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Hung, drawn and quartered on Twitter - all for a 'fluffy' colour piece on women's rugby


Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Poor Niamh Horan.

She wasn’t being provocative.

She just wrote a colour piece on women’s rugby and next thing she’s being hung, drawn and quartered on Twitter.

You see, if you’re going to crack a joke or possess an unorthodox opinion, you really need to be gay or have previously expressed leftie ideals. Being a Gaelgoiri helps too if want to get away with it. If you could masquerade as some sort of victim that works.

Unfortunately, as a mere entertainment writer for the Sunday Independent, Horan never had a chance. Wrong paper. Wrong opinions. Wrong tone.

Now she stands charged of various socio-cultural crimes and is currently undergoing the standard cyber-flogging led by the recently ordained high priestess of the Magisterium; Una Mullally, who ticks so many ideologically correct boxes you couldn’t make her up.

If you’re just catching up, last week Horan went to a training session with Railway Union’s women’s team with a photographer, a bag load of enthusiasm and a sense of humour. The latter would be her undoing. In the resulting account she wrote for the Sunday Independent, she began with a joke concerning the gripping of thighs in a scrum.

The rest reported banter about the women players wearing fake tans and make up. So now Horan’s being attacked for perpetuating gender stereotypes. The Outragerati are ignoring the part that she was reporting comments from the players themselves. So much for truth to power. Anyway, I rather enjoyed the article because, having little or no interest in sport, it forced me to address my own assumptions about women’s rugby.

Yes, find the nearest cyber-gallows. Honest to God, in the 2.5 seconds I may have assigned to thinking about it, I assumed that a female rugby player would require a physical and mental disposition I will describe as masculine. Big. Tough. Square. Able to hold up a scrum and not panic when they do that thing of piling on top of one another while the person at the bottom of the heap has to get the ball out, but without passing it or something confusing, which I don’t get at all. Anyway, Horan in a light-hearted style challenged the assumptions held by sinners like me.

But the whole “It’s okay – they’re girls, not she-men” thing offended those who are on Perma-Offence Alert.

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Once the whistle was blown by the establishmentarians, the mob set forth against the fair Niamh for her blasphemous tone and honestly, it’s mad. You’d think she was defending paedophiles judging by the hysterical reaction on Twitter. Remember, Horan isn’t some provocative right-wing troll. It was a fluffy colour piece.

Then before you could say “Politically Correct” Railway Union caved and disowned the article. People: could we get a grip?

Not a chance, because despite the teenage condemnations of the old Catholic Church, the new theocracy knows all about dogma and crushing unorthodox views.

If you’re going online you have to learn that there is one set of acceptable opinions. You know what they are. Pro-choice. Pro-gay marriage. Anti-government. Women in Ireland are treated just like women in Afghanistan and of course, Ireland is the worst country in the world. Ever. And sure it’s no wonder we’re all leaving. Oh and when writing columns, always say “we” because “we’re” all exactly the same. And never crack a joke. Unless you’re sneering at a politician.

The leaders of the new church are so self-righteous in their convictions, they remind me of Heaney’s Cure at Troy, where he described “people so staunch and true, they’re fixated, shining with self-regard like polished stones”. This crowd are up all night polishing their self-regard, tweeting their pious statements and issuing Fatwahs against hapless heretics.

The next part is the ugly bit. The leaders start the beatings. The consensualists follow and join in. Passers-by feel bad, but are afraid to intervene in case the thugs turn on them. While the bullies get on with the job, the cowards facilitate the proceedings by convincing themselves that sure it’s only the internet, and what does it matter if someone’s getting a beating – it’ll be forgotten about tomorrow.

But the process isn’t. The mob rule has created an atmosphere in which people are genuinely afraid either to express their opinions or to support those being bullied for theirs. It’s a really nasty business. Women rugby players wearing make-up deserves at worst mild shoulder shrugging, not an onslaught.

It also distorts the rest of the public discourse because it convinces the management of the mainstream media that there is a consensus about some issues that doesn’t actually exist.

You want to know why your newspaper sales are dropping like a stone, or local radio is wildly popular? It’s because significant numbers of people are alienated from the mono-opinion of the mainstream.

If you assume the mob on Twitter represents public opinion, you’re ignoring the majority of the population who wisely opt out of the knitting at the guillotine vibe or indeed those who just opt out of it altogether. Twitter maybe a fact of modern life, but there’s a lot about modern life that’s pretty vile.

Anyway, Horan’s experience has been rough and I hope she’s okay. She seems like a tough bird – just like those rugby players.