The Death of Dev’s Ireland

Photo Source: University Observer.

Fionnbharr Rodgers, Contributor.

There were two rather striking coincidences from the referendum result last week. The first being that 66% of the electorate voted to repeal the 8th amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann which was the same percentage of the vote which passed the thing in 1983. The question must therefore be asked, how many people ticked the wrong box the first time round?

The second coincidence refers to the date upon which the referendum fell, as it happened to be the twentieth anniversary of those that were held in 1998, the most notable of which being that which changed the wording and nature of Articles Two and Three of the Constitution and allowed the Irish government to ratify the Good Friday Agreement.

As Fintan O’Toole wrote in last weekend’s Irish Times,‘the old articles two and three were classic territorial claims,’and their removal from and replacement in the Constitution represented a shift in Irish nationalism towards a concern with people over land. The original Article Two stated that the national territory of Ireland consists of the ‘the whole island of Ireland, its islands, and the territorial seas,’ while Article Three asserted the right of Dáil Eireann to govern the whole territory as defined in the previous article, pending the ‘re-integration of the national territory.’

The reformed Article Two no longer refers to the territory of Ireland, but to the Irish nation and asserts that is the ‘birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland’ to be a part of the Irish nation and that the nation ‘cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.’ Following the same trend, Article Three now establishes the ‘firm will of the Irish Nation’ to unite all people who share the ‘territory of the island of Ireland,’ and that a United Ireland will only be brought about ‘by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people.’ Previously there were five uses of the word ‘territory,’ or some derivative of it, and now there is only one.

Articles Two and Three were part of the Constitution written by Éamon de Valera, upon his ascension to the Office of Taoiseach in 1937, to replace the former Constitution of the Irish Free State and formally proclaim the Southern state as a Republic. The new Constitution very much reflected the constitution of the man who wrote it, as did the political consensus which would come after. Being of both Spanish and Irish parentage, it stands to reason that de Valera would have been a conservative Catholic.

He resisted declaring Catholicism the ‘one true religion’ and making it the established Church, but did recognise its ‘special position’ amongst in the state, and much of his constitution reflected Catholic teaching, by elements such as the prohibition of divorce, and the recognition afforded by Article 41.2 that a woman’s place was in the home and the state ‘shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.’ This occurred at a time when the vast majority of the population were as devoutly Catholic as their leader, and the Church played kept a stronghold over them: from the slightly comical frequency of Church-organised dances around the time of the emergence of Rock and Roll, with a priest on the door to make sure people danced with room left for the Holy Ghost; to the more sinister dialogical relationship which sustained the Magdalene laundries up and down the country.

It must go without saying that much of the above was a considerable point of contention for Northern unionists, but that was not such a problem as there was very little appreciation offered by de Valera that they existed at all; from day to day his opinion of them seemed to switch from a belief that they would wake up one day and realise that they’re Irish, to thinking that if they are really that assured of their Britishness they should go and move there.

de Valera was in Office, on and off, from 1937 to 1973, as Taoiseach and later as Uachtarán; the only other European leaders comparable, both in terms of longevity and in terms of their effect on their respective states, are Charles de Gaulle and Francisco Franco. The man is therefore the foremost founding father of the Republic of Ireland, and that has been reflected by the state for most of its history. Until recently…

The last thirty years have seen a wave of social change in both the Republic of Ireland, as well as the island as a whole, starting with the legalisation of homosexuality in 1993, of divorce in 1995, of same-sex marriage in 2011, and through to the most recent referendum to legalise abortion up to 12 weeks. The 2016 census reported that the Republic was still predominantly Catholic but that the percentage of those with ‘no religion’ grew by almost 200,000, corresponding to the decline in those identifying themselves as Catholic. Only 30% of Catholics responding to a poll conducted in 2011 by the Iona Institute said that they had gone to mass in the past week; the rapid decline in the Irish clergy has also been well-documented.

The last thirty years have seen the erosion of de Valera’s legacy, but the question now is whether last week’s referendum result was the final nail or whether there are more to go?


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