Recent events see Irish society facing into an interesting cultural crossroad
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.