Posted by Jason O on May 26, 2015 in Irish Politics
I first met Averil Power during the Nice Treaty referendum of 2002. I was still a Progressive Democrat, and so had that inbuilt suspicion of Fianna Fail that was hard wired into us. But It didn’t take long for her to change that. Sure, I still told her she was an evil Fianna Failer, but she was also articulate, bright, but most importantly, and a quality that’s rarer than it should be in Irish politics, she was a true believer. She wasn’t campaigning for Europe just because that was the party line, but because she really believed in it.
Now, before this piece turns into a “Mother Averil of Dublin Bay North, let us touch the hem of her cloth and be grateful” bit of schlock, let me say that I’ve had disagreements with her. She’s a bit of an aul leftie, and I’ve told her on occasion that every time I speak to her about policy I feel my wallet lighten. She does have a genuine belief in the power of the state to do good, and I’m a bit sceptical about that.
But you know what? That’s what I like about her. She wants to discuss these things, the big picture and what direction a society should go. So many politicians are interested in getting elected, and then reelected, and all that policy stuff is for the civil servants. She’s ambitious too, she wants to get elected, there’s no denying that, yet Averil knocked on nearly every door of her constituency for a Yes vote, knowing full well that it might just as easily cost her votes. But she did it anyway because she believed, when the safe thing to do was to keep the head down save for a few photocalls in The Irish Times.
I can remember the moment I realised that she was serious about the power of politics, when she convinced me of the benefit for school breakfast clubs for kids coming into school hungry and falling asleep. This wasn’t a “look at my compassion” thing that politicians do on the telly, it was just the two of us talking and she knows she doesn’t have to convince me of her bona fides. Yet she still wanted to lay out the rational argument. As I said, a true believer.
Is she ambitious? Of course. Can she be too cautious for my liking? Definitely. But with a new Dail coming up that might have more Independents with actual power, we will need deputies who stand up both for their constituents but also recognise that we all have to live in a country together and there is such a thing as a national interest. A Dail Eireann with Averil Power in it is more likely to deliver that.
To paraphrase Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight”, I believe in Averil Power.
He (and it does tend to be he) comes in all sorts of forms:
1. The Religious one. Probably the most honest of No voters, because he is often genuinely conflicted between his sense of compassion and his religious beliefs, including the guidance from his spiritual advisor. Yes, that’s right, the guy with the poster quoting scripture is the honest one.
2. The I Can’t Believe We’re Having This Debate one. The fella who suddenly realises The Gays are everywhere, and not apologising either. He just can’t understand why The Gays insist upon walking around in public everywhere being all gay. He knows he can’t call them “faggots” anymore, which he believes is a restriction of his freedom of speech. Where’s his referendum, he wonders. Most likely to use air quotes when saying “Marriage” and “Equality”. Got very excited when he heard/met a gay who was voting No. This gay fella is now the opening line in every conversation on the subject. Would be very upset if he thought that someone else thought he was gay. Believes that children can be “turned” gay, that gays are flighty and regard children as fashion accessories, that gays are out to “convert”, by force if necessary, and that there is a conspiracy to hide “the proven link” between gays and kiddie fiddlers.
3. The Needs A Technicality one. His gut has decided he’s voting No. Now he’s looking for a respectable reason to attach to it. Something about families, childen, stability, respect for the constitution, yeah, that’ll do. Most likely to start his position with “I’ve nothing against gays…”:
4. The Bastard. A tiny minority, in fairness. The guy who doesn’t actually care about religion, surrogacy, family units, any of that stuff. Knows that he will cause actual pain to other people by voting No, but does it all the same. Other people’s unhappiness? Not my problem.
Posted by Jason O on May 22, 2015 in Irish Politics
A week ago, after a day’s canvassing (for a Yes vote, yes, I am biased), I was slightly despondent. I really felt that this referendum was going to be very close and on the balance of probabilities it would fall.
Over the last week my view has shifted and I have come to understand, through canvassing and speaking with friends and colleagues that irrespective of the outcome tomorrow, our Republic has changed… for the better.
A generation has awoken – today 66,000 people will go to the polls who have recently registered for the first time. It won’t be their last time going to the polls.
A generation stepped up – there are political activists and politicians who refused to bow to the pressure to stand for political expediency as opposed to Equality. They have proven that you can make a difference. In years to come I will point to the likes of Tiernan Brady, Seamus Carey, Sen. Averil Power, Anto Kelly, Leo Varadkar, Pat Carey, Cllr. Kate Feeney, Michael Pidgeon, Paul Anthony Ward, Micheal Martin, (dare I say it) Enda Kenny, Jerry Buttimer, Simon Coveney (and many more) and say to my kids, they did that and they helped deliver a better society for you.
A generation stayed silent – the case for broad political reform was made loudly by the deafening silence of back bench politicians and local councillors from all parties as they tried to position themselves on both sides of history. They demonstrated a breath-taking (yet predictable) unwillingness to show leadership in their communities. You know who you are, and shame on You.
