In his by now notorious article on mothers of bastards (MoBs) Kevin Myers wrote: upon a career of mothering bastards because it seems a good way of getting money and accommodation from the State? Ah, you didnt like the term bastard? No, I didnt think you would.. Heres what he wrote in his apology. I deliberately used the word bastard because I genuinely feel that the word has no stigma attached to it; and because I feel this with such a passion..
The contradiction here is blatantly obvious. However, Mr. Myers should be forgiven for this attempt at pleading the excuse of ignorance as overall his apology came from the heart, he seemed genuinely sorry for causing so much upset.
His boss is another matter. The editorial by (I presume) Geraldine Kennedy was pathetic to say the least. She starts off by praising the wonderful part the Irish Times has played in changing Irish society.
Later she states that the editorial process only interferes with the opinions of columnists when factual or legal grounds are involved and continues Journalists in the Irish Times are committed to free speech and the promotion of robust debate even if, at times, odious things are said which are offensive to some readers.
So there you have it. No intention of taking responsibility for the decision to print the offending article, no apology and most incredibly free reign to her writers to write odious and offensive material whenever they want.
Kevin Myers realized that he had made a mistake and was courageous enough to admit it, Ms. Kennedy, apparently, does not even seem to realize her responsibilities in this serious matter and that will have repercussions for her and the Irish Times.
So many readers have been made extremely angry by what I said that it is clearly not merely an issue of political correctness or social conformism. Their feelings are real, passionate and heartfelt, and I bitterly regret clouding an issue of major importance in Irish life by using provocative, ill-thought-out and confrontational language.
I was trying to insult nobody, but trying to discuss the subject of the rising tide of unmarried mothers, with the resultant increase in fatherless families, in an astringent and irreverent way. To take an issue of such sensitivity and present it in challenging language is risky; and in taking such risks, I failed lamentably. Indeed, by unintentionally insulting so many people, I lost both my audience and the argument – leaving me with much to regret and even more to apologise for.
I intended to hurt no one, but to cause people to discuss the subject first raised by Ed Walsh last week. It is a serious issue, which has emerged in other societies like ours, most particularly the US, where radical reforms in welfare have been made in order to curb the increase in mother-only families. In tackling this subject, I deliberately used the word “bastard” because I genuinely feel that the word has no stigma attached to it; and because I feel this with such a passion, I did not allow for other people’s sensitivities over it.
Here I was wrong, very wrong. A journalist who wishes to make a controversial case, and who knows he is straying into difficult areas of sensibility, must be careful of people’s feelings. I did not take the necessary care, and the outpourings of emotion and anger which have occurred are clear proof of this.
These words are not written at the request of the editor or anyone else, but entirely at my own initiative. This newspaper allows me great latitude to express my opinions, which are often at variance with those of my colleagues, and sometimes with our overall editorial stance.
This is one of the strengths of The Irish Times. We stand not merely for freedom of thought, but for freedom of expression also.
But there are limits to all freedoms, and I transgressed the limits of freedom of speech in the tenor of my remarks. I intended to abuse no one and to insult nobody. For this issue is not about individuals but a serious social phenomenon which must be addressed by the State. We cannot tolerate a situation in which large numbers of young women are drawn into the perils of early and unmarried motherhood by the allure of the apparent protection afforded to them by the State. This “protection” is a trap, in which young woman can spend the rest of their lives, thwarting them of ambition, purpose and any proper individuality away from a chronic State dependence.
This is good for no one, least of all the children, who not merely are raised without the disciplines of work and wage, but also without the presence of a male authority figure in their lives. Other societies have pioneered the mass experiment in fatherless families, and they have found them as way-stations to male delinquency, gang membership and criminality.
Some people have argued that the loss of so many men in two world wars in Europe and the US did not cause the male children of families thus made fatherless to become disruptive. But societies were more stable then, and usually other male figures – uncles, grandfathers, brothers – were there to assert themselves as centres of authority.
We live in different days, when society is more fluid, more dynamic and, for all the wealth that we now enjoy, more uncertain. I believe that families are better off with two parents; and though of course many, many single mothers are splendid and responsible parents, as a social construct we cannot do better than the two-parent family.
And this is not just for the good of the children, but for the good of the mother too: the burden of child-rearing is best shared, and not borne on the shoulders of a young woman who drifted into motherhood as a teenager because, for the moment, it seemed an attractive option.
For all the State benefits that a young single mother gets, the penalties are huge, and the price paid is enormous – not least the loss of personal freedom through her twenties, when she might be stranded in a flat, with young children to mind, and no outside support, day in and day out, for year after dreary year.
I wrote my column because of my concern for those who have already been lured into this trap, or are about to be drawn into the career of benefit-dependent single-motherhood. I feel passionately about the predicament that a dysfunctional welfare system is creating, usually for the most vulnerable, unwary and the most helpless in our society. Middle-class girls are seldom so misled.
In my desire to make my point powerfully, I used stupid, offensive language, and I deeply apologise for that. To Irish Times readers who were so offended and appalled at my words, from the bottom of a full and contrite heart, I am very, very sorry.
Irish society has changed hugely in recent decades and at a pace that has been breathtaking. Much of this change is for the good and has been led by The Irish Times. Stigmatising social differences is no longer as acceptable as it once was and rightly so.
We have become less willing to tolerate the passing of casual, cruel judgment on the lives of others, less willing to ignore the pain thoughtless slights and name-calling inflict on the vulnerable. That is social progress.
But with these changes come challenges: Irish society, no less than some others, is being confronted increasingly with the consequences of dramatic social change – changing precepts about the family, about marriage and partnership, about children and their welfare, about rights and responsibilities, collectively and individually.
There are many important issues that merit debate and The Irish Times will, as it has in the past, stimulate, facilitate and report this discussion. There is no doubt that remarks made by Kevin Myers in An Irishman’s Diary last Tuesday have caused great offence and grave hurt to many of our readers. A sample of the complaints is reflected on this page today. Readers are angered and appalled, not just by the nature of the views expressed by Kevin Myers about unmarried mothers and their innocent children but by the manner in which they were expressed.
Kevin Myers returns to the subject today with a rather different message of “unconditional apology”. He accepts that the reaction to what he wrote was not merely driven by political correctness or social conformism. He deliberately used the word “bastard”, he claims, believing that there was no stigma attached to it. In this, he was wrong.
The views he expressed were not, and are not, those of The Irish Times. The Irish Times defines itself in part by providing a platform for divergent views. The opinions of one columnist will differ from another; they may at times conflict with the editorial policy of the newspaper, as in this case. However, it should be pointed out to readers that the whole editorial process tries to avoid undue interference in the opinions of columnists, except on factual and legal grounds. And when it does occur, the newspaper, more than any other, is criticised for censorship.
Journalists in The Irish Times are committed to free speech and the promotion of robust debate even if, at times, odious things are said which are offensive to some readers. There is a fine line between strong views stimulating necessary debate and odious opinions causing hurt and distracting from real issues. Exposing a mindset which could stigmatise innocent children forms part of the debate. The Irish Times regrets the offence caused.