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If nobody's happy, it's working – the abortion debate and Irish politics of stalemate

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A pro-life demonstration in Dublin last week.
A pro-life demonstration in Dublin last week (Credit: Photocall Ireland)

We don't really think about what happens to a woman once the plane that's carrying her touches down in England. Out of sight is out of mind.

She becomes someone else's problem, her own mostly. To salve our conscience and keep the peace we temporarily cut her adrift from the island on which she makes her home. While she's away she'll be her own nationality.

Keeping your conscience clean requires a lot of creativity.

Half the point of the abortion debate in Ireland is that it's not a debate at all. It's just a set of mutually opposing positions that look content never to search for a sensible accommodation.

Thanks to the proximity of our near neighbor across the Irish Sea, they need never do so. We all know that. That's the enduring get-out-of-jail-free card that undercuts our attempts at national honesty.

It's fascinated me for a long time, the Irish acceptance of social and political stalemates. There's so much that we're willing to accept, for so comparatively little in return, if it prevents too much national confrontation from occurring.

If Ireland was a family, it would never gather around it's own table.  Instead we just agree not to set each other off, supposedly for the greater good.
It's because there's always been a sort of hive mind at work.  It lays out all the mutually opposing choices, and then suggests the best answer is usually a stalemate.

Stalemates can feel like an answer. In Ireland the default seems to be, if nobody's happy it's working.

It's not working though.  Lives are at risk thanks to the ongoing abortion issue in Ireland.

But rather than grapple with the real questions about what to do, how best to address the genuine and serious medical questions that arise in this debate, we give in to the Irish reflex of having small conversations to avoid the big ones.

It has always seemed to me to be a waste of time to make terrific efforts to avoid upsetting people who are already upset. I'm in a minority in that view, I realize. If ever Ireland needed to have a conversation on the big issues facing it, it's now.

What's actually happening though? Silence and stalemates. Yawning vacuums keep opening in social and political waiting for the least possibly discussed and least helpful results to come and fill them.

I read that Ireland is reconsidering its relationship with Fianna Fail, the party that oversaw its financial collapse. That's startling but it is also reflexive.

When the governing party loses popularity it's natural to cast about looking for alternatives. 75 percent of voters are currently dissatisfied with the way the Irish government is running the country at the moment. It says something about the hole they dug for us that we're reduced to looking at the diggers again.

But there's a bigger picture that bears consideration because it's almost never considered. That's the way in which our chaotic past has shaped out present.

Having struggled mightily to rid ourselves of an exploitative empire, we were left to wage a savage civil war. That left us to hunker down to forge our own future out of ashes. Over the years it became apparent we as a nation were suffering from a bad case of post-traumatic stress.

The life events that can lead to post-traumatic stress are war, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, sudden death of a loved one, rape, assault, sexual or physical abuse and childhood neglect. In Ireland you can tick off quite a few, if not all of those, we have discovered.

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress are avoiding any reminders of the trauma, an increased sense of anxiety and emotional arousal and the sense of a very limited future. That sounds a bit like the Irish national character, doesn't it?

As far back as I can remember Fianna Fail have been the party you can depend on to do as little as possible. No jolting reminders of trauma, no increase in anxiety or emotional arousal, no grand plans for the future.

For decades that has seemed to the rural Irish, still hunkered down in the aftermath of conflict, like an ideal bargain.

So in regard to the current abortion bill debate they are doing what many in the nation secretly hope they will do.  They're taking another rain check.

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