This has been a “Divisive Debate” – I have heard and seen for the first time in many years a motivation to engage in socio political discourse amongst all sections of society that just has not existed for a long time. When you are talking with random strangers in the queue in Centra about how they are going to vote you know there is change afoot. Yes, it has been divisive, it wouldn’t have been a debate otherwise but we are mature enough to move on and learn from is as a society.
Mary McAleese & “That Speech” – whoever thought that we would live in an Ireland where one woman (albeit a former president) would be at least as influential as the Catholic Church! Check out “That Speech”
“That Teenager” – there has been talk about the teenager who is coming to terms with his or her sexuality sitting at their kitchen table listening to the debate both within their family and the media and the effect this will have on them. This is true however that teenager now knows that a huge proportion of Irish society is supportive of them and they have been able to identify people in their own community from whom they now know that they can turn to about their sexuality and receive support as they embark upon the path of discovering their true selves.
There are many reasons why I voted Yes this morning, for the Ireland I want my kids to grow up in, for my gay friends that they would be as equal as I, but most of all I voted Yes for the following reason; Nearly 20 years ago I stood at the graveside of a young man whose shame of his own sexuality was a contributing factor in his decision to take his own life.
Today I voted Yes mostly for him.
It may be imperfect… But our republic is now stronger. If you have not voted yet, please get out and VOTE YES.
Brendan Kiely is a co-founder and MD of a Tech Start-Up. He is a political activist, a former Executive Director of the European Movement Ireland and a former Fianna Fáil candidate. You can find him on Linked IN, facebook, and @brendankiely on twitter.
Posted by Jason O on May 18, 2015 in Irish Politics
I don’t have any problem with a 21 year old seeking to be president of Ireland. I’ve met brilliant 21 years olds, and dopes twice their age. But I still don’t know how to vote on this one, swinging from No to Yes to No on a daily basis.
The problem is why FG/Labour are wasting my money even asking us this question. The Constitutional Convention, much to my cynical surprise, actually came up with some good stuff. Then FG and Labour, two parties who don’t give a damn about the Presidential Age issue (count how many street lamp posters they paid for on the subject) decided to throw this one on the ballot in a feeble attempt to be political reformers. Even Fianna Fail in government didn’t waste our money and time with this nonsense. They just said they were against political reform.
We could be voting on elected mayors, letting non-TDs be ministers, Seanad reform…but Fine Gael and Labour picked this yoke to vote on. This is the issue that FG and Labour backbenchers voted through believing it to be the number one political reform issue facing us.
This thing. You know that scene in “Sherlock” when Charles Augustus Magnussen flicks Dr. Watson in the eye, and dares him to do something about it. That’s what they’re doing right there.
Posted by Jason O on May 15, 2015 in Irish Politics
It’s a good thing I was born straight, because I’d never have had the courage to come out. Despite all my liberal beliefs and belief in Ireland’s progress, personally, I’d be a coward. I’d be one of those middle-aged men who just lived alone, and mumbled something about “being very busy with work” when people make inquiries about one’s love life. One of those fellas who never met the right girl, God love him.
But I’m not, although, as one friend pointed out, I might as well be. I am middle-aged and live alone, but that, I had to point out, is because I’m an arsehole, and being an arsehole, unlike being gay, is a lifestyle choice.
So for me, it’s not a personal thing. But it is for so many. It literally is their life. On Saturday the 23rd, as the votes are counted, for thousands of people in the country it is their actual happiness. The turnout in Dun Laoghaire or Donegal, interesting nuggets to political anoraks like me, will actually decide whether they are in tears on Saturday night. This is their life we’re talking about.
Both Ursula Halligan and Noel Whelan alluded, in pieces this week, to people praying for a Yes. Now, I’ve never prayed for a political result. All those referendums, even when I ran myself, I never prayed for a result, and I do pray in my private life. I pray for loved ones, for help solving problems, but I’ve never prayed for a political reason because it just seemed sordid. Yet I can’t help but be seriously moved by the fact that there are people praying for a Yes not as a theoretical win or political statement but because it will allow happiness into their personal lives. Because it will allow them yes, to marry, but also to know that a majority of their friends, relatives, work colleagues went into a polling booth and said Yes, my friend is as entitled to be happy too.
Of course, there are people praying for a No vote, but they’re praying in an abstract way, against a concept they regard as morally wrong. I doubt many of them are actually praying to actively block the personal happiness of a specific individual. Or, if they are, then the God they are praying to isn’t the same one I pray to. Indeed, if they genuinely believe that their God will smile down with pleasure and satisfaction at the brokenheartedness of actual individual people if there is a No vote, is it possible they’re accidentally praying in the wrong direction? To The Other Fella? But I digress.
It comes down to this. On May 22, you have the power of a king or a governor standing over a death warrant or a pardon. It’s your choice. The box you mark will decide whether, say, an old gay man who hid in the unhappy shadows his whole life can suddenly, for the first time in his life, feel part of us all, or you can tell him to get back in the shadows. You have that power. This referendum will be one of the most selfless things many of us will ever do because it’s in secret and it will cost us nothing. You won’t even have to justify your decision. The power to bestow happiness is in your pencil, and you have to choose to give that happiness, or for some other reason decide that someone else will be denied it and that is your will they be denied it. The happiness or the heartbreak we see on Saturday night will be our decision, our specific personal choice as individual voters. You will put a smile on a face, or tears in an eye. No one else.
