You know those times where you think of the perfect response to an argument five minutes after walking away from the person you were arguing with?
Well, it wasn’t an argument, but that happened to me yesterday, and I don’t think I’ll top it for a long time.
Yesterday, I met the Taoiseach.
He was campaigning for a Yes vote in tomorrow’s Marriage Equality referendum (while quietly ignoring the Age of Presidential Candidates one, a matter I’ve made my views more than clear on).
The Taoiseach, who I have to admit was very polite, saw me standing there with my as yet un-sipped coffee in my hand, offered his hand and said “Hello, what’d your name?”
For the purpose of this article my name was Contributor X, and the conversation went like this¹:
Taoiseach: Hello, what’s your name?
X: Good morning Taoiseach, Contributor X.
*At this point I realised that opportunities like this don’t come along every day so an admittedly half-formed question came blurting out of my mouth.*
X: Taoiseach, is there any chance of making it illegal to put up lies and propaganda posters for future elections and referenda?
Taoiseach: Freedom of expression is important.
X: Yes, but people are putting up posters that are deliberately misleading the public as to what the referendum is actually about.
Taoiseach: I believe the truth will win out in the end.
X: Well… I hope so.
At this point I would like to say that I believe the early and unexpected nature of this meeting, coupled with my uncaffeinated state is why the conversation went like that, instead of like this:
Taoiseach: Freedom of expression is important.
X: If freedom of expression is so important, does that mean that your Government has plans to repeal the Blasphemy Law?
(Imaginary Random Bystander: Awww snap!)
I am kicking myself a little that I didn’t think of turning the conversation that way. But I am buoyed by the fact that just an hour ago I was speaking to a Fine Gael source, a TD actually, who shall remain nameless since I didn’t let him know at the beginning of our conversation that this article was likely to be written.
Naturally, I put this scenario to the TD¹:
X: I was speaking to the Taoiseach yesterday morning and I suggested that perhaps putting up posters that were wrong or misleading should be made illegal for campaigns like this in the future. The Taoiseach said that freedom of expression wouldn’t allow that.
TD: You see the problem with that is it all comes down to interpretation. If we say “if you say anything that’s factually incorrect, you’re going to prison” someone might say something that’s then interpreted the wrong way and they’re punished.
X: If freedom of expression is that important, do you think the Government should repeal the Blasphemy Law?
TD: Yes. We should get rid of the Blasphemy Law, in my opinion it should have been the second referendum along with the Marriage Equality one tomorrow as opposed to the Presidential one.
X: The No campaign are obviously well funded and have a lot of legal advice behind them; because a lot of their posters and what they’re saying is veering dangerously close to Incitement to Hatred but stopping just short of hitting the nail on the head.
TD: Yes, I actually agree.
X: Personally I just think it’s a little ridiculous that I can put up a poster that implies that single-parent families aren’t legitimate families, or that deliberately tries to mislead the electorate on an amendment to the constitution and nothing happens to me; but if I stub my toe against the wall getting down from putting that poster up and shout “Jesus Christ!” when I do I can be legally punished.
It obviously hadn’t been put to him this way before because at this point the TD actually started (justifiably) laughing. While presented as a joke, this situation is entirely factual, and it’s entirely laughable.
The TD also said that while he is in favour of a Yes for the Age of Presidential Candidates referendum tomorrow they (the Government, Fine Gael, or people like myself who are strongly in favour of passing the amendment – take your pick) are “going to be decimated”.
I’ve already mentioned that he would have liked the Blasphemy Law to be the second referendum tomorrow, but he hopes it’s the next one on the table.
When asked if there would be another referendum before next April (the latest date the current Government can remain in power until) he said he doesn’t see it happening.
Which is really too bad. I’ve been advocating a yes vote on both referenda since the beginning, but as unusual as it may be for a contributor to this site to agree with any member of the Government on anything, he has a valid point.
Regarding Marriage Equality, the strong Yes-s were always going to vote yes, and the strong No-s were always going to vote no. All the hate and vitriol you’re seeing posted up everywhere and the confusion and fear mongering you’re hearing on broadcast media, aren’t aimed at changing a yes to a no, it’s aimed and swinging the Undecided-s.
And a I don’t think I would be entirely incorrect to say that the vast majority of it is paid for by Conservative Christian Special Interest groups.
If the Blasphemy Law was the other issue tomorrow, then the Yes side would have most of the current strong Yes-s, anyone in favour of free speech, and anyone who wants the Catholic Church to loosen it’s grip on Ireland and Irish politics.
While the No side would have most of the current strong No-s, but would have to split their funding between saying that homosexuality is the work of the devil and saying that thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.
Picture the scene:
An undecided voter is approached on the street by a No campaigner.
Said campaigner goes to great lengths to confuse the voter, by talking about adoption, surrogacy, and any number of irrelevant things in an effort to convince our Undecided to vote against civil marriage equality.
After ten minutes or so our Undecided voter seems fairly convinced and the No campaigner leaves.
At this point a Yes campaigner approaches the voter and simply says “Y’know, that’s the same side that says you should be imprisoned, fined, or both, if you say ‘God damn it!’ after accidentally locking yourself out of the house. Do you really think they’re the people you should be listening to?”
That really seems like a landslide victory in both referenda to me.
Unfortunately that isn’t the case tomorrow, so for the last time on this site before polls open (from 7am to 10pm tomorrow), I once again urge you:
Please vote Yes.
Please do it twice.
¹. Neither of these conversations were recorded and are reproduced here from memory. To that extent I cannot claim them to be quotes but rather paraphrased to the utmost of my recollection.