Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

The Making of "Yes Equality", One, Two Three

On Tuesday 5 November 2013 the Cabinet, at its regular meeting, decided to agree to the proposal of the Constitutional Convention to hold a Referendum to introduce Same-Sex Marriage as a right in the Constitution and to change the voting age for the election of the country’s president.

From that decision on, the Referendum process we are now engaged in became a reality and the issues surrounding it became political ones. They were more profound and more complicated than was then realised and they have created a multitude of problems for people throughout the country.

Legally, the 2013 decision changed the position of financial aid provided by the American organisation, Atlantic Philanthropies, as a major benefactor of the Irish organisations that make up the Yes Side campaign. The decision changed also the status of the many people who are working for those projects receiving substantial grants from Atlantic Philanthropies.

At a stroke these people became formally political and subject to the laws governing the holding of referendums. They were already subject to the Standards in Public Office Legislation as regards all the money that came from America and elsewhere and now must be held account for it.

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MONEY FOR “YES VOTE” ORGANISATIONS

The key elements in the Yes campaign, GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties got massive funding from Atlantic Philanthropies.

Irish Council for Civil Liberties $7,727,700
(2001-2010)

Irish Trust for Civil Liberties, Human Rights,
Fundamental Freedoms $3,829,693
(2010-2013)

Gay and Lesbian Equality Network $4,727,860
(2005-2011)

Marriage Equality $475,215
(2010-2011)

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Most importantly the decision to hold the referendum placed a number of significant constraints on the Government which had to act in a fair and impartial manner towards the interests that emerged in the debate at least so far as the expenditure of public money is concerned.

The Government decision to hold the referendum confirmed that the involvement of Atlantic Philanthropies had been precisely focused on the objectives that had now been taken on by the Government.

Whether these objectives were “charitable” prior to the referendum decision or whether in fact they were political all along is a matter for further argument, but it is now clear to the whole population – if they are prepared to analyse it fairly and honestly – that in fact this sustained intervention, with huge resources, into Irish affairs, was a highly political project from the outset.

Atlantic Philanthropies have been quite open about this. They have laid out unprecedented sums of money to achieve fundamental political change in our society.

RELATED ARTICLE IN IRISH TIMES

In an excellent article in last Saturday’s Irish Times, Breda O’Brien outlined the extent and purpose of this funding. She gave details of its massive programme aimed at changing our lives fundamentally. She gave details also of the spending, a massive total of more than $16,000,000.

This spending programme – for charity, it has been claimed – is aimed at achieving life-changing upheavals in Irish constitutional rights, entirely different from those we are accustomed to and comfortable with. A central goal in what she revealed was the rewriting of one of the most complex and important Articles in our Constitution – concerning Marriage and the Family – that has become the centre of doubt and uncertainty, conflict and confusion, lies and misrepresentations and an increasingly poisoned debate. It would be highly questionable to regard this political funding as “charitable”.

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The YES VOTE teams have not been open about the serious consequences of their proposal.

Truth about surrogacy?

Clarity about various forms of artificial human reproduction?

The consequences in education of new teaching on the welfare of children?

The place of marriage between a man and a woman in our culture and in our laws?

Do they care about the rights of others?

“You”, they say, “are either us, or against us. You say “Yes” to us or you reject us”.

Of course it is not that simple. (END QUOTE)

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The engagement was with the State and with the politicians. Support from Bertie Ahern was sought when he was in power and the support of his ministers and of his two successors, Brian Cowen and Micheal Martin, was sought and secured. This was undignified, unfair and constitutionally highly dubious. When Fine Gael and Labour replaced the Fianna Fail Government, a similar recruitment process was followed and was enormously “successful”.

I put the word “successful” in inverted commas because what was done applied to a tiny minority of people in the country and was focused on changes that raised fundamental doubts for the majority of the population. It is this that has divided the country and led us into an alarming set of confrontations.

The damage done to Ireland by Fianna Fail during the runaway property boom leading to the collapse of banks and huge increase in Ireland’s indebtedness rightly cost them power and has revealed ludicrous lapses in political thinking and decision-making by that party.

GRAVE DAMAGE TO IRISH SOCIETY

In my personal opinion the behaviour of the Coalition that replaced them has been as bad, if not worse, in respect of the Marriage Referendum. I won’t waste words on the other proposal, which seems to have been a cynical ploy to attract young voters to the polling stations to support the marriage amendment.

