‘I’m so proud to be Irish today’: Emigrants respond to abortion referendum result
Few could come home to vote, so they’ve been watching from afar, full of emotion
Kim Caldwell: ‘Now, we need the same for women Northern Ireland.’
The throngs of emigrants arriving home to vote became a central fixture of coverage of the Eighth Amendment referendum in recent days. But the vast majority of Irish people living overseas could not come back to cast a ballot; they have been abroad too long and have lost their legal right to vote, or were unable to afford to travel, or to take time off work. They have been sharing their reaction to the landslide Yes vote, which will remove the ban on abortion from the Irish constitution.
Roisin Cassidy, London
Even without a vote, I wish I’d gone home to witness this day. I feel so thankful for the incredible determination of the leaders and foot soldiers of the Together for Yes movement and the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, and for the courageous women in the decades prior, who paved the way for this vote. With tears in my eyes, I’m forever grateful to the countless women and couples whose private histories were forced to become public fodder in the hopes of educating us all - home and abroad. Mostly, I’m relieved that - should they need to - my family and friends might feel supported, not shamed, by our country when faced with the most difficult decision of their lives.
Phil Lang, London
I smiled this morning sitting in my living room in London watching the count. The last few weeks have been anxiety ridden as I watched from afar while the people of Ireland discussed, canvassed and shared stories around the abortion referendum. Today, we have shed light on the pain and suffering of women and families that has been happening behind closed doors for decades. I’m hopeful we can come together as a country and talk and share more. I hope to return home in the near future. I feel I’ll be returning to a family that is willing to have difficult conversations, take care of its own and show compassion and love to each other. Yes!
Kim Caldwell, Sydney
I’m from Belfast, and I’ve followed the #repealthe8th movement from Australia. I’m so proud of all the women, some of whom shared deeply personal stories, to galvanise the community to action. I can’t vote, but was flying home to meet my new niece at the same time as the election, and was so moved by all the #hometovote stories. Now, we need the same for women Northern Ireland. During the campaign, I was horrified to learn that abortion is also still a criminal offence in my new home of New South Wales, Australia. The #repealthe8th campaign has inspired me to agitate for change here, too.
I feel very lucky to currently live in a country where if needed, I can access a legal and safe abortion. I woke up today and saw the results of the exit polls, feeling very proud but feeling overwhelmed when I was out this morning and realised that most people walking around the village I live in, were completely unaware of the enormity and importance of the decision that Ireland has just made. I could not place a vote but have experienced rape at the hands of a stranger and live with a chronic illness which requires me to meticulously plan and monitor a pregnancy. I am so relieved at the thought that if I decide to return to Ireland, I will be taken care of first and foremost. Feeling very grateful for the effort that has gone into campaigning, voting and ultimately, trusting and believing women.
Watching from a distance has been hard. I knew I wouldn’t be eligible to vote as I have been away for two months too long. I spent time when I was at home at Christmas and Easter talking to family and friends about the referendum, aware any future persuasion would be via Facetime. Beyond that I did what many of us who couldn’t vote did; I donated to Together for Yes when the appeals came through for poster funding, purchased merchandise, posted content online, asked my mum to canvass in my absence and helped fund eligible voters to fly home.
Throughout the campaign, I lived vicariously through my sisters and best friend: all fierce Yes supporters. My twin told me this week she had been wearing two yes badges: one for her and one for me. But perhaps most striking of all was on Friday evening when my great aunt, who left rural Ireland for New York in 1948, rang to congratulate Ireland on her historic triumph for women.
Annette Lovett, Oregon
As a nursing student in the mid-90s, I witnessed my closest friend go through the horrors of carrying a dead baby for two months because of the laws. It was agonising for her and her family. So I’m beyond thrilled with today’s vote. The key now is the right legislation, and my hope is that it’s fair and empathetic. Women deserve nothing less.
Rona Fitzgerald, Glasgow
As a campaigner in 1983 against the Eighth Amendment I’m moved, heartened and very proud of the result.
Joyce Fahy, London
When this referendum came up I felt helpless in London, but also hopeful when I saw the amount of people in agreement with my desire for a much needed Yes vote. However I was sceptical as I knew that most of my Facebook friends were young individuals with radical beliefs. I feared for the older generation, the church goers, the ignorant and all those afraid of change who cling to the past. I am shocked at the outcome, but relieved. And hopeful for Ireland.
