Katherine Zappone calls on Government 'to stop treating unborn foetus as equal to women'
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone warned that Ireland can only become a true "Republic of Equals" when the Eighth Constitutional amendment is repealed and the State stops treating an unborn foetus as equal to a woman.
The Dublin TD warned that Irish politicians can no longer hide behind the availability of abortion in the UK to avoid dealing with one of the most difficult and divisive issues to have faced Ireland.
Ms Zappone tonight delivered a keynote speech in Wexford which has been viewed as effectively launching the campaign for next year's referendum.
The independent TD staunchly backed the campaign for the amendment to be repealed, warning that women must be given full rights over their own bodies.
But Ms Zappone acknowledged that the looming debate over abortion "will trouble many."
"As long as the Constitution treats a foetus as equal to a woman, her autonomy can be nothing more than a myth," she warned.
The remarks sparked a storm of criticism from Pro Life campaigners.
Multiple objections to the speech were made via social media while some Pro Life campaigners threatened to mount demonstrations at future events attended by the minister.
Ms Zappone was greeted by a silent protest in New Ross of almost 20 Pro Life campaigners.
However, Ms Zappone warned that Ireland needed to tackle the issue.
"As a woman, a progressive, a campaigner and a Government Minister I firmly believe we need a system of reproductive justice – which must include a referendum on reproductive rights.
"That is why repealing the Eighth amendment is about reproductive rights for all women, including those who want to continue with their pregnancies.
"Of course, for those who don’t the amendment means they cannot access abortion in Ireland."
But she said tens of thousands of women have already paid the price for Ireland's stance on equal rights.
"As we know every year thousands travel, unknown numbers import and take the abortion pill, and more still self-harm to end their pregnancies," she said.
"We do not know how many thousands of women have continued with pregnancies against their will since 1983.
"We do know that women without means, without visas, without freedom from abusive and oppressive partners are denied their rights.
"The availability of abortion in England has allowed generations of politicians to avoid this hard conversation."
That time, she argued, has now come to an end.
"While the deaths and suffering of those who cannot or do not travel are lamented as tragedies.
"But they are not ‘mere’ tragedies; they are the product of our constitutional, and legal structures, of the failure to provide political leadership."
"Any basic conception of justice demands that this be put right.
"I know this raises complex questions that trouble many, and I acknowledge and respect that."
But she warned that Irish women must address the long-overdue issue of proper equality.
"Equality is a rich and complex concept," she said.
"So much more than protections and guarantees - it is being empowered to see, take, and benefit from opportunities that arise.
"This often requires hard conversations and hard work."
"It (the Eighth amendment) oppresses us with the burden of choicelessness."
"Choicelessness is not only about the ability to decide whether to remain pregnant, but about the ability to decide what is done to our bodies, including in pregnancy and labour."
Ms Zappone chose the opening of the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford to deliver her keynote address on the repeal of the Eighth amendment and her policy priorities over the remaining term of the Fine Gael-led Government.
The Dublin TD said she was inspired throughout her political life by the legacy of President Kennedy.
She stressed that tackling the homelessness crisis, youth and social disadvantage and childcare needs will be her priorities over the coming years.
Ms Zappone also issued a warning over pay and working conditions in the childcare sector.
"If we were to reach the OECD average we would be investing €1.6 billion this year," she said.
"In addition to the safeguards and protection of our children, there would be a workforce with fair pay and conditions. In other words a new deal for childcare workers."
"To paraphrase (President) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if I were a childcare worker I would join a union."