Sunday 26 May 2019

Fianna Fail integrity is the real Eighth loser

The party's reluctance to even allow the abortion referendum rendered it redundant on the issue, writes Gene Kerrigan

The result of the Eighth Amendment referendum has been, at times, bizarre. Some on the winning side appear to believe we've seen the dawn of a new mass liberalism.

Meanwhile, some prominent pro-Eighth spokespeople appear to be flipping out. One rattled on about how he might deprive us of his tax money. Another wrote that Ireland itself has died and wrote our collective obituary.

I don't recognise this country in either of these views - the alleged new dawn or the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

I suspect that most people who voted in the referendum will be well over it by now.

Unlike activists on both sides, most voters won't have followed every twist and turn of the campaigns.

They'll have read some stuff, maybe watched one TV debate or another, skimmed some social media, maybe discussed the issue with friends.

Then, they made an informed choice, and it wasn't the posters on lamp-posts that informed them.

People make choices based on their experience of life.

Those who in 1983 voted to put the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution were born between roughly 1913 and 1965.

What was their experience of life?

They were born into an inward-looking country that was perpetually poor.

A coalition of the State and the Catholic Church made all the important choices in public policy.

Those negotiations occurred offstage. Elections were about changing personnel, not policies.

The Catholic Church of the time was very theatrical and in-your-face. People did not question anything it did.

Censorship was routine and oppressive. It went far beyond the suppression of "dirty books" as they were known.

Here are some of the writers who had books banned - O'Connor, O Faolain, O'Flaherty, Clarke, Macken and Beckett.

Books by Graham Greene were banned, Steinbeck, Mailer, Orwell, Hemingway, Nabokov, Margaret Mead, Robert Graves, Balzac, Gide, Proust, Huxley, Koestler, Sinclair Lewis and Daniel Defoe. And so, too, were countless others.

Notoriously, Kate O'Brien's Land of Spices was banned in 1942 because of a single sentence - "She saw Etienne and her father in the embrace of love".

Movies had scenes routinely and crudely chopped out. Theatre was on occasion, literally, policed, with gardai watching from the back of the stalls. Anything that disparaged the official culture or hinted at other ways of living was out of the picture.

Without the materials that stimulate curiosity and thought, a people stagnates.

It was like wearing blinkers. You could see whatever those in power put in front of you. That was your world.

The 1913-1965 generations that voted in 1983 did what they believed was best for the country. They mostly voted as their leaders told them.

There was no possibility that the Eighth Amendment would not be passed.

Now, jump forward 35 years. Those who voted the Eighth Amendment out of the Constitution were born between roughly 1938 and 2000.

For two-thirds of that time, censorship had been greatly eased, the newspapers became more questioning. TV generated continuous debate. Books, movies and pop music assumed people make choices in their lives.

We became members of the EU and had to perpetually negotiate arrangements with other cultures where personal choice was respected.

Experience had shown that the world outside Holy Ireland was not hell on earth. Meanwhile, the nightmare secret history of the institutional Church had tumbled out into the daylight.

The 1938-2000 generations that voted on May 25 did what they believed was best for the country - they voted as their consciences told them.

But the notion that those who voted Yes have somehow signed up to be part of a liberal army, to be taken for granted and used to liberate us from a series of oppressions, is mistaken.

The people are open to being convinced and are not part of anyone's army.

Why are the "pro-life" forces so angry?

They have lost nothing. No one will be forced to have an abortion. Apart from the occasional whoop of delight and the odd over-exuberant tweet, there hasn't been anything like the coat-trailing that occurred in 1983.

It's true that everyone will no longer be forced by the law to obey the conscience of a minority - but that, surely, is just and right.

I suspect some No leaders saw themselves as the saviours of traditional values and the institutions that upheld them.

Rejected, they feel betrayed.

But here's the thing: we didn't kill that old Ireland.

We who voted Yes to freedom of conscience didn't kill those values. We didn't betray those institutions.

Your anger belongs elsewhere.

What killed the old Ireland was the inexorable need to connect with other societies outside that little bubble - for economic, cultural and intellectual reasons.

And there was a second hand on the throat of that old Ireland, that of the Catholic Church scandals.

When religious and political institutions join to wield power, terrible things happen. It seems there is no end to them as we found out last week.

The events of the past were determining the future. Without years of sustained argument by the repeal campaigners and brave work by a handful of left-wing TDs, the change might have been defeated - this time.

The traditionalists might have extended the life of the old Ireland by a decade or two, but it was dying from self-inflicted wounds.

There are two political hangovers from the referendum vote and the resulting anger among the traditionalists.

One is what happened inside the No campaign in the final week. It needs detailed, fair reporting.

I'm mildly curious, but it's the No voters who really need to know. What were their leaders up to?

I suspect they judged they were losing. In an attempt to win, or to lose narrowly so they would be in a strong position to hinder change, they reversed the principle of a lifetime.

Some "pro-life" people now argued for limited access to abortion for "hard cases".

It doesn't matter whether they were sincere. They argued for abortion.

They extolled the virtues of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which they had fought tenaciously in 2013.

The people they allegedly represent have a right to know what happened.

The second hangover is being suffered by Fianna Fail, and that's a pleasure to watch.

For decades, either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael governed in an unofficial coalition with the Catholic Church. You might call it a confidence and supply arrangement.

From the early 1980s under Garret FitzGerald, Fine Gael began to inch away from the arrangement. Many of their TDs fought doggedly against that.

Fianna Fail, though, is still looking over its shoulder at the past.

In 2013, when the Dail was processing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, all TDs were faced with a moral choice. When a woman's life is in real and substantial danger, is a termination allowable to save that life?

And just six Fianna Fail TDs said it was. Six.

The rest? They were cool with death. You could call it a Lose Them Both policy.

This year, most Fianna Fail TDs voted against allowing voters to decide. Many sat out the referendum. While both Repeal and Save cared passionately about the issues, all but a handful in Fianna Fail thought it mattered enough to go with one side or the other.

On an issue that mattered hugely to millions, the party rendered itself redundant.

If Micheal Martin had the courage of his convictions, he and a handful of others would join Fine Gael. There is nothing of political substance between them.

Sunday Independent

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