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The murder of Ashling Murphy

Popular anger, but has Irish feminism lost its voice?

21 January 2022

People leave messages of condolences on a board at a vigil for Ashling Murphy
at Tullamore Town Park.

The size and number of the spontaneous mobilisations around the murder of Ashling Murphy,  the depth of feeling displayed, indicate the anger at the continuation of misogyny and violence against women across the majority of the Irish population.

However to achieve change spontaneity must be linked to a common understanding of the problem and to political demands that point to a solution. Despite the widespread anger, to a large extent Irish feminism appears to have lost its voice.

A number of opinion pieces suggested that the majority of men shouldn't be blamed, but the subtext is that men are the problem. Laws should be toughened up and the education of boys needs to be changed. Some representatives of women's groups were so vague that normally compliant RTE reporters pressed them to say more than "sea change" and "government action".

Some left groups organised demonstrations but really their demands and outlook were very similar to those of the establishment groups. This is very dangerous, because in the absence of a radical left voice there are other voices on the right who, for example, can use the arrest of a man from Eastern Europe to whip up a racist hysteria.

The mainstream view was presented by Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council, who called for:

“one Government department and one Minister. We would like to see it assigned to the Department of Justice with a very clear remit, because at the moment there is no clear line of responsibility, it’s split in too many different places and things fall through the cracks.”

O’Connor's comments have a material base. They were included in a government statement about a new strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and are the result of ongoing negotiations involving the NGOs, political parties and trade unions.  Just how effective this will be is open to question when we consider that the new strategy launch will be the third initiative since 2010.

So the response of a system resting on social partnership is based on tweaks to the law, education and new procedures and regulations.

Action in defence of women is seen as arising from cooperation with or lobbying of the great and good. Obviously criticism of government has to be toned down, so a more neutral ideology of patriarchy focuses on men rather the savage class society in which sexual violence is situated.

One other element of the partnership culture was a constant reference to gender based violence rather than violence against women. This obscures the reality that it is biological sex that is at the root of misogyny. The NGOs are so wedded to this narrative that the vast majority of organisations in 2021 called for the outlawing of gender critical groups.

There has been little discussion of the roots of misogyny and femicide or of the Irish context.  Yet Ireland has a long history of women's oppression which persists to this day.

The material base of misogyny in Ireland,  over and above the inbuilt misogyny of capitalism,is its status as a semi-colony and the role of the ruling class in defending imperialism. The main instrument of enforcement has been the Catholic Church and the remains of industrial schools, Magdalene Laundries and babies stuffed into cesspits are everywhere. Even today the government has failed to punish Church authorities or compensate victims and are forcing through the transfer of the national maternity hospital to a private firm linked to the Church.

And yet there is a long tradition in Ireland of radical socialist feminism that does not separate the oppression of women from all the other elements of violence and oppression, but links them all in the context of a fundamental struggle between workers and capitalists. This immediately makes possible a unity of women and men and all the oppressed in a battle for revolutionary change.

If Irish women embrace this path they will find their voice,  and it will be a roar!

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