Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Why this former homophobe is voting Yes to Marriage Equality

Posted by Jason O on May 10, 2015 in Irish Politics

Sunday business post logoColumn in The Sunday Business Post, 5 April 2015.

Being a teenaged homophobe in 1980s Ireland was an easy enough thing. Jokes about bums to the wall and poofters and all the rest of it meant that you never met anyone who used the phrase “gay rights”, never mind supporting it. The only gays you really knew were John “I’m Free!” Inman on “Are you being served?” and Larry “Shut that door!” Grayson on “The Generation Game”, and they were entertaining English gays off the telly, not real people.

You did meet lads you suspected were “like that” (cue floppy hand on wrist) and then your mates who were very funny at mocking the supposedly limp-wristed. I once hammed it up as a flaming gay psychiatrist making a pass at future FF senator Marc McSharry in a school production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”, and no one from teacher to student thought anything of it. You even encountered theories about homosexuality that, in the light of modern 21st century Ireland, are now jaw-dropping stuff. I’ve met one individual who maintained that all gays (yes, all) spoke with a lisp because their belly buttons had been loosened by gay activities. Yeah, I know.

I believed it was wrong for gays to want to force their lifestyle upon the rest of society. That we had a right not to see two fellas wearing the faces off each other on Grafton Street. That our offence was their problem.

But then things happened. I was, along with another guy in my year, the only people who came from separated families. I wasn’t bullied about it, let’s be clear, but I certainly was reminded by other people that my family circumstances were not as proper as theirs. Then I remember the 1986 divorce referendum and Haughey pretty much telling me that my parents didn’t love me as much as other parents whose marriages stayed together, and that stuck with me.

You see, I knew that my parents may have had their difficulties with each other, but I’d no doubt they loved me and my brothers. Yet here was a politician telling me that if my family didn’t conform to his publicly stated view of love, it wasn’t proper love or even a proper family. Not only did it make me begin to question what love and family really was, but it also confirmed my feelings about Haughey the two-faced moralising family-values spouting adulterer.

Soon enough after, two of my friends came out, and I wasn’t as much shocked as embarrassed by my own previous behaviour around them and my cheap gay-bashing jokes. They were no longer The Gays. They were people I cared about.

I now know that love and a family is where you find it. If it’s two mams or two dads or just one of each or neither, love and family is someone being there who gives a damn. When I’m told that a child may be embarrassed by having to tell another child in the playground that he has two daddies, I say that you don’t know kids. I wasn’t ashamed of my parents because their marriage didn’t work. If some kid had told me that my parents should not get separated because that kid didn’t like my family arrangements, I’d have told them to mind their own business, even at that age.

And that’s what this is: the Mind Your Own Business referendum. You don’t want same-sex marriage? Fine. We’re not making it compulsory. We’re not creating An Bord Panti to come around and make you stand awkwardly in a civil marriage office against your will as a buff shirtless guy dances around you to The Communards’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.

We’re voting to let everybody mind their own business and find love where they find it and for the state to say “Love? Yeah, we’re all for that. Knock yourself out.”

While you’re at it, spare me the attack on traditional marriage schtick too. Show me the actual marriage where two people will find their marriage transformed by Adam and Steve up the road getting hitched. How, for God’s sake? It’s not like marriage is a finite resource, and traditional couples will be left high and dry because the gays covered it in glitter and used it all up.

You don’t have to like the gays. You’re not being asked to approve the gay lifestyle. I get it. It’s not your cup of tea and you know what, you’ve a right to say that.

But we’re being asked to vote on something which won’t affect the great majority of us one way or the other, but will bring a massive amount of happiness to some other people.

Why on Earth would we want to stop that?

 
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UK election 2015: what the hell?

Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2015 in British Politics
Here we go again.

Here we go again.

Bloody hell. Didn’t see that coming. A few ponderings…

1. What on Earth happened to the polls? Are people lying to pollsters, or was there a shift at a very late stage that wasn’t picked up?

