Home > Fine Gael, LGBT > Fine Gael and gay rights

Fine Gael and gay rights

I am occasionally questioned by those outside the party why I support Fine Gael given its relative conservative position on some issues, particularly on the question of allowing gay couples to get married. It is a reasonable question but it assumes parties are monolithic and static in policy terms.

People can fail to appreciate that Fine Gael has long managed to maintain within it different points of view. While the strengths of different wings ebb and flow, the party does contain a strong diversity of opinion. In the 1960s we had the strong conservatism of Gerard Sweetman, the moderate fiscal conservatism of James Dillon and the social democracy of Declan Costello. Throughout Garret FitzGerald’s leadership, liberals and conservatives worked together, with clearly defined differences in many Dublin constituencies.

So while I strongly disagree with the views expressed by Lucinda Creighton over the weekend when she stated that she did not support gay marriage because she believed the purpose of marriage was for children, I do not feel disheartened. The party was right to state that this was her personal point of view, not something she was saying in her capacity as junior spokesperson on equality. While the party has not supported marriage equality, it hasn’t opposed it either. There has been no attempt, for example, to make any commitment as official Fine Gael policy to oppose equality in this matter. There is no agenda, as some have tried to imagine, to reverse civil partnership rights; the Fine Gael manifesto commits the party to completing the elements of the civil partnership process stalled by the dissolution of the Dáil.

I feel there are some, particularly online, who like to target Fine Gael for comments such as those by Lucinda while ignoring the opposite point of view from members of the party. I saw no reference in the criticisms in the last few days to the speech by Charlie Flanagan on the first day of the debate on the Civil Partnership Bill in December 2009. Speaking as Justice Spokesperson, giving the first response from the party, he talked of the advances in a liberal society, brought a human element to the debate, and expressed a wish that civil partnership would be a step towards equality. I have extracted portions of this speech here before, but crucially Flanagan expressed his view, “While many welcome [the civil partnership bill], 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.”

This was his own personal opinion here again, just as it was Lucinda’s on the weekend, yet few jumped to equate his words with Fine Gael policy. Even within Lucinda’s own constituency, there is diversity within the party on this question. Eoghan Murphy, also standing for Fine Gael in Dublin South-East, affirmed in answer to an online query that he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry.

In 2004, Sen. Sheila Terry and Alan Shatter published a comprehensive policy on civil partnerships. Realistically, a change in the law to end the current discrimination will require the support of a broad-based party like Fine Gael. The day Charlie Flanagan made the above speech, I was in the public gallery, and heard a member of the Labour Party there sneer that whatever Flanagan might think, that wasn’t party policy. But to get real movement on an issue like this, it has got to the stage where it needs to be pressed from within.

I do not think it is good enough that gay people like myself can not aspire to get married, while I could in a fair few other European countries. I believe this change would make gay children growing up feel they would be accepted, normalize their relationships and reduce bullying. Gay couples would truly become part of each others’ families, as in-laws, integrating them into the familiar structures we all relate to. Children raised by gay couples would have greater security. And the couple would have the comfort and dignity of a happily married life. Fine Gael matches most closely my political outlook in broad terms, and it makes most sense for me then to make this case from within the party.

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  1. Barry Hickey
    24 February, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Will,

    I have an enormous amount of respect for you as an individual and as I too am from a ‘broad church’ party so I understand the apparent contradictions in having diverging opinions flying the same flag. However, if this were FF I cannot believe that you would be so understanding and, perhaps more worryingly, fail to gradp the fact that on a social policy issue like this that once you are not part of the solution, you are part if the problem.

    So by not being for Marriage Equality FG are against it. And this issue is far more black and white than say abortion (imho) and for FG’s Equality spokesperson to PUBLICALLY profer her personal opinion of the matter and for it to be the antithesis of egalitarianism is not something you can wish away.

    Much like when The Junior Minister Conor Lenihan attended a creationism book launch in his personal capacity and not his miniterial (his brief being responsible for SCIENCE!!!) it was fair then to question FF on the issue.

