It is being argued that David Norris’s comments regarding regarding Regina Doherty were sexist and offensive.
Insofar as Regina was offended then yes they were offensive, and many found then to be sexist (my own bias is that I believe that rather than being misogynistic Dorris, alight with the fire of his witticism, couldn’t resist the pun).
Whether Regina or others offended or not is, I believe, irrelevant. It is dangerous to protect people from offence; regardless of how banal a statement is there are seven billion people in the world, and seven billion interpretations of the statement, and seven billion ways to find offence, therefore somebody somewhere will find offence regardless of what is said. To limit the ability to speak to only those concepts which are inoffensive is to preclude public discourse on any issue.
People have argued that Dorris was unprofessional in his behaviour, which is correct, and then continue that our politicians ought be professional in their behaviour; this is dangerous because it strictly limits the political class to professionals, or at least polite society – those who can be relied upon to behave in socially appropriate ways – and that is a recipe for social stagnation as counter-cultural constituencies are de facto excluded.
I’ve a problem with the whole “professionalism” argument when it comes to politicians, not least because so many would fall short of that standard. Politicians are responsible to their electorate and it is to their electorate that they should answer (I know this is weak when we consider the Seanad, but David is at least elected by a constituency – however I believe that it does hold more generally, and more strongly, in the wider political population)
There is a view, propounded by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, that there should be certain social standards that public representatives should meet (like men having to wear suits and ties), should you fall below this bar your access to the house (your ability to represent the people who you were elected to represent is thus restricted)
letting any body determine appropriateness in politicians will cause the process to become increasingly less democratic because the ultimate arbiter of appropriateness ought only be the people and any restriction on that would be a restriction on the will of the people.
letting political correctness determine what is taboo will only hand that authority to those people who yell loudest in the public sphere because what is correct is determined by contesting voices in the public sphere excluding some people or topics from that because they are wrong, immoral, inappropriate, or whatever epithet you want to use is a mechanism for continuing the status quo of whatever hegemony determines political correctness. Freedom to speak is meaningless unless we offer it to people we vehemently disagree with. But when we let assholes speak, then they can’t hide that they are assholes, or fanny’s for that matter too.
There is an important distinction between something being wrong to say, and it being forbidden say something which is wrong.
The code for parliamentary language excludes describing another as a brat, buffoon, chancer, communist, corner boy, coward, fascist, fatty, gurrier, guttersnipe, hypocrite, rat, scumbag, scurrilous speaker or yahoo; or to insinuate that a TD is lying or drunk; or has violated the secrets of cabinet, or doctored an official report – use of the term handbagging is precluded as well
in this government members have lied, were drunk, and doctored official reports (though apparently no one is allowed talk about it)
Parliament only works because people have the opportunity to debate freely. When people can speak freely, and speak truly, they reveal themselves sunlight is the best disinfectant because arseholes become known where there are no shadows in which to hide.
Countering this position is the discussion on being tolerant of intolerance (Rawl’s paradox of tolerance). Do we allow hateful people freedom of expression? I think we must.
If we do not accept that harm is caused by people taking offence, then there is no harm in intolerant speech. Harm is, I believe, caused by action. We, the people, should alway limit harm to other, and take responsibility to prevent harm occurring wherever we encounter it but protecting people from hearing hard words only harms ourselves.