Saturday 22 October 2016

O'Neill furore proves how the ultimate example of Western privilege is in taking offence

Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill (left) and assistant coach Roy Keane during a training camp at Fota Island Resort, Cork. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill (left) and assistant coach Roy Keane during a training camp at Fota Island Resort, Cork. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

When Martin O'Neill joined broadcaster Matt Cooper for an evening of gossip at the Bon Voyage to the Boys In Green event in the Cork Opera House last week, few could have expected that what was an evening of football-related opinions would suddenly cast a shadow of homophobia over the team's French jaunt.

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When O'Neill mentioned a trip he took to the Super Bowl with Roy Keane, he joked that they hadn't gone exclusively together because he didn't want other people to think he and Keane were 'queer'.

As insults go, it not only sounds like something you'd normally expect to hear in a playground, but something you'd normally expect to hear in a playground in the 1950s.

It was undeniably clumsy; an unfortunate use of a word which, ironically, is now only ever really used by gay rights activists who have reclaimed the phrase for themselves.

Thankfully, sensible people saw the minor gaffe for what it was, and it was refreshing to see one leading gay rights group issue a statement, saying: "Ah, look, Martin is a man of his time who sometimes says things which look odd to the rest of us but we're sure he meant no harm. We're more interested in hoping the team have a good tournament than anything else."

Actually, no.

That's not what any of the groups who popped out of the woodwork to condemn O'Neill's remarks said.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) demanded that he apologise to all the LGBTQI sportspeople in the country (the 'I' in LGBTQI stands for 'Intersex', as far as I can recall, but that may have changed by the time you read this) he has insulted, while other groups were quick to issue the always sinister demand that he receive "education" on the issue, like a common thought criminal.

I doubt anyone, including O'Neill, would try to defend the use of the word "queer". It was particularly jarring when set in the context of an otherwise urbane and ferociously intelligent manager and, also, its archaic nature is striking. After all, since the gay community has quite correctly reappropriated the phrase for their own ironic use, it is simply no longer used as widely as the pejorative it once was.

But while plenty of people must have winced when they heard him say the word in the Opera House (it didn't make the broadcast version of the event on Today FM), the speed with which gay rights groups and the usual rag bag collection of worthies on Twitter jumped on O'Neill did their own cause no favours.

Simply put, people are sick of being lectured by special interest groups who seem to feel everyone else must constantly watch what they say lest some offence, inadvertent or otherwise, be committed.

O'Neill's comments may have raised some eyebrows and dropped some jaws, but they did not contribute to youth suicide, as one person claimed, nor is the man responsible for anything that happens to anyone else.

Some activists, like Colm O'Gorman, are simply mystified that many people don't understand what the fuss is about, while Una Mullally, the champion of Ireland's Social Justice Warriors, angrily huffed: "Bullshit apology from Martin O'Neill. It's not an 'inappropriate' comment. He used an ignorant homophobic slur. Gross."

Mullally's outrage is telling because it also raises an important question - just what do these people want?

Do they want him to fly a rainbow flag? Do they want him to get down on his knees and beg forgiveness? Do they want him sacked? After all, we're seeing plenty of American sportspeople lose their jobs because they have annoyed a special interest group. Or, more pertinently, do they even know what they want anymore? After all, it's hard to claim you're a uniquely and pervasively persecuted minority in the first country in the world to vote for gay marriage.

O'Neill made a cringe-inducing remark and he has apologised, although that's one apology which is never going to win any awards for tearful sincerity. In fact, one could almost argue that his apology was about as sincere as the outrage which prompted it.

In the rational world, that would be enough and everyone would move on.

But we are not living in a rational world. We are living in a world where people are obsessed with the ultimate example of 'Western Privilege' - taking offence.

This luxury of high dudgeon is denied to the vast majority of people on this planet. But here in Ireland, we have an ever growing army of spoiled, pampered activists who have nothing better to do than scour the internet or news pages looking for some minor irritating remark that they can then conflate into a controversy.

Frankly, I am far more concerned about our prospects next week against Sweden than I am about the easily bruised sensitivities of middle-class misery mongers.

I imagine the rest of the country is, too.

Irish Independent

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