You can see it in the smiles on strangers’ faces and maybe even feel it in the air (though that could just be the arrival of summer.) Something fundamental has changed in Ireland, something in the very weave of the fabric. Over the past few weeks, though it has gone on much much longer for some, the country has been debating the decision to repeal or retain the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution.
Now, before I go on, I usually try to keep this blog for writing-related topics, so if you’re just here for the book-talk, you might want to give this post a skip. Though I do feel this is important here, because what you feel and experience should shape what you write. And it’s always worth keeping a note of the aul zeitgeist, just look at all those alien invader stories that cropped up during times of Cold War communist hunts
So what is the 8th amendment (to put things in context for international readers) – The 8th amendment gives equal standing to the life of the unborn child and the woman carrying it. This may sound noble, but it has many knock on effects, most obviously no abortion, but also restricting healthcare that can be given to women while pregnant.
A Yes vote would repeal the 8th and allow the Government to introduce legislation, while a No vote would keep things as they stand.
As you can imagine, with the subject of abortion in the mix, the battle was hard fought. Yet, with the result still to be announced at time of writing, the Yes side have, in my opinion, definitely won in terms of how they conducted themselves.
Throughout the campaign, I’ve seen nothing but positivity from the Yes side. Now, you might say it’s all about the media bubble I exist in, but I’m the sort of person who regularly checks in to America First on Reddit, just to see what those hardcore Trump followers are saying. And so, casting a wide net, I can think of nothing I’ve come across that seemed underhanded.
It was, I feel, a well conceived vision of where the campaign had to go, and the vision spread through example and behaviour rather than by any explicit commandment from on high. If there was a Michelle Obama style “When they go low, we go high” decree, I didn’t hear of it. In the last few weeks, the first rule of engagement was surely “be sound.”
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) May 25, 2018
It’s hard for your opposition to label you as a baby killer when you’re in the airport handing out packets of Tayto to returning repeal voters. It’s hard to be labelled as cruel and heartless when you ask the undecided to “please talk to me” rather than shout your opinions. It’s hard to be accused of being uncaring when your very reason for voting Yes is because you care for your loved ones.
There were many men involved at all levels the campaign, but the women of Ireland, the women who stood up for their rights, they have my admiration above all, because of the overwhelming positivity the surged through the campaign. Because there were so many things to get angry and negative about.
I got angry at many points during the campaign. Not angry enough to lose my shit and go on a social media rampage (I’ve learnt that much at least,) but, I definitely cursed out loud at the radio a fair few times. So, I was angry, but it wasn’t my bodily autonomy up for discussion. It wasn’t me that No campaigners seemed to be terrified to trust. It wasn’t me getting told what to do with my body by men who would never be in my place.
Here are just three of the things that made me angry.
- No side pamphlets that were designed to look like official documents.
This one drove me mad. You know your claims don’t hold water when you have to make them look like official facts. Oh, that’s just how it was designed? Right… so why have the Vote No logo so very discreet…
I really really hate attempts to manipulate people by underhanded means.
- The No side complaining that their voice wasn’t being heard, because of the establishment.
Ah yes, this gem made me laugh at first and then, as it was repeated over and over and actually seemed to gain a foothold as an apparent reason to vote No… oh my.
Yeah, the status quo, the established conservative viewpoint, were saying that their voice wasn’t being heard. Despite the backing ofthe Catholic Church, just, y’know, arguably one of the most powerful institutions in the state. And the rest of those groups that have been setup for years just to keep this anti-abortion train rolling on.
Oh and complaining that Facebook preventing referendum ads from outside Ireland… eh… if that’s shutting down the debate, you really need to examine how you connect with the Irish people and where exactly is the motivation of your movement coming from
- Giant abortion banners outside maternity hospitals.
Seven foot tall graphic posters are exactly what people want to see when they’re on the way in to a maternity hospital. Extra anger points for an ‘Irish wing’ of an international group being behind it.
Some groups respected our wishes & removed posters, for which we are grateful. In that light, is very disappointing that the hospital was the target of quite a graphic and distressing protest yesterday evening.
— The Rotunda Hospital (@RotundaHospital) May 1, 2018
Of course that’s nothing compared with being called a baby killer (as many Repeal jumper wearers reported,) having Savita Halappanavar appear on No posters and the general ongoing grind of being told that women can’t be trusted with their own bodies.
I tried to put myself into an Irish woman’s shoes and I’m just so unbelievably impressed that so many people kept their shit together, to put it bluntly.
And then there are the women who wanted a No vote. I tried to understand them. I knew none in person, so I had to base it off the voices I heard on the radio and in debates. Media trained and well rehearsed, they seemed to exist only to secure a No vote, while their Repeal counterparts may not have been as smooth or charismatic but so many came to the debate with first hand experience and multifaceted factual arguments.
I just couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t see the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that made the woman who wants a no vote. And I still wonder if it’s empathy. As Claire Hennessy pointed out, a lack of empathy is what’s prompting No voters.
Ask me why books & stories matter & I will say EMPATHY. Every single time.
That capacity for empathy is what's propelling Yes voters tomorrow. The lack of it is what's prompting the Nos. Empathy isn't approval or endorsement. It's recognition, understanding, getting it.#voteyes
— Claire Oh Please Let It Be A YES Hennessy (@chennessybooks) May 24, 2018
Because I wonder, are some of the female no voters unable to imagine themselves as needing an abortion? Is it a case of “I wouldn’t put myself in that situation…” I really don’t know. And I hope No voters will realise that they can’t possibly know what they’d do in a situation until they’re in it, and sure won’t they be happy now that they’ve a choice, even if it doesn’t change their actions.
I feel I’ve gone on a whopper tangent here. I logged on to try and capture this beaming smile I wouldn’t wipe off my face. A good feeling that stuck with me from the moment I left home. As I walked down to the polling station, I had to actually compose myself because I was about to burst into laughter. Such was the atmosphere (and the great weather helped too.) I blame the #hometovote stories on twitter.
Feel the love. Dublin Airport. pic.twitter.com/vqzZqMaliU
— Roger O'Keeffe voted YES (@rogerokeeffe) May 24, 2018
There is something truly beautiful about it all. As I near the end of this, the first exit polls have come through and it looks like Yes has won by a landslide. What a wonderful thing that a nation came out in favour of equality for women. Can you imagine if this momentum is harnessed for other issues? The gender pay gap? More women in parliament? Now we know how social movements are done, what is there to stop us improving the life of everyone in the country.
And I hope the politicians remember this day when it comes to bringing in legislation, because the people have spoken. Loud and clear.
So I say fair play to the women of Ireland, because you played a blinder.