Leo’s announcement greeted by dog whistles

“I am a gay man.”

Leo Varadkar’s coming-out on Miriam O Callaghan’s radio show prompted a chorus of dog whistles from the anti-equality zealots

Almost as soon as the words were out of Leo Varadkar’s mouth, you could hear the dog whistles beginning.

Dog-whistle politics – the art of saying something that has an additional significance or resonance for a target group – is nothing new.

It’s a favoured trick of those who would oppress others.

And given their pronouncements in the wake of Leo’s coming-out party, the anti-marriage equality campaign is entirely based on it.

They want to talk about children.

And only about children.

Because they want you to think that gay people are a danger to children.

They want you to think that gay people are paedophiles, because people who hear that dog whistle and believe it are not likely to vote for marriage equality.

They don’t care about the fact that there is no evidence to back up their smears.

Or the fact that in some cases academic research actually shows that children in same-sex families fare as well as, if not better than, kids in their mammy-daddy-two-point-four-children-saying-the-rosary fantasy.

They want you to believe that not only are gay people paedophiles, but that they choose to be that way.

And if they’re given the chance, they will convince any children in their care to grow up to be gay too.

Because people who hear that dog whistle about the gay-paedo-recruiter and believe that being gay is a choice are more likely to vote no to equal status for people they believe to be evil, conniving paedophiles intent on increasing their numbers.

There is a twisted logic to all this, of course; the very people who hear these dog whistles and want you to believe that gay people are paedophiles (which they’re not) are big fans of the Catholic Church.

Who, of course, are famous around the world for moving actual paedophiles around to keep them out of prison, allowing them to abuse more children in the process.

The only way to counteract the dog-whistles is to call the religious hounds to heel by metaphorically rubbing their noses in their own anti-gay do-do.

Every time the anti-equality side brings up the issue, they should be asked the question – why are you trying to portray gay people as a danger to children?

If the question is asked, politely and persistently, there are only two possible answers.

The first is that, contrary to appearances, they don’t believe they are a danger to children, which of course negates every child-related argument that comes thereafter.

In other words, their bark a lot worse than their bite.

Or they show their true colours – that they suffer from an irrational fear of, or aversion to, gay people.

In short, they are homophobes.

And no amount of trying to smear gay people as a danger to children can ever hide that fact.



Caught with our Pantis down

Fearless journalist/broadcaster Brendan O’Connor executes the most embarrassing climbdown in Irish TV history.

This week’s fallout from the Panti Bliss interview on RTE has once again put Irish media to the test.

Once again Irish media has failed with flying colours.

Last night Brendan O’Connor made a pained apology for any offense caused by comments made on the show, pointing out that they were not the views of RTE.

Well, duh.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Irish Times – the paper of record – made no link between the resignation of John Waters from the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and his alleged threats of legal action against RTE.

Contrast this with the brave stance of the Guardian, which has suffered all manner of threats from David Cameron’s government due to its publication of Edward Snowden’s revelations.

But rather than display a bit of backbone, it seems that, thanks to the the flurry of solicitor’s letters from Iona, it has now become the elephant in the room in Irish media – the discussion that cannot be discussed under any circumstances.

Silent in all this is David Quinn, founder of the odious Iona Institute. I have asked him several times on Twitter about his legal threats to RTE and Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss), but he hasn’t yet responded.

Nor has he answered my query about RTE’s offer of a right to reply to the allegations that the Iona Institute is a homophobic organisation, which was allegedly turned down by Quinn.

The intention of all of this is to kill the debate in Ireland as to what constitutes homophobia and whether or not Iona and journalist John Waters are homophobic.

Whatever way you look at it, the disappearance of the debate from mainstream media – a debate that has raged for two weeks on social media – suggests several things.

RTE has been cowed.

The Irish Times – which publishes Waters’ musings – has looked the other way.

And the rest of Irish media is in no hurry to draw the attention of Iona’s legal eagles to itself.

That would force you to wonder who wrote the apology read out by O’Connor on Satruday night.

