As we all waited with bated breath for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill to be passed (oh how naïve we were, of course we wouldn’t get it on the first go), I think it was fair to say we expected our TDs to take the matter fairly seriously. In fairness to Lucinda Creighton, even though I totally disagree with her and am not her biggest fan by a longshot, she still appeared to be genuinely giving it thought and searching her conscience.
This morning a video showed up online of Fine Gael TD Tom Barry “playfully” pulling his colleague Aine Collins onto this lap during a break in proceedings. After a couple of seconds Collins gets up and continues up the stairs (where she was headed beforehand).
Granted, Barry did issue an apology (not grovelling, just a straight up “I was wrong”) but there’s so many things wrong with this incident it’s actually difficult to know where to start.
Firstly, it shouldn’t have happened, full stop. Secondly, it shouldn’t have happened when both parties were there in a professional capacity, albeit on a break. Lastly, horsing around in such a manner during a debate on such an emotive topic as abortion legislation is really not on.
As someone who really values her personal space, I’d be fuming if this happened to me in a bar, never mind Dáil Eireann. I think most women (and even a lot of men) have been victim to unwanted physical attention like this, whether it’s someone grabbing your ass out of nowhere, or being ground against on the dance floor (both have happened to me in just the last few weeks, such are their commonness in Irish pubs and clubs).
Besides the fact that this incident sends a very clear message regarding how seriously (or not) the TDs in question take their jobs, it also sends a startling snapshot of how female politicians are treated by their male colleagues. Surely Barry wouldn’t have behaved in such a boorish manner if he felt he couldn’t get away with it? Perhaps I’m overestimating his perceptive skills though.
A statement released by Fine Gael explained that Collins was not in the least bit offended by Barry’s antics, which is fine; every woman sets her own standard for what offends them and what’s ok by them. If both were private citizens, enjoying a bit of “banter” (which we all know covers a multitude of sins), nobody would bat an eyelid. But they’re not; they’re elected officials charged with acting in the nation’s best interests.
Another defence was that it was 2.40am, and people can hardly be held accountable for silly antics at that hour, having worked for roughly 20 hours straight. This defence is extremely alarming; how can we be expected to trust our TDs to make clear and rational decisions legislating for hugely important issues if it’s accepted that they may go slightly insane through lack of sleep and start behaving like Neanderthals? This wasn’t the Dáil bar; they were well aware that they were being filmed and that the nation’s eyes were on them (or at least they would be, come morning).
It’s just the latest in a long line of gaffes by elected officials (remember the “F*** you, Deputy Stagg” incident?), whereby the mask slips ever so slightly to reveal the level of respect they show their esteemed positions. This was also clearly evident during the Dáil dress code fiasco two years ago, with TDs such as Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Luke Wallace and Richard Boyd Barrett vehemently opposing the requirement for business attire. Apparently they didn’t believe in showing their positions the respect of dressing appropriately, but why should we care?
I’m glad Barry saw fit to apologise in the manner he did- holding his hands up and just admitting it was stupid and should never have happened. I have no doubt that our government will embarrass us with some other silly mistake (hey, they are only human) sooner or later and I can only hope the next man or woman involved can be as honest about it.
Let us not allow this to distract us from the real story here: why it’s taken them until 5am to get through 11 of the 165 proposed amendments. It could be another very long night ahead.