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OPINION: Where is the ‘quiet revolution' in a one-policy referendum?

June 11th, 2018 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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By Sean Flynn

IT is undeniable that the referendum on the repeal of the 8th amendment has made the topic of abortion more open after decades of burying it under the carpet, whether through a religious aversion to it, or a social prohibition. 

It has also retroactively succeeded in rectifying the injustice done to Savita Halappanavar in 2012 when she died after being denied an abortion, despite proof that the foetus threatened her life. But here we stand on the cusp of a new Ireland driven forward by, in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s words, a ‘quiet revolution’; only, how has the referendum changed the make-up of the country? 

In other words, where is the revolution in a one-policy referendum?

Besides the pride, face-paint and fanfare of the celebration, we as a liberal country are faced with a number of contradictions. The first is that, technically, abortion remains illegal. It is punishable by up to 14 years in prison according to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which was introduced in 2013 to legislate for the X-case (where a 14-year-old girl was raped and was though likely to have committed suicide). Until the 2013 Act is repealed and replaced by the Oireachtas, abortion remains illegal.

Because crusaders for the Yes side gained a staggering 66%, the political backing for liberal chutzpah in this country has skyrocketed. Despite attempts to repeal the 2013 Act by pro-choice TDs from Solidarity and the Green Party, where they campaigned to reduce the 14-year sentence to a maximum fine of €1, it was Fine Gael’s coalition which rejected the amendment. Contradictory seeing as Fine Gael has set itself up nicely as the liberal kingpin whose majority membership remained undecided nearly throughout the lead-up to the referendum.

 

Out of touch

This is not helping Fianna Fail’s status, which is, as Niall Collins (FF) criticised, deeply out of touch with the electorate. The party was unevenly split 80/20 against repeal, polar opposite to the resounding almost 70/30 yes vote. Besides Micheál Martin, who has collected the bounty of being in a strategically-powerful position having gone against the wishes and beliefs of his associates, cracks in the party’s foundations are showing.

To assume that the force of the referendum was compelled solely by its end goal is to mistake the fortuitous strength of the women’s feminist movement throughout history. However, politicians can use this force to their advantage. In the wake of the female disequilibrium, one way parties are going to seek to legitimise their following again, and realign themselves with the laity, is to scramble for women candidates. It’s happening already. The Social Democrats have announced three pro-choice candidates last week.

Another way, more superficial but just as conniving, is similar to Simon Harris’s fawning doe-eyed popularity. TDs will fight to enhance their own popularity among the liberal electorate by propounding a deviation from the church and a readjustment of the political stratosphere under the auspices of breaking the liberal Twittersphere. Popularity means everything.

Proposed constitutional amendments are already winning traction. One such potentiality is the removal of Article 41.2, which designs a societal role for women as residing in the home. Women give support to the State by remaining indoors, ‘a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.’ This anachronistic sexism was a platitude of Victorian fops and dandies, and is not representative of 21st century Ireland.

 

Home to vote

Ireland has a history of being an ‘emigrant nation,’ so what about all our friends abroad who were in connection with the #HomeToVote movement? This was a movement we saw crop up in the historic 2015 referendum on gay marriage. Why? 

Ireland is unique not just for its restrictive abortion laws, but also for its restriction on voting abroad; it does not facilitate for overseas voting, no postal system as yet exists, and, if the citizen spends more than 18 months abroad, they are deemed a criminal, and could face a prison sentence of up to two years. This is barbaric. 

We should be inspired by the armies who flocked home by the planeload, in sheer disregard of Ireland’s restrictive laws, not nail-bitingly anxious to hear whether they wear the ball-and-chain in Mountjoy. 

A general election before the end of the year is likely. The power shift between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael post-referendum means we can expect a higher number of seats for women repealers. 

Fianna Fáil being out of touch reflects a party which does not have the country’s best interests at heart and so, in a general election, new seats will be won on the basis of fundamental issues such as housing, healthcare, direct provision, maternity / paternity leave and child welfare. 

As a result, Fine Gael are looking complacent as their hat-trick of successive governments is almost assured. And, on the lower tier are Fianna Fáil, replaced in the hierarchical structure as Ireland’s untouchable party.

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