MUNSTER rugby hero and Freeman of Limerick Paul O’Connell and retired fellow legend Brian O’Driscoll could play a part in the pro-marriage equality campaign, local TD Niall Collins has suggested.
Speaking at a political debate held as part of the Limerick Pride festival in the Clarion Hotel, Mr Collins – Fianna Fail’s spokesman on equality – suggested that national heroes like O’Connell and O’Driscoll would bring the issue of gay marriage “into the mainstream”, and sway the opinion of undecided voters.
The country is expected to go to the polls early next year to vote on equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people to get married.
Although opinion polls have shown the ‘yes’ campaign has a comfortable lead, Limerick TD Mr Collins warned against complacency.
Mr Collins said the idea of asking the rugby stars to play a part was not something he had actually raised with either of them, but he added: “I think it is important the issue gets into the mainstream as early as possible. You will have the LGBT campaigners, the high-profile people, the likes of David Norris, if he is well enough to take part. But I think we need to get people, the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell on board. You need people who are not LGBT to mainstream it. If Paul O’Connell – anywhere in the country, but particularly in this part of the country – is helping front your campaign, you are a long way down the road,” he said.
Fellow panellist, the lesbian and gay rights campaigner Ailbhe Smyth agreed, saying: “We need ‘champions’, and we need sports people to come out and say: ‘I am up for the LGBTs’. I am up for marriage, I am up for equality, I’m up for creating an Ireland, and building and contributing to an Ireland which is better for everyone.”
Mr Collins also called for a second referendum to be held on the same day as the marriage equality vote.
“Referenda always get a historically low turnout. I would think one of the issues that has come out [of the constitutional convention] is the lowering of the voting age, and this requires a referendum. If the government were to go with the recommendation and run that issue alongside the marriage equality issue on the same day, it would help the turnout in favour of passing the marriage equality referendum.”
The other people at the event included Adam Long, a board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Federation, and Anne Hoey, of the Union of Students in Ireland.The 2014 Pride Festival started last Sunday and continues until this coming Sunday, August 31.
It culminates in the annual Limerick Pride Parade through the streets of the city, this afternoon.
The assembly is in the Potatoe Market at 1pm and the event, which will go down O’Connell Street and Henry Street will bring the city to life with music and colour.
And if you have time from 3pm at the Potato Market there will be a free Pridefest event, with a host of performers including Laura Trapp, Europe’s No1 Pink Tribue, Grenande and X Factor semi-finalist Misha B.
This will be followed by a BBQ at Strokers, Upper William Street, followed by a big party in Crush87.
Not surprisingly Sunday will involve some holistic therapies and treatments; a traditional Irish evening at Strokers with a gay twists followed by an Adele tribute at the same venue.