2. The vote/seat disparity with regard to UKIP is scandalous. Regardless of whether you agree with them, millions of people voted for them and they got a single seat. The fact that 50% of Scots didn’t vote for the SNP and got 3 MPs for their trouble adds to that scandal, and falsifies the mandate of the SNP.

3. The challenges for the Lib Dems are interesting. The party has an expertise in campaigning, and a pretty solid campaigning infrastructure. It also has a significant number of constituencies where, even in the recent firestorm, there is still has a substantial vote to build on. The big task is carving out a need to vote liberal over Green or Labour.

4. It’s game on for the European referendum so. Would be funny if Cameron traps Boris by putting him in charge of coming back with the much ballyhooed new deal on the EU. Or as we call it in Ireland, “doing a Michael Collins”.

5. By the way, I’ve no doubt that only the Tories can keep Britain in the EU.

 6. Finally, a prediction. All this tosh about Cameron now being master of all he surveys is just that. I’m old enough to remember John Major winning a greater majority in the unwinnable election of 1992, and the shine came off the ball within months (caused by the ERM crisis, admittedly) but the reality is that a chunk of the Tory party will never be happy with what deal comes back from Brussels, and when that happens, the fun will really begin.

 
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Guest post: Ciaran Toland on Naomi Long.

Posted by Jason O on May 5, 2015 in British Politics, Irish Politics

As someone who left Northern Ireland to go to university nearly 19 years ago, I can neither vote nor can I contribute, nor am I directly affected by decisions of the Assembly, and so I have avoided commenting on or getting involved in its politics. But like many others who love the province in which I was born and raised, I hope that at this election its people continue to tell the world that Northern Ireland chooses for itself a shared future for all its people.

Amidst all the parties, all the candidates and all the issues, elections sometimes boil down to a straight choice between two futures.

In Northern Ireland, this 7th May, 17 races are either pre-determined, or of so little consequence it hardly matters.

Only one battle counts, and only 2 candidates do. They are Alliance’s Naomi Long, the outgoing MP for East Belfast, and her UUP-supported DUP challenger Gavin Robinson.

Make no mistake about it: the people of East Belfast are being offered a clear choice about the future of Northern Ireland.

Their choice will send a message to the province, and to the world, about how Northern Ireland sees itself in 2015.

Is it a province riddled by parties uniting to perpetuate a dated and bigoted sectarian divide, obsessed with imposing the paraphernalia of tribal division upon others, and whose most senior politicians embrace and pander to homophobia?

Or is it a people which have moved on from decades of distrust and division, who wish to elect parties which are committed to a shared Northern Ireland not just for both sides of the divided community, but for all in Northern Ireland, irrespective of nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Northern Ireland’s peace is a peace unlike others. In no other part of these isles has a political party had its offices and the homes of its representatives petrol-bombed. In no other part of these isles have elected representatives been the subject of regular and serious death threats. Other parties in Northern Ireland have suffered this in the past, and to some extent all still do.

But the choice for the people of East Belfast in this election is whether they stand behind Long, a leader who has been the subject of death threats simply because her party adopted a position on the flying of flags from public buildings which didn’t entirely support one community. Or do they support the DUP, a party who led the political assault on Alliance’s policy, and failed at every turn to stand up to those who attacked Alliance, and Naomi?

This is a stark choice. It isn’t enough simply to admire Naomi Long, and either stay at home or continue to vote for your own party because you always have done. In a binary choice between only two realistic outcomes, everything other than a vote for Naomi is to stand against her. Nor is it sufficient to cavil that Alliance’s position on flags was provocative, or their policy on flags wrong or poorly executed. The world doesn’t know, and doesn’t care.

The Alliance Party won’t thank me for throwing this issue into the mix, but for me, the choice is simple. Are the people of East Belfast a people who will vote for a leader who has (with David Ford) bravely led a party under seige, a party struggling to reach accommodation on identity between two divided groups? Or will they support the political representatives of her opponents?

