Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: traffic at O’Connell Bridge, Dublin 1; Dan Boyle

The most recent statistics released by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) show a 10.5% year on year decrease in the registrations of new passenger cars. This has got some who claim to be able to read economic tea leaves worried.

For some perverse reason the increase in car sales has been taken as an indicator of improving economic wellbeing.

The theory goes that people purchasing more of these vehicles is a sign that greater amounts of disposable income are swirling about, and that consumers are more prepared to buy the type of good they otherwise would avoid purchasing during a recession.

I’ve always treated this particular statistic with a huge amount of disdain.

Even the acronym SIMI is loaded with ironic deceit. Ireland does not have a motor industry. We do not make cars.

What we have is a motor retail sector. Each car purchased here impacts negatively on the country’s balance of payments. The obsession with this statistic tell us very little about our economic health.

This preoccupation with the motor car has seeped into too much of our official thinking and approach to strategic planning.

In the past number of decades any attempt to more fairly distribute land use, such as by pedestrianising streets, introducing bus lanes and cycle lanes, or providing planning for new apartment units without parking, has evoked knee jerk reactions that the car owner, and by extension the car itself, is being inconvenienced by these changes.

These are end days for the fossil fuel propelled vehicle. It can be argued that the development of the motor car has been the most significant, and most liberating, means of social change in the 20th century. Now we need to move on.

A more honest cost benefit will reveal a price has been paid for this greatly enhanced freedom to travel. That price has come in the form of ever deteriorating air quality, and millions of deaths and horrific injuries from motor vehicle accidents.

The use of cars has had, and continues to have, an enormous value. However, we have tended to over celebrate that value.

In elevating car travel as our primary, and often our sole means of travel, we have produced a lop sided transport infrastructure that has relegated those who choose to walk, cycle and/or use public transport, to the status of second class citizens.

Share the space should be our motto in developing future infrastructure. That means that a collective realisation needs to be accepted that door to door transport, by a single means of transport, will soon become impossible.

With that the very concept of car usage will change. Already growing numbers of people are becoming less interested with the idea of owning cars. Some are renting more, leasing more, sometimes for periods of a little more than an hour.

We should be incentivising and investing in transport alternatives. We need to make those alternatives more convenient, more reliable and less expensive. We must make the cultural shift away from the belief that insists that the car is the epicentre of our need to be.

What it is, is the thing that is holding us back. It’s time to let go.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


From top: Taffina Flood with her daughter Sadie O’ Nolan with protestors on O’Connell Street in Dublin last week; Dan Boyle

Whenever a new paramour entered my life (it doesn’t amount to a very long list) my Mother would ask me:

“I hope you have respected her?

The word ‘respect’ was laced with nuance but never hinted of innuendo. There are some things a child and parent should never speak about, particularly a son and his mother.

Hers was an ongoing piece of parental moral advice. She had been telling me not to mess the other person around, not to let them down, not to make them feel uncomfortable; God forbid – never to hurt them.

For the most part it has been sound advice, advice I have sought to keep, but on occasion I missed. When added to my natural physical shyness it has meant that I rarely, if ever, initiated anything. In that I don’t think myself that unusual.

Through a whole range of misconceptions, misapprehensions and the weirdest of hang ups the general Irish approach to sex, sexuality and relationships has been pretty fecked up.

After generations of avoiding the priest with his blackthorn stick randomly waved through the ditches and the hedgerows, it seemed possible to express in a new Ireland, more open ways to enjoy our collective sexuality. In ways where pleasure won out over shame. But someone had to go out and spoil it for everybody else.

For some Ireland has stepped out of its sexual darkness to turn itself into a 21st century Sodom or Gomorrah. For those who long for a return to the times of sexual backwardness, we are re-living the last days of the Roman Empire.

The truth is we are neither. We do, however, have a problem. The sect of shamed sex Irish has become mirrored with a new sect of shameless sex Irish.

Those who are brash and uninhibited have their qualities, but when they are used to supersede intimacy, by erasing any thoughts or actions of caring for someone, being affectionate towards them, or even moving towards the possibility of loving them, then we have a real problem. And that problem is a problem of men, or at least a problem caused by men.

Much of the talk surrounding the recent Belfast Rape Trial centred around the quality of the evidence, the burden of proof required or the meeting of certain legal niceties. The verdict is what it is, so the legal system has determined.

