herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

Elaine's fragile personality brut ally exposed to court of public opinion

Let us not be facile enough to suggest that the conviction of Graham Dwyer means that Elaine O'Hara has now received justice.

The truth is that she has received no justice in the aftermath of her death. The court case exposed her secrets with impersonal ruthlessness, diminishing her grievously in the process.

Her identity and reputation have been torn to fragments like a net curtain in a hurricane.

People who never knew her have enough information about her to pity her but also to characterise her in a way that reduces the totality of what she was to a narrow band - how she was linked to a pervert.

She has been demonised by the evidence. She has been trashed, post-mortem, not just by the details of stained mattresses and scarred skin, but by these lurid images standing out on their own, untempered by the elements that add up to a total biography.

She stands in public memory in a flowing cream and green trouser suit, with the self-conscious smile of an overweight woman responding to the photographer's calls for a smile, knowing that the end result would do her no favours.

cruel

The camera may not lie, but it can also be gratuitously cruel in its honesty, and what it captured was a woman who was never going to be the belle of any ball.

She might draw affection, particularly from children, but she would never attract all eyes, never the one who displaced air when she walked into a room, never the one envied by other women of her age.

She had the look of what was once called a 'maiden aunt' - an unmarried and unmarriagable spinster relative, mentions of whose first name tended to be preceded by the word 'poor'.

Maiden aunts carried the presumption of innocence around with them, so teenagers did their best not to swear in their presence.

That this particular woman was very definitely not a maiden aunt, but that, on the contrary, she had an active sex life involving BDSM, contributed to the fascination this court case has elicited from people who normally skip the courts pages in the papers and who have never read a true crime book in their lives.

The very acronym 'BDSM' has come to trip off tongues that never knew the term until the trial started.

The evidence of what was done to Elaine O'Hara riveted readers who had not previously encountered anything like the specific horrors found in the video evidence that members of the public were not permitted to view.

In the process, the woman who died became almost a prop in the wider story, a passive factor in a perverted drama. She was stereotyped and sidelined.

Only a small group within the population share her sexual predilections, but that's not the point. The point is that she has been reduced to her sexual preferences and her victimhood, and there was more to her than either.

suffered

She may have suffered mental illness, but in one respect, she was more prescient than her better-educated killer. It was Elaine who warned him that technology could bring him down, and it did, thanks to a near drought revealing the abandoned phones, and a diligent garda.

Elaine O'Hara was profoundly lonely, despite the best efforts of her family, who must have suffered unimaginably these last few weeks. She had never got over her mother's death.

She ached for affection, wistfully believing that if she bore a child, her child would provide the love she needed.

She had tried to take her own life more than once.

On the day before she died, she had been released from a mental hospital.

On the day after she died, she was due to volunteer at the Tall Ships Festival, where she would have been busy and productive on a sunny day in the city centre.

Instead, she obeyed the instructions of a murderous sadist and was lost to life, to hope, to her own future.

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