Taoiseach urges sensitivity on transgender issues after Liveline controversy

Dublin Pride severs ties with RTÉ over radio discussion

Dublin Pride severed its ties with RTÉ over a Liveline discussion on transgender issues. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called for sensitive and tolerant discussion about transgender issues as he highlighted the importance of acceptance for transgender people following the decision by Dublin Pride to sever its ties with RTÉ over a Liveline discussion on the matter.

“Acceptance is the most important issue for a trans person, and (we must ensure) that the discussion is a sensitive and tolerant one that understands the need to broaden the community acceptance of this,” said Mr Martin.

“It’s a very challenging journey for a person, and everyone must recognise that. We must work collectively to make the debate, just like we did prior to marriage equality, a societal wide debate that unites people as opposed to dividing people, that should be our agenda.”

Dublin Pride said it expected “better than for RTÉ to stoke the flames of anti-trans rhetoric”, given its role not just as its media partner but “more importantly as Ireland’s national broadcaster.”

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RTÉ defended its handling of the issue and said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “disappointed” with Dublin Pride’s decision to end their media partnership but would in line with its statutory obligations respond to any formal complaints.

“Public discussion — sometimes uncomfortable, difficult, and contentious — is central to RTÉ's prescribed purpose. RTÉ is acutely aware that discussions on issues such as gender and identity are deeply personal to many,” said RTE.

Asked about the issue during a visit to St Mary’s Health Campus in Gurranebraher in Cork where he officially opened a €30 million 60 bed extension at the Heather House Community Nursing Unit, Mr Martin said “overall RTÉ has been very forward looking”.

“It has been effective in having, if you like, a broader and more tolerant debate around these issues over the decades. It has been progressive in relation of advancing greater tolerance and greater equality across the board.

“There is room for further discussion and engagement with the trans community. I think we have to be very sensitive and have platforms that facilitate informed discussion and dialogue, as opposed to maybe name-calling and saying things that may not be conducive to a more informed approach.”

The Joint Oireachtas Media and Culture committee has responded to the controversy by inviting executives from RTÉ to appear before it next week.

Meanwhile Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a lot of members of the transgender community were “very upset” by the discussion and urged sensitivity and inclusion when debating the issue.

“The only thing I would say is that, you know, these are very sensitive issues that are very personal issues. We should talk about them and debate them.

“But if we are talking about issues that relate to trans people, or any minority group, it’s important that they’re part of the debate and part of the conversation. They felt they were left out of that and if a mistake was made, I think that was a mistake.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times