Democracy in Ireland – it’s a YES

Equality: not the kind of word that can be made to vanish easily. Not once it has been spoken and written everywhere for weeks on end and once people have felt it in their relations with others, be it in a new and unusual way, or in a familiar way, now given deeper affirmation.

True, both the political establishment and corporate Ireland were fully behind a Yes vote. It’s also true that both will try and milk a Yes vote shamelessly. But really, it doesn’t matter. Neither has much control over the meaning of the word ‘equality’. Once people associate it with a certain kind of experience, and a certain way of relating to one another, neither ruling politicians nor big business groupings can reproduce it or satisfy it. That is because what the latter need, ultimately, is power over others, and an empty conception of equality that serves that end.

The usual banalities about great days for democracy are gushing forth from the usual suspects. Nothing warms the heart of a political professional more than the pageantry and routine of voting day with a big turnout. But democracy means more than the orderly forming of lines to put pieces of paper in a box in private. To wit: imagine, if the turnout had been the same, but the tallies being counted out right now were reversed, and that huge majorities of people in constituencies up and down the country were saying to others: no, we shall reserve our right to go on treating gay people as inferior. Who, bar the most hidebound grotto-dwellers, would call such a result a good day for democracy?

Today, there will be wall-to-wall seasoned observers and eminences grises explaining what the unprecedented irruption of young people into political life in this referendum means. Let’s ponder what it does mean for a moment.

First, it means all these seasoned observers, who happily acquiesced in a ‘balanced’ approach that places lies on a par with truth and bigotry on a par with justice, look older and sound more tired than ever.

Second, it means that something old, and not just the reactionary hold of the Catholic Church, is dying, and, with the most resounding Yes majorities emanating from working class constituencies, the idea that Ireland consists of a genteel liberal elite ever struggling to lead the reactionary hordes along the right path, peddled so relentlessly by the country’s organs of repute, is dead.

Third, it means that all those who campaigned, and all those who bore the brunt of abuse and degrading treatment while doing so, can feel history as something that is made by ordinary people doing what they can where they can, and not by grandstanding political dignitaries.

Against this idea of democracy being the orderly forming of lines to put pieces of paper in a box in private, there is another idea operating, and that is the idea of what happens when a certain group seizes the stage and says we are the people and you will recognise us and stop denying us our rights. The campaign led by LGBTQ people, often at a heavy personal toll, shows that this idea of democracy is alive and at work in Ireland, despite all the ongoing attempts to kill it off.  And that is very good news.

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Democracy, but for people who matter

communicorp

Yesterday, in the Irish Independent Dan O’Brien wrote an article claiming that there was no room for giving Irish people overseas -he used the racial-biological term ‘the diaspora’- the vote in constitutional referenda.

It was because they did not pay tax, and there could be no representation without taxation. He said that ‘non-tax paying citizens would have a huge influence on the outcome’.

Later yesterday, the man -also called O’Brien- who controls the newspaper in which Dan O’Brien wrote the article, issued a demand.

Denis O’Brien, who lives in Malta so that he does not have to pay tax in Ireland, demanded that the parliament withdraw remarks concerning him from its record.  His spokesman claimed that remarks made by Catherine Murphy TD  had been based on ‘stolen information’.

Denis O’Brien’s spokesman also disputed that there was anything improper about using Millington -a company set up in the Isle of Man to avoid paying tax- to purchase a firm that had racked up vast debts with Anglo Irish Bank, an entity that was subsequently rescued by taxpayers in Ireland, at immense cost to the public purse, and, as a consequence, to the public welfare.

Denis O’Brien uses the Isle of Man to avoid contributing to the public welfare in Ireland. He lives in Malta to avoid contributing to the public welfare in Ireland. Denis O’Brien -and it is never just Denis O’Brien, he is just the most prominent face- uses tax havens to avoid having to pay towards things like public hospitals in Ireland. Though Denis O’Brien owns private hospitals in Ireland, unlike most people, and he gets former Taoisigh to work for him, unlike most people.

