The aim of this discussion is to challenge the assumptions made by and about the womens movement in Ireland. It is to some extent a retrospective exercise, an attempt to analyse and respond to some of the ideas put forward in discussions in the series of LIP pamphlets published by Attic Press. It is, more importantly, an attempt to suggest directions in which Irish feminism can move in the future, an attempt to learn from the reverses and successes of the 1980s and to identify opportunities which will be available to Irish feminism in the 1990s. 
Many of the previous pamphlets in this series have made the point that, in Ireland, sexual identity and national identity are mutually dependent (Boland, 1989; Longley, 1990). The images of suffering Mother Ireland and the self-sacrificing Irish mother are difficult to separate. Both serve to obliterate the reality of womens lives. Both seek to perpetuate an image of Woman far from the experience, expectations and ideals of contemporary women.
The extent to which women only exist as a function of their maternity in the dominant ideology of Southern Ireland became apparent during the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The constitutional prohibition on abortion which was the result of that referendum has proved entirely ineffective. The number of Irish women seeking and obtaining abortions in Britain has continued to increase. One is tempted to speculate that abortion itself was quite incidental to those who campaigned so vociferously for an unworkable constitutional ban. The only real effect of the Eighth Amendment has been to compromise any general or human constitutional rights which might give pre cedence to the womans rights as an individual over her function as a mother. 
That such a constitutional amendment was felt to be  necessary by conservative groups - and that they were able to mobilise an available reservoir of mass hysteria to achieve it - is indicative of the anxiety which changes in womens role and self-concept have induced in Ireland. The assumption that the law needed to intervene in the relationship between woman and foetus - to protect the so-called unborn child from its mother - is indicative of a deep distrust and fear of women. This distrust and fear is paradoxically rooted in the idealisation of the mother in Irish culture as an all-powerful, dehumanised figure. On the one hand, the 1980s saw the Catholic Church and the Right expend very considerable energy in the attempt to contain women within their traditional role. On the other hand, it was that traditional role which excited precisely the fear and anxiety (in men and women) which the Catholic Church and the Right shared and exploited to induce an electorate to endorse a constitutional compromise of the rights of women.
The participation of women in the so-called pro-life movement is indicative of an even more complex and contradictary response. Such women seek to perpetuate the idealised virgin/mother figure of woman so that they can be that figure. Such identification offers women one of the few roles of power available to them in patriarchy. The hard struggle for political and economic power and equality cannot yet compete with those consolations for many women. The attractions of the traditional feminine role, particularly as the Catholic Church defines it, are grounded in - a deep distrust and loathing of femininity, however, and those women who identify with it are also expressing a form of self-hatred, a revulsion against themselves as women. They are unable to accept themselves as thinking, choosing, sexual, intellectual and complex ordinary mortals and instead cling to a fantasy of women as simple handmaids of the lord.
This inability is the product of centuries of education and socialisation of women into acceptance of restricted lives and poor self-concepts and it is exacerbated in this country by the churchs continuing hold over education.  Patriarchys strongest hold over women is its ability to promote this inner division, which inhibits womens will  for change and recruits women damaged by patriarchal ideology to the cause of patriarchy itself and sets them campaigning and voting against their own interests.
The election of Mary Robinson as President has been welcomed by many as an indication that this pattern has finally been broken. Certainly the widespread identification by women with a woman who has so consistently opposed the conservative version of what it means to be an Irish woman indicates that that version no longer holds the same enchantments, even for the rural women so often seen as its most loyal adherents. Moreover, the celebration of Robinsons victory as a triumph for Irish women, in which so many women participated, is evidence of a new confidence and spirit of self-assertion. Attempts by political opponents to use Mary Robinsons sex as a weapon against her failed and the knee-jerk response of distrust and loathing of femininty was not forthcoming. The extent of the political fallout from Robinsons election suggests the potential of such a self-conscious and self-confident sense of common cause among women to effect change. The context in which her election victory was achieved must be recalled before we become too optimistic about the future, however. The common cause of women obviously benefits when left-wing and progressive groups in general make common cause. It is difficult to assess the extent to which public disgust at the unedifying spectacle of the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael campaigns created a protest vote which was not so much for Robinson as against Lenihan and Currie. That such a protest occurred is in itself a hopeful sign, however, and it must be remembered that even prior to the Lenihan debacle Robinson was doing better than anyone would have predicted.  Change, then, is on the political agenda, but before it can proceed it is important to assess the reverses of the 1980s, their causes and effects, and to analyse the most pressing issues facing feminism in Ireland in the 1990s.
