Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Babies – The Wacky World of #Savethe8th Conspiracy Theories

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In early 1977 word circulated round West Belfast that abortion was a “British plot to decrease production of children in Ireland”. It came during the heights of Women’s Lib and period of intense efforts to roll back the 1967 Act in Britain.

The leaflet was allegedly produced by the Provisional movement and not to be outdone, censors in the Republic were busy combating the Saxon menace in banning Spare Rib Magazine. To this day posters on lamp post draw dubious comparison with England and say “don’t brings this to Ireland”.

There is certainly no doubting the extent of deviousness deployed by Britain on these shores. In what has turned out to be genuine state directed conspiracy at least 20 people had been murdered by the Glenanne Gang the previous year, however the abortion plot has scarcely been mentioned since. It is, after all, still a Westminster Act that prevails north and south. For now.

A more recent shade of this line was promoted by former PIRA Volunteer Gerry McGeough who published “The Hibernian” between 2006 and 2008. Under the tag line “Faith, Family and Country” the magazine contained a scorching mix of pseudo- Gaelic fascism, seeking a “return to Catholic Order” and featured regular contributions penned by members of Youth Defence. Alongside the machinations of British imperialism, abortion was also soon linked to a wider, often satanic, globalist conspiracy.

McGeough resigned from the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle in 2003 claiming the party “has been heavily infiltrated by homosexual activists and British double agents. A lot of republicans can’t fathom the liberal values of the leadership. They do not understand why they are pursuing a liberal British agenda. Immigration is a massive concern and there are a lot of people who are not happy with the level of immigration”.

McGeough was recently quoted by Reuters at last month’s Save The 8th rally having organised “several busloads” from Tyrone with the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Co-founder of The Hibernian was Charles Byrne who last popped up in 2013 when he and fellow Youth Defence activists had liberal priest Fr Iggy O’Donovan removed from his parish in Drogheda.

Sometimes dark forces really are out to get you.

A barely watered down version of this tradition continues with the Alive! newspaper available monthly in Catholic churches and through your letterbox since 1996. As a sort of ultramontane tabloid, Alive! is run by Fr. Brian McKevitt and comes with a disclaimer that the “content of this newspaper and the views expressed in it are those of the editor and contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Irish Dominican Province”.

McKevitt, who once compared masturbation to drink driving, set up ‘Women Hurt by Abortion’ following the original Eighth Amendment Campaign before it was reanimated recently by Catholic activists Bernadette Goulding and Lynn Coles. The lobby group left many bemused last year for sending not women, hurt or otherwise, but a US based male activist to speak at the Citizen’s Assembly.

There is no issue too big, small or indeed random for Alive! where singing nuns and the threat of nuclear submarines can sit along side the ethics of Christians practising yoga. The latest Hollywood blockbusters are dissected for anti-family propaganda and miraculous medal are flogged promising all sorts of cures.

The current issue claims no less than Karl Marx himself is behind the Repeal movement in Ireland. While many wish big daddy K’s influence was such in this country, his writing probably better explains vast changes in recent decades than causes it. Instead, the Catholic Right cling to various tales amounting to Walter Benjamin and Nell McCafferty hatching the sexual revolution from their hollowed out volcano lair.

Against this the Alive! editorial lambastes “indifference” claiming

“surrender before the first shot is fired: that has largely been the policy, or at least the practice, of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past 60 years. Again and again she capitulated, barely showing a flicker of fighting spirit”.

It goes on to praise for Trump,  fascist Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán and three less flattering articles on George Soros.

Farage, Le Pen, Ganley and other far-right figures are routinely lauded in between advocacy of corporal punishment, rampant Islamophobia, and War-on-Christians outrage. A regular feature is sensationalist articles regarding medicine – particularly anything to do with women’s health and contraception. A young girl in Ohio sprouted hooves after going on the pill, and what have you.

Bizarre adverts for even stranger organisations offer training for young men to Fight and Defeat! anti-Christian forces. MEN of IRELAND are called to climb Croagh Patrick to stop abortion.

The Media Watch section and indeed much of each issue has been given over to the notion that prochoice sentiment is entirely media driven. While I tend to agree that Irish journalists saunter hand in hand with Satan, in reality, you can count on one hand the number of repeal supporters impressed by coverage of the issue and most of those work in the media.  The repeal newspaper conspiracy must be operating at such a high level given most editors and journalists know little about the  campaign itself.

Those running Savethe8th have invited American film makers here to make propaganda videos about the death of Savita. In 2013 they appeared in an advert for US Catholic television. They spoke in grave terms about a “tsunami of the culture of death racing toward Ireland’s shore” and the donations required to stop it. When questioned during Oireachtas hearings, Caroline Simmons, legal advisor to the Prolife Campaign, pretended to know nothing about it despite appearing herself.

That same year Renua candidate and Vatican Embassy campaigner, Mary Fitzgibbon investigated whether Clare Daly and Ivana Bacik were involved in the occult. Accusation of witchcraft surfaced again this year centred on Katherine Zappone and child sacrafice. A firm favourite of mine was recent suggestion that Micheál Martin’s surprise support for Repeal is based on the presence in his constituency of Pfizer, who manufacture misoprostol.

Extremism is rife. Some anti-choice campaigners can be found wondering if material in circulation is a ‘false flag’ given the nature of content and claims made. Others see larger organisations as too compromising and there were those asking if Youth Defence were even prolife at all.

In 2011, satirical site The Onion published news of an “$8 billion Planned Parenthood Abortionplex” complete with “amenities such as coffee shops, bars, dozens of restaurants and retail outlets, a three-story nightclub, and a 10-screen multiplex theater”. This spread with dismay through anti-choice corners online and was raised by two US Congressmen. Such is how these people have been conditioned to believe anything.

While some may genuinely believe George Soros eats infants and others get very Old Testament altogether – sincerely linking natural disasters and recent extreme weather to a decision to hold the referendum in May, the month of of Our Lady.

Others are simply opportunistic in how they sow disinformation but there an important distinction to make here. Many of the prominent, most committed voices are trained liars with absolutely no regard for fact or truth. Some are hardened, seasoned brawlers, others are cutting their teeth but all share the will to use dirty tricks if it will push the the right buttons. So much of their propaganda can be written off as crude but there is also a sophisticated, workmanlike element in how they use emotional triggers.

While billboards ventriloquising babies urging us to stand up and fight are straight from  first world war propaganda, long before the internet, anti-choice campaigns have been an epicentre of fake news. They have for decades exploited a lack of information around sex, reproduction and women’s health to spread fear and disinformation.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommends

….a thorough review of sexual health and relationship education, including the areas of contraception and consent, in primary and post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations involved in education and interactions with young people. Sufficient time must be provided in the school’s curriculum for such education and it should be taught by suitably qualified personnel. The information should be provided in an impartial and factual manner that is independent of school ethos.