But being legally not guilty, in this case, certainly does not mean being innocent. Innocence in its widest sense. Innocence in being free from shame. Innocence in being able to maintain character and honour.

Unfortunately, no legal system can attest for these failings. They are character failings profoundly shown in the words of the exonerated towards each other.

The macho language of delight, as Kavanagh probably wouldn’t have called it. The Lord of the Flies glee of boasting where few ‘men’ have sexually gone before.

The law has declared them innocent, although the innocence they each would have had seems to have deserted them so early into what are still very young lives.

And all that was needed was a little respect

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Grainne Carruth, former secretary to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, arriving at the Mahon Tribunal at Dublin Castle on March 20, 2008; Bertie Ahern announces his intention to resign on April 2, 2008; Dan Boyle

In March 2008 Gráinne Carruth, the constituency secretary of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, appeared before the Mahon Tribunal, to face a difficult cross examination.

Her isolation and lack of support from her employer shocked the watching public. Among other elected representatives this cruel indifference caused even greater concern.

The relationship between a member of the Oireachtas and their constituency secretary is a vital one. I was blessed to have had an excellent secretary. We still remain friends.

Despite a very good working relationship I learned far too late how much she sought to protect me, shielding me from much of the volume and intensity of the abuse that subsequently came through my office.

Ahern’s treatment of Carruth was a very public betrayal, seen as far worse than any other political sin he was perceived to be associated with. It was what ultimately led to his resignation from office. That resignation wasn’t immediate but it came about relatively quickly afterwards.

On entering government the Greens were aware that Ahern had stated he would be stepping down as Taoiseach during the course of the term of government.

The tone and tenor of what was likely to emerge from the Mahon Tribunal had begun to come out before the 2007 general election.

Some 42% of the electorate chose to disregard these concerns and seemed to happy for Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil to continue in government.

The Greens had decided that the party would not react to every subsequent revelation made at the Tribunal, waiting until the final findings had been made, expecting those in Fianna Fáil who had been compromised to act accordingly.

We wanted to avoid the PD/Michael McDowell/Grand Old Duke of York routine of making every revelation a crisis. As a strategy it seemed be working fine until the Carruth evidence.

Before she gave that evidence I found myself being interviewed by Eamon Keane on his lunchtime Newstalk programme.

It seemed to cause surprise when I stated, what I thought was obvious, that the Taoiseach would resign in the early part of the life of the government, and that he would tells us when.

Directly after the Carruth evidence Fiona O’Malley of the PDs, found herself being interviewed by the same presenter. She let Ahern have it have it with both barrels.

It was thought she, like me a Senator, would be easily dismissed. By afternoon she was being backed up her party leader, Mary Harney. By evening John Gormley was falling in line saying that Ahern had questions to answer.

Even then it was thought some formula would be agreed for Bertie to stay put. A no confidence in government motion almost achieved its desired effect.

Fianna Fáil sought an amendment that criticised the Tribunal and its chief member. As the line Minister responsible, John Gormley refused. The Green insistence that no such criticism be made prevailed.

On the morning of April 2nd, 2008, the members of the Green parliamentary party received a group text. It told us that Bertie Ahern would be making a televised statement at 9.30am. Members of the cabinet were being informed but the rest of us remained unknowing of what was to be said.

When Bertie announced his resignation it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Being in government the Greens response to the resignation was somewhat dithering. Eamon Ryan wasn’t present on the plinth. John Gormley stood to the back of the ministerial scrum, although television angles showed him quite close to Bertie.

It was the first real crisis of being in government. Things couldn’t get any worse we thought.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

From top: Counting during the last General Election in Citywest; Dan Boyle

I was elected at my first election to what was then Cork Corporation, now Cork City Council. I was active in my local community, and was strongly associated with a campaign to improve the management of, and seek the earliest closure of the nearby city dump.

These were the reasons for most of my support. I did these things because I believed them to be worth doing, and I hoped that in the context of an election that some voters might think that was worth the consideration of their vote.

I wouldn’t have had the inclination nor the capacity to have engaged in market research, to test for issues that might play best with voters.

In subsequent elections I never acquired that inclination. It seemed to me to be a fairly hollow choice; either you contested elections on the basis of who you were and what you had done, or you moulded yourself into something you were told the voters wanted.

