Demonstrators pledge to keep campaigning
Call for legislationGroups demanding legislation on abortion following the death of Savita Halappanavar have vowed to hold repeat demonstrations in an effort to force the Government’s hand.
Thousands of people have taken part in vigils and protests in many parts of Ireland to pay tribute to the Indian dentist and her husband, Praveen, and to highlight a growing public appetite for change.
The weekend’s largest demonstration took place in Dublin on Saturday with attendance estimates ranging between 6,000 and 20,000.
Events were also staged in Galway, Cork, Ennis, Clonakilty, Carlow, Limerick, Letterkenny, Kilkenny and Sligo.
The message was clear: consecutive Irish governments had procrastinated on the abortion issue since the X case 20 years ago. The demonstrations sought to show that Ms Halappanavar’s death had brought about a renewed sense of urgency that Ireland must address one of its most contentious legal dilemmas.
“The theme of this march is ‘never again’. Never again will a woman be allowed to die,” said organiser Sinéad Kennedy of the Irish Choice Network, an umbrella body for pro-choice organisations, at the beginning of the march in Dublin’s Parnell Square.
Ms Kennedy said Saturday was about “draconian abortion laws”, political “cowardice and inaction”, and about the women forced to leave Ireland for abortions under a “veil of shame”.
The Dublin march filled the entire length of O’Connell Street, before snaking over O’Connell Bridge and up Nassau Street. As its head reached Merrion Square, its tail was still crossing the Liffey.
Demonstrators punctuated the sounds of a busy city with chants of “shame” and “never again”. A speaker at a megaphone at the front bellowed: “Twenty years is far too long; ignoring women’s rights is wrong.” Placards popped up from the crowd, claiming “Politicians and priests make lousy doctors” and asking “Does my life not matter?”
Many of those participating were young women. Michelle Wickham (25), a student from Co Wexford, said she came along “to try and get some change. It’s great that everyone is coming together for a change; it doesn’t happen very often and it means [Ms Halappanavar] wouldn’t have died in vain.”
Sarah Noonan (23) from Co Kilkenny said the Government must face up to the issue. “They don’t have a choice anymore. It’s just so sad that this happened and it should never happen again. We can’t let it.”
In Merrion Square, speakers gathered on the back of a truck to thank the crowd and to remind them that more action was required. Another Dáil protest has already been announced for Wednesday.
The speakers included Sinéad Ahern of Choice Ireland; Peadar O’Grady of Doctors for Choice; Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council; and Goretti Horgan, a social activist and lecturer.
Ann Rossiter of the Abortion Support Network in the UK, which assists Irish women travelling for an abortion, and her Indian husband, Gautam Appa, an activist and retired professor at the London School of Economics, travelled from London for the march. Prof Appa said that in the past only Britain, as an unwanted colonial master, had managed to provoke demonstrations across India. “And now Ireland has achieved that. What shame,” he said.
Having introduced a Bill on abortion that was heavily defeated in the Dáil last April, TD Clare Daly said the United Left Alliance would resurrect it if no action was taken imminently.
She criticised the culture of political “inaction” in Ireland, saying the tendency had been to “maintain the hypocrisy that there are no Irish abortions. Of course there are, they just don’t happen here.”