by Denzil McDaniel 

In the aftermath of last week’s vote in favour of abortion in the Republic, one man reflected on the continuing pace of change in his country.
Remembering his youth, he recalled even the sale of condoms was banned – never mind no divorce, homosexual acts being illegal and the idea of same sex marriage wasn’t even thought of.
Now, the taboo of abortion is about to become law in the once Catholic-dominated land.
The Repeal Referendum saw a campaign which engaged many; it was certainly a robust debate but nowhere near as fractious or bitter as it might have been on such a sensitive issue. And the fact that two-thirds voted in favour underlines the remarkable changes in society that have taken place in just one generation. Perhaps a further sign of shift in attitudes is the fact that it doesn’t seem to have been a major surprise.
This is a complex issue and both sides have their deeply-held and principled views on the matter. The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cashel touched on an important emotion when he said: “This is a time to reflect, to be gentle with each other, and to renew our prayers for all our legislators, that they may proceed from here with integrity and wisdom.”
I also felt he referenced the moving forward of society south of the Border when he added: “I personally feel a genuine satisfaction at this time to be a citizen of a Republic which faces uncomfortable truths about itself.”
The arguments for and against abortion have been well rehearsed in the Republic, and the talk now is that this debate will come north of the Border. Interestingly, that is being said more than it was over same sex marriage, but either way attitudes to these issues are such that one person tweeted: “Basically Protestant Northern Ireland is now the last bulwark of Catholic Ireland social policies. History is funny.”
One right-wing Unionist called for referendum on three issues: same sex marriage, abortion and the Irish Language. Presumably, because of the nature of his own views, he is confident that all three would be rejected by the electorate here. Interesting that, no?
And yet, the perceived wisdom among campaigners is that the people here WOULD vote for all three and they blame the politicians, particularly the DUP, for holding back social change.
Maybe it’s not as simple as that; maybe we have a fundamental view on one side which sees evangelical Protestants lining up with traditional Catholics, with liberal Christians on the other side alongside people such as Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie who said: “Unionists can and do believe in abortion reform and same sex marriage. As you rightly celebrate a momentous referendum result, don’t use it as a stick to beat unionists with.”
The southern Bishop’s comment about the Republic facing “uncomfortable truths about itself” probably wasn’t meant to be a dig at the north, but it should make us think here as we stagnate and
continue to waste the opportunity to move forward that the Good Friday Agreement afforded us 20 years ago.
Away back in the day, northern unionists viewed the south as some backward, priest-dominated, economically poor country with bad roads and poor infrastructure generally. At least it suited them to view it that way. What now? Well, it certainly has its problems, particularly with homelessness and its health service (so do we), but it is a multi-cultural, multi-faith modern European society where people are confident enough to take decisions which the establishment, particularly the church, does not approve of.
North of the Border, we remain in our silos. Elections are still decided on a head count of the two tribes, and whatever issues we have in health, education, jobs, equality….they all fade when it comes to putting our mark on a ballot paper. It even seems likely that we won’t even punish the main parties for not even being “in government” for a year and a half now. And counting.

The health service, in particular, is crying out for political direction, but it would seem even allowing civil servants to make decisions is against the law. Or at least leaves decision-making in doubt. Projects which would provide jobs and a better infrastructure are stalled.
Are we also brave enough to confront the bigger uncomfortable truths. Why, for example, in 2018 do we still seem to lack the confidence to build communities that are prepared to engage in a shared society. People who don’t retract back into their own areas and refuse to build bridges.
The discussion on UTV this week between the PUP’s Dr. John Kyle and Declan Kearney, of Sinn Fein, was relatively low-key, but it was an example of the type of dialogue needed if both sides are to understand each other. The dialogue needs to be honest, however harsh.
And there are signs that the really major issue of the very status of Northern Ireland is beginning to be discussed seriously. Brexit is a major challenge to the future of the United Kingdom, with renewed calls for a Scottish independence referendum, while there are calls here for a Border poll.
It’s very doubtful, I think, if a majority would vote for a united Ireland at this point in time.
Irish unity is a topic which is raising itself in private discussions more and more, and it seems to me that the idea that Catholics and Protestants would now vote along the expected traditional lines is now being challenged.
For example, Professor James Dornan, father of actor Jamie, told Channel 4 News that he would vote for a united Ireland if it offered unionists a better deal.
This whole debate deserves more than the idea of simply rushing to remove the Border; despite, for example, some fine words Sinn Fein has failed to gain the trust of Unionists that a new agreed Ireland would respect Unionist culture.
Unionists would also need to take account of changing demographics and changing circumstances. One moderate Nationalist woman said recently, without any bitterness, “The day they can walk over us is over.”
And journalist Eamonn Mallie wrote: “I’ve been uniquely reporting for over a year middle class Nationalists are no longer masking their identity. Two words ‘crocodile and Brexit’ have brought about that seminal change.”
Thinking the unthinkable won’t prove easy for anyone.
With the major social change that has gone on in Britain and in the Republic of Ireland, it’s being said that Northern Ireland now remains stuck in the past and a “place apart.”
Is all change good? Or, indeed, is all change bad? Not necessarily on either count.
But being stuck in a rut isn’t good for society here, and some imagination and courage is needed to move us out of the logjam.