This article appeared on Studentnews.ie on October 18 2011.
The email that Dana got was vicious and cruel and opened with the line “Hahaha, the bitch finally gets what she deserves”. It was hard not to feel sorry for her. The election has been the dirtiest in Irish history, and it’s the cleanest candidate with the darkest, most tragic secret.
Dana’s niece Susan Gorrell, claimed that Dana has known for over thirty years that Gorrell was abused as a child by her uncle, Dana’s brother John Brown. In one of those dizzying family feuds that are impossible for those outside to understand, Dana insists that the abuse allegations are malicious and unfounded, part of her sister Susan Stein’s campaign against her and John in a row over royalties.
It is impossible to know who’s telling the truth. It is a family tragedy. It also raises questions about Dana and the conservative Christian right she represents.
Dana may have dismissed her US citizenship as an irrelevant, but it is very relevant to the type of politician she has become. She has got far more in common with the likes of Sarah Palin, with her down-home folksy charm, supposed naiveté and ultra-Conservative views, than any Irish politician.
The attitudes towards child sexual abuse in Ireland today are the least forgiving in our history. David Norris has found that being even the slightest bit ambivalent about the subject is not an option. As more revelations from Susie Gorrell emerge, will the Irish public turn against Dana in the same way?
Just suppose that the allegations Gorrell has made against her uncle are true. How will the Irish people feel when they realise that sweet little Dana stood by as her niece was abused by her brother, and then proceeded to tell her that “not everything in life revolves around you”. My guess is that they won’t be too impressed.
It’s currently irrelevant – John Brown is innocent until proven guilty, and the allegations were never even reported to the police. What’s very interesting about this whole scandal is the way Dana has reacted. Her performance on Prime Time was rightly described as ‘bizarre’. There was no need to comment on the allegations- they weren’t at this stage in the public eye. There was no need to disclose the email. Doing both of these only made the public and the media curious about the “malicious and false” allegation made against the member of her family.
Dana’s innocence is not put on in this case. She clearly has no idea how the media in 2011 works. The fact that she is the only candidate without a Twitter account reinforces her lack of media savvy.
The problem with a candidate campaigning on a family values card is that even the nicest families have secrets. Abuse does not solely happen in broken homes or families who don’t go to church. Yet for a family like Dana’s, the shame becomes an overriding factor. Much of the coverage has focused on Dana’s elderly mother and the fear that the family name would be disgraced. Contrast this with Gerry Adams, whose brother Liam is to be extradited to Northern Ireland to face charges of abusing his own daughter. No-one has dragged Gerry Adams into the coverage- he has not commented apart from describing it as a “hugely difficult personal matter” and asking his brother to hand himself over to the police.
Whatever your view on Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams’ politics are concerned with uniting Ireland, not judging people’s morality. This is the essential problem with morally conservative politics like Dana’s. By judging others on matters of personal and sexual morality, they allow themselves to be similarly judged. The dark family skeletons that sadly hide in many Irish families become a matter of extra secrecy and shame in circumstances like these. Abuse, fear and terror thrive on secrecy and shame. John Brown is innocent until proven guilty. But how innocent is his sister?