We try in political debate to maintain a level of goodwill between those who hold different but legitimate points of view. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the back and forth of debate, it is important to remind ourselves that usually all sides do mean well.
But while that might be true of contests between parties in elections, or of a referendum campaign such as on a European Union Treaty, there are opinions on some issues that must try our patience, when it is our very lives and personal relationships and the value of someone as a parent that is questioned. And from now on those in positions of influence who carelessly condemn those whose sexual orientation or gender identity places them in minority are going to be called on this. Two days before the convention convened, Una Mullaly wrote in The Irish Times in response to her friend Buzz O’Neill who was beaten up on George’s Street for being gay. She challenged the idea of balance in the media, the way in which the media feels that because it is a matter of constitutional debate, an advocate of equality must be matched against an opponent,
The main problem with how the Irish media frames the debate is around a skewed view of what ‘balance’ is. ‘Middle Ireland’, the ‘silent majority’, the ‘mainstream’, gay people are told, are not ready for something so drastic as equality. I don’t know about you, but I never actually hear that middle ground. What I hear again and again is yet another articulate gay person trying to hold their temper while they are subjected to ignorant and juvenile arguments. And I hear an opposing view, generally one from the far out end of Catholicism, blustering about children’s rights (which Civil Partnership denies, thank you very much), and trying desperately to fight against equality with arguments based on their own personal belief systems or grievances. I don’t hear middle Ireland.
Then we had the Convention itself, a great day with 79 votes to 18 in favour of amending the constitution to read that the state shall enact laws providing for marriage for same-sex couples. Though the result shouldn’t have been surprising as it reflected most of the recent opinion polls on this question, it was more meaningful for having followed a weekend of deliberation and considered discussion. After that, the response of some of the leading opponents was not just to say that the only poll that matters is the one on the day, but to criticise the process they had taken part in, as seen first with Sen. Rónán Mullen tweeting less than an hour after the result was announced:
Then David Quinn blogged about the result, ‘Ireland a step closer to rejecting the value of motherhood and fatherhood’. What stood out for me here was his criticism of Frances Fitzgerald, ‘One of those politicians was Children’s Minister, Frances Fitzgerald. It is truly an astonishing turn of events when a minister for children is willing to sign away a child’s right to be raised by a mother and a father.’ He is not simply accepting her views as an alternative conclusion, but one that is obviously anti-child. Just as his fellow Iona Institute patron Breda O’Brien was to do days later, when she wrote in Saturday’s Irish Times, he ignores entirely the contributions on the Saturday of the convention, which he was there to witness, of the real life of children headed by same-sex couples. Watch Conor Prendergast and Clare O’Connell, talking about their family lives, both raised by lesbian couples (at 23:30):
or watch Colm O’Gorman, talking the conventional life he leads, raising two children, with the man he has married (at 38.30):
David Quinn talks about burden of proof. I would argue that the burden of proof is on those who claim this country should not allow these families to be recognised as married. What possible reason could there be for denying this in law?
Iona and their claims of research
This is before we delve into the controversy of the research the Iona Institute claimed on their side. As has been well documented, their submission to the convention was misleading as they quoted a single piece of research written in 2002, from Child Trends, ‘Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?’. The section from the Iona Institute submission read,
The social sciences confirm what every known society in the world has known instinctively, namely that marriage between a man and a woman is uniquely beneficial to society and to children. This is the case even though some individual marriages may be dysfunctional and harmful to children (as can any other type of family).
One of the most important child research organisations in the United States is Child Trends, which is centrist in its politics and ideological outlook.
It produced a paper in 2002 called ‘Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children and What Can We Do About It?’
This summarises what the social sciences have to say about the matter (emphasis added).
The summary is as follows: “Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage…There is thus value in promoting strong, stable marriage between biological parents.” A great deal of additional material is available that attests to this fact.
A reasonable person reading the Iona Institute submission would assume that by the matter, the quoted study discussed same-sex parents. There is in fact no reference either to same-sex parents, or to adoption or assisted reproduction by heterosexual couples. It is a comparison between instances where parents are married on the one hand, and single parents and step-parents on the other. A very similar study from 2003 by Mary Parke for the Center for Law and Social Policy, ‘Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being’, explains such a conflation in its first endnote,
The reference to biological parents is to distinguish between biological/adoptive parents and step-parents. Most studies that include data on adoptive parents include them in the biological parent category. Adopted children have very similar outcomes to children raised by both biological parents.
