From top: RTÉ coverage begins for the first of five general elections held during the 1980s; Dan Boyle

Each Great Leap Forward is followed by several steps back.

Dan Boyle writes:

I first cast my vote in 1981. Ronald Reagan was the US President, Margaret Thatcher the British Prime Minister, and Leonid Brezhnev was General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

In the general election of that year the Trinity of Irish politics – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, had won its usual 95% of the vote. Those of us coming of age then had little expectation that things could change quickly, or indeed change at all.

There were small signs indicating otherwise. A handful of interesting independents were elected. In Limerick, a speak as you found him socialist, Jim Kemmy, was arousing interest. The most that could be said about Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus was his name.

Noel Browne was being elected for his fifth and final political party, Socialist Labour. Sinn Féin, in its Workers Party incarnation, won its first seat since 1957. The first Sinn Féin TD to take their seat in the Free State parliament.

The abstentionists were represented by the election of two H-Blocks hunger strikers. Those behind their election would later claim sole proprietorship of the Sinn Féin handle.

The Abortion Referendum of 1983 allowed some of us at least to fly a flag for another Ireland, even if we never believed that holy, Catholic Ireland was ever possible to shift.

It wouldn’t be until 1990, with the election of Mary Robinson as President, that any election I invested in yielded a positive result.

The nineties and onset of the millennium brought social change at a rate that had barely seemed possible in the previous seventy years of independent statehood before that.

Maybe those of us of a progressive bent got greedy, wanting more change more quickly. More likely having been denied change for so long, progressives have forgotten that change is never relentless nor is it linear. Each Great Leap Forward is followed by several steps back.

I fear that once again we are entering a dark age. The momentum has been gained, and the agenda has been won back by reactionaries. Hard won rights will recede amid much gnashing of teeth.

Despite that I’m not overcome with any sense of impending apocalyptic doom. Or with the feeling of powerlessness of the 1980s. Let them do their worse. They cannot roll back everything. When the argument has been won again, we will be starting from a place still far ahead from where we had begun.

Social justice can’t be guaranteed but it is inevitable. For now, at least temporarily, this is the new normal. We had better get used to it, but not for too long.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top Pic: RTÉ Archive

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9 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. Antoine D'Alton


    What you are really saying in not so many words is ‘You can only delay the inevitable’.

    Progress against reaction is always hard fought, but it wins out in the end, sadly after unnecessary delay. Take the legalisation of Marijuana as an example. There are now eight states in the US which have legalised it for recreational (as well as medical use) plus the District of Columbia. There are 28 states which have legalised for medicinal use. Unfortunately, marijuana remains a scheduled 1 substance according to the Federal Controlled Substances Act 1970. Since 2012 the Federal Government has not interfered with state’s rights to regulate marijuana, namely in the four states and DC which had legalised prior to November 8th.

    Then….. quite unbelievably…. Donald Trump who is on record as saying he has no problem with Medical Marijuana,… announces he’s going to appoint Jeff Sessions, whose a total lunatic, a drug war dinosaur as Attorney General?

    So what is likely to happen is this. 60 million Americans live in states where marijuana prohibition is a thing of the past. But along comes a lunatic and his merry band of reactionary fanatics and they’re going to attempt to put the ‘toothpaste back in the tube’.

    They will try, they will screw over poor black kids and they will beat their right-wing drums which of course are based on ignorance and righteousness.

    But inevitably, they will fail. Somewhere down the road, Congress will appeal the Controlled Substances Act for good.

    So how does this relate to Ireland… We have our own lunatics (more than a few in the right-wing of Fine Gael party) they are the minority, but they tend to bullyback progressive and inevitable change, and cause more injustice as a result.

    But they can only delay the inevitable.

    1. ahjayzis

      “But they can only delay the inevitable.”

      Such cold comfort when you think of the lives they’ll destroy in the process.

  2. nellyb

    “Let them do their worst” – i think so too.
    It’s amazing though – Dail has political dynasties, who were sitting there since forever. One would expect them being astute and competent, having absorbed previous generation experience and skills – like any other professional guild.
    But no. We’re seeing strong candidates for Darwin awards instead. FF is a main contender, FG is a runner up.
    I don’t buy ‘hard decisions’ excuse. Hard on personal property portfolios and bank accounts – that may be. And definitely hard on their lumber regions.

  3. bisted

    ‘…I first cast my vote in 1981’…I cast my first vote in 1981…there Dan…fixed that for you.
    We know that Brexit and Trump are possibly down to your intervention but you seem to be taking responsibility for Thatcher and Reagan…that is believable but even you couldn’t have delivered Brezhnev – sure you were never in the stickies…

  4. norman bates

    “I fear that once again we are entering a dark age. The momentum has been gained, and the agenda has been won back by reactionaries. Hard won rights will recede amid much gnashing of teeth.”

    nothing like fear-mongering in the face of fear-mongering

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