    But perhaps more importantly Will, FG actively censored their FB oage on this issue. That was far more telling to me. Because at best they made a political decision to avoid the topic as they did not want to disappoint people with a non commital answer or at worst they are being coy with their true party policy. By this I mean that the internal majority are against full marriage equality or those that are of that opinion are too important/powerful to take on. And as the current gov have brought in Civil Partnership they feel they can get away with resting there.

    • William
      25 February, 2011 at 12:57 am

      I saw your comment just as I was leaving the house earlier, would have responded sooner had I not been dropping leaflets till now.

      Do Fianna Fáil support marriage equality? Not that I’m aware of, but I don’t say that therefore Fianna Fáil are against it. I did manage to scan through the speeches given by our TDs in the debates on the civil partnership debate, and a few like James Reilly and Michael D’Arcy said it was a step in the right direction, without being specific; there was Flanagan, who gave the formal response from the party, who I’ve quoted above; and Simon Coveney, who gave a very thoughtful speech on how he’s changed his mind to support equality. So if not supporting were really the same as the party being against it, these would be noted for having gone against party policy. There were also those like Lucinda, Leo Varadkar, Seymour Crawford and Sean Barrett, who generally welcomed the bill but went out of their way to highlight objections people could have to it.

      I’m not denying it’s an issue that our equality spokesperson has these views, but I think we make more progress by also highlighting the support it has received from the party’s TDs.

      As to the Facebook page, it still has some critical comments on the issue. I didn’t follow what was deleted, I really don’t know enough to comment. I mean that genuinely, if I’d had time, I could imagine I would have followed that side of things. I think it was something the social media team were just completely unprepared for. I did see some abusive comments that were then deleted, but I’m not saying I don’t understand someone’s anger. The fact that the party made no commitment on progress before and during the campaign does not mean that they there is no hope from them in the coming years.

  2. Barry Hickey
    26 February, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Will,

    No apologies necessary on for any apparent delay, elections tend to cough up little free time. As for your points and references to various reponses from FG TDs….I cannot say that one section is right or wrong, however, as the incoming government, you cannot pretend that luke warm support/non commital statements (coupled with failry definative opposition) can be anything but a hinderance to the sections of society (and the Dail) that wish to see marital equality. So yes I stand over the statment that on this issue if you are not part of the solution you are part of the propblem.

    As to be fair, you are in government now Will. No more excuses as to why things are not being done as FG would do them. The Burden of power. Indeed, perhaps more importantly, the burden of a (likely) 110 seats & 60%+ 1st preference vote between the government parties. That allows AND obliges you to govern and to make these important social decisions.

    I do find it amusing that you qualify the opinions, activities and roles of FG TDs but refuse to grant the same wiggle room to FF TDs. I do not have to defend FF and its members in this regard or demonstrate that as a party it is absolutely in favour of marriage equality as that is not the point I am trying to make. Rather it is your willingness to forgive the internal sins of the broad church party that you have been so vorciferously against in FF. In short, it is hypocritical to deride the ‘unfortunate’ statments of FF ministers/TDs/Spokespeople and not apply the smae standard to your own.

    Recently you asked me when I thought ‘the moral authority to govern’ expires (with the clear implication that in November 2010 you thought it had expired for FF) Then as now, I answered that once the Budget had passed through the House avec the Finance Bill then an election should be called (this was pre the Greens ultimatum and subsequent plug pulling etc) But that was not what you meant. You were seeking the pious answer that you knew would not be forthcoming from me or the government. Which is fair enough.

    I wonder though, will you be so pious on March 11th 2012 if, as promised in 2007, that soon to be Taoiseach Enda Kenny sacks underperforming ministers. As a yard stick one can use FG targets. Indeed, if he is failing as a leader will you be calling for his resignation? Furhter, willyou question FGs moral authority to govenr and be seeking an election?

    This has moved very far from marriage equality for sure, but as I said above, your defence of FG on this issue and, moreover, your quasi-defence of Lucinda as your Equality spokesman got to me. I say that because until this blog I had never seen any double standard being applied by your goodself.

    Please excuse all grammer, syntax & spelling issues or mistakes. I am rather tired after a long week!

