What sort of nation are we going to be? That's the question confronting Ireland - due to the major political and social changes of the past decade - this election season
But the standard of the debate isn't always equal to the challenges that are confronting us or the mountain we still have to climb.
Witness Sinn Fein councilor and former MMA fighter Paddy Holohan, 31, a catherine wheel of ill-considered opinions who was suspended from the party on Friday for truly incendiary comments that he made during his No Shame podcast in Ireland this week.
Holohan caused a five-alarm firestorm when he stated that the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was “separated” from Irish society and history due to his bi-racial background.
“It bugs me to death to understand that he leads this country and that he's so separated not even from society now but he's so separated from the history of this country," Holohan reportedly said on the No Shame Podcast, adding: "Leo Varadkar’s blood obviously runs to India so his great grandfather is not part of the history of this country ... Now Leo, obviously he’s an Irish citizen, but his passion doesn’t go back to the times when our passion goes back to. So we’re in a situation where we have a leader that’s not only separated from the history of the country but separated from the classes in the country now.”
Identifying someone's race, heritage and bloodlines as a barrier to their understanding or potential is racism on its face. There are many ways to fairly critique the Taoiseach and his party but not like this.
Glaringly, Holohan overlooked Varadkar's Irish mother's heritage when he made this “Leo is not part of the history” statement, presumably because she's a woman and her contribution to her son's heritage were disqualified by who she married?
The sight of an Irish person questioning the patriotism of immigrants ought to explode your irony meter of course, but here we are. Holohan didn't stop there, however. In separate comments, he indulged in some bluntly coded homophobia by suggesting that the nation really needed a “family man” to run the country.
"We need people running the country, and not against Leo or anything like that but to me I want a family man running the country. I want somebody that knows what it’s like to have kids, maybe hopefully boys and girls, so when you’re creating the policies and all of the stuff that goes on that you’re like, right it makes sense.
“The man that is a family man, goes to work, looks after his kids, has came up through the system, has experience ... someone who knows what the masses or people are going through"
Again there is no disputing that Varadkar comes from a very privileged background, which can unarguably be a major barrier to understanding the challenges faced by working-class people, but that's not what Holohan said.
He said, perforce, it would be better to have a married heterosexual male be Taoiseach because that way he will understand the majority's experience, being a member of the majority himself.
When challenged about this statement I assume that Holohan will call this view common sense, but not ill-considered prejudice, although he would be wrong about that and he is contradicted by his own words.
Besides, Varadkar is a family man, he has a long term partner, and could decide to have a family if he so chooses. A politician should not be disqualified from national leadership because of who he loves or where his ancestors come from.
Here's a message to Holohan and his defenders. If you are not a member of a minority community, one that has been historically discriminated against in the law and in daily life, you should refrain from lecturing them on the lessons of their own lived experiences, experiences that you probably do not understand, certainly have not shared, and would be far better listening to rather than crassly reprimanding.
In fairness, Holohan apologized, or rather he offered a classic “if I have offended anyone, which was not my intention” non-apology.
But the needless damage is done.
NEW: Sinn Féin has begun disciplinary proceedings against councillor Paddy Holohan over his latest comments pic.twitter.com/OxwP4SAqZY— Hugh O'Connell (@oconnellhugh) January 17, 2020
“Firstly, I would like to apologize as my comments may have offended people as I, of course, did not intend to do so,” Holohan said in a statement. “My comments have been misinterpreted and not in any way meant the way they have been portrayed. Thank you to the people that know me and support me. And understand that I would never make such remarks.”
The problem is he did make these remarks and he was recorded doing so. His intentions don't matter, he said what he said, upending the impact that he hoped to have for an impact that he clearly didn't. It's his responsibility as a public representative to be clear and coherent and what he said can not be misinterpreted, nor was it.
Later in the same podcast, Holohan suggested that many unnamed girls were having sex with men and then blackmailing them for sums of money up to 10,000 Euro.
“Obviously, the comments themselves are offensive, they’re beyond offensive. I actually find them upsetting,” she told the press. “I’m very, very shocked at the comments made and the party’s disciplinary procedure is now activated as we speak.”
Holohan was elected by a wide margin to the local council for Tallaght Dublin south last year.