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How the campaign is being lost – according to the Greens

April 23rd, 2008 · 10 Comments · Cop Out, Equality, Gay, Green Party, Iona Institute, Irish Politics, Lesbian, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Same Sex Partnerships

Green Party (Ireland)Image via WikipediaThe Green Party seem to spend a considerable amount of time analysing the campaign for same sex marriage/partnership rights. Paul Gogarty TD and chairperson of the party delves into comment’s on Damiens recent post to clarify the reported comments to constituents and others regarding how the campaign is being won and lost.

Deputy Gogarty believes that John Gormley’s words of wisdom to members of the lesbian and gay community at that meeting about lobbying FF have fallen on deaf ears.. (I heard them too…)

‘On a separate note, although I am not Spokesperson for this area, I do recall that our Leader John Gormley asked members of the Irish Gay and Lesbian Community at a special reception to get active on this issue and put pressure on Fianna Fail in particular. This has not happened.’

In the preceding comment Deputy Gogarty made an interesting observation

‘So far there has been no evidence of a campaign by the Gay community and their friends and families to put pressure on this reactionary conservative grouping.

No point in preaching to the converted and then cursing them for trying to be helpful. We are doing our best. But Government is made up of several parties and FF is the biggest by far.’

This is an interesting point and one which I’m sure that members of Marriage Equality and LGBT Noise will repudiate. However I think one should define reactionary conservative grouping… Because to me that means the Iona Institute and not Fianna Fáil. And for me far far too much time has been spent entertaining these people in the letters page of the Irish Times and other places. This crazy gang are a small organisation which has been given the primary opposition status by the responses and attention paid to them by lgb activists.

So has the eye been taken off the ball – the FF ball that is?? Or is this an attempt to lay the blame at the lgbt community by the Green Party laying the ground to diminish expectations and say ‘honest guv it wasn’t us!?’

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10 Comments so far

  • tipster

    So has the eye been taken off the ball – the FF ball that is?? Or is this an attempt … by the Green Party … to diminish expectations and say ‘honest guv it wasn’t us!?’

    A bit of both.

    I think the Greens “took the eye off the ball” during the negotiations to form the coalition. It is now a very steep climb to put equality into the proposals since they agreed then to something significantly less.

    But FF TDs need to receive a lot more personal contact from lgb people and their families. Key leadership figures in that party (Hanafin, Coughlan, Manseragh) are opposed to equality. We won’t change the minds og those individuals, but the likes of Ardagh (my reference is the article in April’s GCN) need to be moved further from the fence, leaving Hanafin et al. to form a rump rather than a strand in that party.

    The campaign to generate personal contact with TDs is drawn explicitly by MarriageEquality from the Spanish experience. (Mind you, neither M.E. nor GLEN here are exactly open houses for members of the lgb communities to joing and set the agenda, so it would not be surprising if significant numbers of the lgb communities did not take up the mantle our ‘leaders’ have decided to place upon us.)

  • Sean Reynolds

    You raise some critical issues here.

    While Gogarty’s comment does seems to evoke a deeply cynical ‘passing of the buck’ by a party of government, there is has been an uncanny amount of faith put into FF by some gay activists.What both Gogarty and many in FF know (as well as LGB activists), is that Irish lesbian and gay men are not terribly keen on being sexual citizens.

    As I’ve noted, in comments here and elsewhere, there is schizophrenia on the part of the Greens about their membership of the coalition. MP: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about the Greens claiming ‘wasn’t us Guv’, however, Gogarty is closer to Blanquo’s Ghost. But we still have to ask, which political party promised same-sex marriage before the election and which party dropped the gay community’s best interest in the name of power? I recall having a blog debate with a Green activist who informed me how the numbers (Greens/FF) meant it could not ensure gay marriage was on the programme for government agenda – I was also being asked to be realistic about this point… in fact, I was being told it was my fault that the Greens didn’t win the election. If they had, there would be civil marriage. What this Green party person was trying to do was put me back into a box, and accept what I was getting.Unfortunately: I know what being a sexual citizen means, and I won’t go quietly.

    My perspective on the media is that of a sociologist. As the newspaper of record, the discourse in the Irish Times is a snapshot of politics of the day, which is a fertile source of data for us social science wonks. The Iona Institute, etc., aren’t really saying anything new, but there is not a lot of counterpoint to them. The idea of sexual citizenship is weaker than it should be because Irish social norms tend to discourage people from talking about the ‘personal’ or ‘sexual’ in the main. Do you remember MP how you wrote a letter to the IT some years ago, and they called you to ask if you actually wanted to state you were a lesbian?

