“Morals in politics and political morality” Platform for Change discussion (Mon 24 Feb at 7.30pm in Dukes) #p4cmorals

‘Moral’ issues continue to provoke not just debate but political controversy in Northern Ireland.

platform for change vertical bannerMost recently it was the “furore” over the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s version of the Bible in Newtownabbey. But there are many other examples including the establishment of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast and the availability of abortion; the continued lifetime ban on blood donation by gay men; gay adoption; equal marriage … [Ed – advertising on cigarette packets?]

How should politicians address moral issues?

Platform for Change have organised a panel discussion on this topic tomorrow evening, Monday 24 February at 7.30pm in Dukes Hotel, University Street, Belfast.

While contributions from the floor will be encouraged, a panel has been assembled to give their views:

  • Steven Agnew (Green Party)
  • Dave Archard (political philosopher, QUB)
  • Edna Longley (emeritus professor and cultural critic)
  • John O’Doherty (Rainbow Project)
  • Malachi O’Doherty (writer and commentator)
  • Joanne Stuart (business consultant)

With deeply held Christian beliefs often cited as the reason for politicians taking particular stances on moral issues, it’s a shame there isn’t a politician to represent that viewpoint on the panel.

Update – post and audio from the event

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  • Morpheus

    What is equally telling in Northern Ireland politics is when morals are switched off and on like a tap. For example we had the DUP attempts to ban a play on moral grounds and then a few short weeks later the morality tap was switched off again when they voted against a ban on people smoking in cars with children.

    Tap goes on, tap goes off, tap goes on, tap goes off – moral expediency at its finest.

  • It is indeed a very loaded panel.
    In fairness there are two types of “religious” politician.
    One …the fundamentalist….is unlikely to give any credence to Platform for Change.
    The second…the moderate religious politician who struggles with often contradictory beliefs…is unlikely to want to present a nuanced case in front of a largely hostile audience.

    But its the nature of Platform for Change to have panels that only reflect their own views.
    There was no dissenting voice on the panel in June last year when the issue was Integrated Education.
    No dissenting voice on the panel in November last year when the issue was Identity etc.

    With several of the more “maverick” local clergy involved in PFC…eg Rev Lesley Carroll who was on the November panel….I think their omission from the panel this time is more disconcerting than the absence of any politician.
    A slap in the face to Christians, broadly supportive of PFC.

  • aquifer

    Interesting programme on the box last week about early christian beliefs and the early gospels and gnostic texts that were suppressed and destroyed in Egypt to produce an orthodox bible version that could then be more widely promoted. e.g. Christ’s relationship with Mary Magdalene was airbrushed.

    Which particular gang of book burners would you invite to the event?

  • Charles_Gould

    I agree with Alan and FJH. Given that PFC have explicitly referenced gay and abortion issues this seems a very “secular” panel. Like FJH and unlike Alan, I think clergy should be involved. They represent a lot of people who are members of our churches, who hold clear views on these issues that are not in line with those panelists. Personally I might well agree with many on the present panel on those issues, but I want to hear both sides of the argument.

  • Turgon

    There is a danger that responses here will be as in agreement with one another as PfC’s almost certainly will be.

    Alan’s list of moral topics comes directly from PfC’s Facebook page. Interestingly all sorts of other moral issues are left out: the moral issues around criminalisation of purchasing sex. Alternatively opt out organ donation might have been interesting especially had people from a non Judeo-Christian position been invited. Of course the political morality of the whole edifice of our political settlement might also have been a most interesting moral topic. Those above might have been a bit complex so better to stick to “right on” issues where the “correct” moral response is easily identified.

    Of course do not mention that equal marriage does not apply to the Muslim view of marriage (polygamy still being a criminal offence).

    As mentioned by Alan and the other commentators the lack of a specifically religious politician as well as the absence of any “professionally” religious persons (clergy etc.) is interesting.

    In reality this looks extremely like a “right on” moral but non religious talking shop. I am sure they will have much fun denouncing what they see as the immorality of the supposedly moral and religious types involved in politics; have some nice canapés and go home improved people.

    For the rest of us there is Pound Shop Wars, Eastenders and Panaroma on BBC1 and Top Gear, University Challenge and Food and Drink on BBC2 (other television channels are also available)

  • Well Turgon is right but he underestimates the entertainment value of Platform for Change.
    Specifically on Mr Goulds point….there are three distinct strands of morality in Norn Iron.
    There is fundamentalist morality.
    There is a secular “Stephen Fry….too posh to believe in God” morality.
    And there is a hybrid…and reasonable people dont want to engage with fundamentalists…religious or secular.
    Edna Longley …should be good value. She single-handedly destroyed the notion of artists being obliged to be positive about Norn Iron (an event at Ulster Museum a few years back.

    but essentially this must be about internal PFC politics.
    Their strength MIGHT have been about the diversity of the so called progressives.
    As it turns out that is their weakness.