During the 2012 Republican primaries, Senator Todd Akin hit headlines with his thoughts on “legitimate rape” and claims that the “female body has ways to shut that whole thing down”. The fallout eventually hit our shores when focus came on the information and groups spreading it in Irish schools. A trail led back to Savethe8th founders at the Life Institute who were forced to hastily remove an identical claim from their own website.

Iona Institute affiliated Pure In Heart also deleted their website following media scrutiny and similarly dubious information has been shared in schools by ‘The Precious Life Guide to Sex.  A ‘Secondary Education’ company called Lifeworks lists Cora Sherlock, Ruth Cullen and other Prolife Campaign affiliates as directors.

Recent accounts show an impressive turnover of 64,700. This figure is important to remember because there is a lot more than ‘ethos’ at stake as the RSE in schools debate intensifies.

Perhaps one of the more impactful trends is how a global network of anti-choice websites have incubated and laundered far-right causes and talking points into the broader Conservative media before they eventually reach mainstream. In recent years you can draw an easy line of stories surfacing on fundamentalist US media before appearing in places like The Spectator or British Telegraph just as occurs with Fox News in the states. Given how easily this stuff reaches the US president, what effect here in Ireland?

Take for instance a persistent meme of recent years – the question of “why is no one reporting the Christian genocide in the middle east?”. A media industry arose around 2013 onward to ask this question over and over. People were far more invested in the notion of media black-out than concern for the crime itself..

Underlying this is a hierarchy of victims with Christians deserving greater sympathy and against this background, Iona Institute director David Quinn queried why LGBT persecution in Russia received significant coverage “instead” and there was suggestion that Christian refugees should be prioritised.

Racism and Xenophobia in various forms have certainly been recurring among many prominent though not all committed Irish activists. Anti-abortion is part of a broader political project for some but for many this is not the case and in today’s climate we must ask what is the effect of being plugged into networks where anti-choice content is produced?

In an age where single articles are shared on social media, a link to one everyday anti-abortion story will often lead to a menu replete with anti-Semitism, white supremacy and end of civilisation sensation. Supporters of the Eighth Amendment are very often only one click away from darker corners of the internet and this will surely have other consequences.

Like most Irish industries, the Soros conspiracy is an American import. The massive LIFENEWS have articles on the subject as early as 2003. White Supremacist Breitbart News have published nearly 25,000 articles tagged: abortion and over 2000 on Ireland. I need not explain the extent of dubious ideas currently being smuggled under the cloak of protecting ‘Christian values’, ‘religious freedom’ and so on. American and other involvement in Irish anti-choice activity is nothing new but it takes on a fresh dimension when common cause is found with frog waving online misogynists. Such alliances are already underway Stateside

The very first act of president George W Bush was signing an Executive Order limiting funds to prochoice NGOs and he left office lauded as “the prolife movement’s best friend”. His war received massive support from the God-fearing media. They have played a central role in fostering the post-911 racism and climate of white society under siege.

Irish anti-choice campaigns regularly write for these sites and disseminate content on social media. They have long been part of these networks and share common anxiety of about a way of life under attack.

Today’s columnists under the impression they are being clever ‘asking questions’ about Islam or political correctness must be aware that long before even the Daily Mail there are massive American outlets who wrote the rule book.

It is sort of quaint that the tedious Irish opinion page contrarian believes they are writing something original when following a template set down over a decade ago by news organisations quite literally built on a foundation of anti-feminism.

And this is what it all comes back to in the end.

Whether people believe the stings are pulled by RTÉ, billionaire investors or Satan himself, anti-choice conspiracies should be seen for exactly what they are.

Another form of sexism that seeks to erase the enormous amount of work women are doing.


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#Repealthe8th | Are the Irish Media Up To The Job?

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For several years the Repeal campaign has been tediously lectured by journalists, columnists and self regarding political gurus. Pompous pages filled with advice no one asked for. Dire warnings and hollow concern. Dozens of hacks writing identical articles while accusing everyone else of being unprepared.

You need to follow the rules they say as centres of power ignore referendum results, European Courts and more cases than we should ever be familiar with. Tone it down and follow procedure insist the same people left reeling by the outcome of Citizens Assembly and Oireachtas committee.

Get off the internet they jeer as people turned a hashtag into a question on the ballot paper.

Throughout 2017 a cottage industry arose as journalists set out across America to find the ordinary people – as if residents of Nebraska or Idaho were some lost Amazonian tribe. RTÉ’s Caitríona Perry even delivered ‘Tales from Trump Land’ but no such survey of our own savage wilderness has taken place.

Instead, on the morning of the last general election one broadcaster reflected the overall mood in RTÉ studios remarking that the results “seem like they were from another planet”. This was but a rerun of 2011 when none saw the collapse of Fianna Fáil coming and in the era of Trump and Brexit need we labour the point of just how out of touch the professionals are from public opinion? Yes.

I fondly remember former Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy one morning telling us the marriage referendum was going to fail as Marian Finucane and her panel of experts nodded along. It passed by over 60% with a majority in all but one county. The veteran and highly regarded journalist had of course presided over the paper during the property bubble and bank collapse. Neither of which were foreseen across the entire media/political class, apparently, and she popped again in 2016 to insist that in the general election “stability in government will be the main issue in a majority of voters’ minds” before result delivered the lowest combined FF/FG vote in history and no government for 80 days.

Irish Water, Garda scandals, Siteserv, Tuam, Savita, James Reilly, one after another these clowns call the public mood wrong and after nearly four decades on the issue have the cheek to tell us people won’t vote for repeal.

Prochoice activists must to listen to these people pontificate about the “middle ground” but just how prepared are the Irish media for this referendum?

During the long run to Marriage Equality in 2015 both the Irish Times and RTÉ ran opinion polls including questions relating to custody, adoption and guardianship.

Why were these issues being deliberately shoehorned into the topic when trained, resourced and professional newsrooms were well aware these and other matters – for all couples and none – were dealt with separately by the Oireachtas in the Children and Family Relationships Bill.

Way back in 2013 Alan Shatter told the Dáil that

It is important we have this level of understanding and clarity. The referendum will be about one, and only one, issue and that issue is whether it is agreed by a majority of the people of the Republic of Ireland that individuals who are gay can celebrate a marriage. This is the only issue. […]

We should not be led into a debate about children.

The Children and Family Relationships Bill was an important, modernising and in an Irish context, radical piece of legislation reforming the archaic state of family law in this state. It deserved significant attention in itself.

Unfortunately following Alan Shatter’s departure from Justice, Francis Fitzgerald and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin completely dropped the ball in publicising it. Political sense alone would suggest that – with an eye on the referendum  – this was an opportunity to dispel unhelpful noise and myth, and do it early on. Instead legislation was published and  pushed through the Oireachtas several months late and just weeks before the referendum vote.

