The newly formed government of the Twenty-Six County state in Ireland has been in existence less than a month but is already mired in several controversies; the usual circuses thrown up by capitalist society with governments lurching from each to the next without any alteration to the status quo.
One of them is worth looking in some detail at as it highlights an important rift between socialism and liberalism on a particularly vexatious question as well elucidating some of the dynamics currently at play within the Irish far-right.
The scandal concerns the newly appointed Minister for Children, Roderick O’Gorman of the Green Party, and his association with LGBT activist Peter Tatchell, a man alleged by many to be a paedophile apologist.
O’Gorman uploaded a photo of himself and Tatchell at Dublin Pride in 2018 to Twitter and it from this that the controversy was initially sparked.
On Saturday last, Ireland’s rag-tag band of far-right freaks organised a protest which they claimed was to highlight O’Gorman’s association with Tatchell.
The far-right, in typical opportunist fashion, will latch onto any social or political issue to advance their agenda. There can be no doubt, on this occasion, that their agenda was homophobic, and hate filled. Some of their number were photographed at the rally holding posters with images of nooses.
One of the speakers was Justin Barret, a neo-Nazi who in 2017 stated publicly that the party he leads, the so-called National Party, is “only for straight Irish people” and denounced then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s “gayness”.
The rally was also hypocritical in the extreme, as demonstrated by the attendance of Hermann Kelly, leader of the far-right Irexit Party.
In 2007, Kelly published Kathy’s Real Story: A Culture of False Allegations Exposed which attempted to undermine the claims of those who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the state’s religious orders.
In the mid-2000s Kelly also had a hand in the editorship of The Irish Catholic, a newspaper which frequently downplayed the paedophile priest scandals constantly flowing from within the Catholic Church.
However, the unusual size of last Saturday’s demonstration where several hundred, rather than the usual handful or few dozen, begs the question of how the far-right have managed to convince an additional layer of people to unashamedly attend one of their rallies.
The answer lies in the promotion of their agenda by at least two personalities with large enough social media followings.
The first is John Connors, an actor and Traveller activist. It is a pity Connors has aligned himself with such elements, as he was doing good work for the Travelling community. Perhaps he will see sense, but more likely he is too far gone. Who knows?
The second, Ciara Kelly, is a right-wing shock jock who regularly attacks public sector workers, the Irish language, or whatever you’re having that day, at the behest of her masters in the corporatist Newstalk radio station.
But at the crux of this was the question of children and Tatchell. So, why is Tatchell so controversial?
In 1986, Tatchell contributed a chapter to The Betrayal of Youth, a book edited by pro-paedophile activist and Paedophile Information Exchange member Warrant Middleton. In 1998, Tatchell wrote an obituary for Ian Dunn, a founding member of the same group.
Today Tatchell claims he was oblivious to the involvement of both men in the group. But a letter written from his own hand to The Guardian in 1997 advocated the lowering of the age of consent in the UK.
The letter stated that “not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive or harmful” and that:
“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”
Tatchell has since attempted to deflect from the stance he took in the letter by claiming the newspaper edited it and that he “implied” most sex with children was abusive.
For many people, however, Tatchell’s “clarifications” amount to a semantic fudging of the issue at hand. While he does not directly advocate for sex between children and adults, he does so indirectly by quoting “young people” who apparently “enjoyed” these “experiences”.
Most rational people would surmise in talking to such children that they were not emotionally mature enough at the time to understand what they “enjoyed” or did not “enjoy”.
Consequently, their framing of early abusive experiences in later life would most likely have been as a result of a type of Stockholm syndrome in which they believed their abuser to have somehow been benevolent.
Ultimately, Tatchell’s “clarifications” do nothing for the vast majority who believe that all sex between a child and an adult is immoral and illegal.
The British Establishment
Tatchell’s comments cannot be separated from his role as an asset of British imperialism. The British media, by and large, have given Tatchell a pass on the disgraceful stance he took in the 1990s.
Today Tatchell functions as a useful tool for spreading dissent in places like Russia, a state that doubtless inflicts gross violations of human rights on its LGBT population.
Nevertheless, Tatchell’s activities in calling for Western intervention in countries like Iraq and Syria illustrate the UK foreign policy implications of his activism. The fact is, for these reasons, the media have never dwelled for any significant amount of time on Tatchell’s obfuscation of paedophilia.
Instead, they have lauded him as a key gay rights activist of the last few decades; The Guardian even going so far as to platform Tatchell by providing him the opportunity of hosting a video debate on lowering the age of consent and describing him as a “national treasure”.
Tatchell has successfully convinced the British establishment, especially its liberal wing, and a great many ordinary people, that the attacks against him are purely homophobic in nature and orchestrated by the likes of the British National Party.
While this is certainly true, in part, it should not detract from the content of his pronouncements and the real problem that they present for LGBT activists and the liberal “left” more widely.
Guilt by Association?
As if to compound the problem of Tatchell’s continued acceptance as a champion of gay rights, many Irish liberals have leapt to both his and Roderick O’Gorman’s defence.
On Twitter, the usual haunt of these sorts (many, like Tatchell himself, also Green Party members or supporters), there has been an attempt to obscure Tatchell’s views.
Some, apparently, believe his words need to be “contextualised”. But the arguments put forth are no better than Tatchell’s own sematic responses. What is to be “contextualised” about deflecting from the fact that sex between an adult and a child is wrong in all cases?
Clearly, Tatchell should be ostracised from any progressive movements for making comments that are tantamount to opening the door to paedophilia.
The assertion has been advanced too that Tatchell was merely in a solitary quick photo with O’Gorman, which was then uploaded in haste to Twitter. But this is disingenuous. There are other photos of Tatchell marching behind the Green’s main banner at Pride.