They have failed from the outset to give any adequate explanations for their approach And the Taoiseach refuses to debate the most serious referendum proposal since the foundation of the state as do his ministers with the exception of those from the Minister for Justice. These have been repeatedly challenged and disproved by lawyers. The politicians, all of them, failed to conduct any serious check, through a Green Paper, of the social and legal implications of the constitutional amendment. They had to change the very brief Irish wording of the Bill, at my prompting, because they got the short sentence wrong.

They have been governed, mind and heart, by a foreign-funded body of opinion that is noisy, aggressive and narrow-minded in its presentation of its case. It relies on the vacuous and wholly unjustified slogan “Equality” to satisfy doubt and raise support. Adults only need apply; they are not interested in equality for children, who will lose their right to a father and mother.

FALSE PLEADINGS ON PREJUDICE

The ignorance is manifest. That sober and generally well-informed political commentator, Noel Whelan, who speaks for the Yes Campaign, is still expressing the nonsense that the “crime” of homosexuality in Ireland has caused people to suffer indignity and legal oppression leading to painful experiences and humiliation.

Homosexuality has never been a criminal offence in Ireland. Homosexual acts have been, and it was these that were decriminalised through David Norris’s brave work in the 1980s and early 1990s, the law actually changing in 1993.

When I first came to Ireland in 1957 the two most famous “Gays” in Ireland, Micheal Mac Liammoir and Hilton Edwards – both of whom became friends of mine and were interviewed by me – proudly strutted the stage and strutted even more proudly, dressed all in luxurious, fur-collared black coats among the flowers in St Stephen’s Green. They were idolised. So were many other “Gay” actors. Have we gone backwards at the hands of our politicians? Or are we being lied to?

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LESS THAN FRANK

A member of the No Vote team reported this to a NO VOTE council meeting: “I spoke with a TV journalist yesterday who told me that the group who organized the demonstration for “YES” on Sunday released a press statement which said there were 5000 people present. The Irish Times reported 500. This may seem trivial but is symptomatic of their less than frank approach. (END)

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The pleading on behalf of “victims” has become mawkish in its effort to justify the obsession that has seized on the country. It has been done on foot of what I consider a largely wasteful and dishonest campaign which will put us out of step with the legal and constitutional standards followed worldwide by the vast majority of States, more than 170 of them, many of them more compassionate and caring than ourselves.

I believe personally that Atlantic Philanthropies aided and abetted local fundamentalists in what was to become a political conspiracy aimed at very fundamental change. It was funded from outside Ireland, affecting at its very heart the deeply-held traditions and beliefs of the Irish people.

Of course there is a lot wrong with the way marriages and families work and there were grounds for instituting civil partnerships, sensibly accepted by many same-sex people. There is room for much else.

The country’s experiences over the current set of confrontations clearly indicate that, once again, we are about to make a huge mess out of a referendum that should never have been called in the first place.

INALIENABLE AND IMPRESCRIPTIBLE RIGHTS

The badness is illegal. The law requires fairness to both sides. While the Yes Campaign is glorying in superficial and meaningless claims – the most obvious being the false claim that they seek “Equality” – the No Side are looking for realistic and concerned answers from those in power and are not getting them.

More seriously, they are looking for balance and judgment over the most serious intentions for change that have ever been adopted for our Constitution. To date they still await an adequate understanding of the circumstances that will emerge if the Referendum adopts the changes that have been placed before the people.

These changes go to the heart of it. Those who govern us are undermining the only protections in our Constitution that cover “our inalienable and imprescriptible rights” to the form of marriage that is overwhelmingly the possession of the majority of citizens.

It is central to what I for one believe, have always believed and in which my sense of the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage is vested. I cannot sacrifice that.

Those who have benefitted from the resources of Atlantic Philanthropies are, in my judgment, inspired by the very zeal they rejoice in. Many Irish men and women struggle to gain such recognition. Those representing the Yes Vote have been given too much freedom, too much encouragement, too much indulgence. It is this that deserves blame, and the blame must rest fully and squarely on the politicians.

FOLLOWING A BLIND MANTRA

Senior politicians seem to follow quite blindly a mantra that has no holiness nor truth in it. Government members have lost sight of the brave moral future they embraced at the outset of their ministry. It has been tarnished by conspiracy, fed with over-confidence and dishonesty and celebrated in a premature sense of public support.

Change your ways, people of Ireland! And change the ways of those who govern you! See the light again that has been obscured by dismal rhetoric and dishonest expressions of dismay.

Once again, your politicians have misled you and they, in the end, are most to blame. They knew this country and its people and have turned their backs upon both, believing instead in a creed that so obviously and so foolishly has been imported and purveyed in order to change their hearts and yours. Have none of it and turn back.