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Spat on for being gay: TDs reveal homophobia pain

TWO openly gay Coalition TDs have spoken out about being victims of homophobia.

In an unprecedented contribution in the Dail, Labour Party TD John Lyons and Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer told of being called "a queer, a fag, a gay" and being "beaten and spat on".

The Government TDs were speaking in the Dail in a debate on the RTE decision to pay €85,000 in settlement over the 'Pantigate' homophobia comments made last month on 'The Saturday Night Show'.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said broadcast restrictions are to be eased to allow for more hard-hitting debate.

Mr Lyons spoke about being subjected to abuse.

"Two people in here know what homophobia feels like, what it is like to called a queer, a fag, a gay.

"Just before Christmas I walked from my house around to the Centra where a bunch of teenagers called me gay or some other name they call us. I thought I was living in a society where this stuff is no longer acceptable," he said.

Mr Lyons said campaigner and drag artist Rory O'Neill, who performs under the stage name Panti Bliss, challenged people on such issues on the RTE programme.

"When it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it must be a duck. RTE was completely wrong and bang out of order, when it got numerous types of legal advice saying perhaps it should not give out any sort of compensation. RTE got it wrong," he said.

Mr Buttimer also said RTE got it "completely wrong" and referred to comments made by Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh.

"This week in this Oireachtas we were told as gay people that it is a matter of 'social re-engineering' by the 'gay ideological movement'. I am quoting from a member of the Seanad.

"I speak not just as a gay person but as a member of society who wants to be treated equally. I have been beaten, spat on, chased, harassed and mocked, like Deputy Lyons, because of who I am.

"I was born with a gift given to me. I have spent most of my life struggling and am finally at a place in my own country, which I love, to be accepted," he said.

"The support from my colleagues in this House and from the Ceann Comhairle is a demonstration of how our society has come forward but in a tolerant, respectful debate I will not allow people who spout hatred and intolerance to go unchecked."

The controversy follows comments on the RTE programme, which drew complaints from John Waters, another journalist Breda O'Brien, and members of the Catholic think-tank, the Iona Institute, and was quickly settled by RTE for a total €85,000 payout.

Seven TDs, drawn from Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein and Independents, all castigated RTE's decision.

Independent TD, Catherine Murphy, also directed her comments at journalist John Waters, who received €40,000 in the RTE payout.

She told the Dail she believed he had a conflict of interest, as he had been a member of RTE controlling authority, the Broadcast Authority of Ireland, and should repay the money he received.

Sinn Fein TD for Sligo-North Leitrim, James Colreavy, joined others in calls for the station to reveal the legal advice they received in the case.

The Communications Minister said the complainants were opinion formers and should be capable of more robust debate. He said RTE had obligations as a public service broadcaster but was also a commercial organisation and had acted in this matter on independent legal advice.

As minister he had no right to intervene in editorial decisions at RTE. But he intended to change the Broadcasting Act to prevent broadcasts giving 'undue offence' rather than simply 'offence' which was too stringent a standard to be upheld.

John Downing Political Correspondent

Irish Independent