As any activist will know, who marches behind a banner is usually quite controlled. Non-members, and the non-aligned, cannot simply waltz up and take up a prominent position.
Tatchell also spoke on a platform during Pride 2018 with members of other political parties including the centre-right Fine Gael and centre-left Sinn Féin.
It seems bizarre that he was in Dublin attending these events, in more than a mere personal capacity, and that the issue of his past stance on paedophilia, if it was known, was not factored into the equation by those who extended him an invite.
If it was, then it needs to be asked what the rationale for dismissing that stance was?
Social Media Polarisation
Following the furore last week on social media, O’Gorman issued a statement saying the views expressed by Tatchell in the 90s were “abhorrent”.
If this is so, then why were O’Gorman’s defenders, in the days before he issued his statement, attempting to play down Tatchell’s views?
The simple answer is because Twitter, especially, polarizes arguments into simple “us” versus “them” scenarios. Either a person is with the homophobic far-right or stands with O’Gorman – and, by default, Tatchell.
There is no room to make the more complicated argument that while people on the Left should of course oppose the hate campaigns of the neo-fascist “cultural war”, there are also serious questions posed by the association of a Minister for Children with someone like Tatchell.
It is important to note here that the statement eventually issued by O’Gorman on the controversy appeared content to accept Tatchell’s “clarifications”.
In doing so O’Gorman has missed the point entirely; that Tatchell does not think all sex between adults and children constitutes abuse.
Working class experiences
In O’Gorman’s refusal to completely distance himself from Tatchell one can witness the disconnect between middle-class politicians, activists etcetera and the working class.
The working class are not the backward proxies of resistance to change that the media often portray them as. In the Twenty-Six Counties it was the working class who voted by the largest margins to endorse marriage equality in 2015 and bodily autonomy for women in 2018.
That said, they are conservative on the question of paedophilia and do not want middle class people, of whatever sexual orientation, alluding to its facilitation or using doublespeak in order to tinker with the age of consent.
It is mostly the working class and the marginalized who fall victim to paedophilia. This is not to say that it is not inflicted on middle class children, but many more of the working-class youth find themselves neglected.
Without the necessary supports it is more difficult to both fend off predators and, in the terrible instances where children become victimised, to come through and recover from the abuse. Many end up in addiction or committing suicide.
We need only look to the class background of the young women targeted by Jeffrey Epstein, most of whom were from the poorest areas of Miami.
Neither do we need to be reminded of the majority working-class children who populated the Industrial Schools in the Southern Irish state during the middle of the twentieth century and found themselves victims of the depravity of the religious orders within.
This reality lays bare a huge blind spot among the middle class, including among academics, politicians, and activists. Those seeking to promote, facilitate and obfuscate on the question of paedophilia, have consistently used academia as a way of promoting their ideas.
Usually, this is done through the lens of sociology or anthropology. Some look to what they label “pederasty” in primitive tribal cultures such as Polynesia, Papa New Guinea, and so forth, and extrapolate conclusions for modern Western societies.
Of course, anthropologists have often looked to places like Polynesia to study the origins of modern society. When Frederick Engels wrote The Origins of the Family he relied heavily on anthropological texts on that region; but this was to understand the development of the family unit, not as an excuse for incest or paedophilia
These practices ought to be understood very differently in primitive societies with low life expectancies, small populations organised around clan systems, and low levels of technological development.
Similarly, ancient Greece, Rome, Sparta, and so on, are held up as examples of a time when sex between men and boys was viewed as a respectable “coming of age” experience.
The middle-class academic defence of these false transpositions reared its head in Ireland in the late 2000s during the controversy surrounding Cathal Ó Searcaigh, an Irish language poet, and his dubious “relationships” with young Nepalese boys as revealed by the 2007 film Fairy-tale of Kathmandu.
Many, who apparently could not see the wood for the trees, jumped to defend Ó Searcaigh, in the process conflating criticism of apparent child sex abuse with homophobia.
This type of behaviour is an ongoing problem which, for the most part, working class people see through.
There is zero evidence that the Minister for Children, Roderick O’Gorman, in any way supports or condones paedophilia. But he is at fault for falling into the middle-class mindset that fails to see how some place themselves within the LGBT movement then utilize the language of “right” to deflect criticism of their agenda.
This, of course, does a great disservice to the vast vast majority within that movement, and within LGBT society more generally, who have no truck whatsoever with paedophilia.
As a result, some would argue O’Gorman’s position as Minister for Children should be untenable. Other ongoing scandals, and the already alluded to downplaying of these problems by establishment figures, has meant that what might have been a huge media frenzy has instead largely fizzled out.
All told, the socialist position would be to take a tough line on paedophilia, not to pander to it. It is unfortunate the far-right has driven the smear against O’Gorman, playing on long-established anti-Gay prejudices – but we know their modus operandi by now.
Surely, then, questions need to be asked about the wisdom of handing easy victories to the far-right?
The, mostly, imported “culture wars” and Petersonite crusades of North America pushed by the Irish far-right are irrelevant to the vast bulk of the Irish population whose focus remains their material well-being.
But that does not preclude the far-right capitalising on issues like this in the future in order to divide and distract the working class away from what should be their main focus; seizing democratic control of their workplaces and building of their own political institutions.
The lesson should be to disassociate swiftly, and fully, from anyone who has expressed paedophile enabling views. O’Gorman’s and the Green Party’s failure to do so is yet another demonstration of the disconnect between them and the bulk of the working class.
Credit to Mickey Moran, Athlone, in assisting with sections of this article.