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When will the Irish media stop reporting on rapists as ‘doting fathers’?

You would never have suspected

The Irish Independent article published on Saturday March 25th  titled “You would never have suspected anything about his past’” was difficult to read.  The nature and scale of the sexual attacks carried out by Michael Marville against seven siblings is distressing.  But I have to admit the articles insistent coverage that the man’s attacks were so out of place in the village where he lived and married also made for difficult reading.  I am baffled by the Irish media’s continued coverage of sexual criminals and abusers as ‘normal’ and quiet members of the community as if this is unusual.

When will the Irish media realize being ‘quiet’ is exactly how sexual abusers and rapists across communities survive and keep their victims living in secret shame?

RTE loves to interview the parish priest so he can express horror and assure viewers that there were no signs and the village is a ‘quiet place’. ‘They keep to themselves’ is apparently both documented method for proving innocence and for avoiding being a victim of sexual crime.

This article not only references the church attendance of the rapist’s family but brings out the GAA club, and his in-laws ‘respected’ standing in the community. These are all completely irrelevant facts and perpetuate the notion that sexual violence is obvious and attackers are skulking around the inner-city with guns and knives ready to pounce on women and children on a dark street.

“It’s a quiet area, you’d never expect something like this to happen here,” is the recurrent theme in these articles.  I completely understand the sentiment as a neighbor or friend but does this mean it is part of the news of crime reporting?

Where do we expect these crimes to happen? Where is it less shocking? Ballymun? If any community should understand the conditions that allow sexual abuse to go undetected for long periods of time, it should be rural Catholica Ireland. When will the Irish media stop perpetuating the dangerous myth that the priest and men of authority should be the mouthpieces of the community and your church attendance and GAA membership predicts your trustworthiness with children?

Is it Time for Feminists to Lean In or Get Out of the Catholic Church?

Blessed Virgin MaryI told my dad it was creepy that we had to kneel in front of an old guy in a robe at mass when I was 10 or 11. I weaseled out of my confirmation at 15 and thought I was skipping into a sacrament free future as a young modern feminist. Yet years later I found myself having ‘words’ with the avid church lady in Galway who was instructing a few unconfirmed foreigners how to be good Catholic wives. I exaggerate – she was leading a confirmation prep class that I had to attend in order to receive confirmation at St. John’s in Galway so I could marry my Irish fiance in the Church but I felt like I was prostrating myself again in a front of a man in a robe.

Fast forward through a Master’s degree, my wedding, funerals, jobs, two baptisms, a move back to the US and here I am again contemplating yet another Catholic ritual. The sick irony of the Irish government hosting a Citizen’s Assembly on the 8th amendment while making no moves to open a criminal investigation into the hundreds of human remains found at the site of the former Bon Secours Tuam ‘home’ for mothers and children makes me wonder why the hell I am considering signing my son up to make his First Communion next year. Why the hell, am I a feminist who does not believe in a literal reading of the bible, still a Catholic at all?

Many Irish feminists and journalists have the answer for me. I can’t be a feminist and a Catholic and I am choosing the easy path by continuing to participate in a corrupt organization’s rituals. According to Donald Clarke’s opinion piece reprinted by The Irish Times in relation to the question of the church’s rituals, I shouldn’t participate in rituals, such as First Communion, if I don’t approve of the church.  This might be the simplest solution to my dilemma but who does it help and if it was that simple to me I would have already expunged the Roman Catholic from my identity. As I struggle to answer this question for my own sake (sorry, I don’t care about your opinion about my feminism or my Catholicism) three answers emerge.

Firstly, I like rituals because they connect me to the generations of my family before me and to communities all over the world in a way that creating my own brand of religious rituals wouldn’t do for me or my children.

Secondly, I have enough respect for the victims of the church’s abuse who are still Catholics and still participate in the rituals to consider their faith might not be misplaced.

Finally, feeling like I need to take individual responsibility for the wrongs of the Catholic church perpetuates the silent guilt created by the Catholic power structures in Ireland and Irish-America that allowed communities to stay behind their curtains while not so secret abuse, imprisonment and shaming went on in parishes everywhere.

