I am deeply concerned for the future in Europe and of the European Union. Many across the continent are looking inward, closing their country to outsiders. Rather than considering the benefits of a diverse society, one that respects the worth of those who seek to make a better life for themselves and their family elsewhere, one that increases the richness of a culture by adding to the variety of experiences within it, populists and nationalists are perpetuating myths about foreigners. We saw this in the strong regional result for Marie Le Pen last year, governments in successive Nordic countries including or dependent on such extreme nationalist parties. We see it in the leading government parties of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Last month, we were frighteningly close to witnessing the election of an FPÖ candidate for president.
And we are seeing this now I’m the United Kingdom. This turn was unfortunately aided by the established parties, whether David Cameron’s awful pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, or Ed Miliband carving Controls on Immigration in stone and on party mugs before last year’s election. Inward immigration is a sign of economic strength. Workers move to where the jobs are, and in turn increase economic activity where they arrive and settle. But this has been ever more blatant from UKIP, the leading force behind this referendum. The worst of this was in the demonisation in the poster unveiled by Nigel Farage last week of those now in Europe who fled to twin terrors in Syria of Assad and Daesh. Aside from the fact that commitments under the Geneva Convention is independent of any obligation deriving from EU membership, I worry for politics and society where a message of abandoning those in distress would be victorious, instead of recognising the need to find solutions to the global emergency of record levels of displacement.
The European Union has been good economically, for individual countries like the United Kingdom or Ireland, and for the continent as a whole. It does this through facilitating trade within the union, and also by acting as a negotiating trading bloc with other countries or global regions. While this includes many regulations, in most cases, these are such that would exist at a national level in their diverse form, and their standardisation is such as to ease the flow of goods. I don’t support all the Union does; in particular, I do not support farm subsidies. But were I in the United States, the existence of federal farm subsidies would seem a very poor argument for secession. On the whole, and in most respects, the European Communities and the European Union have been the greatest project in transnational free trade.
The European Union was a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. From their inception in 1950s, the Communities brought together countries which had fought three major wars in the previous 80 years. With Ireland and the United Kingdom coming in together in 1973, they provided support for the peace process. In the 1980s, they brought in former military and fascist dictatorships, and in the 2000s, the Union welcomed those which had been behind the Iron Curtain. It promoted democratic and economic development before and after entry. The institutions have proven inadequate to guard against regressive steps by governments in Poland and Hungary in recent years, but they would be so much weaker should the Union begin to disintegrate. We need to maintain a strong Union with countries committed to liberal political and economic principles.
Allies of the United Kingdom worldwide have been clear that to maintain their place in the world, they should vote to Remain. In support of Leave, however, are Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. It would fit their worldview of isolated countries competing against each other rather than cooperating, seeing the European Union as a threat rather than a partner.
Economic analysts are at a near consensus that leaving the Union would be bad for Britain’s economy and indeed that inward migration from the EU and elsewhere has been beneficial. It worries me that a campaign with so little explanation of what would happen next is so close to winning, ahead in some polls, putting the position of their economy and society at risk for an unknown, fed by resentment against foreigners who have managed to gain employment. When Kate Hoey was pressed, she could not name any reputable independent study that showed the United Kingdom would be better off if it left.
Leaving the European Union would weaken the control the United Kingdom has over many of its external trade decisions, bound to arrangements of the remaining 27.
It will have consequences for our island. We would probably be able to maintain the Common Travel Area, but customs restrictions could be introduced, depending on what deal the United Kingdom would negotiate (again, we don’t know what it might be). It would inhibit and hinder the welcome and increasing cooperation across Ireland, North and south. I find it deeply frustrating, if perhaps not surprising, to see Arlene Foster and the Democratic Unionist Party put this stability at risk, perhaps for the reassurance that it would weaken ties south of the border.
Most of all, what concerns me is what a Leave vote would say about the politics and political campaigns that work. In some respects, it is more concerning than the election results across Europe I referred to above, as it is almost certainly irreversible.
So for these reasons, I’ll await nervously for the result on Thursday night and Friday morning, hoping to see a clear vote to Remain.
Five years ago we entered an election in circumstances which were embarrassing for our country. The outgoing government had just entered a bailout agreement with the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment was at 14.3%.