In Ireland, there is no constitutional right to health care. It is hard to see how Denis O’Brien, the owner of private hospitals in Ireland, would want one. Ireland’s courts, which have served Denis O’Brien so well in recent days, reject the existence of such a right. But the European Parliament, which reported on the impact of the economic crisis on fundamental rights, noted that a right to health is ‘part of Ireland’s international human rights obligations’.

Funding for public health services dropped by €3.3bn from 2009 to 2013. You never hear much about the threat to human rights from these cuts to health, or austerity more generally, on Newstalk, the radio station owned by Denis O’Brien, or in the Irish Independent. You will, however, come across plenty of features devoted to the virtues of private health operators.

For Denis O’Brien, who supports different human rights charities, human rights are a family affair. In the 1980s, his mother had protested outside the US embassy at the murderous activities of US-backed forces in Nicaragua. The Contra war had been launched against “a cancer, right here on our land mass”, according to George Shultz, Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. The US-backed forces launched a terrorist war killing tens of thousands, to eliminate the cancer of democracy.

Decades later, state telecommunications companies had been privatised across the globe. It had been part of the neoliberal restoration spearheaded by Ronald Reagan. O’Brien used the anecdote about his mother as part of his sales pitch to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Ortega sent his mother a signed photo.

There are thousands of people streaming back to Ireland today to vote in the marriage equality referendum, because they care about what happens to people who live here. Many of them were forced to leave on account of policies pursued in the benefit of the business elite in Ireland, of which Denis O’Brien is a prominent part. And Dan O’Brien, writing in Denis O’Brien’s newspaper, says they should not have a say in how life in their home unfolds.

We shouldn’t be too surprised, since, truth be told, Independent News and Media doesn’t think too many people here at all should have a say in how life on this island unfolds, apart from a vote every four years that should have little bearing on the rule of a financial and economic elite. And Denis O’Brien himself appears to believe that even the meagre possibilities for democratic institutions to discuss public affairs freely should be removed. Because people –people who matter, no doubt- might think he had acted improperly.

To sum up, O’Brien the media baron, who lives in Malta so he does not have to contribute to the public welfare in Ireland, who profits from the privatisation of public services, whose newspapers call for the democratic rights of others to be taken away, claims to have been misrepresented in a parliament where, according to the very newspapers he controls, he has no right to representation. That, mes amis, is fucked up. Let us be grateful that not everyone is a model citizen like Denis O’Brien.

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Movements and Milestones

I was down at the Milestone in Balbriggan last night with the Greek Solidarity Committee speaking with Balbriggan anti-water charges group. It was a great meeting, as lively a discussion as anything I can remember, and the local core group present -who are deeply impressive, committed and informed activists- took great interest in what was going on in Greece and the common thread with the movement against water charges here in Ireland. There was a torrent of ideas, about possibilities for future political initiatives, about ways of operating and campaigning and organising, that it became a bit head-spinning.

Prior to the meeting we had spoken about how, in Spain and Greece, people had the advantage of open urban spaces and hospitable weather. This allowed them both to engage in prolonged demonstrations, but also to be together in open spaces in a way that allowed them to shape a common understanding of the collective problems posed by a kleptocratic political elite and by rampant neoliberal austerity. Ireland -the Romans did not call it the land of winter for nothing- does not have that advantage.

One of the activists in attendance pointed out that the Occupy movement in Ireland had managed to maintain sites for months on end in adverse conditions. However, the problem with Occupy, or at least one of the problems, was that the maintenance of the site became an end in itself. That was in 2011/12. Things have changed a lot in Ireland since then, especially as a result of the movement against the water charges and Irish Water, but neither the weather nor the layout nor the transport infrastructure of the country has changed. So people have to work with the spaces they have, whether open spaces on housing estates, or in pubs like the Milestone that have an accommodating management. That places severe time limits, too.