Why are families urged to take their child out of communion prep or choose a rare non-denominational school rather than demand the crucifix and communion get out of their state-funded schools? The victims of abuse have overcome enormous physical and psychological obstacles to confront the power of bishops, cardinals, parish priests, nuns and the Vatican as a whole and what have we done about it collectively as Catholics to support them? Why in 2014 did Catherine Corless, an amateur historian, have to single-handedly research and publicize the death and secret burial of hundreds of babies in what were public institutions in communities all over Ireland?

The feminist and community development professional in me can’t quite just walk away.  I continue to vote even when I don’t ‘approve’ of the major political parties in Ireland or America. Feminists don’t approve of Donald Trump but they haven’t all left the political arena. Women have done the opposite and are flooding political institutions and decision-making structures in the attempt to collectively change politics. The silent treatment is a particularly Irish solution to conflict. I hate the silent treatment. The person you are ignoring doesn’t know why you are ignoring them and you don’t get the satisfaction of being angry. Staying home on Sunday morning is just like the silent treatment. This might prove to be the best option for me but I would rather be part of an Irish-led collective movement to remove the church and their sexist and controlling leaders from social policy in Ireland and the US.   I would rather see Catholics in Ireland and America throw off the guilt and silence created by the church and demand their rightful role as members in creating church policy. The public campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland is the first step to eradicating the smug and sanctimonious moral high ground from Irish social policy.

The Politics of Puzzling Hair

Donald Trump’s campaign started off as an Apprentice sequel. A bit of car crash television that viewers watch to enjoy a good laugh and then end up emotionally involved.  Then it veered and swerved wildly into attacking the mother of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan then onto sexual assault. As his R-rated campaign has turned from reality television into a slasher film, complete with racial slurs and stereotypes, it has become apparent that Trump could use a few politicking lessons from the wily gombeen men of Irish politics.

Who would have thought that the Healy-Rae political dynasty  would make a U.S. presidential candidate look backwards and provincial for his lack of policy platform, general knowledge and eloquence?

Jackie & Michael Healy-Rae’s stupid hats & hatless Danny Healy-Rae
Who also would have thought that a presidential candidate would share a penchant for puzzling hair and bad hats with the original gombeen man, Jackie Healy-Rae?

Trump’s stupid hat
On the surface there are no similarities between the Irish political dynasty of the Healy-Raes in County Kerry and empire of Donald Trump, but under the cap is a different story. Political watchers will be surprised to learn they share more than just spectacular comb-overs.

If you’re not familiar with today’s Irish politics you may not know the infamous political dynasty that is the Healy-Rae family of Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry.  The term political dynasty conjures up images of tanned Kennedy’s romping on rolling lawns of their Hyannis compound in tennis whites. Think rumpled suit jackets, mucky shoes, paddy caps and heavy machinery and you have an accurate mental image.

Modern Irish politics has many gombeen characters (remember Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach who was so calculatedly pedestrian that he avoided bribe accusations by claiming he didn’t even have a bank account. He slithered right out of the spotlight after his Celtic Tiger came crashing down and bankrupt Irish banks and taxpayers)

Gombeen is one of those great Irish words adapted from the Irish language but embedded with cultural meaning that makes it difficult to directly define. The Irish word ‘gaimbín’ is a noun meaning interest as in the actual interest charged on a loan. It then became used to define a money-lender and then specifically a shop-keeper or business man who sold gods and food to the poor on credit and charged crippling interest rates.

In general, it refers to shady ‘wheeler-dealer’ type of business men who accepts bribes or looking to make a quick buck at someone else’s expense.

It’s now generally used to describe politicians and businessmen involved in self-serving activities, and more specifically Irish politicians involved in Daly-style vote getting in exchange for pursuing personal favors for constituents. Gombeen men skillfully make insider deals while convincing their supporters that they are actually outsiders, like them, and hence more straight talking and capable of representing the common man’s interests.

The concept is really that despite being wealthy because of your political connections (Healy-Rae and Trump wealth is of course relative) and having no skills, experience or knowledge of public policy or government, you are the more trustworthy candidate because you are a regular Joe-sop just trying to look out for the other honest Joe-sops that no one in Dublin (or Washington) gives a shite about it because they are too sophisticated and corrupt to care about the rest of us. Regular Joe-sops are always honest when it comes to elections.

