The Red C Opinion Poll published yesterday showing 76% of the people supporting same sex marriage is a stunning indication of how attitudes to sensitive social issues continue to be transformed in this country.
Even a decade ago establishment politicians would have been terrified to even consider holding a referendum on this issue notwithstanding the fact that gay relations were decriminalised in 1993. Great credit is due to those activists in the gay movement who faced prejudice and homophobia only a generation ago but persisted to see the present advance.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbanus have come out in opposition to gay marriage. This demonstrates just how divorced these institutions now are from the majority of ordinary people even those who consider themselves practising catholics. This comes quickly in the wake of the legislation providing abortion rights where a woman’s life is endangered by continuing a pregnancy and where the Catholic Church found itself isolated also.
The Leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore, last year indicated that his party in government would strongly push for a referendum on the gay marriage issue. No doubt he believes that being identified with a social issue that has widespread popular support will help stem the catastrophic drop in support for the Labour Party since it went into government with Fine Gael and broke its key promises to protect people from austerity. In this he will be proved utterly wrong.
In the 1980s the then leadership of the Labour Party took a similar view. Mired in a right wing government with Fine Gael, Labour was party to a plethora of economic attacks on working people in response to the crisis of that time. They hoped, that by championing the right to divorce and other social issues, they could somehow compensate for their betrayal of those who voted for them in 1982.
The electorate aren’t fools however. Voters can see a cynical political posture for what it is. They believe that issues of civil rights and justice should be treated on their inherent merits and not traded as an alibi by political parties engaged in savagely cutting public spending to rescue a crisis ridden economic system. In the 1987 General Election the Labour Party recorded its lowest vote in fifty years at 6.5%.
There is every indication that Labour will have a repeat of this period in the next seven months as the Local and European Parliament elections beckon. The Red C political poll puts the Labour Party at 9% – a disastrous fall from the 19.4% it won in the General Election two and a half years ago.
There is a dramatic increase for Independents / Others who come in at 26%. What this really represents is a rejection of the policies of austerity enforced by the Labour / Fine Gael government in the interests of rescuing the European financial markets system from the fruits of its financial institutions’ frenzied speculation in the Irish property bubble. There is great disappointment in the role of the Labour Party in particular and people are clearly signalling that they will punish Labour, but also Fine Gael, at the next available opportunity which will be in the middle of May – barring an unexpected collapse of the Coalition government and the triggering of a General Election before then.
The cynical posturing by Labour Ministers and government backbenchers in relation to the recent crude Revenue letters about the payment of the property tax in 2014 won’t in any way alleviate the punishment that awaits the government parties in the Local and European Elections. People are in fact nauseated by the hypocrisy evident here. The fact is that in December 2012 the Government, including backbenchers, manufactured for Revenue a crude, new Home Tax weapon loaded with draconian powers to intimidate ordinary taxpayers into paying this austerity tax. Now they scream and pretend to be outraged when Revenue, doing the government’s dirty work, pulls the trigger.
The need for alternative policies to austerity is glaringly obvious. Despite the overblown spin on the significance of this State finishing the current bail out programme with the Troika, the fragility of the capitalist economy speaks for itself. The furore over payment methods for the property tax in 2014 merely serves to underline how the government chose again to hit the ordinary taxpayer but resolutely refused to put a tax on the major wealth.
The debate on these issues should now intensify with an eye to next year’s elections. There will be major support for genuine anti austerity groups such as the newly launched Anti Austerity Alliance which outline radical alternatives that challenge the austerity consensus in the establishment and offer radical anti-capitalist policies which put people and the wellbeing of society before the profits of major corporations and the speculators in the financial markets.