Referendum result a bold statement that Ireland is a changed country

Published 26/05/2015 | 00:00

All is changed, changed utterly. So wrote W.B Yeats of the 1916 Rising and his words echo emphatically in the wake of Friday's historic decision to change the Constitution in order to allow for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Ireland.

Much has changed in Ireland since Yeats wrote those famous words and as we move towards the centenary of The Rising we can reflect on a country and a society vastly different from that of a century ago.

That so much of this change has occurred in the last 30 years is astonishing.

Since the mid 1980s, amidst a litany of church scandals and the development of a modern, better off and much more secular society, we have witnessed enormous changes.

In the last three decades we have moved rapidly from a situation where homosexuality was a criminal offence to becoming the first nation in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.

We have also moved to permit divorce, pulled back the veil on the church and state's failure to protect children and vulnerable women and started an honest, if often fractious, debate on abortion.

All of this is evidence of a society that is no longer in thrall to the edicts of the church and of a modern country growing ever less afraid to both confront its demons and to tackle conventional wisdom.

Indeed it is a society that the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, who we honour next year, would barely recognise.

Friday's vote has clearly shown that the influence of the Catholic Church, once the dominant force in Irish life, has been dramatically curtailed, with fear of the crosier no longer enough to hold back progress or stall justice.

That said, the church still has a very valuable and important role to play in Irish life and in our communities. While canon law no longer holds dominion over civil law, the church and faith continue to play an important role in Irish lives. In our rush to celebrate Friday's decision, and the enormously positive reception it has garnered worldwide, we should not vilify or otherwise condemn those who voted No. They are every bit as entitled to their opinion, and to their vote, as those on the Yes side of the debate.

Friday's referendum has been described as a triumph for democracy and human rights. It is a shame then to see No voters, 38 per cent of the electorate, being attacked and condemned for exercising those self same rights.

The Yes campaign said throughout the referendum campaign that Friday's vote was all about equality. We need to remember that those who voted No are also equal citizens.

If Irish society's progress is to continue we must listen to and respect the opinions of all, even if those opinions are unpalatable to some. In our rush towards liberalism let's be sure we don't swap right wing oppression for left wing suppression.

As we showed at the polls last week all citizens are created equal. Amid the celebrations let's remember that.

Wexford People

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