One year on, it’s clear Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum was about a lot more than marriage

Marref“There is no equivalency between marriage and sodomy and those who seek to make them equal are only codding themselves and others.”

So began a letter to The Avondhu in March 2015. The writer – a regular “family values” correspondent whose ultra-conservative Catholic views would make a board meeting of the Iona Institute  look like Sunday brunch at the Playboy Mansion – was scandalised at the then-imminent marriage equality referendum.

God was quickly brought in to back up her argument because, presumably, there’s little the Almighty can’t be rolled out to justify. “God is not mocked,” she wrote. “We need only to see the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to know that God will not tolerate homosexual behaviour.”

“Since it is a grave sin, we cannot support sodomy under any circumstance… In Ireland for the past twenty years, in particular, we have been drip fed the homosexual lifestyle.”

TV soaps, apparently, have been to the forefront, “softening up the nation with their carefully crafted  scripts so that our acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, that which is so opposed to God’s laws, has taken a ‘soft grip’ on the minds of the people”.

(At the time, I asked the human rights campaigner and leading member of Yes Equality Colm O’Gorman if “the homosexual lifestyle” mainly involves, as I’ve long suspected, liking Abba. “Pretty much,” he replied, drily. “That and really, really nice shoes”.)

The Avondhu’s correspondent, however, warned “any opposition to the ‘gay lifestyle’ will earn us the term(s) homophobic, intolerant, ignorant and old fashioned. While many may be bullied into silence, Christians are called to witness to Christ and to speak the truth, uncomfortable though it may be….

“We could never have envisioned that in 2015, Ireland would be asked to vote sodomy into the Irish Constitution and be deluded into calling it marriage.” The correspondent saw this as part of an agenda she called “The new ‘Human Rights’”.

It really is a fantastic screed and it breaks my heart not to re-produce it in full. (Sodomy is mentioned three times – and five times in a follow-up letter – leading me to conclude that some people really do seem to spend a lot of time thinking about sex.) It is indeed, as the author said, “homophobic, intolerant, ignorant and old fashioned”. It is also deeply offensive, not just to anyone who is gay, or to anyone who has gay family and gay friends, but also to anyone who just wants to live in a republic of equals and an Ireland of warmth and kindness.

It is also, in hindsight, a lot more honest than much of the dog-whistle stuff about children peddled by the No campaign. The letter spurred some —

Please read on in my column in The Avondhu

Column: Welcome to the Oval Office, President Trump

TrumpI had a sandwich and a coffee in the Amber service station in Fermoy a few weeks ago. At the table next to me was a group of children, eating chips and enjoying the lack of adult supervision. Four boys and two girls. I’d say the oldest of them was ten. I paid no heed till I realised that they were discussing politics.

“Guys!” said a boy who had until this point been throwing ketchup sachets at one of the girls, “Imagine if Donald Trump actually won!”

“Oh my God, Donald Trump is such a racist!” replied the girl.

“If Donald Trump wins it will be The End Of The World,” said the other girl with grim certainty.

“Um,” said a boy who was stacking his chips one on top of the other in a lattice formation, “You know Donald Trump won’t be the actual president of Ireland, ‘cause that’s like President Higgins’ job?”

(From the murmur of approval which greeted this remark, I suspect Michael D would get a warm reception from Fermoy’s under-ten community, should ever he stop into Amber for a feed of chips.)

“If Donald Trump gets to be The President Of America,” said the little girl, keen to return to the apocalypse, “That’s like he’s The President Of The World!”

“Oh my God that would be SO horrible!” said the boy stacking chips. “Donald Trump is like the Worst Person Ever!”

Beside them, I thought, given we have such clued-in children, then at the least the future of this country is in safe hands.

Mind you, they wrapped up their discussion by having a competition to see who could eat the most sugar, so perhaps their political insight should be judged accordingly.

Personally, I don’t know if President Donald Trump will be The End Of The World but I do think there’s a terrifying possibility that not alone will he be the Republican candidate, I think (and the bookies say I’m wrong) there’s a good chance he might well become US president.

I get rocks thrown at me every time I say this, but I think Hillary Rodham Clinton is a godawful candidate. Every time she points at an imaginary person in the audience, I hear a voice saying “Welcome to the Oval Office, President Trump”.

Clinton is the very epitome of the political establishment against which Trump has built his seemingly-unstoppable insurgency campaign. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion —

Please read on in my column in The Avondhu

What might rape culture look like in Ireland?

Things that cause rape

The Oxford English Dictionary defines rape culture as “A society… whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse”. Wikipedia adds: “Behaviours commonly associated… include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivialising rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these.”

December 2009:

“I just wanted to support him, just let him know he was not alone,” said Father Sean Sheehy, then-parish priest of Castlegregory, Co Kerry, after he joined a group of up to fifty people as they queued in Tralee Circuit Criminal Court to shake hands with Danny Foley.