  • Alan….no hashtag????

  • 241934 john brennan

    Everyone has the right to act in conscience, and in freedom, so as to personally make moral decisions. No one should be prevented from acting according to individual conscience.
    So why on earth would anyone belong to a political party that denied them individual freedom of choice to vote according to individual conscience – e.g. in matters such as abortion?

  • sean treacy

    The party that actually does most to oppose religious fundamentalism wont be on the panel either because platform for change is totally opposed to all versions of Irish republicanism.If you

  • sean treacy

    If you support Irish unity, platform for change will oppose you just as much as the fundamentalists.

  • David Crookes

    “If we ruled the world,” sung by a group of terribly important people who never will.

    No, thanks. I have to attend the opening of a creationist bar.

  • babyface finlayson

    sean treacy
    As far as I can see none the major parties are represented on the panel.
    Your mope is misjudged.

  • sean treacy

    The “major parties” have been represented in previous panels with one notable exception of course.

  • FJH – try #p4cmorals

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    I don’t think any of the major parties here should have the right to foist their dubious and hypocritical morality on the rest of us, the DUP being the main offenders here.

    The party’s homophobia and acceptance of creationism (neither of which are realistically defensible) should automatically rule them out of any moral or indeed intelligent debate. The party are electable solely on the constitutional question, their views on morality are alternately ridiculous and repugnant.

    As Turgon mentioned, the latest hobby horses are banning the purchase of sex and blocking Jo-Anne Dobson’s organ donation bill, both driven by religious fundamentalism rather than practicality. The former assumes that all sex workers are coerced and controlled (far from true) and the second assumes the public are idiots incapable of signing an opt out form.

    The folks on the hill are happy to retrospectively forgive murder, excuse rioting and incite hatred while telling us our morality isn’t good enough.

    Have to agree the PFC panel looks highly uninspiring in debating terms though. I’d like to have seen the DUP/SF axis represented. Looks like I’ll have to wait for a smug DUP candidate to knock on my door to get a proper debate going.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Platform for Change is a voice for citizens of Northern Ireland ”

    Northern Ireland does not have any citizens?

    The best bit of its web site is “transforming the region into a normal society”. I would love to know which society they hold up as normal?

  • BluesJazz

    So we have a 2 party UK regional assembly.

    1 party believes the earth was created 6226? years ago around teatime and thinks the pope is the anti-Christ and his followers are doomed to eternal hellfire.

    The other party believes protestants are heretics and, not believing in transubstantiation etc are heretics and deserve assassination (Kingsmills, La Mon etc)

    We have a few party’s in between who think this is nonsense but very few people vote for them . Most don’t vote at all.

    Surely secular Direct Rule from rational people (at Westminster) is the only answer until an educated electorate grows up to voting age.

    The NI football team have just been allocated a Sunday game by UEFA. Welcome to the 21st century.

  • Morals derives from the word “mores” which are the customs of a people. They change from place to place and from time to time. There is no absolute moral right.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    Mister_Joe, do you not think that their is an absolute moral distinction between someone who, motivated by compassion, goes out of their way to help people in need and someone who, motivated by malice, goes out of their way to hurt other people?

    Regardless of the etymology of the word ‘moral’ surely their is a fundamental difference between murder and charity, between hatred and love, compassion and malice?

  • Turgon

    Far be it from me to answer for Mr. Joe but he seems a very moral individual. I would suggest the moral issues outlined in the OP are “mores” typed issues: homosexual marriage, adoption and blood donation and abortion. They are issues on which people who with some justification consider themselves “moral” may have significant disagreements – though I am less certain PfC containes people with radically differing views on those subjects.

    The more absolute moral issues are as you outlined: helping poeple vs hurting or murdering them for example.

    Ironically PfC seems happier to discuss the “mores” typed morals but less inclined to discuss the absolute morality issues about murders etc. in an NI politics context.

  • babyface finlayson

    sean treacy
    “The “major parties” have been represented in previous panels with one notable exception of course.”
    That is interesting. From what I can see from their website their recent panels have been basically no political parties or invitations to all parties. The one on flags last year for example had a Sinn Fein rep on the panel.
    I presume you accept that none of the main parties are represented on this current panel?
    So which ones are you referring to. And what explanation did they offer when you asked them about it?

  • Mc Slaggart


    “Ironically PfC seems happier to discuss the “mores” typed morals but less inclined to discuss the absolute morality ”

    Murders are unlawful killings this is not a moral absolute.

  • Turgon

    Mc Slaggart,
    Fair point and absolutle morals was a poor term.

