Tuesday 19 November 2019

Coalition concern on gay vote is escalating

Fearful Enda wondering if expected referendum triumph could turn into a surprise gay nightmare, writes John Drennan

EYE ON THE VOTE: Taoiseach Kenny has reason to fear referendums. Photo: Steve Humphreys
EYE ON THE VOTE: Taoiseach Kenny has reason to fear referendums. Photo: Steve Humphreys

John Drennan

Those of us who have written about our Taoiseach for longer than we might like, never thought we would be writing about Enda's gay nightmare.

The 'gay nightmare' scenario has nothing to do with the possibility that Dear Leader Enda is terrified of or opposed to gays. Instead, for the most part of his career he has maintained a respectful silence crossed with wary neutrality on the gay issue.

Enda's gay nightmare on this occasion is the onrushing referendum on gay marriage.

This was supposed to be a thing of sugar and spice and all things pink and nice.

The problem for Dear Leader Enda is that he has a great deal of political credit riding on the gay marriage referendum.

Like so many other referendums, initially everything has started with flowers, cheers and waving handkerchiefs when the referendum slid down the political gangway.

When Eamon Gilmore initially suggested gay civil marriage was the "civil rights issue of our generation", it was crushed by the slow-moving iceberg of austerity.

But now that the sun is shining in our faces, a little space exists for Ireland to prove, now that the Catholic thing has gone, how civilised and modern we are.

Suddenly though, clouds are beginning to scud across the political sky.

This rippling unease was articulated by the canny FG TD James Daly, who warned of the danger posed to the 'Yes' vote by the "No that dare not name its name".

There is a three-way split among the voters between those who are definitely voting 'Yes', those who are voting 'No' and those who are saying they will vote 'Yes' but who are, in the darkness of the night, having bad thoughts.

It is the latter stool of the troika that is causing an acceleration of night terrors

The escalating concern has been accompanied by much gnashing of teeth about how you can't trust Paddy, who will lead you up the garden path and then dump you in a bed of cacti. But, in fairness to Paddy, he is not actually being deceitful on the gay marriage thing.

Instead, he is being excessively polite, which is an almost worse sin. For Paddy, if given a run at it, would murder entire nations with good manners.

You see that wing of 'Definitely Maybe Yes but actually probably No' voters are not against the gay thing.

It is just that they do not feel utterly comfortable with it. They are not sure why they feel uncomfortable with it.

And they absolutely do not want an intervention that would lead them to consider why they are not at ease.

They know, by the way, that they are wrong and will fully accept it right up to the moment where they put a tick in the 'No' box.

This internal conflict has been the catalyst for the descent of a sudden uneasy malaise over the campaign.

The Sancerre-sipping socialists of Sandymount, who have been campaigning among their own, are ecstatic.

However, Enda knows how those who dare not say 'No' in public may be privately thinking.

Enda's mood will not be helped by the other cold reality where Paddy likes to kick the government in the referendums as a dislocated source of vengeance.

The government has no shortage of examples of how this has operated, for the Coalition's record in referendums has been disastrous.

This is all the more unfortunate, given that political and constitutional reform was supposed to be their core ethic.

However, when the Dail inquiries referendum was routed by seven dusty old AGs, most of whose names escape us, that took much of the piss and vinegar out of them.

The rest, alas, was deleted when Enda put all of his authority on the line to take out the even dustier Seanad.

Like the Titanic, it was the referendum which could not be sunk, until Enda found himself spitting through political broken teeth about how delighted he was to receive a wallop from the people.

Even the one which succeeded, the fiscal compact, was only secured via the warning by Europe that an immediate and terrible war would occur.

Enda will also know all too well that Ireland would be unique if the gay marriage thing was to romp through.

Any countries, including what are termed advanced states, which have put the issue to the popular vote have seen large opinion poll majorities for 'Yes' that narrowed down to near parity when the votes were tallied.

The Taoiseach will also be acutely aware of the wider political implications.

Of course, a referendum loss is not terminal, but this really is not where the Coalition wants to be.

Like a team that is bottom of the Premier League on St Stephen's Day but starts winning matches, the Coalition cartel has been on a nice little run. However, their previous ill-starred status means they are not safe yet. All it would take is an unexpected loss to drag them back into the relegation dog-fight again.

Nothing is more corrosive to the authority of a Taoiseach, as Mr Cowen particularly found out, than the loss of a popular vote. It might be a mere punch on the nose rather than an execution, but no sane man goes around asking for the former.

Losing on the gay front would also be particularly wounding, given that one achievement school-teacher Enda cherishes above all others is the restoration of Ireland's international credibility.

Ireland moving to the right of troglodytes like Putin is not compatible with that.

Worse still, it would impact on one of the Taoiseach's most cherished tasks, which is to be seen to be hip and youthful and high-fiving the inhabitants of Digital land.

Enda's self-esteem is intimately tied up in having American multimillionaires smiling upon the Dear Leader. The problem here, however, is that the multinationals like the gays.

The last thing 'Dear Leader' needs is to be left stuttering when the nice American with the goatee beard in Digital land asks Enda: "Why can't I marry my partner in your country?"

Such a prospect alone is almost enough to tempt one to vote 'No'.

Sunday Independent

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