I have just been watching a news report on the never ending saga that is the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The latest dramas unfolding over the border coincide with broadcasting of a Channel 4 dramatisation on the life of Mo Mowlam. One could not help being struck by the similarities of watching the dramatisation of Mowlam’s regular meetings with Adams and Trimble and the current meetings taking place in Stormont. ‘Plus ca change, plus la même chose’, one could be forgiven for thinking.
On Sunday Eilis O’Hanlon wrote an article in the Sunday Independent where she muses on the current crisis. “The mollycoddling of the North’s political version of spoiled toddlers has to stop”, announced her byline. In fact quite a lot of last week’s analysis in both the print and television/radio media went on a similar path. O’Hanlon makes the point that policing will devolve sooner rather than later and that the latest ‘crisis’ isn’t really a crisis at all.
Just after 11am on the 31st August 1994 and IRA statement announced that there would be a “complete cessation of military operations” from midnight and that the terrorist organisation was willing to enter into inclusive talks on the political future of the Province. I remember that momentous morning 16 years ago more vividly than most. My father, born in the nationalist area of Belfast and proud of his roots, died the previous day. He had spent most of his adult life watching with deep interest the daily happenings in Northern Ireland. Dad had based himself in Limerick in the early 1970’s as the Northern troubles were in their infancy.
My family always thought it ironic and somewhat touching that the one thing my father had wished for in his life actually came to pass the morning we brought his body home from Dublin. He would have been so happy to have seen the news that night. I’m sure my father often questioned whether he would ever see peace in his lifetime. Unfortunately he never did but it didn’t take long to come.
If my father were to rise from the grave today he would see many changes in the world he once knew. I’m sure one of the first things he would ask is ‘What’s the situation up home?’. If I was to sit him down last night to watch the latest news bulletin on the policing crisis I think he would laugh himself back into the grave at how far we have come and how minor the current issue is. In the sixteen years since he died sworn enemies have sat side by side. Paisley has shaken hands with Ahern. The country is at peace and the North is actually riding the recession more comfortably than most. We should all hold off when criticising whats happening at the moment. Things have come so far. The many hundreds of years of struggle, maiming, murder and bigotry are slowly but surely coming to a complete end. My father would be the first to allow the lads up north a little more time to solve the wee issues left on the table.
Just a few months before my father died and not long before the IRA made that momentous announcement homosexuality in Ireland was formally decriminalised. It seems like only yesterday when I, as a sixteen year old adolescent, said goodbye to my Dad at a time when I was having huge doubts about my own sexuality. I have often wondered in the years since what he would of thought of it all. I have no doubt in my mind that he would have come round to the notion but it would have taken time. He was a God fearing northern Catholic after all!
When I look at the years I have lived since my Dad died they predominantly are marked by these two huge movements in Irish culture. Cessation of violence in the north followed by a long and often frustrating peace process and the ‘legalisation’ of homosexuality followed by a long and often frustrating process of acceptance and openness in society. These movements are ongoing. They may take many more years to fully bloom to their full potential and I, like my father, would say give them time.
Since returning to Ireland I noticed the voice of Brenda Power regularly turning up on radio. She was not really known to me before living in London and then spending time at sea. I looked her up online and was interested to see that she was known for her opposition to gay marriage and in particular for an article she had written for the Sunday Times last summer. I read the piece and was struck by how part of her viewpoint resonated with me.
Opening the article Power questions how easy it is for a man ‘to make a serious political point on the shortcomings of the new Civil Partnership Bill while he is wearing half a wedding dress and calling himself Miss Panti’. Reading this I had to stop and think how much research Brenda had put into the gay community in allowing herself to open her article like this. As one blogger noted:
‘Let me get this right. Your argument is don’t give gays the same rights as everyone else because some people wore drag in a recent parade? This is like saying we must not allow any Irish people get married or ever have children when some of them dress up as leprechauns on St Patrick’s day.’
