News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

How radio discussion became a spat

Published 02/02/2014 | 02:30

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Breda O'Brien
Breda O'Brien
Colm O'Gorman
Colm O'Gorman

Breda O'Brien, of the Iona Institute, and Colm O'Gorman, of Amnesty Ireland, appeared on The Late Debate on RTE Radio One.

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The programme, hosted by Audrey Carville, began with a discussion about the recent Saturday Night Show/Miss Panti brouhaha . . .

Audrey Carville: "Before we get into the substantive discussion tonight, I want to mention the fact that, over the past number of days, RTE issued an apology and made a financial settlement to you, Breda, and to a number of others, including the Iona Institute and this followed allegations made on the Saturday Night Show, on television two weeks ago, during an interview with Rory O'Neill, who's better known as drag queen, Panti Bliss. Now RTE have not issued a statement to us about this matter for our programme tonight. But Breda, as far as you're concerned, has a line now been drawn under this?"

Breda O'Brien: "Yes, I think it's really important that we have a rational and a calm debate and that people don't reduce it to hurling insults at people to close down debate. I think RTE let its standards slip in that regard but they were big enough to come forward and to apologise and I'm certainly very pleased with that, very pleased to accept the apology and move forward."

Carville: "Colm, O'Gorman, as an openly gay man, what do you make of all of this?"

Colm O'Gorman: "Well to be honest, I'm, I'm, well, to put it simply, I'm rather stunned by where all of this has gotten to, and I don't understand how we're ever going to have a reasoned, or reasonable debate, if we can't challenge each other's viewpoints and even begin to question what those viewpoints might be based upon. As it happens, I didn't see the programme but when I saw it being reported, and some of the comments, that were being attributed to Rory, in the programme, I was lucky enough to grab before it was, on foot of legal action by Breda and others, removed and censored from the public airwaves.

"So I went into it and I listened to it and I have to say, I thought it was one of the most considered, inclusive, insightful explorations of how we are all capable of holding views that are discriminatory and that can cause us to make statements that are hurtful, that are damaging, that are destructive of other people. And what I heard Rory say is that we're all capable of holding homophobic, or racist, or xenophobic views and that we occasionally need to check ourselves, now I think that's a really important discussion that we need to have.

"You know, to be honest, I don't understand why anyone feels enormously insulted by being accused of being homophobic. I mean I'm a gay man and I've certainly been guilty of holding homophobic views – both views that I held about myself but also views I held about other sections of the LGBT community and other people who live lives in ways I perhaps didn't understand."

Carville: "You're saying we're all capable of being biased?"

O'Gorman: "We're all capable of bias. We're all capable of holding views that are based on discriminatory views, or internalised bigotry that we've taken on in other ways, and I simply do not understand how challenging people, to examine the basis upon which they put forward certain arguments is defamatory and, you know, equally, quite frankly, I don't think . . . People have a right, I think, to express views that other people might be offended by.

Nobody has a right not to be offended. And I will defend Breda's right and anybody else's right to say things that I find offensive but I think I also have a right to name them as offensive and to seek to have a clear, rational, reasonable discussion about that."

Carville: "Do you want to come back on that, Breda?"

O'Brien: "If it had been a case that it was talking about, in general, about all of us examining our consciences, I don't think that I would have been, and other people would have been, in discussions with RTE. What it was about was naming a specific individual who was not there to defend herself and another individual who was not there to defend himself. It was claiming bad faith on their part, that they were, that my position, which is that a child, where possible, should be reared by their own mother and father, is now deemed homophobic commentary.

"RTE obviously felt that they had something to apologise for and the reason that they did so is because the legal definition of homophobia is that you have a fear and loathing, and suspicion of people who are gay, which is an appalling thing to throw at somebody. And I . . . it was then compounded later on by people in the Irish media, in their columns, saying that people who are against marriage equality, if you want to use that term, that people who are against that, are people who are responsible for gay people being beaten, murdered, fired from their jobs, and that there should be a defamation watchdog set up so that people couldn't express these views.

"Now this is very far from a rational and calm debate. This is actually going way into the territory of saying that we will declare your views out of order before you even begin. And I don't think the Irish people want that. Like, during referendums regarding abortion, people were immoderate on my side of the fence and I always called them out when they were, when they used appalling expressions. I think we have a right in this debate to have the same level of respect, mutual respect and that you don't label people and that you don't dismiss their good faith.

"And, really, I think, I came here tonight to talk about Catholic education, I think it would be really good if we got onto that debate."

O'Gorman: "Well . . ."

Carville: "Just briefly, Colm."

O'Gorman: "Yeah, absolutely. I do think this has been a very, very damaging incident, and I really do think RTE needs to explain the basis upon which they felt entitled or required to pay damages from taxpayers' funds on the basis of this. If this was indeed defamatory, then indeed the rationale or the basis, upon which RTE believes this was defamatory, needs to be explained, and I really wonder how we're going to have a debate on an upcoming referendum on marriage equality, for instance, if those of us on a particular side of it can't challenge the views of others that we believe are based on discriminatory or bigoted viewpoints. Now in this debate I am routinely accused of holding bigoted viewpoints towards the other side. My response to that if I'm accused of being anti-religious or anti-Catholic is not to go, "That's appalling, that's insulting, how can you suggest that?" It's actually to sit down and reflect whether I am carrying such a bias, and I think that's a reasonable, mature and responsible thing to do.

O'Brien: "I have no problem at all..."

O'Gorman: "And on the basis of this settlement, are we next going to see somebody who says for instance, that I believe a woman's place is in the home, or that I believe that migrants who seek to come here from Africa are simply trying to exploit us and are culturally different, will it be defamatory to accuse them of being misogynistic or xenophobic, is that the basis upon which we are going to move forward?"

Carville: "Ok just very briefly..."

O'Brien: "No it won't be very brief and that is not fair because he has just exposed what is going on here. He is saying that a child has a right where possible to be raised by her own mother and father in the same light as people who are misogynistic...

O'Gorman: "I didn't say that."

O'Brien: "Colm, you've spoken for a long time on this..."

O'Gorman: "I didn't say that though..."

O'Brien: "Am I going to be allowed to speak..."

O'Gorman: "Sure, but I didn't say that..."

O'Brien: "May I speak..?

O'Gorman: "Yeah, of course..."

O'Brien: "This debate was supposed to be about Catholic education, not about me saying that I have stopped beating my wife, if you pardon the expression. It's supposed to be about, you cannot have a rational debate, it's the same, you cannot have a rational debate where people's good faith is impugned and that is what is going on here, and instead of actually looking at trying to create an atmosphere where people can speak to each other in reasonable terms I would never call you a bigot, I would never assume bad faith on your part, I have never and if I ever have, I apologise now for it, to my knowledge I have never accused somebody of bad faith in a debate in any debate that I have been in, I simply want the same for me and for people that feel the same way as I do and we cannot have that if people are going to be defamed when they open their mouths".

O'Gorman: "Just very, very briefly to say one thing, I don't assume bad faith on your part Breda, that's the crucial point that you're missing, for me to ask...

O'Brien: "Colm it's not about you, it's about what happened on The Saturday Night Show..."

O'Gorman: "It's for me to ask that when other people express views that I find gravely offensive and gravely wounding that I ask them to examine the basis upon which and to reflect upon the basis upon which, I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about in this debate generally the basis on which they make those comments..."

O'Brien: "I have no problem about that Colm, what I do have a problem with is when you step and say I don't have the right to a good name."

O'Gorman: "You have your right to a good name and you have your right to express your opinions and I have the right to express my opinion on your opinions."

Irish Independent

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