TD surprised at global reaction to display of thong in Dáil over rape case comments

Ruth Coppinger says she had never seen a response like it to anything she had ever done in the Dáil

Ruth  Coppinger had asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil on Tuesday how he thought a   woman would feel about her underwear being shown in a court room. Photograph: Oireachtas TV

Ruth Coppinger had asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil on Tuesday how he thought a woman would feel about her underwear being shown in a court room. Photograph: Oireachtas TV

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Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger says the global response to her displaying a lace thong in the Dáil over controversial remarks in a rape trial about the underwear of the teenage complainant shows it is a “massive issue”.

Television organisations and newspapers from around the world – including the New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine and the BBC – have been covering the TD’s stunt during Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday.

“I’ve never seen a response [like it] to anything I’ve ever done in the Dáil,” said Ms Coppinger.

“It is a global phenomenon now, where women are not willing to accept [it].”

In closing remarks to the jury at a rape trial in the Central Criminal Court last week, defence barrister Elizabeth O’Connell SC said consideration should be given to the underwear the 17-year-old complainant wore on the night she alleged she was raped by a 27-year-old man while out socialising in Cork.

“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front,” Ms O’Connell told the jury, which later acquitted the man.

The barrister’s comments sparked protests in Dublin and Cork. Many demonstrators held thongs in the air and carried placards rebuking any assumed connection between a person’s type of underwear and their giving consent to sex.

Holding aloft a blue thong, which she had tucked up her sleeve, Ms Coppinger had asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Dáil on Tuesday how he thought a rape victim or woman would feel about her underwear being shown in a court room.

“I wanted to reflect the mood of women through the country who are outraged and sharing pics of thongs and underwear to challenge the idea that there is any justification for those remarks by any lawyer in any court anywhere,” Ms Coppinger told RTÉ Radio One.

The Dublin West TD said, “What I am trying to reflect is that change is being fought for, particularly driven by the younger generation, who just have a different attitude of ‘we won’t accept this any longer’.”

“We saw it with [the] repeal [the Eighth Amendment campaign], where young people drove that, persuaded the older people in society and I think that is really important, because if we wait for parliaments to act, we won’t get the change that we need.”

Ms Coppinger said the global reaction to her Dáil protest and the street demonstrations, where women draped underwear over court steps and railings, shows that people around the world “see this as a massive issue”.

“And, I really believe it is important to look at how are we going to stop this,” she said.

“Because establishment politicians are not reflecting how angry and outraged people are feeling.”

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