Sunday 17 December 2017

Radio: No side has no real case in this dismal campaign

A Vote No poster in the referendum campaign
A Vote No poster in the referendum campaign

Daragh McManus

It's standard practice for us too-cool gentlemen of the press to be cynical and dismissive of almost everything. Especially about politics, more especially referendums. And in that case, at least, we're right.

Whatever about elections - with their Eurovision-style excitement, at the finish, of votes and numbers, winners and losers, cheers and tears - referendums are duller than ditchwater that's really let its act slide and is just phoning it in by this stage.

There can be only one result, by definition: the thing is passed or not. So that's the semi-interesting business-end done for. The campaign itself, meanwhile, is reduced from a large cast of people and sub-plots, to one simple question: do you agree, or not?

Referendums, then, are usually woeful, repetitive, stupid, boring beyond belief. And this one, on same-sex marriage (the presidential age has barely got a mention, and is completely needless anyway) has been dismal.

The essential problem, for radio, is that there's no real reason to vote no. I say this, by the way, as a neutral; I'm not gay, I have no personal dog in this fight. It's none of my business whether other people get married. (As good a reason as any, I guess, to vote yes.)

There's no real reason to vote no. That's not to say people can't; this is a democracy, they can vote however they like, the same way people used to give a tick to obvious joke candidates like Screaming Lord Sutch or the PDs. But there's still no real reason for it.

There are reasons, or arguments at least, but they're not good ones. I've been listening to several "debates" - the term barely applies - across various stations, and the only No arguments I've heard are: God doesn't want it; something something traditional definition of marriage something something; and passing the amendment will somehow have a damaging effect on children, although it's all quite vague and not-really-explainable so let's not delve too forensically for fear the whole house of cards will come a-tumbling down.

It's not radio's fault there are no convincing arguments, or even thought-provoking ones; but it sure makes for tedious and pointless listening. Indeed, the only time this campaign sparks into life is when someone goes totally off the reservation, and that's worse than boring. I presume, for gay people, it's upsetting and infuriating.

This week saw a prime example of the sort of specious non-reasoning, and reliance on wack-a-doodle religious dictates, that has bedevilled - pun probably intended - the No side. North West Today (Ocean FM, Mon-Fri 9am) is a talk-show broadcasting to Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.

Host Niall Delaney had on Declan Meehan of Yes Equality Donegal, and Isaac Burke of Mandate for Marriage. The latter's first contribution was this: "God's mandate for marriage is between one man and one woman", which is about as successful an opening move as a chess player flicking his Queen off the board.

Where do you go from there? Do you bother replying, "God? Whose god? The old Celtic gods? Your Middle-Eastern god, which is only yours through historical happenstance?

And almost certainly doesn't exist, and if it did, probably wouldn't care about the romantic entanglements of mortals?"

Meehan was much more polite than I would or could have been. He tried to argue the matter.

It was a waste of time.

The "debate" degenerated when Burke kept dragging it back to "the sexual act", with a relentlessness bordering on obsession.

"All of the secondary school students across the country are fully aware of what one man and one woman do when they enter into a sexual act," he said.

"But what we're not really so clear on is what two men do. Maybe, Declan, you could enlighten us on that, what two men do when they enter into a sexual act?"

In some ways I don't blame the guy; as I've repeatedly said, there really is no argument.

You can't win this one with facts or evidence or even appeals to sentiment.

But this was still nauseating stuff. It's a joke, really, that ridiculous "balance" ruling which obliges Niall Delaney to give airtime to just about anyone.

Although an even better joke is the fact that people like Isaac Burke are the best friends the Yes campaign could have.

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