A lot of the discussion concerned how to get existing parties to operate in a different way, how to build more unity around some kind of common programme. One of the participants said something that really caught my attention. In the Balbriggan group, there are members of political parties participating, but in so far as they are participating they are doing so in keeping with what the group has decided, as a community group, rather than in keeping with what their party requires. I didn’t get round to pointing out, because it was hard to get a word in, that this is precisely how Ahora Madrid operates. Ahora Madrid (Now Madrid) is the citizen-driven grouping challenging the Partido Popular for municipal government in Madrid. There is a possibility it may win the elections this weekend. Its candidate for mayor is Manuela Carmena, a former judge and human rights and labour lawyer.

manuela

Below is a flyer showing five key proposals for Ahora Madrid:
ahora madrid programme
They are:
1. An end to all evictions from primary residences. A guaranteed alternative place of residence.
2. An end to privatisation of public services, outsourcing of public services, and sell-off of public assets.
3. Basic guarantees of provision of electricity and water to all households unable to afford them.
4. Health services guaranteed for everyone.
5. Emergency work placement scheme for all young long-term unemployed.

Ahora Madrid has been put together by activists involved in all kinds of political and social groupings, collaborating with people through assemblies in local neighbourhoods.

On this Facebook video, Manuela Carmena is heard saying: “We are so used to trust in ideology, in religion, in politics, in the party, we give so little importance to ourselves, that without noticing, we allow ourselves to be beaten, because we don’t have confidence in who we are. That is why I think every one of us must feel absolutely strong, because each one of us has an amazing ability to make decisions, to reason, and to change the world.”

One thing that struck me, in the Milestone, was that there were all kinds of possibilities discussed, but less thought about what the actual problems are. Maybe this is true more generally of this movement. I mean, we take for granted that everyone who is out protesting has roughly the same understanding of what the problems are. And that may be largely true. However, and I say this because I know there are other people trying to elaborate political programmes and initiatives in an attempt to build on the democratic upsurge that is the anti-water charges movement, unless you have a common diagnosis of the problem, how can you elaborate a common initiative that addresses this problem, in terms that people are happy with?

Anyone can rattle off a laundry list of desirable items. But how can support for such things be built and broadened unless it is based on a common understanding of the problem, one that has been put together collectively and articulated properly, and that people are happy with?

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A note on the difference between left and right in Ireland

“How do they manage to make the bad guys look good?”
“Dead easy: the bad guys write the script”

A recent interview with journalist Gene Kerrigan, conducted by David Manning of MediaBite, was titled ‘Ireland’s invisible, but omnipresent, right-wing’. In it, Kerrigan noted how mainstream Irish politicians were seldom referred to as right-wing in the media, even when their policy approach was the same as the likes of Angela Merkel, and how the outlook of political correspondents was the same as that of mainstream parties, but they are seldom referred to as right-wing journalists.

Kerrigan’s claim about the description of politicians can be verified by a simple test.

A Nexis search of Irish news sources for “Clare Daly” in the past year returns 495 results. 22 of these, or 4.4% contain the adjective “left-wing”.

A Nexis search of Irish news sources for “Joe Higgins” in the past year returns 400 results. 34 of these, or 9%, contain the adjective “left-wing”.

A Nexis search of Irish news sources for “Leo Varadkar” in the past year returns more than 3,000 results. However, only 12, or an absolute maximum of 0.4%, contains the adjective “right-wing”.

So, roughly speaking, Clare Daly is ten times more likely to be characterised as left-wing by Ireland’s media than Leo Varadkar is to be characterised as right-wing. Joe Higgins is twenty times more likely.

In a 2010 interview with Leo Varadkar, Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee noted that ‘If Varadkar lived in Britain he would clearly be Tory, or a Republican if he lived in the US.’ However, McGee continued, ‘he rejects the label of right-wing that is attached to him. He says people are ideologically illiterate in Ireland and, even though they think left is good and right is bad, they tend to vote centre-right.’