The Iona Institute is not the first anti-equality group to claim the Child Trends research as an argument on their side. Earlier this year, the House Republicans cited it in their brief against repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Child Trends intervened there. Tired of this constant quotation out of context, they added a statement to the online version of the study, as can be seen in the link above,
Note: This Child Trends brief summarizes research conducted in 2002, when neither same-sex parents nor adoptive parents were identified in large national surveys. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the wellbeing of children raised by same-sex parents or adoptive parents.
I wrote to Child Trends to let them know that their research was cited by both the Iona Institute and the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, sending links to their submissions, after reading these, Child Trends felt it was appropriate to write a formal letter to the Convention. David Norris raised this in the Seanad,
After a lengthy Twitter exchange, in which I engaged myself, beginning with the persistent Paul Moloney:
David Quinn attempted to backtrack on what he meant by the citation, to claim that the study showed there was not enough research on the question of same-sex parenting. It doesn’t, because it was not the subject in question. Or at least, no more than citing a study of Afghanistan since 2001 shows that there is not enough research on Iraq since 2003. There is plenty of research on this question, as documented by several professional medical, psychological and sociological associations, none of which indicates any reason for concern about the implications of same-sex parents. It just happens that for whatever reason, it is not a question Child Trends have ever studied. What is relevant is that it was after reading the submissions that Child Trends felt their work was misrepresented, and felt it incumbent on them to write to the convention. This has also been well documented and commented on blogs Geoff’s Shorts, Bock the Robber, in Skeptic Ink by Humanisticus, and in Eile by David Gormley. All worth reading if you have the time.
‘Sick and tired…’
How the Iona Institute misrepresented research is something of a moot point, after the convention voted clearly in favour of equal marriage, and by a somewhat stronger margin on 81 to 12 in favour of legislation to account for same-sex parenting. But it is indicative of their tactics and methods, which will be reformed come the campaign. Though they have defended its use in recent weeks, I’d be very surprised to see them quote the Child Trends research come the referendum campaign. But we’re not putting up with it any more. There has been a clear expression from different commentators to call things as they are. We had Colm O’Gorman, the day after the Convention,
You know what? I'm getting sick and tired of the expectation that we must all be tolerant of gross bigotry and intolerance.—
Colm O'Gorman (@Colmogorman) April 15, 2013
Then Colette Browne wrote in the Irish Examiner, ‘Legislating for same-sex marriage will reflect changing face of families’,
THE insidious subtext of the argument against same-sex marriage is that children, currently being raised by gay and lesbian couples, are harmed by the experience. …
The argument against marriage equality today — that straight marriages will somehow be devalued if the constitutional definition of the institution is changed — is just as nonsensical. The right to marry one’s partner should be not be determined by race or creed or sexual orientation but is a basic human right that should be offered to every citizen.
Legislating for same-sex marriage, contrary to hyperbolic claims from some quarters, will not consign the role of mothers and fathers to a PC scrapheap, but will merely reflect the changing face of families in the 21st century.
And we had Carol Hunt in the Sunday Independent, ‘You’re not a bigot for refusing to accept intolerance’, talking about the process of Enlightenment,
Slavery as practised in the 18 and 19th Centuries would be anathema to us today, yet banning it was considered radical, dangerous and immoral when first agitated for. Natural law seemingly had decreed that black people were lesser beings than whites. Later this changed to equal but different.
Similarly women were denied the vote because it was argued that they were rationally inferior. And practising homosexuals were charged as criminals. Yet today, as part of our emancipatory journey, the majority in Ireland support same sex marriage. This is indeed moral progress.
We are now moving to a situation where the view that gay couples should be denied the opportunity to marry just as anyone else is being treated closer to how denying women the vote was in the 1920s. We will call prejudice what it is, disentangle the obfuscations and evasions of the opposition. This is not likely to be a pleasant campaign. But we are ready for it. And we are going to win.
In 1944, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, disaffiliated from the Labour Party because it believed the party was being infiltrated by communists, specifically the selection of Jim Larkin as a general election candidate. Five TDs (James Everett, Thomas Looney, John O’Leary, James Pattison and Dan Spring) associated with the ITGWU left Labour to form National Labour. They contested the 1944 general election as a separate party, winning four seats (Looney losing), and five seats in 1948 (James Hickey gaining). It formed part of the Inter-Party government, led by Fine Gael’s John A. Costello as Taoiseach, and with Labour, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan. James Everett served as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and in working in government, their differences subsided, the National Labour TDs rejoined Labour in 1950 (Noel Whelan got the decade here wrong last Saturday, as well as Derek Keating and John Whelan’s names).
