Repeal the 8th – Why I’m Voting Yes

I’ll be voting yes to repeal the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution next Friday. Here’s why:

1) I, like 99% of the population, have never found myself in a situation where the termination of a pregnancy needed to be considered. This is a very fortunate position to be in. I then have to ask myself – with about zero personal experience or understanding of the emotional, physical, societal or financial turmoil involved in such a decision – who am I to tell any person that they may not have that option available to them in their own country?

2) Ireland has a long dark history of the socially conservative right and the religious orders trying to impose their moral beliefs on the rest of us. This has led to scandal after scandal: paedophile priests and its cover ups; Magdalene Laundries; the Tuam babies; the failure to liberalise contraceptives until 1992; the ban on divorce until 1996.

The broken families and the ruined lives left in the wake of these people should have taught us by now to stop allowing one section of society impose its moral beliefs on another. Let each of us weigh up our own individual situations, in the light of our own beliefs, and then make the best decision we can for ourselves.

3) Abortion is available to the majority of Irish woman as it stands – they travel to England (or further) and undergo the procedure there. It’s usually done in secret and without the support of a wider network of family, friends and medical oversight. If the 8th is not repealed, this status quo remains.

And this status quo, more than anything else, continues to marginalise the poorest and least resourceful amongst us. Being able to travel for a termination requires: money, the emotional wherewithal to organise it, a job that enables you to take the time required, possibly child care for existing children. This was something that most poignantly expressed in a tweet I saw recently: “My yes is for my younger self who ended up pregnant & then miscarrying as a consequence of rape. I would not have survived if the pregnancy had. I had no capacity to travel, I was too traumatised& poor, I was alone. I am not unique, I am too common.” I cannot speak to the providence of the tweet but we know from the alphabet soup of court cases that this is all too real.

4) For Savita Halappanavar and all other woman in a similar situation. It is a matter of fact that our laws killed this woman. If she was granted a termination when she requested it, Savita would be alive today. The ‘no side’ have tried to disgustingly twist and mangle the facts of this case.

5) For all the women and couples who have their foetus diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality. Under our existing laws, these women are either forced to carry the foetus to term or given information about travelling for a termination. They further suffer the injustice of having the remains delivered to them some time later by courier. Our children will look back at this and wonder what kind of dark age their parents lived in.

6) Speaking of dark ages and a reason that stands alone in its own right: the ‘X case’. Courtesy of and edited from Wikipedia: The case involved a fourteen-year-old girl who was a ward of the state and who had been the victim of a statutory rape by a neighbour in December 1991 and became pregnant. X told her mother of suicidal thoughts because of the unwanted pregnancy, and as abortion was illegal in both Ireland, the family planned to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion. Before the planned abortion was carried out, the family asked the police if DNA from the aborted foetus would be admissible as evidence in the courts, as the neighbour was denying responsibility.

Hearing that X planned to have an abortion, the Attorney General sought and was granted an injunction under the Constitution (which outlaws abortion) preventing her from having the procedure carried out. The injunction was appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned it.

X miscarried shortly after the judgement.

Unfortunately that case/situation has other awful twists and turns.

7) Consider this: The World Health Organisation has called for the provision of abortion in the public health system in Ireland. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated that the Irish abortion law violates the human rights of women here. The European Court of Human Rights made a similar ruling in the ‘C’ case. Ireland is the only country in the democratic world to have a conditional ban on abortion. Malta is the only other country in the EU with a complete ban on abortion.

Sometimes it’s good to be different. This is not one of those times.

8) For each of the A, B and C cases, Ms D,  Ms P and Ms Y. Sometimes you need to wonder what kind of fucking country we live in at all.

9) For my wife and daughter.


Have any arguments of the ‘no side’ resonated with me? No, I can’t say they have. I am a sufficiently intelligent person to be able to look dispassionately at both sides of the debate and their arguments. I may be advocating a yes vote but it doesn’t mean I exist in an echo chamber – far from it, I enjoy radio and debate most when my positions are being challenged.

