I remember the moment the Irish free state came into existence. It wasn't in 1922. I was a cold March night in 1994. I had been to the theatre to see a performance of, ironically, Juno And The Paycock by Sean O'Casey. I got home, a little drunk on illicit beer (I was 16). A short-lived magazine show on RTE was covering a party live in a Dublin nightclub. The occasion : the government had finally lifted the restrictions on the sale of condoms, and the first legal condom vending machine was being installed.

It gets me every time I talk to anyone with any vague, nationalist, pro-Ra sentiments. This is still a new country, a mere 78 years old. There is still a great sense of pride amongst people about the great men who died so that Ireland could become a free nation. This is completely ignores the facts that the period of Irish history is one of our most shameful. We went from the enforced tyranny of the British empire to the voluntary rule of another empire, the Vatican.

Dev had an ideal of a rural rustic Ireland, with "comely young maidens dancing at the crossroads". His way of implementing this was to make Catholic dogma the rule of law. The Irish constitution is, in many ways, little more than a rewriting of the catechism. Divorce, abortion, contraception were all illegal. The state funded the education system, but it was entirely run by the church. Religion (Catholicism, as opposed to any general spirituality) was an essential subject for the training of primary school teachers until as recently as last year. Every major Irish author and the majority of foreign authors were banned, as documented by bozon in Irish authors banned in 1922 and Foreign authors banned by Ireland in 1922. I studied The Catcher In The Rye for my leaving cert. My Father couldn't have. He wouldn't have even been able to buy a copy. Back then Ireland was the second most censored state in Europe, after Albania.

And then there was a whole more sinister side. Cases of paedophilia by priests have been flooding out in the past few years, not because there are more paedophiles, but because there was a huge web of protection around them until recently. Opus Dei, a shadowy religious organisation (sort of a spiritual NRA, have been known to rank many judges and politicians amongst their ranks. And anyway, who'd accuse a priest of anything?

The Catholic church perpetrated innumerable horrors in Ireland, mainly during the height of their powers. But the sad thing is that is done with the unwavering consent of the Irish people. Those sentiments still linger is this place. There were large protests when the contraceptive laws were repealed. Divorce was legalised in a referendum that ran so close it made Gore V Bush look like a landslide victory. In my home constituency, the difference between Yes and No was a mere 76 votes. And the Legalise Cannabis campaign has much more support than Legalise Abortion.

Ireland is now a free nation. Half the population is under 25 and a large influx of foreigners is shaking up our outmoded society. But this freedom is new, and if we're not vigilant, we could lose it again.

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