    My key concern is how some gay activists have placed inordinate levels of trust in Bertie. Were people seduced by Bertie, with that oft-cited quotation (which can be found on GLEN’s banner)? It can actually be read in two ways.

    More importantly, I think there is a informational weakness in LGB activism. While GLEN has become professionalized, it did not seek to politicize the children with skills to do what one might term ‘individualized activism’. There has been a jump from GLEN taking charge of politics (as per 1993), to dilemmas about trying to do activism in a much more individualized society. For years, activists have positioned themselves as experts about sexuality (and we were happy to let them do it for us!)

    What GLEN and others are trying to push for now is basically a view that if people know about their legal rights, etc.,they can seek their sexual rights for themselves. We can see this on GLEN’s site… if you go to GLEN’s website and ‘click’ on the Action for Equality banner at the top,you will be brought to a list of instructions of how to lobby your TD:

    http://www.gcn.ie/feature.aspx?articleid=87&sectionid=14

    Curiously, this ‘civics lesson’ information is on the Gay Community News’s website not GLEN’s. Go tell the TD about various policies, views of professional bodies about homosexuality, etc. it argues.

    But are people generally competent to do this? It seems to me that there is a gap in the LGB body politic. While it seems the internet allows online ‘individual activism’ to develop, these discourses are often accomplished behind the walls of seudonyms. But in the real world, it is a bit more challenging to come out to one’s TDs about gay marriage when it necessitates being policy-literate? Sure, we can tell our stories about circumstances, etc, but we need to link these issues to what is increasingly a regulatory state in which equality is recognised through legal consciousness.

    On the GCN feature page various policies are alluded to, but there is no centralised resource page to bone up on these issues. Now that would democratise politics more!

    But before I get to caught up in politics, shouldn’t the point be more basic: equality is equality. Now would the Greens please conquer their own fears facing up to big nasty Fianna Fail, and tell them that civil partnership needs to be implemented (as per the Programme for Government) and not just announced, re-announced, and re-announced … or do the honourable thing, and walk out of government.

  • stretchneil

    Some of the most interesting commentary I’ve seen on this issue for quite a while.

    A few points. Firsly, like MP, I attended *that* meeting, and it disappoints me greatly to see that we still don’t have published Heads of Bill for the Civil Partnership Bill, having received assurances from Minister Gormley et al that they would be published by end of March.

    Secondly, the biggest problem with the ‘Out to your TD’ campaign is that it is being driven by organisations that are fundamentally undemocratic, and therefore have limited ability to motivate this type of grass-roots campaign. While GCN is not a democratic organisation (for obvious reasons), they allow a much greater level of community participation than ME or GLEN, which is why I suspect their contribution to this campaign is much more significant.

    Which is not to criticise ME or GLEN – they have both taken on the role of lobbying organisations, and there is a role within our communities for such organisations. However, one thing that has been sorely lacking in recent years, is a democratic LGBT community grouping, playing a part in LGBT rights advocacy.

    Labour LGBT have tried to fill this role at times in recent years, but as a political grouping, they are always likely not to appeal to certain sections of our communities. Pride, since opening up, are a fully democratic organisation, but have responsibilities outside the advocacy area, and these naturally limit their ability to lead fully on such issues. BeLonGTo are another very democratic grouping, but have always been politically limited by the amount of state funding they receive, which ties their hands in many ways.

    LGBT Noise have clearly attempted to step into this role, by acting as a grassroots direct-action grouping. And I fully welcome their arrival on the scene.

    However, I still believe there is a need for an LGBT-rights focussed, democratic political/advocacy group, who could honestly claim to speak for our communities, by allowing those communities ownership of the grouping. I was involved in a failed attempt to start up such a grouping under the Equal Ireland banner a few years ago, but I’d welcome another drive to get this idea into reality.

    Such a grouping could easily provide a focal point for the lobbying groups to feed into, could centralise and consolidate the arguments made by various members of our communities, could provide campaigning resources and advice to members of our communities, and could genuinely allow LGBT people to feel some ownership over campaigns being run in their names.

  • admin

    Neil you are right – the comments here alone are the most interesting, relevant and nail on head that I’ve seen in ages.

    One problem you identify is the role of ME and GLEN as lobbying organisations – they have taken this role themselves and then proceeded to manage the response of lesbians and gay men without engaging in dialogue with the communities that they represent and indeed silencing or ignoring debate. Not being grassroots organisations this is where they have failed – the not out until out to your TD campaign cannot work effectively if people don’t feel ownership of it and indeed it is fundamentally flawed as it places the blame on lesbians and gay men no matter how urgent the need is.

