PHELIM TRIUMPHANS, IRIS REDUX?

The Brighton-based magazine 3SIXTY dealt with Iris Robinson in its Aug 08 edition. The front cover carries a sub-heading God Bless Iris Robinson. Which is meaningless? Possibly it is post-modern irony. Which is as dead as the Dodo. On page 9 there is a short report about Iris’s falling over her mouth comparing homosexuality – to its discredit – with pedophilia, in a Westminster debate. The headline is Provincial attitudes get worse. Hasn’t Brighthelmstone got grand since it became the City of Brighton (and Hove)? ’Provincial attitudes’ begorrah!

Local attitudes in Northern Ireland have not got worse. Iris may well have clarified such matters for a majority in the place; and not in favour of happy-clappy, glazed-eyed Pentecostalism. An article Oh Please, Mrs. Robinson is billed in the Contents on page 3. It has the sub-heading How has Iris Robinson’Seanti-gay comments affected the gay community? It appears on page 15, under the title Oh Please, Mrs. Robinson. There is no explanation for the emphasis on ‘Oh Please’. Is it an actual plea? Is it more irony? Did someone’s mouse take on a life of it’s own? The article is authored by Phelim Mac Cafferty (Media Officer for LGBT Greens, www.lgbtgreens.org.uk), whether this means local Brighton Greens or the Party ‘nationally’, whatever that may imply on England’s south coast, is not made clear. Phelim Mac Cafferty is “somewhat of a refugee from ‘the North’” (‘of Ireland’ is presumably to be understood – there is a distinctive ‘North’ of England). He does not remember the place clearly. He claims the Save Ulster from Sodomy slogan “was emblazoned in ten-foot tall letters across the Victorian dome of Belfast City Hall”. Phelim probably recalls the Ulster Says ‘No’! banner (slightly obscured under the dome) of the City Hall in the wake of the Hillsborough Accord (sic) of 1984.

Sodomy law had been brought into line with what NIGRA (the NI Gay Rights Association) described as the “insulting and discriminatory” laws extant in the rest of the UK state – in 1982. NIGRA had sponsored Jeff Dudgeon’s successful case (on his right to privacy) at the European Court of Human Rights. (The ‘Dudgeon Judgment’ has been quoted in the Supreme Courts of Romania, Columbia, the USA, and other states). The law (the 1967 Act) was extended to Northern Ireland in 1982, by Order in Council. The delay was due to Thatcher (latterly, author of Clause 28).

The money for the ‘Strasbourg Case’ came from places as far apart as Seattle and Sydney (with Brighton supplying the most generous set of contributions). This context should be kept in mind, (as should the boycott of ‘the North’ by the UK’s Parties of State), when discussing Iris Robinson, the DUP, or ‘Northern Ireland’. In 1994 NIGRA plugged the gap that opened between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK state, on the matter of sodomy law, in a matter of weeks. That (and the influence of Mo Mowlem), is probably why we have been included in further changes in the law.

ON GOOD FRIDAY “This is quite apart from the ‘equality’ measurements included in the Good Friday Agreement (alias the Government of Northern Ireland Act 1998). The LGBT community was included in the equality agenda on the insistence of Dr. Steven King, an Ulster Unionist representative on the committee helping to draw-up the overall Agreement. He is a ‘Nigra-person’. The DUP (which was a minority party on Belfast City Council during the campaign against the Hillsborough Accord) have to obey what is now the law of the land. They are making valiant efforts not to obey the law, by withholding funds from various Gay organisations. It will not work, as the rest of the Assembly parties (including the one Green MLA) are largely committed to the ‘equality’ agenda. The DUP, of course, got to be the majority Unionist party by being more-Loyal-than-thou, and claiming that it would never (never, never ” never) share power with ‘Sinn Fein / IRA’ as they (interminably) described the people they are now ” sharing power with. It is more than conceivable that the DUP is grandstanding on Gay matters to save its (political) arse. (See the article DUPlicity? in the September edition of this publication). Phelim makes a number of relatively small points that need to be cleared up. He writes, “last year” bigots threw dog excrement at Pride marchers”. This is not accurate. It is difficult to know where such disinformation comes from. Belfast does not really have “a large turnout from the Bible-basher brigade”, and now (try not to gloat) they are in two separate protests. ((See Out On Our Geg?) for a report of this year’s Belfast Pride dander). This is partly because the Stop the Parade (they were too bigoted to mention Gay or LGBT, or Pride) Campaign insisted that the Pride Committee appear before the Parades Commission. The tactic blew up in their face – they – as well as the queers, had to obey the rules led down by the Commission. (As noted in the Out On “? article, they find obeying the rules somewhat trying). It should be said that the police, the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), then PSNI (Police Service of NI) have been businesslike-to-friendly on all of the Pride danders since 1991.