The global economic situation has improved, and Ireland has more than taken advantage of it. We are now the fastest growing economy in the EU, with unemployment at 8.8% and falling, and a steadily improving rate of job creation. We have regained a position of respect within the European Union. This was done under the guidance of the Troika institutions, a program Ireland successfully exited from. Ireland compares very favourably to other countries which were very badly affected by the global economic crisis. This government of Fine Gael and Labour deserves credit for this stewardship of the economy.
No government shifts and improves a country’s budgetary position and economic standing as significantly as has been done here without taking decisions which merit or deserve criticism. This can be particularly said in the area of housing. However, what matters most is that there is a strong environment favouring job creation and growing incomes, to create the resources to tackle these problems, whether privately or by government.
But apart from the improved economic situation, there are many other ways in which we are a changed country since early 2011. We have seen a significant program of positive law reform.
It is now a crime to withhold information on the abuse of children. Our Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke out strongly in the Dáil, condemning the role of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican in covering up the sexual abuse of children, the first Taoiseach to do so in clear and unambiguous terms. Children are now specifically protected in the Constitution, so that their voice can be heard in the legal process and their best interests considered.
Instead of filing in the District Court, in between regular business there, new Irish citizens now swear their allegiance in welcoming and open Citizenship Ceremonies.
After a wait of 21 years, and many governments, we finally had legislation in response to the X Case, which activists had called for since the judgment, legislation which certainly came at political cost, the first change to abortion law in this country since 1861. I would support more extensive reform, but this is as far as our current constitutional position allows, and it made space for debate on the next stage from here.
Local authorities now have the power to alter the local property tax within a range of 15% on either side of a base rate, giving much greater meaning and effect to local elections than before. The next Ceann Comhairle will be elected by secret ballot of TDs, creating a measure of independence from the government.
Reform of minor sentencing now allows for fines by installments, rather than needlessly sending people for short prison sentences.
We had the beginning of the process of school divestment from religious management, though admittedly this has been a process that has been slower than desired.
Gender quotas for candidate selection at general elections were introduced; though it will take more than one election to have an effect on the makeup of the Dáil, it is the beginning of a process.
A new Register of Lobbyists was created to monitor corruption in public services and provision.
The government called a vote on marriage equality, and with so many others too, strongly campaigned for a Yes vote. Both parties did so enthusiastically, and our country had a moment of pride on the world stage when we became the first in the world to vote in support of equal marriage in a popular referendum, in a campaign that captured the public imagination.
Last year also saw the enactment of one of the best gender recognition laws worldwide, with provision within the act itself for progressive review in two years’ time.
The Children and Family Relationships Act was the most comprehensive review of family law since the 1960s, which among its many provisions, gave fathers greater automatic guardianship in cases of cohabitation, allowed cohabiting couples or civil partners as well as married couples to adopt jointly, and provided for donor-assisted reproduction.
Changes to equality law mean that the ethos of a school or hospital can no longer be the basis of employment discrimination solely on the basis of personal characteristics like sexuality, or family status, or any of the other grounds of anti-discrimination.
I will be voting for a return of this government of Fine Gael and Labour. I do not expect it to be returned to office. But I do expect that it will be remembered as a reforming government, and that these many reforms will stand well to this country, improving the lives of those who live here in many small and significant ways, allowing us to continue to become a more open society.
Abortion. Affirmative action. Contraception mandates. Immigration. One person one vote. Public sector labour unions. Each of these remain as matters for the now eight justices of the United States Supreme Court to decide this term.
Many of these would have been the blockbuster end-of-term 5-4 decisions. Many of these were the result of strategic litigation or legislation by conservatives designed to test current Supreme Court doctrine. The four liberal justices of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan will very likely remain a clear bloc in these. Of the remaining conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and particularly Anthony Kennedy would be expected to join the liberal justices on some of these matters, with Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito unlikely to be with them on any of these. If the court splits 4-4, the decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals stands, with no precedential weight outside of the circuit area. As outlined by Linda Hirshman in December, because of the composition of the circuit courts of appeals, this will tend to favour the liberals. But let us consider each of these major cases in detail.
Therefore, the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia will have quite an effect on each of these, if we take Senate Republicans at their word, that they will not support any successor proposed by Barack Obama.