Constituting Irish women
The Indian political philopsopher, Ashis Nandy (1993), has argued that a history of colonisation is a history of feminisation. Colonial powers identify their subject peoples as passive, in need of guidance, incapable of self- government, romantic, passionate, unruly, barbarous - all of those things for which the Irish and women have been traditionally praised and scorned.
Nandy points out that the subject people, in rebelling and claiming independence and sovereignty, aspire to a traditionally masculine role of power. The result is that colonised peoples, often long after colonisation itself has ended, tend to observe or impose strictly differentiated gender roles in order to assert the masculinity and right to power of the (male) subjects. This has been the case, Nandy argues, in his native India. It is readily identified as a trait of fundamentalist Islam and it is not difficult to trace this process at work in the sexual conservatism and political stagnation of post-independence Ireland. Anxiety about ones fitness for a (masculine) role of authority, deriving from a history of defeat or helplessness, is assuaged by the assumption of sexual dominance.
Women in these conditions become guarantors of their mens status, bearers of national honour and the scapegoats of national identity. They are not merely transformed into symbols of the nation. They become the territory over which power is exercised. The Irish obsession with the control of womens bodies by church, state, boards of ethics and judicial enquiries, has its roots in such anxieties, though it is arguable that any form of national identity must constitute itself as power over a territory defined as feminine.
That the experience of women is to be specifically  excluded from Irish national identity is inscribed in the Constitution in which the Republic of Ireland describes itself to itself. Womens duties in the home are constitutionally re-enforced. The most basic civil right , the right to life is constitutionally compromised in the case of women - a circumstance which provides a grim gloss on an observation by one of the architects of the concept of civil liberties: Rousseau commented (ironically in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality) that, for citizenship in his ideal republic, it must be men . The consequences of the circumscription of one basic right for women has been, as a series of High Court and Supreme Court judgements have made clear, very specific limitations on the right to freedom of information and free speech.  Women, in everything which is specific to them as women, are quite obviously not citizens of the republic.
Feminism and Unionism
There have been repeated attempts to use Unionist opinion as a lever to put pressure to reform on conserv ative nationalism. During the divorce referendum the point was unsuccessfully made that a vote against divorce was a vote against pluralism and as a consequence a vote against unification. Since the electorate seems to have responded, not to such abstract principles, but to fear of dispersing family landholdings, it is difficult to make assumptions about the priority of Catholic moral teaching over nationalist aspirations. Nonetheless it is even more difficult to avoid the conclusion that the majority in the south is unwilling to concede that any form of united, federated or more  closely integrated Ireland must also be a more heterogenous Ireland. A second referendum on this issue seems likely in the near future and it will be interesting to observe how far the southern electorate has moved towards a more pluralist notion of Irishness. It is unlikely that any such shift in public opinion will be a product of a re-consideration of the Northern situation.
It is likely, however, that Unionist alienation will be once again invoked by those seeking change as a spectre to ward off the worst excesses of groups such as Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) and Family Solidarity. That invocation has, in the past, created some confusion and misunderstanding of the Unionist position. Part of this confusion stems from a more fundamental confusion in the south of Ireland between what has become known as the Protestant ethos (associated in the public mind with the Adelaide Hospital, compassionate medicine and liberal attitudes to social and sexual matters, in that order) and the perceptions and beliefs of Northern unionism. The former is to some extent identifiable with the Church of Ireland, but it really represents the residue of a secular, humanist tradition which was not and is not exclusively of that faith. It is part of a cultural heritage which feminism elsewhere has had to fight, but which in Ireland might be a significant ally if only it were stronger, a little less complacent and a lot less conservative. It added an important leaven to the dreadful dough of the confessional southern state from the 1930s to the 1960s. It is, in many important respects, part of the culture and the self-concept of the Republic.
Northern unionism is quite distinct from this amorphous cultural ethos. It has a different class base and a different denominational orientation. It has no history of aristocratic guilt: politically it has an unrepent ent, recent and continuing record of civil rights abuses and intimidation. That record is rooted in a distrust and fear of nationalism which glib generalisations about the Protestant ethos and reconciliation at best obscure and at worst entrench further. It is not a likely ally of any group in the south and its brand of Protestant fundamentalism  will not be comfortable with liberalisation. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the facts and to contribute, not to reconciliation, but to further misunderstanding and antagonism. As Holland, in her address to John Taylor, pointed out, many, many unionists opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Unionists and nationalists appear to be able to make common cause against the extension of British abortion legislation to Northern Ireland. Whatever other divisions there are, Ireland, north and south, is united in its denial of womens right to choose.
