One of the more moving aspects of the marriage equality debate was the stories of people who were canvassing for the first time. Many approached doors or strangers on the street, leaflets shaking in their hands. After all, it’s a big deal engaging strangers in a social setting where often normal good manners don’t apply. But what’s most interesting about their experience is how different it actually is to the experience they would have had if they participated in day to day party politics.
The marriage equality referendum campaign had a clear defined end and a clearly defined result, whether it was yay or nay. The campaigners, at least on the Yes side, knew what the outcome would be if they delivered a Yes vote. It’s a sharp contrast to normal political campaigns.
Sure, one has polling day to aim towards and the definitive outcome of one’s candidate getting elected or not, but after polling day the cloudy murkiness of the Oireachtas closes in, enveloping even the most noble of aspiring candidates. You can get the finest of people elected, but then watch as Dáil Éireann tells them to cut out all that nonsense about changing things and shut the hell up and vote the way you’re told. The country is awash with bitter or simply disappointed people who helped a candidate get elected but then walked away as the alien bodysnatchers of Leinster House replaced your radical reformer with a forelock tugging lickspittle.
But surely, some will say, the referendum disproves that. People got pro-equality candidates elected who then went on to get the bill passed. Primarily Labour, by the way, who should get the credit if there is any justice, but whom I suspect instead will discover this won’t be the last time we see Labour TDs bawling their eyes out at a count centre.
The problem is that marriage equality is almost the giant pink elephant in the room because of its rarity. Every other reform, from abortion to political reform onwards, has been blocked by the stultifying dead hand of our parliamentary establishment.
That’s what makes the events of May 22 so extraordinary, because once the bill had passed ordinary citizens took over and fought the campaign themselves. The parties, and indeed many party members played a role, but it wasn’t the parties that made so many citizens decide to fly home, or got so many young people to register to vote, or indeed so many first-timers to brave the cold canvassing door. I’m not convinced this would have passed if the parties alone had campaigned. Is anyone else?
It’s true, this issue was laced with a once-in-a-generation raw emotion, but it was also about power. Ordinary people, from knocking on doors to wearing a Yes badge down the shops in a small village, had the power to make this happen, to convince friends, family and neighbours, get them registered, get them a lift down to the polling booth to cast actual legally binding ballots. Real power. And that’s the problem: all these new people will almost certainly never experience this sort of power again if they get involved in party politics and its guff.
As we have learnt with abortion, political reform, direct provision, the rotting corpse of Irish politics doesn’t actually want to do anything about this stuff.
If we want all these young and not so young who registered to vote and participated in politics for the first time to remain active, how do we do it? Tell them to attend their local cumann meeting? Get involved in the name-calling bunfights and shafting of Irish party politics? Let’s not forget the many politicians who seemed to take umbrage at being asked their opinion on the subject, as if it was none of their business and why were you bothering them? Abortion term limits? Banking lending policies? Will ye get away with yourself! I’ve three funerals alone to be attending this morning!
The reality is that the May 22 referendum showed us what could happen if power is taken from politicians and given to the people. Why should calling a plebiscite or constitutional referendum only be the preserve of an Oireachtas that doesn’t really like all these high-falutin’ issues anyway? You want to keep all these people in politics? Give them the power to propose change directly to their fellow citizens. You know, the power TDs don’t like using anyway because it’s too “political”.
California does it. So does Switzerland. Why not let all these enthusiastic new activists have a fair crack at the levers of power? After all, they own them.
1st December 2017: Russian forces enter Estonia, Finland and Poland, taking NATO by surprise. Resistance in all three countries is stiff, and US, UK, French, German and Italian aircraft all provide air support.
In the Dail, the Irish government condemns the invasion. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein call for the United Nations “to act”. They are not specific on detail.
2nd December: it is now clear that a full Russian invasion is underway. Media briefings in Moscow clarify that the purpose of the “pre-emptive defensive action” is to secure the Baltic states, Poland and Finland as neutral states outside of NATO. President Putin goes on TV to explain the action, and, speaking in fluent German, pledges that only those countries are combat areas, and that Russian forces will not invade other European countries.
