Monday 24 October 2016

Anton Savage: Too much passion and not enough persuasion could hurt the Yes side

Ger Brennan, the St Vincent's captain. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Ger Brennan, the St Vincent's captain. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Michael D Higgins
Kim Jong-un

Ger Brennan's leap into the marriage referendum debate provided evidence of how significantly Irish society has changed in the past 40 years.

The Dublin footballer wants a No vote. And he wants one because he believes that families based on a mother and father should continue to be enshrined in the Constitution as the basis of society.

In his view, the love shared by gay couples and provided in their families are equal to heterosexual couples, but the families are not equal, as only the heterosexual family has a biological mother and father.

His views were common views 40 years ago. The public reaction to these views show how the country has changed. In the 1970s, issues of morality and sexuality were dangerous topics for public discussion.

It was a brave person who publicly suggested that masturbation was not a sin, or that homosexuality was simply a sexual orientation. The response to such attitudes was usually a tsunami of criticism.

It was deeply unhealthy, with the resulting fear undoubtedly causing shame and silence. Worse than that, it stifled public discourse, ensuring that those who expressed liberal views in the face of an apparent moral majority could be dismissed as extremists, not listened to as reasonable people.

We've moved on, to the extent that the voices now stifled are those of the conservatives. Few conservative public figures would now take the risk that Ger Brennan took, voicing views that many would regard as reprehensible.

Interestingly, he found a lot of sympathy. And it was secret sympathy. Ger appeared on my radio show to discuss his views. Unsurprisingly, this brought forth a torrent of texts. Most disagreed with him, but many said they agreed but didn't have the courage to tell their friends for fear of being attacked.

That's not a good place for the national dialogue to be, particularly for the Yes campaign. You can't convince someone who is afraid of you. For many Yes voters, this referendum is the final hurdle in achieving true equality for them, or their friends or family members.

And the passionate desire they have for a Yes makes it difficult for them to engage calmly with people who are saying, in essence: "I believe the families you want to exist are a lesser sort than the heterosexual ones we currently recognise."

But calm engagement is what persuades - as Conor Cusack went on to demonstrate. The Cork hurler came on air to rebut Brennan. Cusack is gay and an ardent Yes voter. Yet his response began with praise for Ger Brennan's character and his right to hold his beliefs, before he rebutted every one of them.

Cusack's approach showed how important it is to make people understand they are listened to, and respected, even if their views are fundamentally insulting to the listener.

When people aren't wary of being punished for their opinions, they express them fully, as Cusack showed. In that context, persuasion can happen.


Who cares about the age of the President? What about the age of the voters?

On the list of most boring referendums of all time, the one about the age of presidential candidates has to come fairly near the top.

Essentially, if we vote it down we are saying "we the people want to use our democratic choice to make it impossible for we the people to use our democratic choice to elect a young president".

It's boring because it's irrelevant - the President could be 12 or 108 or Michael D Higgins' 74, but it wouldn't give them any more impact on our daily lives.

Perhaps the thing we should be looking at is the voting age. This whole 18 thing is daft.

Leaving aside that they rarely vote, state services matter less to young people - old folks are more likely to pay tax, more likely to access health services, be regular users of public transport, have homes to protect, have children to raise, claim social welfare, start businesses, have jobs.

President Michael D Higgins 

Almost every policy matters more the farther you get from your teenage years.

It's why the whole "young voter apathy" worry is daft - young voters are apathetic (for the most part) because they are affected far less by government actions than are older people.

We have this false sense that 18 is a magical age of adulthood. It's not. You can ride a motorbike at 16, have sex at 17, have a beer at 18 and get elected to the Dail at 21.

So why 18 for voting? Voting lets you decide the fate of the nation and impacts on all of your fellow citizens.

Surely that's a bigger responsibility than motorcycles, sex and booze?

Isn't it time we held a referendum to shift the voting age up to a level where we can be sure maturity has started to set in? Like, say, 42?


Do we believe all that Kim spins?

IT's been reported that North Korea's Kim Jong-un used anti-aircraft guns to execute his defence minister. Yep. Sure he did. Some of these reports are in the same publications that previously told us his ankles had turned to powder because he is tremendously fat (footage of him walking about would suggest he's since made a remarkable recovery).

 Kim Jong-un

 The latest stories are backed up with satellite imagery which, we are told, shows anti-aircraft guns lined up to execute a number of prisoners. The images look very like the ones Colin Powell used to point out the WMDs in Iraq. Remember those? Surely the point of propaganda is that we believe it - or are those responsible just trying to give us a giggle?


Derek Davis was a talent of great variety

It was very sad to hear of the passing of Derek Davis  yesterday. He was probably best remembered for his time on Live at 3 , but any good look at his CV reveals a broadcaster of extraordinarily varied talents.

Derek Davis

Very few careers span newsrooms in the BBC and RTE, news-reading, magazine programmes, documentaries and the hosting of big 'shiny-floor' entertainment shows.

And don't forget, it was Davis who held the reins at the Rose of Tralee with such aplomb that no one shouted "bring back Gaybo" - very few people ever follow Gay on a show with similar success.

His talent ultimately won him two Jacob's Awards for broadcasting. As broadcaster Joe Duffy put it: "He had the warmth, brightness and openness of summer."

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