At a recent event in the Galway City Museum in support of the Yes Campaign I was one of a number of speakers who spoke and below is a copy of the speech given on day.
Galway City Museum: 23rd April 2015
I am here to support the Yes Campaign in the forthcoming Referendum. I do not advocate a Yes Vote lightly and indeed it is a matter I have given considerable thought to given my own background which saw the traditional family as the most important ingredient of a stable and normal society and one which was given special protection in the Constitution.
Moreover I have no hesitation in saying I have lost all respect for and trust in this Government which on so many levels and in relation to so many issues has used language to confuse, confound, deflect, deceive and deny and has left me wondering whether honesty as a concept is an outdated, outmoded one and a distinct handicap to anyone trying to live and actively participate in what purports to be our Republic.
But let me just go back on these opening statements in relation to the protected, traditional ‘ideal’ family of my background and my opinion on the current government.
In the first instance, while the Constitution and society (certainly the powerful elements of society) protected and promoted the ‘ideal family’ of mother, father and children, the reality of course was often starkly different. In ways, my experience and history is a tale of two countries.
The non-ideal actual country was one of massive emigration which left many families without a father and a country where institutions featured largely in all our lives sometimes consciously sometimes unconsciously- in Galway alone we had the Letterfrack and Lower Salthill Industrial Schools run by the Christian Brothers and the Industrial School for girls in Taylors Hill, known as ‘Lenaboy’ and run by the Mercy Nuns. These were Institutions where mothers and fathers were simply excluded from any say in their children’s lives. In addition, we had the Magdalene Laundry in Foster Street also run by the Mercy Nuns but where all financial accounts were returned annually to the Bishop of Galway and where the concept of mother and child as a unit was one to be deplored and denigrated. Separately we had St Brigids Psychiatric Hospital in Ballinasloe, a town I worked in as a Psychologist in the 80s and where at any given time between 1,000 and 1,500 (sometimes more) patients were incarcerated (rather than treated) and sometimes in the case of a female patient simply for having a baby outside marriage and often the consequence of rape. This latter fact of course could not discussed and/or or feature in the various psychiatric diagnoses imposed on patients and particularly female patient including that of ‘hysterical personality’.
A country where innocent children were discriminated against if their parents were not married and referred to in the most derogatory fashion not just by other children but by the Pillars of Society. Indeed it was only with the passing as recently as 1987 of the ‘The Status of Children Act’ that such discrimination ended (by and large).
A country where while the mother in the family home was given special mention and protection in the Constitution she had little or no protection or status in reality- a married woman for example could be completely disinherited by her husband and father of her children up until the Succession Act of 1965 brought in some measure of protection, a woman could not sit on a jury ‘till 1972/1973 and only then following the courageous Máirín De Búrca who successfully challenged the law and right up to the mid 70s , a woman had to leave her job on marriage so that she could take her rightful place in the ideal marriage!
The same decade, the 70s saw an enormous struggle for the implementation of equal pay for equal work and notwithstanding the implementation of the required legislation over an extended period of time, equal pay for equal work still poses a challenge to this day. An Ireland where the concept of rape within marriage was not provided for within Irish Law until the early 1990s –and not because rape did not happen within marriage but because a man’s conjugal rights encompassed rape as a right. A country where the figures for domestic violence were difficult to come by because it was generally accepted that it was the woman’s duty to suffer in silence and in any event even if she found the words and courage to express what was happening there was no refuge to go to. In Galway such a refuge only became available in the 80s and again only after a protracted and courageous battle by a woman, Clair Cotter together with a small group of dedicated women.
Furthermore, although the silence in relation to domestic violence and the prevalence of violence generally in our lives has been well and truly broken by various reports but particularly the ground breaking SAVI report (2002) (which confirmed that of 3,000 randomly selected Irish adults- 42% of women and 28% of men experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime)-the Domestic Violence Response Unit (DVR) at Oughterard has seen its funding reduced on an annual basis for the last four years and the Rape Crisis Centre in Galway lurches from month to month dependent on charity!
I could go on but I simply wish to make the point that the protected and promoted ideal family of my childhood did not and does not exist.
Indeed the actual diverse nature of family lives in the Ireland of today as well as the Ireland of my background belies the ‘ideal’ as promoted by the No campaign.
It is also a dangerous concept because it seeks to discriminate on the basis of misinformation.
It is also worth noting that in the space of 17 years Ireland has utterly changed on a legal level and rather than WB Yeats ‘terrible beauty’ I would rather hope that ‘a lovely beauty has been born’.
More particularly, we have changed from a country which up to 1993 classified Homosexual Acts as a criminal offence with all the detrimental consequences that such a law brought to the person who happened to be gay and to his/her family, to a country which passed the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act, 2010. This Act among many other provisions provided for Civil Partnerships for same sex couples and whose shortcomings in relation to the provisions for children and adoption etc were rectified by the more recent ‘Children and Family Relationship Act, 2015’
I think that Irish People have been very open and courageous in coping with such change in a very short time -all that remains to be done is to go that step further and allow for a loving couple regardless of their gender to marry if that is their decision.
In conclusion I said I would come back to the current government and my lack of trust and respect for same- a government committed it would appear to rights for gay couples but who have shown scant regard for rights on any other level, including the right to have a home and security of tenure as one of the most basic ingredients for a stable life. A government that has reduced Basic Supplementary Allowance (BASI) by 43% between 2011 and 2014, Rent Supplement by 26% and Mortgage Interest Supplement (MIS) by 69% in the same period to mention only some of the reductions. A government which has fostered and created a society or should I say an economy where one in five children grow up in poverty and who has substituted one unforgiving God for another, giving us the God of the Economy who we are to serve rather than that Economy serving us as a Society – believe me I could go on but is any of this relevant to this debate and referendum?
Yes and know.
Yes because many people who are of the same opinion as myself do not trust the government’s motivation and will perhaps seek to use the Referendum to punish them.
But NO because this referendum is not about the government -lucky for them! Rather it is about ending discrimination and learning as adults not only to live with but to cherish the diversity that equality brings.