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.



We need to talk about Arthur

Ready for proper drink-driving legislation?

I usually try to be as balanced as possible, but for once I’m going to stick my neck out and say something controversial.

Ireland’s new drink-driving legislation is one of the most dangerous laws ever to be passed, as it cements the fact that drinking and driving is OK.

Implicit in it is that we have a right to drink and drive, and that the effects of alcohol change depending on your experience and even your job.

Which is nonsense.

Now Minister Leo Varadkar won’t agree – no doubt convinced that he and his department have shown the wisdom of Solomon, he has denied that it’s combination of limits, fines and penalties is a soft touch.

You’ll hear a lot about how it “brings Ireland into line with the rest of Europe”, which is worth a closer look.

Let’s compare the Irish legislation to Sweden.

The Swedish level for a breath test – across the board – is 20mg of alcohol. In Ireland, that level only applies to professional, novice and learner drivers.

I cannot find any reasoning for that, most likely because there is none that stands up to scrutiny.

If you’re found with less than 50mg  in Ireland, you walk away scot free.

In Sweden, you literally walk away, as you lose your driving licence for around ten months and you get hit with a hefty fine.

Between 80mg and 100mg and it starts to sting in Ireland – a €400 fine and a six-month ban.

In Sweden, that will get you at least a month in prison, as well as an even bigger fine.

The idea that drink affects learners and professionals differently is both stupid and discriminatory.

What is the logic behind allowing someone have a limit of 49mg today, only to reduce that to 19mg tomorrow if they get a job as a bus driver? The differentiation is an attempt to be seen to be taking the matter seriously, whilst ignoring the science..

Then there is the idea that a person unable to produce a driving licence should see them treated as a “specified deriver” – the same as a learner or professional driver.

This beggars belief. Not only can they not prove that they are competent to drive, they try to do somehting they are not qualified to do whilst drunk.

There is no compulsion for Irish drivers to seek treatment for alcohol problems either.

In Sweden, drivers are in no doubt – being over the limit at all means you lose your licence and get fined.

Believe me, it makes a difference.

You can argue all you like about personal freedom, the death of the pub trade, the poor farmers stuck on their farms with only a visit to the pub for company and the rest, but there is only one scientifically safe blood-alcohol level when driving, and that is zero.

This legislation is another attempt to appease the Irish people and tell them otherwise.

Varadkar (who admittedly didn’t design the legislation) would be better to bite the bullet and do it properly- his government will undoubtedly be shafted for turning into Fianna Fáil and following their austerity program, so he has nothing to lose.

Why not introduce proper legislation and put the drink-driving myths to bed for good?

Goodbye, Garret

Garret Fitzgerald, 9 February 1926 – 19 May 2011

It was Garret Fitzgerald and Charles Haughey that started my lifelong interest in the GUBU world of Irish politics, and it was with great sadness that I learned of his passing this morning.

The three elections at the start of the 80s were a crash course for anyone remotely interested in the affairs of the state, and coming as they did in the wake of the hunger strikes in the H-blocks and the shadow of a crushing recession, it was a comprehensive education in nationalism and economics.

I mourn his passing, but not because I rated him as a great leader. It was his tenacity and political stamina despite probably the toughest conditions an Irish statesman has ever faced that made the man.

It was an impossible job, but somehow he managed to do it.

But despite his obvious mastery of economics, he made several bad calls in the 80s and as a result could not deliver growth despite arresting the slide in the economy.

His refusal to meet with the families of the hunger strikers was no doubt an agonising decision, and I strongly believe it was the wrong one, despite the reasons for which it was taken (to preserve fragile relations with the British) – as John Hume, Albert Reynolds and many others have shown since, the vast majority of Republicans are reasonable people who are eager for peace, provided they are granted dignity and respect at the negotiating table.

But Garret continued to chase his dream of peace in the North and a pluralist Ireland, despite criticism from all sides and a deeply unwilling and ungrateful counterpart in the shape of Margaret Thatcher. Without Garret’s efforts in the field of foreign affairs, like his father before him in our fledgling state, it is unlikely that there would be peace today.