That second choice ran against everything I wanted to be in public life for. I suppose a refusal to play that game would prove a constant electoral negative for me.

In those subsequent elections I thought, naively now I know, that I should seek the support of those who didn’t participate in elections. Four out of every ten voters didn’t. To convince even some of them should help put me in the running, I thought.

In the mid nineties this seemed to have something of an effect. In a by-election then (when I came close to stopping Hugh Coveney winning the seat) I canvassed everywhere and anywhere I could. Canvassing the Deanrock Flats in Togher (since thankfully re-developed) was a huge political education for me.

I won 17% of the vote in that election. I was the obvious protest candidate. Even I realised that it would be difficult to maintain that vote in future elections, although I did maintain about three quarters of that vote.

As a candidate for a smaller party resources and manpower are always less than adequate. The temptation to cut through with less is ever present. The irony is that those short cuts tend only to be available to those with the resources to buy them.

The short cuts devised were quite legal, if unsatisfactory. The concentration in canvassing was made in areas where we had already done well, seeking to improve our votes there. This meant canvassing less in areas where people were less likely to vote, or support for a Green candidate was less likely to happen.

One canvassing tool that I tended not to use, was available from the local authority. This was the marked register. This shows which voters had cast a vote in a previous election (but not how they voted).

That would have been stored in the collective memory banks of the traditional parties. Until recent elections this analogue data would have proven quite accurate.

Then came the enlightenment. This short period where people have pondered more deeply on their political choices, being rightly more indiscriminate in making those choices.

We should value more our political system that still requires pen and paper to cast votes, demands of candidates to interact directly and personally with the voting public, a public that itself is at its most fickle in our country’s history.

The alternative of the electronic mining of personal data, with the creating of algorithms on how people tend to think, is taking the democratic political World to very dark places.

Ireland was an antidote in a previous dark age. We should be so again.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Met Eireann’s Evelyn Cusack and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after a meeting of the National Emergency Coordination Group during Storm Emma; Dan Boyle

The politics of the Beast from the East seem to have worked quite well for the government. Politics is a small component of responding effectively to an emergency.

The actual heroes were front–line workers who ironically enough are often further away from the public eye.

I found myself snowed in, pleasantly and enjoyably, at a hotel in Tallaght. Most of the other guests were ambulance workers, most civil defence volunteers. Whether as paramedics, or in running a radio centre, I found their presence there comforting and decidedly pride evoking.

Emergency plans get tweaked from time to time, benefitting from the appropriate finessing of long term planning along with lessons learned.

The political element of emergency response is quite properly small and narrow. It largely revolves around communication, giving information, offering reassurance, bolstering public confidence.

In this 24 hour multi media World, the metaphorical political holding of the baby fills most politicians with dread. The odds on becoming the face of any public information campaign, and not getting associated with negative news become extraordinarily low.

The protection of the Gulf Stream has really only deserted us on four occasions over the last seventy years or so – 1947, 1982, 2010 and now the year of the Beast of the East 2018.

We should remember that Ireland is on the same latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada, The Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia and the southern reaches of Alaska. Without the Gulf Stream, the more extreme wintery conditions we experienced last week would be far more typical.

The folk memory of 1947, with the number of waterways which ended up frozen, would seem to rate the Irish Winter Olympics winner, although each of the four climate lapses carry with them unhappy, uncomfortable memories.

The political consequences of 1947 were probably negligible. The then excitement of a new party breakthrough of Clann na Poblachta, combined with a public lethargy with a Fianna Fáil government in power since 1932 (with a cabinet of Civil War participants), meant that a lousy winter would have been the last thing on most voters minds.

The media created the sobriquet ‘The Minister for Snow’ for the then Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, Michael O’Leary, in 1982, for which he never forgave them. As the country went into a ten day lockdown, O’Leary struggled to receive political support especially from his own political party. It would probably was a contributing factor that led to his resignation as Labour leader, followed perversely by his joining with Fine Gael.

John Gormley inherited the Minister for Snow in 2010. He too found himself sidelined by cabinet colleagues, particularly his Fianna Fáil colleagues. The cabinet sub committee dealing with national emergencies was meant to be jointly chaired by Gormley and FF Transport Minister, Noel Dempsey, who lingered too longingly on a foreign sun holiday.

