Identity politics strikes again: Irish General Election 2016

By Andy O’Brien

How do you know a person is a sexist, a racist, a homophobe or any one of a smorgåsbord of adjectives used to describe a person with ridiculous prejudices? They want to consummately roll the dice on the board game known as Identity politics.

This board game is brought to you by the far right and the far left, and it only costs you your critical thinking and your reason. The best thing about it is that it’s never out of stock in the shops. You can get it in the lower expectations edition from stockists like Salon, The Young Turks, The Intercept, The Guardian, Feminist Frequency and many, many more. Would you prefer the hideously obvious edition? Great retailers like Fox news, Breitbart, The Blaze and InfoWars carry this edition.

The age of typical players of this game, range from opinionated hipster college students who are either involved in their students union or feminist society, or both, to middle aged or elderly people who are obsessed with their front garden and immigrants coming into their country. However, the game is most popular amongst journalists and politicians and is most commonly played in fora like Twitter, Tumblr or Reddit.

On the morning of Sunday the 4th of January, I hadn’t even taken the first bite of my breakfast or first sip of morning coffee, or first drag from my morning cigarette, before I was told a game of the lower expectations edition was in full swing in the Irish press, by my dad. An alleged Attack advert that was left aside by the Irish Labour Party (because some might have found it offensive) was leaked to the press. In light of the Labour Party’s success in bringing forth a referendum on marriage equality, and being one of the major political parties who campaigned for the constitutional amendment for marriage equality, the advert was probably devised to be a humorous play on the success of the passing of the amendment. The headline stated: ‘This is one marriage we should vote NO to this year’, with the graphic showing the leaders of Left wing Republican party, Sinn Fein, and the Center right Republican Party, Fianna Fail, standing hand in hand cutting a wedding cake.

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Most of the Readers of this article would already be acquainted with the leader of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, but the leader of Fianna Fail is a man known as Micheal Martin. Yes, they are both men in a matrimonial pose. The wedding guests comprise of parliamentarians who would be considered part of the Irish Regressive Left. Some of the readers might be already familiar with Mick Wallace, the Teachta Dala (or Member of Parliament) who posted a hideous tweet during the last Paris attacks, effectively blaming the French government for the attack, who is standing right behind Martin. Clare Daly, another Regressive, who defended Wallace’s remarks, is standing right next to him. The other two guests are Trotskyite TDs, Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd-Barrett. The Wedding party stands in front of the Irish Houses of Parliament, Leinster House.

The concept of the advert is to remind the electorate that a coalition government is like a marriage, and because of the radically different ideologies between the republican right and the populist left, that if they were to form a coalition, it would be one marked by turmoil and instability and the people would suffer for it. However, this is a rather interesting case where both the left and the right rolled the dice on the lower expectations edition of the game. Keith Mills, a gay conservative, and member of Fianna Fail, who campaigned against the constitutional amendment back in May, took to Twitter, completely misunderstood the advert, and had compared it to instances where gay people who were closeted, suddenly had their sexuality outed, saying “If you’d ever been “gay shamed” (outed against your wishes) you would be sickened by this cheap nasty stunt.”

Colm Keaveney TD, a former member of the Labour party and current member of Fianna Fail also took to twitter to take his turn at rolling the dice. He said “As a dad raising teenage boys to challenge homophobic remarks this puerile politicking is unacceptable.” Again, missing the point of the advert. I wonder what he would have said if it was Sinn Fein Vice President, Mary Lou McDonald standing in for Gerry Adams? The twitter account of the Co. Louth and East Co. Meath branch of the newly formed, Left wing Social Democrats party, tweeted out “It triggered my best friends mental illness who was homophobically bullied in [School]”. However, the best comment came from Fianna Fail Wexford County Councillor, Michael Sheehan, when he said “outrageous, who would be daft enough to put [Mick Wallace] in a tie.” Joking about the fact that Wallace attends sittings of the Dail (Lower House) casually dressed, usually in a pink shirt or polo t-shirt.

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The game was played throughout the morning and afternoon, in print, on the web and on the radio until level heads finally prevailed. The head of Amnesty Ireland, who is a gay man and one of the leading personalities who campaigned for marriage equality, Colm O’Gorman said “Stupid and not at all funny, yes, but not offensive. Depressing to think we have a few months of this to come.”

If indeed, this is the kind of political discourse we can expect in future, what hope does it have when it comes to important issues and the ability of discussing it in a frank and robust way?

Afterthought:

This article has been left to linger for a while, it was originally intended to be published before the general election. Since then here has been a few electoral mishaps, most infamously with the ‘Booby Sands’ flyer by the Sinn Fein member of parliament Mary Lou McDonald. Apparently a member of Fine Gael (pronounced Fin-e Gwale) the center right party in Ireland, like the Tories in the UK, had photoshopped Ms McDonald’s face onto a picture of Joey from an episode of friends, making fun the fact he campaign manager never bothered to spell check the leaflet.  She denounced the criticism as sexism.

Most people ignored the howls of her non sequiter and the laughter at the spelling mistake continued throughout the day – it reached a point where the faux pas was reported on the BBC, which was a proud moment, because ordinary people realised it for what it was and did not kowtow to any politically correct line, which it seemed Ms McDonald wanted. Of course most people find mockery of their mistakes at the very least irritating, however that doesn’t give any one the right to stop the conversation.

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Ireland is going through a really weird time at the moment. With the rise in the so called ‘Social Justice’ movement internationally, legitimate grievances like lack of access to reproductive health services for women and the Church’s historical treatment of children and the LGBT community are being mixed up with non issues like PC jokes,  ‘manspreading’ ‘mansplaining’, the desire for  gender quotas in parliament and the arts, and potentially migrant quotas in  parliament. As such, there needs to be vigorous and candid discussion. Of course mockery will always come into the conversation, it’s a way of making the issue more endearing, relatable and understandable to the average person, and playing the game of identity politics is just a way of stopping the conversation.

 

 

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