Margaret Atwood says Ireland is a ‘little point of light’ globally

Booker Prize winning author puts hope in young people in battle against totalitarianism

Ireland is a "light" of hope which shows a country can change in terms of its treatment of women, Canadian author Margaret Atwood has said.

Atwood (79), whose bestselling novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about a totalitarian regime which punishes and restricts women, said certain parts of the world were seeing some of the elements of her book come to life, such as the removal of women’s rights.

While she expressed concern at these attempts to “kill liberal democracy”, she said there were also “little points of light” in challenging this, one of which was Ireland.

Atwood, whose latest novel The Testaments earned her a share – with British writer Bernardine Evaristo – of 2019 Booker Prize , referenced last year’s referendum to repeal the Eight Amendment, which legalised abortion, as one cause for optimism.



Changing the laws that affected women would eventually change the mentality towards women, she added.

“Ireland is really quite different from the Ireland of 30 years ago. It is an example that things can change and change quite radically.”

Atwood, who was speaking to Brendan O'Connor on RTÉ Radio One's Marian Finucane show, said past events, such as 9/11 and the financial crash, had led to a rise in conservatism and totalitarianism.

“When you have frightened and angry people, they are very open to ‘Mr fix it’ or ‘Mrs fix it’. They are willing to give up their rights for stability. That’s when totalitarianism comes in,” she said.

"With the Trump election, they achieved power and that is what they're doing. Probably you won't get Gilead [the fictional republic where her dystopian novels are located] with the outfits, but you will get the rollback of rights for women."

True Christians

She added: “ I don’t believe they’re true Christians.These are not neighbour lovers, they don’t really love their neighbours at all.”

Atwood said that while this move away from democratic ideals was worrying, young people were strong enough to challenge regimes with which they disagreed.

“I think young people are more idealistic and more risk taking than older people with lots of young people. They’d be more likely to do it. If you look at Extinction Rebellion, a lot of the people would be quite young,” she said.

“I’m a supporter of them [Extinction Rebellion] because they are numerous enough now to move the political needle. The conservative government [in the UK] has just banned fracking. They didn’t do that out of nowhere. They were reading the tea leaves,” she added.

She believes that reducing wealth inequality is one of the most pressing issues that governments face.

“There’s one thing that people should really be paying attention to and that is the very large gap between people on the bottom end and people on the top end. You can not keep going down that path forever without a french revolution type explosion,” she said.

“There’s a trickle up effect of misery. If the bottom 80 per cent of society gets too annoyed, it’s not going to be fun for the other ones,” said Atwood who is speaking at the National Concern Hall in Dublin on Saturday evening.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times