About ten days ago, as I was walking eastward from Dizengoff Street towards Rabin Square along Gordon Street, about halfway along I found myself walking behind what my warped mind perceived as a kind of ambulatory Irish tricolour.
I regarded it as a sort of advance notification of what was going to take place in the Republic of Ireland at the end of last week. However, I didn’t approach the woman concerned to ask if she was aware of the fact that she had engendered in me a kind of weird nostalgia for fear that she might have considered me to be too forward, perhaps somewhat eccentric or beyond any shadow of doubt, nuts.
Truth is, the big story at the end of last week was no longer Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza nor even the on-off on-again/off-again meeting in Singapore of that unlikely couple, those possessors of a very black short back and sides and a carefully waxed greying blond floating wi[n]g but the fact that the Irish electorate stole the show by voting in a public poll last Friday. I’m a little perplexed as to why this particular issue made such a big story around the world but who am I, an uncomplicated pensioned-off Professor of Geography, to fathom the vagaries of the world’s news editors? Officially, this was called a referendum on the “Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constititution Bill 2018”, to permit the Oireachtas to legislate for the regulation of termination of pregnancy. In other words it was a vote on whether to tell the Legislature to get on with enacting a law or laws to rid the country of the ban on abortions.
[The current Irish Constitution, adopted by plebiscite in 1937 demands that every constitutional amendment must be approved by referendum and prior to last Friday there have been 35 referenda. The Constitution also provides for an “ordinary referendum”, which can occur if a bill is simply passed in the ordinary manner with a provision that it be sent to referendum or if it is a bill that, in the opinion of the President, “is of such national importance that the will of the people ought to be ascertained” if requested to do so by a majority of the Senate and a third of the Dáil. Notwithstanding the fact that this was intended for particularly contentious, controversial or highly important bills, of which there have been several, an Ordinary Referendum has never taken place.]
So this was the story that you couldn’t escape between Wednesday and Saturday of last week, zap as you might from BBC to Sky through CNN and everything else, and flick or swipe your way through newspapers offline or online. Israeli news outlets were not immune, either. And the voters in the Republic of Ireland didn’t disappoint. Last Friday, they indicated once again to all and sundry that the country has moved well and truly into the 21st century. The majority of the voters were truly dancing with joy.
Of course, there are probably many others in the country who might well be ruing the fact that the influence of the Roman Catholic church is not what it used to be. The people determined, by a majority of 2:1, that whether a woman should have an abortion should no longer be the decision of [mostly] male politicians egged on or cajoled or perhaps even threatened by male and female celibates but her decision with or without seeking the advice of family, friends … and perhaps even clerics.
And the statistics only go to indicate the extent to which Ireland has changed in the past three decades. In 1986, voters rejected — by almost an identical majority of 2:1 — to permit divorce. Nine years later, after a hard-fought struggle under the guidance of Mervyn Taylor, the then Minister for Equality and Law Reform, the prohibition on divorce was removed by a majority of just 0.5%. Twenty years further along the line, the voters in a referendum by a majority of 62% to 38% decided to permit “marriage to be contracted by two persons without distinction as to their sex”. Then, last week, those Irish voters decided by a majority of 66.4% to 33.6% to remove the ban on abortion.
There is now an anomaly on the island of Ireland as performing an abortion in Northern Ireland is an offence except in very specific cases. Women in Northern Ireland have two solutions to have an abortion. They can either have a legal abortion via the National Health Service or in a private clinic in Northern Ireland (provided they meet the criteria of a serious and long term risk to mental or physical health that is probable) or they can travel to anywhere else in the UK and pay to terminate their pregnancy in a private clinic. It strikes me that this situation in unsustainable in light of last week’s events in the Republic but Mrs. Maybe, whose government’s survival relies on the votes of the Protestant and Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party for her government’s survival is unlikely take action, as is her wont, and press for a change.
