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Suzanne Breen on Ann Travers troll: Criticising someone for their politics one thing, doing it because of their illness just contemptible

By Suzanne Breen

Published 08/01/2016

Ann Travers
Ann Travers
Catherine Kelly

The world of social media is a cruel place, and it's especially so for women.

Critics and opponents don't tackle your arguments head-on.

They play the woman, not the ball, and engage in nasty, highly personalised abuse.

Often it seems that there is no low to which they will not stoop.

Digs about a woman's appearance, alleged sexual activity and the like are par for the course.

Now it's cancer that is at the centre of the latest Twitter controversy.

Let's get this straight.

Read more: Republican denies trolling IRA critic Ann Travers over cancer  

A disease which has decimated so many lives and which scares the bejaysus out of most of us is not a topic for an online debate where viewpoints are limited to 140 characters.

There are no 'ifs' or 'buts' here.

It shouldn't raise its head, end of.

Ann Travers has courageously battled breast cancer and she fought like a lioness again when it spread to her bowel.

Over the years that she's been receiving treatments, she's come to know and make friends with many other cancer patients.

When any of these women have died - women with whom she has cried and laughed and loved - it has broken her heart.

When she talks about her grief and loss, she should be treated with respect.

If what she says on the matter is used as a stick with which to beat her, then that's contemptible.

It should be a matter of reflection for Sinn Fein because, when those within the party's ranks have encountered the disease, they have expected others to treat them with dignity and decency.

In 2010 Gerry Adams disclosed that his wife Colette had cancer.

He talked about discovering she was ill, her surgery and the effect it had on their family.

"Cancer is a frightening disease," he said, adding that dealing with it was "a terrifying and emotional experience".

It wasn't the first time that the Sinn Fein president has spoken poignantly about the ravages of cancer.

Four years earlier he delivered a moving oration at the funeral of party colleague Siobhan O'Hanlon.

He told mourners: "Siobhan said when you have cancer, there are a number of big days. "And she talked of these.

"She included the day when she lost her hair.

"At one point she said: 'I was a mess.

"'I had no hair, no eyebrows.

"'No eyelashes, one breast.

"'My nails were all broken. I was tired.

"'I knew I had to get my act together.

"'My hair had started to grow but it was very slow.

"'It was also terribly grey.'"

Mr Adams said he had cried when he had heard his friend speak of these things.

Ann Travers' account of the toll cancer, and the treatment for it, has taken on her body has been equally as heartbreaking.

Sinn Fein supporters are perfectly entitled to criticise Ann for her political positions.

But, when it comes to her illness, they should show her the same sensitivity and respect that they showed Siobhan.

Because cancer doesn't discriminate.

It touches all our lives, regardless of politics.

And, when it hits, it makes all our social media squabbles look ridiculously trivial.

Belfast Telegraph

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