The current Minister, Eoghan Murphy, has not been seen to be affected. For that he should be grateful. Any real gratitude should go the front line people I had the privilege of meeting in Tallaght.

For politicians no pain is gain. The irony for this government is that in trying so hard in overselling its own achievements, while using considerable public funds, will probably see no real benefit from having had a good freeze.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews


Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

From top: Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál MacDonncha (left)  is presented with the first car registered in the capital in 2018 at The Mansion House last month; Dan Boyle

For many it won’t rate as an issue of any significance. Most may even see it as an exercise in frippery. The idea of an additional paid political position, will be instinctively reacted against, possibly by a majority of voters.

But it shouldn’t be. The idea of directly elected mayors has the potential of being the first significant positive change in local government since the inception of the State.

If that sounds overblown, it should be remembered that we have never really had local government in Ireland. When compared to the forms of local government that exist in most democratic countries, what we have in Ireland is little more than local administration.

Too few powers are developed from central government. The few powers that exists locally are horribly distributed between those who are elected (but have few if any decision making powers) and those who are appointed (who make most of the decisions but have little or no accountability for those decisions).

Directly elected mayors won’t of themselves solve the problems of Irish local government but it would be an important first step in the right direction.

Irish local government since 1922 has been an unholy mess. All changes that have occurred to the system have been to lessen and weaken its effectiveness. Part of this has been because the attachment to the county system, largely through GAA loyalties, has made change near impossible.

Even the affection ‘Lord Mayor’ is redolent of auld decency. Why a republic feels the need to hold onto such titles has always been beyond me. In Cork the questioning of the title provokes charges that the memory of MacSwiney and McCurtain is being tarnished.

The failure to equalise votes in local authorities across the country, has meant the strength of local councillors in the West of Ireland has always held greater sway than their Dublin counterparts.

It may seem counter intuitive but in voting for directly elected mayors, voters in Cork and Dublin will have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Of course none of this will mean anything if national government does not devolve more of the nationally made decisions, those that should be more properly made at local level. Most of the decisions made nationally in areas such as health, education, policing or transport, can be more easily or more effectively made locally.

The answer to better local government in Ireland is not only more local decision making with greater accountability, it is also more elected councillors on more elected councils.

One the greatest myths perpetuated, largely by civil servants at the Department of Local Government, is that Ireland has been over represented at this level of government.

Ireland not only has the weakest system of government in the democratic World, it also pro rata has weakest representation in terms of numbers.

We should re-introduce town councils as district councils. We should reverse the ill thought and ill managed amalgamations of Limerick and Waterford councils.

Most importantly of all we should devolve all necessary powers to the lowest effective level.

It isn’t what is wanted by national politicians, civil servants or officials in local authorities. It is, though, what we need as a country.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews


Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

From top: TK Whitaker; Leo Varadkar; Dan Boyle

I wonder how T.K. Whitaker would have looked at the publication of the Ireland 2040 document. I suspect as the instigator of the first economic plans to have been given effect in this country, he would have done so wryly.

In the late 1950s, early 1960s, there would have been no requirement for spin. Then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, saw RTÉ (Radio the single, only broadcasting organ, until the arrival of RTÉ Television in 1962) as a government broadcasting service.

It is in the spin that the first and second economic plans should be contrasted with the largely unsuccessful plans that have followed.

Spin is that which marks the latest incarnation as being one of the more dubious attempts at national planning in recent times.

Whitaker’s plans were similarly vague on details to that shown in Ireland 2040, but could not be faulted as being so lacking in vision.

The first and second economic plans sought to have Ireland face forward into a wider World in ways that were not only to change Ireland’s economy, but also its society.

Whitaker took the country away from De Valera’s somewhat green, agrarian, but ultimately unsuccessful economy.

What and where is the vision in the Ireland 2040 document? If it exists at all, it can be defined in a fairly naked desire of Fine Gael to be in government for much of that ongoing timeframe.

Where the Whitaker plans were a bold attempt to bring the country into line with the global 20th century economy, the same can’t be said of Ireland 2040, which in no way can be seen to be a sincere attempt to reposition the Irish economy, to the rapidly changing circumstances of today.

Paradoxically just as Whitaker’s plans were attempts to take Ireland away from De Valera’s 19th century green idyll, Leo’s wants to Go Green 21st century style, or at least give the appearance of doing so.

