Tag Archives: human rights


I don’t think I’ve ever been as amazed by any social phenomenon as I’ve been by the #HomeToVote hashtag on Twitter.

Today is the day Ireland goes to the polls to vote on whether we should allow people who are twenty-one and older to run for President (currently, one has to be thirty-five or older to run for that office), and whether we should extend the rights and protections of civil marriage to same-sex couples. They are both important issues, but I think the latter is the one which has drawn so many people home, and which has seen over sixty thousand people register to vote for the first time.

Honestly, I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing. In the best possible way.

In a little over twenty years, we’ve gone from a country where homosexuality was illegal to a country where thousands of people are streaming home for a flying visit simply to vote – let’s hope! – that same-sex partners can get married, and be considered equal under the law and the Constitution to their heterosexual brothers, sisters, cousins, coworkers, and friends. I have seen arguments to suggest that holding a referendum, or a popular vote, on an issue which should be one of human rights (and therefore above a mere vote) is an inappropriate thing to do, but in Ireland, we have no other way of doing it. To amend our Constitution, we must hold a referendum. And to give same-sex couples the same rights as everyone else, their right to marry must be enshrined in the Constitution. It does make me uncomfortable that I, as part of the heterosexual ‘majority’, have the power to essentially bestow a human right upon my fellow citizens, but I hope that – should the ‘Yes’ vote carry – it will be seen as solidarity, as brother- and sisterhood, and not a patronising gesture.

In any case, whatever happens today, I have never been so emotionally moved by any electoral or referendum campaign, and I have never been more amazed at the people of my country, and overwhelmingly the young people of my country, at that. I will be so proud to take my place in line today (for queues are forming at polling stations! I’ve never seen the like!) and cast my vote, in the full and certain knowledge that I am living in a democracy, and that the people – when they truly rise up and claim it – have power beyond measure.

It almost makes up for the Eurovision. Almost.

Image: irishexaminer.com

Image: irishexaminer.com

Why I’m Voting ‘YES’

The world is building up to an overwhelming crescendo again. I know it’s not just me; anyone with any sense of compassion will have been overwhelmed by the news from Nepal in recent days, and by the reality of what’s happening in Baltimore, MD. That’s not to mention all the ongoing crises in the world which will continue to rumble, even when our eyes are turned elsewhere. Not, it sometimes feels, that it really matters whether we’re watching or not – the brutalities of the world seem like so much entertainment, to some people.

So, in an attempt to distract myself from all this negative horror, I want to talk today about something which means a lot to me, and which – to my mind – is a little shaft of light in a darkening world.

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

In about three weeks’ time, the people of Ireland will be called upon to vote in a Constitutional referendum to decide whether or not Marriage Equality (or Same-Sex Marriage, if you insist) should be made legal in our jurisdiction. The campaigning has been ferocious, and at times vitriolic, and as one would expect in a debate like this, issues which have nothing to do with the central question have been brought up for discussion, distracting from the real matters at hand. Sometimes, this has made me angry, and at other times it has made me glad I live in a democracy where people are entitled and expected to air their views and have them at least listened to, if not agreed with.

I don’t normally make my own political opinions public, and I don’t normally bang on about what way I’m going to vote in any particular election or referendum, but this time I think it’s important that people say which way they’re leaning, and explain why. I will be voting ‘YES’ on May 22nd, and I’m proud to say so. I will be voting in favour of legislating for legal civil marriage for same-sex couples – or, making every citizen of Ireland equal under the law when it comes to being married and having that marriage recognised by the State – and I can’t wait for my chance to exercise my franchise.

There has been a lot of talk in Ireland over the past few weeks about how this vote will affect children, if it’s passed; how it will (apparently) rip children from their mothers’ arms and place them in the households of legally-married gay couples, and how distasteful that would be, and how it will deny every child the ‘right’ to be brought up in a loving home with a mother and a father. It will destroy the fabric of society, we’re told by those on the ‘NO’ side, undermining the legitimacy of marriage itself, forcing religious people to act against their conscience, leading to a future where children are left lost and rootless and families begin to crumble.

It’s all nonsense.

