I've filled out a lot of forms since moving back to Ireland last summer. One of the easier ones was the RFA 2, the one I need to get my name on the Register of Electors, to get back my vote after all these years abroad.
To finish the form I needed an official stamp, so I went to our local Garda station, the one up the road with lovely flowerboxes outside. I’ve never once gone inside; my mum sorted out the passport renewals for me over the years. I knocked on the counter window, and when the young guard with the nice accent asked me for ID, I showed him my new, shiny PPS card. He stamped the form and politely closed the window.
The post office was nearby, so I popped the envelope into the post box, triple-checking it was stamped and addressed properly. I should hear back soon from the county council that I’m on the register, just in time for May 25th when Ireland will be asked to vote to retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment, which bans abortion here.
I'm 44 now, and I've only voted a couple of times in my country of birth
I’m 44 now, and I’ve only voted a couple of times in my country of birth. When I turned 18, I took my duty to vote very seriously, in whatever election or referendum came up. My memories of voting in the abortion referendums in 1992 are blurry - I’m sure I voted, but what sticks in my mind is how confused and confusing the issues seemed, and the multitude of facts (or “fake/real news” as we call it now) swirling around.
The last time I voted here was in the 1995 divorce referendum. I had already left the country, but flew home from London for it: it was just a quick trip. After that I took up residence abroad, and I lost my vote. This really frustrated me during my first years away: I was finally an Irish adult and wanted my say. I was amazed to watch a group of fellow students, from Cyprus, who were flown home by their country to vote in an important election there. Why couldn’t we do the same?
As an Irish citizen in the UK, I was allowed to vote in general elections (a unique privilege that might change after Brexit, or maybe not), but I didn’t stay too long there. I started to move further afield, to the US for a few years and then to Canada. I was moving further away from Ireland. I started to accept the fact that I couldn’t choose our President or whether I did or didn’t (or did again) agree with the latest EU treaty. These issues were important to me, as I might one day return, but it’s in my nature to accept the rules and, more than that, I trusted that Irish society would vote for its own good.
Though I could no longer vote in my home country, I grabbed any chance I could get to vote in the places I lived, to have some say in the society in which I paid taxes and where my children might grow up.
After marrying my Canadian boyfriend and living there for a few years, his native land very kindly offered me citizenship. The ceremony of citizenship was a special experience; it did involve my swearing allegiance to the Queen of England “and all her heirs”, but it meant I could vote. I didn’t get to use it much as we were off again soon after, but I did send a postal vote back to the small town we left behind.
During our seven years in Norway I only got to vote once, in a local referendum - it was nice of them to ask though. It wasn’t a huge issue by Irish standards - to vote if Oslo should bid to host the 2022 Olympics - but we took it seriously and after much discussion with sporty friends, my husband and I cancelled out each other’s votes.
It's spring 2018, we're living in Ireland and planning to stay. The latest referendum is in a few weeks, and it's a big one
So I have only watched from afar while fundamental issues were put to the Irish people, and seen how the issues involved were being discussed more clearly. The younger generation got their act together and made sure to do the right thing, even travelling home in their (ever cheaper) plane-loads to vote if that would change the ways things are in Ireland. The results of the marriage equality referendum in 2015 reverberated around the world, and that was a proud moment for this Irish person abroad.
Now, it’s spring 2018, we’re living in Ireland and planning to stay. The latest referendum is in a few weeks, and it’s a big one. This time round, with this abortion vote, I feel I can more easily access information and discuss openly the many issues around it than I could back in 1992. But this time, I’m technically older, and supposedly wiser. And I’m a mother.
A few days ago, I was walking home from the bus with my 11-year-old daughter and, sure enough, she started to ask about the posters that had started to appear on every lamppost and tree. “What does Repeal mean, and why No and Yes, and what are those images trying to show”? Over the next 10 minutes I tried to give her the low-down on abortion, women’s health issues, the upcoming vote, the law, and a potted history of women’s rights in this country. “It’s really complicated and very divisive,” I tried to explain.
By the time we got home I was just getting started, but she’d had enough for the moment, she couldn’t take it all in. She will get all the facts though, I’ll make sure she does. This is her country too and it’s only a few years until she has her own vote - a privilege she knows has been hard-earned, all credit due to those women who made it happen 100 years ago.
My vote is just one in many, but it’s my duty and my privilege. It’s my voice. And now that I’m here and I have it back again, I’m bloody well going to use it.