Northern irony

 

From Graham YES Linehan / http://twitter.com/Glinner

 

At last – the Republic of Ireland has shed its last vestiges of patriarchal backwardness.  Today it qualifies as a properly modern society whose female citizens are allowed their say over what goes on in their bodies.  By a two-thirds majority, the southern Irish electorate has voted to repeal the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution that outlawed abortion.  The government will now hopefully start legislating to permit abortion in the Irish health service during the first dozen weeks of pregnancy – with the period extended to 24 weeks in extreme circumstances.

 

With that, the Irish Republic has severed the final link with those old, dishonourable days when the Catholic Church, with the acquiescence of politicians from Eamon de Valera downwards, ruled the roost; when grey, sanctimonious and often twisted old men drew up and enforced the rules about what was and wasn’t socially acceptable.  Back then, obviously, there was not much expectation of Irish women to be anything other than dutiful wives and mothers.

 

Meanwhile, the church’s abhorrence of abortion led to scandals and tragedies like those of Savita Halappanavar and ‘Miss D’; and, generally, to a hypocritical situation where pious society turned a blind eye to thousands of pregnant women being forced to cross the Irish Sea and get abortions in Britain.

 

This and other recent events mean that soon the only chunk of the British and Irish islands still subject to oppressive anti-abortion laws will be Northern Ireland – which, despite being part of the United Kingdom, never came under Britain’s 1967 abortion act.  Funnily enough, politicians representing the province’s Protestant majority haven’t shown any interest in adopting the act even though, in every other respect, they never stop shouting about how ‘British’ they are.

 

Coming from the place myself, I have to say that I don’t see much prospect of the situation in Northern Ireland changing soon.  That’s not only because of the high quota of dribbling religious-extremist basket-cases living there (like this one and this one).  It’s also to do with Theresa May’s pathetic dependence on 10 hard-line Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party MPs for the survival of her minority government.  They might be obnoxious, but she won’t do anything to upset them.

 

The irony now is that uncompromising Catholics in the Irish Republic who’re aghast at this weekend’s referendum result and at the vote to legalise same-sex marriage three years ago would probably feel much more comfortable living in Northern Ireland. (Same-sex marriage is still a no-no up north, by the way.)  Yet the laws governing social mores there have been fashioned by an uncompromising Protestantism that, in the past, largely defined itself by how anti-Catholic it was.  Traditionally, they loathed one another, but nowadays extremist northern Protestants and extremist southern Catholics are practically on the same wavelength.  Who’d have thought it?