Opinion: Joanna Hayes - Has Ireland's treatment of women really changed?

This week An Garda Siochanna have issued an apology to Joanne Hayes- a woman who they falsely accused of the murder of a 5 day old baby. The treatment of Joanne Hayes was appallingly sexist. Joanne had given birth to a baby who died, fathered by a married man. At the same time, a baby boy was found stabbed on the beach. The Gardaí went as far as to allege that Joanne had given birth to twins- by different fathers. This was indefensible slut shaming of the highest degree, simply because she was an unmarried mother, in a relationship with a married man. This allegation outlines the absolute corruption in An Garda Siochanna, in many cases it seems they picked someone and made the facts of the case up to suit this chosen villain.

Throughout the case, Joanne Hayes sex life was openly picked apart, as if how sexually active a woman is would determine how capable of murder she is. As she was being berated by the Gardaí, the legal system and the media, she mourned her child. Almost 34 years later, the Gardaí have issued an apology to Joanne which is weak when you consider the stress and humiliation caused to Joanne and her family. Has Ireland’s treatment of women changed? Does how sexually active a woman is still deem her to be someone capable of such acts as murder? With the #MeToo campaign exposing the misogyny of Hollywood Elite and indeed Irish elite, has our attitude towards women changed?

While there may be many who still denounce sexually active women as ‘asking for it’, there is hope for Irish women that the treatment of Joanne Hayes will never happen again. The world’s response to #MeToo has given women the recognition that these acts of sexual harassment, assault and everyday sexism are unacceptable. The Kerry babies case came just after the first divisive referendum on abortion in the 1980’s- a time when Irish society was still firmly under the control of the anti-women Catholic Church. In 2018, with the second abortion referendum coming in May, it is clear while our society is not perfect as #MeToo has outlined, it has come leaps and bounds since the dark days of the 1980’s when Joanne Hayes was subjected to such vicious humiliation.

By Erín Toland, Donegal SF – Republican Youth Women’s Officer.

Ógra Shinn Féin