Debates about Irish history were not confined to academia. Some of the most damning criticism of republican ideas was published by the Kerryman newspaper in the weekly columns of schoolteacher Con Houlihan. Much of Houlihan's critique was based on seeing Irish history through the prism of class. Some accounts suggest the term 'revisionism' itself was introduced 'into Irish debate by Desmond Fennell'. Fennell was a Catholic intellectual, living in the Connemara Gaeltacht when the northern crisis began. The northern crisis shaped much of the debate in southern Ireland during the 1970s. It was far more than an academic discussion and driven as much by confusion as by a desire to refute old mythologies. People could agree with aspects of the revisionist argument but recoil from others, while many retained a basic republicanism but were disillusioned by the ongoing war.
In 1966, Tim Pat Coogan suggested that 'the level of physical contact between North and South is low. The average Southerner does not go North either for holidays or day excursions.' Whatever about attitudes towards Britain, opinions about Northern Ireland's Unionists remained largely hostile throughout the decade. This was despite substantial rethinking on the subject among sections of the political and academic elite. During the early stages of the conflict, some asserted that if the south wanted a united Ireland it would have to make concessions on 'liberal' issues. Even for those who professed little interest in it, the northern conflict formed a backdrop to almost all aspects of life throughout the 1970s. There was no corner of southern society that remained unaffected. The economy, the state's relationship with Britain, popular culture and debates about social change were all linked at some stage to the 'Troubles'.
On 22 January 1980, in what the Irish Times called the 'biggest demonstration of organised labour in the history of the state', an estimated 700,000 people participated in trade union marches across the Republic. They were demanding reform of the state's tax regime. Later that year, Tim Pat Coogan lamented that 'more people marched to get the PAYE system changed in a few days than the North brought onto the streets in ten years'. Indeed, the previous year 150,000 people in Dublin had taken part in one of the first tax marches. The perception of southern self-interest being far more powerful than solidarity with nationalists was a strong one. Republicans have sometimes asserted that without censorship the south would have risen in their support. The mirror image of that belief is that without Section 31 the public would have blindly followed the IRA.