Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Home truths deal a blow to Dana's family values appeal

Irish presidential hopeful Dana's revelations of bitter sibling rivalry are as old as time immemorial, writes Mary Kenny

Although it is unlikely she will get to be president, Ireland should not forget its historic debt to Dana Rosemary Scallon. I remember the evening in 1970 when she won the Eurovision Song Contest with her guileless song All Kinds of Everything.

It was the first time Ireland had won the award and it was an occasion of much jubilation. The ditty may be the object of much ironic mockery now, but it did help to put a positive image of Ireland on the global map at a time when the Troubles were dominating headlines.

And she seems to have retained something of that mission to serve the country, because she has been able to see things from the outside.

Yes, she became an American citizen, though she claims that she did not believe this would deprive her of her Irish citizenship. There is also some elasticity about whether Dana brands herself as a Catholic or a Christian, according to whether she is in Connacht or Alabama. But is there such a dissonance in the two definitions? There shouldn't be.

In spite of the perceived amateurishness of her campaign, Dana may do better than some pollsters believe. Yet if her campaign has been scuppered within the past week, it must be partly down to one of the oldest conflicts in human history: sibling rivalry.

It certainly seemed disastrous when her sister, Susan Stein, all but accused Dana of dishonesty, both in the matter of her US citizenship and over the ownership of their late mother's home in Derry. It also emerged that there was a deep family division over the control of a US record label.

Saddest of all was Susan Stein's avowal that she had "no personal relationship whatsoever" with her sister. Is this how the family life of a 'family values' candidate should be?

Shrewdly, Dana has turned the argument into a question: aren't there difficulties and conflicts in every family? 'Family values' doesn't necessarily mean perfection of kinship relations. Doesn't the Old Testament embark on family homicide soon after Adam and Eve have begotten Cain and Abel?

Shakespeare's King Lear and his embittered break with his daughters has been a dynastic template down through the ages, in which brothers went to war, sisters became sworn enemies, and clans took up arms against their own kinsmen.

The great pioneers of modern psychology - Freud, Jung and Alfred Adler - all located the roots of these divisions in the sibling rivalry of childhood. It is unfortunate when the siblings in contest with one another are not evenly matched in talent or luck. Susan Stein, who, at 64, is three years older than Dana, has openly admitted that she was a singer too, but she wasn't as pretty as her little sister. And that is a galling element of the sibling rivalry relationship - when the older child sees the 'interloper', the younger child, overtake them. Nature has, thankfully, provided an antidote to the sibling rivalry situation: the affection, attachment and family loyalty that will usually develop between siblings.

When that affection is stronger than the primitive desire to eliminate the rival, it neutralises the sense of competition. But sibling rivalry can be remarkably durable. I know several sets of sisters who haven't spoken to one another for years after a family feud.

Every individual has a weakness and every candidate in any election has personal problems which will be unveiled under scrutiny.

Dana has had to admit to a dismaying family narrative. How she, as a family values candidate, will deal with this failure of family support may not make any difference to the outcome of the election, but it will test her mettle as an individual and - as she would recognise herself - as a forgiving Christian.

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