From top: The Launch of The launch of GAA Athletes for a No Vote on Saturday, in Ballyfermot, Dublin 10; Father Ray Kelly on Britain’s Got Talent
There was a time back in the 1980s when I truly believed that Ireland was on a progressive trajectory of cultural change. I had a severe case of optimism back then, cured by a divorce referendum, an abortion referendum and the moving statues phenomenon. Ireland, it seemed, was slow to change.
One afternoon about 10 years ago, I came across a gaggle of drunken rag-week students, all male, ladding it around the town. Something about the familiarity of their Irish features and their general demeanour caused a kind of epiphany.
It occurred to me that the reason why Ireland had failed to take that progressive trajectory is because most people, for the most part, become like their parents, since this is the trajectory of least resistance.
It takes real effort to make a break with the past, and the truth is, most people can’t be arsed.
The macro result is that the culture, any culture, remains more or less the same from generation to generation.
In Ireland this sameyness is helped in great part by emigration and the departure of the majority of adventurous spirits, leaving the dull and the lazy to tend to the culture, with predictable results, like RTÉ programming and Country and Irish music.
Even the much-lauded Celtic Tiger period was essentially more of the same in Ireland except there were better cars and holidays and cocaine, but under the hood of souped Celtic Tiger decadence, things remained pretty much donkey-and-cart Irish in the bars and parlours of the wet old sod.
For instance, during the Celtic Tiger period some obscure saint’s “relic” came to Ireland for a “tour” – it was a splinter of bone I think, a kind of Elvis’ toenail for serious Catholics. People turned up in their thousands to pay homage to this old dead thing, proving that Ireland had one foot still very firmly planted in the European medieval period. There was a long way to go yet for anything that might look like a progressive cultural trajectory.
Now we have another Groundhog Day-like referendum and the same cast of dubious characters are haunting the cultural landscape with essentially the same regressive doctrines and fear-mongering. It’s a wonder that they’re still here.
The progressive nature and success of the marriage equality referendum bodes well for the advent of an age of cultural enlightenment at last. Though I may be losing the run of myself a bit here and slipping dangerously towards unabashed optimism. And we all know where that leads.
Apart from the complexities of the abortion issue – it is in these complexities that the fundamentalists make the most hay by generating confusion, fear and uncertainty – I personally don’t see this really as being about abortion as such.
Abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage and so on are just the ball in a greater game; diversions from the core issue of all the debates that have plagued Ireland around sexuality.
That core issue is the grip on power the catholic church managed to wangle in the formation of the new Irish state, courtesy of de Valera who used them for some much-needed political stability, but maybe got a little more stability than he bargained for.
We’re still severely stabilised here in Ireland. The latest referendum, like the ones that preceded it, is really a question asking: Are we ready yet to risk thinking for ourselves?
It seems now that the church deliberately set out to indoctrinate the Irish people into a system of social, political and personal control, using the free access to the minds of children they enjoyed in the new state, to deeply embed ideas of shame, guilt, fear and uncertainty regarding questions of sexuality, establishing a kind of totalitarian power over the new state, to provide a foothold in a Europe in which the church was becoming increasingly irrelevant.
The greatest irony of this campaign of oppression, as we all know, was the fact that the church itself provided cover for sexual predators who preyed on children in that church-generated climate of fear and uncertainty, causing cowed Irish adults to turn a blind eye to their activities.
This was the oppression in action. The generational inculcation of fear and guilt and tipping the hat to a clergy that behaved abominably, betraying the trust of an entire people’s mistaken respect, while clerics engaged in activities that included the rape of children and the selling of children for profit, among other “caring” preoccupations that have since been revealed to appall the world.
Two of the legacies of that campaign to oppress the Irish people were the divorce and abortion referenda where the church and its lackeys, and often with help, training and money from fundamentalist Christian organisations in the US, set out to manipulate those old fears and uncertainties embedded in Irish people in previous generations, their goal similarly to achieve social, political and personal control through shame, guilt, fear and uncertainty.
A Yes vote in the upcoming referendum is a Yes to releasing the grip these fanatics continue to hold on the minds and hearts of many Irish people and continue to hold on the Irish constitution itself.
This continued grip on power was achieved over generations through clever and underhanded manipulations, in a campaign of oppression that was designed to trick Irish people into democratically locking these oppressive ideas into Irish law, and by doing so, locking the church’s influence into the secular state.
When you vote Yes, you vote Yes to undoing the damage these shameless manipulators have inflicted on the Irish Constitution. You break their hold on power once and for all.
Nevertheless, they do persist, and the game continues. Yesterday a group of GAA footballers came out to launch a campaign for a No vote on the grounds that abortion is a failure of team-work. They say:
“…the proposal fails the test of teamwork. This is a society of people of many talents, with boundless potential and vast resources. If we work together, we can come up with a better solution than to cast away the rights of our unborn children and call it a solution. We can, and we must, do better.”
Suggestions on a postcard please, I guess.
Talk about simplifying the complex. But since they’re raised the metaphor of teamwork, you have to wonder if allowing a woman to die because the medical team’s hands are tied by the legalities of the 8th amendment is not also a failure of “teamwork”.
The statement also says:
“The proposal the Government has put forward is not inclusive. It specifically seeks to exclude one group of people, the unborn, from our society. It strips them of rights, it declares that they are not on our team.”
As this government routinely does with the homeless, with patients on hospital trolleys, with the disabled, the immigrants, the emigrants, the low paid worker and the unemployed.
It might be a greater demonstration of social concern and practical benefit if the GAA players went campaigning for the housing of the 5,000 homeless children the state also does not include on the “team”.
The statement ends with the brilliantly oblivious,:
“We respect and cherish women. We support them, and we believe that as a society, we have much more, so much more, to offer our women than the death of their children.”
Really? Like what, for instance?
Some right wing Christian think-tank may have put the GAA players up to this. But the concept is spun so poorly that it is likely that the GAA players dreamed it up themselves.
For instance, the core principles they cite are; inclusiveness, compassion, respect, dignity and teamwork.
But realistically each of these comes with a barely concealed gender prejudice and might more honestly be presented as, Inclusiveness (except for the girls.); Compassion (except for the girls.); Respect (except for the girls); Dignity (except for the girls.); Teamwork (Except for the girls.)
Then, just in time for the referendum, to cap it all off, like a fresh gag in a bleak divine comedy, Ireland coughs up, like a miraculous intervention, a singing priest crooning “Everybody Hurts” (they sure do, father) on Britain’s Got Talent.
This is a performance that has been fulsomely praised on Facebook by young Irish people who really should know better. But the strangest thing of it is. When the priest finished
singing there was a deathly silence in the auditorium until Simon Cowell rose to his feet and generated an ovation. Cowell sees money in this and he’s clearly backing the crooning cleric for a big payoff.
This, for those of a medieval mindset, appears to indicate that the singing priest has made a pact with the Devil.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer