Sunday 23 October 2016

Taoiseach has one more important step to take on his journey to 'Yes'

Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with, Audrey Morgan (far left) and her husband Enda Morgan (far right), from Rathfarnham and their daughter Rachel (second from right) with her partner Marion Doherty, from Donegal, at the launch of Fine Gael’s Vote Yes campaign at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with, Audrey Morgan (far left) and her husband Enda Morgan (far right), from Rathfarnham and their daughter Rachel (second from right) with her partner Marion Doherty, from Donegal, at the launch of Fine Gael’s Vote Yes campaign at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin
Edel Tierney from Galway City who spoke at the launch of Fine Gael's Vote YES Equality for Everybody Campaign at the Gaiety Theatre

In many ways it was a shame that when the (metaphorical) curtain rose on the Taoiseach as he took centre stage in the Gaiety Theatre to launch his party's 'Yes' campaign in the Marriage Equality Referendum, that his powerful speech was heard by a small audience.

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In fairness, the upstairs room was stuffed to the doors with members of the public, campaigners, media and no fewer than six ministers - Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe, James Reilly and Simon Harris.

But the wave of emotion which rolled around the room as one speaker after another told their story or put their case forward, caught everyone unawares.

And Enda Kenny, who won't ever be troubling Cato for a place in the pantheon of gifted orators, on this occasion turned in a powerful performance.

"Like many people of my generation, I have had to travel my own personal journey to believing in and campaigning for marriage equality.

"Through the years, as more and more people were able to come out and as I worked with more openly gay men and women, I saw their lives, I listened to their stories, I witnessed the casual cruelty of cool indifference.

"I saw and understand their desire and demand for equality. As Taoiseach and leader of the Fine Gael Party I am working now for that equality - it's an equality in marriage that I believe will bring great happiness and joy not only to couples but to their families, to their siblings, to their parents and their grandparents.

"It's an equality in marriage that I believe will greatly enrich our society."

It was an endorsement which was both ringing and resolute - one which startlingly illustrates just how far the Taoiseach has come on his personal journey. It's less than three years since he famously almost fell over a flower pot, in July 2012, in his desire to duck media questions on his position on same-sex marriage.

And yet there he stood, a 64-year-old practising Catholic, unequivocally appealing for a 'Yes' vote. "I believe it can and will be the making of us as a nation," he said. He set the emotional tone for the speakers who followed.

Edel Tierney, one of the founders of Fine Gael's LGBT group, along with the event's master of ceremonies, Cork South-Central TD Jerry Buttimer, spoke of the isolation she felt.

"I thought I'd have to hide forever - I certainly didn't think I'd be coming out to the Taoiseach of the country."

She said that when she came out to her family, she was the first gay person her dad ever met. He was upset at the beginning, but "my dad came around, I'm his daughter, the apple of his eye. My dad may not understand the gay thing, but my dad accepts."

Edel was followed by father-of-four Enda Morgan, who spoke of how his eldest daughter Rachel came out to him and his wife when she was 27. "Rachel had lived in this bubble of anxiety and self-doubt for many years because she was gay," he said.

"After she came out, it was like a massive weight off her shoulders. She's confident, she's happy."

Many in the room were visibly moved, including Mr Varadkar, who became the first openly gay Irish minister when he came out to the public last January. When he addressed the audience - introduced by a cheeky Gerry Buttimer, who prompted laughter when he said, "I'm pleased not to be the only gay in the Fine Gael village" - he was bluntly honest.

"A few months ago, I didn't feel as passionate about this as I do now and that's probably because I'm not involved in a long-term relationship. But I do know if this referendum is defeated when the votes are counted on May 23, I'll be absolutely devastated," he declared.

"It'll be absolutely worse than losing my election or losing my seat."

Then there were questions from the media, and once more Enda's eternal bete noire - the notion of a live TV debate - was trotted into the spotlight. Would the Taoiseach be prepared to participate? Once again, as he's done on other occasions when this question arose, he took evasive action and reverted to his windy ways.

"I've no intention of turning it into a party political debate. It's not that kind of referendum.

"It's the power of the stories of ordinary men and women that will transform our society," he added, before taking a swipe at some elements of the 'No' side.

"The 'No' campaign is deliberately involving issues that are not at issue here".

While it could be argued that a Taoiseach wading into a TV debate on an issue which is a matter of a personal rather than a political choice could prove a massive distraction, perhaps he should grasp the nettle this time.

For one thing, he has a comprehensive knowledge of the arguments for a 'Yes' vote. But more importantly, when he speaks of the power of stories, the narrative of his own road to 'Yes' is compelling, and could have a profound effect on voters of his own generation.

The Taoiseach now stands on that road and declares: "Equal rights is all about the everyday lives of ordinary men and ordinary women."

As any LGBT person knows, coming out requires courage. Enda needs to find his own, to shout 'Yes' from the rooftops.

Irish Independent

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