Could we see a similar short-term split? There are now five TDs (Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan, Patrick Nulty, Róisín Shorthall and Colm Keaveney) and one Senators (James Heffernan) who were elected as Labour but who have lost or resigned the party whip. They continue as party members, speaking at party conference, but if this situation persists at the time of the next general election, it’s possible that they would contest on a separate common platform. The analogy with National Labour is that they would aim to rejoin the party fully in due course, on a change of leadership, or shift in policy direction. There are others who might contest under such a platform, possibly under a banner as Labour Left. Cian O’Callaghan, current Mayor of Fingal, who has worked for Patrick Nulty, comes to mind. This would be intended as a temporary split, the name here reflecting the dissent of Labour Left of the 1980s and early 1990s, as opposed to that of Militant, which did split completely, and when its members were expelled, most prominently Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, they did not plan to return. 1
Tho another possible outcome is that Labour would leave the government, and that these rebels would contest as full Labour Party candidates. If this rate of attrition continued, Eamon Gilmore could face a vote of confidence within the parliamentary party within the next two years. I want to see this coalition last, so this is not an outcome I would like to see.
I had a letter published in today’s Irish Times:
A chara, – Maolsheachlann Ó Ceallaigh writes (July 20th) that there’s surely a reason that most marriages throughout history have been between a man and a woman. There is. Most people are heterosexual. That this is true of the majority of people is not a good enough reason to deny what will always be a small minority of couples a chance to make the same commitment to each other.
In any of the 11 countries and six US states that now allow all couples to marry, naturally marriages between a man and a woman remain the norm, and are unaffected in their marriages by the change. How could allowing more people commit to each other send anything but a positive message about the value of marriage?
Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will enhance their comfort and security, it will make gay children and teenagers growing up in Ireland feel more included in society; it will provide constitutional support as well to children being raised by gay couples, and it will give peace of mind to the parents and wider family of gay people. With all this, anyone opposed should really feel obliged to provide more than a semantic objection. – Is mise,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
Here’s be my estimation of how the seats in Dublin at the last election would have gone under the proposed boundaries by the Constituency Commission released today.
The purpose of this is really to show the notional result for future comparisons, rather the counterfactual of exactly how the last election would have been fought, as the boundaries would have changed party behaviour, but I’ve made a few assumptions about personalities in different constituencies.
In particular, these include:
- Paschal Donohoe to have stood for Dublin North-West rather than Dublin Central, having originally been elected to Dublin City Council for Cabra–Glasnevin, and Glasnevin now in DNW;
- Alex White rather than Eamonn Maloney to have been the second Labour TD in Dublin South-West, to cover both ends of the constituency, and
- Peter Mathews not to have been selected for Dublin Rathdown, a three-seater rather than a five-seater.
|Dublin Bay North||Tommy Broughan (Lab)
Richard Bruton (FG)
Terence Flanagan (FG)
Finian McGrath (Ind)
Aodhán Ó Riordáin (Lab)
|Dublin Bay South||Lucinda Creighton (FG)
Kevin Humphreys (Lab)
Eoghan Murphy (FG)
Ruairi Quinn (Lab)
|Dublin Central||Joe Costello (Lab)
Mary Lou McDonald (SF)
Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind)
|Dublin Fingal||Clare Daly (SP)
Alan Farrell (FG)
Darragh O’Brien (FF)
James Reilly (FG)
Brendan Ryan (Lab)
|Dublin Mid-West||Robert Dowds (Lab)
Frances Fitzgerald (FG)
Derek Keating (FG)
Joanna Tuffy (Lab)
|Dublin North-West||Paschal Donohoe (FG)
Dessie Ellis (SF)
Róisín Shortall (Lab)
|Dublin Rathdown||Olivia Mitchell (FG)
Shane Ross (Ind)
Alan Shatter (FG)
|Dublin South-Central||Catherine Byrne (FG)
Eric Byrne (Lab)
Joan Collins (PBP)
Aengus Ó Snodaigh (SF)
|Dublin South-West||Seán Crowe (SF)
Brian Hayes (FG)
Cáit Keane (FG)
Pat Rabbitte (Lab)
Alex White (Lab)
|Dublin West||Joan Burton (Lab)
Joe Higgins (SP)
Brian Lenihan (FF)
Leo Varadkar (FG)
|Dún Laoghaire||Seán Barrett (FG)
Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP)
Eamon Gilmore (Lab)
Mary Mitchell O’Connor (FG)
The result from Dublin in 2011 was 18 Labour, 17 Fine Gael, 4 Sinn Féin, 2 Socialist Party, 2 People Before Profit, 1 Fianna Fáil and 3 Independents.