It’s an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues.

… as long as they agree with those of the Iona Institute, it would seem.

Rather than being cowed by legal threats, surely the media has very valid questions to ask – starting with exactly who Iona represent, and where they get their money.

The views expressed by Iona – especially in relation to gay people – are very much at odds with the liberal secular society that Ireland has become. Indeed, Rory O’Neill suggested that the only time he experiences homophobia is online or at the hands of Iona and Waters.

When they’re done with that, they can ask why Iona is given so much room in the media. In any other country in the world, an organisation as litigious as Iona would never be asked to participate in anything. Nor would anybody else with their solicitor on speed dial.

When all that is over, perhaps someone would sit down and ask Quinn, Waters et al to explain how their utterances – perceived by almost everyone apart from themselves and their supporters as being homophobic – are acceptable.

For Iona, Quinn and Waters, it might be a hard sell. Take this quote from an interview with Waters:

This is really a kind of satire on marriage which is being conducted by the gay lobby. It’s not that they want to get married; they want to destroy the institution of marriage because they’re envious of it…

Now if you believe – as Waters suggests earlier in that interview – that marriage is a fundamental building block of society, then he is essentially accusing the gay lobby (many of whom are presumably gay themselves) of trying to destroy it.

How, exactly, is that not homophobic?

Is it reasonable to suggest that gay people are, in trying to secure equal treatment in the eyes of the law, trying to destroy the very fabric of society?

No, it isn’t.

So what should they have done?

Well, if he disagreed with the apology, O’Connor – a columnist with the Sunday Independent and thus not without either power or a platform to exert it – should have resigned.

In the interests of public service, RTE should have stood by its man. If they were to go to court – as evidenced above, examples of the irrational fear of homosexuality displayed by both Waters and Iona are not hard to find – they wouldn’t be without hope of winning.

But it is the Irish Times and the rest of the media that is probably deserving of the most criticism. It is one of the functions of mass media to provide a platform for debate, but yet again they have abdicated this responsibility.

It may be expensive to defend oneself against even the most frivolous of libel accusations in Ireland, but the price for not doing so is the ability to report and to comment without fear or favour.

The views expressed by Rory O’Neill are not those of RTE, but they are those of many people in the gay community.

His airing them on an RTE program is the very point of public service, and of mass media in general – to provide a platform for debate and scrutiny, and for holding people to account.

It should be remembered that Ireland has, since its inception, struggled in terms of holding those in power to account, whether it be politicians, religious leaders or captains of industry.

All have at various points used the solicitors to muzzle reporting and debate.

But in the end, all of them were eventually caught with their Pantis down.




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.


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.

Honour Savita by silencing the extremists

A protestor holds a picture of Savita Halapannavar

If we really want to honour Savita Halappanavar and finally have a proper debate on abortion in Ireland, we need to silence the extremists on both sides.

The reason seven successive governments haven’t managed to legislate in the wake of the X case is of course because of the explosive, corrosive nature of the abortion debate in Ireland, and how it immediately gets hijacked by extremists on both sides, rendering a just and intelligent debate – and thus a solution – impossible.

Vincent Browne’s attempt to hold a debate on the issue on TV3 descended into farce as anti-abortion (and seemingly everything else) activists William Binchy and Breda O’Brien tried to top one another’s outrageous claims.

Citing no source, O’Brien claimed that one in four pregnancies in the UK ended in abortion, and one in three in Europe. It was a claim that was allowed to go entirely unchallenged, and which deserves further scrutiny.

The reason it probably didn’t get it is because of Binchy’s evoking of “abortion mills,” which presumably are Dickensian concentration camps for fallen women where the contents of their wombs are attacked by murderous liberals.

This evening, people on Twitter tell me that Marc Coleman – a man with two degrees who still manages to get seemingly everything wrong – has a promo for his Newstalk radio show featuring the following unrestrained hype:

“Are we rushing headlong into sacrificing the rights of unborn children?”