Wearing my Irish jersey with even more pride (&sweat) than normal in #jakarta tonight as the results continue to pour in on #RTE radio for a landslide #Yes to #repealthe8th . Not just a referendum but a revolution. @ITabroad #together4yes #hometovote # pic.twitter.com/1cynQZ5MxI— Barry Dunning (@BarryDunning1) May 26, 2018
Niamh Termanini, Adelaide
I’m beyond ecstatic to hear it’s been a landslide Yes vote. I couldn’t travel home because I’m on maternity leave with a six-month-old and budget is tight. I was watching from the sidelines, so proud my country is recognising the rights of women to choose their future.
Proud, emotionally spent and relieved would be a few of the emotions swirling around my system. I work as a doctor in St Louis. I only get three weeks off every year, and I couldn’t get leave to return and vote but I’m so grateful to the thousands of Irish people who did. It’s been embarrassing trying to explain to my American colleagues and friends why we are having this debate in Ireland. They were shocked that Ireland did not provide these services to women. They were appalled at the story of Savita. They were aghast at the thousands of journeys across the Irish Sea that women and couples were forced to make because we could not be adults about this issue in Ireland. I remind them that Roe vs Wade is being eroded in some states and that they need to protect the rights afforded to all women in their own country.
Ireland has finally grown up this weekend and confronted the issue and made a clear choice. I couldn’t be prouder or happier of all those who campaigned for Yes. It has been exhausting to watch from the sidelines. I would particularly like to thank my colleagues in medicine who went out of their way to campaign for a fairer and safer society for all women in Ireland. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Claire Healy, Abuja, Nigeria
I haven’t been able to vote for more than a decade, though I work in the area of public policy and human rights. I left Ireland in 2007 to move to Portugal and now live in Austria, but I have been in Nigeria for work for the past few weeks. Close to midnight, when the results of the exit polls were announced, I celebrated in Abuja with Nigerians, Portuguese and French, all of whom had been shocked to hear just how draconian Irish law and practices on abortion are. As a friend in Dublin wrote to me, just after she voted: “What a thing to vote for! I felt like I was voting for basic rights!”
The Ireland of 2018, with marriage equality and respect for women’s human rights, has changed almost unrecognisably from the country I left 11 years ago. This should give us all a sense of optimism and renewed motivation for the human rights battles still to come - like combating racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, guaranteeing freedom from discrimination for LGBT and Traveller people, equality of access to education for those of all faiths and none, and respecting the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum applicants in Ireland. If this progress continues, who knows - I might even start getting homesick!
Liz O’Sullivan, Switzerland
Today, I am so proud to be Irish and so proud of my countrymen. This referendum was never about “abortion”, it was about choice, of letting others decide for themselves - irrespective of personal beliefs. That said, I was not expecting this result. I left the Ould Sod 30 years ago (and obviously forfeited my right to vote with it). I had no idea how much the country had changed. The country I left was still the country of Ann Lovett, the country where classmates suddenly disappeared having become pregnant, and I am amazed this country no longer exists. And relieved. And proud, that regardless of personal beliefs, the Irish have seen fit to respect personal choice in what will always be a difficult, emotive and divisive subject. Bravo.
The Eight Amendment contained the seeds of its own destruction. I remember the debate, how polemical it was, how so full of righteousness those in favour of it were and everyone who disagreed was a baby-killing sinner. I was 25 at the time and voted No to the amendment, because it was far too unequivocal, black-and-white, uncompromising and lacking in any compassion or understanding of what are now called “hard cases”. Hard cases did not exist in the minds of the righteous. Time proved my choice right. Those of us who voted No first time around predicted the continuing boat trips, the agonising choices, the despair and sense of abandonment felt by women in crisis - abandoned especially by those who favoured the amendment and then, once voted on, felt their good deed was done and to hell with the consequences.
It was anything but a good deed. First there was the X case and the travel issue - which required another referendum, and the penny began to drop. None of us, however, could have predicted Savita, God love her. She was the turning point - the woman who gave a public face to the cruelty and utterly uncaring, unloving, uncompassionate harshness of the amendment. The irony is that, had those pushing for the amendment been content instead with legislation just for the hard cases, the matter would probably have been settled for good. But they took a sledgehammer, uncompromising approach, with blinkers on, which sort of worked until Savita came along. The backlash has been totally deserved. The designers of the Eight Amendment are not only responsible for what happened after its passing, they are responsible for where we now find ourselves today, as a result of it. I almost want to thank them.
