Everybody who took part in the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment has their own story to tell. Here are some of my personal reflections and memories.
The second anniversary of Repeal is taking place in the middle of a pandemic necessitating unprecedented global travel restrictions. I am thankful all over again that, through our collective efforts, we succeeded in freeing ourselves from the 8th amendment. Various interpretations of that landslide ‘Yes’ vote have been put forward. The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described it at the time as a “quiet revolution”. That is not how I remember the meetings, speak-outs and ARC’s annual March for Choice. Perhaps by describing Repeal as a “quiet revolution”, Leo Varadkar revealed more than he intended. Did the political and media establishment fail to notice the social changes taking place under their noses until the voices for change became too loud to ignore?
Likewise, media framing of the referendum campaign as ‘divisive’ does not match my experiences. I think of the time a woman bought coffees for myself and another Fingal Together for Yes volunteer as we handed out leaflets at Balbriggan train station. People brought sweets and biscuits to our stall outside Balbriggan Supervalu. Students from a local convent school stopped us on the street to ask if we had any badges. A woman said, “thank you for doing this”. An elderly man spoke to me at his door in Balbriggan about the damage Church and State had inflicted on women, children and anybody who didn’t ‘fit in’. When I asked another elderly man if he had decided how he was going to vote, he said, “Yes – it’s a woman’s right”. Even those voters who were ‘definite No’s’ were polite. There were the odd exceptions however, I remember a woman calling us “tramps” on a canvass in Swords.
Thinking back on the referendum campaign, I’m in awe of what Fingal Together for Yes achieved in canvassing the populous towns and suburbs spread out over North County Dublin – endless housing estates, doors and letterboxes. All that work culminated on polling day, Friday 25th May 2018. The weather was fine and sunny as it had been all month. I got up early and met fellow volunteers at Balbriggan beach where we wrote ‘Vote Yes’ in the sand. The train platform overlooks the beach so morning commuters could see our message. Balbriggan, like much of north county Dublin, is in the commuter belt. The region’s towns and suburbs had been swelled by workers pushed out of Dublin by rocketing house prices during the property bubble years. After breakfast in the café near the train station, we set up our stall outside Balbriggan Supervalu on the main street of the town. This was part of the countrywide ‘Get Out the Vote’ action for which we had been organising stalls, banner drops and leafleting all week. I still have photos of some of those stalls on my phone. In one of them, we are wearing white hi- viz jackets over a variety of Repeal themed clothing – the green Together for Yes T-shirt, the black REPEAL jumper and a blue and red T-shirt featuring the Maser mural design. On my way to vote, I stopped at the shop to scan the newspaper headlines. The front-page headline of the Irish Independent read, “Yes camp fearful of ‘silent no’ vote”.
Anybody familiar with the history of abortion in Ireland would know who had been silenced for decades and it wasn’t the very vocal anti-choice lobby. Women were expected to go away, go abroad quietly and never speak of their experiences. Over the course of the campaign, more and more people found their voice and refused to be shamed and silenced. The tallies from our canvasses in North County Dublin showed a big Yes majority. Support for Repeal was palpable on our ‘Get Out the Vote’ stalls in Balbriggan. There was no complacency though – too much was stake. I was aware we were only one part of a national picture and Fingal, with the youngest age profile in the country, might not be reflective of what was happening elsewhere.
Time was moving on. We took our banner and home-made Beep4Yes posters to a traffic island (‘Repeal Island’ as we called it) near a service station just outside Balbriggan to remind commuters on their way home to vote. There was nothing more we could do but arrange to meet up in a local pub later where we could hear the results of the exit poll together. When the results of the referendum were announced, my first reaction was relief.
Tuesday May 29th 2018 and another newspaper headline, this time in the local newspaper, the Fingal Independent. It read, “People of Fingal Say Emphatic Yes – Fingal records one of the highest Repeal votes in the country”.