It’s hard to know what to make of Varadkar’s assessment about perceptions of left and right. I’m not so sure if people by and large in Ireland think of left as good, but maybe he’s on to something when he says they think right is bad. After all, he himself rejects the label of right-wing.

What is more, there is a strong popular rejection of the label of ‘Thatcherite’ in Ireland, even though successive elected Irish governments have pursued policies that are very firmly within the market belief system that Thatcher’s rule in Britain helped to entrench worldwide.

In one sense this popular rejection is curious, since whatever the ideological reach of Thatcher’s free market project, Britain under Thatcher bore more features of socialism than Ireland ever did, such as a national health service free on point of delivery, free education up to third level, including free textbooks. Of course, Thatcher hated all of this and wanted to destroy it; it is just that there was never any contemporaneous political will in Ireland to build it.

One reason, of course, that there is so little mention of right-wing politicians in Ireland is that there are no major left-wing media institutions. In the absence of such institutions, the civil society institutions of the right can shape people’s ideas about politics largely uncontested, such that what would appear as right-wing in countries with stronger popular democratic currents appears in Ireland as the uncontroversial way of the world.

People who advocate a stronger role for private enterprise, in the provision of what are usually seen as public goods and services, be it education, health, social welfare, roads, water, and so on, would, at other times and in other places, be described as right-wing. In Ireland, but not just in Ireland, you can do such things and be described in the media as centre-left. Indeed, a large part of the trade union leadership in Ireland sees such ‘centre-left’ figures as a counterweight to a right-wing government, even as that government privatises social welfare, endorses private health services, sources 75% of social housing from the private sector, subsidises rich people from the sector that created the financial crisis to send their children to private schools, and introduces effective regressive taxation in the provision of public goods, whilst forking out untold billions in public money to keep afloat an economic model based on financial speculation and the looting of public wealth, to offer a few stray examples. And there is no shortage of gall to go round among those who claim that this is precisely what the Coalition of the Radical Left in Greece aspires to do, but doesn’t have the smarts of the suits of Ireland’s ‘Left’.

And this is only on the narrow terrain of political institutions. In Ireland’s public culture more broadly, there is seldom a dichotomy between left and right. ‘Left’ is seldom a descriptor applied to tendencies towards greater social equality and freedom from exploitation. Worse, tendencies that seek to maintain or increase social inequalities and maintain or increase exploitation, whether in homes or enterprises, are seldom described as ‘right-wing’. Take one example in the news in recent days: the Iona Institute. The Iona Institute is strongly committed to the express exercise of State power over women and LGBT people. Its founders are strong supporters of private health care and private education, US military campaigns, and the free market belief system (which entails the express exercise of State power over the working class).

And yet this strong right-wing tendency is seldom remarked upon in Ireland’s mainstream media. For example, a Nexis search for “Iona Institute” from 11th of January 2014 to today’s date returns 307 newspaper results. Only two newspaper articles in that period -which encompasses the reporting of the Panti/Rory O’Neill affair- referred to the Iona Institute as right-wing. One was a piece in the Sunday Independent by Sarah Carey, and another one was reported remarks by Paul Murphy, then an MEP, in the Irish Times.

That is, 0.7% of articles identified the Iona Institute as right-wing, in a period -encompassing both a high profile court action and a referendum campaign where the institute played a prominent role. Against this, it must be pointed out that the Catholic Church more broadly in Ireland also supported, and continues to support, private health care and private education, was vigorously anti-communist, and promoted private property as a means of quelling unrest that might take socialist forms. But the Catholic Church -whose Angelus bells sound every day on the State broadcaster- is never described, of course, as right-wing.

This suggests a remarkable degree of ideological domination exercised by the right wing through Ireland’s media: for all the high-minded claims about ‘balance’ and ‘objectivity’, the view of the world it puts forward is overwhelmingly right-wing in orientation, and this is all the more destructive of chances for a more democratic society precisely because it deprives people of the means of naming, and of situating themselves in relation to, the fundamental oppositions and conflicts that run through Irish society unreported.