    • William
      27 February, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      A few general points occur to me. The first may seem like a concession or an admission of what you are accusing me of, and a controversial way to twist things around. It had thought of it when you first commented, and I think it more relevant still to your follow-up comment that I think there is possibly a benefit to partisanship. It keeps one side checking the actions of a party and the other moderating excessive criticism to attempt to lessen cynicism. In this instance, good for many to criticize Lucinda and call on the party to answer for her, good that I would point out that hers is not the only position in the party. This may sound like a weasely defence, but better that people are engaged in politics at some level than the reverse, and this is almost an inevitable consequence of party membership.

      The second is about me, what I am prepared to say and do. As someone who left Fine Gael in 2005 before rejoining some months after the collapse of the PDs, I would be prepared to leave again if I was not happy with the actions or direction of the party, or if there were a more attractive alternative party. I imagine and hope that I would be prepared to criticize the party’s actions in government. I would hold a reasonable standard though. I don’t think not fulfilling an election promise is in itself sufficient justification to deny someone the right to govern, I think we do elect people and then assess if they’re doing a good job. For example, I don’t think McCreevy’s 2003 adjustments despite the 2002 pledge not to cut were in themselves a reason to think the government had lost moral authority. So I’d like to think I’d apply a strong but reasonable standard to the new coalition government and Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

      My comments to you before Christmas were born out of genuine frustration with what was happening. I’m not trying to be pious again, or lash out at FF, especially after this weekend’s results, and it was unfortunate for you that you were the first Fianna Fáiler I met after that time. It did get to me at some level that Fianna Fáil seemed to going along, business as usual in some way, getting a new man elected, while I had no feeling there had been serious introspection. I think I might have felt differently had we been talking of the Fianna Fáil of Micheál Martin than that of Brian Cowen. So I’d say partisanship can be a good thing, as long as it is not unquestioning.

      I do have respect for most of those active in politics, and again to contradict my first point here, like to think of myself as somewhat less partisan than some. I do appreciate the good intentions of Fianna Fáil, even if I think a party has to be held to account for bad decisions. One of the things about a blog is that I tend to like to comment on something of the day, and sometimes miss something. I saw Conor Lenihan’s attack on Vincent Browne’s sneering cynicism late as it was, and didn’t have time to craft a piece around it, and the moment was gone. Off-hand, I think it was during the leadership debacle, and I was overtaken by events. But I had planned a piece on it, praising him, to say that anyone active in politics would have to be on his side.

      I do try not be a party mouthpiece here or in any political comments or posts on Facebook. Do point at to me when I move in that way. I also think there are different aspects to the political process, and as someone on the YFG national executive, I think it is probably more fruitful for me sometimes to make certain points of view at a direct party level rather publicly, so don’t necessarily assume over the next four to five years that I am being a yes man if you don’t see me being vocal at times.

      If I can return to this post, it was not written to be a quasi-defence of Lucinda as the party’s spokesperson on equality, it was a defence of myself as a member of Fine Gael. Without going too much into the thought processes of drafting something like this, I’d started as an angrier criticism of her and that I’d heard even some gay people within the party say that bad as they were, economic issues were more important right now in deciding a vote. After coming back to my draft at the end of the day, I found it a more worthwhile to answer the question I open with. Last summer, I proposed a motion on marriage equality at the YFG summer school which was very narrowly defeated. Had it not been for Charlie Flanagan’s speech, which I had heard from the Dáil gallery about seven months earlier, I would probably not have stayed long in the party. It didn’t seem to me as lukewarm support, but one of the best speeches I’ve heard on the question and a defence of a secular state in general. And I felt it more significant too speaking as Fine Gael Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Law Reform than if had been given by a member of Labour, and even without that proviso I thought it better than that given by Brendan Howlin who spoke after him. I was not there to hear Simon Coveney speak, but on paper it looks equally forceful. I sincerely feel that to move past a certain point of support for gay equality, those who are to some degree conservative will need to be convinced. Given my small government, classical liberal political outlook, and how in general terms, such as on the main points of this campaign, I fit well in Fine Gael, I think it the place for me from which to make the case.

      I hope that’s a credibly honest answer!

  1. 5 March, 2012 at 9:45 am
  2. 8 January, 2014 at 5:31 pm
  3. 14 June, 2015 at 4:33 pm

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