Irish drag performer Rory O’Neill warns against plebiscite in doco The Queen of Ireland


Rory O’Neill as Panti Bliss.
Rory O’Neill as Panti Bliss.

IRISH drag performer Rory O’Neill has warned the Australian Federal government against a marriage equality plebiscite.

O’Neill, whose alter ego Panti Bliss is a drag sensation in Dublin, sparked a national debate in his home country on same sex marriage in 2014 when he appeared on television talk show The Saturday Night Show, saying it was homophobic to not allow gay or lesbian people to marry.

He and the network were then threatened with legal action for defamation.

The network controversially paid the claimants €85,000 and the incident was quickly dubbed “Pantigate.”

A documentary crew began following O’Neill in 2009 as a low-key project and captured the incident and the domino effect it had on Ireland.

Speaking to Community Newspaper Group while on holiday in Spain ahead of the release of documentary The Queen of Ireland, which chronicles Ireland’s campaign and eventual constitution change to allow same sex marriage, O’Neill said a plebiscite would be harmful.

“A plebiscite would be too upsetting, I would not recommend it,” he said.

“The Irish community is much more confident now (after the vote); it was transformative for Ireland, it changed the way Ireland saw itself.

“I was in Australia twice this year, once around Mardi Gras and I turned on the television and on Q and A, they were talking about marriage equality and it was so depressing to me; they were the same arguments almost word for word; I felt like I had stepped back in time.”

When asked what he would be doing now if his country had voted “no”, he said he would still be fighting.

“I would probably still be campaigning; I have always been a mouthy queen,” he said.

“If the vote had been no it would have been absolutely devastating.

“The positivity that came out of it was more powerful than we anticipated.”

While he usually enjoys being showered with attention form his drag fans, O’Neill said he was reluctant at first to allow a production crew to film his every move.

“It is different to being on stage, having all those people following you around,” he said.

“(But) I have known the director (Conor Horgan) for 20 years, he has photographed Panti many times so I knew him and trusted him.

“When he first asked me, it was before “Pantigate”, we thought it was going to be a small character driven documentary, we didn’t think it would have a cinema release.

“They (the crew) were thrilled that I got into trouble.

“They tried to hide it at the time but I think they were secretly delighted.”

The Queen of Ireland opens September 8 at Cinema Paradiso.