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Welcome to New Ireland and the age of illiberal liberalism where most striking thing about Yes camp has been its intolerance

By Brendan O'Neill

Published 25/05/2015

(left to right) Erin Reddy, Dee Campbell and Helen McCarthy at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
(left to right) Erin Reddy, Dee Campbell and Helen McCarthy at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
People gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill (centre), known by his stage name as Panti Bliss has his photo taken with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (right) at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
The sun shines as people gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Erin Reddy (left) and Dee Campbell at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
A gay marriage supporter kisses her rosary beads at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Bridget Hogg with a cardboard cutout of comedy creation Mrs Brown at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Paul Bonass (left) and Luke Hoare Greene share a kiss at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Jaime Nanci (left) and Michael Barron who were married in Cape Town five years ago at the RDS in Dublin, re-act as early patterns suggest that the campaign to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples will succeed in the referendum on same-sex marriage. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sean O Tarpaigh, a yes campaigner and Irish language teacher, at the same-sex marriage referendum count centre at Dublin Castle. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss kisses Senator David Norris (left) as Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams looks on at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Ireland is set to enshrine the right to gay marriage in a historic world first. Key campaign groups fighting the rights reform conceded defeat, with results from around the country indicating a two to one majority of voters backing the constitutional change Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill (centre), known by his stage name as Panti Bliss with with Senator David Norris (left) and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Ireland is set to enshrine the right to gay marriage in a historic world first. Key campaign groups fighting the rights reform conceded defeat, with results from around the country indicating a two to one majority of voters backing the constitutional change. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Drag queen and gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, known by his stage name as Panti Bliss arrives at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin, as votes continue to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Ireland is set to enshrine the right to gay marriage in a historic world first. Key campaign groups fighting the rights reform conceded defeat, with results from around the country indicating a two to one majority of voters backing the constitutional change. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
People gather at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle, Dublin as votes are continued to be counted in the referendum on same-sex marriage.
Seven month old Belle Duffy, held by her mother Deirdre Duffy as counting of votes continues in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age at the RDS in Dublin. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
YES voter Deirdre Duffy and her seventh month old daughter Belle, with YES campaigners (from left) Kristina Vaughan, Mark Dempsey, and Ger O'Keeffe as counting of votes continues in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age at the RDS in Dublin. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Senator David Norris is welcomed by Andrew Hyland of YES Equality (left) as he arrives at the RDS as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age gets under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ballot boxes are emptied as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age is under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Official tally Rhonda Donaghy and James McGrath wait for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sorcha Nic Mhathuna waits for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Official tally Rhonda Donaghy waits for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ballot boxes are unlocked as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning Saturday May 23, 2015Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age gets under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Official tally Rhonda Donaghy and James McGrath wait for counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age to get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015. Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Senator David Norris arrives at the RDS as counting of votes in the referendums on same-sex marriage and presidential-age get under way at the RDS in Dublin this morning. Picture date: Saturday May 23, 2015 Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Newly married couple Anne Fox (nee Cole) and Vincent Fox kiss to celebrate their wedding and also show their support for the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage before casting their votes at a polling station on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Newly married couple Anne Fox (nee Cole) and Vincent Fox celebrate their wedding day by showing their support for the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage as they cast their votes at a polling station on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Carmelite sisters leave a polling station in Malahide, County Dublin, Ireland, Friday, May 22, 2015.
A gay couple pose holding hands as they walk out of a polling station after voting in Drogheda, north Dublin on May 22, 2015. Ireland took to the polls today to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation. AFP PHOTO / Paul FaithPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Civil partners of four years Paul Higgins (left) and Richard Lucey, who have been in a relationship together for 19 years, prepare to cast their votes at their polling station in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
A homeless person lays beneath a billboard poster promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A man walks past billboard posters promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A man walks past a mural promoting the Yes campaign in favour of same-sex marriage on May 22, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past a mural in favour of same-sex marriages in Dublin.
Members of the Yes Equality campaign gather in the center of Dublin, Ireland. People from across the Republic of Ireland will vote in a referendum on the legalization of gay marriage, a vote that pits the power of the Catholic Church against the secular-minded Irish government of Enda Kenny.
16/5/2015.Marriage Equality Referendum. With just six days to go for the voting on the Marriage Equality Referendum on Friday 22 of May, the debate about margins continues with the Yes Vote appearing to be way out in front, particularly in the large cities, but with a fear that in the countryside there may be a large silent No Vote lingering in the long grass. Photo shows people passing a large Yes poster in Dublin City Centre.Photo Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland
USI (Union of Students in Ireland) launches 'VoterMotor' a campaign to get the student vote out for the Marriage Equality Referendum.
Sister Loreto Ryan of the Sisters of Charity casts her vote at a polling station in Drumcondra, north Dublin on May 22, 2015. Ireland took to the polls today to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Sister Loreto Ryan of the Sisters of Charity leaves after voting at a polling station in Drumcondra, north Dublin on May 22, 2015. Ireland took to the polls today to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Tanaiste Joan Burton arrives to cast her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
Tanaiste Joan Burton arrives to cast her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald casts her vote at St Joseph's National School in Cabra, Dublin for the referendum on gay marriage.
Posters in favour of same-sex marriage sit in the window of a clothing shop in Dublin on May 21, 2015.
A mural in favour of same-sex marriage is pictured on a wall in Dublin on May 21, 2015.
Pedestrians walk past anti same-sex marriage posters in Dublin on May 21, 2015. Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past a mural in favour of same-sex marriages in Dublin.
A Mural in favour of same-sex marriages in Dublin on May 21, 2015. Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal, in a referendum that has exposed sharp divisions between communities in this traditionally Catholic nation.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny arrives to meet with members of the Yes Equality campaign during a photo call in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish Prime Minister is appealing to Ireland's voters to support the legalization of gay marriage in a referendum that pits the power of the Catholic Church against his government.
Declan Waters, owner of the Holy Love Information Centre, adjust his Irish flag as it flys above anti same-sex "Vote No" posters in Knock, west Ireland. In the village of Knock in the west of Ireland, support for a "No" vote in the May 22 same-sex marriage referendum is strong, as it is in many rural areas where the Catholic Church still holds sway.
A woman walks past anti same-sex "Vote No" posters in Knock, west Ireland. In the village of Knock in the west of Ireland, support for a "No" vote in the May 22 same-sex marriage referendum is strong, as it is in many rural areas where the Catholic Church still holds sway.
Comedian Oliver Callan takes part in A Noble Call for Marriage Equality, an arts event in support of a Yes vote in Ireland's Gay marriage referendum, at the Abbey Theater in Dublin.

