The new Ireland: PC nation?

Saturday 2 November, 17:3018:45, Auditorium 2Eye on the World

Which country could be said to best exemplify PC culture? Given developments in recent years, Ireland could easily take the prize in the identity politics stakes and be crowned the first ‘woke’ nation.

Catholicism has clearly lost its hold over Irish society. It’s been a year since the Republic of Ireland voted with a large majority to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, allowing government to legislate for the provision of some abortion rights. Irish people have also voted to elect a gay taoiseach (prime minister), to accept gay marriage and even to update the constitution to remove a clause about women’s place in the home. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that a drag queen like Panti Bliss could become Ireland’s national treasure?

Supporters of such social change argue that this is long overdue – and democratically won. And while the campaign to bring about gay marriage rights was criticised by some as a silencing of ‘old Ireland’, the abortion referendum proved that ideas had changed even among farmers in the west and grannies in the south.

But not everyone is convinced that this new Ireland is organically grown. Journalist and author John Waters argues in his new book, Give Us Back the Bad Road, that there was intense pressure on Ireland to update its social norms from panicked elites bolstered by an activist generation. The result, says Waters, is that the country ‘has gone stark, staring, raving bonkers’. As a journalist at the Irish Times, Waters himself has had a front row seat in the process of this transition and has discovered that one of the key commandments of this new identity politics is ‘thou shalt not pass judgement’.

Was William Butler Yeats right when he wrote ‘romantic Ireland’s dead and gone / It’s with O’Leary in the grave’ way back in 1913? Should we be happy to see the back of Ireland’s religious cultural identity, which was in many ways stifling and repressive? Or are there questions to be asked about the ways in which Ireland has changed so rapidly? Where do questions of nationalism enter the discussion and how will Brexit affect Ireland’s growing new ‘European’ identity? And is there something to be said for preserving a sense of tradition and cultural practice – even if some of it is ‘bad’?