Former Love/Hate Star John Connors tweeted a question yesterday which, on the face of it, would leave you scratching your head. The new minister for children idolises who, exactly?
The gentleman in question is Peter Tatchell, a colourful character, who has been an LGBT rights activist in the UK since the early 1980s, and is widely admired in the gay rights movement for advancing the cause of decriminalising homosexuality when it wasn’t cool.
A couple of years ago, now Minister O’Gorman (who was then a Fingal County Councillor) was photographed with Tatchell at the Dublin Pride Parade, and said that he was “delighted to welcome him” to Dublin:
So far, so normal.
The problem is, at least in the eyes of activists like John Connors (and the hundreds of twitter accounts that liked and shared his tweet) Tatchell is more than your average gay rights activist. For example:
In 1997 Tatchell wrote a letter to The Guardian, defending an academic book about “boy-love”, calling the work “courageous”, before writing:
“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.”
On 10 March 2008, in the Irish Independent, he repeated his call for a lower age of consent to end the criminalisation of young people engaged in consenting sex and to remove the legal obstacles to upfront sex education, condom provision and safer sex advice.
Tatchell wants the age of consent lowered to 14, a position he holds to this day. On the wider issue of his attitudes to sex between adults and children, he maintains that he does not advocate a more tolerant societal position towards paedophilia, though his choice of language has, at times, been questionable:
“The positive nature of some child adult sexual relationships” is a questionable sentence, to put it mildly, as is the phrase “while it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive, or harmful”.
Tatchell does not deny writing that letter, but says it was edited by the newspaper:
Thanks Mary. My letter was edited but it still says paedophila is "IMPOSSIBLE to condone". This means I condemn & oppose it. Read my proposals to combat child sex abuse https://t.co/DBZ7bFnXQY
— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) July 2, 2020
Two things there: First, if a newspaper edited a letter of mine to make it sound like I was justifying paedophilia, I’d sue their pants off – and so would you. Second, the excuse doesn’t really wash, because “may be impossible to condone” is not the same as “impossible to condone”. There’s also the fact that in context, he seems to be saying that paedophilia may be impossible for society at large to condone, but less so for enlightened chappies like Mr. Tatchell.
Nonetheless, it’s important to note that Mr. Tatchell has, at other times, and whenever asked about this topic, said that he does not condone or support paedophilia, and has always been at pains to distance himself from that letter, and its contents.
Which brings us back to Minister O’Gorman, who, for some reason, has been appointed Minister for Children. Is it relevant that he once stood beside, and welcomed, Mr. Tatchell? Lots of people apparently think that it is. Some of the more conspiracy minded have taken it a step further, in fact:
Mmmmm. Map porn. https://t.co/zdl3pHxVPv
— Roderic O’Gorman TD (@rodericogorman) March 31, 2017
Ms. O’Doherty seems to be suggesting, for some reason, that “Map” here refers to the acronym “minor attracted person”, or somebody who is sexually attracted to children, and not the actual map in the Minister’s tweet. This seems to be, putting it kindly, a stretch, or, putting it less kindly, absurd nonsense.
On the issue of Tatchell, there are three questions that seem to be worth asking:
First, did Minister O’Gorman know of Tatchell’s prior controversies in relation to his views on child sex when he welcomed Tatchell to Dublin?
Second, if he did not know of them, would he still have welcomed him to Dublin if he knew then what he knows now?
Third, does he, or did he, ever share any of Tatchell’s views on these matters?
It seems unreasonable, to me, anyway, to hold a person accountable for standing beside another person, and it seems even more unreasonable to condemn a politician for welcoming a guest to Dublin. There is no evidence at all to condemn O’Gorman beyond the fact that he once stood beside Tatchell and welcomed him. It seems absurd to suggest that politicians are accountable for every view ever expressed by anybody they welcome, stand beside, or even admire. And it is utterly absurd to suggest that Minister O’Gorman shares any of Tatchell’s disavowed views on sex with children simply because he once said he admired him, or tweeted about a map.
That said, even if you are someone who thinks this is an absurd controversy, it is still a live controversy. And you can’t blame people for seeing the Minister for Children arm in arm with somebody who has speculated on the benefits of sex with Children, and being concerned by it. That’s not unreasonable, and such concerns should be robustly addressed, sooner rather than later. It would be to the Minister’s benefit to make clear that he repudiates the views articulated by Tatchell, and he should definitely do so.