Foley (35) had just been convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman a year earlier. Foley – then employed as a bouncer – had met his victim (then 22) at a Listowel nightclub and bought her a drink. After drinking it, she became incapacitated. (Later, she remembered trying to stop Foley from removing her clothing.)

Gardai found her in an alleyway, beside a skip, naked from the waist down, semi-conscious and covered in cuts and bruises. Foley was crouching over her. Foley told the Guards, “I came around here for a slash and I saw yer wan lying on the ground.”

CCTV footage showed Foley carrying her to the alleyway, so he changed his story, saying that she took off her trousers and asked for sex.

The jury convicted him. In his sentencing remarks, Judge Donagh McDonagh said Foley’s allegations about mutual sexual acts were designed “to add insult to injury” and “to demean and denigrate her further in the eyes of the jury and the public”.

Foley got a seven year sentence with the last two years suspended. (This being Ireland, he was out in three and a half years.)

Father Sheehy said “it seemed to me an extremely harsh sentence”. He went on national radio to extol Danny Foley’s decency.

Of Foley’s victim, Father Sheehy said: I don’t want to make any judgment on her at all, but obviously the whole situation must have been embarrassing, for the police to happen upon them and what-notShe’s the mother of a young child as well and, you know, that in itself doesn’t look great.”

Please read on in The Avondhu

 

O Lord, give us a fresh election but not just yet #GE16Part2

54 days since the election, it seems clear that, for some, the real focus is on the next election, writes Donal O’Keeffe  

You’d want to be brave to comment on the ongoing discussions to form a government, seeing as the story twists and turns on a daily basis, but 54 days – and counting – since the election, one thing at least is clear: for some in Dáil Éireann, the last election isn’t half as important as the next.

It looks – at the time of writing – like the talking will go on well past the (presumably) scheduled next failure to elect a Taoiseach. With the Labour Party suddenly talking about talking about going back into coalition – and whither the Greens and SocDems? – it looks like this uncertainty could stretch out for weeks more.

Latest polling suggests an immediate election would only yield another hung Dáil (and cost €40 million we don’t have). The Independents might well suffer if the electorate thinks again about electing a hodge-podge of sole traders, what’s left of Labour can’t be too confident either and Sinn Fein and Fianna Fáil would rather wait. O Lord give us a fresh election, seems the prevailing opinion in political circles, but not just yet.

Please read on…

Nobody wins unless everybody wins – Why Springsteen’s championing LGBT rights is no surprise

o-BRUCE-SPRINGSTEEN-570.jpg“Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them.” 

So wrote Bruce Springsteen last week, explaining his decision to cancel his concert in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

North Carolina had just passed House Bill 2, which – as Springsteen noted – “the media are referring to as ‘the bathroom law’. HB2 – known officially as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security – dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use.

“To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognising the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress…”

Those of us who know him would expect nothing less from Bruce Springsteen.

After all, this is the man who, four years ago, told the world of his decades-long battle with depression. I genuinely believe he did so for no other reason than to help de-stigmatise something which afflicts millions of people.

My #GE16 opinion column: For the want of a vote, the election was lost

The game of “what if” is as old as humanity and we all know from an early age how the smallest of things can have the most profound of effects.

“For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” goes the old proverb, “For want of a shoe the horse was lost; For want of a horse the battle was lost; For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost – All for the want of a horse-shoe nail.”

As we close in on what politicians like to call “the only poll that counts”, we are beset on all sides by opinion polls and they all seem to point in broadly the same direction. Micheál Martin is having a good campaign – shame he doesn’t have a party; Enda is defying the lowest expectations in the history of politics – just about; Gerry Adams is proving he has a foot of clay on either side of the border; support for the independents is up and Labour is facing extinction.

If the polls are right, we can expect a hung Dáil. We could be looking at Fine Gael propped up by a hodge-podge of independents, or Enda Kenny’s nightmare scenario of a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Fein coalition or even a grand coalition of the two civil war parties – Fianna Gael.

At the time of writing – just before the final TV debate – it’s impossible to predict a game-changer in such a tight campaign.

Perhaps Joan Burton will find her voice and remind Labour’s critics that they did some good in office, too. Perhaps those who were never prouder of their country than they were on the day we voted for marriage equality will remember that it wouldn’t have happened without the Labour Party.

In the first TV debate of this campaign, Micheál Martin goaded Gerry Adams to such a degree that Adams snapped “Would you ever fff… go away and catch yourself on.” Perhaps Micheál will irritate him the rest of the way and this time Gerry won’t go with the second phrase to pop into his head.

Perhaps Enda will manage to actually top the astonishingly smug smile he gave on Sunday when he was asked if he stood over calling some of his own constituents “All Ireland champion whingers”. He did stand over it, he said. Some of them wouldn’t know sunshine on a sunny day. By the next morning, he said he had meant people from Fianna Fáil.

Sometimes, in the age of opinion polls, it seems there’s hardly even a point to voting. It’s important to remember, though, that opinion polls are only snapshots and in politics – as in every walk of life – the smallest thing can change everything.

