Radio: Is the same-sex marriage referendum getting too much airtime or too little?

Review: ‘Liveline’, ‘The Sunday Show’, ‘Morning Ireland’, ‘The Right Hook’ and ‘Drivetime’

John Waters: says the same-sex marriage amendment would dilute concepts of a special procreative link between parents and children. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

John Waters: says the same-sex marriage amendment would dilute concepts of a special procreative link between parents and children. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Won’t somebody please think of the children? As the marriage-equality referendum draws closer the anguished refrain of Helen Lovejoy, the minister’s wife in The Simpsons, has effectively become a rallying cry in some quarters.

On Tuesday’s Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) Damien O’Reilly, its guest presenter, hears from Angela, who laments that the lifestyle choices of adults “who want it every way” are overshadowing the needs of children. And this is just what she thinks of existing marital arrangements. Angela’s disapproval is directed not at the proposed change to our marriage laws but at women who “don’t understand the skill it takes to be a good mother”.

These “Celtic cub” mothers want “a baby, an outside job, a social life and somebody to look after the baby and money”. All of which does indeed seem like a selfish wish list, at least if one were to go by the standards of 1955.

O’Reilly is polite but tentatively asks whether her views aren’t a tad out of date, wondering why mothers shouldn’t want to work in these high-cost days. For Angela it’s a matter of balance. She suggests part-time work, ideally at home, such as ironing clothes, although in the end “baby comes first”.

Several callers challenge Angela’s views, although they don’t come to the expected blows, so gently sincere does she sound.

When the subject of children is raised in the context of the referendum, however, the atmosphere is far more contentious. On The Sunday Show (Newstalk, Sunday) the journalist John Waters tells Shane Coleman, the programme’s presenter, why he is campaigning for a No vote. He objects not, he says, to “same-sex marriage per se” but to the “profound effect” the amendment will have if passed, as any “new definition of the family” will “dilute” existing concepts of a special procreative link between parents and children.

Waters, who has long campaigned against what he sees as unfair treatment of fathers in family law, says that the proposed change will render any postdivorce parental relationship with children “null and void”. He concedes that what he says is the current unjust situation towards parental rights is “equally damaging to straight couples as to gay couples” but feels that the referendum will finally negate the “biological connection”. It is not, he says, “a free gift you can give to the gay community”.

Waters comes across as studiedly indifferent to same-sex marriage rather than actively hostile but still adopts the language of persecution that has become the lingua franca of the No campaign. He claims that people aren’t allowed to have a “nuanced” objection to the referendum, even as Coleman allows him the time to expound views that veer as much towards convolution as nuance. And he repeats the common claim that the No side is being silenced by a “climate of intimidation and menace”, a point underlined by this lengthy appearance on a national radio show (and indeed in this column).

There is another example of this shameful silencing on Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays), as the journalist David Quinn tells Jonathan Healy why he is campaigning for a No vote. Talking in the aftermath of Archbishop Eamon Martin’s appearance on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), in which the cleric characterised the referendum as the State saying that “homosexual acts are a moral good”, Quinn is in many ways refreshingly frank.

He says that the idea of the Catholic Church not carrying out the civil aspect of weddings is indeed a “threat”, in contrast to the archbishop’s strenuous objections that it was no such thing. Quinn also makes the reasonable point that “people who call for church-state separation should be applauding” this idea, which holds sway in France. (He helpfully ignores the logical corollary that the church might also withdraw its presence from State-funded schools.)

What Quinn really wants to do is talk about children. But as he complains to the increasingly exasperated Healy that the amendment places “no special value in a child having the love of a mother and a father” it sounds like he is less worried about the children than he is about the gender orientation of the adults giving the love.

Amid all this concern for the young, a true champion for rights of childhood emerges in the unlikely form of George Hook. On Tuesday the presenter of The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays) talks to the psychotherapist Stella O’Malley about the overprotective hue of modern parenting – or how, to use Hook’s argot, “we think they’re going to abducted into the white slave trade if we let them walk home alone”.

Citing Charles Lamb’s essay The Joys of Staying in Bed, the host bemoans children being “rousted” on weekend mornings for activities and mourns the passing of simple childhood pleasures like climbing a tree or “waxing a gazza” – clambering up a streetlight, in Hook’s arcane Cork slang. It’s a wistfully nostalgic but oddly inspirational item. Then again, that’s how it should be when children’s happiness really is the issue.

Moment of the Week: Sensitive spot
On Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) the reporter Frances Shanahan visits an open day at a Waterford Garda station. Among others she talks to Danny Murphy of the aquatic unit, and draws attention to a nearby inflatable boat used for search operations. “This is absolutely full of kids,” says the reporter cheerily, “more people than you find in one of these boats in the Mediterranean fleeing from North Africa.” “Very true,” responds the guard, “and none of them are wearing life jackets.” Talk about sensitivity.

radioreview@irishtimes.com

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