Thursday 27 November 2014

'I've been put on trial over my beliefs'

In light of the Pantigate controversy, John Waters tells Niamh Horan he has been left afraid to go out at night

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

John Waters has described sleepless nights, losing a stone in weight and how he is afraid to go into Dublin's city centre at night in the wake of the Pantigate controversy.

In his first interview since the event, the controversial columnist also defended his €40,000 settlement with RTE – saying he believes he could have received €4m from the national broadcaster if the libel proceedings had gone to a full hearing.

"What is the great crime in taking money off the state broadcaster?" he asked, in an interview near his holiday home in Sligo town yesterday.

"Let me tell you this, if this had gone on, it isn't €40,000, I would have got €4m out of RTE."

Mr Waters also took the opportunity to reinforce his stance on gay marriage and adoption.

"This is about free speech. It is about the rights of people to speak about what is important without being demonised," he said.

Waters told the Sunday Independent he has been left fearing for his personal safety.

"I won't go in to Dublin city centre at night. When you have that kind of toxicity generated out of nothing, what are you going to do? It's not worth it."

"I was walking down the street and a guy on a bicycle shouted 'you f***ing homophobe' at me before cycling on. I was in a coffee shop on another occasion and a woman waddled over to me with a pram and told me I should be ashamed of myself before walking off. They are cowards, they shout something and keep walking, they don't want to engage.

"I was frightened almost in a metaphysical way, that people could be so full of hatred. That, in accusing me of hatred, they could manifest a hatred infinitely greater than anything I could possibly imagine."

Asked if he had become depressed as a result of the national backlash, he said, "I don't believe in depression. There's no such thing. It's an invention. It's bullshit," he said, "it's a cop out."

He also described how the backlash had taken a personal toll on his physical health: "I lost nearly a stone in the first few weeks of this. I didn't sleep."

Mr Waters said he gave serious consideration to quitting journalism and is still considering leaving Ireland to work elsewhere.

"I have no friends in the media anymore."

Describing the lowest point, he said it was the realisation that no one would speak out in his defence.

"You have a certain hope that somebody, somewhere knows you for who you are, you kind of have some kind of naive hope that one of these people are going to stand up and say 'hang on, this is wrong, this is not this guy' and that moment never came."

In a passionate interview, Waters also defended previous statements he made on gay marriage and adoption which have landed him in hot water.

Questioning gay adoption, he drew parallels with two brothers taking paternal responsibility of a child.

"If two brothers who love each other in a particular way decide 'we would like to adopt a child' this society would regard that as an absurdity, they would laugh them out of court.

"Yet if two men who are involved in a sexual relationship go forward to adopt a child we are told now, that should be okay? I find that really hard to understand, intellectually. Why is it that it is okay but it is not okay for two brothers or two straight men? I think that's a legitimate point."

He went on to describe as 'satirical' the fight to introduce gay marriage, when the core of the traditional family unit remains so broken.

"There is something fundamentally wrong to go off then and to come up with a peripheral issue, which gay marriage is in my view, and to deal with that first, when the raw bloody core of our family law and our family life in this country . . . that is satire. It is a mockery of reality to actually deal with something so peripheral and marginal, when there is such a wound at the heart of our culture. So I make no apologies for calling it a satire. It is satirical."

He defended his use of the word 'buggery', questioning why anyone would take offence to the term.

"People are selectively finding things offensive to suit themselves. But what is so offensive about the word buggery? I mean it's a phenomenon, it's a word to describe a physical function. My definition is anal penetration by men. It is very clear what it means. It is a term to describe a physical function, end of story. Why is it offensive? If the act is not offensive to people, why should the word to describe it be offensive?"

Speaking about the international attention the controversy had attracted, he questioned the interference of high-profile figures from both and home and abroad.

"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Madonna but people should mind their own business. Just like Pat Rabbitte should mind his own business.

"He chose to intervene in this at a critical moment on an entirely one-sided basis. He is the Minister for Communications, I was on the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) for three years while he was minister, we are the authority, the people who form and implement policy. Not once in that time did that minister come to sit at our table to discuss anything with us. So I would suggest that he does his job rather than interfering in issues that had nothing to do with him."

Mr Waters said he feels as though he has been "tarred and feathered" and "put on trial" for his beliefs.

"Enda Kenny used to be against gay marriage and now he is not. Not one journalist has asked him to explain the trajectory of his change of heart."

On his history of legal disputes and settlements he said each one: "went to the very core of my being and my spirit."

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