Monday 20 May 2019

Jody Corcoran: Guttural roar for an end to hypocrisy and shame

Abortion referendum defies political analysis and brings into the light our troubled history with the born and unborn, writes Jody Corcoran

The Fianna Fail TDs who opposed the repealing of the Eighth Amendment gather for a photocall.
The Fianna Fail TDs who opposed the repealing of the Eighth Amendment gather for a photocall.
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

There will be those deemed to be the political winners and losers but the result of the abortion referendum, in a vivid sense, defies analysis through the normal prism of politics as usual.

The sheer scale of the Yes vote, in a way, minimises politics as we know it and maximises to a visceral, guttural roar what must amount to be a demand to end decades of hypocrisy and shame.

In the final days or week of the campaign, you could sense a collective rolling back of the carpet and a taking out into the light, perhaps for the first time, matters which had been swept underneath throughout the generations stretching back to the foundation of the State and before that, to a time when the first bodies were buried in a field in Tuam.

It is imperative now that this demand, a cry from the heart which has been sated, is acted upon and that the politicians legislate accordingly. That is their duty.

After that, it is also possible that those matters taken out will be quietly swept back under the carpet again. Or maybe not...

For you can also imagine that as this referendum campaign progressed there were many conversations in households around the country, urban and rural, between the generations, from grandmother to granddaughter, and involving menfolk too, which were cathartic.

Grandparents who told grandchildren of the laundries and baby homes; parents of their silent abortions abroad, and a new generation of their insistence that this must come to an end. Then they went to the polling stations across the country and acted as one, metaphorically at least, arm in arm, and chose a woman's right to choose.

Perhaps those conversations had started before the referendum - they were certainly hinted at or referred to - but in recent weeks, it is undoubted, the great, painful mass of Ireland's sexual history was brought out into the light at kitchen tables around the country.

How Did Your Constituency Vote?

Final Results Constituencies declared: 40/40

Map Key

Yes 55% 50% 55% No

If plaudits are to be handed out to politicians, and this article is intended to be a political analysis, towards the head of the queue will be the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. For it was he who took that first journey, from conservative West of Ireland politician to a leader who forced into legislation, under pressure from Labour, and then with the zeal of a convert, the legal right to abortion where there is a real and substantial threat to life, including suicide.

In itself, that legislation was closely bound and restrictive and, as such, did not get under the skin or into the truth of Ireland's troubled relationship with the born and unborn. But it was a start.

It was also under Kenny's leadership that the power source of this weekend's seismic decision is to be found: Ireland's turning to face the shame of the Magdalene laundries and his powerful apology to those women on behalf of the nation; and also, the shocking story of the Tuam babies, and such homes around the country everywhere, including in Dublin 4.

On a weekend in June 2014, the names of hundreds of infants who died at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home were published and, as noted here at the time, they were the names of us all, distinctly Irish, who had perished between the years 1925 and 1961.

Constituencies with the strongest Yes/No vote

The table below shows the top five constituencies with the strongest vote for or against repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Dublin Bay South 78.49% 21.51%

Dún Laoghaire 77.06% 22.94%

Dublin Fingal 76.96% 23.04%

Dublin Central 76.51% 23.49%

Dublin Rathdown 76.10% 23.90%

Donegal 48.13% 51.87%

It was these events, and others, which awakened the country from a sort of moral turpitude, the others being several from the X Case to Savita Halappanavar.

The fine or subtle details or distinctions within those cases may have been parsed and analysed by the experts, from hospital consultants to constitutional lawyers and moral theologians, but it is now certain that what is often referred to as the 'plain people of Ireland', with names like those on the lists of the West of Ireland dead, made up their minds on a far more human basis.

It was Enda Kenny who also presided over the unravelling of this litany of shame, and it was he, when re-elected for a second time, who put in place what turned out to be the political mechanism which would eventually allow the unspoken-of come out from underneath the covers.

The Citizens' Assembly and subsequent Oireachtas committee, when they reported, still confounded the political establishment, and the rest of us, who had failed to hear the distant sound of a guttural roar, with the seemingly radical nature of what was proposed: abortion up to 12 weeks.

By then gone, Enda Kenny, in his human way, has left his mark on the social history of the country, and for the common good, more than any leader before.

The overpowering support for the unrestricted nature of abortion services to be now introduced in this country still stuns the senses.

Between the X Case and the death of Savita Halappanavar there were, of course, many campaigners in the political field - people like Clare Daly come to mind - who helped to move the country from staunchly pro-life to an acceptance of abortion in what are referred to as 'distress' cases, by now familiar: rape and incest, in cases of life-limiting or fatal foetal abnormalities and, of course, where life or health is at threat.

But still, even as this campaign began, there was a sense of uncertainty as to the outcome in the 'all or nothing' situation as presented, up to 12 weeks.

It is clear the people, referred to as middle Ireland, weighed up that presentation and came down as one in favour; a mass movement, which, in the process, has put an end to decades of hypocrisy in plain sight, and shame, be it in the fields of Tuam or elsewhere, or on a Dublin flight to Liverpool.

The deed done, there will not now be a political retribution, for this was a decision beyond mere politcs, rather rooted in the deeply personal across the divides, be they age, gender or location.

But there can be no argument with the outcome, and the politicians must now legislate accordingly or retribution there will be.

Primary responsibility for that rests with Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach, and Health Minister Simon Harris, who when it came to 'make your mind up' were seen and heard to show leadership.

They will be supported by the new Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, who took her party by the scruff of the neck and turned it in the opposite direction.

What now happens in Fianna Fail will be interesting to see at one level, but at another is largely irrelevant, or has been made so by the party itself.

Undoubtedly Micheal Martin, as the first declared leader, in open conflict with the vast majority of his party, was most promptly in tune with the burgeoning mood of the country. He was also the bravest leader. When he first declared his position in the Dail, suddenly a Yes win seemed more likely.

For Martin, it may be a pyrrhic enough victory: the problem is not necessarily that he leads a divided party, but that he leads one whose TDs, and half its supporters, are so out of touch with the prevailing mood. He must now stamp his authority with a force as never before.

As stated at the outset, however, that would be to view this referendum through the prism of politics as normal when everything about it tells us, in fact, that politics or the views of politicians was secondary, or lower, in the considerations of the vast majority.

In many ways, politics has never felt more redundant than at this moment, other than to find a mechanism to facilitate the deep inward feelings of the people. That much it did; it was the least it could do and it did it well.

Now the politicians must legislate, and then get on with the day job, the bread-and-butter issues as people require in a time of need and at which many traditional TDs excel, but who also called this referendum wrong; and also to deal with bigger issues such as Brexit and healthcare reform and the formation of a Budget.

Politics as we know it will return to normal quickly enough, in time for the country to draw its breath before it votes again in a general election.

For many TDs, the temporary respite will come as a blessed relief, to get back to such issues that at least they can understand, or where they are most comfortable.

That is not to be unfair, because in truth, no matter what side of the argument in Leinster House - Yes or No - nobody saw this coming, certainly not the scale of it, this release of raw, pent-up emotion; years, decades, generations of pain, hurt, scandal and shame.

It was an awesome, forceful sight which is being interpreted as an Ireland more utterly changed than anybody had realised, and in an immediate sense that may be the case.

But maybe it has not changed as such; maybe it has gone back, further back again, to another time beyond living memory, to a time before Ireland somehow lost its way in a fog of moral judgment and pious indignation.

Sunday Independent

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