Equality referendum aftermath: Struggling to recover relevance

IN recent days two very different people responded in very different ways to the unexpectedly powerful and joyous weekend expression of the cultural revolution that has been bubbling away in this country for several decades. 

Though this revolt has been fermenting for more than a generation elements of Ireland’s establishment have ignored it and this weekend they surrendered relevance and credibility they can hardly afford because they couldn’t, or refused to, tell the difference between transient posturing and a real, deepseated desire for change.

Both of these sincere individuals expressed their sadness that once-dominant social organisations had not recognised how much this society has changed and imagined that they could carry on as before; that the hubris of old that hollowed out their different organisations was still justifiable.

One was confounded their organisation, for all its reach and influence in Irish life, had so very little impact on young people who had been in “our Catholic school system for 12 years”.

In something approaching an apologia Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin acknowledged that corporate Catholicism needed a “reality check”.

“The Church needs to ask itself when this cultural revolution began and why some of its members refused to see this change ...”

The other, from the opposite end of the spectrum, criticised their party — their former party — for a “cynical and cowardly approach to the marriage equality referendum”.

Senator Averil Power, announcing her resignation from Fianna Fáil, excoriated her former colleagues: “For me, a referendum on equality went to the core of what real republicanism should be about ... Despite this, the vast majority of the party’s public representatives refused to campaign for it. ... Some Fianna Fáil representatives declared publicly that they were voting ‘no’. Worse still, others told me they would be voting ‘yes’ but were afraid of campaigning for it in case they would lose votes.”

That paragraph sums up the core problem for Fianna Fáil, and maybe to a lesser degree all of Irish politics — the absence of a driving belief in a cause, an ideal or a grand vision all made evident by a reluctance to face the slings and arrows that will inevitably rain on agents for change. Ms Power painted a picture of a smug, insular and rudderless party, one she said was “simply not fit for government”.

As if he intended to confirm Ms Power’s accusations Micheál Martin played the woman and not the ball and spoke of her ambitions, though they are dwarfed by his own, when he dismissed her charges.

He should remember the evidence to support the senator’s claim is all around us — or at least it should have been but it’s not because Fianna Fáil was more or less struck dumb during the referendum campaign so it could, as is usual, hunt with the hounds and run with the hare.

In the heel of the hunt the issues facing Fianna Fáil and Irish Catholicism are the same; denial, irrelevance, stasis and a belief that when we come to our senses they will return to the very centre of our lives. But that deferential and sleeveen Ireland is, thankfully, dead and buried and in its grave.

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