Published in the Huffington Post, May 26th, 2015
Standing at the court yard of Dublin Castle last Saturday, I could feel a new Ireland being born. In this, our summer of love, the country has found hope at a time when many of us are disillusioned and weighed down by debt, deception, and despair. In doing so we have sent a powerful message that the people of Ireland are not afraid to rise up and shake off the shackles of our past.
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.
The yes vote has been a spectacular victory for civil society, a case study in the beauty of democracy, and a love story with many heroes. We’ve seen sports stars, the Gardaí, trade unions and student groups, psychologists, youth organisations, 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.
Young people have been stars 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 them registered to vote for the first time, 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 didn't belong to a liberal elite. In working class areas such as Tallaght, Ballyfermot and Ballymun 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 (and that's been noted) 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 (watch out general election), but this doesn't belong to parties. It belongs to all of us.
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 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.
As we prepare to commemorate the 1916 rising, the yes vote has inspired a generation and presents the prospect of the youth vote swaying the next election. 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. Let's not stop here. There are so many other battles for equality to be fought. Take gender, the wealth divide, disabilities, racism, direct provision, age equality, housing, health care, education, mental health and global justice to name but a few. But for now let's rejoice in our new Ireland and the great future that is ours for the taking.
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
A selection of Ruairí's articles published in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, and other publications.