Homing in on the Referendum
With around 40,000 Irish voters living abroad, their choices could swing the Eighth Amendment ballot either way. Patrick Kelleher spoke to five of those flying home
As the country prepares to vote in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment, Irish emigrants from across the world are booking flights home so they can cast their vote on Friday.
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign estimates there could be in excess of 40,000 eligible voters living abroad. To be eligible, a voter must have been living abroad for less than 18 months and be intending to return to Ireland in the future. They must also check the register in advance to ensure they are still registered to vote.
We spoke to some of the Irish abroad who are coming home to vote on both sides of the debate in the upcoming referendum.
When Owen Murphy (27) heard that the date for Ireland's abortion referendum had been set, he booked his flights to come home from Sydney, Australia, immediately. The trip is not cheap - his flights alone cost €750, and he had to shell out an additional €100 as an 'exit fee', as he is on a bridging visa. Despite the cost, Murphy had decided months before that he would return home to cast his vote in the referendum.
"The process of having to go abroad for an abortion is horrendous. It just fuels a situation that is already so traumatic. Nobody makes that decision lightly. It's not a fun trip away - it's a difficult decision that people have to make in a very pressurised situation in Ireland currently."
Growing up, Owen was "staunchly pro-life", however his stance changed when he studied at Trinity College Dublin. "When I went to university, I met people who weren't pro-life and it helped to expand my mind. I listened to people who had been through it, and that's why I'm voting yes."
Sarah Gillespie (21) is currently on a semester abroad in Pennsylvania, and decided to cut her time there short by a month to come home early and vote no in the referendum. She did this at a cost of €300 to change her flights.
"I am passionate about keeping the Eighth Amendment because - and this may cause controversy - I am very openly a feminist," says Sarah. "I believe in equality for everyone - women, men, people of different ethnicities, religions, races, disabilities and, of course, the unborn child. I believe there is something seriously wrong when two heartbeats enter a medical procedure and only one emerges.
"If the pregnancy resulted from something as cruel and horrific as rape, then the rapist should be locked up for the rest of his life and he should pay the price for his actions. The woman should know there is support for her and her pregnancy. The unborn child is, like the woman, an innocent in that case."
Devin John Doyle
Devin John Doyle (47) has put in a special effort to get home to vote from France, where he currently lives, for a very personal reason. When living in Australia in 2011, his wife became pregnant. However, a scan at 10 weeks revealed that the foetus had a chromosomal disorder called Turner's Syndrome. Tests indicated the condition was severe and the foetus was unlikely to go to term, and if it did, it would be unlikely to survive the birth.
"We asked what our options were and one of our options was to terminate. We talked about it for a couple of days. Together, we opted for a termination. I'm ashamed I have to say to my French wife that, in Ireland, we would have been sent abroad to get that termination. I think the Eighth Amendment is unnecessary and it's cruel, and we should never have put it into the constitution in the first place."
Devin and his family recently moved to France after living in Ireland for some time, but he booked his flight home straight away when the date was announced.
"My travel is costing me €150. For me, it's about my self-esteem. This is me honouring my wife, my sister who is still of childbearing age, and my two daughters who are Irish citizens. If they ever go and live there, I want them to have what they need."
Seánín Mac Brádaigh
Seánín Mac Brádaigh is originally from Monaghan but has been living in the south east of England since October 2017. The 27-year-old is returning home to vote 'no' in the referendum.
"I was a reluctant leaver because I love Ireland. Even though I'm not living in Ireland, I have every intention of going home again and I want my voice to be heard in the referendum.
"For me, the Eighth Amendment is about saying that every single life, no matter how short it is, no matter how insignificant it might seem, is valued, and that's reflected in our laws."
Seánín says it would break his heart if the Eighth Amendment was repealed. "I would find very suddenly that I no longer lived in a society where there is a right to life. I am very sympathetic to the hard cases, but what the Government has proposed, there's just no way I could accept that under any circumstance. It flies in the face of everything I believe in."
Ailbhe Coleman (21) is on a year abroad in Stockholm as a part of her law degree and is returning to Ireland to vote yes on May 25.
"I'm really passionate about removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. I don't think it's working as it stands. People in Ireland who can have children should have a choice when it comes to their bodily autonomy.
"A 'yes' vote is the middle ground really. There are 10 to 12 women travelling to England each day for an abortion and there are more taking abortion pills in unsafe conditions. The Eighth Amendment isn't preventing abortion, it's just preventing safe abortion."
Ailbhe was pro-life when she was in secondary school, but studying constitutional law changed her perspective.
"Learning about the X case, the C Case and the Amanda Mellet case, where the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that Ireland's abortion laws had violated her human rights, changed my perspective. That's why I'm going home to vote yes in the referendum."