Moreover, these last few weeks have refocused the wider world’s attention on another nasty element in Northern Ireland’s society: the misuse of religion to justify unequal treatment of minorities. This time, the DUP has gained worldwide coverage for its views on and proposed treatment of homosexuals: leaving aside Jim Wells, the First Minister publicly rationalised criminalisation of homosexual acts as a legitimate position for his own public representatives, and even invoked God in the Assembly to justify not allowing homosexuals to marry. That the DUP merrily abused the Assembly’s procedures to designate equal marriage an issue of cross-community concern showed the extent to which the DUP is hell-bent on continuing to manipulate to narrow political advantage the twin levers of Northern Ireland’s historic political and religious divide.

When world leaders, when investors and when potential tourists ask about Northern Ireland, they ask whether it has moved on. That question is not just about political violence. It is a question about whether Northern Ireland is an inclusive society. A good place for multinational companies to recruit. A good place for foreign nationals – and in particular the executives of those multinationals – to come to and work. A good place to visit, whatever your background or sexual preference.

Every time they are given the opportunity, the people of Northern Ireland must seize the moment to say they have moved on. Only by repetition of that message can the investment successes of the last few years be built on, and embedded, and Northern Ireland made a genuinely attractive place to do business and travel to.

Despite the polls, and the predictions of the media, the people of East Belfast have not yet been offered the opportunity to deliver that message: they have it on Thursday.

The choice they have is not about parties’ individual policies. It is not a choice about the candidate best versed in national and provincial policy. It is not a choice about which candidate is the better constituency worker. It is not even a choice about which candidate is the more articulate and impressive leader for East Belfast and Northern Ireland in Westminster and on the world stage.

A UK general election in Northern Ireland is not about jobs, nor taxes, nor policies devolved to the Assembly. It is much more than that. Like all elections, it is about hope.

It is a symbol. It is a stand. It is, beyond all else, a message to the world. And let that message be that – when offered a clear choice – the people of Northern Ireland will resolutely hold to the shared future they have dreamed for their children, and which was denied their parents.

When investors, world leaders and opinion-formers point to the DUP’s homophobia, and to Belfast’s past violence over flags, let those who argue the case for economic investment in and political support of Northern Ireland respond: the people of East Belfast chose inclusion. They chose Naomi Long.

Ciaran Toland is a barrister and former member of Alliance.

 
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A few thoughts on the UK election.

Posted by Jason O on May 3, 2015 in British Politics

A few thoughts on next Thursday’s vote in the UK:

1. Unless they can deliver on PR, the Lib Dems should stay out of the next coalition. Coalition is a maturing process that scares off fairweather friends and utopians. The Lib Dem party going into opposition, seasoned with former minister, can rebuild as a pragmatic party of the rational centre.

2. Having said that, the Lib Dems public spending promises this time out have been decidedly left-wing. It needs to be careful about becoming Labour-lite, and not apologise for doing so.

3. It will be an absolute scandal that UKIP, the third party nationally in terms of votes cast by ordinary Brits, will come behind the Lib Dems, SNP, DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and possibly even the SDLP in terms of seats. Like them or not, they are the legitimate voice of a substantial section of British voters.

4. British politicians need to get over themselves in terms of “firm government” and banging on about the chaos of coalition or minority government negotiations. Britain is a stable country that will tip along just grand even if its pols take a while to hammer out a deal. Just as the Israelis, Kiwis, Irish, Dutch, Belgians, Swedes, Germans, Italians, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Portuguese and Poles do. Get over yourselves.

5. British politics will be worse off if Naomi Long and Nick Clegg lose their seats, and more boring if Nigel Farage doesn’t win one.

6. (additional point added later) Interesting that of the 10 parties with seats in the Commons, only 4 are led by people with seats actually in Parliament. Shows the impact of regional and European Parliaments in providing voices/platforms. Especially, ironically, for UKIP, which has been given much more assistance representing its voters by the European Parliament than Westminster ever did.

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.