Mná na hÉireann

Stop all the clocks. Stamp out the rush of time, which obliterates old memories and false hopes. Stand in silence for an hour and listen with open ears and an open heart. Do not heed the fictions offered by the so-called guardians of morality and decency. Stand against those who use dread words, such as ‘mental reservation’, ‘I have no recollection’ and ‘I have no knowledge of that conversation’. Listen only to those small voices; those we have failed, those we have forgotten, those we have mistreated. Because if we do not, we are all guilty, we are all culpable of accepting this never-ending sequence of failures.

We are distracted by the drip-feed of information, we are told it will not happen again, we are reassured by government minister after government minister, our guilt is assuaged by Bishop’s soft words and our wrath is calmed by the Civil Servant’s clever tongue. And yet another crisis and another set of falsehoods always follow. It is as if this State has a vendetta against the women it proclaimed it would cherish. It was the Laundries and the Mother and Baby homes, it was Symphysiotomy, it was and is any number of abuses, both physical and emotional. It is the Clodagh Hawes and Savita Halappanavars, it is ‘Grace’ and Hepatitis C, and it is now Vicky Phelan, and I cannot find the words to describe the anger I feel at one more shameful case in a list that stretches back too far and has too many dead women’s names. Nor can I ever imagine the chasm of Ms Phelan’s pain or ever emulate her courage and strength. I cannot imagine how professionals in the HSE believed it was better not to inform women of missed diagnoses. I cannot imagine ever sitting in an office and deciding whether this woman should be told that her terminal illness may have been prevented or cured.

Despite the tortured history we have all lived through, it is to our shame we do not protest as we should against the personal catastrophes that our sisters suffer. It is to our shame that we accept a level of mortality, as if we have agreed that a certain amount of women must die every year to maintain the credibility of the omnipotent mandarins in the Department of Health. And when I see men in suits apologising for the all-male panel of experts, I can’t help but think that there is the root cause of this eternal treadmill of inhumanity towards the women of Ireland. But what do I know? I’m just a man. How could I possibly know what Mná na hÉireann have to endure in their daily lives? And you’re right, I can’t. But at least I have a shred of empathy and sympathy. At least I recognise the pain, hurt and suffering of my sisters and in that recognition, maybe I can atone in some small way. And who knows, if all of us men tried that, if we all recognised that in spite the fanciful notions of equality the politicians try to sell us, women in Ireland are second-class citizens, then who knows what we could achieve.

The history of this country is littered with too many wrongs, and we have to do better. From the ordinary working man, up through the ranks of professionals, clergy and politicians, we can all make difference. So stop all the clocks. Stop doing what you have always done. Hold on to the memories of what has passed. Stop hiding behind words of fake comfort. The women of this nation deserve better. Our sisters, mothers and daughters are equal partners on this journey through life. It’s time that Ireland finally and fully recognised that.

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