Coveney: Yes vote a statement that ‘it’s okay to be gay’ in Ireland

Civil society groups and individual testimonies deserve much of the credit for Yes win

Saturday's strong Yes vote is a statement that "it's okay to be gay" in modern day Ireland, according to Minister for Agriculture and Fine Gael director of elections Simon Coveney.

Speaking at Cork City Hall where the Yes side appears set for a resounding victory in his constituency of Cork South Central, Mr Coveney said the tallies nationally also look very encouraging.

“I don’t want to be too presumptious but it is looking like a very strong endorsement of a Yes vote,” said Mr Coveney as he paid tribute to the various civil society groups involved in the Yes campaign.

“I won’t be thanked by my party for saying this but I don’t think political parties won this campaign, I think they helped but it was campaigns like BeLonG To”, YesEquality –those civil society groups.


“And it was also down to, parents who for many years would have been dealing with the emotional pressure of supporting a gay son or a lesbian daughter for many years but didn’t speak about it.

“But now they have come out and spoken publically about it and believe this was their chance to lift a burden from their families and that was very powerful over the last few weeks.”

Mr Coveney also highlighted the contribution journalist Ursula Halligan when she came out and revealed that she had never felt able to come out as a lesbian woman until this month.

“I think what Ursula Halligan said shocked people that Ireland could have stood by and left a woman of her talent imprisoned since her teenage years and suppressing her capacity to love.

“And all because she couldn’t find acceptance in her own country – that is why we got the turnout that we have today and the likely result we are going to have today – because of stories like that.

“People recognised that Ireland needed to change to allow people like Ursula and so many others to live as themselves, to love as themselves and that was a powerful motivation for people to say Yes.”

Mr Coveney said that while the referendum was ostensibly about extending the rights of civil marriage to gay and lesbian people, it was also a statement about Ireland as a country.

And he said it reflected well on the country and its young people and he highlighted the fact that some 66,000 emigrants had returned home from as far away as Australia to vote Yes.

“That is because so many people have seen gay people in their own family or peer group struggling to find acceptance in their family and in their community and in their own mind.

“In many ways, the statement that Ireland is making today is that it’s okay to be gay, it’s okay to be who you are, it’s okay to love who you want to love and your country accepts you for who you are.”

Meanwhile, leading marriage equality campaigner and Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer has hailed the anticipated Yes victory in the marriage equality referendum as heralding a new era for Irish society.

Mr Buttimer, who represents Cork South Central which is on course to return a near two to one Yes majority, said it was “a fantastic day” not just for gays and lesbians but all of Irish society.

“It’s a great day and no words can describe what it feels like but what it means is the Irish people in their strength of numbers have said we are all equal, we are all cherished under our constitution.”

Mr Buttimer said that great credit was due to so many people including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton and former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore for holding the referendum.

But great credit was also due to the countless ordinary men and women, both gay and straight, who had gone knocking on doors and bringing the message of marriage equality to the people, he said.

“It’s been a hugely emotional campaign, it’s been personal and it’s about relationships but it’s also about other men and women in long term relationships,” said Mr Buttimer.

“What struck me about this campaign was the number of people who have never been involved in politics but who came out to help, young and old, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents.

“There’s been a tremendous outpouring of civic duty - every night we canvassed there were different people coming out who wanted to help and that was the hallmark of this campaign.

“And then we had the ordinary person telling their story and it gave a lot of people a passport to be who they really are- a government minister, a former government minister, a broadcaster.

“More importantly, the ordinary person took the courage to have that conversation with their family and they came out and asked the Irish people for permission and it was absolutely fantastic.”

Mr Buttimer, one of a handful of openly gay TDs, said great work was done to get people register to vote earlier in the year and those people delivered by turning out and voting in their droves.

He instanced one young man who got stuck in traffic travelling from Dublin to Cork and had to sprint to the polling station to get in with just minutes to spare to register his vote and have his say.

“I respect those who vote the other way yesterday but we are a democracy and today we stand on the threshold of a new republic where liberty and equality are the hallmarks of what we stand for.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times