As Time Goes By - May 1983
Not doing too bad, are we? Most political movements burrow away for years and all they have to show for it is a few TDs elected. And, as all but the lame-brained will tell you, TDs are not so much an asset as an affliction. But we in the Spontaneous Aggravation Party have managed to destabilise the country in the space of a couple of years.
I remember well the night in March 1981 that Lazy Pete Maguire, SAP's General Secretary, sat bolt upright on his barstool in The Oasis and said, "That's bloody it!" We'd been discussing Raymond Chandler's technique of taking passages from his short stories and inflating them (padding, I say) for his novels, but Pete's mind was clearly drifting to other matters. After his sudden eruption he subsided, his brow knotted. I knew better than to interfere. I gave The Boss a nod and he provided a couple of refills and we sat there for about twenty minutes, sipping our drinks until Pete was good and ready.
"An amendment", he said at last. He spoke quietly but quickly and it took no more than five minutes for him to explain the strategy in detail. "A constitutional amendment. Here's the scam ... " Sex was behind it all, of course. If you look carefully enough you'll find few situations uninfluenced by that mix of emotional longing and cutaneous friction.
The seeds were sown, in a manner of speaking, a couple of years before that. By a bus strike. Studs O'Mahoney had been sampling the vodka in an Abbey Street bar one rainy night, putting off the dreaded slog home. As luck would have it she got into conversation with a rather nice, respectable looking midctleaged man. A lift home to her flat in Phibsboro ensued and the inevitable offer of a cup of coffee was followed by the inevitable acceptance.
While Studs was shovelling the Bewley's she heard a zzzppppp! behind her, turned and - well, let's just say that, in the delicate phrasing of the advertising world, your man had decided to run it up the flagpole and see who saluted.
It was then and there that the ProLife Constitutional Amendment was born. Studs smiled, reached up to the shelf and took down her Agfamatic with the pop-up flash. Click, click, click zzzzzppppp! oooopps! aaaaaggh! click clump clump zhazooooom! click. And Studs had some excellent, eh, exposures. A series of en prints of your man in various stages of panic, culminating in a nice shot of his Volvo Estate disappearing into the darkness, with the number plate clearly visible. Studs passed the roll of film over to SAP's Research and Intelligence Department (moi) and before the week was out I had identified our friend as a leading member of The Knights of St Columbanus.
When you pick up such pieces of ammunition there's two things you can do: shoot them off into the air immediately, just to see the flash and hear the bang - or bide your time and use them with the care of a sniper. This particular piece of ammunition had been lying about for two years, awaiting a proper use. You'll remember what it was like in 1981 the sense of expectation as certain people hovered around the periphery of society, discussing ways of bringing back 1950. It was one of SAP's top priority projects to find a way of scuppering their campaign. And Lazy Pete, as we saw, was the one who came up with the method.
Using the pics of the Knight and his novel way of developing a relationship, Pete put the idea of a Constitutional Amendment into circulation. In exchange for the negatives (we still have the prints) the Knight quietly pushed the idea and in no time it was all the rage. Naturally, the knee-jerk liberals and lefties were appalled, but you wouldn't want to mind them - they still haven't recovered from losing Sacco and Vanzetti and have been pessimistic ever since.
SAP read the situation properly, we knew that after the initial panic people would begin to think. The amendment is neither here nor there, its passing would be meaningless. The pro-lifers (Pete insists on referring to them as The Undead) don't give a damn about abortion, as witness their haste to assure that the abortion trail to Britain be kept open. Their aim was to create an atmosphere in which their morality would thrive - and they could proceed to push back the clock on everything from contraception to mixed dancing.
Instead, there has been, as SAP predicted, a massive upsurge of protest in which the amendment has become an irrelevancy. Even were it passed the atmosphere which The Undead hoped to create has been nipped in the bud. People are discussing the issues of public and private morality and the relationship between church and state in a way they haven't done since the Mother and Child scheme. As a bonus, Garret FitzGerald has been snookered, Fine Gael is in flitters, Labour is (as usual) irrelevant and Fianna Fail has been shown to be either wildly unrepresentative of the people or made up of gutless TOs who dare not speak their minds and reflect the concern and debate existing in society as a whole. Not doing too bad, are we?
AP's next project is CAVE. Since our creation of SPUC (the Society for the Propagation of Unrestrained Catholicism) was so successful we decided to skip a stage. While The Undead are still throwing up their hands at abortion we're going to start a row about Euthanasia. Our friend the Knight will come in useful again, and when he's cooperated this time we'll give him the prints of his fateful little experience. Once we get the Campaign Against Voluntary Euthanasia established we should be able to get the CAVE people into even more aggravation.