Mired in disputes and definitions

The casual ‘homophobia’ charge stifles debate

Apologies are most useful as soon as possible after the event, and sincerity is most evident when the apology isn’t forced.

I caught Brendan O’Connor’s apology last week on the Sunday night replay of his Saturday Night Show (RTÉ 1). The offence had happened previously on that show when a guest, drag performer Rory O’Neill (aka ‘Panti’) had implied that named members of the Iona Institute were homophobic because they opposed same-sex marriage. O’Neill didn’t seem to get the crucial distinction between a rational argument and a phobia (irrational by definition). RTÉ removed the offending item from the RTÉ Player and was reasonably quick with the apology, though presumably forced by the use of solicitors’ letters.

The apology was useful, I thought, helping to free the discussion of the casual ‘homophobia’ charge that effectively works to stifle any debate and browbeat opponents of same-sex marriage into submission. But then things took an unusual turn, as gay activists and their supporters took offence at the apology, alleging this was going to stifle debate! I’d suggest it might only stifle a tendency to insult.

On The Late Debate (RTÉ Radio 1) Wednesday night of last week Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty (pictured), thought the original interview was ‘considered, inclusive, insightful’ (can’t have been the same one I heard!) and saw O’Neill as challenging underlying attitudes, but as Breda O’Brien, one of the named and insulted, pointed out, it was the accusations against named individuals, not the discussion of general issues, that caused offence. Ironically the offence occurred on a day she had written a column attacking homophobia.

O’Connor revisited the issue last Saturday night, and while useful it was in exploring what homophobia actually means, I’d prefer to see the issue of same-sex marriage teased out rather than it getting mired in disputes over varying definitions of the words used to conduct the debate. O’Connor started with agreed ground rules but the discussion was still more than a tad fractious. He asked some tough questions of both sides, but it was unfortunate for him at one stage to frame opposition to same-sex marriage in religious terms (rather than the more relevant civil and social arguments against it). Also I thought it was questionable to identify contributor Ben Conroy’s mother, while also saying that was “neither here nor there”. I agreed with the final suggestion of The Irish Catholic’s Conroy – insult out, argument in.

The main topic on that Late Debate was about the State’s role in education and patronage issues, and presenter Audrey Carville (pictured) set that in the context of last week’s victory for Louise O’Keeffe in the European Court of Human Rights. The ensuing debate was snippy, with Aodhán O’Riordáin of the Labour Party (pictured) throwing in regular digs at Iona and solicitors’ letters being thrown around, which was a bit rich coming from a member of a Government that had been using legal means for ages to thwart Ms O’Keeffe’s efforts to get justice. O’Riordáin defended Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn against the charge that he had said he wanted religion out of education (did anyone make that bald charge?), but John Murray of Iona countered – why had Quinn singled our religion for mention when asked where more time could be found for literacy and numeracy? Why not PE? Murray was quick to point out that he wasn’t suggesting PE for reduction, and that literacy and numeracy could be taught through all subjects, though PE teachers mightn’t agree with the contention that numeracy wasn’t taught through PE! Breda O’Brien hit the nail on the head when she suggested, passionately, that the real problem in education was under-resourcing and the effects of cutbacks, and guess who’s responsible for that!

On education there was less polarisation and more agreement than the robust discussion suggested. All agreed broadly that change was needed, that more diversity was needed in patronage, but the divergence of views centred around how much divesting was needed and how parental preferences were to be gauged.

Speaking of apologies, the Taoiseach’s apology to Ms O’Keeffe was fairly quick after the judgement, but again it was forced by a legal situation, and the Government seemed in no way remorseful over the way the State had challenged her through the courts for so long. Richard Crowley tried in vain to pin down Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on this issue on last Sunday’s This Week programme on RTÉ Radio 1.



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