Saturday 1 October 2016

Sporting elite close ranks to support equality

Published 14/05/2015 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with boxer and Fine Gael councillor Kenny Egan, lending their support to the ‘Yes for Equality’ campaign with other sports stars at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with boxer and Fine Gael councillor Kenny Egan, lending their support to the ‘Yes for Equality’ campaign with other sports stars at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Fresh from baking scones for our delectation on national television, the Taoiseach was on a roll.

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An event amongst some of the biggest names in Irish sport at the Aviva Stadium to highlight the 'Yes for Equality' campaign saw him in the giddiest of spirits.

"Fourteen-hundred for the yellow house," Enda bellowed out to Defence Minister Simon Coveney, as he arrived to join the photo line-up.

It could be cryptic cabinet-talk for something crucial. Or maybe he really has cut a terrible deal on a piece of property.

Full of highjinks for the cameras, he held up a little polystyrene 'Yes' and took on boxer Kenny Egan in a sparring match.

Though at least with it being merely a photocall, he spared us the speech about how this is the best little country in which to score a point - political or otherwise.

Which he could easily have done because we were amongst the esteemed sporting elite.

There was Olympic runner Eamonn Coghlan - who had put his address book to use in organising the event; there was former world snooker champion Ken Doherty; Olympic sailor Annalise Murphy; former rugby great Shane Byrne; current Ireland ladies' rugby stars Sophie Spence and Ailis Egan; Silver Olympic medallist, boxer Kenneth Egan and Gold Olympic medallist Michael Carruth. And singer Brian Kennedy - who was wearing long cycling pants and explained that he had sung at the rugby in the Aviva several times.

So that clears that up.

All were there to encourage a 'Yes' vote in the fast-looming referendum.

Brian Kennedy feels it will be a close-run thing.

"I think it will be close. A lot of people are being sold a lot of misinformation," he said.

Like all referenda, this one has had plenty of "muck and fear", he said, adding: "Hopefully the truth will out."

Eamonn Coghlan, who last month revealed how he was the proud father of a gay man, said that as a Fine Gael senator, he wanted to show his support for the campaign and to show that "sport says Yes".

He revealed that even when starting out in his own career, the sporting world was much more inclusive than was wider society.

"We all knew a number of athletes who were gay and lesbian and it wasn't a taboo," he said.

"You knew but you didn't talk about it.

"But then you would've seen sportspeople who might withdraw from the team environment because of their sexuality," he revealed.

Once his son came out as gay, he was "no different", said Mr Coghlan.

"Why should I, as a parent, object to my son getting married to the one he loves?" he asked.

However, Mr Coghlan said he "wouldn't be overly bullish" in calling a 'Yes' vote because he said he knows there will be "a silent group who will go off and vote 'No'".

Rugby stars Sophie Spence and Ailis Egan said they were delighted to support the 'Yes for Equality' campaign.

"You've got to support equal rights," said Sophie.

"People are always accepted for who they are in the sporting world - that's just the way it is," said Ailis.

Simon Coveney said the 'No' side had put forward bogus arguments and said the message had to go out that this was about civil marriage, not religious marriage.

He rejected the idea of an urban/rural divide and said it was the first referendum he could recall that was not a party issue.

But much like Kenny Egan's sucker punch, he thinks it will be a close shave, warning that "15pc to 20pc of people can decide whether this goes through or not".

Irish Independent

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