So while gombeen men make it seem easy to convince voters that they are more trustworthy than the usual politicians, Trump has shown us all that it takes a considerable (and possible uniquely Irish) skill set to maintain the line between straight-talking and ranting without alienating the media and less extreme voters.

Trump began his campaign in gombeen style with virtually no policy interests and lots of controversial ‘straight talking’ air time. Although he was technically a party nominee, he never really felt like a member of any party. He has no policy platform based on facts, plans or experience. Statements about terrorists, immigrants and plans to build a wall on the U.S. – Mexican border with Mexican funding are as far removed from public policy as Danny Healy-Rae’s claims that global warming is not real or Michael’s claims that the Gardaí should dole out drink-driving permits to rural pub drinkers because drink-driving is a made-up problem in Ireland (the Healy-Raes own a rural pub).

Many Irish politicians and commentators have argued that Healy-Rae style politics is damaging to the national interest by ultimately blocking policy decisions that might benefit the Ireland as a whole in favor of local interests. Their ‘local’ interest is to expand their voter base in Kerry and translate this into increased local and national offices. To be fair to them, most international political commentators now argue that Trump style politics is damaging to the U.S. national interests for far worse reasons!

Of course he had a different schtick than the Healy Raes because he’s not hiding his wealth but we have to factor in the cultural differences here. Trump’s number one asset in the U.S. is that he’s rich but his boastful wealth would be a hindrance in political life in Ireland and would it make it impossible for voters to buy the “I’m one of the guys the locker room” talk and trust him (especially while suffering from the Celtic-Tiger champagne hangover).

Trump has now left the likable gombeen track and is completely off-roading in uncharted political wilderness in the U.S. He made some crucial mistakes when he went from calculated ignorance to galvanizing hate and bullying. Gombeens have to carefully calculate how controversial their outrageous publicity seeking statements are in order to maximize press coverage and unmanaged non politician image but rather a regular honest man who just says what’s on his mind. Danny Healy-Rae has received international coverage for outrageous and incorrect statements about climate change being a hoax which he claims is proved by the story of Noah’s Ark (Please look this up, it’s brilliant) and Michael Healy-Rae put forward a motion to make drunk driving legal in certain circumstances where old men and rural pubs are involved (for example their own pub in South Kerry).

Trump has lost the art of being controversial and straight talking by being hateful towards groups that are generally seen as easy targets by a bully.  Gombeen men make ignorant comments, but they save their ire for the smug politicians and elite of the Pale in Dublin and certainly know better than to bully vulnerable groups like those pesky people with disabilities and victims of sexual assault.  How unfair that the media and public tend to take their side!

Trump is shockingly less calculated then the Healy-Rae boys with his late-night tweets, rants and general buffoonery. The Healy-Raes don’t even have a real office – they hold clinics in a pub and their public relations management puts him to shame. Maybe he and his professional political advisers and strategists (assuming he hasn’t had them all beheaded or locked in a tower by now) could use a trip to Kilgarvan in order to see how you win elections without addressing any real policy issues.  A few pints and easy singles slices might just be what this election needs to turn things around.

The Irish Snow

I grew up in Maine, the northernmost state on the east coast of the United States. Maine is beautiful…beautiful if you like winter for 6 months of the year. Snow can begin in early November and last through March or early April. This means Mainers move a lot snow. Between 50 and 100 inches per year to be exact. The annual snowfall varies depending on the region. The coastal areas are lower and manageable but the northern and interior regions are buried for 6 months of the year.

Growing up in Maine sometimes leaves you with a love of flannel, camouflage everything, stockpiling and L.L Bean boots but it always leaves with you with the ability to plow through snow (pun intended). While I lived in Ireland for 10 years I couldn’t help but notice the kafuffle caused by ice every winter.

Yes, we have the cars, clothes and equipment for it but here are a few transferrable skills from a Mainer to help the Irish deal with ice and snow that is upon Ireland now.
Also, please stop posting pictures while driving over the Connors Pass in a blizzard. Just stop driving over the Connors Pass in a blizzard.

