Friday 30 September 2016

David Quinn: If Roses want to show how 'right on' they are, just stick to Twitter

Published 26/08/2016 | 02:30

Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins. Photo: Domnick Walsh
Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Here is how the annual Rose of Tralee festival describes itself on its website: "The Rose of Tralee International Festival is one of Ireland's largest and longest-running festivals, celebrating 57 years in 2016. The heart of the festival is the selection of the Rose of Tralee, which brings young women of Irish descent from around the world to Kerry, Ireland, for a global celebration of Irish culture. The festival also includes street entertainment, carnivals, live concerts, theatre, circus, markets, funfair, fireworks and Rose Parades."

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A video advertising the event says it is a "Family Festival". Aside from the Rose of Tralee contest itself, the video shows people on roller-coasters, people playing music and dances and games, and parades going by.

In short, it is supposed to be entertainment first and foremost, something that at heart is charming and stereotypically Irish in the same way 'The Quiet Man' is charming and corny and stereotypically Irish, which is the main reason the film is still loved by millions of people.

The Rose of Tralee festival is mocked by the 'right-on' crowd in the same way and for the same reasons Daniel O'Donnell is mocked; precisely because it is so 'Oirish'.

But on Monday night the 'right-on' crowd were delighted with the Rose of Tralee because one of the contestants, the Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins, voiced support for an abortion referendum and then appeared on social media, with the contest still ongoing, in a 'Repeal the Eighth' T-shirt and giving the world a thumbs-up.

Parkins is a journalist with the ABC. I remember the ABC from my time in Australia. It is the equivalent of the BBC and RTÉ, and is regularly attacked for its left-leaning bias. If there is a single journalist employed by the ABC who is pro-life, not pro-choice, it would be a miracle.

Parkins was being interviewed by Dáithí Ó Sé when she began to talk about domestic violence and then segued from there into talking about her wish that Ireland should hold a referendum to repeal the 'Eighth', that is, the protection our Constitution gives to unborn children.

She received a considerable amount of applause for this from sections of the audience, although anecdotal evidence suggests an awful lot of people don't know what the 'Eighth' is and don't know "reproductive rights" means abortion, among other things.

But if Parkins got a decent round of applause from some members of the audience, she got resounding and sustained applause on Twitter.

She was delighted with herself, hence the picture she posted of herself wearing the pro-abortion T-shirt.

That she received such applause on social media is entirely predictable. Those who are on Twitter because they are interested in politics practically live, eat and breathe politics, and the politics on display is almost invariably left-wing. This is why, for example, the Labour Party has far more Twitter followers than Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil despite having far less electoral support.

And of course they were delighted with Parkins. The Rose of Tralee is quintessentially 'Middle Ireland'. If you can persuade Middle Ireland to support abortion, then the Eighth Amendment is toast. What better way to reach them than by having a contestant on the Rose of Tralee voice support for abortion in front a television audience of hundreds of thousands of people?

The irony is that hardly any of Parkins's supporters on Twitter would have been watching the show because it would be far too naff for them.

After the incident, RTÉ's Mary Kennedy, who is chair of the festival judging panel, said the contest is not the place to air opinions about abortion. The festival is supposed to be apolitical.

However, the festival's chief executive, Anthony O'Gara, thought otherwise. Reacting to what Parkins did, he said: "I think it's a great thing that…if someone has an opinion, they will express that opinion."

Ok, so if that's the attitude, then presumably O'Gara won't mind if other contestants feel free to air their political opinions on the show as well from now on?

Will we have contestants next year declaring, 'Free Palestine', or 'End Austerity', or 'Open Borders'?

Neither the organisers nor the twitterati can complain if an entrant says something in support of the Eighth Amendment. It might be a midwife who states that both mothers and their babies should receive equal care and that is why she supports the right to life of all, born and unborn alike.

Or will a person holding these views be screened out? Is this why the contestants were asked for their opinions on abortion in group sessions beforehand?

If it is the case that O'Gara is now happy for the contestants to voice political opinions, then he might get more than he bargained for because it will change the character of the contest, and not in a good way.

If the contestants want to show which of them is the most 'right-on' and attracts the loudest applause on social media, then the contest will start to lose its Middle Ireland appeal. It won't be a harmless piece of family entertainment anymore because it will become divisive.

Politics by its nature is divisive which is why, contrary to the opinion of political obsessives, some spaces should be free of it. The Rose of Tralee festival ought to be one of them.

So next year, let's leave the politics out of the Rose of Tralee.

Irish Independent

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