It’s also worth remembering that at the start of the week of the 2011 presidential campaign, all of the opinion polls suggested only one likely outcome: President Sean Gallagher. Then, in the heat of a live television debate, Pat Kenny read out what appeared to be a tweet from Sinn Fein, claiming to be about to produce a smoking gun on donations to Gallagher. Rattled, Gallagher stumbled badly.

At the time, Ken Curtin (nowadays a candidate for the Social Democrats) tweeted it was an ambush worthy of General Tom Barry himself.

Next morning, Gallagher went on RTÉ Radio 1, flailing all around him, and got into a row with businesswoman Glenna Lynch (coincidentally, also a Social Democrat candidate these days). Things went from bad to worse for Gallagher and, by the end of the week, Michael D. Higgins was given the largest mandate in the history of the State and elected the 9th President of Ireland.

In the game of “what if”, perhaps there’s a world where an RTÉ researcher paused for a second and thought twice about passing the so-called “fake tweet” to Pat Kenny. For the want of a tweet in that world, perhaps President Sean Gallagher is doing a perfectly good job in the Áras (even if some of us did raise an eyebrow at his pre-election “pro-business” intervention).

No matter what the polls say, a day is a long time in politics and it would be a fool who would rule out what Harold Macmillan called “Events, dear boy”.

The smallest of things can change everything. For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. For the want of a vote, the election could be lost.

That vote is still in your hands.

Donal O’Keeffe

Evening Echo column: Is voting more important than the Leaving Cert? #GE16

Two days before the deadline to register to vote, my eldest nephew took off his headphones and looked up from his pre-Leaving revision for a quick chat. He turned 18 last month, a clever, decent and clued-in young man, and I thought he’d be delighted to have his say in our democracy.

Not so much. He’d gone to the Garda Station but they were out of forms. No problem, I said, I’ll send you the links. He seemed less than enthused, so I said voting is a big deal for any Irish citizen. “Is it, though?” he asked. “I think I’d probably be better off concentrating on my exams.

“Anyway, who could I vote for? What relevance do they have to my life?”

I suggested education, healthcare, social protection and any number of other ways in which politics impacts directly upon the lives of young people, but I was crestfallen to see someone so bright disengaged from the workings of our political system.

He asked me how many candidates come to the job via – as he put it – “nepotism” and I replied, long-windedly, that while we tend to think of political dynasties as a uniquely Irish phenomenon, dynasties occur in every democracy and, anyway, parties select candidates they think most likely to get elected and it’s then up to the electorate who represents them. To be honest, I could see I wasn’t impressing him and – frankly – I wasn’t impressing myself either.

I asked him if he or his friends ever talk about politics and he said that – apart from last year’s Marriage Equality referendum – they tend to have more important things to think about.

“I mean,” he said, “You don’t go out with your friends and discuss politics, do you? Does anybody?”

Feeling very old, I avoided that question but asked whether he has any friends who are members of political parties. That earned the withering response “If they were, they wouldn’t be my friends”.

I asked whether any particular figure in politics strikes him as note-worthy. “No,” was his blunt response. “They’re all either embarrassments, like Wallace and Ming or else they’re like the worst kind of teacher imaginable. Teachers you’d laugh at. Like Enda.

“Why can’t we have proper leaders, like Obama? Instead, we get Enda. Look at him! Such a teacher!”

I pointed out that he actually gets on very well with his teachers and – as it happens – President Obama is a teacher himself, a professor of law.

Which I thought was a very clever point. “Whatever,” my nephew said a smile, “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve exams in the morning.” The headphones went back on.

This isn’t a “Why-Oh-Why?” about The Youth Of Today With Their Hair And The Music. I’m biased, but my nephew is a lovely young man. He’s a lot smarter than me and he’s someone in whose hands Ireland should be very safe. So why isn’t he exercised about this election? Why – if he’s right – do he and his contemporaries find politics so boring and irrelevant?

Are our kids failing our democracy or are we failing them?

I couldn’t help but think of my nephew last weekend, when I snuck into Enda Kenny’s dreary private address to the Fermoy FG faithful. It was an interminable yarn about all the American CEOs Enda has dazzled with Ireland’s recovery and his own homespun wisdom. He also terrorised Fermoy’s breathless Blueshirts with visions of the Sinn Fein/Fianna Fáil zombie apocalypse which will follow a hung Dáil.

“I want ye to go out there,” Enda told them. “Go out there and knock on the door *nok nok nok* and say ‘Mary or John or Paddy or whatever your name is, we can’t afford to lave the country down’. (Long pause.)

“Go raibh mile maith agaibh!!” (Rapturous applause.)

All I could think was “Like a muinteoir trying vainly to channel a revivalist preacher”.

(By way of a postscript, maybe my nephew is wrong. His cousin is eleven and thinks it’s the gravest injustice of all time that he has no say in how his country is run. I reckon at least one of them has the makings of a future Taoiseach.)

Originally published in The Evening Echo 23rd February 2016.

Donal O’Keeffe