Maggie McEldowney’s comments, issued through the festival’s communications manager, come after a week of controversy in which one Rose claimed to have been “manipulated, bullied, and mistreated” in the course of filming Road to the Dome, a documentary broadcast by RTÉ immediately before the Rose of Tralee, at the end of which half of the Roses were dumped out of the competition on camera.
Down Rose Fainche McCormack equated the documentary to a “cheap reality television show” and Syndey Rose Brianna Parkins said she was angry going on stage, having “spent months defending the festival” as “an event that respects and celebrates women”. Ms Parkins, a journalist in Australia, provoked a strong reaction when she said on stage that she would love to see a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment, which guarantees equal right to life to mother and unborn baby.
Yesterday, Ms McEldowney, the winning Chicago Rose, said the festival committee has asked her to “field suggestions and input” from her fellow Roses in order to “resolve issues moving forward”, in light of the general upset and outrage at the manner in which contestants who did not make it to the final were told of their fate on camera the day before the programme aired on Monday, August 22.
“Sunday morning was difficult for everyone involved,” Ms McEldowney said.
“I can speak as one of the 32 Roses who made it through that none of us felt right about it. The chaperones and team members who have looked after us and cared for us did not feel right about it. Our parents and family members, who are the most supportive and protective of us, definitely did not feel right about it. Most importantly, the girls who did not make it through to the final show obviously did not feel right about it.”
The women were not upset because they were unsuccessful, she said, but at the manner in which the news was delivered. Ms McEldowney said the festival’s executive director, Anthony O’Gara, had not made light of the Roses’ disquiet and had pulled “the entire Rose of Tralee team...into the green room to personally apologise to all of us” and to promise a review of the festival process.
Ms McEldowney was critical of media coverage of the festival, saying those involved in running it “have been made out by the media to be heartless, ruthless, media-seeking robots, and they are the furthest thing from it” and that some of her fellow Roses “are being made out to seem like ungrateful, catty princesses who are only in it for the show”.
Ms McEldowney said she also wished to clarify the Rose of Tralee is an “apolitical” festival, although none of the Roses were asked to be “apolitical”, she said.
“Everyone was “allowed to have whatever views on whatever topics... but out of respect for the festival, not use our Rose platform to share those beliefs,” said Ms McEldowney.
“This event is not to ‘celebrate the ambitions and political beliefs of the modern day Irish woman.’ Could you imagine if all 65 of us had a political agenda on stage? That is not what this festival is about.”
Moreover, her own views would “not be in the headlines because this festival is not about me and my opinions,” she said.
It was instead about “celebration of my class, modern day Irish women, the marvellous women who had the title before me, and the remarkable list of wonderful things we are all doing (in our careers, in school, in local charities and causes) in our respective parts of the world”.