The reverberations of the referendum

The campaigning has empowered a generation of Irish feminists

Photo by Stacy Wrenn

In 1983, the introduction of the Eighth Amendment had the support of 66.9% of the voting population. On Friday 66.4% voted to have it removed. The logic of this mirror image is compelling; there has been an inexorable evolution of Irish values — values imposed by the combination of church and state.

This result is evidence of something we only ever dared to dream of – the overwhelming majority of this country care about women more than tradition. An empowered feminist movement now has all the skills needed for change at their disposal. It’s a new dynamic: one in which we will no more be called outliers, or extreme, or be told we are demanding too much – a common sentiment among anti-repeal columnists prior to the referendum.

Regardless of the outcome, the Together for Yes campaign alone was a vibrant political force, with passionate campaigners all across the country working to inform the people of Ireland about the real issues caused by the Eighth Amendment. The only education surrounding unplanned pregnancy I had in my Catholic school was being told emphatically that abortion is murder, despite evidence that resources such as sex education reduce the occurrence of abortion. The Repeal movement and its success represents an Ireland that has the power to change its own entrapping status-quo.

If the job of politicians is to represent their constituents, shouldn’t they be representative of their views? In Sarah Bardon’s report for The Irish Times she describes how the majority of Fianna Fáil TDs opposed the repeal of the Eighth Amendment whilst a majority of their constituents voted in favour of it. Micheál Martin supporting the Yes Campaign, alongside only a few from his own party, perhaps looks less like a genuine political conversion and more like the party’s survival instinct kicking in. This visible disconnect between politicians and their constituents demonstrates the changing political landscape of this country — conservatism and religion are no longer the chief influences.

Ireland’s days as a conservative nation may be over. The Together for Yes campaign reflected the views of the majority of the country, and Leo Varadkar’s view of a “quiet revolution” is misleading — storming through Dublin by the thousands, canvassing relentlessly and systematically for months — we were anything but quiet. On social media, it seemed obvious the Yes campaign would win, but the television and radio pundits insisted it would be close. We wondered if their predictions were right. They weren’t.

The Irish media should learn from this referendum. The television debates, lacking basic fact-checking, often became farcical. In a deluded search for “balance” they presented an unjust equivalence of the lies and hyperboles of the Love Both and Save the 8th campaigns with women bravely sharing their stories of how the amendment impacted their lives. Irish feminists and the Repeal movement are not a fringe group or a minority. We are the majority. One of the most touching moments of the Yes result was the reiteration by so many involved, such as Tara Flynn and Mary Lou McDonald, that the North is next.

By the end of the campaign most women I know felt drained from the ceaseless conversations, debates and harassment that came about from labouring day in and day out to convince others of our humanity, our right to bodily autonomy, our right to life. Now that the referendum is over and we have achieved our goal — the movement does not stop.

Sustainable progress is always incremental. We may not be canvassing or leafleting anymore, but we are a mobilised and empowered force. Irish feminism and social progress are now inextricably linked, and have proven their ability to change history. Many of the organisers and canvassers were veterans of the marriage equality referendum, and the Repeal movement will also be ready to rise again when it is needed.

Grace Farrell

Grace Farrell is the current Arts and Culture Editor of Trinity News.