The real test for Leo's 'new Republic'

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

The real test for Leo's 'new Republic'

Tough road ahead: Our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will have to juggle the religious freedom of the majority versus that of the minority

I CAN’T get my head around Leo Varadkar’s brand new Republic, the place where prejudice has no hold. Of course I welcome it, but at the same time, I can’t wait to test it, which means, in essence, that I haven’t much faith in it. Anyway, I’m not even sure if I’m ready for it yet.

I’m full of prejudices, fears and phobias myself, and only last night I had a nightmare that the Irish language lobby was having me committed to Mountjoy for racism after I had once again questioned the policy of making it a compulsory subject for every Leaving Cert student – apart from those whose parents had the money to be able to provide evidence of a learning difficulty that applied only to Irish.

Neither can I shake off the feeling of deep prejudice that I have been harbouring for years against the likes of highly paid hospital consultants who virtually dictate the effectiveness or otherwise of the HSE, and who include their children’s nannies on their staff payrolls to cut their tax bills. Am I going to have to clasp them to my bosom now lest they flee abroad and leave us all without access to open heart surgery?

Even as I write, this new non-judgemental Republic is seething with prejudice against social welfare recipients who have to prove that they are not cheats or parasites, while the richest among us draw down the Children’s Allowance and the free travel and don’t have to prove anything. The Taoiseach in waiting had best watch out in case he gets infected with this prejudice, because he already seems to have diverted most of his old Social Welfare staff to fraud detection, while mothers about to give birth have to wait six weeks for their badly needed maternity benefits. Look, we either have a Welfare State or a Republic that holds no prejudice, and I know which one I’d prefer.

Now don’t even get me started on priests and nuns. If the so called non-judgemental secularists of the new Republic had their way, the clergy would be obliterated with even more ferocity than Henry VIII could ever have mustered against the Monasteries. An innocent priest is vilified on Prime Time and an innocent nun is jailed on hearsay evidence and, because of our prejudices, we don’t even bat an eyelid at the injustice. We may have managed to dump some of our nastier phobias, but now we’ve developed an even more malevolent one – Christophobia, a fear of Christianity.

Most people in this country are Christians and why any of us have to lie down and have our religious beliefs disrespected the way they are in some quarters is beyond me.

I’m telling you now, if we don’t stand up to the new visionaries, we’ll have to bring back the Mass rocks and head for the glens and mountains to practice our Faith, or risk being burned at the stake.

I’ve had my problems with individual priests and nuns all my life, but generally I found them nothing but a force for good and I can’t even imagine the hurt people like Sr Stan, who devoted her life to helping the poor and the homeless, are now enduring.

But of course, if you really want to experience what it’s like to be the butt of prejudice in this grand new Republic, all you have to do is grow old and listen to someone asking you when you’re going to throw in the towel and make way for a younger person.

For despite all the lip service paid to the venerable elderly, we’re not as valued as older people once were and we’re fair game for second rate comedians. Maybe it’s because there are more of us now, and our numbers are likely to swell even further in the years ahead.

We’re a growing demography with serious implications for the economy and the health service, and the real test of Leo’s new Republic, for us anyway, is whether anyone will have the gall to tell us to our faces that we’ve become a burden.

It wouldn’t, of course, be the first time we declared a Republic where every person and every child would be cherished equally.

But it wasn’t long before we had lost the plot and, in the end, we even lost the run of ourselves. But this is different. This is a place where even ‘tolerance’ with its unfortunate connotations of ‘them and us’ is considered a dirty word. We’ve moved on from all that, it seems, and there is no going back?

Forgive me for being cynical but it’s hardly two years since the wealthy and influential citizens of South County Dublin - where apparently the seeds of this new Utopia of equality were sown behind electronically gated entrances - successfully resisted plans to have a travellers’ halting site planked in their midst. I don’t know what inspired them if it wasn’t prejudice of some kind, but I’m sure they’ve overcome the intolerance by now.

Maybe I’d have been better prepared for this brave new world if I had done what everyone told me to do a long time ago and ‘moved with the times’. But I didn’t.

So here I am, full, no doubt, of old loyalties, but a Neanderthal at heart with Neanderthal opinions that should never be dismissed as prejudices. For I believe wholeheartedly in equality, and I’m not sure that everyone else does, because according to the late lamented Sean O’ Faolain, the notion of equality is not really in our genes, and that may yet rebound on Leo’s vision.

The Irish, O’Faolain declared, had “an ineradicable love of individual liberty”. “Equality, as far as I could see, they never bothered about,” he admitted.