3 May 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Many of our readers will have been understandably angered and offended by disparaging comments about the people of Monaghan made by a Dublin Labour TD, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and reported in a Sunday newspaper.

For different reasons, both their context and content are troubling.

It could be offered in mitigation that Deputy Ó Ríordáin, a relatively inexperienced public representative, spoke as he did without malice aforethought, making his remarks not in a public forum but in what he believed was a private conversation with a constituent.

All of us from time to time are indiscreet enough to say things to confidantes or acquaintances we would shudder to have widely disseminated – and if we imagine how it would feel to have our indiscretions published in a national newspaper and widely discussed across the media, we might muster a measure of grudging sympathy for the Dublin North-Central Deputy.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin and his Wicklow party colleague Anne Ferris were the victims of a calculated ‘sting’ operation in which a supporter of the pro-life view in the current abortion debate, pretending to be otherwise, encouraged them to expand on their liberal pro-choice views while secretly recording their comments.

Evidence gathered under such circumstances would be deemed inadmissible in a court of law in all but the most exceptional of cases – its use in a newspaper can be justified by citing the public interest, as has been done in this instance.

Giving the hot topic that abortion is at the present time, it is understandable that the Sunday Independent, after carrying out verification of the material and its supplier, decided to run with the story.

But, in seeking to serve the public interest, the newspaper has undoubtedly also served the sectional interest of the person who obtained the material and the grouping she is sympathetic to.

The publication of the story on the eve of abortion legislation proposals emerging from Cabinet might not have been intended by the newspaper to “sow division”, as Minister Simon Coveney put it, between the Coalition partners, but this was undoubtedly the wish of those who orchestrated the ‘scoop’.

Given the questionable circumstances in which the recordings were made, it also seems a bridge too far to extend the cloak of anonymity to the person who made them, who apparently, with presumably unconscious irony, gave as the motive for her actions the desire to expose the duplicity of politicians!

But regardless of the context, what Deputy Ó Ríordáin had to say, and the mindset it discloses, gives rise to legitimate concern.

His intimation and that of Deputy Ferris that a section of the Labour Party have an agenda to pursue greater liberalisation of abortion legislation once the current initial legal provisions are set in place may or may not have a weight of consent within that party – and in any event it is an aspiration highly unlikely to flower in this or any future coalition with Fine Gael philosophy.

That is not what raised the hackles of the people of Monaghan or the population of the other predominantly rural counties that “got a touch” from the Dublin Deputy.

His specific charges, of ‘latent homophobia’, and a prevailing attitude inimical to abortion rights, are perhaps worth no more than passing refutation.

Editorially, this newspaper has raised the question in the recent past of whether our county is yet a totally comfortable place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to openly profess their sexual orientation.

But the same question can legitimately be posed of all parts of our country, even inner-city Dublin which is Deputy Ó Ríordáin’s bailiwick.

Homophobic behaviour, explicit as well as latent, is present in the Monaghan makeup but it is not geographically specific to us or to the rural counties – intolerance and lack of understanding of sexual difference are as likely to be encountered in the cities as well as the countryside but thankfully attitudes, particularly among the young, are changing rapidly.

It seems true to say that Co Monaghan is more pro-life than pro-choice when it comes to abortion but not, we would guess, by the overwhelming margin that might be suggested by public manifestation of opinion so far witnessed on the question.

There are many Monaghan people opposed to a change in the abortion laws on the basis of their moral or religious convictions – they are entitled to this viewpoint, and have not been lacking in articulating it in the public forums available to them.

Those in our county who might hold to a contrary or modified stance have not thus far been as vocal – and our politicians of all political hues have been noticeably silent on this touchy subject.

The abortion question is not going to go away and our political representatives, and individuals and groupings who do not hold to the pro-life viewpoint, will certainly have to be more explicit in communicating their views on the matter in the months to come as the progress of the current legislative proposals stokes the fires of debate to blazing point.

As a newspaper that strives to reflect the full spectrum of opinion extant in our circulation area on the issues of the day, we would welcome a greater diversity of viewpoint on what so far as been a rather one-sided public debate in the county.

The marked prevalence of one opinion does not of itself suggest intolerance of opposing ones – it is in the manner in which opinions are argued that tolerance or lack of it is measured and it is important, in our own and other parts of the country, that the many complex legal and moral questions raised by abortion are addressed in a reasoned and objective manner as the debate proceeds.

In the end it is not what the Dublin Labour Deputy had to indiscreetly say about us or others that is really troubling – it is the attitude of mind his words are informative of.

They disclose, surprisingly for a promising politician who has founded his burgeoning reputation on a series of zealous political correctness crusades, an ill-informed and prejudicial mindset towards those parts of the country that lie outside the realm of his direct experience, a naïve assumption that people who live removed from the cities are somehow less evolved and sophisticated entities.

And we in turn would be naïve to believe that this attitude is confined to a single inner-city Deputy – it is one often endemic in large urbanised environments.

One has only to throw out a stray conversational gambit at any social gathering in our county to find evidence that Monaghan people encompass multitudes in their opinions and experience.
We hope that Deputy Ó Ríordáin, who has familial connections with our county, now appreciates this fact – and will be a better national legislator for the chastening experience his careless talk has earned him.

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