The end (if it ever existed) of Irish liberalism

The ‘anything goes’ ethos is facing a real test, writes David Quinn

A few years ago a pro-life society at UCC was voted out of existence by its own members. What had happened is that a big group of pro-choice students joined the society specifically to vote it out of existence, and succeeded.

Now we learn of a pro-life society in the University of Limerick (UL) that never even got that far. As this newspaper reported last week, it has been refused recognition by the university’s Council of Clubs and Societies in a 22-21 vote.

This is the first time such a vote has ever taken place and no satisfactory explanation has been offered as to why the pro-life group was refused recognition. It appears that the 22 who voted against it simply don’t believe the pro-life point of view deserves a place in UL.

This is remarkable but is also indicative of the increasingly aggressive and militant nature of Irish secularism. It is no longer enough to defeat your opponents politically, now you must silence them altogether.

It is also a sign of how Irish liberalism has morphed into something that is highly authoritarian.


A genuine liberal is supposed to support pluralism and a marketplace of competing ideas. But I am not aware of a single Irish liberal speaking out against what happened at UL. Indeed, it has received almost no media attention.

It goes without saying that you cannot have a marketplace of competing ideas when one point of view is gaining a monopoly, a moral monopoly if you like of the sort the Catholic Church once enjoyed and that Tom Inglis of UCD wrote about in his book Moral Monopoly.

What occurred at UL is similar in kind to what happened at NUI Galway (previously University College Galway) a few weeks ago. The Legion of Mary had its recognition as a college society suspended because it handed out leaflets advertising the Catholic organisation, Courage, which helps homosexuals who want to live a celibate life.

The decision to suspend the Legion of Mary was criticised by the Index on Censorship. Its spokesman, Padraig Reidy, said: “While the view expressed in the flyer may seem archaic on a modern Irish university campus, it doesn’t constitute intimidation nor threats. NUI Galway claims it is ‘committed to protecting the liberty and equality of all students’, but I don’t think they’ve given any serious thought to the religious liberty or free speech of the Legion of Mary students.”

Notably, the Index on Censorship is British-based, not Irish-based. No-one of significance in Ireland jumped to the defence of the Legion.

In recent weeks we have also witnessed the strong attacks on Pure in Heart, a Catholic lay group which goes into secondary schools to teach about chastity.

There have been calls to ban Pure in Heart from schools altogether and at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis last weekend a motion was passed saying no third parties should be allowed into schools to talk to students about sex and relationships. The motion was clearly aimed at Pure in Heart.


A few weeks before the spate of attacks on Pure in Heart, a chastity group in NUI Maynooth came under similar attack and looks like it might have an uphill battle being granted official recognition at the university.

Something of a similar kind was behind calls on Irish politicians, including Enda Kenny, to boycott New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade because it will not allow gays and lesbians to march under banners proclaiming their homosexuality.

But the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York is a specifically Catholic event as well as being an Irish one. The organisers don’t allow anyone to take part in the parade who will contradict Catholic teaching. (For that matter they won’t allow pro-life groups to march in the parade because they don’t want the parade to become overly politicised.)

But this wasn’t good enough for LGBT groups and their supporters. In effect, they no longer want the St Patrick’s Day Parade to be Catholic and Irish, they want it to be Irish only.

To put it another way, in the name of ‘tolerance’ they are intolerant of a Catholic parade even though New York has a very well attended Gay Pride Parade every year which presumably wouldn’t allow anyone to take part in it who would contradict its ethos of ‘anything goes between consenting adults’.

That ethos, at the end of the day, is what is behind the moves against Pure in Heart, the chastity group at NUI Maynooth, the Legion of Mary and the pro-life society at UL.

‘Consenting adults’

None of these groups subscribe to the ‘anything goes between consenting adults’ mentality and this mentality has become so all-pervasive that those who dissent from it are now being treated as extremists, fanatics, fundamentalists and bigots.

Perhaps it has always been so. Whenever a particular point of view becomes very dominant it is very easy for it then to see itself as the only acceptable point of view and to see all other points of view as unacceptable and intolerable.

Emily Bazelon from Yale Law School in the United States complains of “fundamentalists” who use religious liberty arguments as a shield against “sexual modernity” because they’re “not ready to accept same-sex marriage or sex without procreation”.

She doesn’t think they should be allowed any defence. They must accept “sexual modernity” or get off the stage.

Liberalism is up against a real test now. Does it still believe in pluralism and the marketplace of competing ideas, or it is now willing to tolerate only points of view it agrees with?

The answer increasingly seems to be the latter, which is why genuine liberalism, if it ever really existed, looks to be on its last legs.