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Monday 5 December 2016

Michael O'Doherty: Amidst all the talk of civil weddings, this uncivil row speaks volumes

Thomas Connors
Thomas Connors
Fiona Weldon
Nicola Hughes

As one of the last barriers to equality is removed from that most discriminated against section of Irish society, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on another area of discrimination, namely that shown towards the Travelling community.

Not for them the life-defining moment in the sun of a marriage referendum, however, because as we all know they are free to marry, and it's a choice that they exercise with perhaps greater regularity, and certainly at a more junior age, than the rest of Irish society does.

How ironic it is that at a time when the gay community have been pressing so hard to earn the right to marriage, the Travelling community have given us a wedding to show exactly why discrimination against them continues to this very day.

Unfolding in the High Court this week was a legal-based drama concerning a fight which took place in a hotel in the Curragh, owned by the Lambe family, eight years ago. Before the court was Thomas Connors who, when he was 14, had his neck slashed during a brawl after his cousin's wedding.

At about 6pm, there had been a minor disturbance, with people fighting and glasses being broken - as happens at all weddings, of course - but at 10pm a full scale brawl broke out, and in the stampede to escape, Mr Connors suffered his injuries. He was in court eight years later as he was suing the hotel, claiming that they were responsible for his injuries, as under the standard test applied in such cases, those injuries had been "reasonably foreseeable".

Let's just pause and reflect on this for a second.

Not only was Connors suing the hotel's owners for compensation because a fight broke out at a family wedding, but as a supporting witness he called to the stand a "security consultant", who testified that the hotel were negligent in the way they failed to provide security.

According to this expert, the hotel should have "geared up" for trouble, because a fracas - better known to you and I as a fight - was "part and parcel of Traveller weddings".

Which seems to put the unfortunate owners of the hotel in an invidious position.

On the one hand, if they decided to install security guards at a Traveller wedding, there would no doubt have been outcries about the appalling discrimination involved in assuming that there was going to be trouble.

But because they did the decent thing and treated the families just like any other wedding they would host, they are being sued for negligence.

Luckily, common sense prevailed, and in turning down Connors' claim, the judge praised the Lambe family for the non-discriminatory manner in which they treated the wedding. As a thank you for this, Thomas Connors sued them.

Before they were allowed full marriage, gay couples in Ireland had to be content with civil ceremonies.

Perhaps this is a good time for the Travelling community to reflect on their own ceremonies, and make them a bit more civil in the future.

 

Being offered a beer while getting your hair cut shouldn't be the norm

AFTER my law exams on Friday, I was asked what I was going to do next. I replied that I was going to the gym.

I don't expect a medal for so doing, and mention it only in relation to the bewilderment with which people greeted the news, unable to understand why I wouldn't be working off my stress in a pub.

Part of the reason, without wishing to be in any way pious, is that it's a tad hypocritical to be commenting on how tragic it is to have your life consumed by alcohol - the pictures of the latest round in Jonathon Rhys Meyer's tragically one-sided battle with the booze is a sad testament to how it can end up - and on the other hand start downing pints at the merest of opportunities.

It's a point well made by clinical psychologist Dr Fiona Weldon last week, who remarked: "The message appears to be that wine or alcohol is the only way to relax or de-stress."

She was responding to figures which show that alcohol consumption is on the way back up again. Ireland consumed 1.3 million litres of spirits during the first quarter of this year, up 16.5pc on last year, meaning that the average Irish drinker consumes, quite literally, a staggering 411 pints, or 124 bottles of wine, in a year.

While it seems to be equated to a rise in the economy, with more disposable income to spend on booze, Dr Weldon also astutely commented that the Government's current "solution" to the problem - tackling the sale of cheap alcohol - is inadequate.

"What we also need to look at is how much drinking has become normalised in Irish society," she said, "to the extent where people are now being offered alcoholic drinks while getting a hair cut."

Ireland needs to have a serious conversation about our relationship with alcohol, and no, let's not do it over a drink.

 

The truth lies just a little closer to home

The latest reality TV show to grace our screens, Exiles, debuts on Thursday. It follows the trials of six Irish men and women in Vancouver, Canada who, according to the pre-publicity, have emigrated there to start a new life.

Which is of course all well and good, except that at least two of those six are to be seen knocking around Dublin these days, with current Made in Chelsea star Nicola Hughes (inset) being the most high-profile, and a cynic might suggest that it was actually a case of "six Irish people go to Vancouver to film a TV show, then come home".

The actors may have been a long way from home - but RTE's description of the show is a long way detached from the truth.

 

Got egg all over your face? Blame Twitter

Having said no to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it seems author Marion Keyes (left) has decided to advocate it on the basis of geography.

Tweeting about those who dared to vote 'No' in Friday's referendum, she said: "I'll give you a tip! Move to Roscommon/ South Leitrim and pal around with your own kind."

Marion, in fairness, quickly apologised for the message, and Roscommon TD Luke Flanagan (inset), whose constituency of course is the only one to have voted no, offered his support.

"Guilty of tweeting sh**e from time 2 time myself. Twitter's immediacy can do that."

Good to see that Luke has once again displayed the innate politician's ability to blame something else for someone's actions. Because, of course, it's all Twitter's fault.

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