On Wednesday, the Hist hosted eight student speakers to debate the motion “This House supports all forms of civil disobedience to repeal the 8th Amendment”. The debate was the final of an internal debating competition called “Harneys” which is open exclusively to female and non-binary genders. The debate was chaired by Anne Cosgrave, founder of the Repeal Project.
It should be noted that because this was a competitive debate participants were unable to choose their sides in the motion and so what they said may not be representative of their views.
There was a consensus among all of the speakers that the 8th Amendment needed to be repealed and the debate revolved around how fast it could be achieved. The debate began with Catherine Kelly, who proposed that civil disobedience was an effective way to bring attention to the injustice of the 8th amendment. This view was questioned by Sinead Harrington who said that the pro-choice movement would get painted as extreme and alienating.
Catherine Prasifka continued the case for proposition for with a passionate speech that mentioned how the state “does not have a meaningful say on the laws” when it denies women abortion. Ríona Morris questioned this view by pointing out the detrimental effect that civil disobedience could have on public opinion. She pointed that even if a referendum was called, if it failed there wouldn’t be another one called for a decade.
The third speaker on proposition was Shubhangi Karmakar. She pointed out that civil disobedience was a way for disadvantaged women to get their voice heard. Billie Donohoe on opposition mentioned how pro-life people feel that they are being smothered by the amount of pro-choice views already and that civil disobedience would exacerbate this.
To counter this Maebh Ní Ghuairim argued that the pro-choice movement is going to be demonised by elements in the media anyway and that while civil disobedience would speed up the process of getting a referendum.
The last speaker in the debate was Grace Conway who spoke of how it was fine for the pro-choice movement to be loud and prominent in a debating society in Dublin but there were hugely differing opinions in rural Ireland.
There were two floor speakers at the end who gave speeches while the judges adjudicated the debate. Sadhbh Nuanán Ní Dhonnabháin argued in favour of civil disobedience on the basis that “we shouldn’t wait for media coverage when media coverage only occurs because of the death of a woman” referencing Savita Halappanavar, a point which won applause from the audience. Eva Barrett also spoke in favour of civil disobedience in removing the 8th as fast as possible.
Catherine Prasifka won best speaker in the debate with Riona Morris as runner up. The competition was organised by Lorna Staines, Doireann O’Brien and Caitíona Ní Bhriaín who were also judges. Joining them on the judging panel were Sarah Jennings and Julia Sibeal McCarthy.