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Ireland: Liberal or Conservative?

Dawn Lonergan investigates whether Ireland has finally broken free of its Conservatism

Ireland has been traditionally known to have deep conservative traditions,  dating back to very long ago. These included the Marriage Bar, illegality of abortion on demand, unconstitutionality of homosexuality and a ban on condoms. Some of these things have been overturned and become more culturally, socially and politically more accepted but is there still more work to do?And why are we still not fully embracing the Liberalism that some of our EU neighbors are so famous for?

One of the biggest Liberal milestones ever to take place in Ireland was when David Norris removed the constitutional ban on homosexuality. While this did signal a new dawn of gay rights, David Healy of UCD LGBT believes that we still can’t call ourselves a liberal nation.”Huge steps forward have being taken specifically in the last few years on the likes of equal marriage rights and adoptive rights for gay couples however there is still a lot of work to do and I think it would be pushing it to say we are a liberal nation”. Healy believes it to be a decrease in the power of the Church that has lead to this increase in liberalism, along with greater access to the media, claiming, “There has been a swing in the other direction down to the collapse in respect and confidence in the Catholic Church and the greater media attention on many social issues”. Greater access to the media can create the CNN effect, which in turn can create a lot of empathy.

Obviously The Catholic Church in Ireland has an extremely important role in answering this very important question. Niamh Hardiman, Politics lecturer at UCD, believes it to be an extremely important but intricate issue “It used to be assumed that Irish public opinion could be read off from their religious affiliation, but this has become more complicated. While about 85% expressed themselves ‘Roman Catholic’ in the 2011 census, what this means to these people has changed over time. About half of these said in the Irish Times poll that they were weakly or not at all religious. And the great majority of them said they looked to their religious leaders for support on personal spiritual life and not on matters that are subject to political deliberation.”

There was also an extremely liberal break away from the Catholic Church in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s infamous speech about the Cloyne Report. “Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland 2011.” This indeed an extremely important event, because it finally pulled away from the Role of the Church in State Politics. They did have a very important role up until then,and Cardinal Mc Quiad did have incredible influence on the Irish Constitution.

Liberal and Conservative can apply to choices about so many things, but I would like to boil it down to solely politics. For many years Irish voters have either supported Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, both of which are centre right parties with little left support. In the latest RED C Poll published on the 23rd of September, we see support for Fine Gael at 32%, Labour at 14%, Fianna Fáil at 18%, Sinn Féin at 18% and Independents and others at 18%. Niamh Hardiman believes that “about one-third of public opinion is now ‘undecided’ according to the latest opinion poll, and Sinn Fein and small left parties are trying to mobilize more of these in their favour. “  

These figures really do show how our Ireland has become a lot more liberal, but there’s definitely still some strong conservatism support.


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