What do you get when you let fundamentalists define the debate? Six doctors

Catholic Comment’s new intern hears they all like a beer on a Friday.

For those of you convinced that we are in the final stages of one of the last great Irish moral battles of our age, I hate to break it to you.

This abortion “debate” and whatever legislation it serves up will not bring closure, simply because once again we are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people.

The Supreme Court decision (subsequently ignored) that compelled the Irish government legislate following the X case was deemed by both sides to be a victory of sorts for the liberal agenda.

It was nothing of the kind, as it allowed for a very narrow definition of what the problem – and the possible solutions – actually are.

Suicidal thoughts are a problem in pregnancy.

Are they the reason ten or twelve Irish women every day go to England for abortions? No.

Will legislating for abortion in cases where the woman is suicidal help those women? No.

Will the Orwellian notion of six other people deciding whether or not a woman is to be trusted be good for them? No.

In fact, it will effectively roll back the clock for Irish women on all those years of clawing for rights automatically granted in other countries.

The definition of legislation within this narrow field of view allows the Irish taliban to do what they do best – argue anything but the point in question.

In fact, they’ve already done it.

They decide what the frame of reference is, and conveniently it’s chosen to to suit their arguments.

(If you’re an academic, they’ll also draw conclusions form your research that you expressly didn’t reach, and then won’t stop repeating them, but that’s another matter.)

They do the same on marriage equality.

They never talk about the gays, only about “the children,” which in itself is a massive own goal, when you think about it – anyone aligning themselves politically with Maude Flanders and Helen Lovejoy isn’t exactly credibile.

They cling blindly to such ridiculous statements as “Ireland is a very safe country to have children in” and “there is no scientific evidence to say abortion is a solution for suicidal mothers.”

There are glaringly obvious gaps in those arguments – the first is that those looking for abortions don’t want to have children, for whatever reason.

The second is that it’s amazing to find such a reliance on science all of a sudden, when they’re more than willing to accept any ould claptrap and hearsay in church on a Sunday.

The point is this – the government and the liberal-minded majority of Irish people have allowed the Christian far right to steer the proceedings.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the Irish taliban have grudgingly conceded that something must be done – but in doing so, that something must be so narrow and so ludicrous as to be entirely unworkable.

The solution is as simple as it is democratic.

We need to tell our legislators what we want, loudly and clearly.

We need to leave them in no doubt as to the fact that most people want abortion to be available to Irish women. In Ireland.

And we want an end to this charade of waving off our women on the early flight to Liverpool and pretending there is no problem.

We need to make them well aware that most people in Ireland don’t give a shit if you’re gay or not any more, and that we’re more likely to get offended by what football team you support.

And we must send a message, loud and clear, to Enda Kenny and everyone else in Leinster House – that the tiny, bobbed, Jesus-loving tail will no longer be allowed to morally wag the Irish dog.

It bears repeating: the time is ripe for a redefinition of our Republic, who we are and what we value.

That redefinition should be steered by our dreams of a better future, not by the clammy ghosts of our past.

Until we do that, we are condemned to repeating these moral battles, generation after generation, asking the wrong people the wrong questions, and then wondering why we keep getting the wrong answers.


How Boston marks the end for the right to bear arms

The massive display of force by local and federal authorities in their efforts to apprehend the Tsarnaev brothers (prime suspects in the bombing of the Boston marathon) may have had one completely unintended consequence – the debunking of the myth that is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

As yet there are scant details of the arms borne by the Tsarnaevs – one of whom is now deceased, the other in hospital and unable to communicate – so we don’t know if the guns they carried were legal or not.

What is absolutely certain is that there is no way their arsenal – however big – provided any sort of a match for the collective might of the US authorities.

Why is this the end of the right to bear arms? Well, let’s look at the second amendment for a second, as ratified by the states:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

The basic premise of the amendment is that guns should be kept and militias organised to protect “the security of a free state” – in other words, if the government gets too big for its boots, the people should be able to rise up and take back power.

Given the immense display of power in Boston the last few days, there is absolutely no way that any militia or any individual in the United States of America – in their right minds – could consider rising up and doing anything.