Was media ignorance and irresponsibility down to a tendency to take their lead from Leinster House….or was it the other way around?

January 2015 headlines in the Irish Times and Journal both tactfully announced that a “Gay adoption law” would be passed before the referendum. Both articles were spurred by government press release in response to a broadcast of Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ the previous Monday night. It was the maiden episode of what has become the most consistently barrel scrapping, sensationalist offerings on RTÉ Current Affairs.

In her TV review Laura Slattery observed that “Labour TD John Lyons looks forlorn as the debate is consistently dragged off in the obfuscating direction of children’s rights, surrogacy and adoption, and wonders if there has been some mix-up. This referendum is about marriage, right?”. This continued on RTÉ for another four months.

Eight weeks later in March, the Irish Times were still polling “on whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt?”. These polls are then picked up from newspapers for morning radio and around it goes again. Far from providing clarity and aiding an informed public ahead of the vote, splashing unrelated guff on front pages and airwaves had the effect of injecting doubt and misinformation into the news cycle. Breeding contention and unfounded fear.

study on ‘negative social and psychological impacts’ during the 2015 campaign found television and radio debates were even more distressing than the ubiquitous campaign posters and that “under the guise of “respectful debate” and “balance” a “megaphone” and “platform” for homophobia and prejudice was provided”.

Journalists and producers will argue the need to hear both sides however unsavoury ‘debate’ turns but this neat excuse sidesteps that it was not just the broadcast of malicious content and disinformation at fault. The biggest criticism during and since the campaign was that presenters were unwilling or simply unequipped to challenge assertions or steer proceedings toward something constructive for audiences at home.

However aside from unprepared broadcasters, Prochoice and other activists are by now well aware that programme makers in fact rarely set out achieve anything approaching informative, choosing instead the well worn comfort zone of simplistic binary and conflict.

Take January’s Dáil statements on the Joint Committee Report. In a debate mature as we could hope in Leinster House, TDs from all sides entered the chamber said their piece and left. Sin é.

Over on RTÉ however a video segment on Prime Time used footage of Mattie McGrath and Richard Boyd Barrett on their feet arguing while a voiceover spoke of “testy exchanges” and a “divisive issue”. The truth was nothing of the sort.

McGrath and Boyd Barrett were separately raising a procedural issue with the Ceann Comhairle, it was an argument about speaking time. That was the extent of trouble throughout the debate but in using this footage RTÉ Primetime quite deliberately mislead viewers into seeing conflict where none had existed.

This was culmination of a trend. The Committee on the Eighth Amendment was an imperfect, frustrating but none the less landmark process in Irish politics. There was no consensus on the desired outcome but most members were moving in the same direction at different speeds. Most were open to listen and engage. This was no small event for Irish politicians and abortion.

However each Wednesday radio bulletins invariably rang out with the antics of a minority who heckled, obstructed and listened to no else. Headlines were no better and with a few exceptions there was scant indication of what actually occurred over three months down in Committee Room 2. Members of the Oireachtas don’t easily emerge with ground shifting recommendations ranging from repeal, sex education and provision of universal free contraception. A lot just happened here but when the final report was published, short as it was, most went unreported on the main evening news as equal time is given to bare opposition of “no change”.

In January this year, RTÉ Drivetime ran a segment putting the Irish reproductive health regime in global context. Phillip Boucher Hayes remarked that he spend all day crunching the numbers. He could have just asked any number of activists who have been putting the word out on this for years. In so many cases, journalists are only behind politicians in catching with public opinion.

Activists are chastised, their work overlooked and dismissed while in January, Stephen Collins, Fiach Kelly and Pat Leahy at the Irish Times each wrote identical articles praising the Taoiseach’s supposedly genius strategy in softly softly bringing people along? Each tellingly over estimating the influence of Leo Varadkar in this campaign.

The effect of this mediated politics, so constrained and narrowed is proving to have effects beyond the humble electorate. It is not a leap to suggest these failures account in part for why much of the media and political class itself has been blindsided by Citizens Assembly recommendations, public opinion and just about everything else abortion related as the ground moved beneath their feet since 2012.

For years we were subject to speculation and debate about the emergence of new party in Irish politics. Endless coverage for Lucinda Creighton, Michael McDowell and whoever else. All the while, the most incredibly vibrant social movement touching every county in Ireland has emerged and the majority of journalists are unable to write about it.

Media comment has concerned itself not so much with the issues but with grave concern that this is happening outside perceived boundaries of respectable politics. This is ordinary people getting together and putting a most unspeakable issue on the agenda and soon to vote – in spite of the Normal Rules.

It is not just that regime journalists live in a bubble or don’t care to inform themselves. They genuinely do not understand how this campaign has played out. It is beyond their entire conception. This is what happens when your idea of politics only extends to the ritual of posters on lamp posts.

 


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Beware The Risen Jumpers

For a long time leading to the centenary of 1916 a running battle had taken place between those who claim to support “constitutional nationalism” as represented by the Irish Parliamentary Party and those with loyalty the armed campaign on which this state was founded. The vast majority of commentary was a nonsense.

While there were many aspects, a central argument was the insistence that independence could have been achieved by the work of gentlemen legislators alone. The entire revolutionary period is considered something of an embarrassment but aside from a few million needless WWI deaths, the IPP was no stranger to regular violent protest outside parliament and were indeed responsible for a number of innovations in the Westminster chamber that were and would today be decried as a “stunt”.

It is fairly obvious that the counter revolution has won out so what struck me was just how anxious its proponents were over the last two years. Debate was started by a small group of people to defend a position that no one was really arguing about and yet they ensured it was thrust into the spotlight for months. Probably unwisely at this juncture.

It would be nice to think they are kept awake by questions of legitimacy but I suspect it is more to do with some underlying awareness of just how fragile their version of the world is.

How else do we explain the persistence of all this if not for fears about the precarity of their own position? Why was there such regime consensus and vigilance about the centenary being “hijacked”?

They have the run of the place unhindered for nearly one hundred years so what is it that spooked them so much.   You could argue they did succeed in taking space from more important considerations of 1916 but that is probably giving them too much credit.

Descendants of both nationalist camps however are united in their disdain for dissent. The Labour Party meanwhile are busy preparing proposals for a return to social partnership at a time when striking workers are winning.

Protest, if it is tolerated at all , must be ‘peaceful’ and political engagement must end at the ballot box. This week however many were outraged by people wearing a jumper in parliament.

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Laissez faire died with the PDs it seems and Ciaran Cannon has demanded that TDs be sanctioned. For a jumper. When asked his own view on a referendum in February he didn’t  have the guts to answer the question. On Tuesday Houses of the Oireachtas broadcasting service resorted to bizarre camera angles in effort not to show the offending garments.

