Taxi company ‘Free Now’ has pulled its sponsorship of the Tommy Tiernan show amid criticism raised by activist Emer O’Neill regarding an alleged racist joke told in a vicar street gig last week.
Fellow RTÉ presenter and activist Emer O’Neill was at the show, and posted her disapproval of the joke. In an interview, Ms O’Neill spoke about the discomfort she felt as a person of colour, saying she “wanted the ground to swallow me up.”
The controversy has re-animated the unending debate about so-called cancel culture – is it a real thing or is this simply an example of calling out racism and dealing with it? A heated discourse has been happening on twitter, with a range of posts being made regarding Ms O’Neill, Free Now, and the joke.
Members of the far-right Irish Freedom Party have claimed Tiernan is a victim of the “woke mob.” Considering Mr Tiernan’s outspoken support of, and interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community, this alleged martyrdom seems shallow in my eyes.
Whether this mob is real or not, the sponsorship that was pulled was a six-figure sum, leading many to accuse the company of virtue signalling. In a statement, the taxi giant said that it was disappointed at the joke, as it works “in close partnership with taxi drivers throughout the country to provide an important transport service”.
Other commentors include Chair of the Irish Muslim council and former guest of the show, Dr Umar Al-Qadri, who said that Mr Tiernan is “an amazing being and one with a pure soul”, and that he found it unfair that he was receiving this treatment. Ms O’Neill said the apology that Tiernan made to her in private was powerful, and that she accepted it fully.
Despite this, Ms O’Neill has been subject to critical and in many cases abusive comments under her recent posts accusing her of attention seeking and encouraging cancel culture with the aim of personal gain. Considering her lack of attacks on Mr Tiernan himself however, and explanation of her reasoning, these claims seem unreasonable in my view.