Like the Tsarnaevs, they would  be crushed within hours.

Any doubts about that? Think again.

Authorities ordered businesses in Boston to stay closed. They shut down transport networks. Logan Airport operated under severe restrictions. They closed off Watertown for the whole day. They stopped and searched hundreds, if not thousands of vehicles and people.

Troops were put on the streets. Police officers, federal agents and SWAT teams searched properties and made house calls. The state had decided it wanted to apprehend these two, and no expense was spared.

When they did run into the brothers, late on Thursday night after the murder of an MIT police officer, they responded with massive violence. It’s fair to say the two brothers responded in kind, but with little discernible effect.

They may have killed four people and injured hundreds more, but faced by the state’s apparatus of violence they were without hope.

It’s worth noting that over 3,500 people have been killed by guns since the slaughter of innocent children – none of whom, presumably, were a threat to national security – at Sandy Hook, and yet nothing has changed, apart from the Obama administration getting a bloody nose as agun control measures were voted down.

Despite the lazy media attempts to shoehorn the brothers into the Islamic extremist corner, we know nothing of their motives yet.

Whatever the Tsarnaevs were, no doubt they would argue that they were “fighting” (for want of a better word to paraphrase the murder and maiming of innocents) for a better society – most likely against the tyranny of the state, real or imagined, and a view often shared by extreme right and left alike, not to mention religious groups.

But the idiotic notion that one man or a small group of men or women can hold the government of the United States of America to account died on a Boston street with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his corpse full of state-bought bullets and damaged by his own cheap bomb.

Despite the lockdown, despite thousands of people missing work, despite the university campuses closing down en masse, despite the terror that gripped the city, the authorities will still tell the people of Boston and the world that the end of this operation is a great day for freedom.

In their nation violently born of a frontier spirit, Americans need to realise is that they can only preserve that freedom – much of it already given away – is by fixing their inadequate, broken democracy.

Not by keeping an assault rifle in the garage and thinking Obama is afraid of you.


Five freelancing thoughts from the Dublin Freelance Forum

Headed for the airport again after another interesting week of media work in Dublin. Some good radio work, some good discussions with editors and getting bumped off a TV show at the very last second – the more things change, the more they stay the same….

But I was honoured to be asked to sit at the top table this week at the Dublin Freelance Forum.

Brian O’Connell – a journalist, writer and broadcaster I have the utmost admiration for – and I spoke about what we do, how we do it, and the fun and games of the business end of freelancing – getting paid.

The Dublin Freelance Forum is organised by the NUJ, and even if you’re not a member, you should go.

Why? Because the contacts you make there will go a long way to making what is often a lonely existence much more palatable – and profitable.

I ran into award-winning travel writer Yvonne Gordon, whom I hadn’t seen for an alarming number of years.

Yvonne and I operate in different spheres, with different networks of editors, but that is not to say that they are mutually exclusive – any freelancer is always looking for new angles, new phone numbers, new places to pitch.

We may not be able to do so today or this week, but no doubt the time will come when we can help each other. And thanks to the spirit of solidarity fostered by the forum, we will.

Here’s five things I either said, heard or thought of over that day.

1. Think big – talking heads on the TV will always tell you what an advantage we have being English-speaking. So use it.

Don’t limit yourself to the major Irish newspapers and radio stations – use freelance calculator and find broadcasters and publications abroad. Interview foreign citizens of interest and offer features on them to media in their home country.

For the most part they tend to take a lot of newswire stuff anyway, so translating your material from English to another language is just another step.

Remember, the world does not begin and end with the Craggy Island Gazette.

2. Technology is your ally – don’t be afraid of it.

Learn to take photos and shoot basic video clips. Learn how to put them together. The objective is not to be able to cover your sister’s wedding; it is simply to compliment what you do.

I’ll write a more comprehensive post on my regular kit later, but one tip – don’t be afraid to spend money. Buying the slightly cheaper camera, lens, tripod or dictaphone is more often than not an expensive mistake.

