Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

In Ireland, a shift in the global political trend?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 21, 2024

Could we take another look at the stunning results of the Irish referenda held earlier this month? The resignation of Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Vardkar, who acknowledged that he had badly misjudged the public mood, underlines the significance of the votes.

In describing the results last week I wrote:

The great lesson to be learned from the Irish referenda—a lesson that ruling elites ignore at their peril—is that in a democracy, the government does not tell the people what to think.

Forgive me for repeating myself, but I think the message bears repetition. Because the Irish referenda just might be seen by historians, years from now, as the moment when a great political tide began to turn.

Before I explain, let me put the vote results in context. The Irish people, in headlong flight from their Catholic heritage, had recently approved legal abortion, then same-sex marriage. Watching this year’s campaign from an ocean away, I fully expected the same sort of result. In my mind I had begun writing the news brief in which I would report the success of the two proposed constitutional amendments.

Those amendments, remember—one to remove an approving mention of motherhood in the Irish constitution, the other to say that a families are built not just on marriages but on “other durable relationships”—were strongly supported by the government Vardakar led. They were also supported by every major political party on the Irish political scene, by the mainstream media, by the pundits and professors—in short by fashionable opinion. (The Irish Catholic bishops, who had failed to derail the liberal locomotive in the past nationwide polls, did not play a significant role this year—perhaps wisely, given their shattered credibility.)

Yet when the votes were cast, the two proposed constitutional amendments went down—hard. Nearly three-fourths of the voters chose to retain the constitution’s statement that “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” By more than a two-thirds majority, they retained the statement that the family—based on marriage, not “other durable relationships”—is the foundation of society. The Irish people dared to repudiate the fashionable opinions.

Why? What happened? I do not claim any experience on Irish political trends. (Most of the people who do claim expertise were profoundly wrong in their predictions about these votes.) But I have a theory.

Over the past several years, the ordinary people of the Western world have been asked, by an increasingly arrogant class of technocratic leaders, to accept a number of uncongenial beliefs:

  • that the economy is booming and inflation is not a significant problem, even if their household budgets grow tighter every month;
  • that their societies can accommodate a flood of immigrants without any sort of disruption;
  • that a man can become a woman and vice versa—and the countless generations of midwives who held up a newborn and said, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” were ignorant;
  • that farmers and truckers must stop using diesel fuel—never mind what that does to food prices—and the flatulence of cows is a greater problem than world hunger;
  • that electric cars will eliminate pollution—although they will strain an electric grid powered by plants burning fossil fuels;
  • that having confidence in science means suppressing unpopular facts and theories, and relying entirely on expert opinion.

The people who promote these beliefs have, to a remarkable degree, insulated themselves from the negative consequences of their ideology. They are, as a rule, wealthy and well-educated. They are quite sure they are right, and may on occasion characterize those who disagree with them as “the deplorables.” Their campaign slogan, stripped to its honest essentials, would be: “Vote for us; we’re better than you.”

Occasionally the “deplorables” have rallied in dramatics public protests—the truckers in clogging streets in Canada, the farmers circling their tractors around the European Parliament. But the ruling elites have ignored them—or worse, denounced them as threats to national security—while the mainstream media have chosen to minimize the protests. They represented minorities; their protests did not threaten the public consensus.

Or did they? In Ireland, without warning, the voters resoundingly rejected the rule of fashionable opinion. If my theory is right, and the vote in Ireland represents a shift in the tide of world opinion, Varadkar will not be the last government leader to lose his seat.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Mar. 22, 2024 1:53 PM ET USA

    Let's hope and pray that your theory is right!

  • Posted by: luiperez5082 - Mar. 22, 2024 10:35 AM ET USA

    From your mouth (pen) to God’s ears!

  • Posted by: feedback - Mar. 22, 2024 10:34 AM ET USA

    I hope this victory will inspire the people of Ireland to stand firm for their Catholic values. I also hope that they will never attempt using machines or mail-in voting for their referenda.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Mar. 22, 2024 8:37 AM ET USA

    I offer a question sure to be unpopular, mostly because of the "Cold War" mentality of older politicians, clerics, et al. Russia's special military operation began on 24Feb2022. Ten days later on 6March, Patriarch Kirill gave a sermon outlining the spiritual justification for the operation. His guidance fell in line with that of other theologians who were working towards the rebuilding of a society that embraced Christianity. Could the ensuing war against Russia have led to the speculated shift?

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Mar. 21, 2024 7:54 PM ET USA

    Although it took three tries to get Varadkar spelled correctly, you nailed great bullet points. May I appropriate "vote for us; we're better than you"? I will give you due credit. I have my doubts that the dramatic swing in voter sentiment will hold. I think the Constitutional language which was subject to change is sufficiently vague as not to deter the continued passage of regularly legislated laws of a different kind. People regularly hold two contradictory thoughts.