On this projection, the result with the revised boundaries would have been 17 Fine Gael, 14 Labour, 4 Sinn Féin, 2 Fianna Fáil, 2 Socialist Party, 2 People Before Profit and 3 Independents.
Quite a different result in all. But let me know if you think I’ve estimated anything poorly, or just generally overestimated how beneficial this would have been to Fine Gael as against Labour.
See Constitution.ie for the Constitution of Ireland and articles referenced. Tho for some reason, the downloadable version is missing Amendments passed since 2004.
I unfortunately have to agree with most of what Conor O’Mahony wrote in The Irish Times (‘This so-called constitutional convention is a charade’) and with Matthew Wall in agreement with him on PoliticalReform.ie (‘Confessions of a demoralised political scientist’). The proposed constitutional convention is a far cry from the Philadelphia convention in 1787 O’Mahony references. At this convention, delegates from the thirteen states rewrote the Articles of Confederation into an entirely new constitution, which though subject to 27 Amendments since its adoption in 1787, in the elements of the divisions and roles of the branches of government, has remained the broadly the same since then.
The Programme for Government agreed in March 2011 specified a number of issues for the convention:
- Review of our Dáil electoral system.
- Reducing the presidential term to 5 years and aligning it with the local and European elections
- Provision for same-sex marriage.
- Amending the clause on women in the home and encourage greater participation of women in public life.
- Removing blasphemy from the Constitution
- Possible reduction of the voting age.
- Other relevant constitutional amendments that may be recommended by the Convention.
Of course, the last item leaves the convention wide open, but there has been little to suggest that this will be a wide-ranging overview of the Constitution. This seems clear from the two items first on the agenda: whether to reduce the voting age from 18 to 17; and whether to reduce the presidential term from 7 years to 5 years. Satire could hardly devise two less pressing amendments.
I would vote against a reduction in the presidential term, unless it was in the context of a redefinition of the role. Reading Tom Reddy’s The Race for the Áras, I was reminded of the whole drawn-out distraction of last year. There are reasonable proposals for amendment on the president, making it one term only, or changing the nomination process, but having more frequent elections is not one.
I have an open mind on the voting age, though I think it would make sense to lower the voting age for local elections first, which does not require a referendum.
I would obviously welcome a referendum on same-sex marriage, and if it’s to have an airing in the constitutional convention first, so be it. But ultimately, it will be a fairly simple amendment, adding a subsection, “No two people may be excluded from marriage by reason of their sex”, to Article 41.3.
Section Article 41.2, “… her life within the home …”, should be deleted. Let’s not try to devise a statement on family life and the roles of parents that could in turn seem out-dated in a few decades’ time. This is really not the sort of thing for a constitution in any case. And delete the word “blasphemous” in Article 40.6.1° i.
So what should it discuss?
So of all the enumerated issues, that leaves the electoral system. This is the only one of these proposals that to my mind merits discussion by a convention, rather than a simple yes/no proposal that could be people to be debated like any other referendum.
Our system of election to the Dáil of proportional representation by single transferable vote is often blamed for clientelism and localism in Irish politics, leading to a subordination of national concerns to local issues. Would the Convention will reach a conclusion other than that of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution two years ago, to keep the current system? Perhaps, as the membership of that committee inevitably had a status quo bias, having been elected under the current system.
What I don’t understand is why the abolition of the Seanad is not on the agenda. This is the sort of issue that would actually benefit from being discussed in a convention. There are references to the Seanad throughout the Constitution. Of the 141 Fine Gael and Labour Oireachtas members, I’m sure there is a considerable number, even if a minority, who would have doubts about the merits of this proposal. I would be in two minds on whether we need a second chamber. Finland, with a comparable population to Ireland’s, has a unicameral chamber; Sweden and Portugal with twice our population also survive with just one chamber. Yet surely there is a benefit to legislation being heard in more than one chamber. There are problems with the current Seanad and I have problem with the democratic legitimacy of the current membership.
I would certainly be against any abolition of the Seanad without a corresponding reform of the role of the Dáil and its committees. The idea behind last year’s failed amendment to allow the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries was not without merit at some level. But it made no sense to rush it within it in the first few months of the government when this constitutional convention was due to happen. The Convention should also consider ways in which the balance of power between the executive and the legislature might be rebalanced.