Amongst the things that Ireland’s referendum has demonstrated is that not just is Irish democracy alive and kicking but that Irish voters are far more sophisticated that many might be prepared to admit—and it’s been that way for a long time. Not only does Ireland have an electoral system that works well (the Single Transferable Vote allows election results to be more or less proportional (i.e., the proportion of seats won by each party is close to the proportion of votes cast for that party) and make individual lawmakers responsible to the voters in their constituencies but the single attempt to overturn the system and adopt the notoriously non-proportional first-past-the-post system opted for in the UK, Canada, the USA and many other places was rejected by the voters almost 60 years ago. That referendum (on June 17 1959) was held on the same day as the election of Éamon de Valera as President of the Republic. De Valera’s party, Fianna Fáil, was counting on voters not splitting tickets but casting their votes for De Valera and for a change to the system (which would have benefitted Fianna Fáil). The voters were happy with what they had. De Valera was elected President with a 56.3%—43.7% majority; the proposed Constitutional Amendment was rejected by 51.8%—48.2%. I was 14 at the time, and that’s when I became interested in politics.
This referendum once more underlined—at least in my notebook—that referenda work well when the question at issue is straightforward, allowing the voters to understand the consequences of what they are voting for. In this vote, as in the referenda on divorce and same-sex marriage, in particular, it was a simple issue which might have been put as “Do you want people to be happier or not?”. So, if two guys or gals wish to marry and it makes them happy, why not? If two unhappy people want one another out of their respective lives and it makes them feel better, why not?
Brexit and its consequences was an entirely different matter in which many people might have “felt” that Britain should remain or leave the European Union without having the slightest clue about the consequences of their actions. I guess it’s one of the differences between the British and the Irish, who are display much common sense. But I suppose you need a First Class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford to have been bright enough to think up something as original as the Brexit referendum. There’s not much chance of a repeat performance of such lateral thinking though, as the one of the two current front-running candidates for Prime Minister of the UK after the next election has a Second Class degree in Geography and the other being a dropout from a course in Trade Union Studies at North London Polytechnic.
And that was the excitement of the week, the rest of which was pretty run of the mill.
There are all sorts of signs that spring in Tel Aviv has been short this year and that summer is arriving. For a start, the flame trees are in full bloom. At least two species of these flamboyant flowering trees can be seen throughout the city, lighting up streets, alleys, and parks with their bright red flowers.
About the only things that can match the exuberance of the flame trees are the watermelons on sale at every greengrocer in the city. These ones looked particularly delicious.
And if you keep your eyes open, you’ll find all sorts of pretty things in what passes for a garden in, around and behind the grubbiest of apartment buildings.
In a way, folks, this blog post is beginning to remind me of the way I sometimes feel about newspapers or radio or TV newscasts. You know what I mean. The news has been scheduled to fill the time between 20.00 and 21.00 but you’ve only got 15 minutes of newsworthy material. Do you fill the hour with Tom and Jerry or The Simpsons or manufacture “news”? What do you think? A columnist is contracted to provide two pieces of 1,000 words twice a week for a newspaper but nothing happened this week of any consequence. Does s/he donate her/his fee to a charity for not having been able to produce something worthwhile or produce 1,000 words of rubbish. You guess!
So, in today’s HaAretz newspaper, the following article made front page news. Really? Really! Front page news!? And HaAretz regards itself as Israel’s quality newspaper (a view that is shared by all of 4% of Israeli newspaper readers).
Meanwhile, the Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv Port and the city’s cafés continue to provide me with material to fill 1,500 words minimum, come what may.
Crosswords, Sudoku and anything else that matters. You can find him in Café Jeremiah between about 07.30 and 08.30, same seat every day, behind the bushes so that it’s taken me at least two years to get a reasonable photo.
And to end with, my photo of the month. Just a wee house sparrow that I came across sitting on a railing as I walked along Basel Street one morning. As these little feathered friends don’t hang around in one place for very long, I had to be quick. No time to change the settings on the camera so depth of field very shallow and that’s why the head and feet are in sharp focus but the breast isn’t.
Have a great week!