Our National Chairperson, Chloe Manahan, reflects on last night’s RTÉ Repeal debate and its surrounding controversy.
Last night, I got home from college at 9:37pm and immediately raced upstairs and turned on the Claire Byrne Live Referendum Debate. I tuned in to watch what I hoped would be an opportunity for activists from both sides to engage in a truthful and respectful debate, but what I feared might be a messy and confrontational clash. The donnybrook that ensued was anything but respectful. The pursuit of truth seemed far to the back of the agenda of both RTÉ and the panellists advocating a No vote.
What I watched left me deeply confused. I had taken for granted that people feel an onus to tell the truth. I had taken for granted that those who choose to lie are brought to task and corrected. I waited and waited for that to happen – and it didn’t.
The No side skilfully evaded the truth for a full hour and 15 minutes. I was stunned when Maria Steen, a lawyer, so foolishly equated legal rights with constitutional rights. Ireland is one of two countries that equate the right to life with that of the pregnant person in their constitutions.
While the world around us can be a dark and harrowing place, countries that legislate for free, safe, legal abortion do not see tragedy where legal ambiguity around the unborn’s right to life causes unspeakable pain. That happens here. Perhaps Steen made an erroneous claim that she will be quick to correct. Perhaps she has been knowingly misleading the public, by allowing this untruth to become a centrepiece of the Pro-Life Campaign. You can make up your own mind for yourself.
Reference was made to calls for Dr Peter Boylan’s resignation as the Chairperson of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for supporting the removal of the 8th Amendment. Boylan correctly pointed out that these calls came from a negligible minority of the organisation. In fact, it was only seventeen doctors – starkly fewer than the 80% of membership who voted to support a removal of the archaic law.
At one point, the Yes side was instructed to stop “using” the hard cases to further the agenda of very extreme proposals. The fact of the matter is that these “hard cases” will continue to happen so long as the 8th Amendment remains. Nothing can be changed for those families affected by fatal foetal anomalies if the 8th remains. This attack is a gross insult to the brave campaigners from TFMR, who have had to relive their trauma every day since this campaign began, showing us a window to their agony with a view to ensuring that no one else suffers their affliction to the same, horrifying extent.
Moreover, it is more than a little disingenuous for those No campaigners to express compassion for the aforementioned “hard cases”. These people laud the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act as the saviour of the women of Ireland and one that mitigates the need for a repeal of the 8th Amendment. In fact, two of the spokespersons on the panel vehemently opposed the introduction of that act back in 2013 (Monaghan and Steen opposed; Butler was not a public representative in 2013)
This reality it all the more offensive when Steen asserted that “we are all agreed that women deserve the best healthcare during pregnancy as well as outside of pregnancy.” A mere five years ago, she was openly campaigning so that women could die in the name of continuing a pregnancy to term. One would have to be forgiven for their skepticism.
I initially became an activist for two reasons. Growing up, I had a family member who worked for a homelessness charity and was always acutely aware of housing as a human right of which many are deprived. As I grew older, I became aware of the 8th Amendment and the hurt and anguish it had caused. Watching Claire Byrne last night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the intersection of those two issues that had attracted me to campaigning in the first place.
I can’t stop thinking about women sleeping on the streets, couch-surfing at the houses of friends and family, and waiting on housing lists, their lives plagued by insecurity and an inability to plan for the future. Street-homeless women are among some of the most vulnerable to violent attack in our society and it pains me to think of how egregiously they are harmed by the 8th Amendment and those who seek to retain it.
It is that reality that makes each smirk from John Monaghan all the more difficult. It is that reality that makes Maria Steen’s faux outrage and insistence that she wishes for safety for all pregnancies in Ireland all the more painful. It is that reality that makes each quip of Mattie McGrath and Mary Butler and Ronán Mullen all the more infuriating and upsetting and distressing.
The No Campaign is rooted in deceit, scaremongering and antagonism.
The Yes Campaign is rooted in honesty, compassion and understanding.
Your yes matters.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Labour Youth).