Everything new is old again

The historic defeat of Theresa May’s proposed Brexit withdrawal deal sounds decisive, but the only other thing that 432 Westminster MPs agree on is that everyone else has it wrong. From the hard Brexiteers gearing up to jump joyfully off the cliff, through the various shades of an undefined ‘softer’ Brexit, to the Remainers who refuse to agree among themselves, consensus is what the ‘others’ refuse to come to.

In the broad view of history, that is, 2018 is an ellipsis stretching from Theresa May’s ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (without defining either term) to Arlene Foster’s ‘Ulster says NO. Now, what’s the question?’

Do not speak if you do not want to be silenced

In the era of #MeToo, a return to a literary classic—Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—explores issues of revolt and recuperation. As Christine Blasey Ford found out, being heard is not the same as being listened to. In her heroic act of self-immolation—speaking out about a painful and life-changing experience only to have her story dismissed—Doctor Ford established that a rational woman is no contest for an hysterical and intemperate man. Do not speak if you do not want to be silenced.

Of flayed flesh and marble slabs. Jorge Luis Borges and language

Carol Ayres explores ‘a peculiar poem even for Borges and finds his remoteness of language at odds with the imagery, which references butchers and prostitutes (and witches)—the working class, that is, which is usually associated with plain speech not abstruse or rarefied language. This contrast—between form and content, as well as between the quotidian reality of the butchers and prostitutes and the language used to describe it—introduces one of the primary tensions of the poem. 

Of motherhood and madness

The full facts of the ‘Kerry babies’ case may never be known—we may never find out who killed the baby found on the Cahersiveen beach. The original investigation was notable for the extent to which garda energy was directed not towards finding out who killed the baby, but towards building a prosecutorial case against Joanne Hayes, even after it became clear that she was not and could not have been the mother, much less the murderer, of that baby. In the words of Tom Inglis, ‘You could not make it up. There are so many elements to the Kerry babies case that make it seem like a weird novel set in some dystopian society’

Kerry Babies: The official story

Since material evidence was uncertain or contradictory, one had to resort to evidence of a mental kind; and where could one find it, except in the very mentality of the accusers? The motives and sequence of actions were therefore reconstituted off-hand but without a shadow of a doubt. (Mythologies, Roland Barthes)

The ‘evidence of a mental kind’ that built the case against Joanne Hayes—off-hand, without material evidence, but without a shadow of a doubt—was obviously in place from the beginning (and before the beginning) of the investigation.

The authorised truth

To establish that Joanne Hayes was the kind of woman John Courtney had predicted she would be, her lover, Jeremiah Locke, was questioned as to the time, place, and manner of their illicit lovemaking. He was given an ordnance survey map and asked to point out exactly where on the road to Abbeydorney they had pulled off to have sex in the back seat of his white mini car.
He revealed that she had not been a virgin when he met her. Barrister Martin Kennedy, representing Garda superintendents, justified this questioning by asking ‘Did she love this man or love what he or some other man was prepared to do with her?’

The official truth

Nowhere is the operation of power relations more obvious than in the Report of the Lynch Tribunal. Lynch prefaces his highly speculative account of the birth of Hayes’s baby with this remarkable passage:

This Chapter contains fewer references than most of the other Chapters in this Report, to the transcripts of the evidence given at the hearings of the Tribunal of Inquiry. The reason is that most of the facts found in this Chapter are found by inference from other facts found in this Report, or by inference from evidence not directly supporting such facts, but indirectly doing so to the satisfaction of the Tribunal. 

Of glass ceilings and glass slippers

In October 1983 the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution became law following a referendum that resulted in a two-to-one majority for its inclusion. More than three decades later, a second referendum returned a two-to-one majority for its repeal in the centenary year of Irish women’s suffrage. It seems fitting to ask whether the significant change in attitude signalled by the vote to give women the right to make their own healthcare decisions translates into changes in the status of women in Ireland more generally.