I understand that Enda Kenny has a personal attachment and commitment to putting the abolition of the Seanad to the people, but we would surely benefit from considering this proposal in the context of the other institutions of government.
The Constitutional Constitution is a good idea, but let’s have one that matters, where none of the fundamental institutional issues which are being discussed in amendments to the constitution are left out of its consideration.
This is a claim we’ve heard from the No side. What we are doing is allowing the state to ratify the Treaty, in the same manner as every previous Treaty. It was only last night when discussing this socially that the significance of their claim, and how it diverges from the actual amendment, became clear to me.
Let’s take Article 29.4 as it stands:
1° The executive power of the State in or in connection with its external relations shall in accordance with Article 28 of this Constitution be exercised by or on the authority of the Government. 2° For the purpose of the exercise of any executive function of the State in or in connection with its external relations, the Government may to such extent and subject to such conditions, if any, as may be determined by law, avail of or adopt any organ, instrument, or method of procedure used or adopted for the like purpose by the members of any group or league of nations with which the State is or becomes associated for the purpose of international co-operation in matters of common concern. 3° The State may become a member of the European Atomic Energy Community (established by Treaty signed at Rome on the 25th day of March, 1957). 4° Ireland affirms its commitment to the European Union within which the member states of that Union work together to promote peace, shared values and the well-being of their peoples. 5° The State may ratify the Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, signed at Lisbon on the 13th day of December 2007 (“Treaty of Lisbon”), and may be a member of the European Union established by virtue of that Treaty. 6° No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State, before, on or after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, that are necessitated by the obligations of membership of the European Union referred to in subsection 5° of this section or of the European Atomic Energy Community, or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by—
- the said European Union or the European Atomic Energy Community, or institutions thereof,
- the European Communities or European Union existing immediately before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, or institutions thereof, or
- bodies competent under the treaties referred to in this section,
from having the force of law in the State.
7° The State may exercise the options or discretions—
- to which Article 20 of the Treaty on European relating to enhanced cooperation applies,
- under Protocol No. 19 on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the European Union annexed to that treaty and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly known as the Treaty establishing the European Community), and
- under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, so annexed, including the option that the said Protocol No. 21 shall, in whole or in part, cease to apply to the State, but any such exercise shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
8° The State may agree to the decisions, regulations or other acts—
- under the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union authorising the Council of the European Union to act other than by unanimity,
- under those treaties authorising the adoption of the ordinary legislative procedure, and
- under subparagraph (d) of Article 82.2, the third subparagraph of Article 83.1 and paragraphs 1 and 4 of Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, relating to the area of freedom, security and justice,
but the agreement to any such decision, regulation or act shall be subject to the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
9° The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State
A Yes vote would add a new subsection 10°:
10° The State may ratify the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union done at Brussels on the 2nd day of March 2012. No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of the State under that Treaty or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by bodies competent under that Treaty from having the force of law in the State.
This follows the pattern of previous amendments allowing the state to ratify European Treaties (previous amendments allowed the state to ratify the Treaties of Paris, Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and the Single European Act were superseded by the Lisbon Treaty). The Treaty itself does not become part of the Constitution of Ireland; neither do its specific terms about budgetary constraints.
Take the Lisbon Treaty for example. In 2009, after the referendum, the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act became law. This brought Article 29.4 to where it stands above. But had the government done nothing else, we would not be bound by the Lisbon Treaty. It was only when the European Union Act 2009 was subsequently passed that the Lisbon Treaty became part of Irish law.
It will very much be in a similar manner if the amendment passes the referendum on 31st May.
This morning, Denis Donovan, a former Deputy Director at the IMF, clearly stated his view that without signing up to the agreements outlined under the Stability Treaty, the IMF would not fund us if we needed more money:
The IMF has made it pretty clear throughout this euro debt crisis that they only go in in partnership with Europe. That’s because they don’t want to put their money at risk…The IMF is very worried about getting repaid, it’s a big concern. If the Europeans are not willing to take the risk to lend to Ireland, there’s no way, in my view, that the IMF will be able to do it.
This corroborates and goes even further than the view of Karl Whelan, an economist from UCD, and a favourite of Sinn Féin, who when considering the possibility of emergency funding from the IMF only, wrote “What is clear, however, is that any programme approved would provide Ireland with far less funds than a second EU-IMF programme. This will mean more austerity not less”.
