Una Mullally: We have come a long way but there’s one hurdle left
In the 1803 Proclamation of Independence, Robert Emmet wrote: ‘Show to the world that the Irish are not only a brave, but also a generous and forgiving people’
Political reporter, Ursula Halligan, who made her personal case for a Yes vote this week. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
For a while now, I’ve imagined how I’m going to vote in the marriage referendum on Friday. Not the X in the Yes box, but physically how I’m going to vote. I’ll get up at 6.30am and walk to my polling station, St Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street. Everything is nicer early in the morning. The city is waking up. As an Irish person, it will be the most important journey I’ll ever make.
I can already hear the hum of the last of the street-sweeping machines. I can see the flash of a fox’s tail darting between the railings of St Stephen’s Green. I can imagine the tired garda outside Leinster House on Kildare Street, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. I can sense the nerves emanating from the library as I pass Trinity College as students cram for their final exam. I can smell the Liffey running parallel to Pearse Street. I can feel the future unfold in front of me.
All around the country, people will be making their own journeys to the polling station. It’s important to plan that journey now, to figure out what time you’re going to vote at, how much time you need to set aside, how you’re going to get there. You need to see if your parents or friends are sorted for a lift if they need one. If you plan how you’re going to vote, chances are you will. So think about that today.
I think about the significant journeys so many people have made during this campaign. Ursula Halligan, a class act, walking into the studio of Today FM to talk about coming out at 54. Mary McAleese making the journey to Wood Quay in Dublin to talk about why she and her family are voting Yes. I think about the 19-year-old young lad from Kilkenny who made the journey to canvass outside Nowlan Park, and who stayed canvassing even when he was called a faggot by passersby. I think about recent emigrants, not gone out of the country a year, getting boats and planes and trains and taxis and buses back home to vote.
There has been a lot of talk about how this referendum relates to the aspirations we have as a republic, and how a Yes vote will in many ways complete a journey set out in the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. But 1916 didn’t invent those aspirations; it was just one big step along the way.
I think about my daily journey over the past six weeks, every day going to St James’s Hospital for cancer treatment. When I’m well enough to walk, the route takes me down Thomas Street, past St James’s Gate, the traditional starting point for Irish pilgrims on that great journey of the Camino de Santiago. Before I get to that point, I walk past St Catherine’s Church, where an engraved stone commemorates the execution nearby of Robert Emmet, aged just 25. It was on Thomas Street that the main action of the 1803 rebellion took place. It quickly failed, but longer-lasting was the Proclamation of Independence that accompanied it, on which the 1916 Proclamation was modelled.
In that 1803 document was written: “Give up your private resentments, and show to the world that the Irish are not only a brave, but also a generous and forgiving people.” Are we brave? Are we generous? Are we forgiving? Or do our private resentments overpower us? I have no ill-will towards those whose faith or personal beliefs harbour opposition to my equality. If that’s what you believe, that’s what you believe.
But what is not fair is using those private beliefs as leverage to discriminate against your fellow citizens in this Republic. That is not brave. That is not generous. That is not forgiving.
This will be another long week, the longest in the referendum campaign, a campaign that has tested us all. The depth of its test is etched in the faces of tired canvassers, in the worn-down soles of shoes, in the loosened waistbands of those too busy or stressed to eat, in the tracks of our tears both happy and sad.
And all of that leaving us wondering about the Irish people, and what the effect on them will be of the personal journeys Yes campaigners have offered up, the sacrifices of privacy to tell people what this means to us. Did that work? Did you hear us? Are you brave? Are you generous? Are you forgiving?
The people who fought for this country to be free, such as Robert Emmet, did so gradually, only buying enough space for those after them to continue that fight, for national freedom, for personal freedom, for freedom from persecution and oppression. We know that inequality demeans us all, and we know that in confronting it and seeking to end it, we are standing on the shoulders of those who have been on many journeys before us.
I think of those who never made it this far. I think about our nation’s journey. We’ve come along way. There is one more destination this Friday. And that’s a Yes vote.