May 16, 2015 -- Irish Republican News
With the support of all of the political parties in the Dublin parliament, a referendum campaign on same-sex marriage could bring official state recognition for Ireland’s LGBT community and their relationships for the first time.
Homosexuality in Ireland was decriminalised in 1993. The referendum next Friday, May 22nd, could mark a further break from a culture which has for decades forced LGBT members to live covertly or suppress their identity entirely.
The referendum has been opposed by most, though not all, of Ireland’s clergy. Polls have shown strong opposition among Ireland’s oldest age groups. However, a well-funded ‘Yes’ campaign has been broadly supported by public and media figures as well as political activists from all parties. It appears on course for a historic victory by a two- or three-to-one margin -- barring a major polling error.
Sinn Fein and republican, left-wing and progressive groups have broadly supported the ‘Yes’ campaign, and Sinn Fein has canvassed voters in several areas. Party president Gerry Adams said many people had a family member, friend or work colleague who was gay. “They want what we want - the right to live their lives as full and contributing citizens,” he told a press conference in Dublin recently.
He called on people to join the canvass or to take part in the “informal campaign” by talking to friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours and asking them to vote ‘Yes’.
The party’s justice spokesman, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, said that as a republican party, equality was at the core of what Sinn Fein stood for. He said that despite polls showing a clear lead for the ‘Yes’ side there was “no room for complacency”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also backed the campaign, which has the support of both government parties.
Following angry scenes again in the Dail this week over his failure to answer questions from left-wing representatives -- the parliament had to be suspended twice after Kenny insulted members of the opposition -- the Taoiseach urged people to exercise their democratic mandate next Friday, May 22.
Mr Kenny said: “No referendum can be passed unless people vote for it.” He predicted that the result in the referendum would be closer than opinion polls have suggested, amid fears of a silent ‘No’ vote in conservative areas.
“Are the Irish people going to deny their own kith and kin their right to a marriage contract?” he asked.
The Catholic church has officially come out against the proposal. The Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, said that while “God loves all of us equally,” the church wanted to “respect the dignity of difference between male and female”. Dr Martin told a congregation in Lourdes that the Catholic Church was not trying “to hurt or offend anyone” by calling for a ‘No’ vote.
However, a high-profile nun, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, has announced that she will be voting ‘Yes’. Sr Stan, who is a member of the Sisters of Charity and founded the Focus Ireland charity, said: “I have thought a lot about this. I am going to vote Yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society. They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right.”
APATHY OVER AGE INEQUALITY
In contrast, a second referendum to be held on Friday on the subject of age inequality has received little media attention and is likely to be rejected, polls have shown. The proposal to reduce the age for presidential candidates from 35 to 21 looks set to be defeated by a wide margin.
Frustration at the government’s failure to present more meaningful political reform proposals to the voters, such as votes for emigrants, has been blamed for the lack of interest in the “forgotten referendum”.
Although supported by both government parties, Sinn Fein and pro-equality activists across the state, the high level of opposition to the measure is also being linked to the older age profile of the political establishment and a general lack of awareness in the mainstream media of the issue of age discrimination.
On the same day as the two referendums, a by-election is taking place in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency in the southeast of Ireland. Fianna Fail’s Bobby Aylward, a former TD and brother of Liam Aylward, a former TD, MEP and Minister of State in the constituency, is the bookies’ favourite.
The result will depend heavily on whether support for the Aylward ‘brand’ in the constituency has recovered since the 2008 financial crisis. There have been reports that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin could face a leadership crisis if he loses the crunch by-election.
The vote is also significant in that it is the first electoral outing by Renua, a new right-wing political party.
Sinn Fein’s candidate, Kilkenny councillor Kathleen Funchion (pictured), is expected to poll well, and if not successful this time out, could lay the groundwork to challenge for a seat in the general election.
The local councillor, trade union worker, and mother-of-two has been getting strong support on the doorstep. She said the themes are similar to what came up during last May’s local elections - unemployment, taxation, childcare, affordable housing. Water charges, are a big issue.
“I was in Bagenalstown,” she said. “One woman I spoke to was living on her own - she was really worried. She was trying to spend less time in the shower and things like that.”
Housing is another major issue - particularly in Kilkenny City. “There is hardly anywhere to rent, and the few places there are are way outside the rent allowance limit, or landlords are not taking it,” says Kathleen.
“People are just being squeezed - Local Property Tax, water charges, USC. Nobody’s wages have gone up.”