Rory O’Neill seeking apology over RTÉ statement

Rory O'Neill, who performs as Panti Bliss, claims a statement read out on 'The Saturday Night Show' suggested that he defamed people

Gay rights activist Rory O’Neill, whose comments on homophobia resulted in RTÉ paying an €85,000 legal settlement, said that he hopes the episode has opened a proper debate about equality.

However, Mr O’Neill — who performs as drag queen Panti Bliss — said that he expects an apology from the broadcaster. He claims a statement read out on a later episode of The Saturday Night Show suggested that he defamed people, and that he was a risky guest who could not be trusted.

“Well, that’s not who I am, that’s not what I did, and that has never been proven in any court,” he said.

The station paid the money to six people who claimed offence at Mr O’Neill’s comments during an appearance on the programme a month ago. The video of a subsequent speech he made in the Abbey Theatre, about the oppression he felt being gay in Ireland, has widened the debate and he says it should be more open.

“There was such a furore over me suggesting that somebody might be homophobic. I think people are overly upset about that,” he told RTÉ’s Sunday with Miriam radio programme.

He said all Irish people have taken in the effects of a homophobic culture they grew up in. However, he sees a difference between someone who accepts gay people but opposes gay marriage, like an imaginary Catholic woman he called Joan, and vocal opponents of the idea.

“If Joan then decided that tomorrow she was going to turn that from something passive and personal into something active and public — which you are then manifesting to restrict actual rights to a minority group of people — then that to me is a kind of homophobia, that is fair game to call out and call homophobia.”

Presenter Miriam O’Callaghan said RTÉ’s position has been that it paid the settlement because of legal advice that they otherwise risked paying six times the amount paid, and that taxpayers would have ended up paying far more money in the end.

Mr O’Neill said two parties, whom he declined to name, approached him to run in the European elections but he will not stand.

“I’m not cut out to be a politician,” he said. “I think I’m much better off as a provocateur. I think I’m better at rousing the masses and then ducking out and letting calmer heads conduct the debate.”

However, he said no debate is needed on gay marriage because the vast majority of Irish people favour equal legal treatment for gay people. He said no referendum is needed and challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny to introduce legislation for gay marriage tomorrow.

Mr Kenny told RTÉ’s This Week radio programme yesterday that 2015’s referendum on same-sex marriage is one of a number proposed by the constitutional convention and he had not considered legislating for it instead.

“We believe it’s important that the people have a rational, commonsense, calm, considered, and compassionate debate about this, and I hope that happens and that next year people will make their decision on it,” said Mr Kenny.

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told the programme the Church will present its teaching in the debate, which he said should be carried out in a mature way in which people can freely express their views in a way that does not offend others.

He said we all have elements of homophobia, growing up in a culture where jokes pointed at the gay or Traveller communities, but it is a culture we have to grow out of and people cannot simply say the Church is homophobic.

He said there can be ways in which gay people can celebrate their love, but marriage is about heterosexual union whose originality risks being lost if same-sex marriage is allowed.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean a civil partnership is somewhat of less value than marriage,” he said.

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