The spin for Ireland 2040 suggests that 20% of the capital envelope will be spent on measures to counter act climate change. This is hugely dishonest spin.

Disregarding the fact that Ireland’s carbon emission figures have gone off the charts during the last seven years of Fine Gael led government, the contradictory capital commitments in this plan show a government that doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the problem, much less suggest appropriate remedies.

The additional public transport measures, on the surface, should be welcomed, even if they are sorely lacking in ambition. A government actually committed to dealing with the effects of climate change would by 2040 have the bias in transport spending turned away from roads towards public transport and cycling.

That is if what is included in this plan are actually commitments. It is being suggested that Cork may get a light rail system. Or is it? The plan says that a feasibility study will be carried out to see the competing benefits of a guided bus or a light rail system. This is something that was done ten years ago when The Greens were in government.

I should welcome a commitment towards long term planning. The cynic in me, however, sees this less as a development plan and more as an election manifesto. One that has something for everyone in the audience.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pics: Irish newspaper Archive/PA


Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

From top: Michael Lowry with former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and former Taniaste and Fine Gael Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald at the Passing Out Parade in Templemore Garda College, Tipperary in 2016l Dan Boyle

Corporal punishment was made illegal in Irish schools two years after I had completed my Leaving Certificate. Throughout my tenure in the Irish school system, along with tens of thousands of others, I ran the risk of being hit with some class of implement that would instantly be turned into a verb – a cane, a belt, or a leather. All in the name of the Irish educational system.

One particular teacher of mine (thought outside of the school as being quite an urbane man) would offer students their choice of punishment. They could either have a ‘Clocker’ or a ‘Lowry’, dependent on which side of his hand he would use. If I remember rightly the Lowry was the backhander.

This unwelcome memory popped into my head when I was recently driving through Tipperary. Flicking around on the radio I heard a local TD being interviewed on the TIPP FM morning show.

The political existence of Michael Lowry is a proverbial slap in the face of any urbane, Irish liberal. On this programme the interviewer was polite and deferential. Lowry gave the impression of being composed, almost statesman like.

On the surface at least it could be understood why a sufficient number of Tipperary voters want him to continue to be their Dáil representative.

He was arguing for a business as usual approach for a Bord na Mona bog in Littleton in the heart of his constituency. His tone of voice conveyed plausibility, even if the content of what he was saying was utter nonsense. When he mentioned ‘eco-tourism’ as part of the bog’s future, I just burst out laughing.

It is now almost a quarter of century since he had to resign as a government minister. Since then he has been pursued and prosecuted by several agencies of the State, all the while remaining as a member of our national parliament. This is both a tribute to his own resilience, but also an utter condemnation of the tortuous nature of our judicial process.

I believe we have long gone past a time when we need to create laws that restrict the right to be a political candidate, when certain conditions and circumstances exist.

I would go further and allow the public the right to convene recall elections, with the Houses of the Oireachtas also being able to permanently expel members after an appropriate but significant vote.

If such powers existed in the past people like Liam Lawlor and Ivan Callelly would not have been able to hang on.

It should be sufficient for the moving of a court action by the Director of Public Prosecution (an independent nonpartisan law officer) on the potential breach of law, to require any legislator to vacate their office.

There are others in the current Oireachtas whose application of tax and social insurance payments, would also be in the frame of having such legislation applied to them.

Of course this legislation could be abused by future governments, targeting individuals in order to strengthen their position. I would be confident that sufficient safeguards could be built into the process.

We might even call such a law ‘The Lowry Law’. It would allow me to remember the name positively, and for something other than the back of my less than urbane teacher’s hand.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Rollingnews


Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

From top: Nigel Farage arrives at Trinity College, Dublin ahead of last weekend’s Irexit conference; Dan Boyle

If ever a picture spoke a thousand words it was that photo of crombie wearing Nigel Farage, with his Wolf from the Three Little Pigs swagger, on his way to the recent Irexit meeting.

The demographics of those who attended there were as telling. Overwhelmingly male in its composition, the men in question seemed made up of a weird coalition of an embittered older cohort, nestling with an angry and disappointed group of younger men.

The unifying theme was a common desire to shake collective fists at a society that had let them down. A society, that all too slowly, has been leaving behind its domination by a male, monochrome, homogenous group, the residue of whom now see themselves as society’s new victims.

