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Sinéad O'Connor -- her artistry and activism inseparable

Text of Ruth Coppinger's speech in tribute to Sinéad O’Connor (at ROSA Socialist Feminist Movement event 30/7/23 City Hall, Dublin). Ruth Coppinger, former Socialist Party member of parliament in Ireland and founder member of ROSA Socialist Feminist Movement

Painting by Jim Fitzpatrick

Today, our hearts are with the family of Sinéad, her children, sisters, brother and all who knew and loved her.

So much has been said about Sinéad/ Shuhada' in recent days.

An exceptional & unique voice that could be both a whisper or a scream in one line, she captivated audiences. She could traverse all genres.

A body of work spanning four decades.

But Sinéad’s artistry and activism cannot be separated — they were essential to each other. Her artistic integrity and sense of justice came from her own experience of injustice.

And she was determined to use her music to blow the lid open on abuse, exploitation and oppression of any form.

Poverty, war, institutional and interpersonal abuse, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia — Sinead touched on them all and was vilified for doing so.

She wasn’t fearless — she felt the fear but did it anyway. That’s the real definition of bravery.

From hanging a baby grow out of her jeans at the Grammys to shaving her head — she refused to bow to record company expectations of what a female musician should be.

Some of todays pop stars are billionaires, with clothing lines made in sweatshops.

Sinead paid dearly for her principles but it was a price she was prepared to pay - to be a protest singer rather than pop star.

She withstood the furore from refusing to have the US national anthem played at gigs as the US war machine raged in the Middle East.

And, of course, we all know the commercial price she paid for the tearing up of the picture of the Pope over Vatican cover up of abuse. Sinéad O’Connor really was cancelled.

But she wasn’t interested in money. She gave half her earnings away - her generosity was legendary.

She understood the grinding poverty of capitalism when she wrote of the “ Young mother down at Smithfield 5am - looking for food for her kids.”

Today that is more prevalent than ever as the carnage from the housing crisis seeps thru Irish society unchecked.

How relevant is ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’ - as we watch racist police killings in the US, France and Ireland.

There are huge questions to be answered about how Sinead was treated. There are questions Sinéad would want asked of the Irish state:

— it’s patriarchal family court system that denies women like Sinead access to their own children

— it’s third rate mental health services.

Why as a child was she left to suffer such cruelty in the first place ? Why could Sinead and her son not access the therapy they needed? Unresolved trauma runs through everything that happened.

And the utterly misogynistic media worldwide stands indicted — they ridiculed Sinead for profit and click bait. And they continue to do so today.

The Irish state still holds the church in awe, the church got bargain basement reparations and still run our schools and hospitals.

They consider €5,000 adequate compensation for mothers incarcerated in the homes Sinéad knew of — the same amount spent on flip flops by RTE for having your life ruined.

We should take inspiration from Sinéad’s courage as we look at the world today. Sinéad sang ‘these are dangerous days’ — these are more dangerous than ever.

The planet itself is in peril from capitalistic profit; a right wing backlash on women, bodily autonomy and LGBT rights, with the far right attacking refugees and libraries —. It’s a time we need to be active.

Sinéad sang:

‘Remember what I told you

If they hated me, they will hate you’ .

We can’t allow one group be picked off and have them divide us. We need to come together and build a movement to bring down a system dripping in poverty, violence, sexism and racism.

Our power is there if we use it. Sinéad showed us that.

Sinéad sought out spiritual and mental peace in different religions and ideas. For me, everything she decried is rooted in systemic oppression and cries out for socialist change.

Sinéad’s music was a call to action - let’s answer that call. Sinéad / Shuhada' Rest In Power

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