‘I’ve been beaten, spat at, chased, harassed and mocked’

Gay TDs tell Dáil of treatment as Rabbitte says broadcasting rules to be relaxed

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte is to relax the rules that require broadcasters to ensure nothing can be aired that can be regarded as "reasonably" causing offence.

The move by Mr Rabbitte comes amid the continuing controversy over damages paid by RTÉ to six people including members of the Iona Institute and columnist John Waters.

The payment of about €85,000 followed an interview on RTÉ's The Saturday Night Show with performer Rory O'Neill, otherwise known as drag queen Panti Bliss, who accused certain named individuals of homophobia.

While Mr Rabbitte said the defamation laws are outside his remit, he told the Dáil he intends to relax certain aspects of the Broadcasting Act.


Labour TD John Lyons and Fine Gael's Jerry Buttimer were among seven TDs who criticised RTÉ's decision to pay out.

In an impassioned speech to the Dáil, Mr Lyons said there were two people in the chamber who “know what homophobia feels like, who know what it’s like to be called a queer, to be called a fag, to be called a gay”.

The Dublin North West TD said only recently he had walked from his own house to a shop “where a bunch of teenagers called me gay or some other name they call us. I thought I was living in a society where this stuff isn’t acceptable anymore.”

He added that Rory O’Neill had called it like it was. “He called it what it is and when it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck...I think RTÉ were completely wrong and bang out of order.”

Mr Buttimer said “RTÉ got it wrong, they got it completely wrong and they folded their tent in. And in this House in this Oireachtas we were told as gay people that it’s a matter of social re-engineering by the gay ideological movement. And I’m quoting from a member of the Seanad.”

In a forthright contribution on the issue, the Cork South-Central TD said: “I speak here not just as a gay person but as a member of society who wants to be treated equally. I’ve been beaten, spat (at), chased, harassed and mocked like Deputy Lyons because of who I am.

“I was born with a gift given to me and I spent most of my life struggling and finding a place in my own country, which I love, to be accepted.”

'Causing harm or offence'
Section 39 of the Act says broadcasters must ensure anything "which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence . . . is not broadcast".

“That seems to me to be an unfeasibly rigorous approach,” Mr Rabbitte said. “We all know how easy it is for some people to be offended, even where offence was not intended and is not objectively ascertainable.”

Among other changes, Mr Rabbitte said he is “considering an amendment that would require broadcasters to avoid causing undue offence”.