So there we have it. If we opt out of this Treaty, and if we need emergency funding, our chances of getting IMF are between non-existent or one that’s much harsher than what we’re currently experiencing.
And as to Gerry Adams’s suggestion on The Week in Politics last night that we could avail of funding from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) without signing up to this Treaty. If we were Johnny-come-latelys to this the Stability Mechanism, they would equally be in no humour to be generous about terms. There’s nothing in this Treaty in terms of budgetary constraints that could be avoided if we needed emergency funding after this.
The only honest view on funding on the No side that I’ve encountered is that of Cormac Lucey. Writing in Business and Finance, he bases his argument on the very basis that voting No will mean that we will not have access to the ESM, “Allowing Ireland access to the ESM cookie jar from 2014 onwards would only give the public sector another excuse to delay its long-overdue adjustment to reality.” A fiscal hawk like Lucey would like us to get a harsh budgetary adjustment over and done with in one foul sweep, without any loans from outside to ease the process.
This is what those ton the left have to answer. If it is austerity they are campaigning against, why are they advocating a position that will make austerity much more likely?
I’m delighted to be involved in setting up Fine Gael LGBT, having its first meeting this evening, which will be addressed by Frances Fitzgerald, TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
We have yet to settle on formal policies and priorities of the group. Issues that would jump out for me would be equal marriage and ensuring that young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have a welcoming and open environment in school and the wider community. But our particular focus of the group will be decided in a deliberative manner in the coming months (for most of us, our political focus will shift back tomorrow to securing a Yes vote for the Stability Treaty). We don’t yet have formal spokespersons, except in an interim capacity, with an AGM also to be scheduled soon. So even though our inaugural meeting is this evening, we will not yet be formally launching with all our structures till we have some time for people to develop an interest in being involved.
Though part of the idea of the group is to give a structured outlet for those of us who are gay to shape decisions relating to changes in law or culture, this can’t become a group just for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The developments in the past year, with motions passed on marriage and adoption at YFG Summer School, at YFG National Conference and at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, came from a collective interest in the motions for debate in the organization, and was by no means something pushed by gay people alone. This work promoting these debates will continue outside of the confines of this group.
Our government colleagues in Labour also have an LGBT group, and while being distinctive in our approach, I’m sure there will be times when we will co-operate. But we should also look also to our ideological counterparts, if I can call them that, in LGBTory, who have been quite successful in their aims through the Conservative Party in government.
So these are just a few of my own ideas on this new venture. I’ve probably focused a lot on policy, as is my wont, but it will also be a visible sign of Fine Gael as a modern and inclusive party and will have a social aspect as well, to reassure the many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the party that we are not insignificant in number.
I was delighted of course that today the Fine Gael Ard Fheis supported the motion, “That this Ard Fheis calls on the Government to ensure that the Constitutional Convention prioritises an analysis of the proposals for same-sex marriage in Ireland”, proposed by Mark O’Meara for Portmarnock/Baldoyle Branch and Gen. Richard Mulcahy YFG, supported by DCU YFG. Unfortunately, as I was helping the management of the Executive elections, I was not myself at the debate, but I know that there is real enthusiasm in parts of the party on this, particularly in Young Fine Gael.
This question has progressed remarkably quickly in recent years here in and many other countries, and I am quite optimistic that this pace will continue. It is firmly now in the mainstream of politics. It could be the clearest and simplest reform of the Constitutional Convention. I think we have good reason then to hope for equality between all couples within this term of government, after a campaign with all-party support, which I do believe can be convincingly won. It will need a good, strong, confident campaign, and I’m looking forward to it.
One focus of the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, taking place in the National Convention Centre today and tomorrow, will have to be the upcoming referendum on the Fiscal Stability Treaty, a relatively short agreement between 25 of 27 EU countries. If we want this country to remain part of the mainstream of decisions on the euro, we will have to vote Yes. Because it only requires 12 member states to ratify it to come into effect, there is no possibility of voting No once to get better terms in a second vote. This was possible with Nice between 2001 and 2002 and with Lisbon between 2008 and 2009 as these needed the support of all then 15 and 27 member states to pass.
It is not a perfect treaty in that it is not comprehensive. As one designed to prevent the fiscal difficulties countries have found themselves in, I had hoped that it would address banking, which was where Ireland most particularly suffered, rather than a focus on public debt and deficit which was where Greece and Italy got into trouble. Specifically, I had hoped for a constitutional bar or limits on future guarantees by governments of investment debt.
