‘The tenor of the contest has been so nauseating that the deepest parts of my psyche had begun to anticipate this outcome.
It was little things: the frivolity of the Yes side: “Run for Repeal”; “Spinning for Repeal”; “Walk your Dog for Repeal”; “Farmers for Yes”; “Grandparents for Repeal,” which ought to have been “Grandparents for Not Having Grandchildren.”
This, like the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015, was a carnival referendum: Yessers chanting for Repeal, drinking to Repeal, grinning for the cameras as they went door-to-door on the canvass of death.
Today, Ireland dances on the graves of little children. It is a country where freedom means the right to do just about anything you please, without risk of consequences.
On the day of the vote, the media gave us a picture of our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, grinningly dropping his vote into a ballot box, over the headline: “All the lads in the gym are voting yes.”
It is the epitaph of the country I grew up in, the only one I had to call home, this ancient land, traceable into antiquity by its piety, its valor, and its sufferings.
This fool we are obliged to call Taoiseach (Chieftain), this man without qualities—who entered the last election three short years ago as “pro-life”—has led my people into a hell beyond imagining.’
I had and still have great respect for John Waters. I read a lot of his stuff over the years and found him to be one of the most insightful commentators on Irish culture. One memory I have of him was when he was shouted down on the Late Late Show by the entire audience and Gay Byrne (early 1990s) for introducing an ancestral memory idea that argued that the famine still played a part in how Irish people behaved.
This idea stemmed from Epigenetics, the study of how dramatic impacts on peoples may involve changes to gene expression if not the genetic codes, leading to effects that may persist in a society for generations.
Irish historian Oonagh Walsh believes that the Irish Famine may have lead directly to an increase in mental illness in subsequent generations. The point is, the idea has substance and has since developed legs, as they say, no matter how vociferously it may have been rejected by the Late Late Show audience all those years ago.
The effect has been measured and proven and clearly shows that traumatic events like famine in particular leave a genetic imprint on a people which may manifest in how the society conducts itself later on.
I thought it was a really interesting idea, but what I was really struck by was the vehemence of the resistance by everyone to even the notion of such a thing. There was no exploration of the debate. John Waters was roundly ridiculed by audience and host in such a manner as to suggest, to me at any rate, that he seemed to have hit some sort of raw nerve.
That was all in the past, was the sentiment. That doesn’t matter now. That has no bearing on anything, and so on. Or as Gay Byrne pointed out – I paraphrase – I have never heard anything so stupid in my entire life!
This ancestral memory idea informed my own thinking about the impact the catholic church’s authoritarian innings may have had in Ireland. Particularly its input into Irish education, literally moulding minds. And then the later abuse stories, still ongoing, all amounting to a kind of cultural shock, and how this may also still be impacting Irish culture. Only yesterday (May 17th) there was a news report of a group of now elderly men still seeking state redress for sexual abuse perpetrated by clerics.
In an article here on Broadsheet a couple of weeks back, I suggested that the 8th amendment was the last bulwark of the grip the Irish Catholic Church held on secular Ireland and for that reason it would be progressive, a break with a dark past, to vote Yes to repeal the 8th amendment.
I was curious to hear what John Waters’ take on all this might be when I heard, simultaneously, that he was going to be on Eamon Dunphy’s podcast, the Last Stand, and that he had walked out of the podcast after less than 15 minutes.
But in that 15 minutes he dismissed the idea that the 8th amendment has anything to do with the historical influence of the church in Ireland, making out that those of us who believe this are not with it and are raising phantoms of Archbishop McQuaid still “stalking the land”.
John Waters clearly believes that there would be a kind of abortion free-for-all if the amendment was repealed. This alone is worthy of deeper examination because it suggests that he believes that Irish people need “policing” on moral issues like abortion, and that the 8th amendment protects them from themselves.
A suggestion which is also a kind of unfortunate veiled indictment of the priorities of women, suggesting also that he believes that the removal of the amendment would lead to callous women having abortions out of a kind of secular party-animal convenience.
It was a pity the interview was curtailed because the impression I was getting was that John Waters was using all his considerable powers of argument in an attempt to corral the discussion to narrow it in such a way as to be able argue partial questions in a shrunken arena he seemed more comfortable in.
He dismissed, for instance, an attempted discussion on the morning-after-pill as being irrelevant to the “real” issue which was focused exclusively on the rights of the foetus In fact, it was this attempt by Dunphy to broaden the discussion that precipitated Waters’ departure.
