'Slick' pro-life rally aims to get the public on side
UP to 30,000 people converged on Dublin's Merrion Square at the weekend for the Unite for Life candlelight vigil – which campaigners described as the most important pro-life rally of this generation.
There was a prolonged flurry of activity as the crowd took out their mobile phones to take purposeful photos and to make their presence felt on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
"Be a citizen journalist," Dr Eoghan de Faoite of Youth Defence had hoarsely urged the crowd.
The regular media, he implied, was not to be trusted to report this pro-life rally as it had really happened.
As a moment, it was more telling about how this war is being waged for the hearts and minds of the Irish people.
There were around 100 coachloads from all over the country – with a mischievous rumour afoot that some people had availed of the free transport on offer only to do a bunk and go off shopping.
But all talk among those who stood in the bitter cold for the cause was of their dismay that legislation on abortion seems more likely now than ever before.
Every small detail of the event spoke of professional organisation and a very active realisation of the need to be "slick" and not to turn off the public with undertones of the church-ridden past.
The music that pumped from the loudspeakers prior to the speeches was not 'Hail Queen of Heaven' or the soporific chant of the rosary but the pumping, energising beat of modern pop.
The volunteers who pressed pro-life pledges into people's hands were young, good-looking and enthusiastic.
And the signs being held aloft in front were not the hand-written scrawls of cranks – who had been relegated down the back.
There was a 'roving reporter' among the crowd to capture soundbites from 'regular folk' – with a careful selection of young, professional females.
And while the swish of clerical cassock was most certainly present among the crowd that marched with the purpose of an encroaching army around the perimeters of Merrion Square, they played no prominent role on the stage. Nevertheless, coaches had been organised by parish priests all over Ireland.
Among the crowd were Karl and Mary Mercer from Wexford. They had brought their eight children and Mary is pregnant with the ninth, but despite the difficulty in mobilising the troops, they had come because they felt it was important, they said.
Tony Foy from Donegal had come with his five children, saying he didn't want abortion to come in "by the front door, the back door, the side door or the roof light".
"Just because Irish people travel to England to have abortions doesn't mean it's right and that we have to facilitate it," said Jane Gallagher from Mayo, who came with her sister Ann-Marie.
As the speeches got under way, speaker Caroline Simons told the crowd that the international pro-choice movement viewed Ireland as a 'jewel in the crown' of the pro-life movement.
Meanwhile, the 'jewel in the crown' of speakers at the rally was Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte, who appeared on stage looking drawn and very thin.
"Ireland is almost unique in the western world in looking out for, and fully protecting, two patients during a pregnancy – a mother and her unborn child," he said.
"No individual or nation is perfect. We all have our faults and failings but when it comes to life before birth, we have a value system, an ethos, which we should proudly share with the rest of the world," he said to cheers from the crowd.
"Every abortion is a death in the family," another speaker, Bernadette Goulding, told the crowd.
The mood among the speakers was without rancour, without bitterness. But as they repeatedly warned: "This is only the beginning."