But the Treaty does make sense. These are terms that should have been in place from 1992 with Maastricht, and in effect from 1999 with the introduction of the euro. Fiscal supervision is a naturally important part of a monetary union. The Irish people could certainly benefit from measures reqiring balanced budgets. It is not about imposing austerity, but about putting in places mechanisms to prevent a requirement for future austerity. It is a way of saying Never Again to fiscal imprudence. It is distinct from our fiscal program under the troika of the EC/ECB/IMF and those terms will not be affected by this Treaty. There is in fact very little that’s new in it.
We will also need to support this Treaty to gain access to the European Stability Mechanism, i.e. if we needed a further bailout. I don’t think we will need that. But if there were only a five percent chance that we would need to access this fund, we would surely not want to cut off that option for ourselves.
Though not a vote on our membership of the euro, it is a vote on the nature of that membership. If we vote No, we will be very clearly outside the mainstream of decision-making on our own currency.
This is not a partisan matter for me, one that I’m supporting because of my membership of Fine Gael. If anything, the reverse is in some part the case. I campaigned for the Lisbon Treaty in both 2008 and 2009, and it was after the second campaign that one of those I worked with in the offices of Ireland for Europe and Generation Yes, who is now President of Young Fine Gael, particularly encouraged me to get involved in Fine Gael. This will be the first European Treaty referendum fought with Fine Gael in government and we will have to launch a serious and focused campaign, fought on the merits of the compact itself. It will not be good enough to complain if other issues are brought into the debate. It will be up to the Yes side, in all parties and civic society groups, to steer the debate in the way that addresses the issue at stake.
So I look forward to a good campaign on this.
It was only in November 2008, the morning after the US presidential election, that it properly and more clearly than before struck me that I was gay. Though I had engaged in low-level lobbying within the Progressive Democrats approaching the 2007 election on the lack of progress on a promised civil unions bill, it was partly on secular grounds because of my objection to the consultation between Michael McDowell, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with Roman Catholic bishops in drafting legislation relating to gay people, and partly on the urging of my then girlfriend. And it was only after Proposition 8 in California was defeated that I paid much attention to it.
It was a few days later, on 8 November, I regretfully spoke and voted in favour of a motion to disband the Progressive Democrats, something that seemed a possibility from the results of the 2007 election on.
So in looking for a new party, I was more conscious than before of parties’ attitudes to gay rights. The release of Milk early 2009 was a reminder of the value of political activism and how being honest and open can change assumptions and perception, being the story of Harvey Milk, who was one of the first openly gay people elected to public office, and who helped defeat Proposition 6, which would have barred gay teachers.
Yet I joined Fine Gael because it is the party closest to me on the role of the state in spending and economic governance. This did not mean that my deeply held liberal principles were set aside. I remembered what the late Dr Garret FitzGerald said, “You don’t join a political party because you agree with them. That always struck me as a rather static view. You join a party because you can change it. It’s a more dynamic view of politics.” And he did change assumptions not just within Fine Gael, but in the country as a whole, and remains a political inspiration for me.
In December 2009, I went to Leinster House on the first day of the debate on the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill. The first response was from Charlie Flanagan, who as Fine Gael Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Law Reform gave an outstanding speech, the best of the evening, in which he stepped beyond party policy, “while many welcome it, others believe it does not go far enough. To those people I would say that change is incremental and I hope that full equality is not far away”, and went on to remind us what secularism has done for society
It was then with a measure of hope that in July 2010, I proposed a motion at Young Fine Gael Summer School (where motions are consultative) with Trinity YFG to support allowing gay couples to marry. But this was very narrowly defeated, with a mere two votes in it. Of course I was disheartened, but I realized that I hadn’t given the time to something that to me seemed so obvious. And a rephrasing of what Milk said in the clip above formulated in my mind: a young gay centre-right political activist who all of a sudden realizes that they are gay; there are two options, move to Labour, or stay in Fine Gael and fight.
So I stayed on, was elected to the National Executive in November, and appointed Director of Policy. Many friends of mine outside the party found my involvement difficult to understand. I did feel that too often people did accentuate the negative, and assume a focus on social matters far greater than existed. The election result of last year was a time of hope and political renewal.
At the Summer School in July 2011, I proposed the same motion for Dublin South-East again at summer school, with Meadhbh. That time it got near universal support. It almost made me glad two people who would have voted for it the year before had turned up late.
