Diplomats and all-male events

 

Sir, – I write in defence both of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick (SFSSP), a venerable Irish-American society, the oldest in the US, and one with which I am well-acquainted, and of common sense. Neither Trina Vargo (News, January 2nd) nor Anne Anderson (News, January 4th) make it clear but the SFSSP has been a major charity fund-raising organisation since well before either were born. Is such good work to be superficially disparaged?

If Ms Vargo wants to play the gender card, she might look closer to home, to that all-American, male-only institution the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, which counts many US senior politicians, including past presidents, media stars, artists and writers and much of corporate US among its members. Indeed, electoral evidence so far suggests that the US is a macho, male-dominated society and is not ready for a female leader. The SFSSP is a minor irritant in that context.

But surely the point is that there should be enough space in our society for gender-specific groups of both types – and I am aware of many female-only networks here in Ireland – and for mixed non-gender-specific groups also.

In Ireland we are deemed to have a liberal, progressive outlook on such issues.

We do not need to be advised what the right thing is to do by outsiders. Nor should our diplomats be pre-programmed to react in a particular way and their judgment pre-empted. – Yours, etc,

DÓNAL DENHAM,

(Retired ambassador

to Finland and Lithuania

and consul general

San Francisco),

Dalkey,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – As an American currently living and studying in Ireland, I was surprised and disheartened to see the Taoiseach’s rejection of a boycott for Irish diplomats of all-male events in the US (“Taoiseach rejects call for boycott of all-male events in US”, News, January 2nd).

To the Taoiseach’s point that refusing to send Irish diplomats to these events would create a “double standard” for sending diplomats to the Vatican and Muslim nations, this fails to recognise the entirely different political context of the Irish-American experience.

The US prides itself on being a democratic and diverse nation that has historically welcomed many to its shores.

In the age of Trump, I think it is particularly crucial for Ireland to assert that Irish values, and Irish-American values, do not include bigotry of any kind, including sexism.

While the Society of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick has recently encouraged its male members to “bring a female guest”, this continues to relegate women to a lesser standing in this Irish-American organisation, where women’s participation is minimised and they have no authority within the organisation.

The Ireland that I’ve experienced during my time here is one that is tolerant and promotes women’s rights, empowerment, and equal footing in society.

I urge Mr Varadkar to reconsider Ireland’s stance on sending diplomats to these events that perpetuate sexism and promote an uninclusive view of Irish-America.

Through a boycott of these events, Ireland should send a message to Irish-America and beyond that it is no longer acceptable to systematically exclude, or only symbolically include, women in their organisations. – Yours, etc,

SHAUNA RUST,

George J Mitchell Scholar,

University College

Dublin,

Belfield,

Dublin 4 .