A sweeping mandate: Focus moves to enacting legislation

Friday’s vote was the most seismic break with the past since we voted, in May 1972, to join the European Economic Community.

A sweeping mandate: Focus moves to enacting legislation

Friday’s vote was the most seismic break with the past since we voted, in May 1972, to join the European Economic Community.

The first vote moved Ireland out of the all-covering shadow of Britain; Friday’s scream-it-from-the-rooftops call for change moved Ireland out of the shadow of another imperialism, one that has enjoyed, and too often misused, hegemony since the foundation of this State.

The 1,429,981 people, representing every cohort of this society, who voted yes emphatically rejected the culture that had, in 1935, criminalised contraception.

That veto stood until 1973 when the Supreme Court held it violated the rights of a married woman, Mary McGee, to matrimonial privacy.

A 1971 move by senator Mary Robinson to have the 1935 legislation repealed did not get even a first reading in the Dáil.

The then all-powerful Catholic hierarchy condemned her bill as a “curse upon the country”.

These long-ago battles reached a new high-water mark this weekend but efforts to separate Church and State continue — as today’s story on school patronage confirms.

Under a scheme to be announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton, parents in 16 school areas will be consulted about alternatives to faith-specific schools.

Under the scheme, the local Catholic bishop remains the final decision-maker on school divestment.

This logic suggests Friday’s vote should have been confined to people of child-bearing age and that the turkey that would vote for Christmas has finally been found.

Education, like the Eighth Amendment, is a social issue and concerns all citizens. Any surveys on school patronage must be universal if they are to have integrity.

That democratic principle was celebrated by an unprecedented unity of conviction last Friday. The 66.4% to 33.6% vote is as comprehensive an endorsement as a plausible democracy might make.

The two-to-one verdict is all the more astonishing as it was direct reversal of the 67% in favour and 33% who opposed the Eighth in 1983.

This shows how fundamentally this society has changed its relationship with conservative, moral-reservation Catholicism.

The process began on Enda Kenny’s watch but was finalised by his successor Leo Varadkar and his Cabinet colleagues, especially Simon Harris, Regina Doherty, and Simon Coveney.

They recognised the zeitgeist had changed and acted accordingly. They deserve special credit.

So too does Micheál Martin for taking what must have been a lonely stand against a sizeable rump of his parliamentary party.

Mary Lou MacDonald’s contribution meant that she passed the first test of her leadership with flying colours. What a pity that game-changing sense of common purpose cannot be harnessed more often.

The role of the Citizens’ Assembly was significant, too, and suggests the body will make many more positive contributions to the evolution of this society.

A battle has been won but the war will not be won until Friday’s vote is matched with legislation.

The Oireachtas has been given an unquestionable mandate and it must be realised quickly — and without the destructive triumphalism provoked by earlier referendums on this fraught issue.

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