Some politicians never tire of telling us how liberal and tolerant Ireland is today. It is, they claim, a much better place than the Ireland of the past.
Debate, they tell us, is much more civilised today and there is not the ‘chilling effect’ that many claim the prospect of a belt of a crosier from a bishop had in the past.
The narrative goes that there is now a consensus on things like abortion and the views of the one in three voters who opted to retain the Eighth Amendment and other malcontents should be set aside.
But, it very often goes farther: the minority who hold such views are harangued and once a position is declared to be “intolerant” it must be crushed without mercy. That’s all there is to it.
It is as if liberal opinion-formers have adopted a modern-day version of the old maxim “error has no rights”.
Killian Foley Walsh – a young political activist in Fine Gael – gave some insight this week into how he suffered as a result of falling foul of the crippling consensus that is now enforced in Irish public life.
Mr Foley Walsh (25) served as the president of Young Fine Gael and has consistently stood up for the defence of unborn life within the party. It’s not a stance that has won him friends in the party hierarchy.
Earlier this year, Mr Foley-Walsh and another member of YFG, Chloe Kennedy, attended a political conference in the US along with hundreds of other young activists.
Organised by the Young America’s Foundation – an organisation which describes itself as conservative – the event was addressed by US vice-president Mike Pence, a man whom Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has breakfast with every St Patrick’s Day.
The reaction was swift. Mr Foley Walsh and Ms Kennedy – neither of whom made a secret of their attendance given that they posted about it on social media – were denounced and read from the altar of political correctness.
Fine Gael TD Noel Rock thundered: “I don’t understand how any young person would want to align themselves with the present Republican administration.” Did he forget Mr Varadkar’s regular breakfast meeting with Mr Pence and the annual soirée with Donald Trump at the White House?
Maria Walsh – then an election candidate with Fine Gael – insisted that both Mr Foley-Walsh and Ms Kennedy must resign. In an opinion column in the Irish Times Kathy Sheridan warned that “Killian Foley-Walsh should shut up and listen”.
The young man deserves much credit for revealing the pressure he has been under…”
Both stood firm and didn’t resign, but both have surely paid a price for being socially-conservative in a party which still claims to align itself with the Christian Democratic tradition in European politics.
In a speech at the weekend as he relinquished the leadership of Young Fine Gael, Mr Foley-Walsh revealed the heavy toll the manufactured controversy had taken on his mental health. He told a party gathering – which included Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – that he had self-harmed in recent months due to the pressure he felt.
He said: “I have been upset: it’s been a tough couple of months – and I did these things to myself, and it’s wrong and it’s stupid. And I wish I didn’t – and the people around me wish I didn’t.”
He further appealed to delegates: “The next time, perhaps, you see somebody being torn asunder; the next time you see somebody being ridiculed; the next time you see somebody – by all accounts a stranger – being absolutely demolished by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, millions of strangers – consider before you join in, because behind all of that stuff there’s flesh and blood there.”
The young man deserves much credit for revealing the pressure he has been under due to the relentless campaign against him.
The attacks also raise the question as to whether Ireland is really a more tolerant place or the truth is that the narrow-minded have just changed what they are narrow-minded about.