Aside from this initial faux pas she does go on to make some very relevant points. Now I am not well read on the legalities of what the Civil Partnership Bill allows so I will refer to what the Irish Council for Civil Liberties stated at the time of the Bill’s publication, hailing it as “broadly progressive”:
“This new legal structure offers a solid foundation for the recognition and protection of loving same sex relationships. However, although it is solidly grounded, the Bill remains a halfway house to granting genuine equality to same sex couples through full civil marriage.
Now the onus is on those who, for religious or other reasons, still believe that it is acceptable to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation to explain why their prejudice should be reflected in law”.
I take from this a reading that we, as Irish citizens, have taken a huge step in the publishing of the bill but that it will take a little more time to reach our destination. And they, meaning those who, for religious or other reasons, still believe discrimination to be acceptable should be allowed the time.
Brenda Power makes the point that, ten years ago,we as a nation could not possibly have dreamed of such provisions coming to fruition. Her argument falls down once again when she states:
”But it’s the omissions in the bill…that have irked the more vocal campaigners. They want to be able to marry, with exactly the same status and ceremony as heterosexual pairs, and they want to be able to adopt and co-parent children just like straight couples. The new bill doesn’t grant them those rights. And as long as they choose the likes of Panti to argue their case for equality, it’s difficult to see that changing.”
For those who may not be totally in the loop regarding the gay community Power is referring to the annual Gay Pride Festival which celebrates not just gay and lesbian culture but the culture of the bisexual, transgender and queer communities also. It is a celebration of difference. It is an annual celebration of acceptance and most of all it is an annual celebration of how far we have come as a people. As the aforemention blogger noted, when we celebrate St Patricks Day we celebrate with Leprechauns. Similarly when the gay community celebrates Pride it is the drag queens who take centre stage and bring a carnivalesque quality to the festival. Panti happens to be the face of alternative Ireland and also happens to be one of the brightest, wittiest and most talented individuals to boot.
Here, however, is some of Brenda Power’s article strikes a chord with me. Pride festivals everywhere are amazing events. They are fun, often wild and debauched. Pride is supposed to be good natured and for the most part it is. I twice visited Brighton Pride, a massive event, when living in London and travelled to the event by train. On both occasions my friends and I found ourselves sharing carriages with gay revellers and straight commuters alike. On both occasions I found myself questioning my own identity as a core group behaved in way that even I found offensive. I won’t go into the nitty gritty but what I will simply say is that on both occasions I was offended, my friends were offended and I am damn well certain that the straight people in the same carriage were bloody appalled. These people did not represent me.
I often find myself wondering why a section of society (to which I proudly belong ) feel the need to achieve certain goals, rights, aims, whatever you want to call them through the means of shock value is beyond me. When events like Pride are done well and done as they should be they do what is said on the till. They make me proud to be a part of it. When subsections of this subsection of society feel the need to shock through sexualisation or base crudity then I find myself stepping back and feeling the urge to disassociate myself.
I was lucky to have had good friends and and solid core base around me who quickly accepted who I am. To this day I still get the odd inquisitive look when I head out in Limerick. These are looks that no longer threaten me. I simply say ‘Give them Time’. If I throw who I am in their face it will take much longer.
In order to get to where they are in Northern Ireland it took many years of intensive debate and unnecessary heartache. In the last 16 years a lot of pride had to be swallowed on both sides. A lot of sacrifice had to be made. The same must apply in the whole debate around civil partnership and gay marriage. Huge steps have been made. Many values and beliefs have adapted but we cannot expect it all overnight.
Let us take our time. Let’s allow others to take their time too. Change can sometimes take a lot of getting used to. Personal values, no matter how we consider them valid or invalid, are rights of the individual. Change is happening but it will take a while.
The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as the “Love that dare not speak its name,” and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual. That it should be so the world does not understand. The world mocks it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
Oscar Wilde speaking at his Old Bailey Trial, April 26th 1895