As the second Lisbon treaty referendum approaches, newly-emboldened activists have reawakened fears rooted in the country's turbulent pastby Colin Murphy / September 18, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
If you voted Yes to the Lisbon treaty, and were then killed by a bus before going to confession, would you be barred from entering heaven? Those Irish who find themselves similarly vexed in the run up to the country’s second referendum on the Lisbon treaty on October 2nd would have found reassurance in Bishop Noel Treanor’s statement on 16th September that a Catholic could, “without reserve and in good conscience,” vote Yes to Lisbon.
What was notable about this was not that a bishop felt the need to give moral instruction on a political issue—a long-established practice in Ireland, though more recently a neglected one—but that he was immediately opposed by the most ardent of his flock. The bishop had “misunderstood” the treaty, said the Catholic organisation, Cóir. Lisbon, they claim, will give the European Court of Justice the right to force Ireland to legalise abortion—a threat which they have leveraged not simply to mobilise the “pro-life” vote, but also to invoke a deep cultural aversion to interference from abroad.
Cóir’s rise to prominence in the Lisbon campaign marks the re-emergence of Ireland’s culture wars, a sport once hotly contested here, but largely forgotten during the boom years. During the 1980s these wars were defined by issues of Catholic sexual morality, and there was a cosy consensus between the bishops and lay groups like the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) on one side, against the secular, liberal tendencies of a Dublin political and media “elite” on the other.
But the Catholic lobby scored a series of spectacular own goals (not least with recurrent child abuse scandals) and, along with the country’s increasing wealth and confidence, these weakened its grip on the popular culture in the 1990s. Court judgments from the EU forced a liberalising of Irish laws, and the economic boom made materialism the new creed. Ardent pro-lifers like Youth Defence, a spin-off group of SPUC, conti…