The Democratic Unionist Party, emboldened by No vote in the constituency in the Marriage Equality referendum, has announced that it is to seek a Dail seat in the forthcoming general election. A spokesperson said: “Given that the Brits are getting brassed off sending us cash, and if the Scots go we’re totally snookered, we thought we’d better start putting out feelers down south to see if there are any good God fearing people. We’re delighted to find that at least half of the constituency aren’t having any truck with, you know, fishers of the Brown Trout.”
The news comes despite protests from the other half of the constituency which objects strenuously to the label Alabama-on-the-Shannon. Local Yes voters pointed out that they had made up just under half the vote, and pointed to local former TD Ming Flanagan as proof of their broadmindness. “Didn’t we elect him twice? admittedly the second time to make him live in Brussels, but it’s the thought that counts!”
The county tourist board has expressed concern at losing the lucrative gay marriage market. “I mean, we’ve lovely counties here. We’re saving up to send someone to Hollywood to get Sarah Jessica Parker over to endorse us with The Gays. Sure they love her, and she seems to be in Donegal every second week and they’re against everything. Now that, that was a real blow, pardon the pun. When Donegal is peering over the top of The Irish Times at you, ye know you’re in trouble.”
Thought I’d repost a Sunday Business Post column I wrote on the Irish attitude to freedom of speech. No reason.
In a few weeks we’ll be voting on the age of presidential candidates, quite possibly the most moronically pointless referendum we’ve ever been asked to vote on.
All the political reform issues we could be voting on, and Fine Gael and Labour give us this thing they found crumpled up in a bin at the Constitutional Convention. Why are we voting on this? Because FG and Labour, having failed to do any political reform, are now trying to find something to point to and call reform. We should be thankful: knowing this crowd, we could just as easily be asked to vote on adding an exclamation mark to the country’s name to make it sound more dynamic. Ireland!
If we’re going to have a referendum for the craic, then let’s have one on an issue that actually matters and will shape Irish society for generations. Let’s vote on freedom of speech.
Don’t we already have that? Actually, we don’t. In fact, you can tell the Irish attitude to freedom of speech in one simple way. Is there a get-out clause? The US constitution says that Congress may not abridge the freedom of speech. That’s it. No ifs or buts.
Our constitution says something similar, except there’s a very Irish “however”, which then gives the state all sorts of excuses to tell people to shut the hell up.
Having sat through the Marriage Equality debate, it’s fair to say that the concept of what freedom of speech means is up for national discussion. The level of intolerance, of people ripping down posters because they don’t like what they say, or demanding that X or Y should not be allowed on telly shows that to many Irish people there isn’t a respect for freedom of speech as much as a respect for my freedom of speech but not yours.
It used to be simple. The Catholic right took a “you can’t see/read that filth!” approach to everything from Playboy to The Life of Brian. Those of us on the liberal side believed that people should make their own minds up about things. Yeah, I did support Section 31 back then, keeping the Shinners off the telly but guess what? I was wrong. But broadly speaking, it was freedom versus censorship.
Yet today, many of the most intolerant people I meet tend to be among my fellow liberals, and they’re hawking around a new concept imported from British and US universities where people seem to be claiming a right not to be exposed to opinions they don’t like.
It’s the Fox Newsification of liberalism, where you only start seeking news and information from sources you agree with.
Where the self-policing of rational thought, by reading what the other side is saying, is now regarded as some sort of dangerous contamination.
That’s why we need a debate on freedom of speech: because it is two sided, not just saying your piece but hearing what the other guy says too. That’s how we keep ourselves honest, and it’s under threat.
It’s a funny thing: as a country, we’ve never been that bothered by freedom of speech. Is it because we’re not a nation given to open public discourse? Is it because whether it’s the Dáil or the AGM of the Feckerstown Tidy Towns committee, the real debate and decision making is done elsewhere?
