Friday 19 January 2018

The 'equality Oscars' herald a new Ireland of hope and diversity

The Academy Awards had nothing on feel-good factor and spirit of hope on show at Dublin's RDS yesterday, writes Nicola Anderson

Jubilant Yes supporters take to the streets of Dublin city to spread the joy
Jubilant Yes supporters take to the streets of Dublin city to spread the joy
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'It's not the Oscars, dahlings," quipped a jubilant Senator David Norris as he arrived at the RDS count to face a barrage of flashing cameras and a solid wall of ecstatic admirers.

He was quite correct - the Oscars had nothing on this with the feel-good factor, spirit of hope and sheer generosity that came tumbling out of the ballot boxes, disguised as mere sheets of paper.

The frail-looking senator sighed that he only wished he was "21 and not 71" on this new dawn of an Ireland in which so many possibilities have suddenly unfolded.

An early result had been predicted, and just 11 minutes after the first boxes were first opened, Labour's Kevin Humphreys was already declaring it a landslide.

Three boxes in the Ringsend area of Dublin were a reliable early indicator, he claimed - having successfully predicted the downfall of Michael McDowell at the RDS in another lifetime.

"A resounding 'yes' - easily four to one," agreed Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy.

This wasn't your regular count - there was no nervous nail-biting sessions, no fretful tallying and retallying of unsatisfactory figures; the picture emerged miraculously, all by itself, and as clear as day.

And it was reflected in the atmosphere - it was both electric and electrifying.

Nobody could have failed but to have been moved by the spirit of positivity and acceptance afoot.

There was a guttural roar as former Fianna Fail minister Pat Carey walked into the count centre, the tears pouring down his cheeks.

He had not expected to feel quite like this, he admitted, looking decades younger and lighter than the bad old days when he was the self-declared "minister for etcetera" towards the end of the last Fianna Fail coalition.

He even wore a gold necklace as a small outward token of the new personal confidence he has gifted upon himself in his 67th year.

"It's really quite emotional," said Pat.

"The buzz here is palpable. We expected this referendum to pass but what I didn't think was that the majority would be so wide.

"And the reason that I'm happy is more to do with the fact that there are no losers in this. Everybody in this country can now be a winner in what has been done in this country for the last three months."

He recalled being hugged during the campaign by a great-grandmother in Ballymun and meeting a farmer in Tullow mart who was "as cute as bedamned" at not giving him any answer - though Pat knew he "wanted to do the right thing".

In the three months since he has come out as a gay man, he said life has been an "emotional roller coaster" and he has not really had time to take stock and will require some quiet time to absorb everything once all the excitement has died down.

Every interview he has done has been "a new piece of therapy for me," he said.

But he was adamant about one thing: he has absolutely no regrets.

"I'm delighted at the end of the day I summoned up the conviction, courage and confidence to say that I am a gay man," he said.

The Yes vote is a fantastic thing for young gay people in Ireland, he said - though he pointed out that there are many lonely older gay people in Ireland, who are in the same position as he was.

And he revealed that he is helping to fight the battle for an elderly gay couple in their 90s, one of whom has now developed Alzheimer's.

Marriage isn't just a piece of paper, he pointed out. It is also about rights and property.

The rainbow flags had now been unfurled at the RDS with the earliest tallies showing a triumphant result. Gay men and gay women embraced freely. And nobody batted an eyelid - there was only love in this room.

Everyone was just standing by, waiting for the cue to party.

One young lesbian couple said it meant so much to be universally supported, that they could now be themselves and not have to hide. "That's not a nice feeling," they said. So the idea that the country wants them to be happy and to have the same rights as everybody else really meant a lot, they added.

It was a great day to be gay and Irish - but mostly to be Irish full stop, they agreed.

As Joan Burton arrived to take her place under the rainbow flag, the place erupted as she declared that Ireland has become "a rainbow nation" of diversity and inclusion.

"The people went out and made this constitutional change possible. Cead Mile Failte is Ireland's most known welcome so it's now Cead Mile Failte to people who are gay and lesbian in Ireland," she said. This vote is for everybody, she declared. "Mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles....everyone."

Colm O'Gorman arrived with his two children to roars of delight. It was a huge day, he said. "It's just so hard to capture. I'm proud of us and I'm proud as a country."

But he didn't believe that this vote signalled something new - he believed that this was something Ireland always was but did not feel able to fully express.

"We're a generous, decent, extraordinary, loving people," he said.

The 'equality Oscars' feeling continued throughout the day as key campaigners arrived to a rapturous reception, with tears and cheers.

Last night, after the result was formally announced, the assembled masses who had gathered in the upper courtyard at Dublin Castle, spilled out onto Dame Street in a spontaneous celebration.

They stopped the traffic, they hugged, they cheered, they wanted to tell the world what Ireland had done.

The good natured celebrations were met with a great deal of tolerance from those they had temporarily inconvenienced. The cars, vans and buses beeped their horns in solidarity in scenes reminiscent of Italia 90,

Well known gay bars, the George and Panti Bar, were full to capacity with delighted Yes supporters. What a day it turned out to be.

Sunday Independent

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