Aoife Moore: Apology is welcome, now show sincerity is behind remorse 

John Connors apology to Roderic O'Gorman must be backed by the the same passion he used to attack the Children's Minister, says Aoife Moore
Aoife Moore: Apology is welcome, now show sincerity is behind remorse 
Roderic O'Gorman has accepted an apology from the actor John Connors after he took part in a social media campaign linking the Children's Minister to views purporting to condone paedophilia. Picture: PA

It's the marker of a person who can admit they were wrong, but apologies require action.

This week, the actor John Connors publicly apologised for remarks he made about newly-installed Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman.

Mr O'Gorman, who is gay, was accused without evidence of promoting paedophilia, a hair-brained theory that began after a picture from 2018 of Mr O'Gorman with LGBT rights and AIDS campaigner and former UK election candidate Peter Tatchell appeared online.

In 1997, Mr Tatchell was forced to defend parts of a letter he wrote the Guardian newspaper in which he spoke about sex between adults and children, in which he said his comments were taken out of context, adding that the letter said paedophilia was: "impossible to condone".

After the photograph appeared, an online campaign was launched to have the Green Party minister resign.

Later, a demonstration was held at Leinster House, attended by Renua, The Irish Freedom Party and the far-right National Party, where Mr Connors spoke on the podium.

Those who attended the rally held posters adorned with nooses which said: "Protect the innocent, punish the guilty".

Mr Connors said: "We're in a situation if you stand up for Irish children you're a fascist," adding: "If you're not willing to defend children, you're not worth living in my opinion.

"The first thing he'll take on is children having sexual transitional operations... That's why Roderic O'Gorman is not fit to be Minister for Children."

Then came the apology. 

Mr Connors admitted his participation in the “online frenzy” was “wrong and unfair on every level”, he wrote, adding he had written a further apology to Minister O’Gorman.

The actor said there was “no justification” for his actions but added that he has dealt with “a number of tragedies” in his life recently.

“I have recently found myself unravelling. This is in no way to excuse what I said and how I behaved.

"Looking back I’m sick to my stomach,” Mr Connors said.

"My own misguided anger led me to appear to feed an army of trolls and support groups whose views I find repugnant, whose politics are rotten and whose methods are ugly.

"I find myself in a position where l seemed to have sided with the very people whose politics I most despise.

“I’ve battled bigotry my whole life and my deranged pursuit of Minister O’Gorman played a huge part in the homophobic backlash he received by the very bigots I despise."

The apology itself was well written, it seemed genuine and was accepted swiftly by Mr O'Gorman who considers the matter over, and wished Mr Connors well.

The apology is not for all of us to accept, it is for Ireland's LGBTQ+ community and Mr O'Gorman, who was unfairly targetted and left vulnerable in the aftermath of this well-respected actor and Traveler activist bolstering a fringe campaign based around a homophobic dog whistle that gay people are a danger to children.

So what happens next is what really matters. There is work to be done.

One apology will not and does not counteract the fact that Mr Connors is a 30-year-old man who saw those posters printed with nooses and stood on that podium anyway. 

Roderic O'Gorman had already distanced himself from the photograph with Tatchell by the time Connors took the stage, and Connors knew because he brought it up while he was up there.

Mr Connors himself has endured more abuse in his life than most people in society. He is, rightly, a proud Traveller, and has done huge amounts for his community. 

He took to that podium with a wealth of knowledge of what it is like to be targetted for who you are and shouted "Not my minister" anyway.

That said, we should be welcoming and compassionate and should afford space for people to grow, to disavow their past damaging beliefs, and not use their past behaviour as a stick to beat their reputation with. 

Casting people out for past transgressions once they have admitted they were wrong helps no one, and most likely leaves the person vulnerable to being approached again by those who wish to use them for their own gain.

As he said himself, Mr Connors was in a vulnerable state when he found himself circling this particular rabbit hole, and anyone with even the briefest knowledge of hate groups and other fringe conspiracy collectives will know that this exact state of vulnerability is when people are most likely to be brought into the fold.

What's important is that Mr Connors has seen that, and what's more important is what he does next.

In the next weeks and months, it will only be through advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights that Mr Connors will be able to prove his sincerity. 

The passion with which he spoke on that podium will be required to undo the harm potentially caused by his words on July 11.

Apologies are well and good and should be welcomed, but if this journey stops at his own front door, it's one that won't be worthwhile.

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