    Actually we probably agree here in a way. There are significant moral issues about the past present and future here. You and I almost certainly have very different views on them and now is not the place to discuss them.

    The problem seems to be that the issues PfC wishes to debate here are very circumscribed and there looks to be a high chance that most if not all the views will be highly similar. There are moral arguments for an against abortion; homosexual marriage, adoption and blood donation but one gets the feeling that most of the debate will be on one side of that argument.

    There are aslo moral arguments on various issues to do with Northern Ireland’s constitutional position and past but it seems even less likely that they will be openly debated.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “There are moral arguments for an against abortion; homosexual marriage, adoption and blood donation but one gets the feeling that most of the debate will be on one side of that argument.”

    Real Life is confusing as often their is no “correct” answer to a question.

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
    F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • BifterGreenthumb

    Turgon, I wasn’t at all trying to question Mr Joe’s moral character. I am sure he is a decent person.

    My point is that when it comes to moral arguments a lot of people try to go down the relativist route. The argument runs that every culture has its own moral principles therefore there is no truth to moral issues so it’s all just a matter of opinion.

    But when pushed I think that even relativists would admit that there is a difference between murder and charity. Surely the difference is in what motivates each act. The murderer is motivated to harm others. The philanthropist is motivated to help others. If we find out that the motivation is different from what we thought we change our moral judgements e.g. if the ‘murderer’ killed someone to help alleviate their suffering or if the charity was only given because of the hope of public praise.

    While there are culturally specific ‘mores’ these can still be judged as either genuine morality or pseudo-morality. So for example the moral objection to gay marriage is a pseudo-moral position as the motivation to get married is based on love and doesn’t harm anyone. The desire to discriminate against gay people, on the other hand, is motivated by disgust and hatred and as such makes life for gay people more difficult and so is therefore immoral.

    People fall back on relativism so that they don’t have to think about why things are moral or immoral. They can just say ‘it’s my opinion’ and the argument stops there. But all moral positions are open to criticism. Relativism is quite often deployed to shield unthinking opinions from criticism.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I really don’t see the point in Platform for Change, it’s not a debating forum, it’s a failed ginger group with no activism power.

  • BifterGreenthumb,

    Read again what I said. As far as I know, in all places and at all times, murder is considered to be an evil act.

    Turgon, thank you for your kind remark.

  • Future Physicist.
    Increasingly Platform for Change is in search of a purpose. It has fallen away from its original promise.
    Basically Alliance failed them since 2011.
    Theres no jobs in Truth and Reconciliation.
    The Labour Party in Britain wont organise.
    Nobody is that keen on Integrated Education.

    And leading lights are in diverse parties…defecting from labour to Green and UUP to Tory or NI21.
    Its all a bit overcrowded.
    Yet they do seem at times like a Party within several parties.
    Infiltration is too strong a word but clearly there are PFC people in every so called progressive party and at times a PFC room can look like the waiting room for a Quango Appointments Committee.

    “People like us”
    As the IrishRepublican Brotherhood infiltrated nationalist organisations a century ago….maybe thats what some people are up to here.. Infiltrating LetsGetAlongerist parties, organisations, websites etc.

  • Seamuscamp

    “Infiltration is too strong a word”

    They probably would be as successful as infiltrators as they are at hobby-horse making. They want to change society because society, most unreasonably, doesn’t think much of their views. So society must be wrong and should be changed. They believe they can change society by taking tea with those who agree with them.

    Real political weight is rather harder to achieve.

    Mr Joe

    Do you really think the Latin original, as interpreted and changed by the French and transferred into English several hundreds of years ago, has any bearing on current usage? I happen to think that societal morality does change with time (divorce, contraception, beating kids, smoking, drink-driving), but the original use of the word isn’t of relevance, is it?

  • FuturePhysicist

    Future Physicist.
    Increasingly Platform for Change is in search of a purpose. It has fallen away from its original promise.
    Basically Alliance failed them since 2011.
    Theres no jobs in Truth and Reconciliation.
    The Labour Party in Britain wont organise.
    Nobody is that keen on Integrated Education.

    And leading lights are in diverse parties…defecting from labour to Green and UUP to Tory or NI21.
    Its all a bit overcrowded.
    Yet they do seem at times like a Party within several parties.

    They’re not a party, parties are willing to try to get elected, parties have representatives who are prepared to work and canvass to get things done, and try to deliver a bottom line to their electorate in a democracy.

    Every year young people leave this region because they are excluded from power while middle class, middle aged baby-boomers with opinions and no practical ideas want politics here to remain an art project for the depressed.

    I’d rather have two sides arguing rather than one side dominant and other sides oppressed like you have in Ukraine.