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Irish Foreign Minister was wrong to boycott men only event in Savannah over St.Patrick’s Day

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In Atlanta on Friday, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore (right) presented Don Keough, former president of Coca-Cola, with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.
In Atlanta on Friday, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore (right) 
presented Don Keough, former president of Coca-Cola, 
with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.


Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore canceled a proposed trip to Savannah, Georgia for St. Patrick’s Day on the grounds that he would not attend the men-only Hibernian Society dinner there.

“Count me out — I'm not doing it," Gilmore told The Irish Times. "I don't believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis."

His move won him praise and blame in equal measure. The main opposition party in Ireland, Fianna Fail, said Gilmore’s stance was a mistake, and that he must "regularly visit countries with different values to ours or meet leaders whose policies he disagrees with."

On the other hand, a former female minister in the Irish government, Gemma Hussey, stated on Twitter, “Well done Eamon Gilmore - those Savannah Hibernians refused to have an Irish woman minister (me) in the ‘80s so now they get none.” 

The male-only Irish dinner issue is a vexed one. Many years ago this newspaper for the hell of it sent a woman disguised as a man to the all-male Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner in New York. She bound up her breasts, put on a tuxedo and trotted off and passed muster with no one passing a comment.

Her verdict was searing. It was, she said, one of the most boring nights of her life, with hundreds of men drinking, praying, bowing and scraping to each other and a dais full of dignitaries who droned on and on.

In other words, it was much like the standard dinner, male or female, mixed or not, that we too often attend.

In more recent times, the Kerry Association in New York had major problems for years because they refused to let women join until 2011. Their annual dinner dance has suffered badly because women were not allowed in the association. 

This year they’ve moved the dinner to April in hopes they can get better crowds. The move shows that the ban on women hurt what should be among the biggest associations in New York.

Excluding women is not a good idea . . . but what happens when women exclude men?

Organizations such as the Daughters of the Revolution, the National Organization of Women, the La Leche league (focused on breastfeeding) and the League of Women Voters bar men from their deliberations.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor quit an all-female group, the Belizean Grove, begun in opposition to the all-male Bohemian Grove of high-powered men when she became Supreme Court Justice.

Should it be what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander too? Or are there organizations that more blatantly discriminate by being unisex than others?

I think the latter is right. I think the Friendly Sons should be allowed their night in the Sheraton Hotel or wherever they want.

I also think the Kerry Association took the right step in opening up the group to women, and it was downright wrong to bar them in the first place, given they had no other alternative to celebrate their Kerry pride.

Equally, I really don’t know why men would want to belong to the Daughters of the Revolution, but I can understand that they might seek membership in the League of Women Voters which can be very influential.

As for the Hibernians in Savannah, I think Gilmore should probably have gone to the event and made the point that they should include women rather than snub them. As Churchill once said, jaw, jaw is better than war, war.

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