If you’re on the ‘no side’ and it’s your a true and core belief to you that life begins at conception them that’s a view and a position I can understand and respect. But here’s some of the problems that the ‘no side’ have from my perspective:

10) There’s no sense of realism for what a yes vote would result in. The rhetoric is that of “pro-abortion” rather than pro-choice. If you believed some of those on the ‘no side’, a Saturday night out in 2019 would be to grab a bite to eat, head out for a few pints, have sex, wake up and get a quick abortion before brunch. I have not seen a single person on the ‘yes side’ who is ‘pro-abortion’. Every sane mature person knows that an abortion is a serious decision with life long consequences and no one undertakes that lightly nor is it anyone’s first choice.

11) The emotionally charged language – for example “our pre-born boys and girls” – grates heavily with me. I know when I’m being emotionally manipulated and I’m afraid it has the opposite effect.

12) It’s the same old tired faces of the social conservatives: the rural  wing of Fianna Fáil; John Waters, Mattie MaGrath, Breda O’Brien, Declan Ganley and Ronán Mullen; the Íona Institute with David Quinn and Maria Steen. With some of these, you turn on your television / radio and you’re brought back to referendums past. Or it feels like you’re being preached at from the pulpit.

13) The hysterics and the stunts. My Twitter feed is a fairly healthy mix of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigners. But it feels like it’s the ‘no side’ with the biggest stunts (crosses along the road in Donegal, ‘NO’ on Benbulben) and throwing the biggest fits of hysterics: what looks like a clerical error becomes deliberate planned mass voter registration fraud; every poll result is either a farce or shows ‘a trend to no’; MEDIA BIAS; organised mass Tweets to presenters because MEDIA BIAS; ‘posters disappearing’. It’s tiring folks, really really tiring.

14) The hypocrisy and the continued enforcement of one set of beliefs. “Don’t trust our politicians, this is just the beginning.” Future politicians could of course tighten or remove abortion rights – that’s the power of how we’re changing the constitution. But of course the ‘no side’ know that the arc of time generally pushes us away from the darker oppressed ages they cling to. And of course the hypocrisy being that they tell us not to trust our own elected politicians but would rather allow Irish women to travel to England and entrust British politicians with their healthcare.

15) The latest attempt to muddy the waters seems to be to ask who are / were the Citezen’s Assembly. Christ on a bike. It doesn’t matter! Each of them, like the rest of us, have a single vote in this referendum!

Mostly, the ‘no side’ feels like a campaign that doesn’t have argument and reason on its side and so it falls back to aggression, emotional blackmail, whinging and the hysterics and the stunts mentioned above.

Here’s a fact: I have seen previous ‘no voters’ that have been turned into ‘yes voters’ citing the ‘no campaign’. I know of no single ‘yes voter’ that’s been turned into a ‘no voter’ by either campaign. The ‘no campaign’ should reflect on that in how they conduct themselves.

Doing Us Wrong: The Independence Alliance

Shane Ross and John Halligan represent everything that’s wrong with the Irish multi-seat constituency system. 

Halligan got elected mostly on a local hospital issue. Numerous medical reviews clearly stated that maintaining or expanding a cardiac unit at Waterford University Hospital was unsafe due to lack of demand and, thus, development of local expertise. Despite this, it remains the primary plank of Halligan’s continued support of the Government. National politicians being lead by local issues. 

In a recent interview with The Irish Times, he was quoted as saying in reference to his position in Government:

“When he knew they were all going to be killed, King Leonidas went to them and whispered in their ears: ‘If we have to die, from them take everything and give them nothing.’ That is my motto, and it might come to that,” Mr Halligan said.

A dire reflection on the maturity and commitment to Government of the Independent Alliance. 

As an aside: the quote is attributed to King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. The only source of this quote I can find is from the film enactment of that battle called 300. Please correct me if my admittedly scant search was too shallow.

