In 1922, Ireland was torn in half by a terrible civil war that scarred our nation and its politics for a century.
After winning the War of Independence, and striking a major blow for the freedom of the whole island, our victory should have been a time of celebration. Instead, it was a time of anger and mourning.
Having lived and fought united as a nation for our freedom, shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours, our people’s long struggle tragically ended with bad blood, resentment and political hatred – a hatred that tore families and communities apart the length and breadth of the island.
The political issue of the Treaty, important though it was, had consumed our national psyche, sometimes driving brother against brother, mother against daughter, and father against son.
As Sean Enright wrote in his 2019 book on the dreadful conflict:
“The country moved towards the end of 1923: impoverished and riven with bitterness.”
And those deep, inter-generational divisions were cleaved 100 years ago this year.
It’s at moments like this that it can be valuable to take stock of the times we live in – to look back at where we’ve been, and where we’re going as a country.
Now, in 2022, on the centenary of that disaster, many things have changed. And sadly, many things are the same.
Today, thank God, Ireland is not on the verge of civil war, or anything like it – something we should all be seriously relieved by. May such a terrible cloud never darken our nation again.
We are, however, a nation seriously divided, with the same kind of ideological grudges gathering on the horizon. And that should concern us all.
The most obvious example of this division is along medical grounds, with those who remain unvaccinated being denied free access to most of public life.
We’ve all heard stories of family members disowning each other over their vaccination status. Maybe we’ve been the victim of that, or cut off someone in our own family. We’ve all heard of friendships breaking up and relationships imploding over who is or isn’t vaccinated – no doubt it goes both ways.
To many of the more militant vaccinated individuals, the unvaccinated are “conspiracy theorists,” “far-right,” and “bigots.”
To many of the more militant unvaccinated individuals, the jabbed are “brainwashed,” “idiots,” and “sheep.”
People’s politics have totally come to define them, with members of both sides dehumanising each other.
And at the macro, society-wide level, it’s even worse.
From government politicians saying the unvaccinated should not be allowed to “participate in society,” to media personalities asking why the government is giving the wilfully unvaccinated “any quarter at all,” the temperature of the national rhetoric is up to boiling point.
Groups like NIAC and NPHET suggesting mandatory vaccination has left many people feeling threatened and fearful of what the State might do next. These are unacceptable ways to speak to a law-abiding section of the general public.
This has had seriously concerning consequences, such as the Gardaí feeling the need to increase security for cabinet ministers’ own safety.
The use of Garda drivers and State cars for all Ministers had been discontinued after the economic crash https://t.co/hsh5QJ3BHR
— The Irish Times (@IrishTimes) January 17, 2022
Make no mistake about this: whether you are pro-Covid restrictions, anti-Covid restrictions, or indifferent, this is a horrible state of affairs for everyone involved.
Nobody should want to live in a country where the government and media is openly antagonistic to a minority section of the public, seeking to deprive them of their fundamental rights.
Nor should we want to live in a society where there are people feeling so enraged and desperate that politicians don’t feel safe to move around the country without armed security.
And neither should we want to live in a society where families refuse to speak to each other over whether or not they choose to receive a simple medical procedure. This whole thing is dangerous and volatile, no matter what way you look at it.
The goal here is not to come across like a fence-sitter or centrist. I’m clearly not – there are 2 years worth of videos, articles and social media posts by me making the case for a return to normality. We can all still agree to disagree and hold true to our convictions.
But let’s learn from the mistakes of 100 years ago and refuse to rip our society in two over simple politics. Let’s not devolve into a nation of hateful, rage-filled partisans threatening each other with discriminatory leglisation and street violence.
Sharing a nation with someone is like being married to them – you can cajole them, you can antagonise them, you can make them miserable. But at the end of the day, you still have to live together, and you’re only hurting yourself in the long run.
Vaccinated and unvaccinated people, liberals and conservatives, leftwingers and rightwingers will have to share a society for the foreseeable future whether they like it or not. We are all Irishmen and Irishwomen – we all go to the same schools, and shops, and churches and workplaces.
The choice in 2022 is simple: we can be reasonable and extend an olive branch to those who think differently to us. Or we can be vicious, cruel, and intolerant, creating a toxic and divisive atmosphere that we all have to stew in afterwards.
I choose the former, and I hope you do too.