Would we vote for a US freedom of speech right? I suspect not, because we wouldn’t think “Finally, I can now say whatever I want!” No, we’d vote No in our thousands because we’d be terrified that absolute freedom of speech would allow people to say anything about us.
It’s one of those bizarre areas where the hard-left liberals and the hard-right parish pump conservatives could agree. Both like the concept of the approved public opinion, whether it’s only one acceptable opinion on Marriage Equality or keeping quiet about that county councillor sending his secretary to England for her “special medicine” while he was in Lourdes.
There’s no need for other opinions to be flying around, confusing folk and giving them the wrong ideas.
Think I’m being over-dramatic? Last year in Oxford University a debate on abortion was called off after a protest. The protesters objected to two men debating the issue, which is fair enough. But why not raise that in the actual debate? Instead, the protest group decided that its opinion was superior to the people who wished to hear the arguments, and demanded the thing be shut down.
We’ve been here before. There’s a line in Father Ted about fellas dressed in black going around telling people what to do …
Is there any phrase that makes the Irish eye roll more than “people with information on corruption should contact the Garda Siochana”? It’s not that we think the Guards will try and cover it up, or worse still, be involved, as much as we just don’t believe that the Guards are that pushed on fighting white collar crime.
Murder, terrorism, big bank jobs, battering Shinners and mates of Paul Murphy named Sebastian, Arabella and St.John off the streets, that’s what the Gardai do. But white collar corruption? Truth is, the Garda record is that if it can’t be beaten with a truncheon, they don’t seem that interested. To them, a spreadsheet is something put under the bag of curried chips to stop the sauce going all over the duty sergeant’s desk.
In fairness to the Guards, it’s not a reflection on their intelligence, but rather how they see themselves in the social arena. There’s no kudos to be had from the Irish people in fighting corruption. The Guards feel, probably rightly, that the Irish people won’t thank them for directing resources towards public corruption and away from stopping some gurrier getting in your bathroom window and stealing your plasma screen.
In the late 1980s a young US Attorney, which is a form of federal DPP, ordered the arrests of various Wall Street bigwigs on charges of insider trading. Eschewing the genteel practice of the time of quietly arresting the suspect with much discretion, the US attorney ordered that they be brought out in front of the media, with handcuffs, the message being that no matter how rich and powerful you were, the law applied to you as much as it did to the little guy. By 1993 that US Attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, had been elected Mayor of New York City, primarily on the reputation of sticking it to the corrupt powerful.
Would that be possible in Ireland? Could a deputy get elected building a name on fighting corruption? The evidence says no. Jim Mitchell was fired by his constituents for spending too much time on the DIRT inquiry, recovering millions in taxes for their public services. Trevor Sargent, who actually got into physical fights over corruption in Dublin County Council, was dismissed by his voters. The truth is, we don’t regard fighting corruption as a vote winner, and if the voters don’t care, why should the Guards?
Yet we have to fight corruption. Primarily because other countries notice if we don’t and start making a holy show of us, putting us on lists with the sort of guys an Apple executive would not like to be seen with. So what do we do?
Supposing we decided we did care. What would be the best way to fight Irish corruption? I’d suggest we create a National Anti-Corruption Agency and tender its functions out to the private sector, with bonuses paid on every conviction achieved. All of a sudden we’d have lawyers and forensic accountants and ex-FBI agents actively going out looking for corrupt politicians and civil servants and semi-state officials because it puts money in their arse pockets. We’d have ropey county councillors wondering every time someone offered them a few quid to get a rezoning through was the guy real or a NACA operative setting him up for a sting. All the cases would have to go through a court same as any Garda case, with the same civil rights protections, the only difference being that they’d actually be happening.
And here’s the beauty of the thing: because it’s private it will have to pay its own way or we can scrap the tender in a few years. Unlike, say, certain public transport companies that seem to see running public transport as a hobby to do in their spare time, NACA will actually have to carry out its task. In fact, as we’ve seen with Aer Lingus and Dublin Bus, a bit of competition tends to do wonders for the focus of the existing crowd. We won’t able to move for Gardai and Corporate Enforcement falling over themselves tapping councillors’ phones trying to out perform that crowd over in NACA.