    The concerns of lower income lesbians and gay men who would be very much negatively impacted by the means testing of marriage and marriage like arrangements and also those who reject the traditions of marriage and the messages that it imparts (whilst not rejecting choice!!!) have not only been silenced by the dialogue but infact demonised by the lack of dialogue because everyone is supposed to be on message – a message set by undemocratic structures.. (far too long a sentence but read it again and you’ll get it!)

    Pride is an important player in this issue as it provides messages to the people who participate in events and observe them. I await the response of Pride to the concerns of many on the message being given out by the Always the Bridesmaid, never the Bride theme! Et tu Neil?

  • Marie

    Kathleen Lynch calls it “the demonisation of those who dare to dissent”- when once dissent was what activism actually encouraged. I agree with much of what Neil said but the kind of organisation he describes would be in danger in to falling into the same quaqmire of centralisation. Activism- the capacity to critique, analyse and prescribe is a skill which has been for too long not just absent but wilfully denied by so-called lobbying organisations on this issue. Its not ONE group that is needed its a national, inclusive radical education programme to equip a whole new layer of activists acoss the country who can advocate on their own behalf, form groups and share the skills and build localised campaigns based on their own identified needs. There’s enough “managing of governance” taking place in this country and on this issue and the sacrifice has been the loss of non-conformity and real empowerment fo those who most need it. And we dont always need funds or lots of them to do it. Real activism is about contributing not your money, but your time, your skills and your commitment. It feels to me that only those with access to resources, get to speak on behalf of everyone, while having no mandate or any accountability on behalf of those they purport to speak for. And just to make you feel better its a disease which has swept the entire NGO sector and much of the comm development sector. Who’s going to take on FF when their resources are dependent on keeping govt on side or the new resources who give money and dictate corporate criteria and conditions for its use. We have to stop following the money and start naming the challenge.

  • stretchneil

    Good points raised by both MP and Marie.

    On the issue of debate around marriage, I’ve written a parting shot in the imminent GCN, responding to Gráinne Healy’s piece. In it, I express my concerns about the refusal to allow a diversity of debate around partnership/marriage, so I won’t repeat those arguments here.

    In relation to Pride, and this year’s theme, I must declare an interest. I currently serve on the board of Pride. The theme this year is two-fold – it’s both a celebration (Pride parades in Dublin are 25 this year!), and a political vehicle as espoused by the “always the bridesmaid….” line. There’s a fine line for Pride to tread – we have roles in the celebration of LGBT cultures, provision of safe spaces for LGBT people, strengthening our communities etc, as well as being an intrinsically political grouping. We were criticised last year for a failure to accept our political responsibility (last year’s theme was ‘Pride ‘n’ Joy’), and that’s something we have tried to address this year.

    Not saying it’s perfect, but the theme was selected by the Festival Committee of Dublin Pride, and was approved by the Board. As a result, it had the input of a cross-section of about 20 people from across Dublin’s LGBT communities, and I think it reflects a great deal of the current thinking of members of our communities.

    Anyway, enough waffling about Pride (though naturally, you can feel free to grill me further on it if you wish!). Marie raises the excellent, and frequently overlooked point, that we are not educating people sufficiently on becoming activists (by we, I mean us as a nation, not those of us reading MP’s blog!). We get occasional references by El Bert to his concept of ‘active citizenship’, but really, his proposals have only touched the tip of the ice-berg. What is genuinely needed is an education system that seeks to promote a genuine sense of civic responsibility and community activism and involvement. Sadly, I suspect that making such a radical change to our education system will be a much longer campaign than partnership rights has been….

  • Marie

    Neil- I’m not talking about the mainstream education system- I’m talking about community development and the movement for equality- that is where community education needs takes place and education for activism. Those of us who have been activists, who want to be activists form learning groups at the most local level, exchange ideas, identify needs at the local level through discussion and formulate actions to be taken. Thats the basis of any community action, those who recognise the need for change and come together with others who want change. That needs to be nurtured and supported. Its much more effective than a couple of people appointing themselves Directors of this and that and then thinking that by doing so it makes it legitimate to speak “expertly” on that topic for all of us. We need to spread the seeds of dissent and debate and formulate new tools for change and challenge as a community in ways that are participative, inclusive and democractic. Get people thinking for themselves instead of being told what to think by self-appointed spokespeople. That kind of activism has been treated with disdain and marginalised for too long now.

  • Stretchneil

    Completely agreed Marie – you’ll get no dissent from me on that idea!

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