How fortuitous for Micheál Martin that on Sunday, the Mail on Sunday should publish a highly ill-advised and mean-spirited column by somebody called Niamh Walsh, which took aim at the clothing choices made by the female members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party at their think-in last week. Make no mistake, the article in question was cruel, and demeaning, and FF Senator Erin McGeehan, one of its targets, was well within her rights to call it out:
I don’t know what is wrong with another human being that they could be so blatantly horrible to another human being.I am very upset by this.I’m not going to pretend words don’t matter.they do.words & actions & attitude are everything& it is how people should be judged. pic.twitter.com/Y9J5s1rscm
— Senator Erin McGreehan (@ErinMcGreehan) September 12, 2021
The consensus on social media formed quickly: This article was a prime example of the unique challenges faced by women in political life, and of how women are judged differently to men. Not only on their ideas and policies, but also on extraneous matters like how they dress and comport themselves. It was a good example of “shaming” and “bullying”. The Taoiseach, like any good leader, rode swiftly to the defence of his people:
Why the need for such a personal, nasty and unkind article?
An article written in an attempt to demean women who take politics seriously, and work hard to make people’s lives better. https://t.co/dDCIUBCb0B
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) September 12, 2021
All fair enough, so far as it goes. But it does forget one thing. After all, amongst the critics of the piece was one Lorraine Clifford-Lee:
A shocking + nasty piece today in @IrishMailSunday Bottom of the barrel scraping stuff. I would suspect the writer knows little about the lives, work + commitment levels of my colleagues who are delivering for their communities might + day. Jealousy comes in many guises #DoBetter pic.twitter.com/UkPZS0AsGM
— Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee (@LorrCliff) September 12, 2021
Senator Clifford Lee, of course, is no stranger to commenting on the appearance of other women. In 2012, she was describing Cheryl Cole’s hair as having “pikey dreadlocks”, insulting both travellers, and Ms Cole herself.
Then last year, Senator Clifford Lee was at the centre of a bullying scandal herself, when her former parliamentary assistant revealed that she had needed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after being employed by her:
The darkest few months of my life were spent working for a certain Senator. My confidence, self worth and self esteem completely knocked out of me. Still have some PTSD. Hopefully their new SA doesn't have to endure what I did. https://t.co/uEELYixaBG
— Niamh Traynor (@NiamhTraynor) October 12, 2020
Mr. Martin was well aware of both instances. He did nothing. Senator Clifford Lee was not disciplined. She did not even receive the admonition via tweet which has been doled out to Niamh Walsh for a similar offence.
Niamh Traynor is a bright and talented young woman, who was made to feel almost worthless by a Fianna Fáil Senator with a long record of hurling abuse at other women. But challenging Clifford Lee would have meant acknowledging bad behaviour in his own ranks. So Mr. Martin, who appointed Clifford Lee to the Seanad, said nothing.
What makes this story even more interesting is that the political editor of the Mail on Sunday, which published Niamh Walsh’s article, is one John Lee. Husband, of course, to Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee. Of all the Fianna Fáil women targeted for abuse in Walsh’s piece, it is a happy coincidence that Senator Clifford Lee herself did not, apparently, warrant a mention. Either Walsh considered her a rare example of a well-dressed soldieress of destiny, or she had the good sense not to insult the boss’s wife.
In any case, Clifford Lee’s words of condemnation are hypocritcal piffle. And Mr Martin, having done absolutely nothing about the bullying of women by a woman in his own ranks, has no authority or credibility to complain when somebody from outside writes a mean-spirited tract.
The same, incidentally, goes for all those Fianna Fáil women. They’ll speak up to defend themselves. They were very quiet when it came to speaking up for Niamh Traynor.