It’s good to talk. So say all those mental health ads running on every TV and radio station, and it’s the accepted consensus about most things these days.
Except abortion, that is. When someone does talk about abortion, it’s a channel-changer, an eye-averter, and the discussion is left to the extremes on both sides, who will never speak the same language.
When the Sydney Rose made an impassioned plea for a referendum on the 8th Amendment on Monday night, far from the shocked silence you’d have expected in a Dome full of wholesome types you’d assume generally wouldn’t be caught dead discussing “that sort of thing”, there was a rousing round of applause.
The Cork Rose revealed on our show yesterday that abortion had been discussed in previous rounds, prompting some speculation (from both sides of the debate) that it was a filtering exercise by the judges.
Roses have generally been seen and not heard – not on anything more controversial than their granny’s brown bread or their love of the Irish countryside, anyway – but the enormous reaction to the 8th amendment being brought up on a prime time entertainment slot shows that really, so have most of our politicians
Where are they in this discussion? What are their real views? And why are we hearing only sanitised party line regurgitation from the vast majority? Apart from the odd backbencher like Kate O’Connell, most are reluctant to raise their heads above the parapet on something they assume would be political suicide.
Not only that, but rather than doing their jobs and debating the issue in the national parliament before putting it to a referendum, they’ve decided to avail of the gig economy and outsourced that discussion to 100 randomly selected citizens, in the form of a Citizens’ Assembly.
Never mind the Oireachtas committees purposely in existence to explore matters of complex law, the Law Reform Commission, or even the Dáil. Politicians are not going to nail their colours to the mast on abortion in our national parliament, and that’s that.
There is a level of disrespect there for an electorate that is not as black-and-white as politicians assume it is. Yes, they get abusive letters, emails and tweets from the extremes. But what about the majority of people, whose views are more nuanced, personal and considered, who are never heard – or reflected?
The requirement for ‘balance’ in broadcast coverage is being interpreted in such a way that it means only the extremes are given a platform, and that’s enough to make everyone else switch off. It’s an artificially constructed ‘debate’, full of straw women, and ensures that neither side will ever be able to convince anyone in the middle ground.
On the echo chamber of social media, we know where everyone stands – in the same place, with the same perspective as ourselves – unless they are part of that group known as “the crazies”. That social media bubble – and, dare I say, the “Dublin meeja” bubble – are not remotely representative of most Irish people. That’s not helpful in any debate, and particularly not in one as gaping as this one, where the middle ground is huge and varied and the voices on both sides are not necessarily representative of the vast majority who may eventually get to vote on this issue.
There is an enormous section of society that gets a say only on polling day and is quietly sitting, absorbing, analysing and deciding on what it gets from the media. Most of them never ring a radio station or send a tweet. Most of them didn’t see the @TwoWomenTravel twitter account, which, though brave on a personal level and illustrative, preached to the converted.
It’s not the Repeal-jumper wearing masses, or the mass-going Iona members. Middle Ireland, that much-abused and condescended-to group, who speak at general elections, and listen the rest of the time, needs to be heard. Politicians, not Roses, are supposed to speak for them. So let’s hear it.
Published in The Herald, 24.08.16