Last Friday, the people of the Republic of Ireland voted decisively to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. Such a vote was historic; ‘the Eighth’ as the amendment had increasingly become known equated the life of the mother with that of the unborn, effectively preventing any form of abortion – including in cases of rape and incest – on Irish soil. The removal of the Eighth is thus not only significant in that it finally allows Irish women to be able to have abortions in their home country – instead of being ‘exported’ to the United Kingdom, usually to Liverpool – it also signals the demise of both the power of the Catholic Church and attitudes in general in Irish politics.
For much of her history, Ireland and her politics have been defined by authoritarian attitudes and incursions emanating from either church or state. The state incursions encompass Britain’s imperialist ‘excursions’ — policies such as the introduction of the infamous ‘Black and Tans’ militias — as well as those of Irish politicians and leaders like Eamon De Valera, who insisted on protectionist tariffs and puritanical moral values. Many times, such values are enforced jointly by clergy and politicians, in order to bring Ireland back to the so-called ‘glory days’ when it was a mythical land of endless green, pious saints and wondrous scholars.
In combination with the legalisation of same-sex marriage (also by referendum) in 2015, the vote to repeal the Eighth signals that the authoritarian, conservative social attitudes embodied by church and state bodies are now in full retreat. Other referenda and legislation on topics such as drug decriminalisation, the legalisation of medical – and possibly even recreational – marijuana use, the abolition of state-sponsored religious schooling, and the abolition of the horridly cruel ‘direct provision’ refugee camps are all being floated by various sources within state institutions and by newly-energised – and more crucially, better organised – social activists who see the repeal of the Eighth as a stepping stone towards a freer, liberal Ireland.
On economic issues too, we are starting to see a desire for more freedom and individual choice. The striking down of the Good Friday drinking ban – again another measure passed jointly by church and state – came into force this year, allowing both individuals and businesses the freedom to both choose to drink and profit from that choice.
Furthermore, whilst the EU has never been the greatest friend to anarchists and libertarians, its decision to strike down the Irish Government’s plan for ‘minimum alcohol pricing’ – a proposal that gave the state the power to set the minimum price of recreational alcoholic beverages and one that would disproportionately affect the working-classes – was something that even the most zealous, freedom-loving Eurosceptic could cheer about. Indeed, the EU has been defending individual liberties and freedoms in Ireland in other ways too, most notably in regard to Brexit and the institution’s hard line on the border with Northern Ireland. The EU’s stance is that there shall be zero forms of regulatory infrastructure, whether in the form of checkpoints, cameras or towers, along what many would argue is a non-existent, open border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
The repeal of the Eighth should be celebrated the world over by anarchists, libertarians, and anyone who cares about individual liberties and freedoms. Not only does it further signal the dismantling of the church-state hierarchy that has dominated and oppressed Irish women and men for decades, it also marks a shift in Irish political thinking: That a smaller state, both economically and socially, is what leads to peace, prosperity, and a better Ireland for all.