Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Don't Limit Your Thinking

Although they could still be wrong, RTÉ and the BBC have already announced the result of the Irish referendum on abortion.

Tragic stuff, although of course nowhere near conformity to the Anglo-American model of abortion absolutely on demand up to and including partial birth. In Britain, that is perhaps the most abiding legacy of Margaret Thatcher, whose name is abominated within the pro-life movement in terms otherwise reserved for Tony Blair.

In America, that movement is scarcely worth mentioning, having told its supporters to vote for Ronald Reagan (who had legalised abortion in California, and who went on to appoint no fewer that three supporters of abortion to the Supreme Court), for George Bush, for Bob Dole, for George W. Bush, for John McCain, for Mitt Romney (who derived an income from the public funding that he introduced for abortion in Massachusetts), and for Planned Parenthood's very own major donor, Donald Trump.

By contrast, the recent prosecution of a German gynaecologist for advertising abortion is a reminder that, far from being eccentric, the abortion laws in the two parts of Ireland are well within the European mainstream. It is, I say again, the American-style free-for-all bequeathed to Great Britain by Margaret Thatcher that is odd.

Although there is a longstanding policy of turning a blind eye during the first trimester, abortion is illegal in Europe's most populous country and largest economy. After the first trimester, that law is very much enforced.

Countries that manage with a 12-week limit include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France and Italy. The Czech Republic is probably the most secular country in the world. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark and France are all less religious than the United Kingdom is. As is Slovenia, with a 10-week limit. 

Moreover, most, if not all, of those countries are also rather less belligerent. Abortion more-or-less on demand is a neoliberal concept, so to speak, and it is thus a feature of the American Empire as surely as it was not a feature of the old American Republic. 

That is why we have it here. It is part and parcel of that which is "neo" in everything that neoconservatives seek, not merely to conserve, but to spread across the whole wide earth by the force of arms.

But as for "the end of Catholic Ireland", how do you end something that never existed? Well into the 1960s, more than 40 years after Irish independence, Guinness refused to employ Catholics in any managerial capacity, and it was owned by the dynasty that provided four successive Conservative Members of Parliament for Southend, a town a mere 40 miles from the centre of London. The last one, a former Cabinet Minister under Thatcher, did not retire until 1997 and did not die until 2007. 

Everything that you probably think that you know about Ireland is wrong. There is much emphasis on land reform as having allegedly broken the power of the Ascendancy. But in fact the Anglo-Irish Protestants continued to own everything from the breweries, to the banks, to things such as Merville Dairy, all of which practised frank anti-Catholic discrimination in employment for many decades after independence, as in a different way the great concerns of the present day still do.

No even nominal Catholic was made Editor of The Irish Times until as recently as 1986, 64 years after independence. The Church vigorously, but unsuccessfully, opposed the adoption of the Constitution under de Valera in 1937. Everything in that last sentence tells you something important.

The country that once discriminated against Catholics in favour of Protestants now discriminates against such practising Catholics as there still are, a far lower proportion of the Catholic population than in England and quite possibly a lower absolute number, in favour of wallowers in each others' published and unpublished, spoken and written misery memoirs of embittered ex-Catholicism.

They know their own to be packs of lies, and sometimes utterly preposterous, such as the supposed persistence of corporal punishment in schools decades after it had been abolished. But they assume everyone else's to be genuine. They therefore see themselves as somehow expressing a broader truth. In any case, it is the only way to get on.

Far from there having been some taboo against criticising the Church until Mary Robinson became President in 1990, this sort of thing goes back at least to George Moore, and it has made the fame and fortune of many a mediocre to downright abysmal writer, with Frank McCourt only the latest in a very long line.

Moreover, being able to produce this drivel to interviewers is now the only way to become any sort of public or responsible figure in the Irish Republic, in the way that being a posh Protestant remained long, long, long after independence.

Very soon, however, it will become impossible to pull off the "I was beaten by the nuns" trick. People will no longer even pretend to fall for it. In which case, and I mean this as an absolutely serious question, what will the people who want to get on in Irish public life have to talk about?

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