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‘The problem in the Mediterranean’ and the problems with the Irish Times Poll

By El Roto

By El Roto

The poll results published by the Irish Times today in its story headlined ‘Poll: Majority against taking in fleeing migrants’ present an appalling picture of Ireland’s attitudes toward what the paper refers to as ‘the problem in the Mediterranean’.

‘The problem in the Mediterranean’ relates to the fact that this year alone, between 1,500 and 1,750 women, men and children have died in attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa into Europe. The Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, Koji Sekimizu, predicts that half a million people could cross into Italy this year, by comparison with 170,000 last year, of whom 10,000 died in the attempt. (source)

The headline and poll data, on the surface, suggests a striking depth of animosity felt towards migrants in Irish society. There is no point seeking to improve it, or redress it, in accordance with the terms in which it is presented. However, that does not mean we should accept the data at face value.

It’s worth highlighting several key features in the poll and the accompanying report.

The question that provides the headline is ‘Should Ireland offer to resettle migrants rescued in Mediterranean?’ The Irish Times says 52% of those polled said Ireland should not offer to do so, and 48% said that it should. As others have pointed out, there is no ‘Don’t Know’ option for this question.

Resettle

The absence of a ‘Don’t Know’ option is worth reflecting on. A government minister is unlikely to know what to do in many situations in the absence of further information and advice. There would be nothing wrong with that: it is in the nature of problems that we start out not knowing how to solve them.

But the Irish Times question, thus presented, suggests that everyone already knows what to do about the issue. Or, to put it differently, it suggests that out of 1,000 people, not a single one did not know what to do when it came to resettling migrants.

There is a far more accurate term for ‘rescued migrants': refugees. These are people seeking refuge -as a New York Times article in April puts it- from war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, or, as Peter Sutherland in an Irish Times report on May 11th puts it, ‘escaping persecution’.

The question does not mention refugees, and it does not mention what it is these migrants are fleeing –including the responsibility of EU member states in producing the situation they are fleeing. It is, as with previous Irish Times surveys, a loaded question.

The survey seeks to gauge the level of support or opposition to resettling refugees rescued in the Mediterranean on the basis of how many people the respondent thinks it would be appropriate to resettle. But since it does not quantify how many ‘fleeing migrants’ there are needing resettlement, a low number is not necessarily indicative of strong opposition, and a high number is not necessarily indicative of strong support.

That is, if you think there have been 1,000 refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, then 100 -one tenth of the overall figure- does not necessarily reflect a reluctance to accept refugees, bearing in mind the collective responsibility of all EU member states in this regard. One’s familiarity with the figures involved, as well as the overall background story, will have an influence.

The survey data presented gives no indication of the contextual information provided to the respondents in order for them to give their answer. One piece of contextual information, for instance, might be the overall death toll to date this year. Another might be details of the persecution such people are fleeing. Another might be the fact that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union guarantees the right to asylum. I will leave it to others to judge whether this is likely to have been provided.

It is worth considering the conception to politics that such an approach to polling –where the respondent is not given data on which they can make their decision- might reveal. In democratic societies, citizens are supposed to decide upon how society is to be run. For this they need reliable information that they can evaluate, and they need time to deliberate and discuss. Under the approach to polling demonstrated here, however, what matters is not whether the respondent has evaluated the information and reached a decision accordingly, but what the implications are for the political parties that seek the respondent’s vote, since it is they who will ultimately decide the policy to pursue.

The accompanying editorial says that ‘Fine Gael and Labour show significant positive support (61 and 56 per cent respectively) while Sinn Féin supporters are most strikingly resistant (70 per cent against)’. This gives a false impression of what various party supporters actually think. There were 1000 people surveyed. This is enough to give a reliable enough estimate of overall support for a political party. But it is not enough to give a reliable picture of what voters for that political party actually think.

