Friday 6 December 2019

Ireland, changed for the better

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: PA


Ireland's political culture is the product of both the collective history of our political system and the life histories of the members of that system and, therefore, is rooted equally in public events and private experiences. Last week the country's two main political leaders made memorable, some would say remarkable, speeches - one at the European Parliament, the other in Dail Eireann - and they were a credit to Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin respectively, whether you accord or not with the views expressed.

Both speeches were made against a background of fresh developments in a story that brought profound shame to this country, known as the Kerry Babies. The details were first reported in this newspaper 34 years ago and as such will be remembered by many readers but, in all probability, will be unknown by the vast majority of younger people.

That younger generation has already brought about remarkable change to the political and social culture of Ireland - we think of the same-sex marriage referendum. Whether you are comfortable or not with what has been the development of a more liberal, some would say more tolerant, Ireland, the change is equally rooted in the public events and private experiences of the, in many ways, admirable generation referred to, and those that have gone before them.

The Ireland of the 1980s, particularly the earlier half of that decade, was a depressing place indeed: it delivered us not only the Kerry Babies tragedy, but also the death of a 15-year-old schoolgirl and her baby in a Catholic grotto. It was also the time of bitterly fought and divisive referendums on the issues of abortion and divorce. The actions and behaviour of sections of the Garda Siochana then, as now, were also under the spotlight, not just in relation to events in Kerry but at several locations nationwide. Behind all of these traumas also lay the overriding influence of the Catholic Church, and the despicable campaign of the Provisional IRA.

In Strasbourg last week, Leo Varadkar described himself "born European", in that he is part of a new generation of political leaders born after this country joined the European Union. He spoke of the solidarity, partnership and co-operation that is central to the European project - which he correctly stated had brought Ireland from a position of being one of the least-developed member states when we joined, to one of the most prosperous today.

The progression of that Ireland of the 1980s to what it is today, for all its remaining faults, has indeed been astonishing.

Whether or not you agree with his views on the Eighth Amendment, Micheal Martin's speech was, if anything, the more remarkable and one clearly wrought of deep personal reflection. Mr Martin is to be commended for giving the issue, soon to be put to the people in a referendum, such dutiful consideration. In that speech he said he believed we each had a duty to be willing to question our own views and to be open to different perspectives.

As we have already stated, this newspaper will listen to the debate attentively and with respect to the arguments made by all sides. In advance, however, we would reaffirm Mr Martin's stated view: that as a society and in general, we must be willing to question our own views and be open to different perspectives.

Sunday Independent

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