Your video won’t be quite up to scratch, your audio will contain great interviews but with unbroadcastable levels, and your tripod will be about as stable as a tourist leaving the Guinness Hop Store after two rounds of the tour.

Eventually, you’ll end up buying the more expensive gear anyway, so save yourself the trouble, bite the bullet and buy the best you can first time around.

3. Pitch stories as multimedia – even if, for the next year or two you’ll be banging your head off a brick wall.

Our customers may not be aware that they have this need yet, but as more media becomes digital-dependent, they will.

So package your stories with short videos and pictures, the same way as you provide sidebars, factboxes and statistics now.

Eventually they’ll realise that the need exists, and they’ll come to you first when it comes to filling it.

4. Talk to other freelancers – to those who have ever held a staff job, the benefits of being in a newsroom are immediately apparent.

You’re an insider, getting instant feedback and knowing exactly what they want editorially.

We don’t have that, and the only way we can get it is to talk to other freelancers and our editors. So keep the lines of communications open, especially in the bad times – it could be that simple things are stopping you from being successful, and a second pair of eyes might see what you can’t.

5. Help others out where you can – I don’t have any secrets, so I don’t mind sharing what I know.

I may not give you my story ideas, but I’ll happily tell you how I come up with them, and what you might consider doing to improve yours.

We’re in a competitive business, but I’m confident enough in my way of working to believe that I’ll continue to succeed, and your success doesn’t necessarily come at my expense.

Besides, if you help others, you’ll find that they will also help you, so use Twitter, e-mail, phone calls, whatever – just make sure that you don’t end up isolated and out of the loop.

Working alone doesn’t have to be lonely, and besides – there’s very little in journalism that can be entirely achieved by just one person. Everything we do of any great value requires us to interact, not least with one another.

Thatcher is dead, but Thatcherism lives on

Margaret Thatcher tries the peace sign. You’re right, it doesn’t suit her.

And so it came to pass – isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk finally got to change their home page from “No” to “Yes”.

Many people – republicans, socialists, communists, Argentinians, Irish people, miners and the poor, among many others – have been looking forward to this day.

And when it passes, they will remain unsatisfied – Thatcher may be dead, but her greedy, selfish, anti-state, pro-market politics are thriving like never before.

Thatcher was never a Tory in the true sense of the word. Her ideology was more that of an old-fashioned liberal, complete with Victorian values and a worldview that was equally out of date.

She took over as British prime minister in turbulent times, believing in the power of money and ambition over all else, and that if only people had enough freedom they would all prosper.

To encourage others to believe likewise, she turned people against each other and began the dismantling of the safety nets that had previously set British society apart.

She might be gone, but her policies live on, not least in Ireland where, on the surface at least, she was more hated than most other places in the world.

The Irish may have hated her personally for her handling of Northern Ireland, but we have never been slow to embrace her policies – letting the free market run riot, offering the vulnerable in society the bare minimum and encouraging private enterprise to solve the problems of society using profit as its motivator.

If there was one place where unions are less-respected than in Thatcher’s Britain, it is in Ireland.

Some of this may be due to the ineptitude of the current and past leadership, but much of it is due to a similar passion for freedom and the misguided notion that every man is an island and in control of our own destiny.

As it turns out, we are not. Like it or not, we are all dependent on others to a greater or lesser extent.

Her status as the people’s champion, the prime minister who stuck up for “the little man” was belied by her being in the pockets of the arms industry, of Reagan and of Pinochet.

Deregulation was the order of the day as banks, financiers and traders saw the rules stripped away. She never allowed a deeper understanding of the complex nature of the world to cloud her simplistic view of the freedom to make a living being paramount.

But as the flags fly at half-mast over Whitehall, her legacy lives on in Kildare Street in Dublin, where the elected representatives will still tell you that there is no good to be had from the unions, and that if only everyone is as free to make as much money as they like, then social justice will look after itself.

And they will be as wrong as she was, despite her passing.

And they will continue to be wrong, long, long after she is gone.

