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Why does Ireland keep failing Sinéad O’Connor?

By Billy O’Connor, Staff Writer .

Shuhada Sadaqat, better known by her birth and stage name, Sinéad O’Connor rose to prominence in the mid-to-late 1980s as a contemporary, relatively easy listening artist, and achieved global fame with her cover of Prince’s song, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ in 1990. Her aesthetic choices had been criticised from the infancy of her career, foreshadowing what would seem to embody her reputation as an artist, as she cultivated an androgynous look comprised of a buzzcut and androgynous clothing. O’Connor shied away from controversy, bolstering her reputation as an outspoken and courageous artist in a musical climate of relative conformity. She discussed that the reason she had kept her hair short throughout her career is because she was getting raped and molested throughout her teen and young adult life and she felt as though an androgynous look would prevent this. At the height of her global fame she had been touted as an Irish icon, despite her controversial nature and use of religious symbolism oftentimes critiqued by traditionalists. However, the world bared witness to arguably the most obvious and large-scale mass cancellation of a musical artist when O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1992.

In October of 1992, O’Connor was the musical guest for the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL). After performing a cover of Bob Marley’s song ‘War’, O’Connor proceeded to display and then tear a picture of Pope John Paul II while saying “Fight the real enemy”. The performance concluded in a room of tangible silence and almost immediately news outlets began the demolition of O’Connor’s character. The infamous display of solidarity with victims of abuse at the hands of the Catholic church was seen the world over and imitated, or rather mocked, by artists like Madonna. To say there was a mixed response to the action would be too generous. Media personalities and news outlets piled on O’Connor with actor Joe Pesci even appearing on SNL the week following the incident, symbolically holding a repaired picture of Pope John Paul that was torn by O’Connor the previous week. Pesci declared, “She’s lucky it wasn’t my show, ‘cause if it was my show, I would’ve given her such a smack…”, followed by subsequent concerning threats of hypothetical abuse. 

This unchallenged and even applauded display of blatant sexism and physical threats from a man in his 50’s to a woman in her 20’s was likely so easily swallowed by the public due to the abhorrent findings of child sexual abuse made by the Catholic church that had not come to light yet, ultimately proving that O’Connor was, as proven, ahead of her time in many ways. The symbolic solidarity showed in the performance went on to ultimately black ball O’Connor in every major facet of the music industry and impacted her reputation as an artist, ultimately being infamous for her ‘controversies’ rather than her musical ability. Instead of defending and bolstering support for a musical icon, however, the Irish media towed the line of anti-Sinéad O’Connor sentiment and allowed a 24-year old musical artist to be bullied into submission by global media conglomerates. 

It’s hard to ignore the sexism inherent in the media pile-on experienced by O’Connor and how easy of a target she was in this situation. O’Connor continued to make music and publically show signs of needing mental health assistance through numerous public cries for help, for lack of a better word, and instead of being met with sympathy and compassion, the media and general public alike continued to berate a woman clearly suffering with substance issues and her own mental health by belabouring how ‘crazy’ and ‘unhinged’ she looked to the public. After O’Connor’s conversion to Islam, the abuse only heightened as we saw media personalities like Piers Morgan use her as a punching bag to be mocked and rebuked on his talk show Good Morning Britain. O’Connor has recently been in the news again, through no action or fault of her own, but due to the tragic death of her son Shane who took his own life last week at the age of 17. Shane was supposed to be under the supervision of Tusla employees but due to major underfunding and staff shortages, which leads to incompetency, Shane was failed by this organization and by our government. 

Thankfully, O’Connor has been very public with her proactivity in fighting this incompetence in the courts and plans to take legal action to make sure this is not just another child death that we all too easily sweep under the rug in this country. O’Connor is a musical icon and a trailblazer for means of protest and liberal causes and should be treated as such. The media consolidation for retribution for O’Connor has been lackluster at best with performances and interviews on The Late Late Show scarcely doing justice to convey the life’s work of O’Connor. I only hope this is the last tragedy suffered by O’Connor at the hands of Irish institutions and that she receives the praise and solidification in Irish music and culture that she so greatly deserves.