For decades a good number of us imagined, and were warned by iron-in-the-velvet professors of theology, that a condom was a one-way ticket to hell. Even if we, though not all of us, accepted that orthodoxy, most of us were energetically determined to avail of the opportunities to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh the rubber sheath offered. Recognising this character trait, some might call it hypocrisy, Charles Haughey contrived an Irish solution to an Irish problem by making some contraceptives accessible only if they were prescribed — for a married couple only — by a doctor. At this remove, that shabby, shameful dodge can be seen for the tragic farce it was, but at the time it was regarded as a moral solution to an immoral practice.
Today we adopt much the same position on abortion. Despite the deep concerns of a great number of people, abortion is a fact of Irish life. The only issue is the price of a plane ticket as as many as 12 women a day travelled from the Republic to Britain for abortions in 2010. Figures released by the UK Department of Health some time ago show a total of 4,402 women providing Irish addresses had terminations in England or Wales. These figures obviously do not include those who travelled to continental Europe so the real figure is higher. Yet despite this reality, we assert that Ireland is abortion free and bask in the glow of righteousness we imagine that faux purity confers.
This doublethink is not confined to matters of personal or sexual morality. We have a veto of sorts on nuclear power plants yet we happily import electricity generated at nuclear power plants across the Irish Sea.
Even on what we used to call “the national question” many of us were more pragmatic than philosophical. A great number of us were far more worried about what Britain might pay for our cattle than we were about the plight of the minority in the North.
We pretend that Irish is our national language and lavish hundreds of millions a year on trying to revive what is a linguistic dodo. Wasting that money is bad enough, but the time spent in schools pushing an increasingly irrelevant language on disinterested pupils is almost criminal. Currently, the most bizarre instance of this à la carte citizenship is the campaign by some unions against the EU fiscal treaty, even though they insist that they hold on to their very own security blanket —the Croke Park deal.
Responding to US President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would support the idea of gay marriage, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, predictably, kicked to touch and said the issue could be dealt with at the constitutional convention. That may be the case, but surely it’s time to acknowledge reality and celebrate the simple fact that some men love other men, that lots of women love other women and that they want to spend their lives together as a loving, married couple?
Maybe this could be the issue on which we end our hypocrisy, the issue on which we have the courage to join the reality all around us by not pretending one thing and doing the other. Surely it’s time to set aside the dishonesty that has all but destroyed this country and celebrate love and dignity no matter how it is expressed.