An Irish solution won’t solve an Irish problem

Andrew Hamilton

IT’D be a grand little country if it wasn’t for the ISTAIP and all the rain. The ISTAIP? You know it, it’s the ultimate expression of our self-defeating, cute-hoor-ology, the Irish Solution To An Irish Problem.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, ISTAIP is the uniquely Irish ability to not solve a problem by not talking about it, pretending it doesn’t exist, blaming it on the Brits, definitely not talking out it, going to confession, changing the subject and definitely, definitely not talking about it.

Abortion has been the quintessential ISTAIP issue in Ireland for years, generations really. While the law has changed, our ability to not really talk about it remains as powerful as ever.

Whatever you think about abortion, for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to publicly criticise people for exercising their right to make a crappy sign and spend two hours getting soaked on a Saturday afternoon is bizarre. It’s worse than bizarre, it’s dangerous.

Last week’s protests outside the Galvia Hospital in Galway are a testament to this. Not the protests themselves, not really, but the reaction to the protests by large sections of the media, political class and people on the street.

Whatever you think about abortion, for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to publicly criticise people for exercising their right to make a crappy sign and spend two hours getting soaked on a Saturday afternoon is bizarre. It’s worse than bizarre, it’s dangerous.

It is equally amazing to see how some people, who have only just put away their own crappy signs, are now so quick to castigate others, who in many ways are just like them, just on the other side of the issue.

But there are any number of places where a proper conversation about these new abortion laws are not happening. As a journalist, I’ve tried for weeks to get any Clare doctor or anyone from any of the many doctors’ organisations to talk to me about abortion. I’ve had no luck and, to be honest, I was beginning to take it personally until I remembered ISTAIP.

One doctors’ organisation, the only one that bothered to reply, declined to make a comment on abortion in Clare, instead saying that they wanted to ‘put a lid’ on the story. The law on abortion has changed, but our ability to find new and creative ways not to talk about it seems as powerful as ever.

This is part of a wider and deeper problem. The way that we Irish go about disagreeing with each other seems to have changed over the past 20 years. You’re either with me or you’re against me, no middle ground, no room for learning, no empathy, no compromise and certainly no potential for growth.

You see this, of course, from the politicians. But more and more these days its become the way that conversations take place – in the traditional media, on social media and even in the pubs.

It comes down to a lack of critical thinking mixed with a near biblical belief that it is better to be always talking than always listening.

This just serves to polarise society. But worse than that, it reduces the people who should be shaping the country, the people who care enough to get up early on a Saturday morning and write a pun on a piece of cardboard, into pantomime villains.

I’ll steal a line from East Clare playwright and gender-equality campaigner, Neil Farrell, here: “You’ll never cure someone of their bigotry by calling them a bigot.”

Conversations need to happen, preferably ones involving talking and listening. So turn off the phoney-war on talk radio, forget that you’ve made up you mind about everything important years ago, and have a conversation with someone you disagree with. You’d never know what might happen.

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