Tuesday 22 October 2019

Editorial: 'Century of progress gives us no right to be smug'

'Membership of the EU has undoubtedly powered economic and social change' (stock picture)
'Membership of the EU has undoubtedly powered economic and social change' (stock picture)


The election of 1918 was a watershed: paving the way for the first Dáil, the coming of Sinn Féin, and enfranchisement of women. Yet Constance Markievicz, the first woman TD and MP elected, would not be overly impressed with our advances since.

Today, there are just 35 women out of 158 TDs in the Dáil (22pc) and 18 women Senators (30pc). Ireland is currently ranked 81st in the world classification table for women's representation. A poor return on 100 years.

The seismic shift in power and governance was necessarily turbulent. A refusal to recognise or to resist the magnitude of the transformation on both sides of the water led to tragedy and bloodshed.

While deep divisions desperately needed to be bridged, the vision or will to do so would not emerge for many generations. The price was catastrophic. As President Michael D Higgins said yesterday: "The poignancy of the 1918 election was the failure to respect its mandate, which would result in the War of Independence and the tragic Civil War."

Thankfully, the unequal relationships that defined the last century have been rebalanced and recalibrated. Voting for ourselves led to thinking for ourselves.

Today, Mother Church, or Mother England, no longer dominates every facet of life.

The ballot would be recognised as more powerful than the bullet when the principle of consent was enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. This facilitated warmer relationships with our nearest neighbour. Undoubtedly Brexit has introduced new strains, but these too will be thrashed out.

The Church too has been repositioned in society. Its dominant role filling so many areas of urgent need the emergent State could not - such as in health and education - diminished as we became wealthier.

Membership of the EU has undoubtedly powered economic and social change.

But becoming one of the wealthiest countries in the world has not eradicated poverty, as the homelessness scandal shows.

So would our forefathers be impressed by our progress? To answer this, you must first define the place of the Irish politician in the 21st century. For much of it, that was clear enough: win a seat and be in government.

In the days of Confidence and Supply, and the era of the Independent, the paradigm has changed utterly. The two-and-a-half party system has been turned on its head. Spin and mass communication play a role that could not have been imagined 100 years ago.

Whatever else, they left us with big shoes to fill in 1918. The patterns on top of patterns we have followed since have made progress.

By direct comparison, we have no reason to be smug. If much has been done, we can do better. The rising tide has not lifted all boats, but like those of 1918 at least we chose to sail, not drift.

Irish Independent

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