Halloween is a holiday with Celtic origins, you know, called “Samhain,” in Irish. And although fireworks are illegal, the city is positively alive tonight with explosions of sound and light. In the countryside, the tradition is to light huge bonfires the flames of which tower sometimes a couple of stories high.
According to Wikipedia:
Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The Ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, where the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.
And what better time to take stock of promises the government hasn’t kept? In this case, the ruling party, Fianna Fáil’s, promise to legislate same-sex civil unions.
This evening, the Labour Party re-opened debate on their bill to legalize same-sex civil unions, originally introduced last February. The vote won’t take place until tomorrow morning and speculation has been rife on whether the Green Party—which in principle supports same-sex unions, previously supported the Labour bill, but entered into coalition with Fianna Fáil last June—would vote for or against the bill. (Fairness and full-disclosure dictate that I admit I am a Green Party member.)
The debate started in the Dáil (“parliament”) this evening around 7:20, so I took the opportunity to visit the observation gallery for the first time. The Dáil meets in Leinster House, the 18th century Dublin residence of the Duke of Leinster. I sat with around 80-100 observers, most LGBT and/or Labour Party activists and more than 5-to-one men, in a glassed-in area on the second floor that overlooks the chamber. While the composition of the Dáil, like most legislative bodies in the world, is unfortunately much more than 50% men, I don’t know how to explain the disparity in gender among spectators.
Members of the Dáil, known individually as Teachta Dála (or a “TD”), were voting on an unrelated measure right after I arrived and the chamber below was thronged with men in suits and ties and a few women in business dress. After the vote, the chamber quickly cleared, leaving fewer than 20 of the 166 TD’s.
A Labour TD began the debate to the nearly empty chamber, and his and other opposition speakers’ grandstanding and pointed attacks confirmed the suspicion of a non-Green Party friend of mine who knows a lot about Irish politics that much of what is going on with this bill has less to do with legalizing same-sex unions than with the opposition’s resentment against the Green Party for accepting a position in the government coalition.
Regardless—and an amazing thing to watch for this American-born Irish citizen—everyone who spoke, be they Labour, Sinn Féin, the Fianna Fáil minister of justice, or Green TD Ciaran Cuffe, defined the issue as a matter of equality. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were evoked more than once. The Sinn Féin TD called for the removal of the religious exemption that allows the Catholic church to fire LGBT teachers from government-funded schools. He also referred to transgender equality and the Lydia Foy case.
I couldn’t help but compare this to the recent debacle in Congress over ENDA in which the Democratic leadership--our supposed allies--sold out transsexuals.
I left before the debate was over, but it’s looking like the Greens will not support the measure this time around. The Fianna Fáil position is that the Labour bill is flawed and subject to Constitutional challenge--a position I'm not sure I agree with--and they’re asking for more time to write a more comprehensive and sound bill. While we won’t know for sure until the vote tomorrow, the Greens seem to be in agreement. Next February was mentioned a couple times as the target date for a Fianna Fáil sponsored bill.
I’ll keep you posted.