From the thousands of words I’ve been reading about the recent upheaval in Irish politics, I offer you my favourite analysis, by Colum Kenny, who consistently had swum against the media tide.

Published: 12 March 2024

“Here in a word is why the double referendum was lost,” he wrote in the Sunday Independent. “People thought it was BULLSHIT. Apologies for the rude word…However, politicians who supported the proposals may simply be too out of touch to understand what happened — unless it’s spelled out in big, bold letters.”

Here, for the record, in what is a £20 million shambles, is what Irish voters were being asked to endorse.

Firstly, in the case of “the Family Referendum”, the insertion into the Thirty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, which gives protection to families, the words “whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”.

Secondly, with “the Care Referendum”, the replacement in the Fortieth Amendment of the Constitution Bill of the words “In particular, the state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved” with the gender neutral “The state recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

For the disaster that unexpectedly ensured, Kenny primarily blamed the government (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens) for peddling virtue signalling nonsense and sometimes lies (e.g. alleging the constitution claimed a woman’s place was in the home), the opposition (Sinn Féin and the Labour Party) for trying to have it both ways rather than opposing, the NGOs (the mostly government-funded non-governmental organisations) for complaining the provisions didn’t go far enough, but they’d have them anyway as a stepping stones on the way to progressive heaven.

Yes was expected to romp home, but ordinary people were uncertain. You did not need a Ph.D to spot, for instance, that the ambiguous term “durable relationship” would have happy lawyers filling their boots. And Irish people like families. And their mammies.

The key challenger was septuagenarian Michael McDowell, a formidable Senior Counsel who as Minister for Justice was so anti-political violence as to incur the hatred of republicans and so committed and effective a reformer that he earned an often negative reputation.

As leader of the Progressive Democrats, during the 2007 election campaign he exposed Gerry Adams’s economic illiteracy in debate and caused Sinn Féin serious damage.

He also lost his own seat, saw his party destroyed and left politics for ever.

Except that fortunately he didn’t. He successfully stood as a senator in 2016 and with no party to worry about, has now had his finest hour.

McDowell is given to pointing out when the emperor has no clothes and to predicting uncompromisingly the unintended consequences of sloppy legislation. He is a true patriot, who fights against the forces of destruction — in this case the progressive ideologues who dominate education and the media.

He worked ceaselessly in print and on the airwaves, found his opponents’ weak spots and pushed in the daggers. He saw off “durable relationships” for instance, by pointing out to the rural electorate their potential to break up farms.

And he gave ordinary people courage to stand up to those who patronised them. The contemptuous sneering at the No side as dinosaurs and sexists backfired. As did holding the referendums on International Women’s Day, while proposing the word woman be removed from the Constitution.

“That man will never have to put his hand in his pocket to buy a pint ever again,” tweeted one of the tens of thousands of new fans of Senator McDowell after the results of the referendums were announced. And there are calls for him to become president.

Since I think them a profound danger to Ireland, north and south, I am always happy to see Sinn Féin in trouble, especially if it is self-inflicted. Imagine how Ms McDonald and her colleagues felt when they learned that exit polls on Friday showed just 22% of Sinn Féin supporters voted Yes on the Family and 12% on the Care Referendums.

Talk about being out of touch!

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