Re­cent events see Ir­ish so­ci­ety fac­ing into an in­ter­est­ing cul­tural cross­road

Wicklow People (Arklow) - - OPINION -

THERE are many les­sons we can take from the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and blas­phemy ref­er­en­dum which have helped shat­ter some of the easy as­sump­tions and myths that have sprung up about ‘pro­gres­sive’ Ire­land in re­cent years. As a so­ci­ety we have most cer­tainly moved on but the pre­sump­tion – now the over­rid­ing me­dia nar­ra­tive – that we have ir­re­vo­ca­bly trans­formed and aban­doned some of our long held con­ser­va­tive ten­den­cies has been dealt a huge blow.

In vot­ing to re­move the crim­i­nal of­fence of blas­phemy from the con­sti­tu­tion, vot­ers have con­tin­ued the trend to­wards the com­plete sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

The le­gal­i­sa­tion of gay mar­riage; the re­peal of the eighth amend­ment and now the de-crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of blas­phemy are steps in a new di­rec­tion and ev­i­dence of a rapidly chang­ing so­ci­ety.

The next ref­er­en­dum on woman’s place in the home – an­other ar­chaic sex­ist han­gover from darker times – is next on the list and it is hard to see vot­ers elect­ing to keep the grossly sex­ist clause in our con­sti­tu­tion.

Hope­fully in the not to dis­tant fu­ture there will no longer be a ref­er­ence to en­sur­ing that woman don’t feel obliged to en­ter the work­force and to “ne­glect their du­ties in the home”.

That dread­ful clause – with all its misog­y­nist echoes of the Hand­maids Tale – should have been shorn from the con­sti­tu­tion long ago and, if all goes as ex­pected, it soon should be.

All of that is well and good and it goes some way to sup­port­ing the nar­ra­tive that, in so­ci­etal terms, Ire­land has again ‘changed and changed ut­terly’. But has it re­ally? We are cer­tainly more pro­gres­sive – and far less servile when it comes to re­li­gious doc­trine and dogma – but polling day also proved that many old prej­u­dices still re­main.

The large vote for Peter Casey – which in re­al­ity should have sur­prised pre­cisely no-one fa­mil­iar with day to day re­al­i­ties in ru­ral Ire­land – shows that when it comes to the less for­tu­nate in our so­ci­ety many of us re­main less than sym­pa­thetic.

Mr Casey’s surge in sup­port came on the back of his ap­palling com­ments about Trav­ellers and those on wel­fare.

His com­ments pro­voked out­rage, par­tic­u­larly among the more left lean­ing com­men­ta­tors in the na­tional me­dia but the vote showed that many peo­ple, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas, agreed with him.

One in five vot­ers backed Mr Casey on the day and it should be noted that many of those who voted for him also voted to re­move the of­fence of blas­phemy.

In the pri­vacy of the polling booth these peo­ple first voted to take re­li­gion out of the con­sti­tu­tion. Sec­onds later, with the same pen­cil, they ticked the box of a can­di­date whose com­ments saw him ac­cused of in­cit­ing race hate to win votes. What does that tell us about mod­ern Ir­ish at­ti­tudes? The sim­plest nar­ra­tive is rarely the most ac­cu­rate. If we can take one thing from the elec­tion and ref­er­en­dum it is that we need to rad­i­cally re­assess some of our more com­fort­able no­tions.

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