The liberal in me thinks we should listen more to these tormented souls; seek to understand the landscape they inhabit. The social realist in me feels that the more time we give to placate the hate filled and the small minded, the more they are likely to believe that their views have validity.

The illiberal me is winning this internal argument. I have spent most of my adult life wishing such people, and their distorted views, away. They have lingered, and have re-established themselves, through misappropriating the language of freedom and tolerance. They seek freedom for others to be less free than them. They seek tolerance to be intolerant of others.

They seek to explain way their inadequacies through the blaming of others. Those of different skin tones; of different cultural backgrounds; of different religious or political beliefs; of different gender.

They fear difference wishing only to celebrate sameness. Only the tools of their celebration are hate and anger.

They find a solace with being among their own kind. Being in a collective emboldens their belief they are among ‘right thinking’ people. They are transferred, instantly, into a rotisserie of racists, a harem of homophobes, a melange of misogynists. At their most dangerous they become a falange of fascists.

As with most bigots what they often most hate about others, is especially what they hate about themselves – a perverse form of self loathing.

I no longer have the patience to be nice to those who believe niceness to be a weakness. I don’t want to hold any truck with anyone who seeks to divide and compartmentalise.

I live in a community within a city, part of a region, part of a nation, part of a wider World. A planet. All of which is, and should be shared.

Ignorance needs to be challenged, confronted and faced down. We should never condone its existence or that of hate. We should never give succour to any discredited version of a mythical past, or plans for a hateful future.

With all due respect to the late Spike Milligan, this Goon Show has run for too long. If the Goons participating in this version insist on following the likes of Nigel Farage, then he and they should prepare for some walking backwards (for Christmas) across the Irish Sea.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: Reuters


Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

From top: Pro-choice protesters challenge a Pro Life demonstration on O’Connell Street in 2016; Dan Boyle

The starter’s pistol is at the ready. We are close to another bout of our real national sport of moral breast beating.

The 2018 event may yet be seen as definitive, although we have been here before particularly during the two Divorce referenda of 1986 and 1995.

Those campaigns began fuelled by a liberal giddiness, informed by favourable opinion polls, that proved themselves totally divorced from the reality of the eventual results.

We live in a changed Ireland than that which existed in 1983. That was the time of my first vote in a constitutional referendum. I had already voted in three general elections. I was only 21 years old.

It was a dubious privilege to have voted in that first referendum. Almost 35 years later, where after changing demographics more than half of our existing electorate did not participate in that vote, the time has long since passed to revisit the question.

It reminds me of that couplet from Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda‘, about the First World War, though applicable to any conflict situation.

“The young people ask what are they marching for?

And I ask myself the same question”

Along with most my friends I voted No in 1983. I couldn’t, and still can’t, grasp the concept of the equal value of life of a mother with developing life within her womb. It seemed to me, and to us, unbearably cruel that a woman who had been raped would be expected to carry a resultant pregnancy to full term.

Since then I’ve grown to despise the Eighth Amendment and what it represents.

It has been a piece of constitutional virtue signalling that has caused the State to turn its back on thousands upon thousands of Irish women, forced to flee to a neighbouring jurisdiction to deal with their crisis pregnancies. These women were often on their own and all lacked any type of appropriate support.

The lines are being drawn now for what must be a definitive battle in this war. As with previous battles the chief weapon will be fear.

For those on the Pro-Life/Anti-Choice side of the aisle, the fears seem to be of an extraneous bent, based on projecting a dystopian future of eugenics and euthanasia which beckons.

Those on the Pro-Choice/Anti-Life(?) side of the argument have not, either, been beyond pulling emotional heart strings.

The anniversaries of the Kerry Babies saga, as well as the horrendous death of Ann Lovett in Granard, have somewhat cynically been used to hammer home the choice angle.

That said the fear of what has definitely happened in the past will always supersede the fear of what might, but probably won’t occur in the future.

The role of a Referendum Commission will be vital in this campaign. To control emotional overspill, that risks the peeling of truth, a firm Commission needs to define the narrow confines in which the debate is being held.

It needs to be especially vigorous in ensuring that the arguments being made are truthful and are medically and scientifically based.

It would be nice to believe that the arguments about to be made, will be made in a calm and informed atmosphere. I wouldn’t be holding my breath though.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.