Then this Saturday, on my last full day on the National Executive, a motion at Young Fine Gael Conference (where motions are binding as policy), proposed by Úna and Noel for DCU YFG, calling on the government to bring forward legislation allowing gay couples to adopt, was similarly passed with near universal support.
I am proud to have been an active part of the organization during this rapid change on this issue of personal importance to me. I was taken aback and very appreciative of the response to my comment on Facebook on this.
Indeed, the shift in public opinion here and in other countries in the last few short years has been remarkable. This has been both reflected and advanced by popular culture, and cheesy though it may seem, it was the words of this song, as performed by Chris Colfer, as Kurt in Glee, that went through my head before Summer School last year, “Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.”:
Tomorrow morning, Young Fine Gael will debate a motion on gender quotas, which I will be speaking in favour of,
YFG calls on the Minster for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to impose the 30% gender quota as outlined in the Electoral (Amendment) Political Funding Bill 2011 on the 2014 Local and European Elections.
Quotas would not be proposed in the ideal world, as they do set a restriction on the process of election for TDs. It is a blunt instrument that does not address the wider reasons that there is such a low proportion of women in the Dáil. These include provision of childcare and sitting hours, as well as the wider political culture which Minister Lucinda Creighton recently described as “toxic”. But it will be very likely be the thing to kickstart the changes required that would not happen otherwise.
The question for us should not be why there are fewer women than men in elected politics in Ireland; the same is true in all but two countries worldwide, Rwanda and Andorra. The question is why there are proportionally fewer than in most other EU countries, where we rank 23rd of 27 countries, with Cyprus, Romania, Hungary and Malta behind us. Quotas recognize a need to address an historic imbalance, and are used in different forms in 100 countries worldwide.
Wherever one stands on the issue, quotas are now the law, and will be in place for the next general election, due by February 2016. Parties will lose half of their allocation of state funding if either male or female candidates comprise less than 30% of their total candidates. The quota is at the point of ballot access, not of election. This will improve the current situation where those who would like the option of voting for a woman of their own party is greatly diminished: in 2011, in four constituencies there were no women candidates; the three main political parties fielded at least one male candidate each in 36 constituencies (84% of all constituencies) while the same three fielded at least one female candidate each in just two constituencies (5%), Dún Laoghaire and Longford–Westmeath.
Parties are going to have to adjust to the new system and work out how to ensure a balance across the country. Most candidates for the Dáil come through the county council system. While I would hope that being compelled to think of ways to bring new people into the system might encourage parties to look at a broader range of entry routes, looking to local business, policy expertise and community involvement, most will continue to come from local government. In order to facilitate a smoother selection process ahead of the general election, and to emphasise the importance of offering a choice of women candidates across the electoral system, it only makes sense to amend the legislation to bring the change forward to the 2014 local and European elections.
This table lists all votes won in Irish presidential elections in order of absolute numbers. Of course this order ignores issues such as growth in the electorate and variance in turnout. But an interesting table, if just because it shows that the highest and lowest poll both came from this year’s election.
|Michael D. Higgins (Lab)||2011||701101||39.6|
Brian Lenihan (FF)
|Mary Robinson (Lab)||1990||612265||38.9|
Erskine Childers (FF)
|Tom O’Higgins (FG)||1973||587771||48.1|
Mary McAleese (FF)
Éamon de Valera (FF)
Tom O’Higgins (FG)
Éamon de Valera (FF)
Seán T. O’Kelly (FF)
|Sean Gallagher (Ind)||2011||504964||28.5|
|Seán Mac Eoin (FG)||1959||417536||43.7|
|Mary Banotti (FG)||1997||372002||29.3|
|Seán Mac Eoin (FG)||1945||335539||30.9|
|Austin Currie (FG)||1990||267902||17.0|
|Martin McGuinness (SF)||2011||243030||13.7|
|Patrick McCartan (Ind)||1945||212834||19.6|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind)||1997||172458||13.8|
|Gay Mitchell (FG)||2011||113321||6.4|
|David Norris (Ind)||2011||109469||6.2|
|Adi Roche (Lab)||1997||88423||6.9|
|Derek Nally (Ind)||1997||59529||4.7|
|Dana Rosemary Scallon (Ind)||2011||51220||2.9|
|Mary Davis (Ind)||2011||48657||2.7|
Also, the following were elected unopposed:
- Douglas Hyde in 1938
- Seán T. O’Kelly in 1952
- Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1974
- Patrick Hillery in 1976
- Patrick Hillery in 1983
- Mary McAleese in 2004