Elected politicians and a few jumpers. Deary me. There was no marching “mob”, no bad language, no water balloons or “missiles”, no alleged death threats, abuse or “false imprisonment”. All the rules regularly demanded were adhered to and yet people were fuming. It was reminiscent of last summer when many so called democrats were scandalised by Greek people having an opportunity to vote on the demands of international finance.

The opposition are routinely chastised for pushing the limit of constraint set down by government while many of the most outraged have no issue with the executive dictating to a parliament mandated to hold it to account.

Within this the media are trained to present pantomime contention in place of genuine conflict.  Many, many, of those who preach the gospel of parliamentary supremacy were very late in waking up to scandals in the gardaí, NAMA and IBRC. In 2014 newspapers were convulsed by revelations of gardaí collecting ‘intelligence’ on infants from the Travelling community despite Clare Daly disclosing the information over six months earlier. Finance Minister Michael Noonan was for months free to evade  questions from Catherine Murphy on IBRC and Mick Wallace on NAMA because the vast majority of political reporting took no interest. All these matters have since led to inquiries.

During a 2012 Dáil exchange it became quite apparent that the Dept of Taoiseach had breached the McKenna judgement during the Fiscal Treaty referendum. When asked to outline his departmental expenditure for the house and public, as he is required to do, Enda Kenny attempted to conceal nearly twenty thousand euro he had spent on  PR consultancy during the  campaign. When asked why the numbers he provided didn’t add up, the Taoiseach claimed the pages of his script got stuck together before getting extremely flustered and defensive.

It was farcical stuff, the kind Miriam Lord and others would normally feast on and yet for some reason not a single newspaper reported what happened.  The prime minister had seemingly spent thousands unconstitutionally during a referendum, made a complete shambles of trying to hide it, the press gallery was full and yet the public were never informed. Make of that what you will.

You cannot with any credibility centre Dáil Éireann as the only legitimate place to do politics, devote coverage to meaningless debates and then precede to ignore the uncomfortable business. If people can get away with something of that magnitude on the chamber floor, imagine what goes on in private. What happened that day held parliament in far greater contempt than any jumper, walk out, sit in or stunt.

Which brings us to the fact that throughout this past year many politicians and journalists have muttered darkly about the emergence of something called the “post-truth era”. At its heart this is a sort of self-defence mechanism.  Coping with no longer having a monopoly of influence. Spare a thought for those so used to being heard. Trust in all sort of people and institutions has collapsed but instead of self-reflection, the spectre of inflamed popular passions is conjured up as some sort of inexplicable outside phenomenon.  The saying goes that truth is the first casualty of war but the aggressors remain reluctant to admit it.

Across much of the world political organising is decried as “anti-politics”, “populism”, “anarchy” and whatever else. This has always been the case as the enlightened and the anointed cower before the mob. What goes unspoken of course is that the opposite of populism is surely elitism but it is implicit in the growing list of things labelled as such.

According to figures released in September, 90 families have become homeless every month so far this year, anything else you see would be populism.

At the Irish Times, habitual no hoper Stephen Collins is particularly weary of this siren call. It is not unusual among jilted Progressive Democrats to hold the intelligence of the electorate in contempt but more-so Collins resembles the Japanese soldier hiding up trees unaware the world has changed and his  own role it. Journalists talk about ‘new politics’ being current Dáil arithmetic rather than the result of it.

Outside the mainstream knockabout, reactionary forces also have quite successfully rebranded  feminist, anti-racist, LGBT activists as “social justice warriors” as a means of carrying out the same poison we have seen for decades. Whatever you have heard, make no mistake this is a campaign to undermine dissent. Egregious cases are used to seduce people into ridiculing ideas like content warnings, safe spaces, no platforming, etc, seemingly unaware that they are gleefully belittling political organising. The conservative press have been remarkably successful in exporting their slander of political correctness and it never occurs to people why or in whose interest so much energy is spent attacking student politics at the very time when  higher education  as a public good is being dismantled.

The world today is a grim place but the disparities in wealth or democratic deficit at root were certainly not caused by an absence of manners or deference to authority.  The ruling class in Europe succeeded in creating a new normal after 2008 which has decimated old certainties and safety nets. Those who like to think of themselves as the sensible moderate centre are directly responsible for creating conditions of current upheaval but just like the banking crisis itself, they have washed their hands of the results. This week Deutsche Bank teeters again. On the eight year anniversary of our own guarantee, we see all the same echoes of systemic risk in Frankfurt.

The past year of internal Labour Party politics in Britain is met with alarm and hysteria. Enormous effort was made to prevent people from voting in leadership elections which they are free and entitled to do. A glance at the rapid  rot of political parties around Europe only underlines the enormity of what is occurring in Britian but this peaceful democratic engagement, following all the explicit rules; getting involved, trying change the system from the inside, etc, is treated as end times.

In the United States, White America continues its latest terrifying round of paranoia and ignorance. The largest and most important civil rights movement in generations has arrived because thousands of people who follow the rules still end up dead on a policeman’s bullet.  In recent weeks a prominent football player started a peaceful, dignified and soon powerful protest. By now, thousands have joined him on one knee during the national anthem but this, this too is deemed unacceptable by enemies and supposed allies alike.

As seen during the marriage referendum and increasingly during the repeal the eighth campaign, those demanding respectability not only provide room to the opposition but probably aren’t all that interested the struggle to begin with. In the wake of 2008, many engaged in mass pseudo psychology about why the Irish were not protesting. Judging by most of the shrill commentary today, that was just how they wanted it to remain. Rules only matter to those who make them.

 

#repealthe8th | On the Importance Absence And Nuisance

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On the launch of Telefís Éireann just over fifty years ago, President Eamon De Valera addressed the audience in one of station’s most remarkable broadcasts. Likening the power of television to atomic energy, this giant of Irish history expressed personal apprehension that “never before was there in the hands of men an instrument so powerful to influence the thoughts and actions of the multitude”.

Later that evening the station was blessed by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

While the role of RTÉ alone in driving social change has been over mythologised by John Bowman and others in recent years, there can be little doubting the effect mass media plays in shaping, advancing and limiting public attitudes. Denis O’Brien spent millions in his effort to take over Independent Newspapers, in compliment to his radio empire, while the malign  influence of Rupert Murdoch has warped expectation for millions of people.

In the political realm the use of mass marketing has come to be known as the ‘air war’. Political parties and government policy are sold just the same as cars, mortgages and dishwasher tablets. There is debate about whether this or the ‘ground war’ [canvassing, getting the vote out, etc] is a more effective use of resources but nonetheless, each year the amount spent by Irish politicians on spin doctors and media training continues to grow.

