My Repeal(shield) story

Brian Leonard

I was fourteen when the 8th was inserted into the constitution.  I remember the vitriol of the campaign; raised voices, wild eyed priests and pointing fingers.  Instinctively, I knew that it was an oppressive measure imposed on women by a theocratic group who would use any and all means possible to retain the stranglehold they had on the most intimate, and natural, parts of our lives.

My wife (Audrey) and I emigrated in 2001 with our 2 children, first to France and then to Luxembourg.  My kids went through the French state school system, where religion is not taught during school hours, sex education is fact based, and free condoms and contraceptive advice are available to all secondary school students.  I was quite happy living in our little rural French idyll, only screaming at the telly on the odd occasion that Vincent Browne discussed the 8th on his missed nightly programme TV3 (RTE never did).

Then, Savita died, and it was clear that none of us could sit back and allow another grotesque tragedy to happen.  But more tragedies did happen.  It happened to Miss Y, a refugee rape victim.  It happened to Natasha Perie, a clinically dead woman in 2014. She was kept artificially alive because she was pregnant, while her family watched her putrefy before them.  They had to go to the High Court on Christmas Eve, and beg for their daughter, partner to be allowed to die with dignity.  These two along with the many families who travelled for care after a diagnosis of FFA, and countless the women whose reasons we didn’t, and shouldn’t know.

So I went looking for somewhere to vent my frustration, and to engage on the subject.  I found Twitter.  I began to engage with likeminded people, becoming friendly with people like Tara Flynn, Colm O’Gorman and many others of like mind.  But I also began to engage with people who didn’t agree with me.  You find that these people will engage initially, but quickly draw back when they know your arguments are fact based, and theirs are not.  While they didn’t engage any more, we knew they were listening. 

In the middle of all this, in 2017, Repeal Global asked Irish people living abroad to do what they could by organising an event in solidarity with the March for Choice in Dublin.  There were the huge marches in London, and one person demos in places as far flung as Guatemala.  I decided to try something here in Luxembourg, so on a rainy Saturday, 14 of us gathered outside the (closed!) Irish embassy in Luxembourg.  We took some photos, and went for pints.  But it felt like you were doing something.

Then came @repealShield.  Six people, none of whom had ever met, decided to something about the foul online abuse from Anti-Choicers: the name calling, grotesque photos, misinformation, harassment.  They set up a block tool whereby, when you subscribed to the free service, anybody blocked by the Shield was automatically blocked for you:  “Blocking Trolls so you don’t have to!” In March, I had the honour of being invited to join.  By the time of the referendum, we had 4800 followers, and had blocked more than 16000 trolls (59% of whom came from North America). .  We had articles written against us in the papers, many letters to the editor and threats of litigation under inexistent laws.  We knew by their reaction that we were having an impact.  In the same way that the social media ad bans hurt them, we were stopping their automated bots engaging with anyone signed up to the shield.  At some times, there were 6 of us working constantly and we found it difficult to keep up, such was the level of onslaught.  But, not being able to go knocking on doors, it was enormously rewarding to be able to play some part.

And then, we won.  The fight goes on, and pressure needs to be kept on politicians to make them do what we told them to do, but, we did it.  We won, and now the 8th is gone.  We have legislation which is far from perfect, and need to keep up the pressure to perfect it.  We also need to be vigilant and stand up against any political attempts to row back on any of the hard won rights.  But, we can at last say that we have; Free, Safe and Legal.