SHAUN CONNOLLY: Shabby Seanad antics by Fine Gael, Labour kill gay Bill

The move was particularly craven in Labour’s case as it has long advocated getting rid of this clause — and its parliamentary party is made up of so many ex-teachers.

THE sheer spinelessness of the moment was summed-up by the remark: “Would we really be wasting time consulting with the Catholic Church if they could discriminate against black people in this way?”

Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power was speaking after her bid to end the fear felt by gay teachers and medical staff who can be sacked on the grounds of their sexual orientation was voted down by Fine Gael and Labour in a nakedly cynical move.

Jerry Buttimer may be out but that did not stop his Government colleagues going in to kill a bill aimed at ending official discrimination against gay people working in schools and hospitals under the direction of a religious body.

Ms Power told the Seanad the threat of being fired is very real in an Ireland that is not as liberal as it likes to pretend.

“We learned this week of an investigation by the Ombudsman for Children into a school in Tipperary that refused to enrol a 16-year-old girl on the grounds that she was pregnant.

“Citing his duty to protect the honourable majority of his pupils, the principal stated the school should not be blamed for having a ‘moral code’.

“If such prejudice can be used against a teenage girl who wants to finish her education, I have no doubt that it can also be used to deny someone a job or promotion in a school or hospital,” the senator said.

With 92% of national schools under the direction of the Catholic Church, Ms Power revealed she had received numerous letters from teachers, as well as medical staff in genuine fear of losing their jobs.

One, who can only be named as Mary, is too frightened to even socialise with her partner in the town where they live together.

“Mary is determined that her colleagues will only learn of her relationship with her partner when she brings Susan to her retirement party,” Ms Power told the upper house.

Such matters left Justice Minister Alan Shatter unmoved as he said the Bill needed to go because he was unsure it would “pass constitutional muster”.

While my view that Shatter does not pass ministerial muster would take up a whole different column, his judgment is highly questionable — especially as Senator Power merely asked for the Bill to be put forward to committee stage so that any problems with the wording could be ironed out.

Instead, Fine Gael and Labour killed it — cementing discrimination and fear in our schools and hospitals for at least another 18 months.

Shatter said the delay was needed for “consultations” with the Catholic Church and others.

The move was particularly craven in Labour’s case as it has long advocated getting rid of this clause — and its parliamentary party is made up of so many ex-teachers.

The grand sounding, but impotent bleatings of Labour Education Minister Ruairi Quinn in the Seanad only added to the spineless nature of the occasion.

Fine Gael may have a more hostile, right-wing agenda regarding getting rid of discrimination, but Labour voted the reform down simply because it did not want Fianna Fáil to be able to claim political credit for it.

Labour would rather gay people have to continue to live with prejudice at work because it suits its petty party interest.

It was the same story with the recent United Left Alliance bid to legislate for abortion rights in line with the Supreme Court’s X Case judgement.

Despite there being nothing in the ULA Bill that was not in Labour’s manifesto — not to mention the despair caused by seven successive governments failing to implement the Supreme Court ruling — Labour joined with Fine Gael in throwing out the reform to prevent the opposition getting credit for something Labour has promised, yet failed to deliver.

And in the same way Ms Power’s push for equality was shot down for showing Labour up.

But at least Senator Power tried, though you have to feel a bit sorry for her as she is forced to stand beside Micheal Martin at every single event because she is considered the great future hope of FF.

This is because she — shockingly, for a party with an openly same sex Dáil representation — is a woman, comes from their political deadzone of Dublin, and, most importantly, is a “clean skin” who carries none of the baggage of the last Fianna Fiasco administration with her.

This is in much the same way that Sinn Féin pins its future on clean skins who lack “something of the North” about them.

But, thankfully, Ms Power merely lacks economic blood on her hands, not the type of blood that the previously armalite slogan-totting Sinn Féin is trying to cleanse from public memory.

And while Ms Power was completely sincere in her push to end discrimination, there is a bit of suspicion some political parties have an agenda to appear gay friendly in order to copper-fasten their re-branding as modernisers.

This type of “hug a homo” move started with British Tory leader David Cameron, with Fianna Fáil rapidly following suit after they fell out of favour.

It is almost like saying: “Yes, we used to be the Nasty Party, but look at us now — we like gays!”

But whatever the motivation, if the result is a real shift towards inclusion and anti-discrimination, it can only be a good thing.

Though, I must admit I did take great delight at the recent Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis that backed gay marriage equality in going up to the party’s more macho TDs, feigning ignorance and asking: “So, gay marriage equality — is it compulsory in Fianna Fáil now, will you have to get a husband?”

The best reply came from a deputy, who must remain anonymous, who said: “I’ll marry him, but I won’t sleep with him,” which from the people who brought us “an Irish solution to and Irish problem” would make perfect political sense.

Which brings us back to Mr Buttimer — his coming out should not matter, but it does.

The fact it matters is because it will make similar events in the future matter much less.

As Mr Buttimer becomes the third “openly gay” deputy in the Dáil, it hastens the day when that clunky, passively aggressive phrase (how many are still “hiding”?) becomes as irrelevant and redundant as describing Mary McAleese as “openly Northern”.

It is also significant because gay teenagers are four times more likely to commit suicide than other people their age due to bullying, isolation and lack of role models, so the more people in the public eye prepared to say: “I’m gay, so what?” the better.

Coming from a conservative, centre-right party also marks out the event as worthy of comment as Fine Gael has certainly not been the most gay friendly of organisations in the past — or even the past week.

Mr Buttimer has taken a big step forward, but the shabby antics in the Seanad by his own party and Labour, show just how far there is yet to go.


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