For example, the poll finds that Labour is on 7%. That means that 70 respondents said they would vote Labour. Whereas Sinn Féin is on 21% support, and so 210 respondents said they would vote Sinn Féin.

To get an adequate picture of what the 220,000-odd Labour supporters think, using, for example, a 3% or so margin of error, you would have to survey around 1,000 Labour supporters, and roughly the same number of Sinn Féin supporters.

So, in neither case is the number of respondents adequate for a rigorous survey of Labour and Sinn Féin supporter opinion, or a rigorous survey of the opinion of supporters of any other party. That does not prevent the Irish Times from presenting it as such. It may well be true that the ‘Government is not substantially out of step with the majority of its support base’, as the Irish Times claims, but the survey data does not provide reliable enough evidence for this claim.

There is a more insidious aspect however. It ties in with assumptions underpinning the current referendum campaign, namely, the idea that the rights of persecuted minorities are a matter for majority opinion, without any reference to fundamental guarantees enshrined in law. Similar assumptions underpinned a survey from October last year, also covered by Stephen Collins, that sought the opinion of the electorate, and had the headline Majority are in favour of direct provision, poll finds.

Here, too, the Irish Times cites what ‘the electorate’ thinks. But this electorate does not include a large number of people living in Ireland who might have an opinion on the matter, i.e. migrants from other countries.

Such migrants are by and large irrelevant to the matter of how the Government can go about its business, because they are unable to vote in legislative elections. And so the Irish Times ignores them outright, whilst affecting to be worried about ‘the sort of anti-immigrant party that has poisoned the politics of many European states’.

The grim irony is that the basic standpoint underpinning the Irish Times poll questions and conclusions –one of a national electorate that vests a legislature with the power to decide which categories of people deserve to live and which can be left to die- is precisely that of the anti-immigrant parties it decries.

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True love is always against the State

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There is something profoundly disturbing about the ease with which Irish people in the South see ‘the State’ as the all-encompassing entity that is essentially good and what binds people together.

The State, in this view may do things wrong, or may fail to do things, but that is because certain people have refused to be sufficiently loyal, or obedient, or they have failed to grasp the need to comply for the sake of the common good.

We are told this is our State but we do not respect it or look after it. But who is this we? Not migrants, and not Irish citizens north of the border, for starters. But beyond that, why respect a State that denies you the same access to healthcare, or education, or food, or decent working conditions, as available to those who call on you to be loyal to the State and respect it?

Why respect a State that deems your sexuality abnormal and deprives you of basic rights as a consequence? Why respect a State that claims ownership and control over your body and compels you to give birth, and considers that what you want, what you think on the subject, is to be automatically disregarded?

It is “our State”, apparently. You even hear supposedly left-wing trade unionists speak of “our” State, in the same way as a worker in a multinational might speak of “us”, encompassing both the speaker and the CEO earning 350 times as much and who would eliminate that worker’s job and thousands more like it without a moment’s hesitation, if push comes to shove….

Lately I hear people talk about the State validating love, in relation to marriage equality. But the State can never administer, create, validate or promote love, of any kind.

There will always be those who claim that it does. Statum caritas est. Recall the provisions for charity supposedly informing social institutions in the Irish constitution, then bear in mind the degrading treatment systematically meted out by those same institutions to thousands every day.

Anti-choice campaigners even claim Ireland’s draconian abortion laws are an expression of love (“Love them both”).

‘The Family’ is part of the State.
It is ‘the necessary basis of social order’. It is ‘indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State’.

When campaigners against rights for LGBT people or against rights for women conjure up nightmare scenarios of a totalitarian State tearing mothers away from their children, they tend not to mention this point: it is the State that upholds their ideal of the Family. It is the State that keeps alive their sad dream of that isolated and self-contained unit, deprived of wider social supports, teaching obedience to the natural order of things, teaching deference to patriarchal authority, and extolling the happy enslavement of women. All such families are nightmares. If we still love our parents or brothers and sisters and other relatives, it is despite such a nightmarish design for life, not because of it.

