Divorce Referendum, 20 years on

In 1995 religious groups said marriage was doomed. 20 years later they launched a fight to prevent more people from getting married.

Who’d have thought it was twenty years since the second divorce referendum? It feels like yesterday that fundamentalists  were calling us wife-swapping sodomites for suggesting that marriages do actually break down and that maybe we might offer people a way to move forward.

hello divorce bye bye daddy

It’s only twenty years ago though it feels like a lifetime, and  the depressing familiarity lies in the fact that it was the very same families, time after time, who pounded the drumbeat of oppression. The same families who burned books in 1924. The same families who hounded pregnant girls into Magdalene laundries to become slaves.  The same heartless ideologues who continued to reinvent their vile intolerant brand of hate under a hundred different names for sale to an Ireland that was still, only twenty years ago impressed with such puff and nonsense.

  • The Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC)
  • The Congress of Catholic Secondary School Parents’ Associations
  • The Irish Catholic Doctors’ Guild
  • The Guild of Catholic Nurses
  • The Guild of Catholic Pharmacists
  • The Catholic Young Men’s Society
  • The St Thomas More Society
  • The Irish Pro-Life Movement
  • The National Association of the Ovulation Method
  • The Council of Social Concern (COSC)
  • The Irish Responsible Society
  • The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
  • The St Joseph’s Young Priests Society
  • The Christian Brothers Schools Parents’ Federation


Who were these people? For the most part they consisted of a small and uneasy – but very vocal – middle-class clique, disturbed by their failure to establish absolute control over the country following independence and uncomfortable with their own sexuality following exposure to decades of dysfunctional Catholic brainwashing.

Such was Ireland, right up to the 1990s and perhaps even to the present day, given the behaviour of some people opposed to the Marriage Equality campaign.

Let’s not fool ourselves about Irish independence. 1922 had nothing to do with freedom for the weak the vulnerable and the poor. 1922 had nothing to do with Irish freedom, unless by Irish you mean wealthy, well-connected and long-established as all the leaders of the most conservative revolution in history were. And as their descendants are today.

1922 had nothing to do with freedom of thought, as the book-burnings that followed would show, and it had nothing to do with emancipation for workers, as we saw when the slavery of the Shannon Scheme inflicted unimaginable suffering on the poor, assisted by the likes of Joe McGrath, a true patriot, thug and torturer of the Irish kind who went on to perpetrate the biggest fraud in Irish history in the form of the Sweepstakes .

It was all about building a sweet little nest for the crooked and the rich, wrapped up in a fake version of Christianity to assuage whatever remnants of compassion remained. And meanwhile, the two best friends of a government presiding over a bankrupt state were TB and emigration.

Perhaps the biggest enemy of the authoritarian tendency was education minister Donough O Malley, who made second-level education available to everyone, much to the fury of those who had hitherto controlled the professions and thus the lives of the ordinary citizen. At a stroke, he provided the masses with the most dangerous weapon of all —  language. He gave those of our people who had previously been rendered submissive a means to express their  disquiet. A way to ask hard questions. A vehicle for challenging the privileged and the smug.

And yet, even in the 1960s, this was no republic and it’s still no republic.

Vested interests have all the power.

We are unable to conduct inquiries into the gigantic banking frauds that collapsed our economy.

Our parliament is powerless to ask questions.

Governments answer to nobody.

Bishops control our publicly-funded schools.

De Valera’s constitution provides a refuge for every knave, robber and poltroon who would choose to walk all over us.

This is no republic and yet there are signs of hope.

It is no easy matter in a country created for the benefit of a single elite to create genuine equality and we haven’t got there yet, though we continue to move forward, as our recent vote in favour of marriage equality shows.  On this, the twentieth anniversary of the divorce referendum, even the Iona Institute, the most vocal political lobby group, is forced grudgingly to acknowledge that divorce wasn’t the disaster predicted by the extreme Right. In an ungracious article on their website, David Quinn even manages to throw poor old Judge Rory O’Hanlon under the bus while at the same time massaging the figures, not so much to support his position as to make the anti-divorce campaign look slightly less nutty.

He failed to convince but that wouldn’t be an unusual thing for David Quinn who is no stranger to getting his facts wrong.

It is perhaps a measure of the new Irish maturity that people are no longer so impressed by important-sounding titles like the Iona Institute or Mothers and Fathers Matter.

No member of these groups will ever sleep in a doorway or line up at a hatch in a dole office, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that the people who campaigned under their banners have never been prominent in fighting for social justice in this little republic. Nor will they, since these people have little interest in decency, but every commitment to imposing control in the name of their personal religious delusions. Not to mention in the name of profit.

So how did their predictions turn out in the twenty years since the divorce referendum in which we voted by a narrow margin to allow remarriage?

Has the institution of marriage fallen to pieces?

Far from it. Indeed, marriage became so popular that the Irish religious Right fought a vicious campaign in 2015 to prevent more people from taking part in it.

They failed.


7 thoughts on “Divorce Referendum, 20 years on

  1. You know that I’m not Irish and there are many things I don’t know about this country as someone would who was born and bred here.

    But really, did all these organisations you listed above actually exist or did you make them up for entertainment?

    “The National Association of the Ovulation Method”, I mean, really?
    What was their statute, I wonder? How was their biological knowledge exactly? What did they know about sperm and egg?
    Pointless questions, I know.

    I know that my country people, the Germans, are prone to establish an association, guild or society for everything, even for garden gnomes.
    But these Irish “catholic” thingies really take the biscuit.

    As for burning books (which is a sensitive issue for me, being a Berliner): I live not far away from Edna O’Brien’s birthplace and when I was shopping there one day and mentioned casually, as you do, that O’Brien gave a talk in the area and how much I like her writing, the woman at the till nearly went postal and burst out in a lot of abuse against O’Brien.

    It was the first time in Ireland that I didn’t have a quick answer.
    They are still around, those book-burning, ovulation-thingy-promoting rednecks.

  2. I didn’t invent those names.

    And yes, the lunatics still exist in Ireland, but they also survive in Germany, as we notice in recent times.

  3. In Germany they never really went away. The post-war veneer was just that.

    What really stunned me today reading the German news is that the Jewish Council in Germany is demanding to not let any more refugees from Muslim countries into Germany, because they might discriminate or even racially abuse Jews. And the right-wings just cheer about this unlikely ally.

    Statistically there is more racially motivated abuse by Germans against Jews than by the rather large Muslim community in Germany. But there you go.

    But that’s a completely different and currently a more disturbing story.

    Of course you didn’t invent those names, it was a rethorical question, because they sound so ridiculous.

    Sorry for sidelining.

  4. You asked: Has the “marriage institution” fallen to pieces?
    Ofcourse, we dont even have an institution called “marriage” any more, talk less of falling to pieces!

    With recent legislations, l am sure we all know that we are just living in an illusion of marriage, to satisfy our perverted inclinations

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