I love the Eurovision. Love it. To what many people consider an obsessive extent. I exhaustively watch playbacks of Ireland’s entries on youtube. Every year, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach at the moment I realise our entry can’t catch up with Estonia or Montenegro, or whatever questionably existent country is at the top of the leader board. So, obviously I love Dana and her Eurovision story. I never tire of the cliches about the gap-toothed Irish girl in the Boneen dress winning over Europe. And I feel a happy little glow of patriotism whenever I hear ‘All Kinds of Everything’. If I didn’t disagree with Dana’s politics in practically every way, I’d consider voting for her in the upcoming Presidential election.
However, even though I wouldn’t dream of voting for Dana, I have a huge amount of respect for her. The Irish Presidency is, or at least should be, about taking stock every seven years. Assessing the progress of the nation and voting for a leader who represents the national zeitgeist. Mary McAleese caught the spirit of the nation as a Northern Irish leader deeply committed to peace and growth. Mary Robinson’s election, of course, represented an overwhelming victory for so many people who previously felt trapped and without voice in a sexist, anti-liberal, religiously dominated Ireland. David Norris’s campaign, for so many of us, represented an opportunity to really welcome the gay community into the national community.
Dana is an equivalent candidate. In 1997, my great-uncle who was well into his eighties was committed to voting for her because she stepped forward as Catholic, and in doing so tried to represent the core element of his national identity. She’s pro-life, yes. So were a majority of people in the last referendum. She represents Catholic ideals. Despite everything, a majority of Irish people still identify as Catholic and for many it’s a crucially important part of their lives. Irish Catholicism is in crisis, but that only makes it a more important part of our national conversation. And when her the religion she has devoted herself to is torn apart by scandal it takes a vast amount of courage to step forward as a voice for people who share her faith. In the same way it requires courage to stand by David Norris in the face of the slurs of the last few days. In 1997 she broke down the nominations system designed to shut out independent candidates. She is kind, she is deeply concerned with what it is to be Irish, she has a gift with people and she cares about Ireland. Ultimately, I think she is an ideal Presidential candidate, except that I completely disagree with the fundamentals of her politics. For that reason, I won’t vote for her and will caution everyone else against it. But I respect her and I want to hear what she has to say.
Irish-Fem-Net, a group I normally have a huge amount of respect for, observed yesterday that “from actively pro-choice Mary Robinson to vehemently anti-choice Dana. The question of whether any woman is better than no woman rears it’s head again…” A stream of cruel and abusive comments followed, calling Dana “plain idiotic”, a harpie, “sweet Jesus save us”. I looked on boards.ie and she was referred to as “thick as two planks”, an egotist and opportunist and worst of all “Dana Nomination = Ethnic Cleansing Required.”
These are the same people who have spent the last few months trenchantly defending David Norris against unfair and prejudiced attacks. The same people who rose up in arms when comments were made on Mary Robinson’s hair rather than her political standing. The same people who, by identifying as feminists and progressive liberals, claim to be tolerant and open-minded. Except when someone disagrees with them. At which point they will stoop at least as low as their opponents in throwing the lowest possible blows. I can handle it when people are racist, sexist, homophobic or actively discriminate. Those are political views I can take on in debate. I can’t handle it when the people who believe what I believe pay lip service to tolerance while degrading it with their behaviour.
I have been deeply saddened by the nation I’ve seen reflected in the last week. On every side of the aisle the discussion is dominated by anger, blame and abuse. People are targeted for attack, not their ideals. There is no conversation, no empathy, no compassion, no respect. In that atmosphere, growth and change are impossible.
As I said at the beginning, I think presidential elections represent an opportunity to take stock of the nation every seven years. We have been shown a nation in very deep distress indeed.