Writer and filmmaker Terry McMahon isn’t exactly fuming that so few people in this country are prepared to say publicly what they really think.
At a visceral level, he wishes it wasn’t so – but what keeps the frustration from becoming fury is that he understands what is holding them back: the fear of finding themselves ‘cancelled’.
“I understand their fear because I feel it too. I feel it to an overwhelming degree because I’ve experienced the consequences,” says the Mullingar man.
During Covid, when he supported the rights of those who refused to get vaccinated, Terry found out at first hand what being cancelled meant.
“I was asked to do a speech on World Freedom Day. I think there were 137 countries that held civil rights marches all around the world.
“I kept saying no, and then I realised the reason I was saying no was because I was scared. I wasn’t saying no as an ethical issue: I was saying no because I was frightened.”
“So I spoke at it – and the next day, one of the major reporters in one of the major newspapers said that all future state funding should be removed from all future Terry McMahon projects.
“I have lectured in all the major universities in the country. I ran the directing department in Dundalk IT. But I asked the wrong questions about Irish society. I was suddenly called ‘right wing’, suddenly called ‘fascist’ suddenly called ‘Nazi’.”
He had already had a taste of the ostracisation that happens to those who find themselves out on a limb for the views they hold, his earlier ‘crime’ having been committed during the Repeal the 8th campaign: “In questioning the language of Repeal I was suddenly a ‘misogynist’,” he says. But I believe that the responsibility of the artist is to question everything, including that which you might agree with. That’s your duty.”
McMahon speaks with an awe-inspiring level of fluidity, releasing streams of ideas, opinions, experiences without ever struggling to find the exact word to explain an idea or seal a sentence. As a man whose business is writing, acting, directing, teaching, words are the tools he uses to hew the living it takes to rear a family of five children.
Therefore he does feel the sting of having arguments censored by opponents unprepared to consider the value of viewpoints other than their own; he muses on the ease with which proponents of what is broadly termed ‘the woke agenda’ resort to labels and cancellation to shut down those with whom they don’t agree rather than engaging in debate.
“Our universities, particularly our universities across Dublin, have been hijacked by deeply disturbing ideologies. And anybody who questions it on any level is deemed to be the enemy,” he says.
As a result of what he is seeing and has been experiencing, more than ever he holds dear the right to speak freely – and, he stresses, the right for those with whom he is in fundamental disagreement to speak freely too.
“I can’t believe that we’re in a situation now where the use of a word – the single use of a word – is enough to have somebody’s career destroyed,” he says.
He is also still coming to terms with his perceptions of what Covid did to society: “I had no problem with anybody wanting to be vaccinated. I had no problem with anyone choosing not to be vaccinated. But I was horrified to see so many people [become] weaponised and be manipulated and exploited into turning on their fellow men, fellow women, fellow brothers and sisters, family members, friends.
“I could not believe how easily we were triggered to queue up to scream at people who were questioning the system from a government that we already know is corrupt to the core, and from a pharmaceutical industry that is the single most successfully financially sued conglomerate in the history of humankind.”
Terry states that he understands that there was confusion at the start: “None of us really knew what Covid was. So it’s understandable, the initial fear.
“But by the time the vaccines were being rolled out, we had a much stronger idea.
“And the fact that we allowed elderly people to die horrific deaths alone; the fact that we stopped grandchildren hugging their grandparents; the fact that we stopped brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, lovers – everything – engaging with each other; the fact that there was a death of intimacy on a lot of levels – and the fact that all of this was not just allowed to unfold, but that we defended it, I think it set a precedent that is going to take a long, long time for us to come to terms with.”
And in some ways, that collectivism is almost happening again, he argues: “I think one of the most dangerous aspects of it is that we see at the moment the horror show that’s happening with the Palestinians and Israel, but only a short time ago, we were talking about Zelensky as being the Superman of our times and we were talking about the Ukrainians being the victims of our times. Now we have Israel and Palestine. And we’re talking about the Palestinians being the victims of our time, but Zelensky is supporting Israel. So where are we?
“Our willingness to buy into the fashion of the day has not only not gone, but it’s stronger than ever; our willingness to be triggered into a collective response based on ignorance or just a refusal to even question… our blind willingness to enter into something that is potentially damaging beyond comprehension, just because we’re told to do so, is as dangerous as it is disturbing.”
In fact, he says, using the term “the banality of evil” to describe it frightens him.
“It scares the shit out of me,” he declares.
He feels the same apprehension over the approach to transgenderism, LGBTQI+ rights, the extent to which – and the age at which – children should be introduced to those concepts.
“Why are we discussing sexuality on any level with children?” he asks, pointing to the church’s record with young people in this country.
“We know the reality of what happens when people in positions of power are allowed to manipulate and exploit the vulnerability of children’s sexuality. We already have a long history of this, and yet now we’re reintroducing it – but because we’re reintroducing it under the apparently benign umbrella of LGBTQ rights, we’re insistent it’s a good thing.”
Terry says the original campaigners who did achieve so much for people who are same-sex attracted never made the case for bringing their message to children.
“I have beautiful gay friends who privately admit to being horrified about what’s being done in their name. Now here we have this umbrella regime insisting on infiltrating and indoctrinating school curriculums, with the full backing of our education system and our government.
“Why? What is the thinking behind it?
“Why are we introducing anything to children who are already confounded enough about the realities of having to deal with the day-to-day existence of their lives?
“Why are we introducing and indoctrinating something that is so dangerous – dangerous because firstly, when you enter into a surgery that changes your genitalia or changes your physiological self, then you have to take drugs in order to affect the consequences of that physiologically and mentally.
“We are allowing children to make decisions – life changing, irreparable damage that we would never allow them to do in any other context, including driving a car, having a beer, smoking a joint. But we’re very happy to do it in terms of sexuality.
“Why? It makes no sense.”
A consequence, he claims, is that young girls who used to be anorexic are now identifying as transgender: “The psychological issues and emotional issues and the traumas that created their need to change the body so much and to refuse to see the reality of the body is now manifested into demanding that their body becomes something else. And we’re hailing this as heroic.
“Imagine hailing anorexia as heroic: that’s what we’re doing here.
“What disturbs me more than anything is that the Irish National Teachers Organisation has not only done nothing about it, but has insisted on celebrating it – or any members of the organisation that even question that are gone. So we have the whole institute of education and institutes of government protecting a fallacy, a dangerous lie, an ideology that is only going to do further damage to children.”