It was remarkable to see Peter Robinson in Dublin for the Queen’s visit – once one of the bitterest, most ardent and intransigent voices of Unionism, he came to the capital to honour the Irishmen that died in the Great War fighting for the crown.

It was Garret that started the ball rolling that eventually led the opinions and rhetoric of Robinson and his ilk being transformed.

His death comes as a timely reminder to his successors, inside and outside the government. Over the next few days the likes of Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar will have plenty of opportunities to read once more about their former leader’s exploits in the papers.

If Ireland is to have a future that is not reminiscent of the lost decade of the 80s, they would do well to take heed of his mistakes on both the economy and how he dealt with the more violent wing of Republicanism.

For a lifelong diplomat and academic like Garret, the greatest tribute we can pay is to learn from our mistakes and deliver a newer, better, stronger Ireland – because whatever he did, he never stopped striving for his vision of a just, peaceful, pluralist Ireland, where the Catholic community of his father and the Unionist tradition of his mother could feel at home.

Go raibh míle maith agat a Ghearóid, agus ar dheis Dé go raibh do anam dílis.

Stockholm Calling

Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Apparently.

In all the years since I left Ireland, I have never wanted to be back at home more than now. This election marks a time of real change, but make no mistake; the Irish electorate could still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and vote for more of the same, just when radical change is necessary.

Witness the non-runner that was (and is) “Democracy Now”- all the best ideas in the country rolled up into one chaotic movement that, somewhat predictably,  never got out of first gear.

Living and working in Sweden as a journalist/writer, I am spared from a lot of the pub talk and media waffle about Ireland and the upcoming election, so the idea of this blog is to reflect from an international perspective on some of the issues, personalities and tactics in use in the General Election of 2011 and to hold the arguments of the parties up to the light.

What is just as important as what is said is how it is said, and I’ll be hoping to point out recurring themes such as “trust” (Inda and the Bogtrotters), “change” (Eamon and Croke Park Combo) and “an older boy made me do it” (John Gormley and what used to be the Green Party), as well as the bias, waffle and humbug coming from the Fourth Estate themselves (that’s journalists, to you and me- the first three are unfinished satellite towns near Athlone).

The Scandinavian way of political life is entirely different from the parish-pump politics that we know and love, so a lot of what happens will be viewed through the prism of a working democracy, rather than the anarchic back-slapping cattle mart (occasionally without the cattle) that is Leinster House.

The last election I covered in Sweden was in the autumn of last year, and it too was seismic in its own way, as the far-right Sweden Democrats finally managed to clean up their Nazi image enough for them to be allowed in to parliament.

I’ve also been involved at a low level on some Irish political stories, two of which should have brought the last government down long before the Greens got their knickers in a twist over a cabinet reshuffle.

I have access to Irish media via online newspapers, Irish radio via iPhone and a gizmo that lets me watch Irish TV over the internet (most of the time). I also have a tremendous list of hacks, wags and general layabouts on Twitter to keep me in tune with the mood of the people, and when I want to telax and take a break from reality, I have the tweets of Paul Gogarty (soon-to-be-ex-Green Party TD) for my enjoyment.

I had intended to put my normal journalistic integrity to one side for the next few weeks, but seeing as there is not a single candidate running that I would consider voting for yet, I don’t have to take that decision until closer to polling day.

What I will say is that living in Scandinavia for over ten years has taught me that you don’t get great public services without paying high taxes, and anyone telling you different (I’m looking at you, Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar) is either lying or not much good at the sums.

Once again, we go to the polls looking for the best Ireland has to offer, and once again it looks like we’re going to come up very, very short on that front. Like any dedicated foreign correspondent, I’ll update the blog when I can or when anything interesting breaks that is worth commenting on.

Please note that these occasionally partisan and often insulting views are entirely my own and not shared by any of my past, present or future employers- if they were, I would have gotten a proper job writing about the election instead of covering cross-country skiing…

/Our Man in Stockholm, Feb 2 2011.