Culture of misogyny and sexism in Irish politics revealed in new book

A culture of sexism and misogyny in Irish politics in decades past is laid bare in a book about the role of female politicians.

Madame Politician — the Women at the Top Table of Irish Political Power details accounts of shocking treatment of some of the most prominent female politician by male counterparts and leaders.

In the book, written by RTÉ’s political correspondent Martina Fitzgerald, former president Mary McAleese blasts Pope John Paul II for “highly offensive” misogyny, saying she was highly offended by the Polish pope who said to her husband, Martin: “Would you not prefer to be the President of Ireland instead of your wife?”

President Mary McAleese with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in November 2003. Picture: Osservatore Romano/AP
President Mary McAleese with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in November 2003. Picture: Osservatore Romano/AP

Ms McAleese says “nobody else thought it was funny” and her husband was “mortified” by the pope’s comment.

Former president Mary Robinson says she was branded by a priest as a “Marxist lesbian bitch” while on the campaign trail for the presidency in 1990.

The book also reveals how former taoiseach Charlie Haughey pulled the bra strap of ex-Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey in the Dáil chamber. Mr Haughey walked up behind Ms Hussey, then a senator, as she sat at the edge of the Dáil. He pulled at her bra strap and gestured her to sit down.

“I was sitting there observing a debate when I felt a chuck on my bra strap at the back,” says Ms Hussey.

“I got a shock and leapt to my feet.”

Mr Haughey told Ms Hussey he would “look after” her bill and said he had an “excellent minister” working on the legislation.

“I was dumbfounded. I was just amazed. I was kind of rendered speechless really,” Ms Hussey recalls.

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