Abortion: Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt
Abortion restrictions in the United States are currently subject to the “undue burden” test of Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992), a plurality opinion jointly written by Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter. The court upheld provisions of a Pennsylvania law requiring a 24-hour waiting period, parental consent, a restrictive definition of medical emergency, and reporting requirements for abortion services. They held that requiring spousal notice of an abortion was such an undue burden.
Diarmuid Ferriter may be right about everything he has to criticise Tim Pat Coogan for, but should Ferriter be the one to say it? Too many of his comments brought to mind Ferriter’s own 2004 book, “The Transformation of Ireland, 1900–2000”. This was a book badly in need of an editor, or at least another set of eyes before it launched itself on the Christmas market. At several points he makes reference to people by their profession or position but without identifying them, as if he had written an incomplete note in his research, “a leading Irish MEP suggested racism was endemic” (who? I’d love to know!), “In January 1980, Latin America’s leading Catholic theologian suggested” (what was their name?). Other times he quotes someone without giving an endnote citation, such as a line proposed by Tom Johnson, omitted from the final draft of the Democratic Programme.
At various points, he uses inaccurate descriptions for the name of the state, “Irish Republic”, “Southern Ireland”, at times when it was not appropriate to do so, or the “Free State” of a statistic in 1944. He inaccurately describes the substantive question in the 1992 abortion referendum. He mentions incidents more than once (the abolition of the industrial school system in Britain decades ahead of its abolition in Ireland; Magill’s Supreme Court victory in the prostution story); on other occasions he presents his chronology through the book in a confusing manner (writing about the resignation of Ó Dálaigh, and then the formation of the Cosgrave government; discussing Carson’s position as a Dubliner working for Ulster Unionists when discussing the formation of Northern Ireland, without any prior mention when discussing 1913; writing about talks in 1986 with the IRA two pages before talking about the hunger strikes; discussing how de Valera drafted a new Constitution without mentioning the prior deconstruction of each significant element of the Irish Free State up to 1937).
He criticised Tim Pat Coogan for inaccuracies in his dates. Yet Ferriter gives Article 44 rather than Article 41 as including a section on the life of woman in the home; he describes the Fianna Fáil as 1992-95, where in fact it was 1993-94; he gave the Progressive Democrat seat total in 1987 as 15, where in fact it was 14. He writes that university representation in the Dáil continued until 1934, where it continued up to 1937 (after an amendment in 1936). He talks of the seaside town of Bray in County Dublin, rather than County Wicklow. He describes Jack Lynch as the first Taoiseach with no Civil War baggage, without acknowledging that John A. Costello was chosen in 1948 for that reason (Lynch was the first FF Taoiseach was had not been involved in the Civil War).
There are points of lacking in clarity or precision, like referring to Holles Street, rather than calling it the National Maternity Hospital; writing in 2004, he mentions of the PDs in government from 1989-92 and 1997-2002; at one point, it seems like he’s referring to Costello as leader of Fine Gael. On what happened in Dublin at the end of the Second World, he writes, “Trinity students displayed the flags of the Allies, to which nationalist students, including future Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, responded by burning the Union Jack”; someone reading that could be forgiven for thinking Haughey went to Trinity. His discussion of the First Dáil would have been the perfect time to explain what a TD was; instead, we find it in parenthesis several pages later as “James Collins, a member of the Abbeyfeale IRA and future TD (member of parliament)”. Or even include it in a key to terms. It just looks out of place randomly there.
Some obvious points of context are lacking: for example, mentioning Mary Robinson as a presidential candidate simply as “a liberal academic lawyer from Trinity College”, without specifying any of the causes she was involved in, or that she had a career in the Seanad, or that she had left Labour in 1985, or anything else. He writes that after 1977, the electorate rejected single-party government for the rest of the century; though there were no further single-party majorities, it ignores Haughey in 1982 and 1987-89. He mentions that the 1982-87 government spent time on cultural questions like abortion and divorce, but without mentioning that there were any referendums, let alone what the result of them was. He mentions the Anglo-Irish Agreement parenthetically, while discussing the relationship between Dublin and nationalists, without explaining what it was, who signed it, who opposed it, what led to it. He talks of the response to the hunger strikes and the success of Sinn Féin in the 1980s without mentioning their change of leadership and policy on abstention.
