International Women’s Day – part 1

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. And already powerful women are complaining. First off the block was Sinn Féin TD for Louth, Imelda Munster, giving out after the Irish Transport Minister and Independent TD Shane Ross had called her a donkey.

This incident took place during a heated Dáil debate during the graveyard slot, aka the Committee Stage of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 (resumed).

It seems that Ross was irritated at the way Munster had intervened in a discussion about green cards for motorists from Northern Ireland post-Brexit, to which the Minister is opposed. Ross is a former business editor of the Sunday Independent, and also a former Fine Gael County Councillor for Wicklow.

Munster has been a member of Sinn Féin for over 28 years. She was a Louth County Councillor during 2004-2009, and is described as a committed trade unionist. Louth is on the border with Northern Ireland. Munster is Sinn Fein’s Front bench spokeswoman on transport.

Sinn Féin’s name means “We ourselves”. It was founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith. It is active both north and south of the border. It has 23 TDs in the Republic’s Dáil Eireann, as well as 27 MLAs in the presently non-functioning and effectively moth-balled Northern Irish Assembly. Sinn Féin is now the third largest party in the Dáil.

So what was this spat all about? It seems that Ross’ beef with Munster was that he had been making progress on a contentious issue with two of her colleagues, Pearse Doherty (Donegal)  and Aengus O (Ó?) Snodaigh (Dublin South).

Those male colleagues of Munster’s had been hot-tipped to enter the Presidential race in 2018, incidentally. Each  was said to be a strong performer in the Dáil.

According to The, Ross commented favourably on Doherty and O (Ó?) Snodaigh in contrast with Munster:

They were mature, they were sensible and they were constructive. As I said, I thought what they were doing before the Deputy came in last night – and she was late again today – what they were doing was something very constructive. We could not agree to what they were doing because it was not in our power but they were representing their communities extraordinarily well.

They were like thoroughbreds in a horse race. You came in, as you normally do, you are like a donkey at the last fence.

The Deputy Chairman of Dáil Éireann, or Leas-Ceann Comhairle, Pat “the Cope” Gallagher called on Ross to use parliamentary language.

Ross responded: “She upset the whole apple cart.”  He further explained that his meaning was that Munster had come in late, as on the day before, and has ruined the whole debate. Gallagher called on Ross to forget the donkey analogy.

At this point, Munster weighed in, accusing Ross of seeking to conceal “his incompetence” and calling him “a disgrace”.

The knives were definitely out.

Munster then issued a statement demanding an apology from Ross, accusing him of name-calling, behaving in a way that is “inappropriate” – that weasel word! –  and of being “distasteful”. And then she played the It Will Put Women Off Politics card –  well, of course she did!

What message does this send out to other women who may have an interest in getting involved in politics? 

Predictably, Ross apologised.

Hang on a minute, though. It is all right for a female elected representative to call a Minister incompetent and a disgrace, but she can still insist that he must apologise to her for name-calling?

This sounds a tad precious to me. She evidently is happy dishing it out to him, yet cries foul if he speaks his mind about her, a political opponent – and seriously, they don’t get more opposed than two former Sinn Féin and Fine Gael councillors, respectively.

Do I get a teeny whiff of double standards here? There are far, far more insulting terms to be applied to a woman than “donkey”.

Now, I understand that a professional woman might be deeply affronted to discover that a male competitor ranks her as being, how shall we say, in the slow lane compared to some of her male colleagues.

Still, heretical though it may be to state this: not all men share the same opinion of the merits of female competitors, as those women do of themselves.

And you have to factor in the deep antipathy of established Irish political parties (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil), to the cross-border interloper, Sinn Féin.

Things are not quite as simple as they might seem at first, in politics.

Oh and finally, while I am at it, a word about donkeys. Donkeys are hardy, hard-working and friendly.

They are also – ironically – an enduringly  popular image of Ireland, if the picture postcard industry is a guide. Though I doubt that “John Hinde” is a phrase in Sinn Féin’s vocabulary, incidentally.

Heck! let’s hear it for donkeys, shall we?


Correction: an earlier version of this post assumed that Munster had succeeded Adams as TD for Louth, but I now understand that in fact they represent neighbouring constituencies.