Tuesday 17 September 2019

Shona Murray: A young explosion of voters changed our nation forever

Young people didn't experience past horrors but they are aware of what happened, writes Shona Murray

A GENERATIONAL EXPLOSION: Sisters Jessica and Rachel Dowdall from Dublin were among the crowds who gathered in Dublin Castle to celebrate the Yes vote. Photo: Gerry Mooney
A GENERATIONAL EXPLOSION: Sisters Jessica and Rachel Dowdall from Dublin were among the crowds who gathered in Dublin Castle to celebrate the Yes vote. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Shona Murray

'I was 13 when Savita died; I didn't know much about Irish law or abortion, but I was shocked," said Cara Daniel from Dublin.

"It was a wake-up call that I didn't want to live in a country which allowed this," she told the Irish Independent.

"Along with that and the stories of church control; and how women clearly didn't have the same rights, then I wanted to do something.

"I joined ROSA - the Socialist Feminist Movement which supports reproductive rights for women, and I'll stay in politics with groups like the AAA - Austerity Alliance," she said.

Ms Daniel's motivation resonates with almost every young person in the country. Although they were spared the horrors and torture of Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools, it was within their lifetime that the truths of this era has emerged.

Almost 88pc of young Irish people voted in favour of the Government's proposals to allow women to access termination up to 12 weeks gestation, and where a woman's health is at serious risk.

More than 200,000 young people have joined the voting register in the past three years.

The generation of young Irish people today are the most academically more educated; and the most travelled.

How Did Your Constituency Vote?

Final Results Constituencies declared: 40/40

Map Key

Yes 55% 50% 55% No

When Ireland joined the EU in 1973, it was illegal to talk about abortion in the press; there was huge censure, says political analyst Odhran Flynn.

"Young people never got access to information about anything; and that was at the behest of the Church."

Women whose role was traditionally confined to being at home, have become equal, if not more educated than their male counterparts.

As a result you have women demanding to "control their own lives; women won't be dictated by elderly men in garments or suits telling them how their bodies should be treated", said Mr Flynn.

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's as simple as recognising a woman's humanity and her choice over her own body," said Jimmy Billings (24) from Waterford.

"Ireland has for too long used women's bodies as a mould of control over society.

"It's a really momentous time in getting rid of the Catholic influence in the country," he told the Irish Independent watching on from Dublin Castle.

He said while "women led the movement men were getting involved; they supported from the side-lines" at least.

"Older generations have lived through the trauma; they saw how that regime of fear was so frightening. We wanted to make sure that would never happen again," he said.

In an ironic twist, this weekend's vote is almost the same result as the referendum in 1983, only reverse: 66pc of men voted Yes; that was heavily skewed towards younger people, said Mr Flynn.

"Other than England, Irish people never rebelled against anything," he said.

That's why this has taken so long, but when young people were exposed to new ideas, "they said we want some of this".

Younger people said NO, we're not going down this road any more

In two transformative referendums in three years, young people can see the value of the political system, and the movement towards a more progressive liberal Ireland won't stop now, he said.

"There's no doubt some will get involved in elections; they've been shown that activism works."

They see a gay Taoiseach and a Minister for Health Simon Harris who was born three years after the Eighth Amendment was introduced.

"There's a good chance it will bring more women into politics and I'm certain this will be key for finally more women going in to politics in Ireland," said Flynn.

"We have a lot of young men who come to work with me in the Women's Council," said Laura Harmon.

"Young men who are identifying as feminist; they felt voting to support women was right."

"I shouldn't have the right over someone else's body; at the foundation of any democratic state lies the value of sovereignty and how do you enshrine sovereignty if you don't give women control over their own bodies", said Indian student Vedanth Govi (24).

"So many Irish women who had to bear the trauma of so many years; their daughters and granddaughters won't have to do it, you can see their relief today."

The stories of what went on in Ireland have been passed to young people, said Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan who added she was "shocked" from the stories she'd heard from older people on the doors.

"The older generation at the doors; so many older men and women passed down horrendous stories of how Irish women were banished to the UK, or sent to Magdalene Laundries," she said.

Many of the parents, grand-parents or uncles or aunts would say to me "why is this country so cruel to women? It was an issue that had to be righted and it was down to the younger generation", she said.

Ireland was an outlier; and young people weren't going to accept it.

"Young people have been showered with stories of the women who went to the UK had to scrape the money together, but the other ones ended up in Magdalene Laundries," said Mr Flynn.

Backstreet abortion clinics were "horrendous; they used knitting needles and they were hellholes in working class huts".

Abortion pills are "their equivalent where they're taking a risk with their lives", when in other countries it was seen as healthcare.

Sunday Independent

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