It is not just nationalist Ireland which exhibits the traits of sexual conservatism and social stagnation. Unionism is, if anything, more insecure and equally prey to the sexualisation of political identity, even if this takes different forms. The fundamentalist streak in Northern Protestantism is as hostile to feminism as is Catholicism. American feminists have had long and bitter experience of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantisms efforts to combat feminism and to use the concept of the right to life of the unborn to restrict the rights of women. If southern feminism has nothing to say to women in the unionist community in Northern Ireland beyond an assurance that they would be worse off if they were Catholics, then it really will have been defeated by nationalism. Preoccupation with the ill effects of nationalism will have induced a moral and political blindness which obscures other ills. For many women, particularly in Northern Ireland, both feminism and (at least some variants of) nationalism are positive forces for change in their society.
Edna Longleys denial in her LIP pamphlet (1990) that it is possible to be both feminist and republican is not only an historical absurdity. It runs the risk of making Irish feminism no more than a middle-class movement directed towards equal participation by privileged women in the status quo. For a feminism which refuses to engage with the hard realities of Ireland can be no more than that. A feminism based on exclusion will continue to be itself excluded. A feminism which participates in the translation of political into moral  categories which bedevils discussions of Ireland, north and south, will itself continue to fall prey to such translations.
Feminism must interrogate nationalism, must maintain its own interests and womens interests against any monolithic national identity which perpetuates patriarchy. In engaging with nationalist women, it must point out how little nationalism and republicanism have promoted or protected womens interests, how much they have done to denigrate and oppress women. Nonethe less, if feminism in the south continues to regard nationalism and republicanism as contagious diseases and to protect itself from contagion by a refusal to engage with either it will also continue to occupy the political margins and to lose referenda. Instead of increasing the isolation of republican women and pushing them further into a ghetto where violence is the only form of political expression left, we have an obligation to enter some kind of dialogue. Instead of lecturing them on their political and moral failings as women we might pause to listen. Perhaps they could teach us to address those women for whom the myth of Mother Ireland is still a powerful enchantment. Perhaps they know better than academics, writers and pamphleteers how to expose and destroy that enchantment.
Feminism needs to address women in both communities in Northern Ireland. It will not succeed in doing so by sentimentalising unionism on the one hand and scurrying away from the civil rights issues raised by the treatment of women prisoners on the other. If feminism abroad understands strip-searching as flagrant abuse of civil rights and deliberate sexual degradation, then it is not because it does not understand the circumstances, but because it does understand the principle. It is because it is not so obsessed with distancing itself from one form of political violence in Northern Ireland that it has become blind to all others. Feminism has reason to fear hi-jacking by nationalist and republican groups, but it cannot allow that fear to paralyse it. Moreover, it is time for feminism to ask if it has not already been hi-jacked by its more respectable  political allies. Liberal forces in Fine Gael and the Labour Party may have been on our side in the battles on divorce and on the abortion amendment, but that support is in the end less significant than the failure of that support to be effective. They helped us to lose. The nomination of and support for Mary Robinson by Labour in conjunction with the Workers Party, Greens and others was obviously more effective, but feminism cannot afford to lose any more ballots in Ireland and some caution is necessary.
Feminism cannot, in attempting to see women outside their traditional role as symbols of the nation, be content to merely impose a revised role on them, a role as victims of the nation or of history. The work of contemporary continental feminist thinkers, with its emphasis on the way in which we are produced by and produce the dominant culture and the internal complexities of any programme of cultural and psychological change, may offer a way out of the twin stereotypes into which any analysis of women in Irish culture so easily falls. An analysis which emphasises how deeply we are involved in patriarchal culture and in our idealisation as symbols of the nation denies us the moral high ground - we are not the innocent victims of Irish or any other kind of historical circumstance. Women are not, as Edna Longley suggests in her pamphlet, essentially more peacable, less dogmatic, uninfected by bloodthirsty political ideologies. Women have been actively involved in every possible variant of both nationalism and unionism. They too have been prejudiced and brought their children up to be prejudiced. Women have supported and carried out violent actions. They have gained and lost from their involvement. If patriarchal history has portrayed us as bystanders to the political process, it has lied. We have always been implicated, even in our own oppression.
A dangerous consensus
Irish feminism has sometimes perforce played such tricks. In the 1980s it appeared to progress, where it progressed at all, by stealth, disguising its demands for women in assertions of human, individual or civil rights.