Is there really “documented” evidence that there is more anti-Gay violence in Northern Ireland than in other parts of these islands? When the Dunbar Link pub was bombed in 1989, the metropolitan Gay press took a fairly detached attitude to the matter – then Soho’s Admiral Duncan was bombed a decade later. Simultaneously a detachment of religious head-bangers led by Baroness Young surfaced in the House of Lords to oppose Gay law reform. If some academic or journalist went to the trouble of documenting England, Scotland or Wales (or the Republic) the differences between those enlightened landSeand ‘our wee Ulster’ might not be that significant.

(I recall black’n’white telly from the early 1960s. Damp-eyed social workers used to appear (relatively) regularly to discuss domestic violence. It was called ‘wife-beating’ in those far-off days. The rubric was always “Of course, the Irish are the worst”. (It was the ‘of course’ that always got me). When some sort of organised examination of the problem was actually engaged-in, the working class Irish were near the bottom of the list). In the lee of the first ceasefire in 1994, the incidence of anti-Gay violence shot up. So did violence against women and against ethnic minorities. We should get out of the habit of tunnel-vision in regard to our own problems and position in society. Even in Brighton.

STRAW BERRY (?)

Phelim Mac Cafferty sneers at Paul Berry “a DUP councillor for Lisburn”, it was Armagh, and he was also an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) which doesn’t legislate. Berry was “allegedly caught red-handed using the services of a male prostitute” in 2005″. Phelim “salute[s]” the rent-boy (masquerading as a ‘masseur’) “who exposed Berry’s activities”. It was to the tabloid Sunday World, which has a quite extensive history of similar homophobic ‘exposures’ (some of which have driven victims to suicide). This incident is used to attack the DUP as “not only homophobic but also hypocritical”, which is fair enough. But surely they go together like peaches and cream everywhere?

More to the point, Berry wrote in a letter to a constituent that he did not agree with the homophobic elements in DUP policy. There are a number of others in the DUP who find the obsession with what queers get up to irritating as well as socially inconsequential ‘ and politically debilitating. Some are MLAs, though probably not MPs. As in many other organisations, it isn’t always the cream that floats to the top. Together, Berry (who may have had an ulterior motive) and these others could conceivably have turned the DUP into a more inclusive party.

Some of the remarks by DUP representatives that Phelim parades seem to me pretty fair comment. Edwin Poots, when a minister, said that Gay rugger was a form of ‘apartheid’. It may be an ill-chosen analogy, particularly as the DUP was hardly at the cutting-edge of anti-Apartheid campaigning. But it’s hardly a hanging offence. Iris Robinson and Ian Paisley junior drivelling on about being disgusted, and in the latter case “repulsed” by Gay women and men (why did they have to ‘repulse’ him, what was he up to?) is trivial. They have never shown signs of being put off their food by the presence of Gay people. (Iris, it need hardly be said, is something of a ‘fag hag’).

SMALL BEER

The DUP is, even in terms of Northern Ireland, rather small beer. As noted above they got the majority of Unionist votes at the last elections (those for Westminster, as well as for Stormont (the site of the NI Assembly)) on an uncompromisingly anti-Sinn Fein ticket. They were ‘in bed’ with SF within days of getting elected. And Sinn Fein has a powerful weapon to use against them. They could withdraw from Stormont (SF, despite having five MPs, does not attend Westminster), and leave the DUP to the wrath of an electorate it has (by anybody’s standards) betrayed. (Dr. Paisley’s resignation becomes rather more ‘politic’ seen in this light.) On a more earth-bound note, Sinn Fein’s representatives give their salaries to the ‘movement’ and take a reasonable wage in return. DUP MLAs are not in the same position. They stand to lose a very nice package ( £20k plus all sorts of expenses) if they lose their present cushy numbers (two days a week attendance at Stormont – when it actually ‘sits’).

Phelim Mac Cafferty rather alarmingly writes “we must push” the government for laws which prohibit homophobes from holding office “”. Has New Labour not passed enough restrictive laws without our asking for more? How is homophobia to be measured? Who is going to do the measuring? The problems in drawing up such legislation are endless.

Like most people who have been at the wrong end of discrimination, I want to know when people (particularly organised, powerful people and groups) hate me because I am queer, because of my ‘perceived religion’, political views, or skin-tint.

New Labour insists, in the Government of Northern Ireland Act 1998, that everybody in Northern Ireland is either Protestant or Roman Catholic – to get to be ‘Other’ is impossible for those of us born in ‘the jurisdiction’. (I am probably a ‘Protestant’ due to my over-clever attempts to avoid answering the seven questions on the 2001 Census form soliciting one’s ‘birth-religion’ – a very curious concept apart from anything else).

Open, blatant bigotry, in the DUP manner should be mandatory – there are plenty of racists, homophobes and Islamophobes in Westminster using smooth inoffensive patter to disguise their hatred. We should not provide them with another layer of cant to hide behind.

 

Sean McGouran

 

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