Colm O'Gorman: Time for Ireland to have that big talk

We love words, but don’t feel comfortable talking about big issues. The Census of the Heart survey shows that may be changing

Last year we had a big conversation. At the end of it we said “Yes”, not just to marriage equality, but to a Republic which reflects the best of us.

Last year we had a big conversation. At the end of it we said “Yes”, not just to marriage equality, but to a Republic which reflects the best of us.

 

We Irish are known for our love of words, for our verbosity. Why use a few words, when there are so many that can be woven into every sentence? Part of it is the lyricism of our native language; even those of us who can’t speak Irish, speak an English constructed from Irish. It is often beautiful, highly expressive and passionate. But for all that, I think we are often poor at having big public conversations. When it comes to the big things, the issues that define us or make us uncomfortable, then we often become more hushed. Perhaps that is changing.

Last year we had a big conversation. At the end of it we said “Yes”, not just to marriage equality, but to a Republic which reflects the best of us. We talked about important issues like family, care-giving, inclusivity, generosity and equality. We talked about how our loving relationships are the building blocks upon which we build our society. What seemed to some like an unimportant question that affected a small minority of people, instead became a big question about the kind of Ireland we want to live in. We did ourselves proud. Despite all the voices predicting a deeply divisive campaign, we had a great public conversation, and a passionate exercise in democracy, the result of which had people dancing in the streets.

It was wonderful. It was unabashed, it came from our hearts, from the best of us. We need more of that. We need to discover an even greater capacity to look to our hearts with real courage; to trust in what we might find there. I have never had a truly honest conversation that I regretted, or that diminished me. It isn’t always easy, but it is always worthwhile. Whilst this survey can’t be taken as representative of Irish society, it does offer some insight. Themes emerge. Reading the preliminary results, I caught a glimpse of a society in flux. Respondents spoke of traumas old and new, of colonialism and of recession, of famine and of excess, of all the contradictions that make up modern Ireland. Many spoke of their frustrations at how we are governed, of inequalities which still blight us, and of the need for change. Thankfully, there was plenty of hope.

Unsurprisingly, the Eighth Amendment was raised by many respondents. It’s clearly our next big conversation.So let’s have that conversation. All of us.

If we want a different Ireland, then only we can deliver it. Change happens when we have honest, courageous, purposeful conversations. Let’s get talking. Colm O’Gorman is executive director of Amnesty International Ireland

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