Aside from this, there are structural problems with the book. He divides the century at decade points too rigidly at times, so that for example the discussion of the outbreak of the Troubles in the 1960s is set apart from the rest of the events that follow from it. Within each chapter, the length of any section seems to be dictated more what he can group with an amusing quotation.
There are sections of the book that read like a collection of quotations from other historians and analysts. Again and again we have lines like, “as pointed out be Laffan…”, “In the words of sports historian Paul Rouse…”, “Colm Tóibín asserted…”, “Similarly, Fintan O’Toole pointed out in his survey of Ireland…”, “Tom Garvin maintained that…”, “His alternative to the Treaty was, maintained Joe Lee…”. The occasional intext reference to other historians is fair enough, but we read a text to read the author’s interpretation of events, not see how much he likes quotations from Laffan, Lee or Jackson. He even does this doubly so once: “Michael Gallagher quoted David Thornley…”. Were it simply to survey the existing research before presenting his own thesis, it would be fair enough. But such lines are peppered throughout the text, often without any separate analysis from Ferriter.
And a few pages of an overarching conclusion would be good, to justify the title, to explain how and why he believes Ireland was indeed transformed.
Anyway, these are just a few points I noted on the margin of book at various points when I first read it, such that I thought it a bit rich for Ferriter to find the faults he did with Coogan’s book. Especially so as Coogan is a popular historian; though Ferriter writes for a broad audience, he is an academic historian, and standards of referencing and accuracy apply all the more.
In September 2016, the referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union is likely to be held. With less than twelve months to go, The Europe Dilemma: Britain and the Drama of EU Integration by Roger Liddle, published in 2014, is valuable reading. He provides insight into how Britain’s relationship with European institutions has affected both parties. At the date of its publication, the travails of the Conservative Party was Liddle’s main focus in his conclusion; while they are still more likely to suffer internally from divisions on Europe, the debate within the Labour Party has reignited since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, notwithstanding his recent commitment to remaining.
Lord Liddle is an unashamed europhile, whose major regret is that Tony Blair (whom he advised on European affiars) adopted an obsequiousness towards the Murdoch press that led to the United Kingdom’s non-participation in the euro single currency. In his analysis, living within the euro would have forced a tighter fiscal policy on Britain, and slowed the decline of British manufacturing.
Liddle’s case is that Britain’s leaders from Macmillan on let their country down by not participating as they could have in the European project. He argues that Britain paid a continuing price for its late arrival. Not only were they perceived with wariness by the original members, but they lost the opportunity to shape the Common Agricultural Policy, which would later become a source of grievance for the British. In Liddle’s view, the same could be said of their approach to the euro, where Britain lost an opportunity to steer it in their favour. Rather than viewing involvement in the European Union as an important venture in global politics, in positive terms, British politicians consistently talk of standing up for national interests. Liddle analyses the attitudes of the two major parties towards Europe from the 1960s to the time of his writing, both in government and in opposition, with particular spotlights on the 1975 referendum held by the Labour government on whether to remain within the EEC, and the failure of the United Kingdom to join the single currency.
David Cameron called the referendum in response to pressure from within his own party, from UKIP outside, and from the eurosceptic press. If Cameron is a moderate on Europe, Blair was an enthusiast. Yet he found himself pushed into taking stances he could not have desired. He did not stand up to those who were less committed, many of whom were part of the New Labour project. For example, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insisted that there would have be a referendum on the 2004 Constitutional Treaty, which Blair initially resisted, it being less important in substance than either the Single European Act or the Maastricht Treaty. This public pledge led to the referendums in France and the Netherlands, which scuppered the Treaty (though it was substantially reformulated in the Lisbon Treaty).
Liddle also highlights Blair’s weakness against Brown, allowing him to set the terms for any entry into the single currency. It is clear that Blair had begun to have doubts about Brown as a successor, yet was unwilling to confront him in any serious way. Liddle marks out as the great conundrum of Blair’s premiership, that “if Brown was so unfit to be prime minister, why did our hero Blair allow a situation in which that became inevitable”. If instead of simply demoting Robin Cook from the Foreign Office in 2001, Blair had switched his portfolio with Brown’s, to have a more committed europhile in the exchequer, he might have achieved the legacy he intended of bringing Britain into the euro.
