Yes Success: Make with the Hashtags and Continue to Campaign for Equality

I had to laugh when I saw that #hungoverforequality was trending on twitter in the days after, more accurately the morning after, the success of the Yes campaign. As the global media cast its all seeing eye over Ireland, the Irish were well ahead of the commentary, having eagerly celebrated the result, and were now dealing with the consequences of said celebration: the dull throb of a collective headache and wallowing in the contented knowledge that the right thing had been done. Literally any excuse. I suppose it was right to celebrate seeing as the success of the Yes vote makes a tangible difference in the lives of so many, but as the euphoria winds down and people recover from the ensuing debauch, I find myself feeling somewhat dubious about the future, about equality, and about political engagement in Ireland.

The Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency has been taking quite some flak online seen as it’s the only constituency that didn’t pass the Yes vote, but what becomes startlingly clear when you examine the results of all the constituencies is that this referendum was hotly contested in other areas too. As Paddy McKenna points out in a post attempting to contextualize why the No vote won over the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency, Donegal South West was won by a margin of 0.5% which translates into an astoundingly close 33 votes.

Referendum results map

Looking at the percentages for all the constituencies there were a total of eight that passed the Yes vote within a margin of only 5%, but what becomes more apparent when looking at the breakdown of the constituencies is the geographic split in voting. Dublin constituencies never dropped below 66% with the majority of them holding in or around the 70% mark, while constituencies which passed by a far slimmer margin increase in frequency around rural locals, with the margin being as slim as 2% for some, particularly in the West.

Without wanting to slip into any kind of pedantry over what is clearly a very positive step forward for the LGBT community in Ireland, the contention over the vote in certain quarters does highlight the need for further work in ensuring that Ireland is a country of equality. The many stories of homophobic abuse and isolation which surfaced in the run up to the vote were an eye opener for many but for some those struggles are as real and as lived as they ever they were before the Yes vote was passed.

[pullquote] “There’s still nearly 38% of the population… who aren’t in favour of equality [/pullquote]

Those stories are still as relevant today as they were in the run up to the vote and shouldn’t be relegated to whatever limbo is reserved for the forgotten hashtag, as some have pointed out. There’s still nearly 38% of the population, and that number doesn’t include the unknown figure of those who didn’t even vote, who aren’t in favour of equality and whose minds still need to be, and hopefully will be, changed.

The outpouring of support for the Yes campaign, with campaigns like Get the Boat 2 Vote even drawing in the support of the vast Irish diaspora, is evidence of the potential which the Irish public possesses in its ability to change the political landscape of the day.

Unfortunately, the other referendum which was decided on May 22nd received far less critical engagement. The decision to lower the age of potential presidential candidates was rejected by just over 73% of voters, which is huge majority. While the actual numbers would speak to the strength of the opposition, as most who voted know this result is in fact reflective of the seeming irrelevance of the proposal itself. Basing the presidential age referendum on one of the proposals, which came out of the Constitutional Convention, held in February 2014, many have called out the Government for choosing one of the least immediate recommendations, especially when some of the recommendations sought to change the very workings of the Oireachtas itself.

[pullquote] “After the hangover will people have the energy to take back up the cause? [/pullquote]

It would appear that the rejection of the proposal to lower the age of presidential candidates was more symbolic, a rejection of the proposals seeming irrelevance compared to the necessity for equality, than a literal rejection of the proposal itself. This in itself is quite disappointing having seen the power that the Irish electorate holds and the ability of the people to steer the destiny of the country, in this case, towards equality.

So what’s next? After the hangover will people have the energy to take back up the cause? Any cause? Fintan O’Toole has thrown light on the issue he feels the electorate should engage with next; childhood poverty. Even as the success of the Yes vote was being celebrated some activists were highlighting the danger of the Yes vote, its damaging homonormative potential, and calling for efforts to be continued in making Ireland an inclusive and equal society for all members of the LGBT community, no matter their lifestyle choices.

Personally, I don’t see how anyone can consider Ireland a country of equality when women are still shamed into traveling abroad to have abortions. Some commentators have overstated the effects of the results of the May 22nd referendum in saying that it illustrates a clean break from the Catholic Church. Ireland’s relationship with Catholicism is long and storied, and to claim that the referendum shook off this historical baggage is an inane argument, especially when many of those present in the Magdalene Laundries still await justice and recognition from both the Irish Government and the Catholic Church.

My sister is currently expecting her second child and while I dare not articulate the possibility of how this issue could possibly affect my life, those fears exist and they are horrifyingly tangible. Much as they were for the countless women who have been forced to travel to another country in order to avail of a medical procedure they are well within their rights to be provided with in their home state. Much as they were for the family of Savita Halappanavar. #Repealthe8th

[pullquote] “Make with the hashtags and the campaigns, make with the making a difference in people’s lives who really need it. [/pullquote]

Ireland is in no short supply of issues for the republic to rally around. TD Catherine Murphy has highlighted this recently, revealing the Government’s appalling handling of the review it established to look into the sale of Siteserv, which it assigned to KPMG which was involved in the original sale in the first place; this is the equivalent of telling KPMG to go and have a long, hard look at themselves. Questions have also been raised about the legitimacy and establishment of Irish Water and its infrastructure which, before the run up to the May 22nd referendum, was a hotly contested issue.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. The success of the Yes campaign is a huge step forward for Irish people everywhere, especially those in the LGBT community. It does raise an issue though, or at least set a precedent for political engagement. When the cause is just and the consequences tangible the Irish people, known for their ubiquitously welcoming approach to most things, can and will make a stand for what they believe to be right. So let’s recover from our celebratory hangover and get back to work. Make with the hashtags and the campaigns, make with the making a difference in people’s lives who really need it. Who knows, perhaps by the centenary of the 1916 rebellion, we’ll have a helped make our republic one which would make those who fought and died for it proud, but more important one which we are proud to call our own.


Photos: Louisa McGrath and MrRainbows