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Wednesday 21 February 2018

Tens of thousands hit streets in biggest pro-choice protest

Young people lead city demo chanting and whistling tunes from Taylor Swift and Spice Girls

MILLENNIAL GENERATION: Demonstrators in their teens and twenties joined yesterday’s march from the Garden of Remembrance to Merrion Square. Some in the crowd adapted the lyrics of pop songs as part of an impromptu choir called Voices for Choice. Photo: Gerry Mooney
MILLENNIAL GENERATION: Demonstrators in their teens and twenties joined yesterday’s march from the Garden of Remembrance to Merrion Square. Some in the crowd adapted the lyrics of pop songs as part of an impromptu choir called Voices for Choice. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Niamh Horan and Mark O'Regan

Tens of thousands of people marched from the Garden of Remembrance to Merrion Square yesterday in a call to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

By mid-afternoon the demonstration appeared as though it was fulfilling promises by organisers who had pitched it as the biggest march for choice in the history of the State.

At 3.20pm, the protesters rounded the corner of the Dail and made their way toward the main stage near the Pepper Canister church, where high-profile names such as Hozier and Lisa Hannigan added their support to the campaign.

Despite fears of ugly demonstrations and a repeat of the anger and intolerance of the 1983 referendum, there was a cheerful atmosphere at yesterday's march, which was led by the millennial generation.

Sporting pink fluffy hats, balloons, sequins and glitter eye-shadow, the crowd marched forward chanting: "Hey! Hey! Leo! The Eighth Amendment has to go!" and blowing whistles as a group called Voices for Choice turned pop hits by everyone from Taylor Swift to the Spice Girls into their own political versions for 'choice'.

But there was anger and passion in their voices too.

Leading the trailing protest, thousands of young people from their late teens to early 20s could be seen holding peace signs above their heads, waving single white roses in the air and brandishing signs such as 'trust us'.

Abortion rights campaigner Linda Kavanagh noted the mood of the march: "A lot of the time our rallies are in response to something awful happening and we rarely have a chance to come together for a positive reason, but today is a good day because it's all about demanding our rights. There is room for all emotions, from sadness and anger to hope and demonstration."

Speaking about the stalling by the Government on the referendum, Kavanagh said: "I think the politicians are very far behind the electorate on this. They're very slow to move and it will be at their peril. We don't want a little bit of abortion, we want the thousands every year to be able to have their abortions at home. We want broad access. That's what we are taking to the streets for. It's been a long time coming."

Jane Xavier, spokesperson for the newly formed group Merj (Migrants and Ethnic-minorities for Reproductive Justice), highlighted the plight of female migrants living in Ireland, saying: "A lot of migrant women are very vulnerable here and have been through hard times and they don't have the money to travel and some can't leave the country because they are undocumented or in direct provision."

Around the world there are solidarity action protests taking place this weekend in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Bristol, Portland, Lisbon, Paris, Berlin, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Brussels, Utrecht, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Manchester and Liverpool, Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin and Toronto.

The climax of the event came when pro-choice speaker Angela Coraccio took to the stage to give a speech that likened the protest to a religious congregation.

"We don't have pulpits to recruit from. We don't have many of the resources that anti-choice groups have but what we do have is each other... so right here as we stand together in celebration of our shared beliefs, I want to ask you to take a page out of the Sunday Missal.

"I want to ask you to take a moment and turn to the people around you and shake their hands. Tell them you support them... if you like, out of habit, you can say 'Peace be with you'. This is our congregation," she said to roars from the crowd.

Meanwhile, the Pro-Life Campaign held an 'awareness event' on Dublin's Grafton Street yesterday, where volunteers distributed leaflets to members of the public.

Similar events were held at 21 locations throughout the country.

Alan Keenan, volunteer co-ordinator of the Love Both campaign, said the Eighth Amendment gave equal rights to a mother and a foetus.

"The pro-choice side claim that we're saying the life of the child supersedes the life of the mother - we don't believe that at all," he said. "We believe in the rights of children, and the rights of the mother. The Eighth Amendment has saved a lot of lives."

He said it was "unfortunate" that Irish women were availing of abortion outlets in the UK. "We need to provide more emotional and psychological support for new mothers," he said. "We need to change our mindset so that we see pregnancy as a gift."

Sunday Independent

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