But surely if its private sector, NACA will be open to corruption, learned counsel will say indignantly. Maybe so, but no more than our current public bodies, and unlike them, we can sack it. When did we ever do that with a public sector body? Sack them? We just give them a new logo.
Serious about wanting to fight corruption? Then put on the table the one thing Irish people respect more than loyalty towards our dodgy relatives and cronies: not integrity, not honour. Cold hard cash.
I first met Averil Power during the Nice Treaty referendum of 2002. I was still a Progressive Democrat, and so had that inbuilt suspicion of Fianna Fail that was hard wired into us. But It didn’t take long for her to change that. Sure, I still told her she was an evil Fianna Failer, but she was also articulate, bright, but most importantly, and a quality that’s rarer than it should be in Irish politics, she was a true believer. She wasn’t campaigning for Europe just because that was the party line, but because she really believed in it.
Now, before this piece turns into a “Mother Averil of Dublin Bay North, let us touch the hem of her cloth and be grateful” bit of schlock, let me say that I’ve had disagreements with her. She’s a bit of an aul leftie, and I’ve told her on occasion that every time I speak to her about policy I feel my wallet lighten. She does have a genuine belief in the power of the state to do good, and I’m a bit sceptical about that.
But you know what? That’s what I like about her. She wants to discuss these things, the big picture and what direction a society should go. So many politicians are interested in getting elected, and then reelected, and all that policy stuff is for the civil servants. She’s ambitious too, she wants to get elected, there’s no denying that, yet Averil knocked on nearly every door of her constituency for a Yes vote, knowing full well that it might just as easily cost her votes. But she did it anyway because she believed, when the safe thing to do was to keep the head down save for a few photocalls in The Irish Times.
I can remember the moment I realised that she was serious about the power of politics, when she convinced me of the benefit for school breakfast clubs for kids coming into school hungry and falling asleep. This wasn’t a “look at my compassion” thing that politicians do on the telly, it was just the two of us talking and she knows she doesn’t have to convince me of her bona fides. Yet she still wanted to lay out the rational argument. As I said, a true believer.
Is she ambitious? Of course. Can she be too cautious for my liking? Definitely. But with a new Dail coming up that might have more Independents with actual power, we will need deputies who stand up both for their constituents but also recognise that we all have to live in a country together and there is such a thing as a national interest. A Dail Eireann with Averil Power in it is more likely to deliver that.
To paraphrase Bruce Wayne in “The Dark Knight”, I believe in Averil Power.
1. The Religious one. Probably the most honest of No voters, because he is often genuinely conflicted between his sense of compassion and his religious beliefs, including the guidance from his spiritual advisor. Yes, that’s right, the guy with the poster quoting scripture is the honest one.
2. The I Can’t Believe We’re Having This Debate one. The fella who suddenly realises The Gays are everywhere, and not apologising either. He just can’t understand why The Gays insist upon walking around in public everywhere being all gay. He knows he can’t call them “faggots” anymore, which he believes is a restriction of his freedom of speech. Where’s his referendum, he wonders. Most likely to use air quotes when saying “Marriage” and “Equality”. Got very excited when he heard/met a gay who was voting No. This gay fella is now the opening line in every conversation on the subject. Would be very upset if he thought that someone else thought he was gay. Believes that children can be “turned” gay, that gays are flighty and regard children as fashion accessories, that gays are out to “convert”, by force if necessary, and that there is a conspiracy to hide “the proven link” between gays and kiddie fiddlers.
3. The Needs A Technicality one. His gut has decided he’s voting No. Now he’s looking for a respectable reason to attach to it. Something about families, childen, stability, respect for the constitution, yeah, that’ll do. Most likely to start his position with “I’ve nothing against gays…”:
4. The Bastard. A tiny minority, in fairness. The guy who doesn’t actually care about religion, surrogacy, family units, any of that stuff. Knows that he will cause actual pain to other people by voting No, but does it all the same. Other people’s unhappiness? Not my problem.
