#MarRef: How it feels to lose

I felt like crying.

I was angry and upset and mortified.

It was the cold, dull aftermath of a hugely divisive referendum and my side of the debate had lost. Not just lost, my side of the debate had been buried under a landslide.

It felt horrible. It felt personal. It felt crushingly unfair and – big as I am and ugly as I am – I felt close to tears at the sheer injustice of it.

Cliché though it is, I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of my country.

I wasn’t alone, though I felt horribly alone. One of the most interesting journalists in the country at the time wrote in his Irish Times column that he was sickened to be Irish. In a heartfelt piece, he said he was disgusted that his country had chosen to be so cruel, so selfish and so utterly heartless. Witheringly, he said he had thought we were better than this.

What was worst, for me, was the realisation that this is how low, how petty, how despicable a people we are.

This isn’t some dire, apocalyptic warning of what Saturday will feel like if you don’t make damn full sure that you – and everyone else you know – get to the polling station on Friday and vote for marriage equality.

This was 2004 and we had voted in the Twenty-Seventh Amendment – by a stunning 80% of an unusually-high 60% turnout – that babies born in Ireland would no longer necessarily by Irish.

I’ve written about this before and suffice to say that, eleven years on, I’m still sick to my stomach by what we did that shameful day. Oh, and that journalist who (rightly) condemned us for our lack of generosity and kindness?

You’d never believe it now, now that he has become an Old Testament parody of himself, wild-eyed and permanently-enraged, seeing father-denying misandrists in every shadow and ranting about gay people parodying marriage, but there was a time when John Waters was on our side.

Yes, of course I wrote this because I’m absolutely terrified we’ll lose on Friday.

Take that 17% to 23% Don’t Know in current opinion polls and stitch it on to the NO vote. I’ve been canvassing for a YES a little while now and every Don’t Know I’ve met, I’ve asked them “Well, do you have any questions or worries?” Not one of them had an actual question. Which suggests to me that they are either shy NO votes or – worse – they genuinely don’t give a damn.

So it’s an awful lot closer than we think and every single YES will count. This will be decided on turnout and, as Colm O’Gorman has repeatedly said, if you don’t vote, you’re voting NO.

I have gay friends and I would be devastated if we told them we think them lesser citizens whose love is less than ours.

Imagine how they will feel.

Here. Have Three Little Words.

Please vote and please vote YES.

– Donal O’Keeffe

Homophobia, and why I want to see the Iona Institute on RTÉ. All. The. Time.

I have one thing in common with the Iona Institute. I too keep forgetting that those creepy, sex-obsessed reactionaries only speak for about 2% of Ireland’s Catholics.

Every practising Catholic I know considers them to be embarrassing extremists and I have heard some Catholics close to me rage that “those fanatics must, surely be to God, have something on RTÉ to say that they’re on the television and the radio night and day”.

By now, you will probably have heard about Rory O’Neill‘s appearance on “The Saturday Night Show” and the subsequent storm which led to John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute getting an apology and an undisclosed chunk of taxpayers’ money from RTÉ. O’Neill, the alter ego of Panti, the drag queen, told Brendan O’Connor that homophobia is not accepted in a modern Ireland where gay people are visible and (by the vast majority of us) valued members of Irish society.

“It’s very hard to hold prejudices against people when you actually know those people,” he said. He went on to say that the only place “it’s okay to be horrible and really mean to gays is on the internet – in the comments – and, you know, people who make a living writing opinion pieces for the newspapers.”

All of which was fine until Brendan O’Connor did something really, really stupid. “Who are they?” he asked.

Now, how many times do we hear superior interviewers like, say, Joe Duffy, on live air, warn interviewees not to name names? Not so Shrek. That Rory O’Neill named names and left RTÉ open to (I still think entirely spurious) claims of defamation reflects on the interviewer rather than the interviewee. Despite RTÉ removing the clip from the RTÉ Player and Youtube, you can watch the interview here.

Owent on to make this wonderful and, I think, entirely reasonable point about what constitutes homophobia: “What it boils down to is if you’re going to argue that gay people need to be treated in any way differently than everybody else or should be in anyway less, or their relationships should be in anyway less then I’m sorry, yes you are a homophobe and the good thing to do is to sit, step back, recognise that you have some homophobic tendencies and work on that.”

Sadly, that wasn’t enough to galvanise RTÉ or indeed its man Brendan O’Connor, the genius who had encouraged Rory to name names. One craven apology coming right up. (Philip O’Connor has written about that, far better than I ever could, here.)

It is, though, important to remember that there are a lot of very decent people working in RTÉ and some of them are sick to the stomach at this development. Here, for no reason other than my own need to be cheered up, is something really beautiful from RTÉ.

With a referendum on marriage equality very likely within the next two years, we can expect to hear a lot more from the Iona Institute and Company Limited. We can look forward to a lot of shrieking about “The Children”, what Alan Flanagan calls “The Helen Lovejoy Syndrome“.

But here’s the thing: I am no fan of John Waters or the Iona Institute. I have written about Breda O’Brien before and one of Iona’s most Smithers-like apologists had a go at me in the last few days for mocking Poor John Waters. An attack which made me, as Father Jessup might say, “sooooooooooooooo sad”.


But I saw some friends from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community propose in the immediate aftermath of RTÉ’s miserable apology and settlement that, henceforth, no LGBT people should agree to appear on panel discussions with Iona Institute personnel.

Folks, have you lost your minds?

Personally, I hope Iona’s litigiousness doesn’t have the unintended consequence of lessening their media ubiquity. It would, of course, be a terrible mistake to allow the bigots to go unchallenged but it would also be very unfortunate if broadcasters decided they had no choice, without the balancing voices of LGBT commentators, but to exclude the Iona Institute from discussion.

