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28/09/2021

Limerick councillor writes to Green Party over 'sexism' and 'double standards'

BREAKING: Limerick councillor Elisa O'Donovan ‘quits Social Democrats’

Cllr Elisa O'Donovan was first elected in May 2019

A LIMERICK councillor who was criticised by members of a private WhatsApp group has written to the Green Party to call out "double standards" and "sexism" in politics.

Messages from a private chat group saw Independent City West member Elisa O'Donovan, and a number of other local women mentioned in a derogatory manner.

The story has been covered extensively across Ireland, and there have been protests outside the constituency office of local Green TD Brian Leddin, who described Cllr O'Donovan as "unhinged", and stating "she craves fame".

The first-time deputy apologised for those comments, but Cllr O'Donovan previously described this as "weak" and saying it "meant nothing" to her.

There has been criticism of the Green Party from a number of women's groups for their failure to sanction Mr Leddin, with party deputy leader Catherine Martin this week saying: "It's a legal matter now and subject to Garda investigation.”

In a two-page long open letter published on her Twitter page, Cllr O'Donovan said since the article was published: "I have had my personal, professional and political reputation discussed in local and national media as well as across social media. I have also heard many times of this being discussed at Green Party executive level. I have been told of the impact this has had on the TD and their political career."

Speaking to the Leader in the immediate aftermath of the group's public emergence, Mr Leddin said he had apologised to Cllr O'Donovan, adding: "I made one comment which can be considered derogatory. It was about somebody I had a personal relationship with. My thinking wasn’t divorced from the fact I had a personal relationship with that person which ended quite badly

But the former Social Democrats councillor wrote: "It is unacceptable to me my privacy can be invaded so grossly to provide context in this situation."

Councillor O'Donovan, who works in mental health provision, hit out at the use of the word "unhinged".

"The use of this language is something many women are painfully aware of. These types of tropes that question our emotional stability have become a knee-jerk way to put women in their place to control and silence us. Using these types of words act as a reminder no matter what I achieve, there are those who consider me inherently flawed simply for being a woman," she said in her letter.

In terms of Mr Leddin's other claim, that she "craves fame", she added: "I wonder how a politician could be expected to do their work without engaging with the media and attempting to get coverage? Most professional women will be used to the double standards of being criticised for being attention seeking or fame hungry when they are trying to use their platform in the exact same way as men do. Men instead praised for being strategic and knowing how to work well with the media."

She said being spoken about in the private WhatsApp group was "a really horrible and distressing experience".

"I am very happy for people to be critical of my work, but what I read in those WhatsApp conversations was not that. It was humiliating, degrading and threatening. When I became aware of the membership of the group I became even more ashamed. There were two Green Party members in that group that I had a lot of respect for and I thought a level of respect for me," she said.

Cllr O'Donovan, who is one of only eight women on the 40-member Limerick City and County Council, describes serving on the local authority as being a "lonely and isolating experience."

"The problem with becoming a visible woman with influence is that it makes people very uncomfortable. They react by being disrespectful and trying to diminish that woman in a number of ways. They will question her mental health , dissect her looks, criticise her for getting attention. These are really old and very sexist and disrespectful tropes that women hear from their earliest days at school - criticised for being ambitious, or loud or too tall in my case. But most women at some stage have been criticised for being 'too much' and I have experienced non-stop criticism on these grounds since I was elected."

Rounding the letter off, she said she will not tolerate these "double standards" for the next generation.

"All I want is simply a level playing field - a place where I will not get criticised for things my male colleagues get praised for. A place I can carry out my work safely with a level of respect and dignity. A place where there is zero tolerance for these kinds of double standards," she concluded.

The chairperson of the Green Party Hazel Chu, a former Dublin Lord Mayor, replied to Cllr O'Donovan's Tweet, writing: "I wanted to say I have received a copy of your letter that you've sent to me and others and I will ask for it to be read and reflected on at the Green Party executive."

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