Political commentators often espouse the view that the ‘Catholic Right’ in modern ireland is a coherent bloc with political heft. A bloc with influence enough left over to bring about much of what it seeks in policy. This is a simple falsehood.
Over the past decades, we have seen a consistent decline in the strength of conservatives in Ireland and while there may be a great deal of voters with some conservative sympathies (at least three quarters of a million), they are disparate in location, economic status, and party loyalty.
Some have found their home in Renua, others in new parties like Aontú, but many and more of them reside in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and to a lesser extent, Sinn Féin.
The splitting of this vote amongst various parties has not resulted in being able to shape and influence policy in all of them, but instead being able to shape policy in none of them. No proof of this rings so true to this than the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis passing a motion to support the retention of the Eighth Amendment and to campaign in a Pro-Life capacity – only to be told in no uncertain terms that their views meant nothing, and the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party would do as it sees fit.
This is not symbolic of an all-powerful Catholic body politic, it is evidence of the incapability of conservatives to bring their votes and their influence to bear on social issues. As more and more powers are given to the Oireachtas to legislate on issues as it sees fit, or “subject to common good and morality,” there must be a very serious repositioning of conservatives, whom are largely Catholic, into a single political body.
There seems to be movement in this direction. Catholic Ireland, unshackled by the repeal of the Amendment, has awoken. Eyes opened to the fact that its very way of life, its morals and its values are under attack.
At a recent meeting in Malahide, between two hundred and three hundred people turned out to listen to David Quinn and Maria Steen, echoing similar turnouts at events across the country organised by Aontú, Iona, or similar oriented bodies.
At various points during their speeches, the speakers received raucous applause, but the loudest and the longest applause occurred when both speakers emulated a very simple idea: that the mainstream political parties must feel the ire of the true Catholics. To quote Maria Steen, “they must feel our displeasure.”
Coinciding with this was a brief announcement by John Leahy, that Renua is willing to withdraw candidates from constituencies where other pro-life candidates have a chance of winning. This might not matter as much in our proportional representation system as it would in first-past-the-post, but it is still important.
This is hardly going to cause a political earthquake, Renua and Aontú are polling at the margins, but it is one of the first indications of the political development that Catholic Ireland is undergoing.
No more should conservatives cannibalise their vote, no more should four or five parties duke it out over the same small percentages and split their support. There are now solid indications that conservative parties are willing to put the broader movement ahead of party politics.
Whether Aontú or Renua thrive, it is my strident view that conservatism in Ireland is finally finding the confidence and self-assertiveness it needs to unify, and by doing so actively enact its political will.
If it wants to survive, the Catholic Right in Ireland must no longer have as many small parties as it has fingers. It must have a single political fist.