A bit of a letter I felt necessary after the recent developments in this week’s 2016 Rose of Tralee competition. Apologies for the length.
Dear lovely people in RTE involved in the Rose of Tralee,
As I wind up doing every year, and have done since I was a child, I found myself watching the Rose of Tralee this year. As a 24 (almost 25) year old woman, the women on stage were all of my demographic, so I choose to think that I can relate to at least some of them. The festival each year is not just a celebration of the wonderful community in Tralee and the Irish community worldwide as a whole, but also the traits which we commend in young Irish women from around the globe.
One of the traits which I commend most in Irish people, particularly Irish women, is that of the ability to articulate our views in a cohesive, well argued manner. We hold our opinions and have no issue with sharing them, we stand behind them. The advent of social media has heightened our ability to speak out on the things that we think are important, and allowed us to further our arguments with evidence we learn from others.
The Rose of Tralee has prided itself on being different from traditional pageants, in differing styles of conducting itself. There is no denying that a certain factor of those who are selected is based on the aesthetic, that is to be expected. However, we don’t have a face-off of the Cork Rose or the Auckland Rose on who wore it better in the bikini section. I choose to believe that this is down to a different thought process in what makes up the idea of a perfect Rose than the normal looks-based pageants we see across the globe, and not just the temperatures in the Dome in late August. Though it is often jested about as a “Lovely Girls Competition”, most famously parodied in Channel 4’s Father Ted, the conversations had with the contestants this year were intelligent and interesting, showing a hopeful sea change in this opinion.
The women on stage are highly educated and accomplished. As a university educated woman at the start of my career, I was blown away by the accomplishments of the women on stage, most of them younger than me. They are, each and every one of them, set for great things, and many have already gotten there. Their opinions come from a place of education, they are not off the cuff, they are informed. As a result, we are expected to respect their opinions and look at them as an example of at least a subsection of Irish women whom they represent.
The Sydney Rose has hit headlines this year, and got Twitter all a-flutter during the show the other night. She, like a growing section of Irish society, is critical of Ireland’s current position on reproductive rights for women, and chose to comment on this while on stage in conversation with host Daithi O Se. Brianna Parkins, a journalist with ABC Australia, whose mother is from Dublin, told the watching audienceÂ â€œI think we can do better here inÂ Ireland. I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights. I would love to see a referendum on the eighth coming up soon. That would be my dream.â€
The audience applauded. Social media went mental. Hashtags such as #SydneyRose and #RoseofRepeal started flying around the Twittersphere. Irish women, like me, felt our voices had been heard on what is an annual global stage. The anti-choice side lamented, stating that it was not the place for politicising. In fact, one activist went so far as to say that as an outsider, she shouldn’t be allowed to express this opinion. The same activist has used quite questionable language in his comments to women who have had to endure fatal foetal abnormalities in previous days. These comments make me question his views as being representative of what I hope is a more compassionate society, and therefore spread doubt that many others would agree with his fear of the Rose of Tralee being used as a platform.
We are lucky enough to live in a country where free speech is, for the most part, allowed. After living through the enduring battle of “for balance” during the Marriage Equality referendum, it is refreshing to hear women speaking openly about just wanting to allow democracy to do it’s job. That is what the Repeal the 8th campaign is currently doing. Yes, we are seeking the ability of Irish women to access free, safe and legal abortions in our own country. But before any of that, we just want the option to express our opinion in a way that our democracy allows us to do, through the form of a referendum.
The anti-choice side has used the argument that the Rose of Tralee is not an entity to be politicised. The festival, in it’s essence, is a celebration of all that it is to be an Irish woman in 2016. We must tie in the traditional and the modern and find a compromise which reflects our current position. Censorship of views is not the way to do this.
It was not from nowhere that these political views were generated. The RTE documentary “Road to The Dome”, broadcast before the live show, showed a number of questions asked in interview with the Roses on current political and moral issues which are of discussion on a daily basis in the broader world. Things like opinions on the refugee crisis, the centenary celebrations of our little nation, a united Ireland. And, yes, abortion and the 8th amendment. These are issues that do affect young Irish women and ones where our voices are not being listened to. The use of the Rose of Tralee as a platform to have those voices heard is ingenious, and something the festival and all who work with it, should be applauding rather than trying to compress into the interview rooms away from the eyes of the public.
I understand that you have received official complaints with regard to the broadcast of the Sydney Rose’s views on Monday night.Â These have been highly publicised, far moreso than the positive response that it has gathered. In a time where the views of those looking for change are quite literally being painted over, I feel that an expression of a wish to allow democracy to do it’s work is something that should be commended not silenced. Please consider this letter as a letter of compliment, not complaint, with regard to the statements made the other night. Know that I am far from the only young Irish woman who feels this way.
More of this please. Don’t allow those who want to shut down democracy dictate the conversation. In the days after the TwoWomenTravel account made worldwide headlines and gained support from around the globe, live tweeting the journey two Irish women made to the UK in order to obtain a medical procedure not legalised here, it is clear a conversation needs to happen properly and be facilitated by our national media. Until a referendum is declared (and I live in hope), you no longer face the battle for a 50:50 balance. Use this to your advantage.
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