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Last week, women celebrated Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Little Christmas, a day when Mná na hÉireann take a well-earned rest and let the men take over the housework.
With its passing, maybe it’s time to reflect on this tradition and the status of women in Irish political life.
Our political system has a woefully poor track record of supporting Irish women who take a public stand on issues. I have lots of examples, but I will confine myself to just one. Roisín Shorthall, a former junior minister for health, stood up for transparency and openness in the allocation of primary-care centres.
Having sent her original listing to then Health Minister James Reilly, she was amazed that the announced list included an additional primary-care centre, in Minister Reilly’s own constituency, and another centre in then Environment Minister Phil Hogan’s constituency. In any other country, this would have been a resigning matter for the minister.
Instead, Shorthall’s complaints were portrayed as a storm in a tea-cup and an attack on the Government. Without adequate support, she was left to do the only honourable thing — resign.
Maybe Nollaig na mBan is built around a myth, the myth that only women can do household chores, the same myth that perpetuates the notion that only a critical mass of middle-aged and middle-class ‘supermen’ can take the tough decisions?
Geraldine Mooney Simmie
Lecturer in Education
Faculty of Education and Health Sciences
University of Limerick
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