That he left when Dunphy pushed ahead to explore other aspects of the debate suggests that he, like many people, is equally challenged by trying to unravel the complexities of such an emotive and complex debate, a position of helplessness and befuddlement he is probably not used to and appears to resent.
The early impression though was that he was not at all open to considering anything that contradicted his already held view, and that in fact his argument seemed designed to rule out the more complex questions of the debate.
You would wonder then, even if he had stayed for the full 40-minute discussion would he ever have gotten near the question as to what such a human rights restriction, a total ban on abortion under all circumstances, is doing in the constitution in the first place, and the implications of such a ban on the rights of women, a restriction that the UN regards as a clear human rights breach.
I’m aware that John Waters has gone back to his Irish Catholic roots in recent years. I read his book “Beyond Consolation” where he argued that Irelands’ rejection of the church since the 1960’s has given rise to a rampant irresponsible consumerism, so it is clear that he genuinely believes that Irish people are not capable of governing themselves without the authority of the Church.
He argues in the book that the church’s greatest harm was in giving the impression that religious belief is externally imposed, this as a result of the church’s authoritarianism, and that the loss is that Irish people have developed no inner religious authority. That Irish people have missed the basic message that God is inside and not outside.
I don’t know about that. Buddhism, among other spiritual practices and religious observances, is popular in Ireland. But the deeper problem about such an argument is the underlying assumption that the only way to rectify such a spiritual deficiency, if such a deficiency even exists, is to restore an external authority as a kind of spiritual policeman.
This is a bit of a cousin of an argument to the view that former colonial powers should be reinstated in their various colonies as a response to the imperial notion that “the natives can’t rule themselves”, the “evidence” being civil wars and other governing problems that arise when the former authority withdraws.
While “Beyond Consolation” offered a compelling personal story of a return to the religion of his childhood, which is his prerogative, the book also revealed a suspicion of secular Ireland that chimed a bit uncomfortably with the often-restrictive doctrines and beliefs of the discredited organisation.
Whatever his personal reasons for seeking solace in the religion that was instilled in him as a child, it is difficult to escape the conclusion, based on the arguments condemning Irish secular society in “Beyond Consolation”, and then in his often irrational-seeming retorts on the Dunphy podcast, culminating in his dramatic walkout and abandonment of the argument, that his personal re-embracing of the Catholic church may be clouding his judgement on the issue of the repeal of the 8th amendment as it impacts on the human rights of women.
From a personal point of view, it is disappointing to see that the thinker who first raised the idea in my mind that the famine may have distorted Irish society, and who was roundly condemned for his insight, cannot also see that the impact of the Irish Catholic Church and all its private crimes against people may have had a similarly distorting and destructive effect on the culture, albeit not as extreme perhaps as the effect of famine.
For these reasons, my own position is that the only responsible and progressive answer in the referendum is to vote Yes to repeal the 8th amendment, as a vote of confidence in secular Ireland to conduct itself responsibly.
” When you get on to that first sentence of Article 41, the state recognises the natural primary unit of responsibility in society. You don’t need to go any further than that word natural to understand what a catastrophe this is.
Because the word natural as it stands as interpreted time and time again in court hearings has to do with the biological complementarity of a man and a woman who together in their sexual union beget a child and begin the process of creating a family.
And that word natural will go, it will still be there on Sunday if we get a yes but it will no longer have the meaning it has now.
I was on TV recently and I made this point and the interviewer said ‘Hang on it could be said that what you’re saying is gay sexuality is unnatural’ and I said ‘I’m not saying that I’m saying something completely different’ but that’s an interesting point.
That’s possibly what this will mean. it’s one of the things it could mean, That the sexuality of a gay couple is just as natural as the sexuality of a heterosexual couple. The meaning will slip to that.
….Every couple will have to come down to the level at which they meet, call it the lowest common denominator call it the common denominator, and that would be a level in which biological procreative capacity is irrelevant…”
John Waters of First Families First at a Mothers and Fathers Matter public meeting in Tralee, Co Kerry.
Mr Waters cites the case of ‘John’, a gay man who donated his sperm to a lesbian couple and having had a change of mind was denied any meaningful role in the child’s life.
In today’s Sunday Independent, author and journalist John Waters writes about his experience of Pantigate west of the Shannon and wonders if teh gays would be treated differently in relation to the Croke Park gigs.
Nobody I met had ever tweeted anything, or cared one whit what some drag queen had said about me, or what had happened afterwards.
Most had registered nothing of it, and those who had were even more perplexed – one woman even thinking that someone had accused me of being a homosexual.
On the issue of Garth Brooks in Croke Park, he poses the question:
Ask yourself this: if the performer in question was Elton John, would the same objections be raised?
