Don't Mind Me: Taking on the PC brigade by Hook or by crook

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Were George Hook’s comments representative of a ‘deelply embedded culture of misogyny' or were his good-hearted intentions merely undermined by his clumsy phrasing?

Were George Hook’s comments representative of a ‘deelply embedded culture of misogyny' or were his good-hearted intentions merely undermined by his clumsy phrasing?

BRING back George Hook! That is my earnest plea. I need someone who calls a spade a spade in what passes for public discourse in this country – even if the thing he calls a spade is anything but a spade.

I certainly don’t agree with what he said or the unfortunate phraseology he used on that now infamous show, but the hysteria that continues to build up in its wake is even scarier.

There’s a scent of blood in the air, and even Mary Mitchell O’Connor, my plain-speaking heroine of a few weeks back, seems to have caught it.

Mary said that George’s controversial comments were representative of a “deeply embedded culture of misogyny, sexism, double standards and victim blaming”.

That’s a rather harsh verdict on what we like to call ‘modern Ireland’, but it’s an even harsher judgement on the veteran broadcaster.

For if such a culture still exists, I don’t believe for one minute that a man like George Hook would subscribe to it. I met him once at the opening of a book shop in Nenagh and he was nothing but a perfect gentleman.

Anyway if this distasteful culture does exist, surely there are better ways of confronting it than by stamping on it, silencing it, driving its proponents underground and shooting any card carrying members on sight.

Maybe we need to start what they now call a national conversation, while some of us are still speaking to each other.

As I said, I didn’t agree with what George Hook said. In the past, I didn’t always agree with him either, but I liked being provoked by his forthrightness. I remember being tickled pink once before, when the whole country went bananas because he failed to publicly acknowledge the poetic greatness of Seamus Heaney.

Even people who wouldn’t know a poem from an advertising slogan were affronted. Heaney was probably smiling up above.

Personally I believe that in the current controversy, Hook was trying to warn young people, boys as well as girls, to be careful - that there are predators out there, who don’t give a toss about who’s right and who’s wrong or who’s to blame in any violent situation, and who can never be trusted in any circumstances to conform to the normal standards of civilised society, not to talk of high sounding principles of official Ireland.

He didn’t put it very well. That much, I’ll grant you.

But, before I go any farther, let me add to Mary Mitchell-O’Connor’s deeply embedded culture of misogyny, sexism, double standards and victim-blaming” an even more deeply embedded culture of ageism, self-importance, lack of fair play and a vicious intolerance of any opinions that clash with those who purport to represent modern Ireland.

George Hook, for instance, has been accused of being a dinosaur in relation to his political and religious beliefs in the past, and none of the great upholders of equality and tolerance and political correctness uttered even a whimper of protest on his behalf.

When I first started this column 26 years ago, political correctness was in its infancy and the whole country was admirably thick-skinned.

Any man who failed to recognise the advance of women’s liberation was referred to as a ‘male chauvinist’, but he didn’t retaliate and neither did anybody try to shoot him down.

Back then, people weren’t quite as sensitive, nor were they half as righteous as they have since become. They liked to be provoked.

They certainly didn’t look at their image in a mirror every day and ask who was the fairest of them all. To be sure, they had their own beliefs and prejudices even then, but they didn’t always want to have these convictions thrown back at them either.

They enjoyed a robust challenge and they knew how to respond without crying foul, or looking for a head on a plate.

But that was then and this is now and the whole landscape has changed for columnists, commentators and broadcasters. We’re walking on eggshells, to be honest, and the best we can do in this sea of platitudes is to swim with the tide, tell people what they like to hear and avoid at all costs saying it as you see it, because if you get it wrong they won’t spare you and even the most abject apology won’t suffice.

Sometimes, the whole thing borders on the ridiculous. I, who haven’t a racist bone in my body, was accused of racism and incitement to hatred a couple of years back for daring to suggest, on behalf of some people I knew whose kids were suffering from ‘modh conniallachitis’, that compulsory Irish in the classroom was not everyone’s cup of tea.

I was beaten to a pulp on social media, reported to the Press Ombudsman and would have been beheaded or lynched if I had been even half as famous as George Hook.

Yet for all the new puritanism, some people are still fair game for commentators anxious to please the masses.

Politicians, the clergy, public servants and teachers can still be insulted, lampooned and denigrated without incurring the ire of the thought police or the politically correct brigade.

Some of the things written and said about former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, for instance, breached all the rules of anti-ageism, decency and respect, but nobody cried halt, except maybe, George Hook.

As I said, bring him back – and Kevin Myers while you’re at it – before we all drown in our own virulent smugness.