Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says that Ireland has become a much more tolerant society in recent years but warned people not to take it “for granted” - citing Britain and America as examples of countries that were regressing.
After Ireland legalised gay marriage in 2015 Mr Varadkar said the country had undergone "a social revolution" and pinpointed the beginning of that revolution to the country's decision to allow divorce in a tightly fought referendum in 1995.
“Ireland’s just become so much better a place, so much more welcoming, so much more diverse, so much more tolerant,” An Tánaiste told Newstalk.
“I think we forget how oppressive it was as recently as 2000 where people had such fixed views and judgements about how men should behave and how women should behave.
“What people should do and how they should live their lives and that’s changed so fundamentally.
“But [it’s] something we certainly can’t take for granted. When we see what else is happening around the world, western Europe is a beacon of progress in that regard.
“We see things like abortion rights being rolled back now in the United States for example.
“Boris Johnson having a bit of a go at trans people, maybe hoping that will curry favour in certain sections, which is a bit sad.
“And even some of the stuff coming from Putin in relation to the war now and coming from the Russian Orthodox Church - it’s fairly homophobic quite frankly.
“And I don’t think we should take the freedoms that we’ve won for granted and we should remember - imperfect as we are - what a beacon we are for liberty in Europe - in the European Union in particular.”
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However, Mr Varadkar also said that not all the recent changes have been positive; he also believes that social media has reduced the quality of journalism over the years.
“Stories good and bad can be amplified on social media [and] kept running on social media for much longer than they would be otherwise,” he said.
“And I don’t think the news is mediated in the way it used to be.
“When there were a smaller number of political correspondents in the Dáil writing about the news they would have a huge amount of news and they would distil it down to five or six important stories that were broadly true.
“And now you have a huge amount of media, a huge number of journalists and correspondents looking for a story, any story, and they will turn something that would have been seen as a non story or something trivial 20 years ago into maybe a big deal because it’s their job to find a story and that story becomes more important that the truth.”
Newstalk at 20
However, Mr Varadkar was not wholly negative about the state of journalism in Ireland. This week Newstalk celebrates its 20th birthday and Mr Varadkar said the station has been a “valuable” addition to the media landscape:
“It’s been very valuable if you like to have an alternative to RTÉ when it comes to news and current affairs.
“There’s been some really good documentary programmes - Patrick Geoghegan’s one on history I think is really great and one that I try not to miss.
“And then I think in the morning… I’ve always kind of felt the Newstalk programmes, whether it’s now or former with Chris and Ivan, were a little bit more optimistic and a bit more chirpy and maybe more for a younger audience which I think was a good balance.”
Then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Belfast Pride. Picture by: PA.