There are already gay couples living peacefully in Ireland, bound legally as civil partners – but these relationships don’t have the same protections under the law or the Constitution as marriage does. There are already families headed by two adult partners of the same gender. There are already children born to, and being lovingly raised by, gay parents. The only difference that this referendum will make, if it’s passed, to the children of gay couples is this: it will make them more protected, more secure under the law, and safer. Currently, if a child is the biological offspring of a lesbian woman in a civil partnership, and if that woman dies, her partner has no legal right to parent the child whom she loves as her own, and whom she has raised as her own. If the women were married, the child would be secure in her family, knowing that nobody can take her from the parent she has known and loved all her life if anything should happen to her biological mother. Currently, if two men are civilly partnered and one of them dies without making a will, his partner (and, possibly, their children) cannot automatically inherit his estate, as would happen with a married couple. It’s as if, sometimes, people can’t imagine children being lovingly raised by two people who happen to be of the same gender, and they can’t imagine how on earth a child could be raised well, and roundly, and with loving support, by anyone other than a woman and a man. They can be. They are being. It’s perfectly possible. What a child needs, most fundamentally, is love, not two differently-gendered parents. If they happen to have a mother and father, great. If they don’t, they’ll be fine – so long as they’re safe and loved.

The notion that every family headed by a married man and woman is ‘happy’, or functional, or loving, or abuse-free, is outdated and naive, but it seems to be a notion that the ‘NO’ side are clinging to. I am lucky; I was raised in a happy family with a set of parents of opposite gender. I am married to a person of opposite gender to myself, and we are happy. But this doesn’t mean that every family with a mother and father is happy, just because the parents are of opposite genders. Children are battered and beaten every day by their mothers. Children are abused by their fathers. Children live in squalor and horror under the veneer of ‘respectability’, and nobody bats an eyelid because their family are ‘good people’. If the people campaigning against this referendum truly cared about children’s welfare, and if that was really their core concern, they’d shut up shop and join the ‘YES’ side, because nothing else makes sense. We are trying, as a country, every day, to protect the children who suffer at the hands of their biological, heterosexual parents – our system isn’t perfect, but we’re working on it. How, then, we could consider not passing a referendum which would give more stability to already happy and functional families – ones headed by same-sex parents – is beyond me.

But this referendum isn’t about children, really. It’s about equality. It’s about this country looking its gay citizens in the eye and saying ‘You and I are equal under the law in all things, and I’m going to vote to make sure your rights are as protected as mine.’ If it’s passed, this referendum won’t force churches to marry gay people in religious ceremonies. It won’t force anyone to do anything against their will. It will make life easier and more stable for hundreds of children, and it will be an acknowledgement that every person has the right to be involved in a loving, committed relationship recognised by their State if they so choose.

I’m voting ‘YES’, and I hope the majority of my fellow citizens will be with me. It won’t save the world, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.


What happened last week in France was horrifying.

Perhaps it’s because France is part of Europe, the continent I’m proud to live in and be a citizen of, and perhaps it’s because Paris is a city I love, and perhaps it’s because my heart shattered at the thought of innocent civilians going about their daily lives who had their lives brutally ended, and perhaps it’s all of these things, but it hit me hard.

And perhaps it’s because I write, too, and I take it for granted that I can express myself as I see fit, and that if someone doesn’t like what I’ve said that they’re not going to break into my life and destroy me. I know I’m a million miles away, content wise, from Charlie Hebdo, but the principle is the same. I write. They write. I express my thoughts, and so do they. I might agree that their content can be objectionable; I might not even like all of it. But it is their right to print it. You don’t wish to see? Then buy another magazine.

If you don’t like my blog, you don’t have to read it. If you don’t like Charlie Hebdo or what it stands for, there are plenty of peaceful, but effective, ways you can exercise your right not to be confronted with it.

Photo Credit: Nemesi_ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nemesi_ via Compfight cc

France has a long history of satirical cartooning, going back to the Revolution and before. It has always been crude, focused on the body, sexualised, and darkly funny. The cartoons which sparked off last week’s dreadful events have to be seen as part of that continuum and that particularly French tradition of speaking an opinion.

Opinions can be drowned out. They can be shouted over. They can be marched against. They can be argued with. They can be denounced. They can be discussed, debated, teased out, their nuances made clear. Perhaps, eventually, understanding and accord can be reached.

If opinions are simply destroyed along with the lives of those who held them (not to mention the lives of those who had nothing to do with them), then all that’s left is sterility and darkness. All that’s left is despair. There can be no learning, no growth, no furthering of human culture, no development of our species, no deepening of compassion.

Nobody has a right to kill another because of an opinion.

Everybody has the right to disagree, and to protest. Everybody has a right to respond, and to clarify, and to engage in debate, and to try to educate.

