Tuesday 17 September 2019

Don't cloud Yes triumph with these witch-hunts

A media mob attacked Micheal Martin in support of Senator Averil Power(Niall Carson/PA Wire)
A media mob attacked Micheal Martin in support of Senator Averil Power(Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, said Edmund Burke. Let me give the same advice to a minority of gay activists.

As a member of Seanad Eireann, I made one of the strongest speeches for civil partnership and supported same-sex marriage here.

So I trust most gay people will accept I am in good faith when I warn that a few gay activists have been going too far in retrospective recriminations about the recent referendum.

Last week, they joined a media mob attacking Micheal Martin in support of Senator Averil Power. Conflating an internal party row with recriminations about the referendum is risking a backlash for three reasons.

First, like the country as a whole, every political party was divided on a ratio of roughly two to one. Enda Kenny and Martin had to respect the right of their members to vote No in good conscience.

In spite of this, Martin led from the front - and the public know it. Is he now to be punished for the views of FF members who held a minority view?

Second, recriminatory activists should remember that the majority Yes vote is not the same as the gay Yes vote. Most Yes voters want a healing, not a witch-hunt.

Finally, while rushing to criticise Martin, the same activists have, so far, been silent about Gerry Adams brazen showboating at the celebrations on the balcony of Dublin Castle.

Mind you, gay leaders grabbed by Adams didn't seem to have much choice. Watching Adams doing a Lyndon B Johnson on Panti Bliss, I was reminded of Haughey's hijack handshake with Stephen Roche.

True, the Dublin Castle balcony was not the place to challenge Adams about his recent deplorable and inaccurate marks about Mairia Cahill being raped by an uncle, Martin Morris. But they could have challenged him later.

So how should gay activists handle their historic victory? David Norris, who did not put a foot wrong during the campaign, provides a perfect role model.

In all his post-referendum interviews, Norris praised Yes voters for "doing the decent thing". He was following Aristotle's advice on how a magnanimous person should behave.

"He is not prone to marvel or to remember evils, since it is proper to a magnanimous person not to nurse memories, especially not of evils, but to overlook them."

Mention of Aristotle reminds me of a mordant missive from John A Murphy claiming the sage would almost certainly have been a No voter.

He cites a letter from Pat Cronin, retired lecturer in classics in UCC, quoting Aristotle as believing heterosexual marriages ensure the stability of the state itself.

I wonder. After all, Leonidas and his 300 largely homosexual warriors saved Greek democracy at Thermopylae.

Let me finish my referendum-related remarks by advising joyous gay voters to act on Churchill''s advice: "In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity."

* * * * *

Magnanimity brings me naturally to Bill O'Herlihy. Because Bill had not one begrudging bone in his body.

Bill's life was a game of two halves: a short first half spent in television current affairs, followed by a longer second half spent in sport with, alas, not enough extra time.

My memories of Bill are mostly from the intense three years 1969 to 1971, from his start on Newsbeat to his famous stint on 7 Days.

But he was formed long before that by his family, the Cork Examiner and the city of Cork. Let me flesh out a few things not fully dealt with elsewhere.

First, Bill was a reporter of the old school. He never went to university. Indeed he started work at 15 in a more edgy educational milieu, that of the Cork Examiner.

But his solid grounding at Glasheen National

School and at St Finbarr's College, Farrenferris (John A Murphy also taught there), helped him stand firm when the lawyers at the Moneylending Tribunal tried to browbeat him.

Second, Bill helped invent a whole genre of Irish comedy that has lasted down to our own day. It began one day in 1969 in the South Mall, Cork, when cameraman Joe McCarthy got Bill to 'interview' two local actors, Michael Twomey and Frank Duggan, about smoking and politics.

Developed by two other Corkmen, Dick Hill and John Condon, scripted by Michael Twomey, these political sketches became a national hit on Hall's Pictorial Weekly.

Behind them lay two traditions: the Cork Opera House pantomimes packed with political comment, and the 'Slag' shows at the Group Theatre by the gifted Cork satirist Colum Fehilly.

After 50 years, I can still remember Fehilly's dim rugby player being interviewed for a plum insurance job on the South Mall. "So you play for Persecution? Eh No, Constipation."

That Cork tradition of political slagging was continued by Niall Tobin, Dermot Morgan, and today by the Apres Match team.

Finally, as John Bruton reminded us, in the 1980s, when there was no shortage of sneaking regarders, Bill made no secret of his Constitutional nationalism, fostered by his father and by the Cork Examiner.

A Redmondite paper in 1916, the Cork Examiner was a paragon in the political freedom it extended to its staff. Going against the grain of many Cork employers, the paper gave my printer grand-uncles, Thomas and Michael Harris, their jobs back after their return from Frongoch.

Armed with this superb professional and moral training, Bill joined 7 Days, the most ferocious current affairs team in RTE ever.

I do not use the 'f' word lightly. We were literally learning how to make television programmes as we put them on air.

As Veronica Deasy, married to legendary lighting cameraman Shay Deasy, reminded me at Bill's funeral, "It was just like the early days of Hollywood."

Editorial discussions could be edgy. PA Nuala Barron recalls researcher Susan Denham, (now Chief Justice) and Bill barely looking up from their typewriters as a producer and editor locked in combat, crashed through a glass partition.

Sport helped Bill heal the wound of the Moneylending Tribunal. But he never lost the boyish vulnerability that was the secret of his success.

Producer John D Brien recalls Bill in his early sports days, gazing after a bus with the beaming faces of Dunphy and Giles and the caption, "The Dream Team", and asking him wistfully, "But aren't I in the dream team too?"

Now and forever Bill.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam uasal.

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