In 2012 for instance we learned that James Reilly and Frances Fitzgerald had used over 30, 000 in allowances on the services of the Communications Clinic. Every day there will be hundreds of people on air who have been trained to speak in a certain way, how to get their ‘message’ across regardless of questions posed or subject covered. Each week, Irish politicians of all stripes spend thousands advertising in local newspapers. We pay for it. In the US,  media campaign budgets dwarf the total spend in elections elsewhere. Deep pockets of supporters and opponents ensured over one million adverts were broadcast during the 2012 cycle. In more recent times the success of people like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage is rooted in their ability to stay in the headlines.

So then, having survived and later thrived during some of the most pivotal decades in Ireland’s history,  De Valera was correct anticipating a new front in the battle for hearts and minds. How well did he know that much of this would involve rewriting his own constitution.

Away from stage managed TV debates and the bright lights of modern public relations there is another aspect. Some years after De Valera’s warning, Oliver J Flanagan TD made the observation that “there was no sex in Ireland until Teilifis Éireann went on the air”. This was nonsense of course, but what Flanagan meant is that the medium provided a new space where uncomfortable and unmentionable topics where acknowledged.

Perhaps one of the best examples came later  when letters flooded into the Gay Byrne radio show following the death of Ann Lovett in 1984. At the time Byrne remarked that there were “too many letters. They couldn’t be ignored”. This is crucial.  Like Flanagan’s anxieties about sex, the media in this instance was really only communicating something that already existed but for various reasons remained forbidden. In the shadows and margins of respectable society  something is always waiting for its moment before bursting out to leave the world unrecognisable. The weeks following the death of Savita Halanpanavar saw similar outpouring where that awful tragedy encouraged thousands to share their experience, no two the same, both on the airwaves and among friends and family.

I sat up one night that week listening to replay of some radio phone-in show. Dozens of people spoke about Savita, about their own experience of maternity care and of abortion. There was no agitation or ‘debate’, just regular people with all sorts of stories spanning decades. Women who were speaking about events for the first time in their lives after hearing someone do the same fifteen minutes earlier.

Issues of secrecy, silence, stigma and shame loom large over both the social and legal framework of Ireland’s reproductive health regime. A significant amount of this has been enforced through absence.  Away from Article 40.3.3 alone,  when the constitution states that a women’s place is in the home it is not just buttressing the ideal of patriarchal family or primacy of motherhood.

While ‘the home’ is not necessarily the opposite of the outside world, for a very long time and even today it meant surrendering financial and a large degree of personal independence. This is not to say mothers were chained to the sink but barriers to participation in the public sphere are constitutionally enshrined as a baseline into which all other tributaries are supposed to flow.

Until the 1970s young Irish women were forced out of heavily gendered public employment in teaching, nursing, administration, etc, on becoming married. The last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996 while countless other expectant women were given a one ticket out of the country. Enforced absence came in many forms and I needn’t tell you how lack of ability to control one’s own body  was a factor.

In February this year, Maria Bailey became the 100th women to enter Dáil Éireann since Constance Markievicz in 1918. Over one hundred men were elected the same weekend just as they have been in every election previous.

When news of Miss X broke in 1992, An Taoiseach Albert Reynolds stood in the chamber to make a statement on Ireland’s injunction of a fourteen year old girl. There were just eight women TDs at that time and two who tried to speak were ruled out of order by the Cheann Comhairle.

After over 21 years, a government passed legislation in line with that Supreme Court judgement. One which had been upheld by the people twice. From that January through May, no law in our lifetime was ever given so much time in parliament but it was not until the final stage of the final night in 2013, after months of supposed debate, that someone read onto the Dáil record part of evidence given by a then teenage girl during the X Case.

She had been absent throughout. She was not alone, government also excluded the D Case from consideration. Deirdre Conroy was absent until waiving her anonymity in 2013 stating that what happened to Savita Halappanavar “was the final straw”. Ahead of the 2002 referendum she had previously published an pseudonymous open letter the Taoiseach asking to be listened to. Here she was again three Taoiseachs later. Having already been to the European Court, there is no reason why anyone in her circumstances or any other should have to forfeit so much to be heard in Leinster House.

In public houses where there is considerably less drinking and antisocial behaviour, places long considered and marketed as the heart of Irish social life, women were routinely banished to a snug if they were served at all.

One way or another, women were absent. Through the law and much more, women’s views, experience and decision making was kept out of sight where it was less likely to intrude or contribute.

Returning to our national airwaves, the 1947 Radio Éireann annual report states that a programme called ‘Housewives Half-hour’ was among the most popular,

The circle of regular listeners now embraces every county in Ireland and a big number from England and Wales. Constant appeals are made for an extension of the time or a bi-weekly programme.

Nearly thirty years later in 1975, the first issue of Banshee magazine from Irish Women United declared

You’ve just read the daily papers. You’ve been listening to the radio. You are are probably about to watch television. Would you know from the attention devoted by the media to women that females make up fifty one percent of the population?

Did you notice any howls of justifiable outrage that Irishwomen are denied contraception, divorce and abortion? That we work for half the wages men get? That we rear families, a difficult job indeed, under conditions no trade unionist would tolerate in a factory – mothers get no pay, no paid holidays, no training for child rearing and often no home in which to rear children? They don’t even have the legal right to decide the religion, education or domicile of their children.

You’ve just spent the whole day learning nothing about women and no one cares what you think.

It was into this Ireland that the Eighth Amendment soon arrived.

Throughout the decade proceeding 1983, elements of the conservative catholic right had fought a nationwide running battle against what would become the Irish Family Planning Association.

In 1973 a man named John O’Reilly presented Dublin gardaí with contraception he had received by post. Accompanying the contraband were copies of two letters to the IFPA, one signed by an Eilish and another by Deirdre. John O’Reilly was then chairman of a little operation called the ‘Irish Family League’, his daughters were aged nine and ten . He had directed them to sign the letters which he posted in an effort to bring the forces of the law against the IFPA. Charges were brought by then Fine Gael Attorney General Declan Costello who some years later was the High Court judge that ordered the X Case injunction.

Under questioning in court O’Reilly’s daughters acknowledged that they did not understand what their father had asked them to do. The case was later struck out on the distinction that the IFPA had accepted a donation rather than sold the contraception. The ‘Irish Family League’ took their defeat and moved onto their next scheme. O’Reilly, a member of the Knights of Columbanus, would go on to become chairman of the Prolife Amendment Campaign and to this day remains at the top table of the Prolife Campaign. They have recently removed the page listing personnel from their website for some reason. Must be some mistake.

The history of these groups has been well documented so what I want to focus on is the operation and how, like the case above, these people use law, regulation, bureaucracy and plain old influence  to stifle and  censor.

Obviously, insertion of the Eighth Amendment itself is probably their biggest victory but we have seen a lot of activity in recent years and months that I think warrants proper context.

