Eighth campaign lessons: Vote showed real power of coalitions

As the scale of the landslide vote became apparent last weekend, the public euphoria of those who campaigned for repeal of the Eighth Amendment was entirely understandable — as was the heartfelt disappointment of those who wished to retain the status quo.

Eighth campaign lessons: Vote showed real power of coalitions

As the scale of the landslide vote became apparent last weekend, the public euphoria of those who campaigned for repeal of the Eighth Amendment was entirely understandable — as was the heartfelt disappointment of those who wished to retain the status quo.

Now, as the challenge of preparing legislation to legalise abortion, one that should not under any circumstances be underestimated, replaces celebration, it is time to consider what lessons the campaigns offered and if they might have relevance on other issues.

The most obvious lesson is the length of time it took to change one, deeply contentious element of our Constitution.

It took half a lifetime to undo a line-in-the-sand measure for traditional, conservative Ireland.

By any reckoning, 35 years, three times the length of many political careers, is a considerable period.

Nevertheless, it could have been considerably longer.

The scandals that hollowed out Irish Catholicism and broke the Church’s vice-like grip on this society’s mores were more than significant in Friday’s two-to-one reversal of the 1983 endorsement of the Eighth.

Brendan Smyth, Sean Fortune, or the other preying paedophiles protected by the hierarchy’s lies and hubris ended the trust and subservience Irish Catholicism depended on to hold such unquestioned sway.

The routine abuse of vulnerable, institutionalised children, the Magdalene laundries, and the unmarked mass graves at mother and baby homes and the second-class citizenship offered to Catholic women by their Church, sowed disenchantment that matured into the unprecedented opposition that made Saturday’s result inevitable.

Yesterday’s response from the Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran, who said voting for repeal was a sin if someone “knew and intended abortion as the outcome” shows how wide the gap between conservative Catholicism and today’s Ireland is.

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran

Last week’s announcement that Pope Francis will grant a plenary indulgence to those who take part in World Meeting of Families events in Dublin in August suggests it is widening.

The most powerful lesson, though, is about how effective coalitions can be. The rainbow of interests that achieved marriage equality came together again to repeal the Eighth.

It is hard to imagine that a campaign with a narrower base might have prevailed. That lesson can be applied domestically.

Health service reform, pensions equality, school patronage, and the step change needed to better protect our environment are obvious examples but that lesson resonates louder on a bigger stage.

Liberal democracy is under threat.

Trump’s ignorant nativism, the insularity-cum-phobia of Brexit, the threat of Putin, Orban’s aggression, and many more reminders of how dark our past was and, according to former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright who, in her new book warns about a revival of fascism, might be again, all point to a challenge we cannot shirk.

The EU offers a platform for small, liberal countries to come together to protect the decency and opportunity that flourished after the Second World War.

This objective demands our very best efforts — and we must quickly realise we don’t have 35 years to achieve it.

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