A week ago, after a day’s canvassing (for a Yes vote, yes, I am biased), I was slightly despondent. I really felt that this referendum was going to be very close and on the balance of probabilities it would fall.
Over the last week my view has shifted and I have come to understand, through canvassing and speaking with friends and colleagues that irrespective of the outcome tomorrow, our Republic has changed… for the better.
A generation has awoken – today 66,000 people will go to the polls who have recently registered for the first time. It won’t be their last time going to the polls.
A generation stepped up – there are political activists and politicians who refused to bow to the pressure to stand for political expediency as opposed to Equality. They have proven that you can make a difference. In years to come I will point to the likes of Tiernan Brady, Seamus Carey, Sen. Averil Power, Anto Kelly, Leo Varadkar, Pat Carey, Cllr. Kate Feeney, Michael Pidgeon, Paul Anthony Ward, Micheal Martin, (dare I say it) Enda Kenny, Jerry Buttimer, Simon Coveney (and many more) and say to my kids, they did that and they helped deliver a better society for you.
A generation stayed silent – the case for broad political reform was made loudly by the deafening silence of back bench politicians and local councillors from all parties as they tried to position themselves on both sides of history. They demonstrated a breath-taking (yet predictable) unwillingness to show leadership in their communities. You know who you are, and shame on You.
This has been a “Divisive Debate” – I have heard and seen for the first time in many years a motivation to engage in socio political discourse amongst all sections of society that just has not existed for a long time. When you are talking with random strangers in the queue in Centra about how they are going to vote you know there is change afoot. Yes, it has been divisive, it wouldn’t have been a debate otherwise but we are mature enough to move on and learn from is as a society.
Mary McAleese & “That Speech” – whoever thought that we would live in an Ireland where one woman (albeit a former president) would be at least as influential as the Catholic Church! Check out “That Speech”
“That Teenager” – there has been talk about the teenager who is coming to terms with his or her sexuality sitting at their kitchen table listening to the debate both within their family and the media and the effect this will have on them. This is true however that teenager now knows that a huge proportion of Irish society is supportive of them and they have been able to identify people in their own community from whom they now know that they can turn to about their sexuality and receive support as they embark upon the path of discovering their true selves.
There are many reasons why I voted Yes this morning, for the Ireland I want my kids to grow up in, for my gay friends that they would be as equal as I, but most of all I voted Yes for the following reason; Nearly 20 years ago I stood at the graveside of a young man whose shame of his own sexuality was a contributing factor in his decision to take his own life.
Today I voted Yes mostly for him.
It may be imperfect… But our republic is now stronger. If you have not voted yet, please get out and VOTE YES.
Brendan Kiely is a co-founder and MD of a Tech Start-Up. He is a political activist, a former Executive Director of the European Movement Ireland and a former Fianna Fáil candidate. You can find him on Linked IN, facebook, and @brendankiely on twitter.
I don’t have any problem with a 21 year old seeking to be president of Ireland. I’ve met brilliant 21 years olds, and dopes twice their age. But I still don’t know how to vote on this one, swinging from No to Yes to No on a daily basis.
The problem is why FG/Labour are wasting my money even asking us this question. The Constitutional Convention, much to my cynical surprise, actually came up with some good stuff. Then FG and Labour, two parties who don’t give a damn about the Presidential Age issue (count how many street lamp posters they paid for on the subject) decided to throw this one on the ballot in a feeble attempt to be political reformers. Even Fianna Fail in government didn’t waste our money and time with this nonsense. They just said they were against political reform.
We could be voting on elected mayors, letting non-TDs be ministers, Seanad reform…but Fine Gael and Labour picked this yoke to vote on. This is the issue that FG and Labour backbenchers voted through believing it to be the number one political reform issue facing us.
This thing. You know that scene in “Sherlock” when Charles Augustus Magnussen flicks Dr. Watson in the eye, and dares him to do something about it. That’s what they’re doing right there.