For some reason, producers seem to think that these right-wingers – often fundamentalist Christians attached to the likes of the Iona Institute, yet seldom identified as such – with extremely dubious views on everything from obstetrics to mental health are the voice of reason for the anti-abortion side.

(I don’t use the term ‘pro-life’, simply because I’ve never met anyone who was anti-life).

They are not.

There are legitimate concerns on both the pro- and anti-abortion sides, and they must be dealt with sensitively and intelligently.

This cannot be done as long as this debate sends spin doctors into paroxysms of hyperbole as soon as it rears its divisive head.

The shock of Savita’s death was soon replaced by awe at how quickly both sides could mobilse their troops to speak of murdered babies and getting rosaries off ovaries.

What gets lost in all this claim and counter-claim are the simple facts of the situation, and in this maelstrom of ill-informed opinion the old Confucian proverb is more useful than ever: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

Abortion exists in Ireland already, and the Supreme Court has told the government it has to legislate for it. It isn’t going to go away.

Secondly, whatever side of the debate you’re on, abortion is one of hundreds of life-or-death decisions that are made in Irish hospitals every day of the week, by qualified, competent, caring professionals, solely on medical grounds.

That last bit is important, because essentially the government has as much business legislating for abortion as it does for dentistry.

Every family has been in a position where they have been told by doctors or hospice staff that “there’s nothing else we can do” for a loved one.

There is almost always something else that can be done – some invasive, dangerous, undignified, expensive procedure that might wring another few minutes or hours or days out of an existence slowly, inexorably slipping away.

But doctors who deal with these issues every day reach the point where they realise that further intervention would be futile, and families realise that too.

That we trust them and that they can make these decisions without being dragged before the courts is commendable. Little or no extra legislation is needed to ensure that the system works.

But given our boundless desire to find an Irish solution to this Irish problem, we have planted the issue of abortion as a moral time-bomb in our constitution, and thus we are forced to legislate instead of allowing professionals to do what we pay them for.

While we wait, four thousand Irish women a year – almost eleven every day, including Saturdays, Sundays and Christmas Day – are going to England to have their pregnancies terminated.

That fact in itself is neither good nor bad; it simply illustrates that there is a need and a demand to have abortion available in Ireland.

Another great myth of the extremist debate is the suicide solution; pro-choice activists jumped on the X case as it provided what looked like a win-win scenario.

If the mother was suicidal, then the state couldn’t possibly turn them down.

Or could it?

The discussion around suicide is probably the most tawdry and offensive in Irish public life in recent years, insulting to women and those who do feel like taking their own lives alike. It is also as pointless as it is offensive.

The truth is probably that of the four thousand women heading to England every year, the vast majority of them probably aren’t suicidal.

They are simply women who have found themselves, for whatever reason, unable to countenance a pregnancy at this stage in their lives, and they have chosen to end it.

They cannot be ignored any longer.

As regards their mental health, they do not return post-abortion with their lives in ruins, as the anti-choice side would have the Irish public believe.

Often they are sad, depressed or disappointed, but despite regrets most go on to live normal lives, and if they didn’t, we’d know about it.

Ireland has exported over 100,000 women to the UK for abortions, a sizable chunk of its population – if their abortions were the opening of the gates of hell, we’d probably have seen it by now.

Shockingly, it was minister for justice Alan Shatter who has provided the most reasonable voice in the debate so far, and one would hope that given his position in government that will prevail.

But for common sense to prevail, the extremists on both sides must be marginalised and ignored as much as possible.

Why? The children’s referendum debate was ruined by the No side evoking images of the state barging in to homes, snatching the children of fine upstanding citizens and placing them into care on a whim.

It was a pathetic, extremist argument that clouded the issue and caused many to switch off.

Like so many other things in life and death, medicine is not a perfect science (if it was we’d all live forever); there are seldom black or white answers, even to similar questions. Abortion is a medical procedure, and there are no easy answers

What there are is endless shades of grey, and it is this – not the murdered babies or the rosaries and the ovaries – that we are trying to legislate for.