A New Ireland has been born. That's the consensus following the victory of Yes in the referendum. The Republic has finally broken free of its dark, intolerant, baby-burying past, and has emerged blinking into the light of the gay-friendly, rainbow-hued 21st century.

It's a tantalising (and patronising) moral narrative: the redneck Catholic country on the Western corner of Europe taking its place at the seat of civilisation.

But how true is it? Has Ireland overnight morphed from an intolerant nation into the youngest and freshest faced proper democracy?

I'm not buying it. On the contrary, the most striking thing about the Yes camp has been its intolerance: its hostility to dissent; its demonisation of its opponents; the casualness with which it wrote off swathes of Ireland as bigots, cretins, unfit for modern public life.

This is the disturbing irony of the Yes camp: it presents itself as the historic antidote to the backwardness of old Catholic Ireland, yet it rehabilitates, in updated lingo, the intolerance of Old Ireland.

This so-called New Ireland might prefer rainbow flag to tricolour, and wearing Yes badges over the donning of crucifixes, but it is not as different to the Old Ireland as it likes to imagine.

It became clear in the final weeks of the referendum campaign that it was no longer really about gay marriage. The political chatter became less about equality and more about Ireland's global moral reputation.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said a Yes victory would "send out a powerful signal internationally that Ireland has evolved into a fair, compassionate and tolerant nation".

Stephen McIntyre of Twitter said Yes would enhance "Ireland's international reputation".

The referendum was only ostensibly about who may say "I do". More fundamentally, in the eyes of Ireland's political, business and chattering elites, it was an opportunity for this troubled nation to re-imagine itself. It was a chance for Ireland to address its post-Catholic, post-nationalist identity crisis and magic up an instant shiny new identity as an "evolved" nation of gay-friendliness and political correctness.

Kenny's use of the Darwinesque word "evolved" - also used by Barack Obama to describe his embrace of gay marriage - was telling.

The implication is that the Republic had hitherto been a bit of a knuckle-dragger, and it was only through saying Yes to gay marriage that it could propel itself into upright, opposable-thumbs modernity. To be against gay marriage is to linger in the doldrums of half-formed humanity; to favour gay marriage is to be decent, civilised, "evolved".

This moralisation of the referendum, the transformation of Yes into a vote for civilisation and No into a vote for a pre-evolved way of life, meant intolerance became inevitable.

Where Old Ireland damned certain ideas as heresy, the Yessers of the New Ireland write off opposition to gay marriage as a kind of disorder.

The Psychological Society of Ireland - psychologists having apparently replaced priests as Ireland's moral arbiters - said it was worried that the No camp's propaganda could "impact detrimentally on people".

A writer for the Irish Times proposed a homophobia watchdog to "monitor the destructive rhetoric" of the No side - just as the Vatican once had a list of banned books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, through which it monitored the influence of "evil" ideas.

Where Old Ireland worried about godless thinking having a morally corrupting impact, New Ireland thinks anti-equality arguments will have a psychologically destabilising impact. Both share a deeply censorious instinct.

Old Ireland thought nothing of writing off as "sinners" anyone who refused to bow before the One True Apostolic Church - New Ireland brands as "bigots" all those who refuse to accept its new gospel truths.

When Rory O'Neill (no relation) referred to religious opponents of gay marriage as homophobic, he was expressing New Ireland's elitist view of religious belief as a form of hatred, a "phobia": an irrational fear, driven not by moral thought but by murky panic. In short, they're sinful thinkers, to be cast out.

The gay flag has replaced the crucifix as the marker of decency to hang from your windows.

The Yes badge now plays a similar role to a St Vincent de Paul badge in the past: it lets people know you're good, right thinking, a deserving citizen of New Ireland.

And if you wear a No badge? Good luck. It's the upside-down crucifix of the 21st century.

So how new is this New Ireland, really? Sure, those who felt more comfortable in Old Ireland - country people, older people, priests - have been given a thorough thrashing by the Yes lobby. But that lobby has used the same demonology and censoriousness that was rampant in Old Ireland, only to different ends.

Ireland has emerged, not into a new era of tolerance, but into the age of illiberal liberalism, where, in a profound irony, those who don't like the so-called "liberal outlook" find themselves vilified and silenced.

At least Old Ireland was honest: you either loved God or you were in trouble. The New Ireland shares Old Ireland's intolerance, but lacks its honesty, depicting itself as a stormtrooper for openness and equality when it is nothing of the sort.

  • Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked (www.spiked-online.com)

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