Europe

2015 in review: Republic of Ireland's same-sex marriage vote made a momentous year

Yes supporters at Dublin Castle waiting for result of same-sex marriage referendum Image copyright AP
Image caption The Republic of Ireland was the first country to vote in a referendum for same-sex marriage

It was the year that people in the Republic of Ireland made history.

They were the first in the world to vote in a referendum for same-sex marriage; the measure may have been introduced in other countries, but by a court decision or a parliamentary vote.

And the joy in Dublin Castle on that Saturday evening in May was unconfined.

More than 3,000 people - gay and straight, parents and children, friends and activists - gathered to cheer each constituency result.

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Image caption Drag queen Panti Bliss was a figurehead of the campaign

Among them was the drag queen and gay rights activist Panti Bliss, whose arrival was loudly greeted as rainbow flags and Irish tricolours were proudly waved.

From the moment the ballot boxes were opened, it was clear it was an overwhelming 'yes' vote.

'Huge sense of pride' as Ireland says 'yes'

In quotes: Irish same-sex marriage debate

Gay marriage vote shows changed Ireland

One couple who were in the RDS venue in Dublin to watch the count said they could not have been happier.

The result meant that New Zealander Nerilee Ceatha and her Irish partner, Barbra Clinton, could upgrade their 2008 civil union in New Zealand to a civil marriage.

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Image caption There was a carnival atmosphere as the results were announced

Nerilee said: "Barbra gets to live with her family, with me recognised as her family in her country of origin.

"Today means our young people get a country and a future that we can come back to, that we can be diverse and celebrate our differences.

"Today means everything."

Barbra added: "Today says that Ireland has fabulous young people, fabulous people who came and voted yes.

"I think it says that Ireland has matured."

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Media captionJoy as the referendum result is announced: "It's the most important day of my life"

Also looking on as the votes were counted on that sunny May day was Barry McCrea, a gay man who works in Italy as a university lecturer.

One of thousands who came home to vote, he stood beside his father, Colin, who said he had campaigned for a 'yes' vote to give his gay children equal rights, in spite of the opposition of the Catholic and Christian churches and other religions.

"I think people make up their own minds now," he told me.

"They're saying the church's view isn't necessarily the right one.

"And this was people overwhelmingly saying: 'We think for ourselves.'"

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Media captionArchbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin says there has been a social revolution and the church has a "huge task in front of it"

For Barry it was a very emotional day.

"We rely on our fellow citizens to look after us, and this feels like the rest of Ireland embraced us and said: 'There's room for you and you're part of society,'" he said.

"It means everything - I feel fully Irish for the first time."

The year also saw a dress rehearsal for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

At the beginning of August, President Michael D Higgins, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny and politicians from both side of the Irish border were in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery to mark the burial of the Fenian leader Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa 100 years ago.

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Media captionThe state commemoration in Dublin marked 100 years since the funeral of the Fenian leader

The funeral is probably best remembered for Padraig Pearse's graveside oration in which he berated the British: "The fools, the fools, the fools. They have left us our Fenian dead.

"And while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."

It was noticeable that the Irish army, also officially known as Óglaigh na hÉireann, played a central role in the commemoration.

O'Donovan Rossa ceremony takes place

No Royals at 1916 celebrations

The new year will see a general election taking place against the backdrop of the centenary as well as a growing and recovering economy.

The outgoing Fine Gael and Labour coalition is keen to portray the election as offering voters a choice between continuity and stability versus anarchy and chaos.

Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty said her party had "done a lot" since it was given a mandate in 2011.

"We fixed the economy that was in ribbons at the time, getting our people back to work," she said.

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Image caption The Irish parliament could see changes in the country's general election, expected to be held in February

"We're doing that but it's only half-done.

"That's why we're asking people to return this government so that we can create the 200,000 new jobs we need for full employment and to put more [police] on our streets, more teachers in our schools and more doctors and nurses in our hospitals."

Prerogative

But for Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the forthcoming campaign will be about ending the austerity of tax rises and public spending cuts associated with the economic crash.

"I believe we will have a new government elected, and that government will hopefully be a left-wing government," he said.

"Then there'll be a change in this state in how it delivers its services."

Unlike the UK, the Republic of Ireland does not have fixed-term parliaments, and the prime minister has the prerogative to decide when the general election will be.

Most commentators believe it will in February, possibly on the 26 of the month.

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