It is not hard to see why supporters of the Children’s Minister, Roderic O’Gorman, might feel aggrieved by the controversy swirling around him online. From their point of view, this is an open-and-shut case: The now Minister appeared in a photograph, at Dublin Pride, in 2018, with UK campaigner Peter Tatchell. After his appointment, that photograph surfaced, and now the Minister is being accused, in some circles, of being a paedophile sympathiser at best, and more than that at worst. All for standing in a photo and welcoming a guest.
In its own way, its symptomatic of the entirely toxic nature of modern politics, and modern culture, where no quarter is given, and the benefit of the doubt is never extended. Kevin Myers and George Hook, amongst others, have been victims of that in recent years, and now, they might wryly observe, the shoe is on the other foot.
And let us be clear about this: Taking all the evidence into account, Minister O’Gorman deserves the benefit of the doubt. It is Tatchell, not O’Gorman, who made abhorrent comments about sex with children. It is Tatchell, not O’Gorman, who eulogised a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
But being given the benefit of the doubt is not the same thing, in anyone’s book, as being allowed a free pass, or being allowed to avoid questions altogether.
And, let’s be absolutely clear about this: It is neither homophobic, nor unreasonable, to ask the Minister for Children to distance himself from, and condemn, comments that justify or promote sex with children.
This isn’t just some passing controversy, either. It has now been trending on social media for three or four days. Normally, something only has to trend on social media for half an hour to make it into our content-starved press, but in this instance, there is a total media blackout. Why is that?
Part of it, one suspects, is fear of a punishment tweeting. My own piece about this story last week bent over backwards to be fair to O’Gorman, and to call out some of the more obviously nonsensical allegations circulating about him. Despite that, Gript has been denounced as “homophobic” all weekend by O’Gorman’s defenders on social media. But the truth is that if you had never heard of O’Gorman before you read my piece, nothing in it would have identified him to you as a gay man. The homophobia charge is a fig leaf, and an offensive one at that.
One could easily understand how O’Gorman got himself into this fix to begin with. Until last week, yours truly wasn’t aware of the things Tatchell had said or done, either. Had he appeared beside me at an event two years ago, I’d have had zero problem being photographed with him. But was I to be asked about it today, I’d also have no problem saying “I did not know about those comments and they are disgusting”. Why can’t the Minister for Children do the same?
There are really only three explanations: The first one is simply that he does not believe those comments are disgusting, in which case he should not be the Minister for Children, or indeed a Minister for anything at all.
The second possible explanation is that he doesn’t want to raise the profile of the story by addressing it – but what has he to fear from that? “Minister for Children denounces campaigner’s comments about paedophilia” is hardly a bad headline for a politician. In fact, it’s possibly the ideal headline, in any context.
The third is probably the one that’s closest to the truth: That the Minister for Children, while not sharing Tatchell’s views on sex with children, feels an enduring tribal loyalty to Tatchell for his work on gay rights, and doesn’t want to hang him out to dry by condemning him, and making Tatchell headline news both in Ireland and the UK.
In some ways, this is understandable, but it’s horribly misguided. Yes, Tatchell is an icon of the gay rights movement, and many gay people are probably grateful to him for his work on that. But that doesn’t give him a pass on children’s rights. This is a man who said:
“The positive nature of some child–adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.”
It doesn’t matter who said those words, or what the person who said them did before, or after, he said them. They remain words that any Minister for Children should condemn without equivocation. Roderic O’Gorman is refusing to condemn them, and whatever his reasons for refusing might be, the refusal renders him totally unfit for office.
Nothing else matters: Not the Minister’s sexuality. Not Tatchell’s past record. Not the fact that many people online have gone overboard and said ridiculous things about the Minister. All of it is irrelevant. The only thing that matters to parents in Ireland is this: Does the Minister for Children condemn those words? And if he doesn’t, why does he not?
We’re not going to drop this story, because it’s too important. Children and their welfare matter more than what side you are on in the culture war.
Update: And right on cue, the Minister does the right thing. Why did it take him almost a week?
Mr O’Gorman said on Monday that Dublin Pride was “the first and only time” he met Mr Tatchell. Asked if he knew of the 1997 letter before Pride, the Green Party Minister said he did not.
“I had no idea about the letter. Had I read it straight before the march I probably would have re-considered (taking a photo with him). I absolutely don’t share his views on those points”