Why were women not allowed in a meeting for women?

Anyone who grew up in Ireland during the 1980’s or prior will remember an Irish joke that went “Did you hear about the Irish turkey? He was looking forward to Christmas!” The joke, taken from an episode of The Sweeney, became a mainstay of British comedy and television during the seventies and eighties. It’s humour was based on the stereotype that Irish people were stupid, drunken, and dirty. But mostly that we were awful thick, begorrah.

Recent events have proved how far we’ve come. How jolly progressive we all are and, boy, have we ever reclaimed the Irish joke! Let’s return to the latest chapter in Ireland liberating itself from the past patriarchy as embodied by the Church, which is reflected in recent episodes of Liveline. Liveline is an extremely popular Irish afternoon phone-in radio show presented by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), the national broadcaster of Ireland headquartered in Donnybrook, Dublin, and hosted by Joe Duffy, one of RTE’s highest-earning stars.

Spanning three episodes, which can be listened to herehere, and here, the conversation began with the NWCI Eight. The NWCI Nine if you count the baby. Some of these women are members of a wholly self-funded, grass roots feminist organization called The Countess. Some are not. The views of the baby are unknown. A number of women received invites to the National Women’s Council of Ireland AGM (NWCI) and duly registered for tickets. This free event was open to all members of the public.

The NWCI, by their own definition, are “the leading national women’s membership organisation seeking equality between women and men in Ireland.” NWCI have found an easy way of achieving this as they already have Sara Phillips, a father of three, in a prominent role on their board. When this episode was made Phillips was still Chair of the Trans Equality Network Ireland (TENI), a non-charitable lobby group that is given a huge amount of money from the public purse, despite the fact that they have had some problems with accounting.  

Members of the NWCI Eight wanted to ask the women’s council, the state-funded representatives of females in our fabulous uber modern Republic if they had any objection about the words ‘women’ and ‘mother’ being excised from legislation that was specifically about females. All were denied entry. Not only were they denied entry from what was ostensibly a public meeting, but the organisers then petitioned the hotel to have them removed from the premises. To quote one of the NWCI Eight , “I was told I was denied entry because I was a ‘danger’ to their members and in order to ensure that the meeting was a ‘safe space’ we had to be removed from the building. This was not only a false claim but it was said in front of countless women I didn’t know. I felt humiliated. I was clearly discriminated against because of my beliefs.”

The organisers weren’t happy with the women disruptively drinking coffee and wanted them to be sent out into the rain. A fitting metaphor for the majority of Irish women now and the generations that went before us. We all know what happened next. Joe Duffy asked questions. He allowed women to answer them, and worse, ask questions of their own. And…. All hell broke loose.  Women speaking! Asking questions! During Pride month!!!  Apologies, I should have prefaced all of that with a “Trigger Warning.”

The ensuing debate went on for three days. THREE DAYS! During Pride Month!! Every pearl in Ireland was clutched and clutched hard. In my younger days I went to Pride, but I have to say it wasn’t very inclusive. It was all about Lesbians, Gays and Bis. Just them.  Dreadful. Of course, now we’ve come a long way and Pride is inclusive and for everybody.  Except ‘old-fashioned women’ even if they are same sex attracted because that, according to the head of Stonewall, is akin to racism.

Dublin Pride were so affronted at Duffy letting women speak that they cancelled their media-partnership with RTE. They accused the state broadcaster of having ‘extremely harmful anti-trans discussions’ and demanded Telly Eireann ‘make amends’. Dublin Pride also announced they had joined a new coalition – Trans Equality Together. This new group set out their stall in a letter to the Irish Times on 17th June. The letter referred to trans people as ‘a tiny minority’ and accused Liveline of platforming people who want to “deny the basic humanity and rights of trans and non-binary people” and who also questioned “whether trans people have a right to exist.”  You will never believe who one of the signatories to this letter was – our old friends the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

In the meantime, RTE was summoned to the media and culture committee of the Oireachtas, which is the Upper Chamber of the Irish Parliament, to answer for their sins in Pride Month!  The Oireachtas then did a spectacular, dizzying, Boris Johnston-style U-turn. No explanation was given but I imagine someone on the committee actually took the time to listen to the Unholy Trinity of Liveline episodes and copped to the fact that they were far from the bigoted Hate Fest they’d been led to believe. 

If you haven’t heard any of the broadcasts have a listen and make up your own mind.  Women acknowledged trans people and their right to exist. What they did question was the clash between women’s rights (as they are in current legislation) and those of trans-identified males especially around the area of single sex spaces. They mentioned that three violent trans-identified males are housed in the Women’s Prison in Limerick. They brought up all sorts of inconvenient facts around Self ID and the impact it has already had on women’s rights. One Twitter user was incensed that these women sounded ‘so reasonable’.    

By the weekend the foot soldiers of Official Irish Feminism™ had taken to the opinion columns to denigrate the women who spoke on the radio.  This was a ‘manufactured debate’ they said. High profile women expect to be vilified when they have the cheek to speak about defending their rights. Now, ordinary women, calling into a popular radio show to express their opinion are getting the same treatment. Some claimed it was a ‘co-ordinated attack’.  Apparently Irish colleens are too busy dancing at the crossroads or darning socks to be capable of having a thought in their pretty little heads without some evil influence putting it there. 

The ‘tiny minority’ that the newly formed Transgender Equality Together represent have the support of every political party, countless organisations set up specifically for them, all former LGB organisations, along with Amnesty, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and of course NWCI.  Women, 51% of the electorate, have nobody in Official Ireland, representing them and their rights.

Now that really is an Irish Joke.

Anne Marie Scanlon is a regular writer for Genspect and has worked as a journalist and a writer for over two decades.

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