Sunday 18 August 2019

Macho locker-room culture is why women avoid politics - and men are victims too

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Are you happy, boys, now that you've finally taken the women out? Which one of us is now in your sights and where can we next see those virile, manly snipers at work?

To be fair, the destructive knotweed of successive Garda controversies has been something of an equal opportunities killer that has felled the career of many a leading man, including former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Now it has stolen a death march on the careers of former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, our first female garda commissioner, as well Tánaiste and Jobs Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

It may yet even collapse the Government, weeks before critical European Council talks on Brexit: it's a fine, macho mess we are in lads.

But before you choke on your cornflakes, I am not for one nanosecond absolving Nóirín O'Sullivan, Frances Fitzgerald or any agency of the State that features in the Maurice McCabe saga.

The Supreme Court ruling in the Frank Shortt case is the high watermark, or perhaps, more appropriately, the lowest one, for the abuse of citizens by the State.

Shortt was wrongfully convicted on drug charges in 1995 after being framed by gardaí for a crime that never was.

The Donegal publican secured a landmark award of €4,623,871 against the State after a 14-year legal battle to clear his name in the face of "egregious" Garda conduct.

By that yardstick, the State will surely be paying damages north of €10m to Mr McCabe - and rightly so, although no amount of money could ever compensate Sgt McCabe for his trauma.

As the Irish Independent's Legal Editor for many years, there once was a time when I would have pored over every twist and turn in the Sgt McCabe saga.

Set apart from the main politico-legal fray in my current role as Group Business Editor, I need as much of a crash course in the details of this election crisis as any other punter.

But what is unmistakeable from my (admittedly) balcony view about the latest iteration of this seemingly permanent crisis, is a misogynistic undercurrent directed towards the female protagonists by some in this justice horror.

It isn't even an undercurrent: it is manifestly overt and speaks to the still-pervasive obstacles many women face en route to, or when they reach, the upper echelons of their chosen fields.

In the case of Nóirín O'Sullivan, her historic appointment as Ireland's first female Garda Commissioner was over before it began.

A small, internal cohort of gardaí appeared determined to take O'Sullivan out - they had ample external support with dedicated cheerleaders for their cause in the media. And regardless of O'Sullivan's flaws, and these will no doubt be robustly interrogated by Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Charleton, the manner in which she was overcome, and the glee which accompanied her resignation, was disturbing to this female mind.

For her part, Frances Fitzgerald is one of Irish politics' great survivors, and has served as a critical, near standalone voice for women in the current Cabinet that often resembles a junior infants class in a boys school after a sugar crash.

Her fate may already be sealed by that overlooked but critical email, and no doubt the Charleton Tribunal will also have its say.

But the vitriol directed towards her in the Dáil, and the intensely personal campaign directed against her elsewhere, seems disproportionate, notwithstanding the critical nature of this political crisis.

But then again, what more can we expect when we have such a low bar of political engagement? When this culture comes from the very top of our political pyramid?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in my view, has a problem with women, and not just the one woman - Frances Fitzgerald - who near single-handedly ensured his smooth path in to the history books as the first gay man and son of an immigrant to ascend into the prestigious role of Taoiseach.

I hold no candle towards Sinn Féin deputy leader and leader-in-waiting Mary Lou McDonald - or her party.

Indeed, my namesake and I have engaged in some fairly robust debates, and at least one of those unedifying spectacles - Mary Lou and I might agree at least on that description - can be seen at the mere click of a mouse.

But the supercilious treatment of Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil earlier this year by Leo Varadkar went beyond the bounds of robust political engagement.

For her audacity in coming to the Dáil prepared for a debate on historic losses that banks could write off, our urbane and urban leader transformed into a street gurrier, dismissing his able opponent in a manner that was unnecessary - and ungentlemanlike.

The Taoiseach, who actually reduced the number of women in his Cabinet, was back on the attack last September, when he compared Mary Lou McDonald to far-right French leader Marine Le Pen, despite their different politics, because "she always goes back to her script".

No amount of llama selfies, novelty socks or svelte runners' high shoots with world leaders can take the glaze off a home grown political culture that is one of the many reasons why we cannot attract more women into politics and public life.

Men are also victims of this locker-room culture which, as we've seen with the needless sword fight in recent days, is an insult to the electorate crying out for a strong, cohesive government.

It's time to grow up, learn some manners - and put the snipers out of work.

Irish Independent

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