Tuesday 24 April 2018

Sinead Kissane: Valerie Mulcahy may decide to leave Ireland if 'Yes' campaign fails

Valerie Mulcahy says the reaction she's got while canvassing has been 'mainly positive but there has been some negative reaction'
Valerie Mulcahy says the reaction she's got while canvassing has been 'mainly positive but there has been some negative reaction'
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Valerie Mulcahy got the "yes" she was hoping for last summer when she asked her girlfriend Meg Blyth to marry her. They will exchange vows and rings at a civil partnership ceremony in Cork at the end of June after six years together.

But this ceremony won't equate to full constitutional equality and protection compared to a marriage between two people of the opposite sex. So, in some ways, the tone of their special day will be decided by the outcome of one day this month.

I spoke with Valerie this week. But I didn't ask the f Or about her work with the newly-formed Women's GPA. Or about Cork's league final against Galway tomorrow week. Or about her going for her 10th All-Ireland medal this summer.

These are all topics worth talking about. But this piece isn't about Valerie the Gaelic footballer. It's not every day that marriage equality is the theme you want to talk about with one of our sports stars.

It's not every day that one of our sports stars talks about sport helping her "to get out of her own head" as she dealt with being gay when she was younger. It's not every day that one of our sports stars talks openly about her relationship with her partner.

Then again, Friday, May 22 won't be like any other day for Valerie.


It is on this day that you will have a say in deciding Valerie's future when voting takes place for the marriage equality referendum. It proposes to amend the Constitution by inserting a new section stating that "marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".

Earlier this year, Valerie became the first high-profile female GAA player to publicly say she is gay when she took part in the RTE documentary 'Coming Out Of The Curve'. Even though Valerie learned a long time ago to "accept herself", she was still taken aback by the huge positive reaction that she got.

I have always found the way we talk about homosexuality shows up (even subconsciously) our own outdated way of thinking. The rhetoric that is used around the reporting of a story like this and the way we frame it shows the historical shame that has been linked with being gay.

It's a case of: Valerie "reveals" she is gay. Or Valerie "comes out" as gay. Or Valerie "admits" she is gay. It's as if we're saying it is something to be ashamed of. Not to mention the line that a gay person "has come out of the closet".

What Valerie does admit is that she would find it hard to live in this country if the marriage equality referendum doesn't pass. She wants the right to be able to marry her girlfriend Meg in a ceremony which has constitutional protection.

"A new government has the power to nullify civil partnership if they choose to," Valerie says.

She wonders how she could live in a country where she would be made "to feel like a second-class citizen or where you can't be yourself. What kind of message will it send out to younger people if this referendum isn't passed?" Valerie asks.

If the 'Yes' vote is defeated, Valerie says she will have to consider leaving Ireland and moving to another country.

Imagine that.

We spend so much time focusing on player welfare across all sports yet here is one of our top female sport stars having to contemplate leaving if the majority of us in this country decide she shouldn't have the right to marry her girlfriend.

This is her loving girlfriend Meg who is a huge supporter of Valerie and her Cork football career. The same Meg who understands that they will have to hold off on going on their honeymoon while Valerie plays for her county in the championship this summer. The same Meg who tells Valerie "that she just wants to see me happy".

Just like her sporting career, Valerie doesn't want to have any regrets when it's over that she could have done more for this referendum. She has been very active and recently spoke at a Labour Marriage Equality forum in Cork where she said: "I believe that by voting yes for equal treatment of all Ireland's citizens we can change the lives of our children and adolescents by removing their true fear; that a life of truth would be less equal and ultimately would restrict them from who they hope to be and doing what they hope they could do."

Valerie finished her talk that day by saying: "This referendum is our gift to the future. We need to choose wisely and with love."

In between her time spent at football training and her work as a teacher, Valerie has spent three evenings so far doing door-to-door canvassing in Cork.

She says the reaction she's got while canvassing has been "mainly positive but there has been some negative reaction and some strong negative reaction to the referendum".

But she's happy to have the opportunity to clarify any concerns people may have.

Valerie has done her share of the JFK ideal: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country".

Look at how many times Valerie has said "yes". A "yes" towards helping to improve the playing, professional and personal lives of GAA players through her work with the Women's GPA.


A "yes" to dedicating so much of her time to the GAA through her hard work playing with the Cork football team and improving the standards of women's Gaelic football in this country. Now we have an opportunity to say "yes" back to Valerie.

The fact that someone like Valerie may have to consider leaving this country if the referendum is rejected is almost not worth thinking about. But it is something you should think about when you go to the polling station.

Valerie will wake up the morning of Friday, May 22 and will probably be a bag of nerves for the day.

She will spend it trying to make sure that everyone goes out to vote.

She is quietly hopeful that they have a good chance of getting the 'Yes' vote passed but is anxious that everyone goes out and uses their vote. Last summer Valerie got the "yes" she was hoping for from her girlfriend Meg.

This month she's not only hoping for a "yes". She's asking you to vote "yes".

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