The first thing to take into account is that today just as in the 1980s, we are talking about a group of people who are insignificant in number but considerable in commitment. Take Senator Ronan Mullen, former press officer to the Archbishop of Dublin during events that led to the Murphy Report.

Mullen looks for votes on the basis that “I will be the one to stand up x, I am the only one who will speak for x”, “without me there will be no..” and so on. The first sentence on literature for this year’s Seanad election claimed “Ronan Mullen stands out in Irish politics”. I wonder why that could be? A minority view perhaps. Mullen stood in his first proper election in 2014 only narrowly out polling a catastrophe like Lorraine Higgins while Luke Flanagan got four times as many votes. The mythical prolife vote was unmoved from its slumber, it seems.

The Iona ‘Institute’ was established on the same basis. “Without us no one else would be putting this view across”. Just like the original Prolife Amendment Campaign, they all double bluff on one hand purporting to represent a large section of society while on other the claim to be the lone voice speaking out.

The antichoice side do not just oppose abortion but contraception and sex education too along with dozens of other issues under the umbrella of sexual permissiveness as one but very important  part of a much broader worldview. It is derisory to suggest that religious belief is not the foundation of their campaigning. For tactical reasons this will be dressed up in language of dignity and human rights. There may be others motivated by misogyny or anti-feminism alone but you cannot talk about  Irish anti-choice activity without putting the church front and centre.

This is not to say that the religious view is simplistic or unthinking, far from it. Much of the world is ordered by lines long set down in part by the church and the anti-choice standpoint forms part of a material and ideological structure as insidious and complex as its cousins in private property and capitalist social relations – which themselves are not at all  incompatible with a desire to see Irish society conform to a particular Roman Catholic ideal.

However while Irish capitalism is doing ok its ally in cloth is sort of in an odd place today. The tide they hoped to turn in the eighties has crashed down around them, slowly at first but then with ferocious speed. The world has changed rapidly and they have the siege mentality of panic and motivation characteristic of people who feel under attack on several fronts. A recent Irish commenter on a popular American conservative website described the impending referendum as “the Stalingrad of Irish Catholicism” hoping that “if the religious segment win and enter the political process more assertively thereafter there is a real chance Ireland will not go the way of the rest of Europe”.

It wouldn’t be Irish Catholicism without nationalism of course. As has so often been the case around the world at different times, women are bound up with ideas of nationhood and identity so Irish women find themselves caught in someone else’s fantasy for a place that never really existed.

Many of the main players see themselves as guardians of a particularly kind of Ireland. Much of it nostalgic but some is more current. Status is a big thing. The Prolife Campaign claims that the amendment is “regarded internationally as one of the key pro-life victories of the past 40 years”.  After the 2013 ‘Rally for Life’ Sean O’Domhnaill of Youth Defence proclaimed that Dublin “looked like the pro-life capital of the world”.  Prestige for Ireland in the Catholic world and themselves in the antichoice bubble is seen as important. The marriage referendum will have been a serious blow to whatever pomp that remains and the impending visit of his holiness will weigh on their minds.

Internationally, Irish antichoicers have had some interesting associations from extremely wealthy Americans to straight up neofascists in Britian and Italy. At home, rivalry between Youth Defence and PLC has lead to no shortage calamity, most famously a split in 2002 causing Youth Defence to go against the PLC and church in advocating a no vote on the Twenty-fifth Amendment. For a brief moment in 2013 they held united protests but within weeks were back to ploughing their own furrow.  They can regularly be heard encouraging people not to attend the other’s events.

I have often quoted this from a 1994 Nuala O‘Faolain column but it captures much of the thinking and is something that could be applied in many other cases. Looking back she observed that

“often at meetings, I would see that a certain kind of educated, middle-aged man in particular was enraged at being forced to listen to plurality of voices when no one was listening to him. I’m not saying that their anti-abortion feelings weren’t absolutely sincere but the rage was even bigger then the issue. They would still have been angry, even if travel and information and the whole lot had gone as they had wanted. It is Ireland they are disappointed in and their own place in it. It is the erosion of certainty that is threatening them. A lot of people in this country want to go back to the simplicities of an authoritarian era”.

Repeated opinion poll since 2012 show that those opposed to abortion in all circumstances is at best one in ten people. They have lost every referendum on the issue since 1992. How then can such a minority hold the rest of us back?

Essentially everything since the amendment plan was hatched has involved antichoicers being a  nuisance. Lawmakers were pressured so we got a referendum no one wanted in 1983. That amendment caused the country revulsions in 1992. Youth Defence came along to wreck everyone’s head before the very same people from PLAC pestered Bertie Ahern into committing to yet another referendum ahead of the 1997 election. Whether harassing women on the street or the elderly for money, the real story of Irish anti-choice activism has been one long pain in the arse.

Today, Dáil Éireann is still populated by many politicians spooked because of bitter campaigns in the eighties and they are deeply reluctant to go within a mile of something believed to be contentious.  Throughout passage of the PLDP Bill in 2013, each one would rise to his feet in the chamber at atone that “this is a very divisive issue”. Most politicians, not least those preaching the gospel of laissez faire in all other aspects of life,  are completely indifferent but believe there are more votes to be lost than won on the matter. Anti-choice activists have exploited this by being loud and persistent enough to make most politicians believe we are still living in 1985.

Here is a list of organisations that made submissions on abortion to the Committee on the Constitution ahead of 2002.

Much of these would be one man bands but many are still with us.

Letter writing and lobbying is constant enough and during 2013 everything was thrown at politicians to prevent passing of the legislation. The was serious effort to publicly shame TDs locally which I thought was quite instructive. We should take lessons that after a campaign that included Enda Kenny receiving letters written in blood,  they only managed to syphon off six dissenting blueshirt TD who went onto to lose their seats this year.

This summer a mural on the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar received worldwide attention after anti-abortion activists succeed in pressuring its removal. Echoes of 1977 when following complaints, Dublin Corporation withdrew a grant from the Project Arts Centre after the staging of two plays by the Gay Sweatshop theatre company. This summer it was planning permission rather than affront to national morality that got the Project Arts in trouble. What was most curious about the complaints is that a wall in Temple Bar had people writing letters from, er, Donegal. As the letters all arrived in succession, each touching on the same points of planning permission and public funds, it is patently obvious that the complaints were organised rather individuals acting independently.

Which brings us back to the media and one the greatest targets of anti-choice ink.

Writing in the Irish Times ahead of the referendum last year, Breda O’Brien informed us that

In 2009, GLEN had 348 media appearances – 179 broadcasts and the rest ranged from national newspapers to the Law Society Gazette. Almost one per day.

That is quite the statistic to compile. Media monitoring like this is serious dedication for people who claimed they were only concerned for the childer.