Erin Mitchell, Florida
It is illustrative of the sophistication of Irish culture that we can understand being pro-choice without being pro-abortion. I am, quite simply, proud of my country for having said-shouted even-that women are fully capable of making choices concerning their own bodies and their health.
Felix Robert McCann, London
Living in the UK, where regressive politics have taken hold and the government remains adamantly and arrogantly out of touch, I am so proud of my country, for their progressive and compassionate response to their fellow citizens. I left Ireland for London as a gay man in the early 1990s to seek out a tolerant and inclusive place where I could live my life as a valid human being to the fullest extent. Now, 28 years later, I seek sanctuary in all things Irish. I am so proud to be an Irish man today. My Irish passport is one of my most treasured possessions.
I left Ireland 35 years ago, the country I left is barely recognisable today. A country that’s changed phenomenally for the better. I’m so proud of the country it’s become. A resounding yes to repeal the Eighth - just wonderful!
Sinead Arthurs, Ho Chi Minh City
I spent the day of the referendum anxiously messaging friends and undecided family members back home, with a group of supportive Irish girls from every corner of the isle. It was extremely emotional, not being able to give our support to repeal officially by voting. I got up at least four times during the night to check the polls, and woke in a flood of tears when I read the great news that Irish women were trusted, heard and valued.
Ciara Long, Toronto
I nervously watched the entire lead up and results unfold from Toronto where I’m now living. It seemed at first it might go either way. I was a ball of nerves the day of, checking Facebook at work for updates. Not being able to cast my vote in a referendum I felt so strongly about made my heart ache but the yes result brought tears of joy to my eyes when I woke up to it the following morning. Once again my little island home has done me proud by becoming a more inclusive and safe place for everyone to live. I look forward to the day I return home more now knowing that I’ll be coming back to a more modern Ireland that has finally provided myself and other Irish women with bodily autonomy and the right to choose. May 25th was a historic day and it was very difficult being too far away to cast my vote.
Carolan Ibbotson, Sydney
33 years I’ve waited for this. I am so proud of the people of Ireland for finally giving equality to all. I was in Ireland in 1983 and left in ‘87. I wrote to the taoiseach of the time voicing my disappointment with particular reference to the X Case. Today is a historic victory for all the women who have been let down in the past, and today the people of Ireland have ensured future generations of women have choice. I am so very proud.
Margaret M, London
Watching the results come in I felt emotional for Ireland that such a monumental statement is being made to bring the country’s constitution in line with the liberal values of society. At least now, every woman can make what is a deeply personal decision for themselves. I work in an office in London with four other Irish citizens, three of whom flew home to vote. I disagree that they could have had the right to vote given that they are not living or paying taxes in the country. I believe that Irish abroad should only be allowed to vote in presidential elections as the holder of that role represents all Irish citizens around the world.
Oscar Bradley, The Netherlands
I’ve been abroad for three years which I think anyone else who has experienced this will understand when I say I’ve become a bit of “foreigner”, watching Ireland through a computer screen and chats with friends and family. I visit every so often and every time I go back I think “jaysus nothing has changed”. But this referendum has taught me things are changing. Irish people are standing up against an archaic constitution which no longer represents our society’s values and needs. I see examples other than abortion starting to spring up too, where well organised and executed grass-root campaigns are showing the people in charge that we will no longer take the top-down decision based on out-dated values.
I was home for my father’s funeral a couple of weeks ago and was dismayed at the ugly posters and the No propaganda videos popping up uninvited on my mobile device. Against the background of the successful manipulation of public opinion by social media in Britain and the US that has bequeathed us Brexit and Trump, I was apprehensive. So hats off to the country and the political process for successfully correcting a historical mistake and facilitating a humane approach to a difficult and divisive issue. It also provides some belated recognition to all the thousands of women who had to make the lonely trip to England and live with the burden of undeserved moral opprobrium. My father, a deeply religious man, if he had lived a couple of weeks longer would certainly have voted No. But I mourn him none the less.