Another Alliance member – pseudo-leader in fact – is Shane Ross, my local constituency TD. Unlike Halligan, Ross was elected first in our Dublin Rathdown three-seater. He’s a man who on the national stage has spoken out against cronyism and tribal politics.

He’s main local issue is the closure of our local Garda station. At least one morning a week he could be found standing on the traffic island outside it with a banner to have it reopened. Local grandstanding. On the same issue, a local group invited local politicians to speak on the subject as the election approached. The motto: No Station, No Vote. To what should be Ross’s eternal shame, there he was on a trailer promising its re-opening. A suspected guarantee on his party, the independent Alliance, entering Government. As of writing, it remains closed but it’s early days in this Government.

Don’t get me wrong – many politicians get elected based on local issues. But they’re upfront about it – like Halligan. But, from watching Ross at work, it seems like he tries to cultivate one image for the national media and a different image locally. That’s what annoys me more than anything else.

Shane Ross comes to mind today as he made a very misjudged boast about how, as Minister for Transport, he’s finally taken the bus:

This led to some Twitter hilarity including the gem of an image at the top of this post.

This is a post in the series Daily January 2016 – generally rushed and unedited.

Shatter’s Donation

Our Taoiseach – who cannot seam to string a coherent sentence together most of the time – said, if you can parse it, the following of Alan Shatter’s donation:

“I think nobody can complain about the benefit that the children who are in the care, the subject of attention from Jack and Jill, nobody can complain about it.”

He was of course referring to Alan Shatter donating the €70,000 severance pay he is due to the Jack and Jill foundation.

What’s effectively happening here is that Alan Shatter, a member of the governing party and a cabinet minister until recently, is effectively saying that he doesn’t trust his own partners in Government to spend this money more wisely than he can.

Typical of Shatter’s arrogance. And a damning critique of Kenny.

EU Data Retention Directive Declared Invalid

The Court of Justice of the European Union today declared the Data Retention Directive invalid in a joint case brought by Digital Rights Ireland and an Austrian group. This is a great win by privacy advocates against a law that was over reaching, uncontained and unsafe. The courts own press release is a short three page read but some of the key elements include (all emphasis theirs):

  • the data “may provide very precise information on the private lives of the persons whose data are retained, such as the habits of everyday life, permanent or temporary places of residence, daily or other movements, activities carried out, social relationships and the social environments frequented”;
  • the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data
  • “the directive covers, in a generalised manner, all individuals, all means of electronic communication and all traffic data without any differentiation, limitation or exception being made in the light of the objective of fighting against serious crime”
  • “the directive fails to lay down any objective criterion which would ensure that the competent national authorities have access to the data and can use them only for the purposes of prevention, detection or criminal prosecutions concerning offences that … may be considered to be sufficiently serious to justify such an interference” and “the directive does not lay down substantive and procedural conditions under which the competent national authorities may have access to the data and subsequently use them”
  • “the directive does not provide for sufficient safeguards to ensure effective protection of the data against the risk of abuse and against any unlawful access and use of the data.”
  • and, shockingly (if none of the above was shocking enought), “the directive does not require that the data be retained within the EU“.

This is indeed a good day for digital rights, privacy rights and common sense. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the volunteers at Digital Rights Ireland.

Reflections on the Result of the Seanad Abolition Referendum

I’m surprised. Pleasantly so; actually, exuberantly so. I thought the battle was lost and that democracy here in Ireland would have taken a hit today. But, in the words of a friend, every time I lose faith in the Irish electorate, they suck me back in.

In a – if you were to look at recent opinion polls – shock result, the Irish electorate voted by 51.7% to retain our second house, Seanad Éireann.

