New trans support network calls for better balance on RTÉ programmes

Groups say Joe Duffy’s Liveline phone-in shows ‘stigmatised and misrepresented’ trans community

Dublin's annual Pride parade. Photograph: Alan Betson

A new network of groups supporting transgender people has called on RTÉ to ensure that its programmes in future strike a balance between free speech and protecting vulnerable minorities.

Trans Equality Together, which includes groups such as the National Women’s Council (NWC), Amnesty International Ireland and the Irish Network Against Racism, raised concerns about three recent programmes on RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline phone-in show about trans people.

In a letter to The Irish Times published on Friday, the group said it supported the decision of Dublin Pride, one of its members and a signatory to the letter, to end its media partnership with RTÉ over the programmes.

“By positioning whether trans people have a right to exist, are entitled to basic human dignity, have a right to live free of discrimination and harassment as matters of ‘debate’, Liveline failed to recognise the vulnerability of the trans community, their needs and contributed instead by stigmatising, misrepresenting and further harming trans people,” the group said in the letter.

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The network said the dangers and risks of potential violence and discrimination against trans people were “not adequately taken into account in the framing of the discussions”.

“In defending freedom of expression, we must also consider that giving airtime to groups that would deny the basic rights of a minority community has the effect of intimidating and silencing those minorities, while also contributing to their stigmatisation and isolation in society,” it said.

The group called on RTÉ to ensure that all programmes in future “strike the correct balance between editorial freedom and the right to free speech while protecting and giving a voice to vulnerable minorities like the trans and non-binary community in Ireland.”

RTÉ has said it was “disappointed” by Dublin Pride’s decision to end its media partnership with the broadcaster and defended the programme saying that the nature of Liveline meant that one side of a discussion or another could be hurt by the content of debate on the programme.

Peter Woods, head of RTÉ Radio One, apologised to any transgender people who were offended or hurt by the content of the programmes.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday called for any discussion of trans issues to be “sensitive and tolerant” that “understands the need to broaden the community acceptance of this”.

“It is 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,” he said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that issues were “very sensitive” and “very personal” and that they should be talked about and debated. “If we are talking about issues that relate to trans people, or any minority group, it is important that they are part of the debate and part of the conversation.”

A spokeswoman for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the regulatory body, said it had received two emails of complaint about the Liveline programmes and was copied on a third directed to RTÉ.

Orla O'Connor of the National Women's Council: "Important that we use inclusive language."

Orla O’Connor, director of the NWC, challenged what she called a “misrepresentation” by some Liveline callers that the word “women” was being removed from legislation so as not to discriminate against transgender people. She argued that this misrepresentation was happening “almost on purpose to stoke division here in Ireland when there isn’t one.”

“It is very important that in policies and in legislation that we retain the word ‘women’ but it is also important that we use inclusive language, so we have been advocating for inclusive language in legislation and policy,” she said. “What that means is that in different places you use the words ‘women and’ so it could be ‘women and pregnant people’.”

She said that another example of inclusive language was the HSE’s use of “women and people with a cervix” for screening programmes to include trans women.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times