The 'stinking red herrings' fight on

While leading parties remain pessimistic about progress, a women's group retains a glimmer of hope

Since her election in May Monica McWilliams, a senior lecturer in social science noted for her expertise in researching violence against women, has gained new insight into her speciality.

She has had a finger jabbed into her arm by a member of the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, and been pushed against a wall in a corridor by a senior member of the Ulster Unionists. In the forum, which was set up as a vehicle for the talks, Mr Paisley has described her arguments as "red herrings - stinking, rotten red herrings."

Her speeches are interrupted by shouts of "silly women" and "stop wasting time". One Ulster Unionist member publicly told her to sit down and shut up. It has been a rough and unchivalrous baptism for a cross-community group of women who came into electoral politics on a tide of idealism.

"We've had to find a lot of courage to deal with it," says Mrs McWilliams. "When you're facing angry faces shouting insults at you, it takes an inner courage to maintain a calm and make your points over that level of acrimony

"We're representative of both communities - that confuses them, they don't like it, and it makes us the brunt of hatred, the brunt of venom. It has been quite devastating in the forum to witness raw, naked sectarianism."

Mrs McWilliams exempts from such criticisms nationalists and republicans - who in any event stay away from the forum - and the smaller parties who are associated with loyalist paramilitarism. She says it is members of the DUP, the smaller United Kingdom Unionists, and to a lesser extent the Ulster Unionists, who behave badly towards the women.

She says: "Ian Paisley Junior says that if we can't stick the heat we should get out of the kitchen. We can stick the heat - we actually want to be in it, the heat is what this is all about in terms of negotiations. But this is something else: we've been called traitors because we've said we're for inclusiveness.

"It's not just that it's an adversarial style: this is very sectarian, sometimes it's sexist, and it's personal insults as well. We've been humiliated publicly. A lot of these guys who are calling us traitors, and making us out to be something we're not, have minders, security people, police escorts. A lot of our women live in quite dangerous communities, and some of them have had difficulties because of this stuff. It can be dangerous."

Things are rather better, she says, in the private talks sessions when the media are not present. But she believes things will continue to move very slowly: "We're two months down the road, and we haven't even agreed the damn opening agenda - that's a problem."

But behind the scenes, she has seen attempts to build trust, and she reports that there is some goodwill and much respect for the former United States Senator, George Mitchell, who chairs the talks.

The summer marching season was, however, a bad setback. "It really created a terrible situation," she says. "It really shows us that the society is fairly dysfunctional at the moment, that we're not living in a normal society. I felt completely devastated - you have high expectations and then you get an awful fall. I had thought that the potential for creating some kind of accommodation was there, but clearly that was not the case."

Like many of the other participants, she will go to the talks today with more hope than confidence of success. "Although I'm very pessimistic at the moment, I feel I have to retain the optimism that there is a possibility that we can work towards some sort of inclusion.

"I'm trying to be optimistic, because I think if you just lived with thorough pessimism there would be no glimmer, there would be no reason for continuing. I have children, I want to live in this country."

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher

£105 - £120 per day + Expenses: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randstad Educat...

German & French Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are curren...

Experienced Cover Supervisors Needed

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education have cover s...

**** Calling All NQT's ****

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a Newly Qualified Teac...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week