It may be a shocking thought for some that the Irish woman reading Irish writing finds in it only a profound silence, her own silence. It is certainly a painful thought for an Irish woman writer and the talents of many of them must have been dissipated or lost in evading such pain. The exclusion of women was constitutive of Irish literature as it was consitutive of the Irish Republic. In her pamphlet, Boland confronts that exclusion, but even her title, A Kind of Scar, is testament to its disabling legacy (1989). Mise Eire, her own poem from which Boland takes that title, revised Pearses poem of the same name. Pearses refrain of I am Ireland became, in Bolands poem, I am the woman. The myth of Mother Ireland was countered by an insistent feminine subjectivity. Bolands LIP pamphlet counters another cultural cliché: Yeatss terrible beauty is contrasted with a vision of terrible survival. (The centrality of the famine rather than the vagaries of nationalism to Bolands sense of her identity as an Irish woman writer is an interesting indication of the different shape Irish history may take when women have reconstructed their part in it.)
The common insight of Clodagh Corcoran and Eavan Boland is that even where Irish literary and political culture opposes the dominant ideology of church and state it often merely re-presents [sic] the emblems and the structures of that ideology in more enchanting forms. One consequence of this is the cultural hegemony which the womens movement has found particularly difficult to shatter.
Rewriting the script
The American feminist critic, Nina Baym (1986), has discussed the way in which nationalism influenced and often constituted the definition of American Literature. That definition was produced by (male) academics eager to legitimise not only American culture, but also their own status as professionals and the equals of their European counterparts. As Baym points out, the search for cultural essence which ensued excluded women and ethnic minorities almost entirely, working on the basis that the experience of these groups is not normal, i.e. masculine, white, the same, and is therefore inessential. On these criteria, the work of white, male and predominantly middle-class artists was regarded as that which best expressed the essence of American culture. Work by such artists and writers was thus deemed to be not only the mainstream, but the best.
Baym identifies the myth of the artist as hero, struggling against the odds to create his own work as the myth which legitimised the artist for American culture, reshaping him in the familar mould of a culture which valorised action and truth and was ambivalent about art and artifice. Art became macho. The writer became the prototypical hero, his writing a pioneering exploration of new territory which he made his own. Effectively he became a literary imperialist.
The myth of the Irish artist is a different myth, but it is equally masculine in its terms and equally concerned with the legitimisation of a particular view of national culture. Two forms of the myth of the (literary) hero predominate. He may be a true son of Mother Ireland: this view has very much gone out of fashion. The current myth of the literary-subversive-in-exile (epitomised by Joyce) is no less masculine in its terms, however, and has certain similarities with the American myth, for he too is a son escaping from the nets of Mother church, Mother Ireland and, perhaps, Mother tongue. .
If the male Irish writer must speak from this Oedipal place of exile, what position as speaking and writing subject is available to the Irish woman? According to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Weve all internalised this patriarchal thing. It would be a lie for me to say that Im out of the woods, because Im not. (1986).
Ní Dhomhnaill here echoes the imagery of the French novelist and theorist Hélène Cixous. Cixous sees language as an agent of the internalisation of the whole patriarchal thing and argues that as soon as women begin to speak theyre taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black, your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous (1976). The image of the feminine as a colonised territory has now become almost banal, but Cixouss association of language and colonialism is particularly resonant in an Irish context.
For both Ní Dhomhnaill and Cixous the language of patriarchy colonises womens self-concept and world view. It presents the masculine as the norm and the feminine as an aberration. Words abound for experiences which are exclusive to or predominantly those of men. The public domain, which was for so long the domain of men, is also the domain where discourse proliferates. The private domain, womens traditional sphere, is very often the realm of the oblique and unspoken. (Compare, for example, the proliferation of technical vocabularies in the twentieth century - mechanical, electronic, computer languages and jargon - with the scarcity of words relating to the experience of childbirth.) How then can women use language, particularly how can women write, without succumbing to the inherent masculine bias in the languages of patriarchal cultures? According to Ní Dhomhnaill the woman must write - and the man who would break out of the strait-jacket of patriarchal repression and linguistic schizophrenia must write - in the language of the Mothers which she calls Irish.
