Strangers became friends at Brussels Airport as the Daughters and Sons of Eire flew home to vote to bring their Country into the 21st Century. Now we must spread that fight to Northern Ireland
The day before the Irish referendum on abortion I shed a few tears myself after coming by chance to the “Home to Vote” hashtag.
Out of sheer curiosity I clicked on the hash tags but what I saw there was so impressive. Committed young women and a lot of young men as well returning home to the Country of their birth from all over the World simply to put a cross in a box in a referendum. This was a burning issue to them and they were not prepared to just Tweet about it or mouth off on social media. They sacrificed to make change.
Some them spent thousands of Euros and gave up two to three days and more of travelling time from as far away as Australia and the West coast of America. Some of them would spend a few hours in Eire before returning home for vital exams or job commitments. If they couldn’t afford to come strangers helped with air fares.
This is the ‘heat map’ produced of where they came home from
And who was there to meet them at the Airport? Proud feminists and old grannies. Proud Mums and Dads. Friends, mates and strangers who had become friends. There are some priceless pictures of Mums and Dads being overwhelmed by surprise returnees. The pride that they have in their sons and daughters shone out of their eyes. One picture which was on the site but not quite related really appealed to me.= – 6 Granddads holding up a banner saying “Granddads for Yes” whilst calmly eating an ice cream! That’s what we Granddads do!
So, in truth, it was not just a victory for young people but for all the people of the Republic. Only one constituency (just) voted No and people of every age; sex and class voted overwhelmingly yes. But those young people seemed to me to portray the possibility of a future for a more liberal, progressive world when for the last 25 years there has been a rollback in the values which I hold to be important.
I used to live in Turkey where the modernising influence of Kemal Ataturk has been replaced by a semi Islamist Party which has rolled back women’s rights. In the USA some States have pushed back on abortion laws; fight against providing decent health care for all and execute people whilst allowing too many people to have guns which cause so many of the murders in the first place. Italy has a populist League Party in Government which has appalling views on immigration and benefits.
But even in the USA, which under Trump’s leadership is fast becoming a pariah state, there are signs of hope. The NRA is not being challenged by cowardly Senators of members of Congress but by young people, led by the survivors of the Parklands Massacre, who will no longer take no for a n answer. Incredibly they got more people out on the streets to protest lax gun laws than Trump got to support his inauguration.
But we in this Country must not be complacent. If we take women’s rights and sexual freedom there is a part of our own Country which is now one of the most repressive parts of Europe – Northern Ireland. There abortion rights are limited as is the ability to marry the person of your choice if the love of your life is of the same gender as you. Young women from the Republic may be stopping coming by place or boat to Liverpool but not their sisters from another part of our own Country.
Naomi Long MLA, the Alliance Party Leader. spoke the truth when she said that the focus will now turn to NI. We liberals must support Alliance as they face up to the consequences of the NI decision. UK politicians of all Parties however now have a responsibility to ensure equality of opportunity for all the people of the UK.
To some extent we have seen a similar phenomenon of young people coming in to politics after a referendum. In our case, of course, the referendum was the Brexit one followed by an inconclusive General Election. In my own Party’s case our membership both locally and nationally it is the highest ever. Labour has similarly benefitted but in both Parties there has been a difficulty in converting protest into action. Of all the new members of my Liverpool Party only about a quarter of them have been converted into activists at any level and that seems to be a better strike rate than other areas and the Labour Party.
Again, if we look at Italy we can see a problem that is common to all Countries. Here a Party that came to power because it does not believe in deals and technocrat PMs has struck a deal with another Party which has produced a technocratic PM! In our Country Brexiteers have discovered that there is no simple exit from the EU. Of course not! The idea that we would get the same rights and advantages when we are not a member as we do when we were a member was always a palpable nonsense. It was always clear that the border in Ireland would be an issue. We have always been insistent on hard borders between EU and none EU Countries. All that the EU 27 are doing in the issue of the NI/Eire border is to keep the same rules that we have urged on them for 40+ years.
So, with all these young people busy at work with their burning desire to change things for the better how should the current people with power and influence in the system help them? Three ways:
- To mentor and support them to take power themselves. I mean this as not an exercise which says, “This what I have learned so do it my way”. That would be pointless and would simply lead them to repeat the mistakes that we have made. What I mean is an approach which shares the experience of what works and what does not so that incomers can come to their own conclusions.
- Make easier for younger people to have an easy entry in governance which does not involve them having to make bad career choices for themselves and their families;
- To get out of their way. I don’t believe in the sort of term limitations that they have in the USA nor do I believe that there should be a maximum age for being elected as there, for example, for magistrates. Some people are young at 90 others are old at 60! But there must be a way that us oldies are given something useful to do in a support role whilst leaving room for upcoming generations.
In the meantime, I have archived loads and loads of #hometovote tweets and pictures. When I am bit tired and fed up I will look at them and hope that some of that energy and enthusiasm will magically rub off!