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Forget the Dáil schoolboys, Mary -- and just keep on holding your head up high!


Heated row: Mick
Deputy Mary
O'Connor (above)
to apologise

Heated row: Mick Wallace telephoned Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor (above) to apologise

Heated row: Mick Wallace telephoned Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor (above) to apologise

The past week has been momentous. For us in Ireland, there was the selection of the Fine Gael nominee for the presidency last Saturday, Gay Mitchell. There was the demise of the News Of The World with its consequent threat to the whole Murdoch newspaper industry. There was Moody's downgrading of Ireland to "junk" status and at the latter end of the week, they were going to downgrade the US, which would have an horrific effect on all of Europe.

As a country, there was uproar about the education cutbacks -- the SNAs (special needs assistants). The brewing school-transport row is going to lie dormant now for the next month, but will flare when the return to school looms. And of course there was the cataclysmic issuing of the Cloyne Report on clerical sex abuse, which further weakened the faith of people in their clergy.

What event spread over three of the dailies on Wednesday morning? Yes, of course, you have it right, it was the whole Miss Piggy carry-on! In case you have not heard any radio, looked at any TV or read any newspaper over the past 72 hours, let's just lay out the matter in a few facts.

Mary Mitchell O'Connor, a new deputy elected for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, was called 'Miss Piggy' in a conversation between three deputies of the technical group in the Dáil. The chat ran through from Deputy Mick Wallace to Shane Ross to Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and it centred upon the fictional cartoon character Miss Piggy, who wore pink and was startling. Still tuned into the mikes in the Dáil but unknown to themselves, their words were easily broadcast.

What has not been commented on and is, I think, so clear is that this is most obviously not the first time those guys engaged in this kind of banter. There was a lazy and easy familiarity over the words put as they described Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor that day in the Dáil -- the usage of the words of the title of 'Miss Piggy', which I think was most insulting.

After all, who would like to be called 'Miss Piggy' or 'Mr Piggy' and by colleagues in the same building in which you all work together?

It has not been the first time, I would think, that these three engaged in this kind of banter because there was that easygoing familiarity about the way they addressed what they saw as a funny issue.

Wednesday morning saw an early and quick apology from Deputy Mick Wallace. Let me say quite clearly, Mick Wallace apologised fully, held up his hand, laid himself bare for blame and said it was his fault and his alone and that he initiated the conversation.

I have heard apologies in my day from wayward pupils. I really know the difference between a real apology and a sham apology and Deputy Mick Wallace's apology was gilt edged and GENUINE -- and so it should be.

He was deeply ashamed and he wanted to let everyone know that he was apologising. In fact it appeared he had telephoned Mary Mitchell O'Connor at 6.30am that same morning and I understand she gave him a dusty answer -- so would we all, I think, give to anyone who called us up at that hour.

It rumbled on throughout the day. Shane Ross tried to put in his apology and I don't know if to date that has been accepted. Then Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan went on the News at One to state he was definitely not going to apologise in fact he was "due an apology", he said, from the said Lady deputy! Try working that one out. I can't.

So it went on Liveline and various other programmes and finally again on Thursday in the newspapers.

I haven't met Mary Mitchell O'Connor, but I do know of her. She was the principal in the local primary school in Dublin where my two grandchildren, Jennifer and Sam, went each day. They loved her and so did the parents because she ran a good tight ship in her school.

She was professional, hardworking and had great care for her pupils. So much so that when she was announced she was going forward for election, many parents hoped she wouldn't get it as they felt she would be missed in their local school.

Jennifer, aged eight, announced she wanted to be a politician when she grew up like Grandma O'Rourke (me) or Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

As it transpired, I lost out and Mary Mitchell O'Connor gained her seat in Dún Laoghaire. Yes, she dresses well. Yes, she is sparkling. Yes, she is a professional and, most importantly, she has been elected by the voters in her constituency.

So Mary Mitchell O'Connor has every right to be in Dáil Eireann. She has every right to display all of the qualities and characteristics which she displayed in her previous professional life and yes the Dáil will be a better place because of her incursion into it.

And No, No, No, to her three tormentors who, in that easy schoolboy-banter style, I would imagine have been engaged for quite some time in this and other observations on female members.

Forget it, boys, when you are elected by your constituents, you are elected to do a job on behalf of the public and that should be the end of it.

My final observation is this. Deputy Mick Wallace apologised profusely, fully and with great contrition. Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor accepted and should leave it at that.

Do not try to subdue your personality, to downplay your ability or to overnight slink into obscurity. It is not your style. That is not the reason the people of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown voted for you so head up high as you go into work each day.

Can I say to the three male deputies, 'Miss Piggy' is a hateful term to use towards a work colleague. I hope you have learned a hard lesson on when to keep your mouth shut.

Mary O'Rourke is a previous government minister and leader of Seanad Éireann (2002-2007)

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