However, Blair receives praise for his commitment to enlargement, and for waiving the 7-year derogation on the free movement of labour (which the Irish government under Bertie Ahern did too, to its credit). Unlike the Labour Party that fought the 2015 election, Blair continues to affirm the merits of this policy. Liddle writes that is “depressing that the entire British political class has run away from explaining the benefits of eastern migration to economy and society”.
Liddle is naturally more critical still of Cameron, in decisions such as Britain’s opt-out of the Stability Treaty, of which he writes that it “did wonders for his rating in the party and the country, but at the price of severe damage to national interests”. His Bloomberg speech, in which he announced his intentions to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU, paradoxically couched Britain’s in more positive terms than anything from a Tory leader since Major in Bonn in 1990. Cameron now finds himself looking for a symbolic gesture to present to the British public in a referendum, just as Harold Wilson found presenting a change in New Zealand milk quotas as a significant renegotiation. I would also speculate that Cameron is privately more open to immigration than his push to drive down numbers entering Britain would suggest.
Cameron should not believe that by putting this referendum, which he hopes and expects to win, that he will settle the European question for a generation, or give him rest from the anti-EU sections of his party. Such are the lessons of history from the Labour Party; eight years after holding a referendum in which two-thirds of voters supported remaining in the EEC, the party stood in the 1983 general election on a platform of withdrawal, and had lost many of its more pro-European members to the newly formed Social Democratic Party (later to join with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats). It took many years for the Labour Party to resolve these internal battles in the New Labour project.
The New Stateman asked this week, Can anything sink the triumphant Conservatives? With Labour out in Scotland, thanks to the SNP, and undergoing an identity crisis since Corbyn’s election (watch Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer outline the differences he holds with his party leader, and these tensions are there across the shadow cabinet), it might seem like the Conservatives are indeed in for a few years of plain sailing. But if anything can put them off course, it may be this referendum, and the divisions within the party, whatever the results.
Do check out Liddle’s book over the course of this debate!
Saturday 23 May 2015 was definitely one of the best days of my life.
In the few days before, I had been becoming more optimistic about the result. But even still, the night before the poll, I barely slept, which wasn’t ideal, as I had the last of my summer exams on the afternoon of polling day! I voted as polls opened at 7, as I so often do. But it was great to go down there with my sister Ursula, then catch the 7.04 train from Bray. I tuned into what was happening on Facebook and Twitter, and was bowled over with the emotion by the enthusiasm for the occasion, how many were flying and sailing #hometovote. But I had to maintain focus on that exam!
At 5, as the class moved down to the King’s Inn, and the conversation stayed on the exam, I had only the referendum and its place in wider social change in Ireland on my mind, so went with a few of them down to the Bernard Shaw, which was in a more political mood.
Meeting the Dublin Bay South canvassers in Slattery’s that night, as polls were closing, I ventured to hope to one that we could have reached 58%. Yet the following morning, about an hour before boxes were to open, I noted that anything over 53.7% would put us above Washington, which approved of marriage equality by popular vote in 2012. But from early in the day as we tallied the votes, it was clear it’d be more comfortable than that. The first box I tallied was from Curtlestown, just outside Bray, with 212 Yes to 75 No. A few minute or two later, I saw a tweet from Tiernan Brady that Bundoran had a result of 60%, and it was clear this was an extensive win. I was pleased to find out later in the morning that my own box in Bray got a high Yes vote of 301 to 105.
Every vote was important. Though many of us went through periods during the campaign where we imagined that it was going badly, that we might lose, and that a win no matter how small was a win nonetheless, it was important that we got a clear result, across the whole country. This wasn’t an urban Yes and a rural No, as we’ve seen in previous referendums. I haven’t seen the tallies from Ballinasloe or Ballincollig, but they’re likely to have seen a Yes vote, like most other towns across the country, despite the predictions a few months ago of Sen. Rónán Mullen.
It was wonderful to be in Dublin Castle for the result, to see how much joy there was among the crowds who had gathered there and on the streets outside. Then to meet other canvassers in Jury’s hotel in Ballsbridge. It was especially nice to be there with two friends I had been with the Hist committee ten years earlier. Ten years ago I had been sidelining what feelings I had of being gay because I didn’t think it practical to pay heed them. Perhaps it was fear of attention, that I thought it would be easier to get by if I acted as if I were straight. Talking to one of those two friends that night, I wondered, “If only I had known then that we would be here today”. After thinking on what I said, her response was perfect: “If we’d known then, then today wouldn’t feel so amazing”.