On the morning of June 24th this year after the votes were counted, thousands in Britain woke up and googled “what is the EU?” This came after a months long campaign and decades of coverage not to mention living in the bloody thing. Since the referendum there has been much recrimination about broadcasters’ insistence on false equivalence in place of anything resembling balance let alone the kind of useful information a public should expect. The BBC would wheel out fringe commentators as an equal and credible view despite the fact their claims were far outside any consensus let alone based on evidence. Any old dubious rubbish was fit for broadcast as counterpoint.

Here at home we are regularly confronted by the same seven or eight people, each one simultaneously an expert on law, medicine, finance, global politics and most especially, everyone else’s decision making. The have no obligation nor inclination to tell the truth. They have no respect for other people’s circumstances. They have no interest in what you think.

Listen carefully, you will hear them exclaim about one study or another that despite no one else ever encountering has turned the medical consensus on its head! You can get a copy easy on http://www.totallyrealscience/americanmoolah.org. Up next in studio, Cora Sherlock tells us how she is going to build a wall to keep the abortions out!

During 2013, anti-choicers polluted the airwaves with fear that three years on has never come to pass. Floodgates, arrrrrrgh. Fringe conservatives in Ireland then succeeded in having all sorts of scurrilous claims broadcast during the marriage referendum last year. RTÉ took an ultra cautious approach in who was allowed speak about their own real lives while hypothetical children were inescapable.  In this we the public were denied the full spectrum of human experience, shade and contrast was lost, so much more of that important issue went unsaid and as a consequence of what was permitted many people suffered. Though they lost comprehensively, the right succeeded in narrowing the debate to the extent that people found themselves exposed to and having to argue against absurd and damaging nonsense.

Since then, the Broadcasting Authority has been inundated with vexatious complaints any time a woman so much as breathes near a microphone. Reading through BAI judgements it is clear, just like Projects Arts, that complaints originate from a small group of people and often the same person under different names. There is a certain correct format in making a successful complaint and it is obvious that a small group of people have been instructed or coached. These complaints are not representative of public sentiment but again, causing nuisance is just enough.

Could you imagine our side writing letters to the BAI every time women are portrayed as untrustworthy, stupid or one dimensional?

To make matters worse, even though no referendum rules apply broadcasters have taken on cautious interpretations on these rulings in acts of  self-censorship that resemble the days of Section31. One effect of that occasionally still lamented piece of legislation is that women either part or perceived to be part of the republican or nationalist movement were absent from the airwaves. As a result, the particular perspective and experience of women during the Northern Ireland conflict often went unspoken. If you were a member of something like a housing, health or education campaign for example, Section 31 often had the effect of keeping these aspects out of sight. A version of this persists in Northern Ireland today where  women who must be silent for war, today  must be silent for peace. More absence.

The Iona ‘Institute’ was established in 2007 as a media pressure group and are far more mundane than most of us like to think. Essentially they exist to be on the end of a phone should a producer need someone to make up ‘media balance’. They contribute nothing.  During the 1980s, the ‘institute’ model was very successful for the United States in selling neoliberalism and wars. Our own little ghouls on Merrion Square adopted the same tactic. Professional bullshitters. No expertise no mandate armed only with well rehearsed bad faith arguments and ability to succeed as long as radio and TV producers keep picking up the phone.

Key to their activism is securing airtime completely out of proportion with the view they represent. They have a vested interested in creating false panic around bias, censorship and ‘silencing’ as it is one way to ensure media stay lazy in how programmes are formatted and issue are framed.

The one thing you will never hear the Iona Institute discuss though is religion. They will hold forth on issue of marriage, schools, abortion and whatever else they were never asked but it is clear that a decision has been made to leave Jesus at the door. In 2012, Ronan Mullen established another operation called Catholic Voices which is modelled on the Opus Dei front in Britain of the same name. They deal with the God stuff and “equip speakers with the knowledge and skills to communicate clearly and competently in the media”. So you have the false balance already present in the Irish media and then train people like you would a politician or scandal hit celebrity. Like Breda O’Brien and others, they will always just be introduced simply as a ‘school teacher’ or some such while the audience is none the wiser.

This is not the only coordinated attempts of media manipulation. At a poorly attended ‘Convention for Life’ in Dublin back in 2014, Niamh Ui Bhriain of Youth Defence promised “massive campaign” targeting advertisers at the Irish Times due to the paper’s roll in breaking the Savita story and subsequent support for the 2013 legislation. My inquiries suggest the campaign either didn’t materialise or had no discernible impact.

This tactic is regularly encouraged by Alive! magazine who recently enough suggested that readers(?) write to Avonmore Dairies in protest. Avonmore was then sponsor of the Late Late Show and one commercial break, we are told, included an avert for Durex. Thinking went that Avonmore could be spooked into making trouble for RTÉ because their brand was now somehow associated with contraception. Readers will have to make their own mind up about that one  but I suspect Alive! editor Fr Brian McKevitt was the only one at home getting bothered about condom adverts on a Friday night.

McKevitt plays an interesting part in this story. Anti-choicers are always keen to tell us about “the women who regret their abortions” but rarely does anyone admit that the group ‘Women Hurt’, whose trauma these people are so eager to exploit, was set up by none other than Fr McKevitt himself, a Dominican priest. Appearing on Liveline earlier this year after publishing an article which claimed beating children (one of his paper’s regular obsessions) “made them more successful in life”, on air he went to compare masturbation to drink driving.

Indeed, at times it seems “balance” doesn’t work in their favour. David Quinn was recently forced to publicly concede that the owner of a rogue crisis pregnancy agency farcically defending himself on Liveline was “… not doing a very good job”. More important was a segment on RTÉ Primetime in 2013, Dr Berry Kiely of Opus Dei and medical adviser to the Prolife Campaign appeared as ‘balance’ to Sarah McGuinness of Terminations For Medical Reasons.

I don’t want to patronise Sarah McGuinness with any of the usual words or comments but re-watching that clip after some time you can only admire the work she and others from TFMR have found themselves doing.

The Prolife Campaign on the other hand later complained that the discussion was unfair because Kiely couldn’t possibly be expected to come out of it in a good light. That in itself says more about their position and ironically enough too, the antichocie mantra of people being  responsible for their  own actions. But more than that again, it shows that in the face of life in its unpredictable variation and difficult complexity, when women are no longer absent, the antichoice message is exposed. They can only succeed when debate is underpinned by fictions like Irish abortion is not already a reality or one size fits all circumstances. Once they have to account for for real life, the whole thing quickly falls apart.

These days women are tweeting Enda Kenny about their period and throwing knickers on his dinner table. Women are coming with much more than personal trauma and their own souls to bare. They come now from every angle in full colour.

