In the course of the campaign on the marriage equality referendum, several commentators and spokespeople have made statements which they have avoided talking about afterwards. In the interests of ensuring that voters can make an informed decision on May 22nd, The Liberal has gathered some of the more important ones.
1. Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health
The Minister seems to have changed his mind about children’s rights since he said this. That must be the reason why he raised no opposition to the Children and Family Relationships Act which was recently rushed through the Oireachtas at lightning speed. The provisions of this Act will allow children to be raised by two men, or two women. To do so, they will have to use a donor egg via surrogacy or sperm donation. This being the case, does Leo Varadkar no longer believe that children have the right to a mother and father? If not, why not?
(A No vote) “will send a bad message internationally to those who would like to come here and work here.”
(A No vote) would show Irish people as “less tolerant than we should be”.
(Young Fine Gael National Conference, Limerick, March 2015)
The question must be asked why James Reilly is more interested in pleasing parties watching Ireland from abroad than listening to the Irish public. His job is surely to reassure the electorate that in Ireland, the People are sovereign. We should not be pressurized by business leaders working in other countries. It is the Government’s job to attract foreign investment to this country through their own competence in financial matters. Linking this to the referendum result amounts to nothing more than economic blackmail. There will be little support too for his implication that No voters are intolerant members of society.
3. James Reilly, Minister for Children
“Children should not be used as pawns by campaigners in this referendum to spread fear”
(Addressing seminar of Adoption Authority of Ireland, April 2015)
The most recent intervention by James Reilly was seen as a direct attack on No campaigners who were effectively accused of putting children’s interests in second place to victory. Of course, there is a very simple way for the Minister and his Government to address the fact that they believe the No campaign are confusing issues regarding children – hold a public debate between James Reilly, as Minister for Children, and a member of the No campaign. In a referendum this important, a debate like that is no more than the public deserve. Why won’t the Government do this? What are they afraid of?
“It’s about your right to say two small words, make up of three simple letters – I DO.”
(Fine Gael National Conference, Castlebar, February 2015)
When Enda Kenny provided this quote, it was in the course of his keynote speech at the Fine Gael National Conference in Castlebar. Unfortunately, the Taoiseach didn’t check up on the wording of civil partnerships first. Gay people in Ireland already have the right to say “I do”. This commitment forms part of the civil partnership ceremony, introduced in Ireland following the passing of the Civil Partnership Act 2010. Many people are already living happily in civil partnerships, yet the Taoiseach doesn’t even seem to be aware of what their commitment means. Despite this, he is promoting a Yes vote. Many gay No campaigners have said that they feel that they are the marginalised in this debate. Their civil partnerships, hard-won and celebrated in ceremonies all over the country since 2010, are now being described as “second-rate” and “unequal” by Yes campaigners. Perhaps this is not surprising, seeing as the Taoiseach doesn’t seem to be aware of the deep, life-long commitment involved in civil partnerships.
5. Taoiseach, Enda Kenny
“I will be very happy to campaign strongly in favour of the question.”
Back in January, the Taoiseach assured us that he would debate the issue of gay marriage when the referendum came around. He was strongly criticised for refusing to take part in television debates on the Seanad referendum and the failure of that referendum was felt by many to be down to his abject refusal to debate the matter in public with No campaigners who were ultimately successful. His reluctance to debate gay marriage then, must be causing Fine Gael’s Director of Elections, Simon Coveney, some serious headaches. How can he hope to bring home a Yes vote when his Party leader – and the Head of the Government – doesn’t appear to believe in the campaign enough to debate it with the No side? Don’t the Irish public deserve to hear this debate before they make up their mind? It’s decision time for the Taoiseach and time is running out for him to make his pitch for a Yes vote in the course of a vital public debate.
6. Taoiseach, Enda Kenny
(Catholic schools) “will be expected to teach children that people in this country, in Ireland, in 2016, will have the right to get married irrespective of their sexual orientation.”
(Interview, RTE, April 2015)
This comment by the Taoiseach immediately caused uproar as it consolidated the fears felt by many that if the referendum passes, Catholic parents will lose the right they currently hold to send their children to a school with a religious ethos that recognises marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Repeated calls for Enda Kenny to clarify that schools with a religious ethos would not be penalised if they chose to continue teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman were completely ignored. Why did this happen, when it would be so easy to put the fears of so many potential Yes voters to rest?
When the Taoiseach’s office was pressed for a clarification on this quote, his representative just said that the referendum is about equality, commenting:
“Tolerance and inclusivity are also Christian values.”
They may be Christian values, but tolerance and inclusivity are certainly not values that Enda Kenny believes in – at least, not on the evidence of this quote. If his words are to be believed, and the referendum passes, no tolerance will be shown for Catholic schools who want to continue teaching their own religious ethos. That presumably goes for all religious schools because, let’s not forget, a group of Christian and Muslim leaders have also petitioned the Government for a conscience clause which is the very minimum that would be expected in a democratic state that is trying to be tolerant of everyone living there. Refusing such a clause excludes all those who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds, or indeed for any other reason, so any claim of “inclusivity” is also false.
“It won’t affect existing marriage in any way. Neither will it change the way in which the marriage of opposite-sex couples are performed or registered.”
(Announcing wording of marriage referendum, February 5th 2015)
The referendum’s wording was announced with great excitement by the Government when Francis Fitzgerald tried to dispell concerns which were already growing among the general electorate. Unfortunately for her, that excitement was considerably quelled just over a month later when a red-faced Enda Kenny was forced to admit that there was a problem with the Irish translation of the original wording. There were concerns that if passed, the wording would make every marriage between heterosexual couples unconstitutional so it had to go. The Taoiseach said that there may be “lessons to be learned” for the future but the whole debacle (combined with the fact that Enda Kenny doesn’t even seem to know what’s involved in a civil partnership) has left a distinct impression of a Government that don’t really know what they’re doing.
8. Jerry Buttimer, T.D
“People who have concerns should ask themselves: ‘What harm will it do?’
(Debate on conscience clause, March 2015)
Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer made this comment back in late March 2015, when Yes campaigners ruled out the possibility of allowing Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald to include a conscience clause in the legislation that would accompany the new constitutional provision if the referendum passes. The clause would make it possible for business owners to opt out of providing services for gay marriages on the basis of their own religious beliefs. No campaigners have consistently said that until the Government can guarantee the inclusion of a conscience clause, the public should not be fooled into thinking that a Yes vote will lead to equality, as there will just be a new level of inequality imposed on businesses like the owners of Ashers bakery, who have been forced to fight a legal case against gay campaigners who insisted that Ashers should provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.
When it comes to the referendum and the conscience clause, Buttimer’s own words can be asked of him: ‘What harm will it do?’
If Yes campaigners are genuine when they say that they will not force businesses to ignore their own religious beliefs and provide services for gay marriages, why won’t they let the Government include a conscience clause in the new legislation? Wouldn’t this put the minds of voters to rest? And if we’re really aiming for an Ireland where everyone is to be treated equally, wouldn’t that be a way to ensure that the rights of everyone – religious and non-religious alike – are catered for?
At the end of the day, Jerry Buttimer makes a good point about one thing at least…
Polling day is creeping up on us. There are just 5 weeks left to go before the Irish public will be asked to vote on one of the biggest issues in our society. The public deserves a proper debate and that means Enda Kenny has to make good on his promise to debate the issue with a member of the No Campaign.
After all, if the Government thinks gay marriage is such a good idea, they should be telling us why and meeting the concerns of the No side is a fairly adjudicated public debate. After all, to quote the Chairman of Fine Gael LGBT Jerry Buttimer, ‘What harm will it do?’