The Sinn Féin leader's expression of admiration for film director Woody Allen was a baffling admission by a usually competent and articulate politician
What was Mary Lou McDonald thinking?
Her appearance on Today FM’s The Last Word, for its Culture Club segment, was supposed to be a softball interview. After all, what possible landmines could she step on in a discussion about her favourite books and movies?
Plenty, as it transpired.
Having enthused about John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Doris Day, McDonald next confessed she was a Woody Allen superfan, stating she "likes anything by him even though it’s a mixed bag quality wise".
The Sinn Féin leader said she enjoys Allen’s "very Jewish humour and perspective on things" and he had always struck her as "someone who was interesting".
Bizarrely, it was left to host Matt Cooper to interject and mention what everybody listening was thinking. That Allen, although never charged with any legal offence, has been the subject of "much controversy". Quite.
Allen began a romantic relationship with his partner’s adopted daughter – who he first met when she was eight-years-old – when she was in college and subsequently married her.
He has been accused of child sex abuse of his own adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, which he has strenuously denied.
McDonald said she found the allegations against Allen "very unnerving and unsettling", but she said his work as a director "stands still on its own two feet".
"In the #metoo movement, word came out on lots of people who caused great difficulties but at the same time I’m just not convinced by this cancel culture. It’s too absolutist. Too cut and dried," she said.
Causing "great difficulties" is, to put it mildly, a rather insipid description of the litany of stories of sexual violence, trauma, manipulation and degradation that have surfaced during the cathartic #metoo movement.
McDonald then moved to defending the professional reputations of other prominent men who have faced accusations of sexual abuse - comedian and former Democratic Senator Al Franken, and actor Kevin Spacey.
The allegations from multiple men of sexual assault against Spacey were "deeply shocking and unacceptable, but he was a great actor".
On Franken, McDonald said "really alarming things were said" about him which gave her "pause for concern, but you have to ask yourself does that mean [from] the value of the writing to the making of the movies – do you cancel all that?"
No, perhaps not. But neither should you minimise the harm caused by men who engage in predatory sexual behaviour or entirely divorce their characters from their artistic canon.
McDonald’s comments, and the deliberate decision to raise this issue on Wednesday is even more baffling when one considers she had earlier that day been on her feet in the Dáil addressing the abuse of women and children in mother and baby homes.
"The purpose and power of testimony is that it is to be believed, but many survivors feel that they were not heard and they were not believed," McDonald said, in relation to those historical abuse allegations.
She didn’t equivocate. She didn’t laud the professional reputations of any of the – predominantly – nuns who had been accused of abusing the women and children in their care, neatly compartmentalising their professional ability and potential criminal behaviour into two distinct categories. Her sole concern was that the survivors be heard, believed and that there should be accountability.
It can be argued there is a debate to be had on the value, or lack thereof, society should ascribe to the artistic work of alleged sexual predators.
But raising it as nothing more than an aside, in a largely jovial interview, on the same day the public was grappling with the horrors endured by countless victims of abuse in mother and baby homes was profoundly tone deaf.
It’s also worth noting that if a male politician had opted to wax lyrical about the artistic merit of the back catalogue of men embroiled in a #metoo scandal, particularly on that day, they would have been in serious danger of being cancelled themselves.
For a competent and articulate politician like McDonald, the interview was a rare misstep.
It only served to undermine the #ibelieveher sentiment she professed in the Dáil.