In The Garden of Love, William Blake’s vision of the terrain where love flourishes is blighted by the brutal architecture of repression in the service of commerce, in the form of a chapel, a symbol of what elsewhere he called ‘State Religion’, which he described ‘the Abomination that maketh desolate’ and ‘the source of all Cruelty’.

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Amid Blake’s ruined garden there are priests ‘doing their rounds’ (the way prison guards do), and ‘binding with briars’ (as with the crown of thorns placed on the crucified Jesus) his ‘joys and desires’. Organised religion and the State are not the embodiment of love: they are its corruption. For all its exaltation of The Family, some of the most heinous abuses in this society were perpetrated by people who, acting on behalf of the State, called themselves ‘Father’ or ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister’.

The power relations reproduced by the State -“our State” are inevitably opposed to any form of love that threatens property. Icy cold calculation, not love, will always prevail by the State’s logic. And that is why we should be suspicious of people who bluster about love and equality whilst proclaiming their steadfast support for the State. True love is always against the State.

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Why I’m voting Yes

I notice a lot of people are excited at the prospect of voting Yes. I’m finding that quite hard.

I’d prefer not to be voting Yes. I’d prefer not to have to answer the question. Why do I find myself in a situation where I and others are granted the power to decide whether or not other people should be treated as full and equal human beings, with the same rights as everyone else?

Why should I get to decide that? I don’t want to be part of a collective that arrogates the power to decide such things. No-one should be part of such a thing, be it with regard to LGBT people, women, or migrants. So, it’s my duty to vote Yes, because people have no business and no right to make decisions such as this, as if they had a legitimate power over others. Anything that weakens this despotic sense of entitlement, anything that weakens its oppressive hold over people’s lives, is all to the good. So: yes.

I’ll be glad that people will feel a weight off their shoulders when the Yes vote wins. No-one should have to go about their lives fearful or ashamed or traumatised or bullied simply because of who they are. I’ll be glad that people will feel a sense of a victory won, one that will have arisen because of decades-long campaigns and courageous struggles for equal rights, despite horrendous ingrained bigotry, state persecution and generalised homophobic violence. Such struggles are the things to be truly celebrated, since they created the possibility of such a referendum, the nation-state hosting the referendum, not so much: even if a Yes vote might appear a marker of progress, even if it makes Ireland a more attractive place. You’re not supposed to oppress people: why congratulate yourself for stopping?

I think it’s great that lots of people are getting out and canvassing for a Yes vote, and I think it’s great that the rearguard action being fought by the most reactionary right-wing elements of the Catholic Church appears headed for ignominious collapse. The same people emoting about children’s rights can be found on other days cheering on high-altitude bombings of civilian populations conducted by the US or Israeli military. They affect concern about families and the ‘right to a mother and a father’ whilst supporting policy measures that drive families into poverty and misery and deprive children and their parents of the semblance of a dignified life. For them, the family is a happy little concentration camp where children learn time-honoured proper order and respect for arbitrary authority. Anything that strips away their hold on Irish society is all to the good, too.

It’s important to remember, however, that Article 41, even with the amendment allowing for marriage equality, is still a revoltingly reactionary piece of text, in which ‘mothers’ have ‘duties in the home’, but such ‘duties’ are not recognised as labour; rather, a woman’s ‘life within the home’ is a ‘support’ to ‘the State’.

What is more, why should the State ‘guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded’? There are countless families in many shapes and sizes where there is no marriage involved -and hence ‘the Family’ remains an ideological abstraction in the image of ultramontane reactionaries. The provision for marriage equality operates within a very particular framework, one designed to maintain the regime of private property, and hence one that militates against other substantive expressions of human equality, including economic justice. But a Yes vote will ease those problems, not deepen them.

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