Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Roots are under the Grass? Analysis of the Irish Referendum on Gay Marriage



On Friday, the 22nd of May, the Irish citizens will vote in a referendum aimed at amending the Irish Constitution so as to redefine marriage as being between any of two persons, regardless of their sex. The promoters for the redefinition of marriage, are introducing the referendum as a grass root movement. The media mentions that no less than 80% of the Irish citizens will vote in the referendum for such an amendment in the constitution. It is proudly announced that the big majority for a YES vote would mark the first time that same-sex marriage legalization would be legalized by popular vote.  This would also “mark yet another defeat for the Catholic church and the political power it used to wield in Ireland” (trying to unjustly frame marriage as a catholic and not a societal issue)

However, increasing concerns have been raised by the question whether this is a “home-grown phenomenon” or rather a more carefully-orchestrated and massively well-funded assault on the natural family coming from private American funding. This Monday, MEP Marek Jurek, former Speaker of the Polish Parliament , has intervened in the European Parliament’s plenary session to express his concerns on this matter. He emphasized that “free elections are not merely the fair vote count. Free elections, first and foremost, means that electoral campaign must be fair. The same stands–even more so – for referendum”.  

He also sent a letter to the Chair of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz (supported by three members of the ECPM, Beatrix von Storch, Arne Gericke and Branislav Skripek and two other MEPs: Kazimierz Ujazdowski and Edouard Ferrand) showing their concern that “the integrity of the Irish referendum has been seriously compromised” and that “this attitude to democracy is contradictory to core values of the European Union”

Read here the analysis

Inequal Representation

According to the Irish law, in particular the judgements of the Irish Supreme Court, parties need to have an equal representation in the referendum debates. What we observe in practice is that the armed wing, political wing and chattering wing of the Irish elite is all behind YES Vote. The Irish police force actively supports the YES vote, whereas it is charged with upholding the integrity of the voting stations and the vote counting procedure. The Garda Representative Association which represents more than 10,000 rank and file gardai in a force of 12,800, caused a stir by calling on its members to support marriage via an editorial in its Garda Review magazine written by its general secretary PJ Stone 

Fear and Intimidation

Breda O’Brien, a weekly columnist of the Irish Times, investigates the  funding of the NO and YES campaign. She observed that each of the publically-funded parties in the Irish Parliament is actively campaigning for a YEgS to same-sex marriage. Also members are threatened with expulsion unless they follow the party line. Any Members of Parliament (senator or from the Lower House) who votes against,  is likely to be expelled from his/her party. According to the newspaper  Irish Independent, even politicians who harbour ‘reservations about this major legislative change’ are not speaking out, ‘for fear of disobeying the party’. Senator Jim Walsh has resigned the Fianna Fáil whip over his opposition to the Children and Family Relationships Bill and the same-sex referendum.

A large majority of the media, both public and private, is strongly in favour by ignoring  the ruling of Ireland’s Supreme Court, ordering 50/50 allocation of space to groups on both sides of the debate. Virtually the entire media are agitating for a Yes Vote, especially the Irish Times. Vincent Twomey wrote his concerns in the Irish Times in an article “Ordinary Citizens are being intimidated into voting ‘Yes’ to same-sex marriage” 

He wrote: “But there is an unpleasant undercurrent, that of intimidation. People who, in their heart of hearts, cannot equate same-sex unions with marriage dear being accused of homophobia. The few who dare to express their views in public have experienced an onslaught in social media. The most intimidated of all seem to be our elected representatives. It is incredible that the political parties have imposed the whip to get their members to support the “YES”vote. All but one Senator submitted” 

Funding of the YES Campaign

Breda O’Brien, also voluntarily involved in the Iona Institute, which promotes the place of marriage and religion in society cynically answered on the accusation that the ‘NO campaign is heavenly financed from abroad.’ She wrote an impressive article in the Irish Times: Breda O’Brien: Asking questions about funding of the referendum campaign” bystating“suppose I confessed that over the past number of years, the Iona Institute, of which I am an unpaid patron, has received millions of American dollars to advance a particular agenda. Those dollars have allowed us to grow from a single-person organisation to a highly skilled, mobilised, fully professional lobbying machine employing seven full-time staff and numerous consultants (...) 

When I tell you that absolutely none of that is true of Iona because it has never received any American money and never had instant access to key politicians." Then she actually played the ball back to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network stating that: “while journalists were targeting tiny bootstrap conservative organisations and accusing them of being American-funded GLEN, the most successful lobby group in Irish history, was swimming in greenbacks”

Between 2005 and 2011, GLEN received $4,727,860 from Atlantic Phiantropies. According to GLEN this was just half of its funding! GLEN was essentially a voluntary organization with a single-funded post working on gay HIV strategies, which was funded by the HSE, It does not provide services, but focuses on policy and legislative change. GLEN also stated in its last report “Catalysing LGBT Equality and Visibility in Ireland that “Their multi-year grant from Atlantic enabled them to ramp up their work into a full –time, highly professionalised lobby machine. It works ‘inside’ the machinery of government where it uses a ‘principled pragmatist’ model in which it consolidates support, wins over the doubtful and pacifies those who are opposed” 

The other part of Yes Equality, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), got $7,727,700 (2001-2010) and another $3,829,693 (2010-2013). While channeling millions of dollars to the Yes side is illegal under Irish electoral law, the Irish Government has surprisingly not reacted. 

She concluded that: “This is not Atlantic Philantropies funding a hospital or school. This is foreign money being systematically invested to change public opinion, to deliver seamlessly a YES in a referendum that has enormous consequences for family law for generations” 

The Article “Twitter riles Irish catholics as companies favorite gay marriage” mentioned that Twitter’s Irish boss says a Yes victory will enhance “Ireland’s international reputation”- another way of saying that if you vote NO, you are damaging your country” and in the article “Irelands tolerant elite now demonise anyone who opposes gay marriage” describes the pressure of American multinationals with their headquarters in Ireland , such as ebay and Google, telling their employees to vote ‘Yes’ and to campaign for the referendum. “Silicon Valley’’ is fully behind Yes: Twitter, Google and eBay have all come out for gay marriage 

Post-democratic era?

Based on this information, I fully agree with MEP Mr. Marek Jurek when he states in the open letter that “a climate of fear and intimidation has pervaded throughout the campaign, creating electoral conditions that are far from ‘free and fair’, and that this attitude to democracy is contradictory to core values of the European Union. I am filled with apprehension that we are living in a post-democratic era where politics is determined by the interests of large well-funded international organizations and lobby groups which do not meet the public interest. By support of these organisations, inequality will arise and certain minority groups will get preferences over majority groups as we observe in the debates in the European Parliament on “homophobia”. We also notice that by framing the opposition, by intimidation and fear, the freedom of opinion and expression is increasingly threatened. Therefore, this referendum is not a test of the willingness of the citizens to amend the constitution on marriage equality, but rather a test on how far these undemocratic forces are impacting the Irish population. The puzzle remains: will the 21st century be characterised as a post-democratic era?



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