Kathy Sheridan: First Families First take up fight for No side

Combative threesome that almost defeated children’s rights referendum enter the fray

First Families First officially launched in Buswells Hotel by Kathy Sinnott, John Waters and Gerry Fahey. The campaigning group are calling for a No vote in the upcoming marriage referendum, in order to defend the rights of existing families.


It looked a lot like old times, even if the audience was smaller. But not for long, perhaps. Occupying the top table was the same threesome that almost defeated the children’s rights referendum a couple of years ago. That was despite early polls showing 75 per cent for the Yes side.

And they did it “without spending a cent”, said John Waters with a grin.

For this outing, Kathy Sinnott had paid her own €22 bus fare from Cork, Gerry Fahey covered the room hire and Waters chipped in for the coffee.

Easy confidence

“I actually don’t know what people spend money on in elections or referendums,” he said. “We just show up . . .” The fact that just five journalists showed up for their First Families First launch – two from The Irish Times, one from RTÉ, one from TodayFM, plus Leo Sherlock, who runs theliberal.ie and is a brother of prominent pro-life activist, Cora Sherlock – failed to dent the deceptively mild, easy confidence.

There was a handful of supporters in the room. The Iona Institute’s David Quinn made a brief appearance, chatting to a couple of familiar faces at the back before leaving. But the FFF three claimed to be “absolutely independent” of Iona or any group. “We’re a completely self-standing group with a completely different agenda to everybody else,” said Waters.

Anyway, they’re accustomed to starting small. The three have one important connection: each has raised a child or children as a single parent.

It’s one of the features that separates them from other No groups, in particular from the elements proclaiming that every child needs a father and a mother. That’s not their thing, said Waters.

Biological connection

Their concern “is that the courts will set at naught the concept of biological connection” between parents and children. So they have come up with their own modest proposal – described as “fairly minimalist”, “fairly uncontroversial” – to go in tandem with the referendum to recognise it.

If that were to be accepted, he said, he wouldn’t campaign against it. He would reveal no more than that.

Sinnott said if journalists call her at home in a non-FFF context, she will tell them exactly how she intends to vote. Fahey said he would vote Yes if their proposal was accepted. Then again, it’s a big “if”.

The mildness of delivery is at odds with the language hurled about the referendum, mainly from Waters. Terms like “madness”, “insanity”, “sinister, “deadly to Irish society”, with “. . . mayhem, heartbreak and grief beyond belief . . .” are thrown around.

At one point, he veered away from the issue – although they had clearly come here determined not to be side-tracked – and gave a hint of the agitation behind the mild facade.

“There are just 230 gay couples in Ireland with children. Now consider that there are half a million children of school-going age in full-time education who are the children of single fathers. That amounts to close to a million people and they are completely ignored.

“Yet we have this absolute frenzy to address the needs of a much smaller grouping . . . I ask the question, what about the majority?

“Is this to be a society only for the minorities? By virtue of being larger, do you have in a sense to surrender your rights in order to remain tolerated within society?”

He said he doubted Enda Kenny’s conviction about this referendum, attacked the media and the “Twitter mob”, and blamed the Yes camp entirely for the “climate of bullying and harassment and calling people names and demonising people which has happened for the last year to 18 months . . .

“The idea that by raising any kind of question, that you are ipso facto a homophobe. People hiding behind pseudonyms on Twitter . . . The tearing down of posters and acting almost like Isis terrorists about it on YouTube and no voices of authority because they’re all on the other side – right up to former presidents . . .”

Sinnott delivered a warning couched in concerned tones. She knows people who are planning to vote No, she said “but they will tell everybody they’re going to vote Yes, just so they will get through their work day in one piece. . .”