With all the election anxiety here in the UK, how refreshing to read about Ireland’s newly elected prime minister. Once considered the most conservative country in Europe, it is nothing less than a miracle that Ireland has voted in favour of inclusivity and openness. For decades, young people left Ireland’s shores for a future elsewhere. LGBT people came to England to find tolerance and acceptance, but now Ireland has awoken, and has shown a new way of thinking about society. As an Irish emigre, I feel a sense of pride that Ireland has voted for a gay prime minister with an Indian background. He was elected based on his ability to do the job. It is the essence of fairness in action.
So what happened here? Back in the 1980s England was a fairly safe, and tolerant place to live. Even in the midst of the miner-bashing Thatcher era, you were free to speak your mind and be different. Social politics was way more vigorous. If you were young, politically conscious, and/or idealistic, Thatcherism was the anvil against which to sharpen your sword. In the post-punk era, Tony Blair hadn’t yet given liberal socialism a bad name, and feminism was not synonymous with witchcraft. Being a Marxist was not a (near) criminal offence, and outside Brixton tube station The Socialist Workers Party handed out free newspapers without fear of reprisals. It makes me nostalgic now to think of those politically innocent days. Remember when CCTV cameras didn’t record your every move? Things took a turn for the worse when Thatcher got booted out. Thatcherism was bad enough, but when Tony Blair and his gang of champagne guzzling pseudo-socialists took the reins we had a virulent agenda of continued privatisation, cronyism and unregulated financial capitalism. Then there was the war and the subsequent erosion of civil liberties. (Terrorism Act 2006).
Meanwhile, over the past two decades, as the flow of migrants finally settled upon the Emerald Isle, there have been sea changes in Ireland. Divorce in 1996, Gay Marriage in 2015 and now Leo Varadkar, the first gay leader of a European country. In a way, this doesn’t surprise me. Take away the trappings of Catholicism, and Irish people are way more liberal than people imagine.
In the 17 and 1800s Dublin was a melting pot with Spanish, Portuguese and Jewish settlers, and later on, Italian and Chinese too. At one point there were seven synagogues in the city. The Dubliners I knew had a natural curiosity about other cultures, a hunger to absorb and learn. They lacked a suspicious approach to foreigners. Tolerance is fantastic, and England’s famously tolerant society is laudable, but acceptance is different to tolerance; it shows willingness to absorb new ideas, and to grow in friendship towards someone who is socially and culturally different to yourself. Perhaps also to permit a degree of change within both of you as a result of that friendship. Internal or external changes need not threaten us, on the contrary, we are enriched by our human variety, and by our differences; diversity is natural, it is how language evolves, and how people strengthen their gene pool. Societies that absorb new ideas and develop new ways of thinking have a better chance of survival in an increasingly complex world.