In the wake of what can only be described as a landslide victory for the Yes campaign in the referendum for the proposed change to the Constitution concerning the regulation of termination of pregnancy, a number of amazing realisations about the Irish democracy became clear to me today and all regardless of what the outcome was.

It actually didn’t matter what the decision of the Irish people was yesterday. How that result was reached was the real success story because it was obtained by system that has enabled free debate combined with rational thinking and an excellent system of checks and balances that we Irish should be very proud of. 

Why it has taken so long to get to the issues of voting on such a contentious matter really isn’t the important factor here. Our state was long under the thumb of the religious institutions who were enabled by successive governments that were either afraid to challenge the church or were willing to allow the the religious bodies to run the health and education side of the country and thus save the governments both financially and morally.

Maybe it was the aftermath of being a vassal state to the British Empire or it could have been the fact that this small island was isolated and alone for most of its history. The Ireland of today is a modern open society that has embraced new ideals, global thinking and has not succumbed to the populism that engulfs many states today around the world.

Three tier democracy

Our system is something that could teach a thing or two to other nations when it comes to massive decisions such as Brexit. When it came to the question on Ireland’s laws regarding the regulation of termination of pregnancy, we put in place a number of staging posts to ensure that we were doing the right thing – we started off by developing a debate in a Citizens Assembly which was followed by a full examination from an independent parliamentary committee. The committee did have its problems but overall, the people accepted their debilitation and only then, did we decide to go to the people.

Social media on a leash

Despite all the threats of chaos on Twitter with Russian bots taking over the debate and every non Irish institution getting involved, we did not as a nation, fall under the influence of social media lies and bullying. And it while it seemed that the timing was good in that many of the online companies such as Facebook and Google prevented foreign influences, we didn’t throw ourselves under the car when it came to allowing the debate to fester into some online civil war. The majority of the conversation was civilised and fact full.

The right wing got the boot

We do not live in a nation that tolerates right wing religious fundamentalism – it’s really as simple as that. There is no UKIP, AfD or National front. Maybe it’s because for centures we were seen as the dogs of immigration, be it building the railways alongside the Chinese in the US or being used as cannon fodder for the many empires across Europe with promises of them granting freedom once their various little wars were complete. Or maybe its just because we see though the right wing bull that emanates from the mouths and minds of the far right. It would probably require a one thousand page report on this but whatever the reason, Ireland is not open for business when it comes to the right wing.

It hasn’t split us as threatened

We are not a divided nation as a result of this referendum. And to be honest, I thought it might happen but actually, the outcome seems to be the opposite. What this has shown is that such contentious issues as the referendum has managed to unite vast sectors of Irish society, enabled conversations of common thought and bridged a gap between cultures, age groups and social backgrounds. It didn’t matter when you lived, came from or what you believed in because there is probably something in this issue that has had an effect on your life personally.

So as Ireland steps yet again into the leadership role of calm and thoughtful democracy, we should be thinking of how we can export this to the rest of the world. We need to be missionaries of our democratic system – a system that works and allows people at the very end of the discussion to have a say in what their future shall be. If we can export our expertise in voting, we can prevent the likes of Brexit ever happening again for the wrong reasons.

It’s okay to allow your citizens to make decisions, even serious ones, as long as they are informed, unduly influenced and free to express their opinion without repercussions. That is Irish democracy and it is something that we Irish are very proud of.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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