On ‘whataboutery’, echo chambers, freedom of speech and playing the devil’s advocate – or: Why can’t we all just get along?

As someone who is regularly accused of hiding in an echo chamber of angry feminists patting each other on the back, I thought I’d write to those of you who accuse me of that, who think that I’m not doing feminism right. If you’ve ever thought that I’ve been too angry, that I’ve been wrong to disengage myself from a discussion, that I’ve overreacted to a seemingly innocent statement, that I haven’t tried hard enough to convince the other side – this is for you. Please read it. First of all, I want to highlight that all of the below has been written about beautifully and powerfully and poignantly many times before; but that’s the thing with the echo chamber, isn’t it, that those important articles may well have hit a wall...

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On The Niall Boylan Show and getting ignorant answers to ignorant questions

Is the general public “right to be angry at the sense of entitlement” of a homeless, pregnant mother-of-two in temporary hotel accommodation? asked The Niall Boylan Show on Facebook the other day. Linking to screen grabs of a journal.ie article about the woman and a selection of comments on the same, the radio show noted that Laura from Cork was “not getting a huge amount of sympathetic thumbs up” on the site. Cue the radio show’s Facebook fans telling Laura to “close [her] fucking fanny”, stop having more kids and start looking after the ones she already has, get a job, and start paying for a living. Her “sense of entitlement”, of course, is never questioned – that’s already been established by the question...

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On reproductive justice, the failures of neoliberalism, and why ‘choice’ is complicated

It’s a funny one, the word ‘choice’. I spend so much of my time promoting it, explaining it, demanding it – yet whenever I stop to really think about it, I realise that it’s a word I’d much prefer not to have to embrace. For as long as laissez-faire or economic liberalism has existed, ‘choice’ has been one of its most important buzzwords, second only to ‘freedom’. In fact, the Swedes, keen on optimising language to become its most functional and least wasteful, would talk about a combination of the two: ‘valfrihet’ – freedom of choice. In the name of freedom of choice, neoliberalism has torn down many a welfare state in the hope that the free market, as an invisible hand, would bring us all greater utility by way...

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I oppose irresponsible programming – not free speech

So The Late Late Show decided to book Katie Hopkins – British tabloid columnist, vocal Trump supporter and bigoted racist extraordinaire – to fly over from England to discuss the context and outcome of the US election. RTÉ received over 1,000 complaints in little over a day, but the complainants were quickly labelled smug and opposed to democratic, basic free speech, and accused of – wait for it – denying Hopkins a platform. Let’s be very clear about one thing: this has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with poor programming. “RTÉ, as the national public service broadcaster, shall reflect the democratic, social and cultural values of Irish society and the need to preserve media pluralism,” reads the...

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We need to change the way we talk about politics

I’ll remember the morning Donald Trump was elected as the morning I cried while stirring the porridge. Some people will say I am exaggerating. I can only hope they’re right. The Ku Klux Klan are celebrating, as is the anti-abortion brigade. Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, the friends of Brexit – these are the people who feel as if they’re on the right side of history in this. People say that feminism has gone too far, but a man who talks of “grabbing [women] by the pussy” has just been elected to the White House. People say that white lives matter, as the new President of the United States of America prepares to build a wall between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between those born with a right to the American dream and those who need...

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Meet my sister

Dear new friend, Meet my sister. Her name is Klara. The last time I saw her was on the first of advent 2006 on a train platform as she got on a train back to where she was studying photo journalism at the time. I was living in London and home for the weekend, and she’d decided to ‘come home’ to see me. She took her own life just over a week later. I need to tell you about my sister not because I need you to carry me and tell me you’re sorry. I need to tell you about my sister because she is an integral part of me, and one I adore, and without knowing about her you can never fully know me. And as much as I like you, the opportunity to tell you about that sister I had, who killed herself years before we even met, might never come. We...

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Why politics needs passion: on tone policing, Repeal jumpers and rational reasoning

Is tone policing the new master suppression technique? What is a master suppression technique? you ask. It is a way to suppress and humiliate an opponent, according to Norwegian psychologist and philosopher Ingjald Nissen, who articulated the framework of such techniques in 1945. And tone policing? A tone argument is one which isn’t strictly concerned with what is being said, but rather with the tone in which it is expressed. Tone policing, consequently, is a strategy of dismissing arguments irrespective of their legitimacy or accuracy. It’s a derailing tactic and, I would suggest, a master suppression technique on the rise. Ireland boasts an impressive selection of recent examples of the latter, thanks to a series of articles...

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Rule of the people, anyone? On democracy and the system being broken

Look, I don’t mean to be patronising. If you’ve been to school, you know this; you’ll know it like the back of your hand. But today, it feels like perhaps we need to go back to basics. The word democracy means ‘rule by the people’, derived from the Greek ‘demos’, for ‘common people’, and ‘kratos’, for ‘rule’ or ‘strength’. Democracy, in other words, is a form of government in which political control is exercised by all the people, either directly or through elected representatives. Ireland is a parliamentary, representative democratic republic. Scrap the ‘directly’ bit from the definition above: representative democracy is a form of government in which power is held by the people and exercised indirectly...

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Free, safe, legal: on the importance of compassion, and why I won’t be playing strategic games

I’m going to come out and say it: I’m for abortion on demand, if that’s what you insist on calling it. Without restrictions. Time and time again we’re being told to tone it down. Again and again, newspapers insist on publishing opinion pieces telling us to be more strategic and less extreme. Not only are we too angry and shrill; our arguments are simply too much for middle Ireland to take. But I feel sick every time I think about playing the strategy game, and I can’t help but think that it’s them and not us who are doing it wrong. It is clear as day that volume and persistence works. 30,000+ people don’t turn up to march for choice in the rain during an ongoing bus strike for nothing. Moreover, I’m convinced that it’s...

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Why I’m marching: for real care and real respect, without judgement

I remember vividly the feeling the first time I found out I was pregnant: the magic of it all, trying to comprehend that what was there inside me was the beginnings of a new life, the beginnings of what could become our firstborn, half me and half him. One loss and two unfathomably amazing children later, I sit here trying to imagine the feeling of finding out now: the panic of it all, knowing full well what that teeny, tiny thing inside would be the beginnings of and how life-changing it would be. We hear the anti-choice campaign talk about the right to life. I’m marching on Saturday because I don’t think ‘life’ is that simple. I remember vividly the moment everything changed – a sonographer’s silence as she turned the screen...

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