Thursday, 23 March 2017

McGuinness was not part of my movement


Since the death of Martin McGuinness on Tuesday my Facebook newsfeed has hardly been without a picture of him for a minute, many of these pictures are intended to be glowing tributes and show him looking like a great statesman or a young radical Republican, many more are pictures of him shaking hands with the British Queen or standing outside the steps of Stormont with Hugh Orde the RUC Chief as McGuinness notoriously proclaimed Republicans to be “Traitors to the Island of Ireland”
It has been a few days now of the same thing repeated ad nauseam about this man, and a few days of high emotions in Republican circles as differing accounts of who and what Martin McGuinness was come to the surface.

How did I react? I didn’t!

I didn’t make a conscious effort to ignore the death of the former British Deputy first minister in Ireland, I just simply felt nothing.  As a chatterbox with an opinion on near on everything, my silence led various people to privately contact me to ask what my opinion was, when I simply said “ah it is sad for the family” I think they were a bit deflated.

It got me thinking today as to why I am not really interested, I can only think it is because I never actually identified with McGuinness, I was never a part of his movement, with the Sinn Féin split in 1986 and being born in 1984 I never saw this man as part of my movement. I was not reared believing he was a Republican idol, I grew up my whole life seeing the provisional movement and all their members as “them” and then there was “us”.

I can empathise with Republicans who were a part of his movement and later left PSF, many of them older than me who left in 1986 and others who have left in the intervening years. McGuinness’ death has thrown up all sorts of feelings and mixed emotions. Many Republicans who actually worked alongside him or who previously held him in high esteem quite rightly feel betrayed.  
It is worth noting that when Republicans at varying times left PSF they were not simply to be left to their own devices, PSF actively tried to suppress the “dissidents”, this took the form of violence on more than one occasion and these gangs known colloquially as “Dissident hunters” were brutal. Some of the documented attacks by these gangs are that of Michael Donnelly from Derry who was physically assaulted with Iron bars at his home and hospitalised with a broken leg, Michael’s 10 year old daughter was also injured in this attack. Another well-known example is that of Bobby Tohill who was kidnapped from a bar, bundled into the back of a van, severely beaten before being gassed and knocked out, had the van not have been intercepted by the police God knows what would have happened. There are many many more incidents related to these gangs, too many to go into. 

Some “dissident” Republicans  have decided that in death McGuinness’  actions can  be understood, his character rehabilitated, others have gave scathing accounts of his life and criticised others as hypocrites for giving tributes to him in death while they vilified him in life.
When Ian Paisley died I remember hundreds of vile posts, I have no issue with anyone critiquing someone’s life, however I don’t like vulgar and crass posts glorifying the death of anyone, I made a post at the time of Paisley’s death saying that as Republicans we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and not engage in such things, this was met with some agreement but with a whole lot of hostility also. I believe the same about McGuinness, by all means critique him, I have said many things about him in the past and my views on him have not changed one iota.

What is for sure is that Martin McGuinness is gone; his colleagues have claimed he is irreplaceable, that he was one of a kind, I couldn’t disagree more.  Irish History is littered with Martin McGuinnesses, PSF departing from traditional republican principles and taking their seats in Leinster House and Stormont is not a new phenomenon, they are not trail blazers or radical new thinkers, we have seen splitters from the Republican movement pull this same move before from Fianna Fáil in the 20's to the stickies in the 70’s.

McGuinness may have been thought of as a great Republican once, fighting for the people of the bogside in his youth, in reality for me what he was was just another in a long line of Nationalist politicians, who had moved from a radical youth to a constitutional politician.

What we must do as Republicans is to learn from history, including recent history and not repeat its mistakes, focus on where we are going and not where others have went wrong.


Cáit

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Women - Know your place!

So Here goes my first blog!

What even is a blog? Apparently it is short for weblog, I thought I would open with an interesting fact to beguile you into being interested in what I have to say, and now that I have your full attention the topic of this blog is women and the challenges they face in Irish Republicanism. 

I have been involved in Irish republicanism in some form or another properly since I was around 17, I grew up in a traditional Irish Republican home, and for me it was the norm and continues to be. It was never really a question I asked myself did I want to get involved in politics, it just naturally happened, no one in my home thought it strange and although my father would have been more involved politically than my mother, my mother  is as passionate about her country as him , as are my sisters. I grew up in a household with 3 sisters, my mother and with my father being the only male. Long and detailed political discussions are the norm around our kitchen table; being involved politically we often have political visitors who join in and this has been the case in my home since I can remember, we don’t always agree I may add. The one thing that doesn’t happen is that my father pulls rank of any kind, he gets as good as he gives and often times we never see eye to eye on certain subjects.