Black Ice is Not Everywhere
Yes, the roads are plowed here and we have private and public plow crews working through the night (most people pay for the plows to clear their rural roads and driveways) but Maine is the size of Ireland and it’s impossible to keep the roads clear when the snow is falling fast. Unless it’s a big storm, life goes on so you are expected to get to work and school. This means lots of driving on slippery roads in bad visibility.
I’m not sure where Kerry drivers got the idea that black ice was lurking around every corner ready to jump out and attack them but it seemed to be a very common fear. You will be fine if you go slow enough. The trick to driving in snow and ice is not a trick at all. Go slow enough to ensure that you don’t need your brakes to slow down.
You will inevitably skid and slip in snow and ice but if you are going slow enough, you can correct or ride it out without slamming on the brakes and turning into a spin and careening into another car or off the road. That being said, you can’t control other speed demons who are going to smash into you so if you are very nervous only drive in emergencies.

The Cold Kills
Americans wear ugly and practical clothes like our famous clunky white sneakers. Mainers dress worse than the average American. Carhartts, a flannel shirt and a down vest passes for a tuxedo here. There’s an old joke that goes “What’s the difference between a Maine black bear and a Maine women?” “A flannel shirt.”

The Mainer in me was baffled by the lack of appropriate outerwear in Ireland. How do you not even wear rain coats? I would shudder at the sight of drenched young women running around in high-heels and cotton fashion jackets riding up their backs and exposing wet skin.

Extreme and prolonged cold is no joke and it kills hundreds of elderly people in the U.S. each year. Get prepared and cover your ears, head, fingers and toes.

Fuel poverty is also a serious issue here and if you run out of oil, things can get seriously dangerous fast so if you know someone at risk, take them to your house before a storm or ensure they have enough fuel to last for days.
Falling is another cause of broken bones all winter so make sure elderly neighbors and families don’t have to go out for fuel or food and that you clear roads, steps and walkways for them. Sand and grit is often available for free from councils (or at the beach) and all you need is a bucketful to keep around.

Stop Waiting for the Council                                                                                                               My son was born in December of 2009 in the middle of a cold icy snap in Kerry. I made a treacherous trip to my GP with him when he was a few days old. None of the sidewalks were clear in Tralee at 11 o’clock in the morning. There were lots of complaints about the Council. What there wasn’t? Lots of people out clearing roads and footpaths or spreading sand.

Who does this in Maine? We do.

Shovel steps, clear the driveway (plows bury footpaths and walkways), spread sand and salt, repeat. This is a never-ending cycle of drudgery but there is no magic snow removal fairy and the cities and towns keep the main roads cleared. The rest is up to you. Residential and commercial properties clear the sidewalks and access routes around their buildings. Neighbors shovel driveways of those who can’t do it themselves or those who aren’t home. Ice and snow are particularly dangerous for anyone with mobility or balance issues so be kind and clear the whole footpath up and down the road if you are able-bodied.

Those Ice Things for Your Shoes are a Waste of Time
On a related note, don’t buy those crampon things they sell at Aldi and Lidl to slip over your regular shoes. They are a gimmick and are not going to help you. Wear flat boots and wool socks and walk slow. Help pregnant women, people with disabilities and the elderly get from the car to the wherever they are going. Ugg-style boots are not outdoor boots. They are extremely slippery and have caused me to wipeout on just wet tiles in the town square.

For the Love of God, Stop Pouring Boiling Water on your Windscreen!
I know you love to boil the kettle and this method of ice removal seems logical. My family arrived that Christmas of 2009 and still talk about the rental car guy running out the car park in Shannon with a boiled kettle to ‘clear the wind screen’. Hot water will indeed melt ice but you know what else it will do? Crack your windscreen. The temperature change between the boiling water and the ice can crack your windscreen. That’s an expensive (and unnecessary) gamble. Spend an extra 10 minutes. Get bundled up, go out and turn your car on and let it heat up with the defrost on high. Wait in the house. If you have inches of snow on your car, use a sweeping brush to clear the car roof and windows off. The snow flies off while driving and creates visibility issues for other drivers. An old credit card works like an ice scraper if you are stuck.

I lived in Ireland for ten years and every winter there was some ice and lots of talk about no one had the right gear. Just buy an ice scraper and put it in your car when winter comes. They cost about $10 and are in hardware stores. The really good ones have a brush on the end. Simple Maine pleasures.