That explains so much of the joy that we saw throughout the country that day. It wasn’t just that we were pleased with the result in itself, and relief that the work of the campaign had gone the right way, but how far we’ve come.
This great success wouldn’t have happened without those who worked at each stage of the way. Some campaigners who worked in the foundation of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform in 1975, such as Sen. David Norris and former president Mary McAleese, who played a key role in this campaign. Norris’s cases, represented by former president Mary Robinson, with the High Court and Supreme Court finding against him, before his victory in the European Court of Human Rights. The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), were prominent in the work leading up to decriminalisation in 1993 and civil partnership in 2010, as they were in this campaign. There was Marriage Equality, with its single-issue focus on this campaign, and the very important work from Michael Barron and others in Belong To, with their focus on the needs and concerns of young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in Ireland. Each year at Pride, we see the wide range of organisations working to achieve and promote equality, and all of these deserve credit for the change in the culture that contributed to the high result.
One of the great things of these recent years for me was to get to know these people well, to work with them. I’ve made many great friends over these years. My own avenue to the campaign was through politics. Contrary to what Una Mullally wrote during the week, I do see a strong role for parties as a source of political change. Not everyone can find a party that suits them, and for others, the focus of a particular campaign or organisation serves their aim better. But the energy we saw in the campaign should hopefully find its way into the political process, especially as we look ahead towards the coming general election. For the campaign to be successful in the way it was, it needed both the approval of the political process, in the establishment of the constitutional convention which proposed it, and in the passage of the amendment bill through the Oireachtas, and also the experience in canvassing. Our campaign in Wicklow was led by Ian McGahon, who had been a local election candidate for Labour, and as well as myself from Fine Gael, we also had James Doyle, who stood last year for Fianna Fáil. This combined experience mattered, even as the vast majority of those who canvassed with us had never done so before. We also benefited in different ways from the support of our local TDs Andrew Doyle, Simon Harris and Anne Ferris.
I was quite pleased with the role Fine Gael played in this campaign and the political process leading up to this. When I joined the party in 2009, I had recently begun to come out as gay, so it was very much on my mind. But at that stage, while I saw a dynamism in the party in many areas, there were a few conservative voices on this issue, most notably Lucinda Creighton, who caused us a lot of trouble before the 2011 election – though she too came out in favour in the end!
It was Charlie Flanagan’s speech as Justice Spokesperson in response to the civil partnership bill in November of that year that confirmed for me that there was a place for me in the party, that I could imagine the party speaking out strongly in favour of equality. Even after a motion I put to the 2010 YFG Summer School was narrowly defeated, I stayed on, because of that speech, in which he hoped it would be a step towards full equality. I was elected to the YFG National Exec, appointed as Director of Policy, and then proposed the motion again at Summer School in 2011, when there was barely any opposition to speak of. It was great to see the change in the organisation, with so many there wearing white ribbons on their lapels, which Maeve Howe, who was seconding the motion with me, had made to promote the motion.
At the 2012 Fine Gael Ard Fheis, another friend of mine from Trinity, Mark O’Meara had proposed a motion in favour of marriage equality. Yet the party watered it down to the focus to one on the constitutional convention. It was through the leadership of Jerry Buttimer that we saw change take hold within the parliamentary party. He was the first Fine Gael TD to come out as gay, and I was proud to join him from the start in the work of the newly established Fine Gael LGBT. We were small at first, as seen in pictures of our delegation to Dublin Pride that year, but we grew in prominence, and played an important role in bringing the conversations on the lives and relationships of LGBT people to party members. We had great assistance in establishing ourselves from our general secretary Tom Curran, who shared his own family story during the campaign.
There are many others in the parliamentary party I could mention here, though I would pay a particular tribute to Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, our vice chair on Fine Gael LGBT. We were in a good position with both ministers for justice during this period, with Alan Shatter and Frances Fitzgerald showing a clear commitment to equality, and through their efforts at different stages, we saw the passage of the comprehensive reform of family law in the Children and Family Relationships Act. During these few years, the understanding of Enda Kenny has grown, from when he was jumping over flowerpots to avoid answering questions, to dropping into our Christmas drinks in Panti Bar, and speaking with a true insight when launching the Fine Gael campaign.