Sveriges mixade zoner är just det- mixade

Innan och under Sverige-Irlands VM-kval försökte jag vara en god journalistisk kollega – jag hjälpte till med lite uppgifter om de olika lag, hjälpte folk komma i kontakt med varandra, bjöd på de stories jag inte hann med att skriva eller filma eller sälja själv.

Det mesta mottogs varmt – journalister lever på uppgifter, kontakter och idéer. Men ibland blev det inget av en bra idé.

En av dessa var att irländska medierna skulle kanske ta ett snack med några av de svenska kvinnor som följer och täcker landslaget. Den irländska presskåren – tillsynes utan en enda kvinna i ledet – tackade nej genom att ignorare förslaget helt.

Jag nämner det nu då Medierna i P1 igår tog upp ämnet kvinnor i sportjournalistik och varför damfotboll inte täcks i samma utsträckning som herrsporten.

Lyssna: Medierna 20130406 11:03

Sportbladets Robert Laul har fått en del kritik då han har sagt att frågan är uttjatade och att det handlar om nyhetsvärdering. Han menar att i dagsläget får inte damfotboll på klubbnivå större täckning då det är inte så många som är intresserade.

Att då ge den mer täckning i tidningen vore ett politiskt beslut- vi är journalister, inte damfotbollens PR-byrå.

Som frilansare kan jag bara intyga att han har rätt – även om jag politiskt sett hade gärna haft mer täckning för damfotboll så är sanning att om jag väljer att jobba med damfotboll så kan jag inte sälja materialet. Ingen ville ha det.

Med ett kommande EM i Sverige har det aldrig varit lättare att få tag på damfotbollens svenska profiler – Pia Sundhage och Lotta Schelin är tillgängliga för media på ett sätt som Erik Hamrén och Zlatan kommer aldrig att vara.

Båda två har varit fantastisk proffsiga – Pias personlighet tillsammans med det faktum att hennes tid i USA har gjort att hon behärskar engelska på ett sätt som bidrar till fantastiska intervjuer.

Jag har varit på flera olika events med damlandslaget och erbjudit täckning till alla möjliga uppdragsgivare men den bittra sanningen är att jag har inte sålt en enda text, bild eller videosnutt.

Inte ens UEFA – som var ruggigt sugna på lite internationell uppmärksamhet – vill ha videotäckning när biljetterna till Dam-EM släpptes i februari.

Som frilansare måste jag göra en nyhetsvärdering – är det bättre för mg att gå på ett jippo men Sundhage eller att täcka en Elfsborg-match och snacka med Anders Svensson? För det mesta är Pia mer underhållande än Anders men chanserna är större att jag säljer det Anders har att säga.

Vad det gäller antalet kvinnor i journalistkåren ser det bättre ut, om än inte bra.

På mixedzonen på Sveriges herrlandslagsmatcher och i Allsvenskan ser man en hel del kvinnor som arbetar – även om man vill se flera så är det en bra början. Jag kan inte föra deras talan men jag känner att de är respekterade och jag har aldrig sett någon bristande respekt från de manliga kollegorna.

Jag har själv två tjejer på åtta och sex. Båda fotbollen och journalistik har gett mig så mycket i mitt liv och jag hoppas att de delar mitt intresse, på eller utanför planen.

Men det är, som Robert Laul säger, min politiska inställning. Det är inte min uppgift att lösa det men jag kommer ändå med ett förslag.

Vad det gäller täckning av damfotboll kan vara hundra journalister ute på Tyresös hemmamatcher men ändå vill ingen köpa det vi producerar.

Däremot om det var 10,000 åskadare på plats på varje match i Damallsvenskan, och alla skulle köpa tidningen varje dag för att läsa om det, då skulle det se annorlunda ut.

Titta nästa gången du går på ett evenemang – ser du folk på läktaren så är pressboxen sällan tomt. Men om det är glest på läktaren blir det glest i tidningen också.

Så ni som vill se mer damsport i tidningen, rösta med fötterna – köp årskort och ta med familjen på matcherna. Det kommer inte att hända över en natt men så småningom kommer det att ändras.

