A New Ireland Has Been Born

We did it. In becoming the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage by popular vote, a new Ireland has been born. In this, our summer of love, we have awoken hope at a time when many Irish people are disillusioned by years of recession and the slow pace of political and cultural change. Ireland has shown that we are unafraid to shake off the shackles of the past and in doing so have sent a powerful message to the many countries where gay and lesbian people still aren't equal.

This has been a story of heart breaking testimonies and huge courage in a battle against fear, misinformation, and the campaigns of church leaders. The dedication, collaboration and tireless efforts of countless campaigners and volunteers have shown the vast power of community, and the true meaning of love.

It has been a spectacular victory for civil society, a case study in democracy and a love story with many heroes. We've seen sports stars, the police, trade unions and student groups, psychologists, youth groups, all main political parties, and everyone from dissenting priests and nuns joining veteran LGBT activists in speaking out for equal rights and an end to the shameful treatment of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Author and journalist Fintan O'Toole captured it well when he said "There's no more conservative Ireland versus liberal Ireland. There's just decent, democratic Ireland."

Young people have been heroes in this, offering near universal support for saying yes to an equal Ireland. On social media, in schools and colleges, and on the streets, they mobilised like never before. Tens of thousands of additional people registered to vote, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of groups like the Union of Students in Ireland. From Canada, Australia, the UK and beyond, young emigrants returned en masse to make their mark on history. This was a moment young Ireland stood up to be counted.

Parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts have played a huge role too - those who wanted to end the isolation of gay people, and could see that Ireland has had enough of fear, judgment, shame and suffering. It's said that older women played a huge role, breaking with tradition and religion to birth a new dawn. And this victory doesn't belong to a liberal elite. In working class areas the yes vote was up on 80-90%.

It's rare that the Irish political establishment covers itself in glory but during this campaign something was different. Yes there were issues, some parties and politicians stepped up to the plate more than others but for the most part there was a degree of unity beyond the usual blame game. Party strategists will be busy trying to capture the credit and momentum but this doesn't belong to parties. It belongs to us all.

Observing some of the no campaign's tactics, it is clear that old prejudices won't disappear overnight, but there's no going back now. Ireland has changed forever. The concerns of no voters and church groups might persist but as we discovered with the introduction of contraception and divorce, time will show that the world goes on and that the main thing to change will be that more people will be happy, healthy and free to live without judgment. This, regardless of any differences, is surely something worth supporting.

The yes vote has inspired a generation just as Ireland prepares to commemorate the 1916 rising. It has shown us what is possible when we dare to dream and realise our huge power to change reality no matter how impossible it might seem. The change won't stop here. There are so many other battles for freedom and equality that need our attention. Take gender, reproductive rights, the wealth divide, disabilities, racism, treatment of Asylum Seekers and Travelling people, age equality, housing, health care, education, mental health and global justice to name but a few. For now it's time to rejoice in our new Ireland and the great winds of change spreading through our land.


Ruairí McKiernan is a social campaigner, Fulbright scholar, and a member of Ireland's Council of State. His website is www.ruairimckiernan.com and he is on Twitter @ruairimckiernan