A loose alliance of opinions

Media worked to categories the Reform Alliance

Is it a bar or a biscuit? So went an old ad for a long forgotten product. I was reminded of it, listening to last week’s media discussions on that new political grouping, the Reform Alliance.

I enjoyed listening to the political commentators as they struggled to categorise this new group. Several commentators reached for the duck metaphor – e.g. presenter Sean O’Rourke on last Monday’s Today programme (RTÉ 1) suggested that it if it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck, then…

As the media wondered what Creighton was creatin’ I hoped that it wouldn’t become a duck – that it wouldn’t become a regular political party. Better remain something that defies stereotyping, then maybe we’ll get the new politics we expected in vain from the current Government. Last week it was mostly Lucinda Creighton herself, Billy Timmins and Dennis Naughten that were in the media and they were pretty much on the same page – no, it wasn’t a party, and as of now they had no intention of making it one. Some were still members of Fine Gael. They were just a ‘loose alliance’, together to get Dáil rights, promote reform policies, open discussions.

I thought these politicians performed well on the various programmes – Billy Timmins on the This Week programme (RTÉ Radio 1) Sunday of last week, Creighton on Monday’s Today With Sean O’Rourke programme, Dennis Naughten on Tuesday‘s Tonight With Sam Smyth (TV3).

Though opposition to the abortion bill was what most in the Reform Alliance had in common, this barely arose during the discussions – would not repealing that legislation be an appropriate policy goal? Maybe deep down it is, but making that too prominent would probably limit the appeal of the Alliance at this stage. I’m sure I’m not the only one curious to see what kind of turnout they’ll get at their public meeting in the RDS on January 25.

Another story that made the headlines during the week was former President Mary McAleese’s criticism of the Catholic Church’s approach to homosexuality. This prompted various media discussions, and among the more balanced outings was that between John Murray and Fr Tony Flannery on The News at One (RTÉ Radio 1) Wednesday of last week. I thought Murray did a fine job explaining Catholic Church teaching – outlining the need for maintaining that teaching combined with a respectful approach to individuals. He agreed with McAleese’s taking issue with the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ approach, pointing out that if a homosexual person was following Church teaching the idea of ‘sinning’ wouldn’t be applicable. Presented with a simplified view of Murray’s points by presenter Richard Crowley, Fr Flannery found those views ‘simplistic’. Handy! Murray was a model of clarity on several shows, but interestingly on most if not all occasions he was debating with liberal priests (who were vague on the distinction between orientation or inclination and action), and in the interview on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) he expressed concern that some priests seemed not to be fully committed to the Church’s teaching on marriage, and therefore unlikely to be preaching it, with worrying consequences.

Tonight With Sam Smyth (TV 3 last Thursday) featured yet another liberal love-in on the issue, with journalists Patsy McGarry and Alison O’Connor. Fr Gerry O’Connor of the Association of Catholic Priests also featured – he was glad to hear from educated Catholics like McAleese (wouldn’t it depend on what they were saying?) and pointed out that many Catholics don’t accept Catholic sexual teaching (well, duh!). Sam Smyth thought the Pope had the authority to make it possible for women to become priests and it was funny to see McGarry correcting him on his numbering of the Commandments, though in fact Smyth was just following the Orthodox and Reformed tradition.

Finally, BBC’s Sherlock returned to our screens in the last week or so, and what a tour de force! In virtuoso style the programme managed to be fascinating, deadly serious, even broadly comic at times (Watson’s wedding episode!) but all was handled deftly, though with some unnecessary profanities, dodgy morality and a dig at belief in God. Unfortunately I can’t compliment the US drama series Elementary (RTÉ 2 Thursday), a new Holmes inspired show that was uninspiring, derivative and unappealing. In this reincarnation Holmes is transported to USA and his companion is Dr Joan Watson. ‘Nuf said.