This isn’t North Korea or Saudi Arabia. This is Ireland and on May 22 every one of us over 18 is The King with his quill hovering over the parchment. It’s your call.
Posted by Jason O on May 12, 2015 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
In an attempt to reach out to Irish conservatives, the government has announced that it will legislate to ensure that marriages are sexually “consummated” as per the definition of the Iona Institute and others.
A government spokesperson said: “We’re very aware that elements of the No campaign spend an awful lot of time
obsessing expressing concern about the sexual activities of married people, gay or straight. So we’ve decided to address this concern by appointing state inspectors to ensure proper consummation occurs.”
Sources in the No campaign expressed great enthusiasm at the idea: “We congratulate the government for meeting us halfway on this, and can provide a list of suitable people who take a very, very, eh, healthy interest in watching other people engaged in, you know, that sort of thing with the gentleman’s excuse me and a lady’s front bottom and, you know…we also are willing to send inspectors to make sure that the gays, if this thing equality thing passes, are consummating their marriages too. In fact we think there should be two or three inspectors in the room, from this list here, standing in the darkness, silently watching, mouth going dry, rosary shaking in my damp sweating palms…sorry I have to go now…excuse me…Bridget, do you have the central heating on, I’m sweltering here…will you ask that young American chap, no, the slim blonde one in the teeshirt I accidentally shrunk in the wash, to bring a new shirt to my office…No, I didn’t! I’m a man, sure what would I know about washing machines!”
Posted by Jason O on May 10, 2015 in Irish Politics
Column 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?
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.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2015 in Irish Politics
1. I’ll be shocked if the No vote is less than 40%.
2. Don’t discount the ability of Irish people to tell pollsters what they think they want to hear. I really hope there is an exit poll.
3. Nobody does mental reservation like we do. It’s quite possible that the phrase “I’m not racist, I just hate blacks” was first uttered by an Irishman.
4. The vile and downright evil (not a word I use lightly) slur that there is a link between paedophilia and homosexuality is having a bigger effect than we like to admit.
5. Both sides have extremist wings. The No extremists want the same thing as the No moderates. The Yes extremists can’t make up their mind whether they want a Yes vote more than a crack at humiliating David Quinn et al.
6. If you think that all the No side are extremists then you’re part of the problem.
7. Some people involved in the campaign are not the gold-plated asset others think they are.
8. The social media campaign seems to be primarily made up of people agreeing with each other, or else having arguments with people who are actively opposed. It seems like there is little converting going on.
9. Yes campaigners who are out knocking on doors will play a disproportionate role in winning this.
10. A Yes pass with a low turnout will have its legitimacy questioned.
11. A No vote will not be a source of international humiliation. California voted No. California.
12. People are more likely to stay silent than admit they’re voting No.
13. Finally, even a No vote will have a positive effect, as people in rural nominally conservative constituencies discover that thousands of their neighbours voted Yes. This is an idea whose time has come. It’s no longer a question of if, but when.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 25, 2015 in Irish Politics
There are three purposes to the average Ard Fheis (that’s national party conference to my non-Irish readers). The first, and this tends to apply to the smaller parties, is to be a democratic/administrative forum for the party. The larger parties pretend that it is, but it isn’t. The whole thing is fiddled. The second purpose is as a social gathering for the party faithful, and an opportunity for the young bucks to contest a few show internal elections. This is by far the most interesting purpose, especially if you are into drinking (Fianna Fail), tugging the forelock at your betters (Fine Gael), rigidly obeying instructions from “the committee” (Sinn Fein) or feeling hard done by (Labour).
What’s noticeable about nearly all of them is how bloody awful they look on telly. RTE give each party time, and they fill it with aspiring TDs struggling to deliver speeches that sounded clever in 1978. It’s Awful Speech Bingo time, where they vomit out warmed up stuff about community and local services and our old friend the hard working family. You’re just itching for a sniper to loose off a volley of rounds at the stage to break the tedium. Why are Irish politicians so shockingly amateurish at delivering speeches anyway? Is it to do with our inherent unwillingness to express our real opinions in public as a people? What’s worse is that the standard is now so low that any speech that doesn’t go badly, that is, the speaker doesn’t mix up his or her words or accidentally say “fanny” is now regarded as well delivered. What’s even worse is that a speech where someone says something serious about children or 1916 without f**king up is now regarded as “powerful”. Please.
If the concept is so the councillor’s granny can see him on the telly on Saturday morning, that’s fair enough. But do you ever get the impression that each Ard Fheis is based on what they did the previous year. In fact, I’d lay money that you could give Micheal Martin Enda’s pre-govt speech from 2011 and he could use 85% of it. Because This Is The Way We’ve Always Done Things.
You can’t help thinking that no one has actually given much thought to what are the values or concepts they’d like communicated to the viewers watching.