Let’s have a gay ol’ time

I have to say I’m really enjoying Prime Time’s new mix of hard-hitting debate and slapstick comedy as provided by the likes of the Iona Institute, and the fact that it is hastening the death of a particularly nasty strain of Irish conservatism is an added and welcome bonus.

For those not aware of who they are, the Iona Institute is a think tank set up to peddle fairy stories from the distant past, from virgin births and resurrections to the fact that gay people don’t deserve the same rights as you.

The recent appearance of Susan Philips – a woman so deluded she thinks your marriage somehow affects hers – on Prime Time is an excellent case in point.

One of her ridiculous diatribes against marriage equality was greeted not by applause, but by guffaws of well-deserved laughter. Extremists like Philips are now making moderate conservatives uncomfortable – after all, would you want to be associated with her?

The Irish Tea Party/Taliban hybrid is fast becoming a parody of itself, and in adopting tactics and rhetoric (not to mention dollars) from fellow zealots across the pond, it’s fighting a losing battle.

As indicated by a recent survey of Newstalk listeners, the Ireland they are trying to conserve doesn’t exist any more.

There are people who say they shouldn’t be allowed airtime, and I’m not one of them; simply because every time they appear on the TV or the radio, that nasty streak of Irish holy-Joe fundamentalism dies a little more.

The more they appear on the telly and make a show of themselves, the sooner we’ll be rid of them forever.

But they won’t go quietly, so here’s a few things to look out for – particularly their love of “redefining” stuff.

1. There’s a lot of talk of changes to marriage legislation “redefining society” from the holy Joes, as if that was a bad thing.

It’s not. Irish society is getting better, but it still doesn’t recognise or respect the rights of many – mostly thanks to said holy Joes.

2. Marriage equality for gay people doesn’t “redefine” anything about my marriage. Or yours. Or anyone else’s. And if you’re so unsure of yourself as to let it redefine you, then you should be asking yourself exactly why you got married in the first place – was it because you loved your partner, or because you wanted to do something gays can’t?

2. They’ll also do anything to “redfine” the marriage argument, usually by saying it’s about children.

Marriage is no more about children than dancing is about architecture, and to try to define it in those narrow terms is an insult to those who cannot have children or who marry late in life for companionship.

(In fact, the holy Joes probably frown on modern couples whose children attend their nuptials, but that’s another issue.)

Because the holy Joes and Josephines cannot bear to be faced by their own prejudice, they cannot bear to think of happy, loving gay people.

Witness the awesomely backward  performance of Philips in the Prime Time clip above as she repeatedly refers to gay people having “friends” and “their relationships.” It’s almost Victorian in its imbecility.

It seems that in her world of male/female marriage perfection there  is only joy; there is no domestic or emotional violence, no unhappy, unloved spouses or children.

There is also no logic at all. Just prejudice. Marriage has nothing to do with children, and everything to do with love and commitment and understanding. Gay people are capable of all that – and in many cases, probably more so than Philips.

3. When it comes to children, they are very quick to “redefine” the role of their church in the rape and persecution of generations of Irish children – the children whom, lest we forget, they are so eager to ‘protect’ from being brought up in a gay household.

A screen grab from Catholic Comment – “try using more general search terms” indeed…

Don’t believe me? A search for the word “Magdalene” on the website of religious reactionary mouthpiece site Catholic Comment returns no results at all – this from a site that claims to be “for the church and the media.”

The brilliant Irish comic Tara Flynn wrote a superb parody of the anti-gay marriage ads usually associated with sites like Catholic Comment and its cousins in America.

In it, she succinctly presents many of the arguments and threats used to deny gay people their rights.

The very fact that Flynn had to make such a video shows that Ireland is still a very conservative place, but thankfully a lot of progress has been made, especially in terms of removing the sense of shame that was previously attached to matters of sex and intimacy.

The hysterical laughter of the Prime Time audience -some of whom share Philips’ views – is a good sign for the future. Ireland has moved on, even though there are still those who insist on yanking at the handbrake.

But soon gay people will be able to marry just like anyone else and we’ll be “redefining” the likes of Philips and the Iona Institute as late, unlamented historical figures from Ireland’s shame-strewn past.