Paula Dennan is a founding member and former convener of Kerry for Choice.
I am standing in the count centre in Killarney. All of the boxes have been tallied, so there is nothing left to do but wait for the results. I’m nervous. As numbers come in from around the country it is clear the Together for Yes campaign was successful. We have repealed the Eighth Amendment.
Yet none of us will believe it until the official numbers are announced. Tallies can be wrong, we keep telling each other. Yeah, but it is unlikely they are wrong across multiple constituencies we respond to ourselves.
The numbers are correct.
For some reason there is a delay with the announcement of the results for Kerry. We are literally standing around watching a group of men wrestle with what we think is a fax machine. It does not appear to be working. It looks like the delay is because they cannot send the numbers to Dublin Castle.
It takes all of my strength not to shout “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” Or “Why the hell are we still using faxes when we have email?” I manage to keep my composure, but only just.
We have tallied the boxes. We have seen the numbers. The local anti-choice group went home early. We know Kerry has voted Yes, but still we can’t believe it. Which is why we are waiting with bated breath for the guy in charge to officially announce it.
When he finally steps up to the mic there is a cheer. As he states that the Yes vote in Kerry was 58.3% the cheer becomes louder. 40,285 ballot papers marked Yes. 40,285 people voted for change.
I am surrounded by cheering and happy people. There are plenty of tears as well, but their joy is clear to see. Yet, I am quiet. I know I am crying, but the joy I expected to feel does not appear.
I feel relieved and numb.
Local photographers take photos. Local journalists turn to me for quotes. I cobble together a thank you to the people of Kerry for voting Yes and a huge thank you to the Kerry for Choice/Kerry Together for Yes crew for all their hard work. It is clear I am shocked, so I admit that I am. That I hoped Kerry would vote Yes. That our experiences out canvassing told us that Kerry would vote Yes. That the tallies from that morning showed that Kerry had voted Yes. But we couldn’t believe it was real until we had been officially told it was.
I was still in tears while speaking to journalists. Which wasn’t so bad for the print journalists, but made Radio Kerry’s job more difficult. That they made my tears less obvious and my quote usable is a testament to the talent of radio producers.
I remember the trepidation of setting up the Kerry for Choice social media accounts in 2016. The frantic email Paul—my husband—and I sent to ARC asking for help because we did not know how to organise a rural pro-choice group. We were immediately offered support, our own logo and training on how to talk to strangers about abortion.
I remember my nerves in the days before Kerry for Choice’s first meeting; what if no one showed up? People did show up. And they kept showing up, for years. They answered emails, ran social media accounts, sent press statements, marched, designed leaflets and badges, organised fundraisers and information events, and held stalls across the county.
When the time came, these ordinary everyday people knocked on as many doors as they could telling people why voting Yes mattered. They made the eight-hour round trip to Dublin to collect posters. They climbed Carrauntoohil, to take part in Ireland’s highest canvass.
I remember the courage shown by the women who generously shared their personal experiences. These stories were often told at public events, with anti-choice people sitting in the audience ready to tell them why their choices were wrong. Kerry owes a particular debt of gratitude to Maeve, Siobhán, Tara, and Vanessa—a debt we can never fully repay.
Politicians and political parties may claim that we repealed the Eighth Amendment because of them, but those of us who were on the ground know the truth. It was the dedicated work of grassroots activists and volunteers over the course of decades that repealed the Eighth Amendment.
It was us.
We repealed the Eighth Amendment.
We have every reason to be proud of ourselves.