“Author, columnist and Dalkey resident, John Waters, will discuss the role and impact of the father and the crisis of fatherhood in modern culture…’What Happened To The Great Father. Based on the experience of his previous appearances at Dalkey, this is likely to be a sell-out event. Sunday 22nd June, 2014 at 17.00. Tickets €10….”
Seán O’Rourke played a (pre-recorded) interview with John Waters on RTE Radio One’s Today With Seán O’Rourke this morning.
Grab a tay.
Sean O’Rourke: “Now the past three months have been a time of upheaval in the life of journalist and author, John Waters. It began in January when he was described as a homophobe on RTÉ’s television’s Saturday Night Show. The station apologised and paid him €40,000 in defamation damages, unleashing a torrent of criticism of RTE, of John Waters himself, and of the Iona Institute, whose members were also compensated. More recently, John Waters resigned as a columnist with the Irish Times, saying that the highly toxic of illiberal antagonism towards particular viewpoints exists at the heart of the paper’s editorial operation. That’s what he wrote in a long article in the current issue of Village magazine. So when he came into studio, I first asked John Waters if he’d any regrets at all about threatening to sue RTE and then taking the money?”
John Waters: “No, I don’t because all I did was I sent, I got my solicitor to send a letter requesting an apology, a clarification for what had happened. And there was a lot of prevarication which followed on that. And, because of that, we lost the first opportunity for an apology which is the most critical moment, the week afterwards. So things escalated from then and this society offers as a means of recompensing somebody who’s being defamed, just two things. One of them is an apology done in the quickest possible time and the other is damages. And therefore the process which requires, which arose, occurred because of the prevarication of RTÉ. This could have been sorted out on day one with an apology and a minimal cost, a donation to charity, to St Vincent De Paul, that’s all that was asked for. So I’ve no regrets about that. And I never will have regrets about defending my reputation because it’s vitally important for a commentator, of any kind, to preserve the one thing they have, which is their reputation, their credibility in the public sphere.”
O’Rourke: “And you’re emphatic that if RTÉ had been prepared to include the following, which you quote in your, or which you reproduced in your article in Village magazine this month. There would have been no more about it. “We accept that it is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues, without characterisations of malice, hatred or bad faith”.”
Waters: “Absolutely right. I mean, it’s vitally important that it be seen that I’d intervene, my job was to intervene in public debate and have controversial views and have robust views and if you can be portrayed and presented as being motivated by malice or hatred in what you say, then you’re entirely disabled as a commentator. And, so for that reason, it’s vitally important that I preserve my, the sense that I have, that I actually contribute intellectually debates, on the basis of my understanding of the issues, not because I hate particular individuals or because I hate any particular kind of individual, that’s indispensable to my role as a public commentator.”
O’Rourke: “But, at the same time though, as I said earlier in the introduction, a torrent of criticism, of RTÉ in the first instance, for caving in to what was seen as pressure from yourself, and the Iona Institute and others, and not standing up for robust debate.”
Waters: “Well you see I think, this word debates keeps coming up. But there’s no right to defame as part of debate. I’ve been writing columns for the Irish Times for 24 years. If I defame somebody I’ll be sued. And if we lose a case, I’ll probably have got fired. But there’s no right, there’s no free speech right to defame someone, just steal somebody’s reputation because how can you answer this kind of charge?”
O’Rourke: “Well, right of reply the following week, you were offered that…”
Waters: “A right of reply can work, if there’s an allegation put forward of a factual nature which you can respond to ad seriatum. This was not that kind of allegation, it was simply part of a smear. It wasn’t, and interestingly it wasn’t the first time it happened. This arose a couple of years ago during the Presidential election campaign when, if you recall Seán, there was a controversy about [Senator and former Presidential candidate] David Norris and an interview he had given to Magill magazine. At the time, which, back in 2002, when I was the consultant editor, and I became embroiled in that, defending Helen Lucy Burke’s position because she was attacked that time. And I was called a homophobe on a programme on TV3. Now I raised this issue with the programme in question, I asked for an apology and the apology was given immediately, so there was no money changed hands, there was no question of money. I didn’t even ask for my lawyers fees. So the same could have happened this time if RTÉ had acted with alacrity and with a degree of gravity with regard to what had actually happened.”
O’Rourke: “You wrote as well that, in the aftermath of this, or at the height of it maybe, I don’t know, maybe it’s still going on, it became unsafe for you to walk down the street. Really?”
