In the first large-scale demonstration since a timeframe for an abortion referendum was announced, approximately 40,000 people gathered in the streets of Dublin as part of a march organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) on Saturday October 1st to demand the repeal of Ireland’s controversial Eighth Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann. The timescale set by the government would indicate the referendum will take place in the early summer of 2018. Irish law currently allows abortions only when the life of the mother is at risk, and penalties for breach of the law are strict, with violators incurring a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
The Eighth Amendment presently places equal value and status on the life of the mother and the unborn. With the wording of the upcoming referendum still unclear, protesters at the march called for the amendment to be removed, and legislation to be drafted that reflects the clear recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly. UK Labour MP Stella Creasy voiced the opinion that, given the “meaningful opportunity to settle this discussion” once and for all, the Irish government should opt for a “big question rather than a little question” on the controversial issue.
The event began at 2pm at the Garden of Remembrance and culminated in the designated rally area in Merrion Square, with representatives from the leading pro-choice groups all in attendance, as well as the Union of Students in Ireland and numerous progressive political groups. Popular chants on the day included “Get off the fence, Leo!” and “Hey hey Leo, the Eighth Amendment has to go!” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has notoriously refused to place his support on either side of the debate.
UCC students were out in their droves at the demonstration, with 142 students signing up for the bus to the march organised by UCC Students’ Union in conjunction with several UCC societies & groups. UCC Feminist Society Chairperson Aoife Delaney described the march itself as “amazing. Everyone was positive, passionate and creative; between the signs, chants and general energy I felt strong. Seeing tens of thousands of people there was so inspiring. It symbolised hope. It showed how we believe that our voices can carry change. The march was heartwarming as we now know how many people care: we know solidarity and we know support.” Final year BSc Government student Kate Stapleton shared her thoughts on the march, saying: “I hope it’s the last, and if so, it was a fitting way to finish the marching portion of the ongoing protests concerning this law.” She continued: “There was a range of protesters across all ages, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds present. It was a march that showed the diversity of the movement, any freeze frame you could take on the day would dispel the idea that this is an issue supported by just young women.” UCC SU Equality Officer Niamh O’Reilly agreed with this sentiment, saying: “[i]t was wonderful, there was a real effort on our contingents behalf to neutralise chants with regards to gendered language. As a trans person who owns a uterus that was uplifting. There was very little anti-choice presence compared to last year, and nearly none along the actual path to heckle or shame us. Overall it was a really positive space and shows the movement has grown to include all people with wombs, not just cis people.”
There were no reports of anti-abortion groups holding large-scale counter-protests on the day. Comedian Tara Flynn gave the opening address to the rally, and other featured performers included singer Lisa Hannigan. Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) activist Angela Coraccio spoke at the event, referring to the Eighth Amendment as “an instrument of torture.” Fellow ARC member Caoimhe Doyle blamed the Irish government for trying to “get away with the minimum it can do” in regards to abortion services. UCC graduand Matt Kennedy spoke about how the Amendment affects trans people, reading a poem he had written. Famous civil rights campaigner and former MP Bernadette Devlin McAliskey asserted her despair at Ireland’s abortion legislation: “It’s unbelievable that we’re still here asking for something we asked for almost 50 years ago.” She continued, “We expect, and we demand, and we are entitled to exercise the same bodily integrity as every other human being on the face of this planet.”
Annually, thousands of Irish women travel to Britain to avail themselves of the country’s legal abortion services. The Abortion Support Network’s Mara Clarke stated that, last year, the organisation assisted 801 Irish women financially with the abortion, as well as other costs associated with the trip, including travel and accommodation. “I can’t wait for our service to be obsolete,” she stated.
Students for Life Ireland succinctly expressed their disapproval of the event on social media, asking people not to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and reiterating their slogan, “#LoveBoth.”
Along with the eighth amendment referendum, there are 6 other referendums scheduled to take place in Ireland in the next couple of years, while specific dates are yet to be set. The list includes a referendum on lowering the voting age to 16, and one on liberalising Ireland’s laws on divorce, among others.