You would think that during times of national crisis we’d be concentrating on the basics, the crucially important stuff of life.
And yet quite a lot of media time was taken up last week with the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms – a reflection perhaps of ‘woke’ obsessions and so many hours of broadcasting to fill. This was prompted by the Department of Education guidelines about provision of gender-neutral bathrooms in new school builds and refurbishments. One of the most noteworthy discussions was on Liveline (RTÉ Radio One, Thursday). It was the day Joe lost the rag.
The show started with a caller Laoise expressing her unease at the proposal. Another caller, Lisa, was quite dismissive of the opposition to the proposals, but when she started throwing around accusations of homophobia (as you do) presenter Joe Duffy got really cross with her and said he wasn’t going to have any of that kind of language. She was bumped off the programme. His annoyance came across as genuine and heartfelt rather than being just a concern about possible legal action. Random accusations of homophobia have landed RTÉ in hot water before.
After that I felt the tide turned on the programme with several callers (some being sure to stress their liberal credentials, just in case) expressing discomfort at the idea, in particular showing understanding of the problems if would create for young girls. One caller called it an ‘experiment’ on children and suggested it be tried on adults first, for example in Leinster House. I heard no evidence at any stage of any consultation, even the illusion of it, from the department.
Earlier on Lunchtime Live (Newstalk) presenter Andrea Gilligan expressed her discomfort with the idea, arguing for choice – let there be gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to the standard set up. Rightly or wrongly she expressed a fear of being ‘cancelled’ on Twitter for her views, but she stuck with them: “Am I not allowed to feel a bit uncomfortable as well?”
I suspect another round of controversies is brewing after the latest recommendations of the citizens’ assembly. On Saturday with Katie Hannon (RTÉ Radio One) the issues were teased out with Catherine Day, chair of the assembly. I am still not convinced that there’s anything democratic or representative about this unelected group. Nuala O’Connor of the National Women’s Council was enthusiastic – but she kept referring to what “the citizens” have said, though more accurately it was the members of the citizens’ assembly – not the same thing. The citizens will have their say in any resulting referendum. There seemed to be little evidence of divergent viewpoints in those deliberations of the assembly, either because, as Katie Hannon suggested, it was all motherhood (!) and apple stuff that no-one could object to, or because this was, as one texter suggested, a liberal elite talking to themselves.
But on this show we got some opposing ideas from Caitríona Lynch of Cúram, an organisation for stay-at-home parents. She said their views were not sought by the assembly, even though they were the only Government-recognised group with a very specific interest in the relevant articles of the Constitution. She thought broadening the constitutional definition to ‘carers’ was too broad, that there needed to be the current reference to actual parents in the home, and in this context it didn’t matter to her group whether it was father or mother. These recommendations if accepted will lead to referenda, but no one was arguing for these to take place during a pandemic.
But it’s good to get away from the controversies. Last week I had a listen to some contributions to A Word in Edgeways (RTÉ Radio One) a relatively recent addition to very early morning radio. On the Wednesday, novelist Cathy Kelly praised “humanistic kindness’, said that “formal religions” can “sometimes” teach kindness, and yet can have rules that are “cruel”. This felt to me like a dig, and felt jarring for this kind of programme. On the Thursday, Mary Wall from Castleknock reflected on pandemic times from her back garden and saw hope for the future, while last Friday Roger Childs, Head of Religious Programmes at RTÉ, told us lots of interesting information about St George, patron saint of England (he displaced Edward the Confessor). The influence of his name spread to two US presidents (in the Bushes), the Pope (Jorge Bergoglio), a few Kings of England and George Floyd – comprehensive or what!
Pick of the week
Songs of Praise
BBC One, Sunday May 2, 1.15 pm
Claire McCollum marks the partition of Ireland and formation of Northern Ireland 100 years ago, meeting Christians from across the denominations to discuss the past and their hopes for the future.
Catholic View for Women
EWTN Monday May 3, 8 am and Wednesday May 5, 10.30 pm
Chuck Konzelman and the ladies of the Catholic View discuss recent high-profile examples of people being denied their constitutional right of free speech.
The Leap of Faith
RTÉ Radio One, Friday May 7, 10.05 pm
Topical religious and ethical matters with Michael Comyn.