seemed at the time like the whole world had come to see us perform over those few weeks. Lou Reed. Martin Scorsese. And then – the ultimate seal of New York approval at that time as we played deep in the heart of Brooklyn – the Clintons.

I heard about their impending visit 24 hours before the rest of the cast as my cast buddy on tour was our wardrobe mistress. (In theatre, Wardrobe is always ahead of the game).  To say I was excited  was an understatement. We tend to forget it now, after over a year of character assassinations by the Trump campaign and their supporters, and after EmailGate – but the Clintons were political royalty. They had that rock-star edge about them, and they were loved in New York, but adored in Brooklyn. Prior to the actual first African-American president, Bill Clinton was seen as the first honorary African American president. Which seems to say more about those times in retrospect – but that was the way it was.

Suffice it to say – their presence was the highlight of that part of the tour. The reception they received was rapturous – there was a 10-minute standing ovation for them. And afterwards we, the cast and crew, got to meet them.

I remember observing them, these smooth political operators, as they glided from person to person, and what struck me is the rarity of people like these. Our Touchstone, Michael Siberry (who later appeared in, among other shows, House of Cards) was costumed with a pair of stripey, colourful socks. Bill Clinton took one at them and said, in that infamous drawl ‘Y’know, if I’d had a pair of them, maybe things would have gone a bit easier for me at the UN sometimes’ – a quick, easy, wonderful, self-deprecating reference to his own position and the verbal acuity of the character. When a fellow cast member pushed me forward to have a photo with him (I’d mentioned I’d love to have it to send to my mum, and said so to Mr. Clinton), he took it graciously. Grace. Ease of character. Whatever his personal peccadilloes and failings, these qualities epitomise his presence.

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But – and this is not with the benefit of hindsight – it was Hillary that impressed me most. She was much softer in person than television had led me to believe. They say you can get a measure of a person by how they treat those who are not as privileged around them. Not only did she seem to know everybody’s name on the staff in the theatre, but she also remembered personal details about them. Even if she’d done a quick spot of revision before coming – what a brain. Encyclopaedic. Astounding.

I remember acutely the first time I voted. It was for the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Despite her obvious superiority as a politician and campaigner than the favourite, Brian Lenihan, she faced an uphill battle till he was forced to drop out of the race due to scandals surrounding his ‘mature recollections’ of certain political actions. There were those, including women, prior to that, who were vehemently opposed to her and yet she went on to become the greatest, and arguably the most memorable nationally and internationally President the Republic of Ireland has ever seen. As a young woman, growing up in the dark days of theocratic Ireland, this was huge. I look around at that generation of women, my friends, and remember what hope we all had for the state of women in the world. Young. Naive as to how our very existence and ambitions were a threat to some of the men around us.

If we were ever in doubt that misogyny exists in the world, and in Western society, once elevated as a beacon of hope for women among that society itself, this past 6 months of politics has exposed that lie. It has painted, easier than the many posts on Facebook and social media that I’ve written to that effect, to howls of incredulity from men, the picture that women face in society. Almost a quarter of a century on from Mary Robinson and my first vote, I’ve faced down enough misogyny in my own life – sexual, personal, workplace – to know that there is much work to be done before female equity (i.e. equality that truly benefits women) is achieved.

In 2008, while I was sceptical of Obama and his basically undefined policies at that time, I was cognisant of what his very presence in the White House, as the first African American, would mean to the African American community and the country at large. It’s been absolutely vital that he was there, and yet his presidency has exposed the deep racism at that had laid unseen by the wider world as long as white people were in charge. It’s been necessary, if horrifying to witness, in broad daylight, the acceptance of white supremacist dialogue, with all that entails, in political life and wider society.

the-clintonsSo, while I have profound political differences with her, my hope is that Hillary Clinton will prevail today. For women and our current place in society, it is absolutely vital that she does. Even if all she is is a figurehead, that figurehead is necessary in today’s political climate of violent, invasive, rape-culture leanings. She has certainly proven herself to be a political warrior of some mettle in debates with an individual who, quite frankly, should never have progressed farther than his playpen. It is on a knife-edge in many states, and there are many of us this side of the pond suffering PBSD (Post Brexit Stress Disorder), as in political events that seemed inconceivable can now actually happen – but today, I have hope. A person who grew up in the countryside of Ireland and yet may have unwittingly met two US Presidents understands that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. To paraphrase Harvey Milk, for today, I ‘gotta give [myself] Hope’.

 

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