Thoughts on Prime Time and 25 years of social change

I was on Prime Time on Thursday night discussing 25 years of social change in Ireland. Prime Time has been in existence now since 1992. The video before the panel discussion took us from that year to the present and basically invited us to consider how much progress Ireland has made in that time. But whether it has progressed or not depends very much on which values you hold most dear, and what facts you care to look at and which you ignore as inconvenient.

The item looked back at the divorce referendum, the clerical abuse scandals, the same-sex marriage referendum and so on. It did not look at developments like gangland violence, rising levels of marital breakdown, suicide, drug abuse, the coarsening of public debate or the replacement of religion by the crass consumerism and greed of the Celtic Tiger.

Looked at through that lens, it is much harder to simply say Ireland has made great progress. It is more accurate to say it has progressed in some things and regressed in others. I think it was a good thing that we decriminalised homosexual acts, for example, and I wrote as much at the time. The clerical sex scandals had to be exposed and the authoritarianism of the Church dealt with, although by 1992 that was more or less gone.

Liberals place huge stress on personal freedom and choice. The word ‘choice’ epitomises the philosophy behind the push to permit abortion in Ireland.

Christians are more likely to consider the common good and to balance choice with other rights. Again, the obvious example is abortion. The right to choose clashes with something that should be more fundamental, namely the right to life.

If you believe that every child has a right to be born, and that once born, every child should expect to be raised by the man and the woman who have brought that child into the world, then it is very difficult to be entirely celebratory about the developments of the last 25 years.

Respect for the right to life is being seriously eroded. It is difficult to see how Britain, with its almost 200,000 abortions per annum, is, for that reason, a more compassionate society than our own.

It is also very hard to see how Britain, with a marital breakdown rate of almost 40pc is, for that reason, more compassionate than our own.

Due to family breakdown, very many children in both Britain and Ireland have little or no contact with their fathers and some have never known their fathers. How is this a sign of compassion? It isn’t.

These kinds of fact do not form part of the liberal narrative and are rarely even acknowledged. This makes it very easy for liberals to tell a ‘happy-clappy’ story of onward and upward progress. The result is that Irish people are led to believe that we have improved in almost every way over the last 25 years when the truth of the matter is far more ambiguous than that.