This latter assertion has caused considerable controversy. Ní Dhomhnaill herself admits, Theres a level of hurt involved in the language. This is especially so for women. The question of Irish identity and the question of feminine identity often - as we have seen - have  mutually exclusive answers. Moreover the political exclusion implicit in this valorisation of the Irish language is undeniable and runs the risk of a return to the same old insular Irishness. The most productive way to understand Ní Dhomhnaills assertion is as an attempt to revise the significance of the language she chooses and an assertion that she has a choice. The use of Irish by a woman poet to write in ways which challenge the basic assumptions and myths of patriarchy is an attempt to wrest authority, not only from patriarchy and misogynist myth, but from that formulation of national identity to which the Irish language and the silence of women were fundamental. That is an exercise which can only be beneficial to those many women. writers in Ireland who do not see Irish as their mother tongue and who instead grapple with the problem of looking back through literary mothers who are as often as not Anglo-Irish and excluded from that narrow definition of Irishness which Ni Dhomhnaill challenges.
Analogies: The international context
We must be wary, however, that we, from our position on the margin of European culture, do not colonise other womens marginality, their history, literature and experience, for our own ends. European feminism poses major problems for Third World women who perceive it to be ethnocentric in its approach to their specific cultural and economic dilemmas. It is important to keep those reservations in mind, even as we look forward to becoming part of a new European feminist movement. Political alignments and the locus of power are shifting and those changes offer opportunities to escape old political polarities. Ireland is not the only European  country where feminism and nationalism are in conflict. It is worth noting that one of the first groups which demonstrated in large numbers against the new, united German state were women protesting at the threat to abortion and childcare faciltities, previously guaranteed in East Germany.
The resurgence of nationalism and ethnic strife in Eastern Europe makes it more urgent than ever that feminism not only re-examines, its relation to nationalism, but that it actively seeks to change the nature of national and ethnic identity and how we experience them. A particular construction of sexual identity has, in Ireland and elsewhere, given form and substance to national identity. Women have been denied a role in the life and history of nations and been reduced to symbols of the nation. As women claim and change their role and seek a different identity for themselves as women, they will also change the meaning of national identity. According to Eavan Boland, Irish poems simplified most at the point of intersection between womanhood and Irishness (1989). Irishwomen, now that they are breaking their silence, will complicate and change Irish culture at precisely that point of intersection.
The double marginality of Ireland-European, but sharing a history and experience with post-colonial states elsewhere, never quite one thing or another - may yet provide a space in which Irish women can make and say something different of ourselves as women and of the many traditions which are our burden and our inheritance. No longer the territory over which power is exercised, women, in exercising power, may re-define the territory. [p.243; End.]
2. The analysis of the strength and agenda of the anti-choice lobby w hich follows obviously refers to the situation preceding the Supreme Court ruling in the X case and the subsequent referendum in November 1992 which guaranteed the rights of travel and inf ormation and where an amendment to restrict further the limited circ umstances in which the Supreme Court found abortion to be constitutionally permissible was rejected.
3. The even more sinister influence exerted by the Catholic Church over the practice of medicine in the Republic has become apparent in the aftermath of the X case judgement and the attempt to use the concepts of medical ethics and professional propriety to pre-empt legislation on abortion.
4. The Labour Party, which was Robinsons major backer as a presidential candidate, subsequently did better than at any time since the foundation of the state in the 1992 general election. The same election produced a significant increase in the number of women TDs in the Dail. See F. Gardiner in this collection.
5. See note 2, above.References and further reading
Baym, N. 1986. Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women! In Showalter, E. (ed.), The New Feminist Criticism. Virago, London.
Boland, E. 1989. A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in a National Tradition. Lip Pamphlet. Attic Press, Dublin.
Boland, E. 1987. Mise Eire. The Journey. Carcanet, London.
Cixous, H. 1976. The Laugh of the Medusa. Translated by Cohen K and Cohen P. Signs, Vol. 1, No. 1.
Corcoran, C. 1989. Pornography: The New Terrorism. LIP Pamphlet. Attic Press, Dublin.
Longley, E. 1990. From Cathleen to Anorexia: The Breakdown of Irelands. LIP Pamphlet, Attic Press, Dublin.
Nandy, A. 1983. The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism. Oxford University Press, Delhi/Oxford.
Ní Dhomhnaill, N. 1986. Interview with Michael Cronin. Graph. No. 1, October.
Riddick, R. 1990. The Right to Choose: Questions of Feminist Morality. LIP Pamphlet. Attic Press, Dublin.
Rousseau, J. J. 1973. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. In The Social Contract and Discourses. Translated by Cole, G. D. H.; revised edition Brumfitt, J. H. and Hall, J. C. Everyman, London.