I have some reflections on this:

  • Firstly, it’s a fantastic result for all the reasons I mentioned here.
  • Without repeating the points I already made in the above link, it’s a great result for democracy. It’s not enough that we’re a democratic country by name but we should be a great democracy. Particularly with our executive-cum-parliamentary system, we need a second house. But not the one we have, a reformed second house:
  • Let’s be clear – no one, not a single person, argued to keep the Seanad in it’s current form. Rather, we argued to keep it and reform it. The Government now have a clear mandate to reform this dysfunctional but necessary house and they need to follow through on that. Particularly, Fine Gael got elected on a wave of the promise of reform and have done little in that respect since. They now have a clear public mandate to do something concrete in this respect with the Seanad. And, God knows, we have enough reports and proposed bills to help it happen fast.
  • The turnout was higher than expected (while disappointingly low at 39.2%). This high(ish) turnout means that one cannot argue that the pro-side were apathetic and the no-side were motivated and turned up. Rather – and I suspect deeper analysis will prove this – the undecideds fell to the no-side.
  • Enda Kenny. Disaster. This was his baby. In a cynical political stunt at a Fine Gael dinner in 2009, Kenny announced that he would abolish the Seanad in Government. Only months after lauding it. This may very well be one of the most expensive after dinner speeches in Irish history – whatever abolishing the Seanad may have saved, what of the cost of the failed referendum? But, back to today and this campaign. Kenny did not tog out. He didn’t even come to watch the match. Whoever his handlers are, they should be outed and fired. A 1.7% margin could easily have been closed had the leader of the country stood over his own idea. This, more than anything else, was the biggest failure of the campaign. If there aren’t knives out for Kenny within his party, there should be.
  • Naturally the blame game started early. Some Government TDs were spinning early that the no vote was a result of people’s desire to give the Governnment a bloody nose. This is an insult to the voting public. The Government gets a bloody nose in by-elections – especially when Dáil numbers are not in the balance. But the Irish electorate is too intelligent to change our most valued and core law on petty party politics. TDs suggesting this should not get your vote in future elections.
  • More depressingly, Kevin Humphreys TD (Lab, Dublin South East) suggested the people in his affluent area (i.e. the suggestion is college educated) voted to protect their franchise (i.e. their university Seanad votes). Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously?
  • A number of muppets called for a ‘no’ vote but to also write REFORM on the ballet paper to enforce  the intention was a save but reform. Intelligent people called for this. People I had credited with more cop on. These people are muppets – and, if you spoiled your vote like this, so too were you. Yes, returning officers have discretion where the voting intention in clear but it’s not guaranteed they’ll use it or that their perception of clear matches yours. The spolied percentage in this election was 1.16% versus 0.43% and 0.39% in the previous two referendums. Given the tightness of the result and the fair assumption that the difference were mainly no votes, these could have been critical.
  • A question for Fine Gael is where were the heavy hitters of cabinet? Noonan in particular who is a very trusted political figure. The campaign was left to Bruton and a rag tag bunch of back benchers such as Simon Harris TD and Sen. Regina Doherty (both, if I’m not mistaken, are first termers). There was also very few of the Labour heavy hitters batting in public for this.
  • Sinn Féin made an unusual decision to back the Government. They usually put themselves on the minority side of a referendum to maximise airtime. I don’t know if it’ll hurt them in the short or long term but it won’t help them. It also grated with me to listen to Pearse Doherty calling for the abolition of a house where he served the last term and provided him the platform to run successfully for the Dáil.
  • Fine Gael made a lot (well, was it a six page document?) of promises about reform of how legislation is made. These rang hollow and rushed so I fully expect them to find their way to the shredder.
  • The media seem to be playing up a city / country divide. Roughly, it’s 45% ‘no’ outside the cities and 55% in the cities. That’s not a big divide. It’s two people in every twenty. Or a swing of one in every twenty to tip the balance. One most also bear in mind that most of the Fine Gael loyalists are outside the cities and would follow their leader, like lemmings, over a cliff.
  • Fine Gael seem to be hell bent on the Americanisation of Irish politics; in this case contesting a referendum on two populist and, in the case of costs, complete bullshit, points. I’m delighted to see these tactics which we deride from the outside when looking at America have failed miserably here this time around.

Anyway, it’s a great result and the right result. I look forward to reform.