International ‘Ladies’ Day

By Meadbh Gallacher, An Phoblach/Republican News, 9 March 1995

THERE wasn't a woman to be found at the Newry & Mourne District Council reception. We were all ladies for the occasion. vice chair of the council, SDLP Councillor Pat McElroy was playing host, complete with chain of office. The chair, an Ulster Unionist, was absent without leave.

And I hope you ladies, said Pat McElroy, will have time to visit our beautiful Mountains of Mourne while you're here. In fairness, this was like the paragraph in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board leaflet that encouraged you to stop for picnics on the lovely lay-bys in South Armagh: The bit about avoiding the drugged-out squaddies hiding in the ditches was left out.

The only armed forces visible in Newry on Sunday were the RUC. Out in force they were, on the same day that the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down & Dromore praised them to high heavens down at the local barracks. RTE told us later that this is called Newry ‘police station’. They mentioned the bishop—bishops are always in the news—but they never mentioned the women's march.

Up to the beautiful hills we'd marched, to be greeted by lines of RUC and their Saracens at another Brit blot on the landscape, Cloughogue checkpoint. The Mountains of Mourne could have been thousands of miles away.

Pat McElroy didn't want to get into the politics of it, I overheard him say afterwards. The 30 women delegates from England were well into the politics of it, but after the driving rain they were glad to be offered a choice of lemon and ginger or ordinary tea and hot vegetarian dishes. Local Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan Curran filled them in on the real politik: There are 30 councillors on this district council, he said, only one is a woman.