The Iona Institute is an accidental force for, and please hear me out, compassion and inclusivity. Every time members of that wretched outfit go on the air looking like homophobes and bullies is surely a victory for those of us who start from a principle of equality. “Equality must take second place to the common good” says Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute. John Waters calls marriage equality “a kind of satire on marriage which is being conducted by the gay lobby”. God love them.

To the Iona Institute and their fellow travellers, they represent the reasonable argument against equality. They only look like religious fundamentalist maniacs because there is no reasonable argument against equality and they lack the self-awareness to realise it.

I want Iona and their fellow travellers on the air all the time. (I don’t, really. I can’t afford to throw any more televisions or radios out the window, but bear with me.) I want them arguing against equality and looking wild-eyed and hysterical because those watching will see the opponents of the I-Onans as decent and rational people and the type of person you’d want for a family member or a neighbour or a friend.

I think the Iona Institute is pumping out a message of intolerance and, yes, hatred, one which has nothing Christian about it. But then, as my Granny used to say, them that’s closest to the altar is often furthest from God. Let them spew. The more people see and hear of them, the more people will know them for what they are.

By the way, if you’re angry about RTÉ’s spineless behaviour (and if you have an interest in freedom of speech you should be) please do something about it. Write to complaints@rte.ie (Before you write, I recommend you take a look at Brian Barrington’s powerful letter here.)

Before I go, here’s something else from RTÉ (and BBC). Mrs Brown on marriage equality. Brendan O’Carroll gets a free pass from me for this.

“Could you show me in any Bible, anywhere, where Jesus Christ refused to sanctify love?”

Donal O’Keeffe

Post Script: On Wednesday the 29th of January, Audrey Carville asked her guests on The Late Debate, Breda O’Brien and Colm O’Gorman, to comment on RTÉ’s apology and settlement to Ms O’Brien, John Waters and the Iona Institute. The resulting discussion made for riveting radio. Listen here.

My guest column for Friday’s Irish Times

It was in the Book of Genesis that Onan spent his seed upon fallow ground. This ultimate act of narcissism is an apt metaphor, you will agree, for the self-indulgent culture which has grown up in what is wrongly called “post-Catholic Ireland”. Nowhere do we see the, if you will, seminal apotheosis of this literally godless self-absorption as we do in the 21st Century scourge known as “social media”.

(On a point of Biblical accuracy, perhaps we should not be so quick to judge Onan. There was, after all, a woman involved. There usually is.)

In ancient Greek plays, it was the function of the Chorus to keep the audience informed of developments within the drama. Originally numbered at fifty, Sophocles wisely reduced the Chorus to twelve. This was later revised upward to fifteen by Euripides in the case of tragedies and twenty-four in comedies, and, look, let’s not get bogged down in nuance here, I’m leading up to a clever point about Twitter. Suffice to say, Sophocles recognised that the Chorus should not be allowed to drown out public discourse and, unfortunately, that is precisely what we have allowed Twitter to do.

Social media’s democratisation of opinion is, of course, a horribly unhealthy thing, giving as it does a notional equality which suggests that some person with a laptop is the equal of a man with a column in the paper. And yet, for all of that democratisation, online commentators remain locked in the iron grip of a tyrannical orthodoxy, one which brooks no dissenting voice.

There is a crushing grimness to the prevailing climate on Twitter. Like Henry Ford’s black car, you can have any opinion you like on Twitter, so long as it’s liberal. Those daring to deviate from the approved group-think of “cool” left-wing, mostly urban, radical feminism, are branded “trolls” as though it were they who hide beneath bridges awaiting innocent goats, and not the self-appointed footsoldiers of so-called progressive thinking.

(Sub-Editor- Metaphor works perfectly. Do not change. -JW.)

The professionally-aggrieved who howl “misogyny” continue, as ever, to misconstrue wilfully an attempted examination of pre-misandrist societal norms. The feminists, those purveyors of naked misandry, will never see the damage they have wrought to our collective identity. God be with the days a gentleman could innocently address a young woman as “Girleen”, without getting his cranium stoved in.

Oh, of course there are some who will say that we’ve benefitted from Feminism, but I would contend that we have lost far more. Men are afraid now to be men at all. It is fashionable these days to mock the simple, unspoken love between men, the bond that only comes from GAA scores and pints, but should not a boy aspire to be a man, a real man, with a hurl in his hand and the glint of our ancestry in his mind’s eye?

At work here too is a visceral hatred of rurality, and an utter contempt for the people who liked the showbands and who still unconsciously affirm their simple faith by saying “Tang God”. The feminists would never admit to it, but in their secret, post-Catholic hearts, they know that there has always been something very masculine about the smell of slurry as it drifts like the sound of the Angelus Bell across the fields of an autumn evening, something male and true, something that speaks to our shared bond with the land.

As I said to my new girlfriend when we met the Pope, misandry is behind the aggressive liberal agenda of secularism too. At a time when feminists are hell-bent on their agenda to deny the rights of fathers, their ultimate goal is now clear and obvious: they intend nothing less than to deny the rights of God the Father Himself.

It is surely past time that we look beyond the current, cosy, liberal consensus, as embodied by the latter-day followers of Onan on Twitter, and its agenda of aggressive feminism and look instead to the vision of a truly modern Ireland, as articulated by Eamon DeValera and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

And let us never forget the rights of fathers.

Donal O’Keeffe

P.S. (Given the number of people telling me they didn’t “get” this, I should really refer you to this article by David Robert Grimes.)

P.P.S. There is no way The Irish Times will publish my letter