Saturday 23 September 2017

RTÉ's Fair City criticised for 'monster baby' plot

Kevin Moore

A retired RTÉ journalist has complained to Justice Minister John O'Donoghue, that Montrose's popular soap opera, Fair City, is creating hostility towards disabled people.

And he is demanding that the Minister amend the Incitement to Hatred Act to ban a storyline in which a handicapped unborn baby with Down's Syndrome was called a "monster".

Nicholas Lowry, who worked on radio news, has been joined by his wife, Mary, a nurse, in writing to Mr O'Donoghue to seek action as part of his planned review of the legislation.

As parents of a young man with Down's Syndrome, they told the Minister that they were "appalled" when Fair City's Kay McCoy (actress Sheila McWade) called her unborn baby a "monster". However, the Belfast-born star and Queen's University law graduate has defended the story-line and the "sensitive way" in which it was handled by series producer Niall Matthews.

While Kay opted for an abortion in Britain, husband Malachy, a former priest, opposed this. The outcome is an on-going strain on their marriage and partnership in running a pub.

Mr and Mrs Lowry, who live in Blackrock, Co Dublin, stated in their letter to Mr O'Donoghue that it was "disgraceful" that a Down's Syndrome unborn baby was referred to as a "monster".

They want it outlawed under the 1989 Incitement to Hatred Act, which covers "colour, race, religion, ethic origin, national origin, the travelling community and sexual orientation."

In their letter, Mr and Mrs Lowry pointed out: "Incitement against the disabled is obviously as serious, and should be as unlawful, as incitement to hatred on any other grounds."

"It was a gross dereliction of duty on the part of RTÉ to have screened this tendentious episode, which can only cast doubt on the humanity of the unborn disabled. We believe that the definition of hatred in the Act should be amended to include hatred on account of disability and that legislation should be enacted to prevent such transmissions."

Sheila McWade told The Sunday Independent: "We live in a democracy where we have free speech. And as far as I am concerned, as an individual actor within Fair City, we also have that right."

She believed that what the script and the performances by herself and co-star, Gerry Byrne (Malachy) brought out was "the absolute tragedy of the situation" and did so "sensitively".

In the storyline, Kay, in her early forties, becomes pregnant. Against Malachy's wishes, she has an amniocentesis which reveals a condition, trisomy-13, meaning that the baby will be mentally and physically handicapped and probably will not survive long after birth.

Ms McWade said: "Both characters had diametrically opposed views on this very personal and tragic issue. And they were very genuinely-held views. But they reached diametrically, different, opposing conclusions.

"And, because of the time constraints involved in a woman's biological make up, she has to make a quicker decision than he does, a more tragic decision than he does. And she goes ahead and does what she has to do. It is not a black and white issue."

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