*Photograph: Martin Connolly
This week we see International Women’s Day marked once more; an annual ritual of underlying and highlighting the ongoing second-class treatment of women in society and discussion on how things can improve.
The past twelve months did see some sea change in legislation regarding the protection of women, from moves to make stalking a stand-alone offence, to the criminalisation of revenge porn and unsolicited taking and sharing of intimate photos, as well as more concerted campaigns from the likes of “Take Back The Night” and the controversial “No Woman Left Behind” rally from the National Women’s Council of Ireland last weekend.
Things are getting better, but the pace of change is painfully slow. All the while, more violence against women means there are many women not with us this Women’s Day who should be.
Political parties continue to talk a good talk on the issue of women’s equality but when the push comes to shove, actions fall short. Case in point was the recent controversy with Clare TD Violet-Anne Wynne. Wynne spoke across local and national media in the past week and a half about her decision to quit Provisional Sinn Féin (SF) in frustration and anger at her treatment both locally and by national figures.
Her story is a tale that has been told in many other parties previously too and no doubt, we will hear again and again from all political parties in future. It is common knowledge that the first-time public rep had a less than stellar opening year to life in public office. Part of the blame for that rest squarely on the shoulders of Sinn Féin. By not backing seasoned campaigner Noleen Moran, the party effectively tossed her aside to begin with, ahead of the 2020 election. This was done in a manner that would most likely be described as ‘constructive dismissal’ had it been from a paid role rather than an election candidacy.
As such, Sinn Féin were left scrambling for a candidate as polling day approached and ultimately turned to Wynne who they clearly had not vetted properly nor prepared for the spotlight she was to be thrust into what-so-ever.
The litany of past issues surrounding rent arrears with a local charity, anti-vaxx posts on social media, drugs charges for her partner, and other embarrassing social media rants all began to come out. This, coupled with a feeling within the party that Wynne is not the polished media darling the party puts front and centre, caused many in Sinn Féin to begin to plot how best to replace Wynne going into the next general election.
It appears that this element has gotten its way and Wynne will now not be the party candidate going forward. She is not entirely blameless here either. Afterall these issues are hers at the end of the day, and her actions in the aftermath of their revelation did not endear her with party hierarchy nor local activists equally. Although claiming the party knew of her issues fully, it certainly came as a surprise to many local and national party activists I spoke with at the time. Speaking with some of these people again this week, there is a relief, tinged with embarrassment at the manner of her departure. Make no mistake about it, this will be a messy divorce, and should Wynne contest the next election, expect sparks to fly between her and whom ever SF choose to run instead. The bookies favourite there is Cllr Donna McGettigan, the Shannon councillor.
What we can say about Sinn Féin after all of this is one thing, they are the same as every other political party in Ireland. If the candidate or politician falls foul of the local chieftain or party hierarchy, the easiest way to discard them is to simple freeze them out. Don’t outwardly say “you’re not wanted” for fear of alienating the fee-paying members who support the politician in question, but do make their continuation with the party so unbearable it becomes utterly untenable. Seeing Mary Lou McDonald wax lyrically about “leaving no woman behind” at a rally last weekend when she had, according to Wynne, clearly signed off on a campaign to give her the cold shoulder, smacks of hypocrisy. As it does for all political parties.
Women, and especially young women, just are not afforded the same respect as old men when it comes to political discourse and political life in Ireland. And in the year 2022, that is one sad reflection on an otherwise great little country. As I write every year around this time; we need to do better for women in politics in Ireland. On that front, I regret we’ve seen no progress this year at all, save a Minister going on maternity leave. Basic steps like this shouldn’t be as monumental as they are, however.