The news broke earlier this month that Mary Kenny was successfully no-platformed by trans activists angered at her being booked to speak at the University of Limerick. Kenny was due to give a talk on the topic “The Media and Feminism over Six Decades”. The event was organised (and Kenny invited) by Dr Marie Connelly, Director of Human Rights, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at the university.
Mary Kenny is not exactly comes to mind when one hears the term “Right-Wing Extremist”, Kenny, a self-described feminist, was co-founder of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, and is a journalist who has written for outlets such as the Irish Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and The Irish Catholic.
But Mary Kenny has broken the taboo in Irish society around transgenderism, providing pushback on issues such as trans athletes in sports, children and teens transitioning through the use of puberty blockers and surgery, and a critical voice on the Isla Bryson scandal in Scotland, where a rapist who was born a man was to be placed in a women’s prison.
Lunatics and The Asylum
One of the main agitators for Kenny’s cancellation provides a list of her supposed heresies, although most of these opinions are not without significant support among normal people in Ireland, let alone in other Western countries which maintain some semblance of “balance” in their politics. It should not need to be said that most Irish people think putting men in women’s prisons (whatever their claims regarding gender) is idiotic and wrong. Let us not forgot our own case of “Barbie Kardashian”.
Marie Connelly, who invited Mary to the event, apologised to her but said ”she was receiving an absolute storm of protest”, and that the buzzword “transphobe” was thrown around. It must be asked whether it really was a storm of a protest, as typically these are done by a small group of die-hards, who spend most of their time on Twitter, and are able to create a lot of noise that makes it seem like there is a much bigger uproar than there actually is.
Mary received messages of support from the expected places – Gript, The Irish Catholic, a Priest, “TERF“s (or Gender-Critical Feminists as they prefer), Iona Institute and the Irish Freedom Party. All great people of course, but not exactly the establishment in Irish political and public life. Mainstream media and all mainstream politicians were radio silent. Even Aontú appear to have thought the issue too radioactive to voice some concern over.
Cancel culture and University no-platforming are an issue discussed at length in Western (particularly Anglophone) countries. Ireland has typically been a few years behind in the Culture Wars, but this event does mark an escalation as Mary Kenny is no standard Right-Wing figure, in the past being seen as someone fn the Left. Abortion is sometimes thought of as the last issue it is publicly acceptable to be socially conservative on in Ireland, but increasingly pushback on the issue of transgenderism has begun to reach the mainstream, with dissenting voices among Irish journalists growing more common. The growth of Ireland’s so-called “TERF” (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) scene is also notable.
Pro-life voters who were students during the days of the abortion referendum will remember a very hostile attitude on campus to any public expressions or activism against abortion, with UCD going so far as to impeach its Student Union President for deviating from establishment orthodoxy on the issue.
What Cancel Culture Means for Political Moderates
With this now common animosity and intolerance to dissenting views in public life in Ireland, particularly on campus, we have to ask what the future holds now that this is the norm. Left-wing activists are fully aware most of their political opponents in the mainstream, whether “Conservative”, or centrist or whatever, operate under a general acceptance of freedom of speech, open debate, and toleration of differing views, but seem to think if their side begins to play the authoritarian, their opponents will remain playing “fair” so to speak. That they can play the mob, but the Right will remain playing Libertarianism, to the great advantage of the Left. It’s very useful for your opponents to be defending your right to speak while you try to remove theirs.
But this is a complete fantasy, which the radicalisation of the mainstream Right in America disproves. If mainstream politics is no longer about being able to voice your side and have your say, especially on controversial and difficult issues, it will not be only the left that begins to play dirty tactics, or remain faithful to tolerance of opposing views. There is also evidence of a backlash effect, with the cancellation of moderates often resulting in them moving further to the Right than they previously were.
Some American surveys now show a quarter of Americans being comfortable with an Autocrat as long as it is from their own party/ideology, and roughly a third of Republicans and Democrats seeing the other party as their mortal enemy. While a change like this has many factors, one clear factor is the rise of cancel culture and no-platforming which became such a striking feature of American life in the 2010s. As the saying goes, culture is downstream from politics.
Left-wing radicals in Ireland should think long and hard if this is the future that they want, because this is what happens when your de-facto political position becomes “ban the opposing side.” Moderates on the Left should wonder whether silence or implicit support for these actions is a good thing.