The (provisional) result of the vote on the 8th Amendment is historic and really shows we are living in a new and modern Ireland.
Have we finally thrown off the vestiges of the Ireland as imagined by Eamon DeValera and Archbishop McQuaid? The Ireland outlined in DeValera’s famous speech ‘The Ireland that we dreamed of’ from St. Patrick’s Day in 1943:
the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age.
Undoubtedly the speech laid out an ideal of a pious, simple life, understandable if we remember that the people of Ireland must have been traumatised after living through a War of Independence followed by a Civil War. Eamon DeValera and Archbishop McQuaid shaped a community bound together with networks that crisscrossed throughout Irish society. Education, GAA, medicine, and social welfare have all been influenced by religion in Ireland. Many of life’s events are still celebrated with a Mass: graduations, weddings etc. But, if we look at some of the things the Catholic Church has historically opposed, the list seems bizarre: tampons (until 1944), The Mother and Child Health Scheme (rejected 1950), women studying at Trinity college (until 1970), married women working in the civil service (until 1973). This is not even mentioning the treatment of unmarried women in the Irish State. These examples show us the control the Catholic Church had over every strand of Irish Society.
For those of you who think that the Church has nothing to do with the referendum on the 8th amendment, let’s examine a society with an intertwined church and state. Sometimes it is easier to see things in others then ourselves. The legal system of Saudi Arabia is based on Sharia, Islamic law derived from the Quran and no separation of church and state is present. This means, for example, that homosexual acts are not only illegal but punishable by execution. There have also been raids on “gay parties” and men have been arrested for “behaving like women”. (Don’t forget homosexuality was only decriminalized in Ireland in 1993). Saudi Arabia has a complete ban on alcohol. It is illegal to produce it, import it, or consume it. There are harsh punishments for those caught making or drinking alcohol. The selling of pork is also illegal in Saudi. To an Irish person these rules seem oppressive, but if you are brought up in any society the rules can seem logical to a large proportion of the population. Thus it is for our own lived experiences.
This is not by any means a criticism of any religion. All religions can perform a strong role in society, supporting communities and binding them together. However, the State should be objective and thus secular, allowing all of its residents the possibility of exhibiting their own personal choices. A truly secular society does not impose their will on its citizens. It should remain objective in all things.
Ireland is clearly going through a period of change. In a very short time frame we have had the referendum on the 8th amendment, the Marriage Equality referendum and the removal of the ban on selling alcohol on Good Friday. The Sisters Of Charity were also removed from any running of the new maternity hospital. Divorce was only legalized in 1995, after another referendum, and did not lead to the alleged destruction of marriage in Ireland. Still on the agenda is church patronage of schools. We still have the charmingly quaint Angelus, broadcast daily on RTE, which really is not that dissimilar to the Muslim call to prayer. But right now we are living in a New Ireland, one that seems to be inclusive, secular and much, much, more forgiving of others.