Waters: “Yes, I felt that, whether that was objectively true in the sense that, obviously a lot of this can occur in one’s mind but, at the same time, there were a number of incidents which were disquieting, you know people would come on..Mostly, I would have to say, they kind of, a dominant note of these was the cowardice of the individuals concerned because they almost invariably came up to me on bicycles and start roaring ‘homophobe’ at me, or ‘f-ing homophone’ or whatever and then scooting off. And this kind of thing happened several times so gradually it got to me, I didn’t really want to go into certain places. I didn’t want to go into Dublin, I don’t have a great time in Dublin anyway, to be honest but I did feel in myself that I was becoming changed and that worried me as well because the nature of my job is I have to be able to look people in the eye, to actually stand up and defend my positions and if I find myself under this kind of barrage of assault, then I have to consider my own position and my position as a public commentator.”
O’Rourke: “We’ll come back in a few minutes to what happened in the Irish Times itself but, apart from what went on there and the abuse that would have been hurled at you occasionally in the street, what else did you have to deal with? And you mentioned Twitter?”
Waters: “Well I outlined in the, I gave some flavour in the Village article about the kinds of emails I was getting and these were absolutely vile, you know, very short, always a certain pattern: short, very often in capitals, you know expletives, splenetic language, the word homophobe always there, terrible personal commentary about my family life perhaps, or about my appearance, all that kind of stuff. And there was like hundreds of these and I began to notice a pattern in this which was really astonishing. That, even though in the public domain in the Dáil, this came up in the Dáil and the Seanad, it came up in RTÉ, it came up in lots of places and it was being talked about for, particularly for about a week or two all the time and yet I noticed in that period, there was a certain pattern. That the one day – on a Wednesday, say – I would get 20 or 30 of these emails, and I would think, this would go on, then on Thursday, there would be none. And I’d think: it’s finished. But then Friday morning, I’d get another one and then on Friday, I’d get 20 or 30 more, so it seemed to me there was a certain orchestration about this whole thing that was actually, that there were people actually working hard to send these messages to me.”
O’Rourke: “Well you were criticised as well by the Minister for Communication, as well as his other responsibilities, Pat Rabbitte. Basically saying, look if you’re in the public square having a debate, you gotta be able to take it as well as give it.
Waters: “I’ve said it before, you know, Pat Rabbitte is entitled to express his opinion, just as anybody else is but I think Pat Rabbitte might be better off looking after his job as Minister for Communication. This was nothing to do with his job as Minister for Communications.”
O’Rourke: “Well, except for the national broadcaster, for which he has responsibility, shelled out over €85,000 in compensation.”
Waters: “That’s a legal matter and is entirely a matter for the people in charge of the national broadcaster and it’s contingent on the legal peculiarities. It is not a political question.”
O’Rourke: “Coming to the Irish Times, now you’ve identified, by my count, five people who were critical of you. Either openly, in print or tweeting openly, or using a nom de plume or maybe by what might be called a passing innuendo in various pieces they wrote. Now we don’t have time to go into every detail but you wrote a letter of resignation after a fellow columnist, Fintan O’Toole, had a go at you, which you say was utterly cowardly and disgraceful. Why would you use it, why would you speak in those terms? Why would it prompt you to resign?”
Waters: “Because it was part of a sustained campaign, it goes back actually to something that had happened earlier on. Because remembered the accusation was made that I was a homophobe, now on RTÉ, and it would say that I had been campaigning on the issue of gay marriage and that I had been more or less, it was insinuated that I’d been on TV and radio every day of the week. Now anybody in RTÉ can simply, by, within 30 seconds can ascertain how often I’ve been on radio and television, talking about gay marriage because the answer is I’ve never been on, I’ve never been on any programme. Many times I’ve turned down invitations to appear on Prime Time, the Frontline, all these programmes, who’ve asked me to go, because they assume they know my position on gay marriage and I can assure you, they don’t. But there was one time where I did outline my full position on gay marriage in an email to a colleague in the Irish Times, Una Mulally, who actually about five days before the Rory O’Neill interview on The Saturday Night Show, asked me, because she said she was writing a book, and I sat down and I wrote, even though this woman had attacked me numerous times, I sat down, I wrote her a 2,000-word email, outlining in full my position on gay marriage. In which I said, inter alia, that I actually don’t think I am against gay marriage per se. That I have a question because I have campaigned for many years on the question of the relationship between fathers and children and the rights and the lack of rights pertaining to those relationships and I’ve been asking why is this, this situation not being fixed when all these other issues are being dealt with and so I said my problems relate to this problem, this issue. I also said that I got no support from Catholic organisation, from Catholic bishops or priests or popes or anybody like that…” Continue reading →