Fianna Fáil has squandered an electoral chance by going along with the 'Yes' vote
Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30
On April 17, a bookmaking firm called Betfair sent me an email about the referendum campaign. I am not a gambler, had certainly not had dealings with them, so I imagined I was being teased over my support for the 'No' vote in the marriage referendum.
This was no payout. Just a tweaking of the 'No' vote tail.
Betfair's Barry Orr sent the following comment: "A 'Yes' vote has always been favoured by punters but since some key Irish thinkers, such as Mary McAleese, gave the 'Yes' side a ringing endorsement, punters have been backing it like defeat is out of the question, driving the price as low as 1-10, so we have taken the decision to pay out as it's now a forgone conclusion that the referendum will pass."
Goodness me, I thought, is that so? And I sent back a short email: "What odds are you giving on a 'No' vote?"
He replied cryptically: "Was 7-1."
I thought my vote could keep. The odds might yet improve.
Then the penny dropped. This campaign had only just started.
It has all the political parties behind it - Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin and almost everybody else in the Dáil and Seanad and a former president - who, in my opinion, improperly announced her decision to Vote 'Yes'. Her son, who is gay, followed by putting forward an account of his experiences, not remembering too well the joyous response of David Norris about liberating gay people.
Back in those days, I had supported Mr Norris strongly enough for him and others to send me letters of congratulations and also to back my angry condemnation of Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, who, while she de-criminalised homosexual acts (not homosexuality, which was never criminal in Ireland) doubled the fines for prostitutes.
The penny dropped entirely when I thought about Fianna Fáil.
How could Micheál Martin have made the crass mistake of not backing the 'No' Vote?
Almost every single member of his party will vote 'No'; the vast majority of traditional Fianna Fáil voters will do the same; and those in other parties who value similar traditions will also follow that course. Whatever people say publicly, in private, those I meet and talk with are declaring themselves 'No' voters.
They whisper the truth for fear of drawing attention to what has been publicly labelled the ethical "correct" view to have.
This view is governed by a fundamental public mistake, to feel for the gay and lesbian grouping - tiny in its size - and not to consider the huge body of tradition for Irish men and women who trust their parents' marriages, their own, and those they hope their children might make.
Over 16,000 marriages were solemnised in 2014. That is 32,000 men and women doing so in the fond belief that the day was probably going to be the most important in their lives and would lead to another generation to follow them. For each of those 16,000 wedding receptions there were the numbers of guests - between 40 for a small wedding and up to three, four, five hundred for a big wedding. They are all voters. They care for those who cannot marry but do they perhaps care more for those who can and will? For those who go on to have families, adding to the natural family life of Ireland?
Within the mix of society, under the increasingly noisy and angry debate about this referendum, the people whose characters and wishes come closer than all others to a dynamic form of conservative family thinking are the members of the Fianna Fáil Party.
Why does their deeply unsatisfactory leader lead them down into a pit of public scorn?
Members of that party who are my friends are horrified at the casual throwing away of an electoral opportunity that has never been more anxiously wanted by their members and supporters as the party fails repeatedly, and with a kind of death-wish defiance, to recover a new way of political life.
This was the opportunity.
It has not been entirely lost. Fianna Fáil could change on it - and should change.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael and Labour are in growing confusion about what they have done and why, and are piling the blame on poor Frances Fitzgerald, excusing themselves from responsibility for one of the worst enactments ever introduced into our political history, and by far the greatest assault on our Constitution, a precious document much abused by recent Irish Governments.
The Referendum Bill started out as a piece of equality legislation. That was how Frances Fitzgerald described it at the outset, placing great emphasis on equality.
Since then the term has been criticised. It is notable that Judge Kevin Cross, the chairman of the Referendum Commission, calls it the Marriage Bill. The term equality is, and has been rendered, meaningless.
I played a role not too dissimilar during the Lisbon Treaty. All political parties said 'Yes' to it, well in advance. I allied myself with Declan Ganley, who was treated scurrilously, and I wrote a book about him and his healthy political views. Together with other activists we secured a 'No' Vote.
The Fianna Fáil Government had said it would accept the result of the vote and would not change.
It did change of course, winning the dubious position with the European Community we are now in. The trouble with the current leader of Fianna Fáil is that he comes from the old, diseased political stock that changed the Lisbon rules having promised not to. Well, why not do it again? It is in the blood, as they say.