I am not trying to defend any particular stance, ideology, or opinion, but I strongly believe in the value of satire and of free speech. I also believe that with the right of free speech comes the responsibility of using that right, and I don’t believe in hate speech or publications which call for destruction or genocide or discrimination, but I accept that I live in a world where such things are possible, and I hope there will always be counter-voices to balance things out. I sympathise with those who feel offended because of something another has said or drawn or done, but I do not accept that the logical next step is to bring lives to an end. There is nothing down that road.

I’m trying not to fall into despair at what we all witnessed last week, and I’m really trying to hope that intelligence, courage and humanity will win out over any further impulses to destroy.

J’écris. I write. I will always write. And I will always stand with those who write, bravely and without shame.

And I hope never to live through events like those of last week, ever again.


Just another word for nothing left to lose? Well. I’m not so sure about that.

It was, of course, the Fourth of July yesterday; I’m not American, so for me it was just another day. I know, though, that the Fourth of July is a holiday held dear all over the world, and one which is remembered, if perhaps not observed, in many countries. It got me thinking about the idea of freedom – what it means, the implications it has, why it’s important, and whether it’s possible to achieve a world order in which everyone is free, all at the same time – and so today I thought I’d take a short ramble through my thoughts on the issue. Will you join me for the walk?

Image: footage.shutterstock.com

Image: footage.shutterstock.com

Freedom can be used with a lot of prepositions – freedom from, freedom to, freedom of – so, clearly, it is a concept with many facets. It means different things to different people, and freedoms expected in one culture may not be expected, or even desired, in another. Freedom is not a ‘one size fits all’ – one culture should not impose its own notions of freedom on another, I think – and, in that sense, it’s difficult to speak of a freedom that can encompass the world. In my opinion, nobody should live in fear, under oppression, or with the expectation that their liberty may be removed at any time, without warning; however, in order for this to happen, I think the world would have to change so much that it’s hard to see a way for it to become a reality. Freedom can be a threatening force to some – we all know of political regimes in which the powers that be keep an airtight hold on their citizens’ daily lives for fear that granting them an inch of liberty might spell their own downfall – and some people are interested only in a freedom that applies to them, and them alone.

Why are human beings so complicated? And so cruel, sometimes? I don’t think I’ll ever figure that one out.

For some terrible reason, humanity seems to have developed in such a way that it can only function if some of the world’s population is oppressed. Our economic systems are designed to keep certain people down; western consumer culture has trapped generations of people – often, people who live ‘far away’ and who are, therefore, easy to forget – in a spiral of poverty and overwork; certain religions and cultures deny people the freedom to gain an education, to drive a car, to live where they wish… the list is endless. It takes a greater brain than mine to come up with a way to solve these problems, I fear. It causes me a great deal of guilt when I compare the life I am privileged to lead with the life of a person who is exactly like me, but living in a different country or under a different set of beliefs, and whose life is vastly different to mine as a result of mere geography.

Can a world be forged in which we are all, to echo the great phrase, created equal? Obviously, I know every person is intrinsically equal to every other human person, simply by dint of being alive, but anyone taking a look around our planet can see that the idea of equality between peoples is, in a lot of places, nothing more than a beautiful dream. I fear too much change would be required to make it a feasible reality everywhere. Sadly, there are people who would fight tooth and nail to protect their own freedom, and that of their families and loved ones, while not caring what happens to others. But if we are not all free, to whatever extent we wish it, is there any point in any of us being free? And how free are we, really, in a world where we’re bombarded with messages about how we’re not good enough, and how we must buy and acquire and hoard more and more, and how happiness is only achievable when a particular total appears at the end of our bank statements? There are many forms of oppression, though some are far more insidious than others.

In order for freedom to be extended to all, I think a lot of people would have to give up some of the things they’ve always taken for granted, and governments all over the world would have to prove themselves trustworthy and incorrupt, and we would all have to agree on what the word ‘freedom’ actually means. Because of this, I’m not sure we’ll ever see universal equality, though it’s certainly something we should never stop striving towards. I am very grateful for the freedoms in my life, and for the fact that so many of those who’ve gone before me have paved the way for me to have the life I’ve got. What more selfless act can there be but to take action which will guarantee a better life for people you will never meet, or know? What better example to follow?

I hope all of those who celebrate the Fourth of July had a wonderful day yesterday, and I hope that people all over the world took a moment to reflect on their own freedoms, and to be grateful for them. I know I did.

Happy Friday, and I hope a wonderful weekend, full of happy things, awaits you.