Sunday 20 January 2019

An 'enormous weight lifted' by referendum Yes

John Manning

The overwhelming Yes vote in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment felt like 'an enormous weight being lifted' according to long-time repeal campaigner and local TD, Clare Daly who made an emotional speech in the Dáil on the historic vote.

She told the Dáil: 'For so many, the weekend's vote was like an enormous weight being lifted. A ball and chain that dogged us all our adult lives was finally gone.

'I cannot believe that I am 50 years of age and it has taken this long. It has taken my daughter to come home for her first vote to get us here. 

'For so many women, it represented so much. It is almost like society atoning for everything it has done to women in this country; atoning for how we stigmatised women faced with crisis pregnancies, the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes, the shaming, the forced adoptions and the robbed identities about which we will hear later this afternoon. It still goes on.'

Deputy Daly continued: 'The biggest sentiment behind the Yes vote and the question people asked most often was 'Who am I to judge?'. 'They said it was not their decision. So many people in our society have acknowledged that life is hard and that there are choices a lot of people have to make, including today, which they would really rather never having to make.

'It is not easy to parent alone in this State. It is not easy to raise a child or children with disabilities with the lack of support that is there. It is not easy to find out one is pregnant to a violent man. It is not easy, of course, to hear that one's much-wanted pregnancy has a fatal anomaly which is incompatible with life. As a society, we were never going to be able to end that pain, but we could make sure we did not add to it.'

Deputy Daly referred to an earlier attempt on her part to legislate for termination of pregnancy in 2012. She said: 'When Deputies Mick Wallace, Joan Collins and I introduced our legislation in 2012, only 20 Deputies voted with us. At that time, four incredible women went on the Late Late Show.

'It was the first time people in this State openly identified themselves as having travelled for terminations. They were Amanda, Arlette, Jenny and Ruth who later founded the group Terminations for Medical Reasons.

'Is it not appalling that they and their colleagues had to lay bare their most appalling pain and tragedy in order to turn that into a social movement which changed history? They should not have had to do that.

'I am in awe of them and all of their colleagues who took part in the campaign. When we assembled here and Deputy Wallace moved the legislation on fatal foetal abnormalities, those women were in the Gallery. Afterwards, their hearts were broken that the House had voted against them again. There were people who travelled that day and there is probably someone who is travelling today also. We should not have compounded their pain but the fact that they stepped forward was huge.'

She emphasised that this referendum result was decades in the making and had little political support. Deputy Daly said: 'A boulder has been pushed up a hill for decades and no one here was behind it. Let us be honest about it for once. No one was involved. In fact, a lot of people here were sitting on the boulder, making it even more difficult for those outside who wanted to push for change. Others, of course, decided to jump ahead and claim some of the glory once the boulder was at the top of the hill and about to go down the other side, even though they had done none of the pushing. I do not say that to score points, but to learn the lesson because there is going to be a next time. 

'Perhaps we can learn something next time around. We need to move to enact the legislation.'

Deputy Daly ended by congratulating young people and students who took part in the campaign. She said: 'My last point is for students and young people. I am proud of the student movement. I was one of those students years ago but we did not succeed in changing the world. I hope this generation will. The young people who mobilised and enfranchised their peers are the legends in this. I hope they make a better job of changing the world than we did.'

Fingal Independent