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The Irish Puzzle – Morality Policies without Parties

Policy Analysis
Political Competition
Party Systems
Christoffer Green-Pedersen
Aarhus Universitet
Christoffer Green-Pedersen
Aarhus Universitet
Conor Little
University of Limerick

In terms of morality policies, Ireland is a puzzling case. It still has a very strict legislation on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research, but same sex marriage has been allowed. What is puzzling is that policies are comparatively very strict, but also that liberalization has come with regard to same-sex marriage, not abortion. In most countries abortion is the first policy to move in a more liberal direction. This paper argues that the Irish case can be explained by studying the Irish case from the perspective of the “Two Worlds of Morality Politics”.
From this perspective, the Irish case belongs to the secular world – there is no primary historical cleavage in the party system between religious and secular parties. This is the conflict that has generated liberal morality policies in countries like Spain and the Netherlands. The secular world is characterized by the absence of party conflict and also party interest in morality policies. Here liberal policies have been generated by pro-liberal interest groups like women’s organization and interests groups for homosexuals and sometimes also individual MPs. The secular world is also typically characterized by the lack of strong interest groups fighting against liberal policies. Here Ireland is exceptional. It belongs to the secular world – absence of party conflict – but the Roman Catholic Church is a powerful “interest group” fighting more liberal policies. This helps to explain “the Irish puzzle”. The paper draws on data on party activity and policy process to document the lack of party conflict and interest and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. For the debate about the political influence of the Roman Catholic Church, the Irish case shows that this is the strongest when a religious/secular conflict is absent from the party system.
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