Lest Enda Kenny get carried away by the shameless self-promotion and the consequent adulation he received on his recent bout of surfing the St.Patrick’s Day waves of Irish American euphoria, one of that country’s conservative magazines, the Weekly Standard, has given us something of a counter balance.
Author and senior editor of the Standard, Christopher Caldwell, in an in-depth and long article entitled “Irish Stew”, examines – among other strange metamorphoses in modern Ireland – the transformation of Kenny. He explores and suggests why the Irish Taoiseach moved in a matter of weeks from being a conservative rural Catholic into “an outright anticlerical politician” and a comfortable fellow-traveller with the ultra-liberal socialist party to which he has hitched his own mildly right of centre Fine Gael party.
Of Kenny’s now notorious and still, for many, baffling attack on the Holy See and the petulant penny-pinching rupture of the historic diplomatic links between the Irish State and the Papacy, he says it was much more suggestive of Cromwellian England than of twentieth-century Ireland.
The main substance of Caldwell’s article is concerned with the impending debate on abortion legislation in Ireland. That issue, however, he sees as intrinsically linked with the political ramifications of post-boom Ireland.
The present Irish government, he says, shares a peculiarity with many Western governments (including the American one): Like them, it came to power primarily because it was not in power when the bottom fell out of the world economy in 2008. All these governments claimed a mandate to act with unprecedented force to set their countries’ finances to rights. But the complexity of the crisis stymied them, and they failed to come up with anything in the way of economic innovation. They did notice, though, that the Bubble Era ruling parties had been reduced to a smoldering political wreck, wholly unable to act as an effective opposition. So with a combination of zeal and self-delusion, these new governments clung to their mandate to act forcefully, diverting it from the purpose for which it had been granted—the economy—and towards a variety of long-cherished partisan (or interest-group) projects. Barack Obama passed health reform in the United States.
He sees David Cameron’s gay marriage manoeuvres in England fitting into the same pattern.
This, he thinks, is how Kenny’s reinvention of himself came about and led to Kenny tacking in line with his Labour coalition partners on the abortion issue rather than with his own mildly anti-abortion party. The European Court of Human Rights offered him a way to do this with the decision it issued in December 2010 asking Ireland to “clarify” the circumstances in which women could have an abortion under the X case.
Kenny, he thinks, may have calculated that those he describes as the “scoundrels of Fianna Fáil” were now so discredited by their “wallet-stuffing greed” and their financial incompetence that he would face no viable opposition anytime soon. If so, Caldwell says, he was mistaken. In the months since Kenny embarked on the path for abortion legislation, he notes, Fine Gael’s support in the general public dropped like a rock, from 34 percent to about 25. Left for dead as recently as last fall, Fianna Fáil found itself restored this spring to its position as the country’s most popular party. Twenty-five thousand people demonstrated against Fine Gael in front of the legislature—not as impressive as the crowds that came to protest the Iraq war in 2003 or austerity in 2009, but far more impressive than anything the opposing side could muster.
Caldwell now thinks the expectation that Ireland, after a brief political to-do, will settle into a European-style consensus about abortion is probably wrong. Ireland, he suggests, is more likely to resemble the United States where the abortion issue, recklessly addressed at the outset, has done decades’ worth of damage to the political system.
He interviewed Clare Daly for his article, describing her as “an ebullient, forthright, charismatic North Dublin radical who advanced a groundbreaking abortion bill last year. A veteran of Labour and the country’s small Socialist faction, she has yet to find a party she cannot get herself kicked out of for being too left-wing.”
Daly was very honest with him, in a way that suggests that those introducing the crucial abortion legislation are less than honest. She accepts, recognises, that the change that Fine Gael is trying to pass off as a mere tweak is nothing of the sort. “Symbolically it changes everything,” she told him. “And once you’ve legislated one circumstance, well, then, you’re immediately dealing with fatal fetal abnormalities, rape, incest, blah-blah. That’s why they’re all kicking so much. That’s why they’re going mad. That’s why they have the campaign that they have.”
She means the pro-lifers. I say, rather hesitantly, “So the Rónán Mullens of the world—”
“They know!” Daly interrupts. “They’re right!”