The other crowd no longer have a monopoly on nuisance.

They who once swaggered with confidence, hectoring government ministers who made sure to listen, cannot abide a mural on a Dublin side street. They have wrapped themselves in a comfort blanket that says there is a vast conspiracy. Even the Rose of Tralee is out to get them!  In their echo chamber, still assured of their own self-evident  truth they cry that if only we can get the message out. Once people hear the truth things will change, they say.

Easier that than accept that no one is listening.

During the marriage referendum Breda O’Brien at one point suggested that she and others are “whistleblowers”. Ludicrously attempting to paint herself in the same light those who had been lifting the lid on practices in an garda siochana but the best part is she genuinely believed the things she had to say were supposed to be revelatory.

They carry on as if people haven’t already heard it all and made their mind up. As if thousand of women are not already more equated with abortion and their own reasons than the prolifers ever will be.

The last thing Ireland’s anti-abortion fanatics want is women speaking for themselves because these people have always presumed to know best and could only maintain that conceit as long as they kept the women away.

Ireland, Abortion And #Brexit

Figures released by the UK Department of Health in May show women from the island of Ireland accounted for 82.6% of abortions provided to non-British residents last year.

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That’s roughly nine women having to travel every single day and these annual headlines are an understatement. Not every woman arriving at a British clinic will give an Irish address while in other instances, women may have the option to travel somewhere else like the Netherlands. Even in the collection of statistics there are layers of invisibility and silence but nine women forced to leave their own home each day is nine too many and Britain remains the primary destination.

The task involved in arranging this journey has been covered in some detail here.

Have you been to the doctor? How far along are you? Do you know the further along you are, the more expensive an abortion is? Can you get a loan from a Credit Union? Or will you go to a money lender? Do you have anything you can sell to raise the money? Can you lie to your parents or friends to borrow money? Can you max your credit card? Do you even have a credit card? Are there any bills that you can get away with not paying this month? Have you gone through all your old coats and looked down the back of the sofa? How long will it take for you to get €1,000 together? Can you get an extra €20 off the Community Welfare Officer? Can you not buy coal for the next few weeks? Are you on the dole? Can you use your savings? Can you defer your year at college and save the money for your Master’s Degree again? Is it Christmas time? Can you return any gifts for a refund or sell them for cash?
And more pertinently.

Do you have travel documents? A passport is €80 and Ryanair will only let you travel with a passport. Can you get a Driver’s Licence? You’ve lost it? Aer Lingus will let you travel on a work ID. Your work ID doesn’t have a photo on it? You’ll need a passport then.

Are you an Asylum Seeker? Ok, then you need to get travel documents that will allow you to re-enter the state. Who is your solicitor? Is he or she pro choice? How much does he or she charge to help you with this?

In the republic, while already illegal, abortion has also been constitutionally prohibited since 1983. The North is still governed under the 1861 Offences Against The Person Act as the 1967 Abortion Act has not yet crossed the Irish Sea.

Women living the republic were eventually given explicit right to travel for a termination in 1992 and Irish citizens along with women from the north can avail of the Common Travel Area to enter Britain with minimal restrictions. This pre-EU agreement is likely to remain in the event of Brexit but given the prevailing climate and addition of an EU border scenario, movement between Ireland and Britain will be effected in other ways.

For this group, the worst outcome will hopefully be limited to uncertainty in the weeks and months following the referendum but we do not expect the ground to shift that dramatically.

It is worth pointing out in this context another example of the hypocrisy which reliably follows the abortion question. The referendum campaign and decades leading to it have regularly focused on the alleged pressure migration places on the welfare state at the expense of ‘taxpayers’. British services for the British and all that.  In the midst of all this chest beating sensationalism, women from Northern Ireland alone, who are no less entitled than those in Kent or Cardiff, are denied access to treatment on the NHS anywhere in Britain.

Ireland has also been a destination of increasing migration since the 1990s and these people, chief among them the British (!), accounted for over half a million residents at the last census in 2011. The split is roughly 50/50 meaning there are at least 250,000 women who may potentially seek an abortion at some time in their lives. While EU citizens make up the majority of this number, Britain outside the EU is unlikely to look as favourably on say, Lithuanians as they might the Dutch. How the issue of free movement for EU citizens is dealt with after the referendum is unknown but the cry that “we have lost control of borders” being a dominant campaigning issue is ominous. Tighter application process or controls can only be worse for women often in desperate situations of time and money.

The sizeable number of non-EU Irish residents from places like Nigeria and the Philippines already face restrictions and routine torment at airports. On top of crisis pregnancy, they, along with asylum seekers and the undocumented, will potentially face yet another layer of racist bureaucracy and policing in both Britain and at home. Take all we have learned about Irish women’s experience and add having to account for your movements or reasons for travel in the face of Irish immigration officialdom.

None of this is meant to be alarmist and rests firmly in the realm of speculation. In the event of Britain rescinding EU membership  the target of restrictions will tilt toward permanent visas and immigration rather than temporary visits in the short term however both are very quickly linked when one approaches the passport desk.  Increasing hostility at the boarder is certain and this is important to highlight in the reality of Irish abortion. As entry to Britain becomes more draconian, women who for reasons of xenophobia are seen as undesirable or suspect will be under further pressure to prove they are only staying for a day or so. Their personal, entirely legitimate reasons for travel are hardly suited for airport interrogations.

Regardless of outcome, this referendum coupled with refugee paranoia will only add increased burden so long as abortion access remains restricted on the island of Ireland.

The prospect Britain leaving the European Union is viewed as an unmitigated crisis in eyes of the Irish government but while prime minister Enda Kenny travels around Britain campaigning at the behest of business, finance and farmers, it is safe to assume the implications for Irish women have never crossed his mind.

In truth, the idea that Irish women may soon be forced to leave the European Union to access healthcare doesn’t bear thinking about.


Oireachtas Retort is a space for original and occasionally incisive commentary on the relentless torment of Irish politics. If you find any of this useful, just click the brown envelope to donate!

Oireachtas Retort Podcast Episode Three

Episode three, a prochoice special!

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This show begins with Fláiva Simas from Galway Prochoice reading a migrant’s perspective on Savita Halappanavar. A musical interlude from Sissy and then I am joined in conversation with Niamh Puirséil and Máiréad Enright. Topics covered include just about everything  from law, politics, respectability and media ‘balance’.

Closing things out, Linda Kavanagh from the Abortion Rights Campaign and Goretti Horgan from Alliance For Choice give us an activist update from north and south.

Massive thanks to everyone who made time to contribute. Very pleased with how this one turned out and would also point people in the direction of this post from Sinead Redmond over on Feminist Ire.

These podcasts will be going up on itunes and Stitcher in the coming weeks but for now you can stream or download on Soundcloud below.

If you find any of this useful, please donate here.