I am giving you this background because for me growing up and being a republican, gender was never brought into the equation, being a woman never meant that I was taken any less serious or that my opinion didn’t matter as much, or that I was accused of just parroting my father’s opinion. This of course is in the confines of my own home, the place I cut my teeth in political debate with my family and friends.

Que the real world of being in an organisation, dealing with people in various organisations and of course the advent of the internet meaning republicans are more connected than ever. Boy was I naïve to believe that Republicans were all cut from the same cloth and that they were all essentially extensions of my own family. I learned rapidly that being an opinionated Republican woman came with a lot of draw backs.

Republicanism can be a fractious place, I am not suggesting that men have it easy all of the time or that they are also not subject to rumour and innuendo, however the ease to which people will slander republican women is unbelievable. One of the main challenges I believe is that if something untoward is said about a man it is looked into and the man can be angry about it and perhaps even get it put to bed, the true is not the same of women, if women challenge the lies they get accused of trouble rising and then we have the old “the lady doth protest too much” scenario that often comes in to play.

The first real wake-up call I got about being a female in politics was while I was working on a campaign for a prisoner release, I received a phone call from a male in the same organisation but not a member of the campaign committee, I had been unable to do a media interview and arranged for someone else to do it. This man was unhappy at the person who I had chosen, the screaming phone call from him included a lot of profanities and the accusation that I had no authority and that I was only a “figure head” and that I should have consulted him,  I was in a senior position in the organisation and this person had no authority over me at all, he was a normal cumann member in a certain area, yet he thought it was OK to treat me like this, my male counterpart of course was never spoke to in this manner, nor would he have put up with it.

When I told others in the organisation of this incident there was no reprimand for this person and I was simply told that the persons pride wouldn’t allow him to apologise although he had privately acknowledged he was wrong, and I was expected to just let it go for an easy life, stupidly I did!
Looking at this particular incident there is no doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t apologise to me because I was a woman, because in his mind by virtue of the fact he was a male he was in a superior position to me and that it would hurt his ego and pride to apologise.

I like many other women in Republicanism have been subject to the old affair rumour also, what is surprising about these rumours is that they can be carried equally as much by other women as by men.  People are obsessed by private lives, the fact I don’t broadcast my private life all over the internet means I am subject to slander, rumour and innuendo. Apparently I only ever got anywhere in republicanism because I sleep with all the “top men” a laughable comment in itself. It would seem that it is too hard to believe that a woman can be taken seriously as a republican in her own right without some man behind her pulling the strings. It is hard not to be angry when people think you are getting credit not due to you, when in reality you’re actually sacrificing much of your personal life to keep things ticking over, spending hours preparing and researching, travelling all over the country, nervously putting your face all over the media which can and has cost me a number of jobs just to be told that any positivity that results from it is not in fact your input but some faceless fictitious man they have made up in their head.

Much of the other challenges that women face are subtle and we rarely even call them out, language used about women is in stark contrast to that of a man, while engaged in political debate you will be accused of moaning, screeching, bitching, whinging and every kind of political discussion is always of course for some hidden personal agenda, once I was even called hysterical while discussing a mundane subject that I genuinely wasn’t even really interested in. 
I have worked with many women in various republican organisations and I have found them to be amongst the most hardworking, dedicated republicans out there, very often working in the background doing the donkey work, these women go unappreciated.  Speaking with other women in and around Republicanism my experiences are not in isolation and indeed some other women have faced much worse than me.  

I like a bit of banter the same as the next person and this isn’t an attempt to call anyone out or make anyone feel bad, it certainly isn’t an attempt to villainise republican men because for the most part they are great, genuine and never derogatory or sexist. This kind of thing isn’t confined to republicanism either it is in all walks of life, my main message here is that we can all do better, that we should be more enlightened and that the next time someone tells you a ridiculous story about a woman to demean and slander her, be the person that openly says that it’s a load of crap and that you don’t want to hear it.

If you made it to the end of this blog well done, I promise they won’t all be as long winded J

Cáit