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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 17°C
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Column 'We need to learn from how we treated each other during the referendum'
Whatever way we voted, we are all human beings and deserve respect, writes Philip Kirwan.

NOW THAT THE referendum is over and the dust is beginning to settle, we need to strongly consider a period of healing for everyone who has been involved.

We have argued fiercely with family members, spouses and friends on street corners, at work lunches and in sitting rooms throughout the land. At the end of this long and divisive campaign, we can all surely agree on one thing: it has been emotionally draining.

Emotionally provocative

During the referendum, each conversation I listened to appeared to require a strong tone of certainty to it with people being almost terrified to let up even an ounce of vulnerability.

Each conversation brought up similar emotionally provocative content: graphic accounts of miscarriage, rape and plane journeys and car journeys back from Liverpool with tiny coffins in the back seat.

While I listened, I couldn’t help but notice that perhaps there was a background fear towards admitting how much these topics affected us. Perhaps we felt that if we showed any sort of vulnerability or uncertainty, it would count as another point to be exploited by the other side. We were scared to look weak so we took it emotionally on the chin.

This of course, could only put pressure on our mental health.


For me, this “stiff upper lip” approach was on display during the Claire Byrne live debate.

An odd feeling came over me as I watched it with my mother. The feeling was one of isolation even though I knew how I would vote. After some reflection, the realisation dawned on me that the show completely forgot about aftercare services.

On most televised debates or news reports that handle sensitive topics, a viewer should expect to see Samaritans, Pieta house and Dublin rape crisis hotlines depending on the content. Why did we omit this in the referendum? Was this a sign that we collectively choose to suffer in silence? Despite voting myself with conviction, it was starting to get tough to see the pain on every persons face.

And online too, this attitude was prevalent in the Facebook comments sections. Conversation threads that started with good rational points quickly descended into ridicule, misandry, misogyny and a whole other range of derision and name calling. After the thread ended, no insight was gained with both parties walking away feeling awful.

But again, we couldn’t let up on this. We felt we had to appear tough, to not give the other side an inch.

Shift towards healing

Now that we have our result, we need to learn from how we treated each other during the referendum and from how we handled our own mental health. The focus needs to shift towards healing on a national level.

We now have had time to reflect on the nasty tone the conversation sometimes took. To address the difficult and stirred emotions we were afraid to admit affected us during these tough conversations. Perhaps we could erect billboards that provide those sorely needed helpline numbers.

It’s time to heal our relationships too. The people who you argued with are still the same people you liked and loved before you knew their stance on this issue. These are our countrymen and countrywomen. Our work colleagues. Our friends. Our mothers and fathers.

Whatever way we voted, we are all human beings and deserve respect.

It’s time to heal

On a personal level, I have been attending yoga and performing guided body scan meditations before sleep. Planning something exciting in the future always refocuses my mind towards something positive.

I have even considered going for long hike in the hills for a few days. Maybe when I come back from that walk and have healed my own wounds, I will once again see everyone from both sides as fellow patriots and not combatants. To be kind and compassionate, especially for those I may not agree with.

It’s time to heal.

Philip Kirwan works as an IT Engineer and also helps promote mindfulness in the workplace.

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