Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's speech on Sunday got many headlines for coming out in support of same-sex marriage. But his remarks about personal freedom also deserve some attention.
Mr Gilmore said that his party parted company from the European liberal tradition “on matters of economics, and in particular on the freedom of markets but had “always been of similar mind on matters of personal freedom”.
He cited famous liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill and said that it was this committment to “personal freedom” that led Labour “to take up the banners of the liberal agenda - for divorce, for contraception; for gay rights and for women's rights”.
(It is worth noting that Mr Gilmore was a member of the Workers' Party for much of this time, not a party remembered for its steadfast committment to personal freedom. That party spent much of the 1980s as an apologist for the Soviet Union.)
The “personal freedom” that Mr Gilmore speaks of, then, is not unrestrained economic freedom. Nor is it the freedom of those of faith to speak in the public square; he made it quite clear that legalising same-sex marriage was part of a grand project of “separating Church and State”.
No, the freedom he speaks of is mostly sexual freedom.
The “liberal agenda” he speaks so proudly of introduced a society in which sex and marriage were no longer firmly linked. It has meant that a culture of commitment, in which sex, marriage and children were at the centre, has been replaced by a culture in which personal self-fulfilment has been exalted above all.
Increasing rates of marital break-up, cohabitation before marriage and increasing numbers of children being raised outside marriage have been the consquence.
Children have been the ones to suffer from this adult craze for self-fulfilment. As this “liberal agenda” has progressed we have been repeatedly assured that “the kids are alright”. We were told that children would be fine after divorce. We were told that only having one parent wouldn't adversely affect them. We are now being told that having same-sex parents won't have any negative impact on children.
However the evidence is now in on the “liberal agenda” experiment, and what we've found is that kids are, in many instances, very far from alright when raised outside marriage. They do worse, sometimes significantly worse, educationally, economically and emotionally.
That is quite apart from all the children who haven't been allowed to be born because they get in the way of “adult self-fulfilment”.
Personal freedom, when viewed through the prism of Mr Gilmore's vaunted “liberal agenda”, tends to be a synonym for a freedom from commitment. The result has been a disaster for millions of children and for society at large.