Speaking today at an event hosted by Trinity Politics Society, senator Averil Power said that there needs to be “a huge civil society movement” to push for a referendum on abortion in Ireland.
According to Power, listening to the stories of people effected by Ireland’s current legislation on abortion will move people to vote in favour or repealing the eighth amendment, which currently criminalises abortion in Ireland, but provides the right to travel for abortion.
On the subject of the Dáil, Power said the government’s majority there means there is no real debate, and the government can push through legislation regardless of the opposition’s objection to it. By contrast, Power said that independents can successfully challenge the government in the Seanad, as the government do not have a majority there. She said the Seanad is “less petty” and has “more engagement” than the Dáil.
Power spoke of her attempts to push the Adoption Bill through the Seanad last year. She recalled an emotional meeting she had with Philomena Lee, an adoption rights activist who was forced to give up her child due to an illegitimate pregnancy. An adopted person herself, Power said she has been “lied to left, right and centre” by religious institutions on the issue of children being separated from their birth parents.
When explaining her background in politics, Power said she did not come from a political family. She said her experiences as a student in Trinity encouraged her to pursue this course, when she noticed that higher education was a resource closed off to many people coming from disadvantaged environments.
In Trinity, Power’s friends encouraged her to run for the Students Union. She was elected Education Officer and went on to become Student Union President. She explained that she organised protests on a wide range of issues. She gave the example of a boycott that she started in response to a rise in fees for college catering, finally winning a settlement where prices were dropped.
Power said her passion for education was what first convinced her to join Fianna Fáil. This was due to the party’s innovations in this area, such as the establishment of institutes of technology in places like Tallaght.
On her departure from Fianna Fáil last May, Power said she had hoped a role in the marriage equality referendum would have reinvigorated the party after its disastrous performance in the 2011 election. However, she said the lack of engagement from her colleagues left her disillusioned. Many of her colleagues refused to support the move for marriage equality not, she said, because of their personal beliefs, but for fear that they would lose voters as a result.
Photograph by Maeve O’ Connor