Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, 14 May 2015

“You could have heard a rat piss on cotton wool in China…”

One foggy night back in November 2004, I was asked to review a gig by a band called The Polyphonic Spree. The Texans, you may recall, were a 24-piece, pretend-religious cult who, in hindsight, rather resembled the Indiana mole women from the Netflix comedy series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

They were a novelty act, to be sure. But they had slayed at music festivals a year earlier and expectations were high for their return. At Dublin’s Ambassador Theatre that evening, however, the band’s happy-clappy shtick for once came unstuck. George W Bush, the nuclear- armed, evangelical simpleton who once claimed God had instructed him to invade Iraq, had just been re-elected president of the United States.A deep gloom hung over proceedings. The band’s religious cult gimmick just didn’t seem that cute any more.

A couple of songs into a lacklustre set, singer Tim DeLaughter finally broke character to acknowledge the elephant in the room. “So, ah,” he drawled. “I guess we’re about the best thing out of Texas right now, huh?” A couple of ironic cheers rang out in the darkness at the back of the auditorium. Otherwise, he could have heard a rat piss on cotton wool in China.

Memories of that evening came back to me earlier this week, when I noticed advertisements for an LGBT “whopper party” in Dublin on Saturday May 23rd, the day when the result of the Marriage Equality vote is due to be announced. “It’s also Eurovision night,” the ad promised. “So, whatever the outcome, we’re having a party.”

Now if the polls are to be trusted, it seems the Marriage Equality vote will likely pass next weekend. And I appreciate that, with the outcome still in the balance, it would be unwise for one side to be seen planning a victory party prematurely. But I learned a lesson that dismal night in 2004 that Yes supporters would do well to take heed of in the coming week.

That is, when it comes to elections, the results of which have the potential to fatally undermine any faith you ever had in human decency, you’d best do everything in your power to make sure the vote goes the way you want it to. Because if it doesn’t, a knees-up afterwards with Nin Huguen & the Huguenotes is not going to make up for your loss.

Editorial guidelines here prohibit me from expressing a personal preference in relation to next Friday’s Marriage Equality referendum. Well, technically, I could express one. But then we’d have to dig up another ageing rock hack to tell different shaggy dog story, about a second band no one cares about anymore, in order to arrive at the opposite conclusion. One of us, you’ll agree, is probably more than enough. No matter. A thousand commentators better qualified and more articulate than me have already weighed in on both sides, with their considered opinions on this matter. The world will survive without mine.

It does seem pretty significant to me though that the arguments deployed by the No side are virtually all predicated on the assumption that the referendum is about something other than what’s written on the ballot paper. (You don’t want babies ripped from their mothers’ bosoms? Vote No. You want your cousin to marry his dog? Vote Yes. Find this year’s Electric Picnic line-up a little same-y? Vote No. )

And it is aggravating to note that many Yes voters appear to believe this battle will be won and lost on social media, with twibbons, and flame wars and the demonisation of their opponents. Zinging a confirmed No supporter on Facebook or Twitter may win you lots of likes and retweets from other confirmed Yes supporters. But it’s not going to have any effect on the outcome of the vote.

This election will be decided in the centre ground, by your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and neighbours. The woman who sells you milk in the morning and the man who pulls you a pint in the evening. The side that reaches out to those people, and makes the more compelling case to them, is the side that will be celebrating douze points next Saturday night.

Incidentally, since apparently no one cares about it, I am happy to state a personal preference when it comes to the Marriage Equality’s little loved support act, the Presidential Age referendum. After not a lot of consideration, and based largely on personal prejudice, I’ve decided to vote No on this amendment.

Call me crazy, but I don’t want a 21-year-old head of state taking selfies with foreign dignitaries in Áras an Uachtaráin. I don’t want President Doogie Howser signing bills into law. And by the way, young people ? If you’re not old enough to get that last reference, you’re not old enough to be president, goddamnit! Not on my watch! You shall not overcome! I won’t allow it! Now get off my lawn.


This article in it’s original incarnation had explicitly endorsed a Yes vote in the marriage equality referendum. At the last minute, however, I was required by my editors to rewrite taking a more neutral stance. I understand the need for balance but, for the record, here’s how it originally ended:

The case for voting Yes on May 22nd has already been outlined a thousand times by a thousand people better qualified and more articulate than myself. So I will limit myself to saying this: If you live to vote in another fifty referendums, you will never face an easier choice than the one you have to make this coming Friday.

A Yes vote is a vote for equality, for solidarity, for love and respect. It is about dealing a fair hand of cards to a group of people who’ve never been shown that courtesy up to now. Happiness is not a zero sum game. Your neighbour’s happiness does not diminish yours, nor yours his. They complement and augment each other and ultimately benefit all of society.

So in this final week of this campaign, I have one suggestion for my fellow Yes supporters. Get off social media. Get off Facebook. Get off Twitter. Get off Instagram. Everyone online made their mind up long ago. Stop looking for kudos from people who are clearly voting Yes, by zinging people who are clearly voting No.

Talk to your parents and your grandparents, your uncles, aunts and neighbours. Talk to the woman you buy milk from and the man who pulls you a pint. Don’t assume to know anyone’s opinion in advance. And don’t threaten to leave the country if the referendum doesn’t pass. Christ, that’s so self-involved it almost makes me hope this referendum fails. Be patient with people. Be reasonable. Right is on our side. Get the message out there. Yes, we can!

May 25th, 2015.

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