Thursday, 21 May 2015

Droits de l'homme

The Rights of Man.  People in revolutionary France felt so strongly about this concept that they named a ship after it, which was destroyed on its way home from an attempt to foment rebellion in Ireland.  Jeremy Bentham famously called the Rights of Man "Nonsense on stilts".  I think I agree with him on a lot of such statements. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to an Education used to worry us as Home Educators.  It sounds unexceptionable until you ask The Man to define 'education' and suddenly all our children are taken into care because they don't know the square root of two or the name of the President- two facts about which most adults would have a "Frankly Scarlett ..." attitude.

So what about the franchise?  That's a Right.  Everybody in Ireland over the age of 18 gets to vote nowadays, even people in prison, although that option is not extended to prisoners in England.  Also excluded from the franchise in the UK are 'idiots', 'lunatics' unless 'in a lucid phase' and members of the House of Lords.  I can't easily track down a definitive answer but, as 'idiot' and 'lunatic' are both politically incorrect, I suppose that neither blithering idiots nor mad-women are excluded from the franchise in Ireland.  Even if I am wrong in the details, we have close enough to universal suffrage here. I reckon that certain blithering idiots should not be allowed in a polling booth but don't want to push that sentiment too hard in case they turn around and take away my right to vote.

It wasn't always thus. In 1831, the population of England and Wales was just under 14 million, the electorate was 336,000 = 2.5%.  You had to be worth 40 shillings in property and have XY chromosomes to vote.  In Scotland it was even worse: in a population of 2.6 million only 4,500 people were enfranchised = 2/1000!  How pished aff would you be if you lived North of the borrrder, to realise that the democratic odds were so stacked in favour of the Home Counties? The 2.5% needs to be taken with a pinch of skept because the % is adult men but the baseline population includes women and children; here's a graphic of the steps to full suffrage. The first step occurred in 1832, when the Great Reform Act cleaned up the worst of the anomalies and exceptions and grossly corrupt election practice.  Further extensions happened in 1867, 1884, 1885 and 1918, when finally, with the Representation of the People Act 1918, women got the vote.  Not all women, mind, they had to be thirty (30)!  Men of 21 were men, but women of 21 were something less. How pissed off would you be if you be if you were a young woman and saw your idiot younger brother being treated as adult.  It wasn't until 1928, fully ten years later, the women were given parity of esteem in the polling booth.  It was decades before equality was achieved in other spheres of life - indeed most people I know would deny that we are there yet.  Jeremy Bentham had laid it all out 100 years before: calling for votes for women in his "Plan of Parliamentary Reform, in the form of Catechism with Reasons for Each Article, with An Introduction shewing the Necessity and the Inadequacy of Moderate Reform" of 1817. 

So far, so what?  Why the potted history?  Aren't we all for the future?  We are . . . but we need in Ireland to reflect on history tomorrow because we get to vote on two constitutional amendments where we'll get a chance att full equality for one section of society but not for another.  How pissed off would you be if you were gay and you saw your idiot younger brother being allowed to marry his girl while you had to be content with a sort of halfway house which didn't address important issues of inheritance and next-of-kin.  The tide of history is with the change, lets not have another referendum in 2025 when Uganda and Saudi have long ago embraced full tolerance for homosexuals.  The Beloved has been out almost every evening this week canvassing for YES in the darker rural backwaters of South Carlow, one of the householders was still in shock because his teenage son had come out

As for the other [minority interest] referendum on Friday we are being invited to allow people of 21 years to become President. This is all wet and everyone should be ashamed for laying this half-hearted half-arsed option before us. If we want to live in a gerontocracy then we can continue to have a minimum age for the Head of State, currently set at 35 years. The youngest people we've ever elected were both a full ten years older than that: Mary Robinson was 46 in 1990, and Mary McAleese was also 46 in 1997.  If we want full equality of opportunity then the minimum age must be 18 - the age at which we define adulthood. It is the principle. 21 is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. "Inadequacy of Moderate Reform" which Bentham catechised and castigated 200 years ago is what we have with this Friday's Presidential Age referendum and with the current Civil Partnership nonsense. Plunge on The People,we have nothing to lose but our prejudice.

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