Una Mullally: Ireland's social revolution sparked change election

The recent referendums showed the Irish electorate that radical change is possible

This election was coloured not just by the desire for change, but also an electorate being able to conceptualise the possibility for change because of how much Irish society has changed in the past five years or so. Photograph: Damien Eagers

This election was coloured not just by the desire for change, but also an electorate being able to conceptualise the possibility for change because of how much Irish society has changed in the past five years or so. Photograph: Damien Eagers

One of the outcomes of the 2020 general election is that it poses – and in some ways answers – questions about the impact of the social revolution in Ireland emerging from the marriage equality and Repeal movements. The disruption of electoral politics through gains made by Sinn Féin and other left-wing candidates, can be framed as a continuation of an electorate’s intent on moulding the political landscape of the country in its own vision. This is a fluid process, which is unpredictable, but in which change will continue to be a constant. 

 In June 2018, I wrote that Sinn Féin would be a beneficiary of the Repeal movement, as it emerged from the referendum as the only large party with a woman leader, primed to capture female voters and new middle-class voters for whom Gerry Adams was fast becoming a memory. But the impact of the Repeal movement in particular, which was larger than the marriage equality movement simply because reproductive rights impact more people in Ireland than marriage rights for same-sex couples, will perhaps have a larger legacy that is difficult to quantify. What we can reflect on at this point is the political engagement of younger people, and the ideals that underpinned the movement – solidarity, equality, progress, empathy – and the focus on issues rather than traditional party loyalties, contributed to the election outcome.

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