Miriam Lord: It took real guts for Ursula Halligan to say publicly she is gay
She was prepared to live with her secret – then the marriage referendum came along
‘Ursula Halligan is a very private person. She may have been prepared to live with her secret, but she was damned if she was going to allow others to suffer a similar fate.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
This has been no ordinary week. This was a week when a beautiful something, born of heartbreak, happened. When a woman I know did something very selfless and very brave. “Oh, don’t be silly,” is what she would say.
Ursula Halligan is a very private person. It took real guts for her to come out and say publicly she is a gay woman. She was prepared to live with her secret.
Then the same-sex marriage referendum came along.
And with it all those reasons she had used to convince herself that being gay is a bad thing. All the reasons, wrapped up in a fuzzy, well-meaning bundle by earnest and articulate people to explain why she isn’t the same as her heterosexual brothers and sisters.
She may have been prepared to live with her secret, but she was damned if she was going to allow others to suffer a similar fate.
She made her decision and wrote that heartbreaking piece explaining why. She told her family. Then more heartbreak – her brother Aidan died suddenly. But at least she had told him and he was happy for her.
On Monday afternoon, her brother Peter sent her a message from New York, reminding her of Aidan’s favourite quotation. It’s from Martin Luther King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Ursula decided to act and spoke out. Her trademark determination never weakened. The article was published yesterday.
She’s a bit mortified now and can’t wait to get back to normal. The astonishing reaction to her brutally honest story has knocked her for six.
“Graham Norton has tweeted?” she asks in amazement.
Yesterday, people were hugging her in the street. Running across the road to shake her hand. Some burst into tears when they spoke. It was all a bit mad.
Suddenly, journalists she knew were asking, “How did you tell your mother?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Did you know you were gay when Enda tripped over the flowerpot?”
She’s no poster girl for the Yes campaign. She just had to tell her story. And boy, did she do that. That’s the fearless Ursula Halligan that I know.
But then, I know lots of people in this referendum campaign. I know them so well I can predict what they are going to say. It’s been a 30-year relationship with some of them.
I play a little game now when there’s a referendum discussion on the telly. How many can I spot in the audience? It’s not a difficult game.
There’s the same gay men who are gay and against gay marriage, and them being gay and all.
There’s the “single mother” who is held up to be admired. “Look,” says one of the familiar people, “even this woman, an actual SINGLE MOTHER agrees with us when we say that, all things being equal, only married mammies and daddies should have sex leading to little babies.”
It seems to be the same smiley lady every time, who is related to another of the smiley ladies and her lovely smiley articulate son.
And there’s the politician – forever concerned about the little babies and how they are made. And the fast-talking legal chap who knows better than the acknowledged experts and academic authorities. Did he once work for the politician? It’s fun, working out the connections.
Bingo! Here’s an eminent lawyer understandably forgetting to mention that he’s a member of that institute his compadres keep forgetting to mention too. But I remember them.
There has to be a journalist, doesn’t there? Because we speak common sense and connect with the common man. Ah, there he is. I know them all and their dire predictions which never come to pass.
But people are busy and they often forget. They are close to God. I know them for too long now. I’m tired of them. And I know Ursula Halligan.
She is not a member of any institute or interest group. She is not out to baffle or bamboozle. She loves little babies too. She is a very spiritual woman. She is close to God. She wants to be loved. She hopes to be married. Maybe. One day.
I’m so very proud of my friend. “I am a fact, not a freak of nature,” she says.
May she, and those she dearly wants to see living a fulfilled life of love and acceptance, achieve her heart’s desire. All things being equal, it’s not a lot to ask.
House of cards beats ruffians
You get a better class of discourse in the Seanad. It’s a bit like a gentleman’s club sometimes. Take Wednesday, when the ruffians in the Dáil were disgracing themselves again.
The Taoiseach was trying to wind-up Paul Murphy by advising him to “toddle along” to an Irish Water information stand in an adjoining building if he needed answers. Having told Paul to toddle, Enda said it wasn’t his job to “spoonfeed” him information. But it is his job to answer questions posed by opposition leaders. That’s why the session is called “Leaders’ Questions”.
Here’s the exchange that sparked the ructions: “He Murphy] should go along at four o’clock and participate in the democratic presentation that will be there for him and when the Bill comes into the House, I look forward to his constructive suggestions.”
Which prompted Ruth Coppinger to ask: “What’s the point of Leaders’ Questions then?” “To tell you where to go,” grinned Enda.
Ruth, Paul and other opposition TDs had every right to be annoyed at Enda’s flippancy. He does himself and his office no favours with these displays.
Still, it was amusing to witness the anger and indignation of the Anti-Austerity Alliance duo, deeply hurt and affronted by a smart-alecky remark from a fellow elected representative. And a senior office holder at that.
It’s not so long since another senior office holder, Tánaiste Joan Burton, was trapped in her car for nearly three hours by water protesters banging on the roof and rocking the vehicle. “Did she expect a red carpet?” was Coppinger’s response at the time. Paul Murphy accused her of “hamming it up”. Oh, the irony. It’ll be lost on the thin-skinned two. But that’s the Dáil for you.
Meanwhile, in Seanead Éireann, while the shouting match was in full swing, this exchange was taking place between certain Senators and the dapper Cathaoirleach.
David Norris: “Can I compliment the Cathaoirleach on his attire? He has a very county look this afternoon and it is nice to see it in the House.”
For Mayoman Paddy Burke was, indeed, a tweedy vision in checks and flannel.
Senator Paul Coghlan: “I compliment Senator Norris on his discernment regarding the Cathaoirleach’s attire.”
Burke (embarrassed): “What does this have to do with the order of business?
Coghlan: “Senator Norris raised the matter and I am simply following the distinguished Senator’s line. Perhaps ‘western county, big house style’ would be an appropriate description?”
Burke (morto): Do you have a question?
Coghlan: “I noticed recently, while in the sunny southeast, that Lord Waterford was photographed in similar attire.”
What a splendid bunch they are in the Seanad. Lower House please note.
Government press secretary Feargal Purcell spends his time spreading the good news gospel according to his boss, Enda Kenny.
He dropped off the radar recently. But he wasn’t avoiding the media. In fact, Feargal had some good news of his own to impart when he resurfaced in Leinster House.
Purcell, who is a former Defence Forces spokesman, became a dad again when his wife, Veronica, gave birth to their second child. Rian weighed in at 8lb 10z and his big brother, Cathal, is delighted.
“One more and you’ll have a future Kilkenny full-forward line,” said the Taoiseach when hurling fan Feargal relayed the glad tidings. The new arrival displayed impeccable timing by making his entrance on a holiday weekend, when things are usually very quiet on the news front. Mother, baby and press secretary all doing well.