As the world spirals into ever greater chaos…

“The true lesson of history was this: that the so-called victims, the poor, the downtrodden, the masses, had always struggled with spears and arrows, with their hands and songs of courage and hope, to end their oppression and exploitation: that they would continue struggling until a human kingdom came: a world in which goodness and beauty and strength and courage would be seen not in how cunning one can be, not in how much power to oppress one possessed, but only in one’s contribution in creating a more humane world.”

- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Petals of Blood

Ireland, I owe you an apology…

Since leaving Dublin a year ago, I have checked out of Irish politics. My engagement has declined gradually, but it’s approaching the point where I couldn’t cast an informed vote in a General Election and before long it will hit the stage where I would struggle to pass Junior Cert CSPE.

My checking out isn’t purely due to laziness or apathy, though that may play a part. Whatever Michael Noonan says about young people making the lifestyle choice to emigrate, when I realised that Ireland and I were done, I was standing outside Leinster House the night that the Savita story broke, with  a crowd of other people who were devastated at what the country — our country —had come to.

Being Irish is hard. It’s hard to watch government fob off the issues you care most about, because they’re scared, or because they’re prioritising the next election, or because they suddenly need to gather more information, or because everyone’s tired of referendums anyway.

But the outrageous treatment of Rory O’ Neill in the last fortnight has reminded me that the voices that oppose change in Ireland are not only scurrilous and spiteful, they are frighteningly well-resourced and not afraid to threaten, to silence and to intimidate. And the national broadcaster, as it still has the nerve to call itself, has caved and suggested that these are the voices of democratic debate.

So I’m sorry that I left, but now I’m back. Not back in the country, but back in the discussion. I know it won’t have much impact, but surely we need every voice we can get.

Media preview

The Experience of Women in Competitive Debating

I wrote a paper with Muireann O’ Dwyer and Clara Spera for the Monash Debate Review. You can read it here.

And here is a gratuitous photo of me, a woman, speaking in a debate.

Irish Times Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin Debating

Homosexual sex is a crime in India. Again.

What a terrible day. An emerging superpower, home to well over a billion people, taking such an appallingly retrograde step. My thoughts are with the Indian LGBT community.

NDTV reports:

The Supreme Court today said gay sex between consenting adults remains a criminal offence, dealing a severe blow to the largely closeted homosexual community in India.

The top court today said that the Delhi High court’s 2009 order decriminalising homosexuality is constitutionally unsustainable.

Activists say the onus is now on Parliament to legislate on homosexuality and repeal Section 377, a British pre-colonial era law that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Conviction carries a fine and a maximum 10-year jail sentence.

Although prosecutions have been rare, gay activists have said that the police used the law to harass and intimidate members of their community.

Transphobia Wins Tropfest

As a card-carrying member of the PC Police, I’m bemused and, frankly, disgusted by the film that has won Tropfest (apparently the world’s largest short film festival). If you take a moment to watch it, you’ll notice that ‘Bamboozled’ is blatantly transphobic and homophobic. As though that wasn’t enough, its punchline involves broadcasting the victim of non-consensual sex on live TV.

Basically, a guy called Peter meets his ex-girlfriend who has transitioned and is now a man called Harry. He’s initially a bit bemused, but they go drinking together, have a romantic evening with lots of booze and kebabs, and end up in bed. So far so humourless, stereotyped and generic. But THEN, when they wake up in the morning, Harry reveals that he’s not actually trans at all and a camera crew bursts into the room with the actual ex, still definitely a woman, and they all yell and laugh at Peter, pull off the sheets and film him naked. It turns out Harry has been the victim of a Candid Camera-type show and his vengeful ex-girlfriend has orchestrated the whole thing. It’s funny, see. Do you get it? It’s funny. You know, like Helen says:


Yes, because a man sleeping with another man is the worst thing that could ever happen.

The director, Matt Hardie, has refused to acknowledge that his film is offensive and plays on intensely dangerous stereotyping, explaining that “if we’re always worried about who we’re offending, we’re never going to make anything decent… ” You know what, Matt? You haven’t made anything decent. This film has no comedic value. The “you’ve been bamboozled” trope is incredibly tired and wasn’t really that funny to begin with. All you’ve done is add a twist that plays on incredibly harmful perceptions of trans and gay people. Incidentally, the Tropfest judges should also have to answer for this.

What you’re telling us, Matt, is that the LGBT community is a joke, a punchline, to be used at will by cheap filmmakers like you. Your film is a big in-joke for all the cis, heterosexual homophobes and transphobes out there who get to laugh together at how terrible it would be to have sex with people of the same gender and, by extension, to mock those who do. If there’s an extra layer of comedic subtlety that I’m missing, please do let me know.

If you want to produce something hilarious and thought-provoking exploring the reality of LGBT experience, I look forward to it. For now, your jokes are bad, they’re harmful, and I’m offended by them. 

On the battleground of modern life

I was in one of my favourite bookshops on Sunday – Blackwell’s Oxford. It’s a multi-storey bookshop with a breathtaking book cave, and is one of those bookshops (like the LRB Bookshop) where the arrangements and suggestions themselves are intellectually stimulating.

However, the day I visited was Remembrance Sunday (which I have written about before) and I was disappointed by the sign below:

Laurence Binyon remembrance sunday veterans day poppy siegfried sassoon wilfred owen

Now, I studied War Poetry in my final year at Trinity College, spanning many of the major figures from 1914 to 1945 and reading extensively about the background of war poetry of the period, and I have only the slightest awareness of Binyon. Strange that they chose to quote him, given that the stand featured the better-known war poets and writers: Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Graves.

So why choose Binyon? For the same reason people continually choose Rupert Brooke and Rudyard Kipling as the poets of war – their portrayals of war are at best sanitised and at worst romanticised. They represent the kind of remembrance that we crave – a rose-tinted evocation of eternal youth.

Sassoon refuses us that. He rejects any romantic commemoration of the dead of the First World War. He had the following to say about the New Menin Gate memorial:

Here was the world’s worst wound

And here with pride. ‘Their name liveth for ever’, the Gateway claims.

Was ever and immolation so belied?

As these intolerably nameless names?

Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime

Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.

As for Owen, he didn’t live to see any commemorations of the First World War. He was killed, needlessly and cruelly, one week before the signing of the Armistice. But during the war his poetry deliberately opposed the dishonest portrayals of eternal youth of Binyon or Brookes, portraying instead the reality of doomed youth:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 

Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

This is the reality of how we marked the passing of millions of young men in the First World War. We may choose to “remember” them with moments of silence and beautiful music and paper flowers, but they died to choirs of wailing shells, amid the sounds of agony, death and brutality. They weren’t heroes who died for their countries, they were young men who were thrown to their deaths, in service of the military industrial complex.  A painful reality, yes, but a reality we must face for as long as we continue to engage in the brutality of mass armed conflict.

In this article Harry Leslie Smith, a 90-year-old veteran of the Second World War, discusses why he has worn the poppy for the last time, because he cannot tolerate the memory of his friends being exploited to serve the morally vapid ends of the current government:

“I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

“Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.”