The end of the campaign brought with it a strange feeling. We had a great celebration at home on the Sunday. Then in the days after, I came across a few in work who had voted No. Some were light-hearted about it, but others were bitter. Despite the high Yes vote as evidence of Ireland as an open society, there were still many who voted No. The result will certainly make lesbian, gay, bi and trans people feel more relaxed and comfortable in our country, as we saw in reports of gay couples feeling more confident holding hands in public since the vote, but also with an awareness that homophobia still exists. On the other hand, it was to be able to just walk away from comments, not be in campaign mode, where I’d feel an obligation to counter what they said for any wavering voters there. And I should say, most in work were very positive in the days after the referendum, some of them having spotted me in the news coverage.
I also heard of gay people who knew of immediate family members who had voted No. Exhilarating as the campaign was, it wasn’t an easy one. Putting it to a vote wasn’t all positive. It was sometimes difficult to canvass, not knowing what the response would be. I’ve had negative responses before, canvassing for both the PDs and Fine Gael, but that wasn’t personal in the way this was. But though my exam schedule meant I couldn’t go out as often as I’d like, it still always felt worthwhile doing so, and was glad I did what I could.
The emotional comedown was difficult, knowing that it was over. I know I’m not alone in that, and it’s good to see a focus from the Yes Equality campaign on emotional well-being. The campaign wasn’t easy, putting so much of ourselves out there, directly or indirectly, having our lives, or the lives of friends or family, as a matter of public debate or disagreement. That’s part of what took me time to write this. The relief of knowing that this was no longer something I’d have to think about, at least as far as Ireland goes. It will be a while before it truly sinks in, whether it’s after what will be an amazing Dublin Pride, the legislation is enacted, or we see the first marriages take place. But there are already small effects of the change. It is a great feeling to know that I will not have to campaign on this again. I will watch with interest what happens in other countries, how big the majority will be on the US Supreme Court, but no longer with half an eye on the momentum it will build for change here.
Almost immediately, we heard people asking what’s next. It was great to see progress so swiftly on an improved gender recognition bill, one of the best in the world. The trans members of our community had stood with us during this campaign, like Sam Blanckensee here in Wicklow, and it’s great to see that there is something for them too to have Pride in their country this year. Whether someone identifies as male or female, or somewhere along the spectrum, should be their decision alone, a simple matter of a free choice in a free society. Given the prevalence of single-sex school, I hope the review in two years which forms part of the bill will make provision for those under 16.
There are, of course, many other social issues in need of legislative and constitutional reform. There always will be. Not all these campaigns can be compared precisely in how they will succeed to this campaign for marriage equality. The rapid change in attitudes that occurred as more people came out to their family and friends, and in the context of a global debate and legal change (unfortunately in both directions), cannot be so easily replicated. But the lesson must be to maintain focus in further campaigns on the lives and experiences of individuals, and how restrictive laws affect them. We have a great group of people in Wicklow, and we mean to find ways to continue to campaign.
It was a great campaign to be involved in, and one I’m sure I will always cherish. And that day has made possible so many great days for so many, even better than the win itself, not just this year, but forever more.
I will also vote Yes to lower the age of eligibility for the office of president. At 21, adult citizens are eligible to stand in a general election and from there to sit in government. I cannot see any reason why these adult citizens should be excluded from the onerous nomination and election process, for a further fourteen years. While we might not be able to imagine who such a candidate might be, who could represent the nation at such a young age, why should we be happy to make the statement that no person under 35 could have that capacity? Why exclude the possibility and limit the choice of the people absolutely in this respect?
There have been the rare examples across history of those who led movements of change at a young age, who inspired their community and their country, including from the time of the foundation of our own state. Rare as they may be, let’s not deny such a candidate the chance to put their name before the people.
Many have complained that it’s too small a reform. There are amendments I’d rather be voting on. But it made sense to hold one with the marriage referendum that wouldn’t distract from that important debate. And if even small, unobjectionable measures of political reform don’t get public support, what makes anyone think a government will be eager to make the case for a more substantial measure of political constitutional reform?