It was a mere scrap of fabric, deep blue and edged with lace. But when the legislator Ruth Coppinger drew it from her sleeve and held it up in the Irish parliament this week, the item of women’s underwear caused consternation among her colleagues.
Elsewhere, women took to the streets carrying lingerie. In Cork, dozens of thongs were laid on the steps of the courthouse. In Belfast on Thursday, protesters tied knickers to placards and chanted: “My little black dress does not mean yes.”
The trigger for protests across Ireland, and the eruption of fury on social media, was the words of a lawyer defending a man accused of rape in a trial in Cork.
Suggesting the complainant – 17-year-old woman – was “open to meeting someone”, Elizabeth O’Connell said: “You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
The defendant was acquitted in a unanimous verdict following deliberations by the jury lasting 90 minutes.
According to Fiona Ryan, a city councillor in Cork, anger over the defence counsel’s comments on 6 November took a few days to build.
“It didn’t blow up at first, it was almost a delayed reaction. But it festered,” she said. Ryan suggested staging a protest in Cork on Wednesday, eight days after the end of the trial, and was astonished when up to 500 people turned up to take part, many carrying items of underwear.