Why we’re flying home to vote: ‘I want to be proud of my nation’
Irish emigrants are beginning to make their way back to have their say in the referendum
The #Hometovote hashtag began trending on Twitter on Wednesday as Irish people living overseas began making their way back to Ireland to have their say in the Eighth Amendment referendum. More than 100 Irish emigrants shared their journey plans and opinions with Irish Times Abroad this week - here is a selection of contributions we received, from people coming home to vote on both the Yes and No sides from as far away as Brazil, Canada and New Zealand.
Orlaith McGuinness, Brazil
I have flown home from Brazil to vote Yes. Many of my friends dotted around the world are also coming to vote, from the UK, Netherlands, France, Spain, Australia, and the US. As is the case with so many young Irish people, we are temporarily working abroad. It is unacceptable that we should have to spend thousands of euros, take time off work, and risk our jobs, to have our voices heard on such an important issue. There should be provisions in place to allow people like us to place postal votes, people who will live in Ireland in future, people who will have to live with the result of this referendum for the longest.
Fionnuala Murphy, Christchurch, New Zealand
I travelled home to visit family a few weeks ago from New Zealand and opted to extend my stay in order to vote. This time last year I would have been in the Yes camp, but I will be voting No this Friday. I am all for women’s health and wellbeing being a priority in the case of pregnancy. But I think the proposed changes to the Constitution are far too extreme. I am not in favour of abolishing the right to life for the unborn. I would like to see the Government decriminalise the use of abortion pills, and make an amendment that will give doctors and pregnant women more leeway in the case of fatal foetal abnormality and rape, but I am not in favour of the harshness of the changes proposed by the Government. I think the Yes side has demonstrated intolerance and lack of understanding of any viewpoint other than their own.
Ciarán Doyle, Cambridge, UK
I bought my ticket home to vote Yes the day the referendum was announced. I’m selfishly relieved I’ve been spared first-hand experience of the execrable No posters, or hear the brutal radio interviews, the absurd accommodation of “balance” on an issue the UN has repeatedly cited as “cruel and inhumane”.
I have been spirited by the mobilisation of friends and family who are not normally politically active. Their determination to advocate for women’s healthcare means making a trip back is the minimum any Irish citizen ought to contribute if they can still vote.
I began life in Bessborough; I was fortunate to find the love and support of a wonderful family shortly afterward. Many others from Cork to Tuam were not so lucky: there was no “love both” there. For me, like many others, this is personal: we are thinking about our mothers, sisters, partners, daughters. We are thinking about choices that were refused, pain never acknowledged, a humanity denied by one’s own constitution. Our gradual emergence from an Ireland that once hid women away-one that has forced them onto planes rather than welcomed them into healthcare services-gives a younger generation hope that we can remake Ireland into a republic that reflects who we are, not where we came from.
Sophia Kearns, Toronto, Canada
I moved to Toronto in September and knew I would book flights home as soon as a referendum was announced. I am fortunate that my work is flexible and that I could afford to make this journey, but I know my situation isn’t the case for many people who are living abroad today.
This referendum is important to me as I believe that women should have control over their own bodies and their choices should be supported by our Government. I do not want to move back to a country where I do not have bodily autonomy. I want to be proud of my nation for the way it treats women, and for the way it supports the individual choices of its citizens.
Amy FitzGerald, Prince Edward Island, Canada
My family moved here last summer and haven’t been home since. I’m pro-choice and was disappointed not to be home to vote. Then last week my wonderful husband Padraig surprised me on my birthday with flights home to Ireland for the weekend to vote, while he stays here and minds our three children under six. I was flabbergasted and thrilled.
Sarah Gillespie, Pennsylvania, US
I’m a 21-year-old physics student from Donegal studying abroad for this semester on an academic scholarship. My original return flight was booked for June but I moved it back to be home to vote No this Friday. I am a feminist, a proud campaigner of equal human rights for absolutely everyone. I voted Yes in the 2015 marriage equality referendum for this reason, and I will be voting No on Friday for the same reason. I believe the most fundamental of human rights is the human right to life – that includes the life of the mother, and the life of the unborn baby. The Eighth Amendment protects these lives and I am proud that it is part of our Constitution.
Damian Gill, Spain
My wife and I are on a badly needed holiday in Spain, we both work hard all year and we need a break. We have two grown up daughters, who are like their mother, strong independent women. My eldest daughter, who late last year lost her first baby through an ectopic pregnancy, was very lucky as she received excellent care by all the health professionals who looked after her. Her ordeal could have been much worse and had a more deadly outcome. No woman should be dictated to by any state or church. We are annoyed we can’t vote by post or electronic means, and have to take two days out of our holidays to come home to vote Yes. But our daughters, and all daughters, are worth it.
Alan Flanagan, London, UK
This Friday I’ll be grabbing the sail and rail from London, the nine-hour journey across the water -- less because of the symbolism of retracing the journey taken by so many women, and more because it’s all I can afford. I can’t vote as I’m past the 18-month limit for emigrants, but I felt compelled to return, like some kind of aimless political moth.
The past few years have been incalculably hard for the women I know working on the campaign - days and nights of unpaid labour, sharing the medical stories they shouldn’t have to, feeling the backlash of men who think they know better. It’s also been an eye-opener for me: friends who I’ve known for years telling me about their abortions in whispered tones, reliving their pain in the national theatre that is an Irish referendum. They deserve far, far better than this. They deserve so much more than the basic, lowest-common denominator that repealing the Eighth allows -- namely, that we will not let a healthy woman die because of a zygote. They deserve a hell of a lot more than me hopping on a train, and a boat, and a hitched lift from Dublin port - but that’s all I can offer this Friday. I pray Ireland offers them more.
Aisling Sullivan, Milan, Italy
I have lived in Milan for two and a half years. I will be at home on referendum day. “Home” is Ireland and it always will be, whether I am away for two years or 20. I was shocked and deeply saddened to discover I had lost my right to vote after just 18 months away. I am still on the live register and a polling card is at home waiting for me. But if I use it on May 25th, I will be committing electoral fraud which carries a fine and/or imprisonment.
How many people are coming “home to vote” not aware they may be doing so illegally? Who is checking? Ireland is out of step with 129 countries worldwide with voting rights for citizens abroad. The Government is quick to rally the Irish diaspora for initiatives like the Gathering, while stripping us of our right to have our voice heard. Does our continued social and economic contribution to Ireland matter? If so, it must be acknowledged.
Erica Lee, Aalst, Belgium
I will be travelling home to vote on Thursday evening alongside a few dozen other Irish men and women who live and work in Brussels. I want Irish women to be able to access the same modern healthcare I know I could reach in a time of need because I live in Belgium. Twelve Irish women every day access abortion, most needing to travel abroad. It is time we stop exporting our problems and looking away. The Eighth Amendment must be removed from the constitution and replaced with legislation in line with that of other European countries.
Cairín Ní Fhathaigh, Luton, UK
In this referendum we are voting on the most fundamental human right. We are being asked to remove the right to life of the unborn from our constitution and hand over their fate to politicians who have already agreed to introduce abortion laws even more liberal than are in place here in England. In every country with free access to abortion, it has been shown that abortion discriminates against those with abnormalities and disabilities, from cleft lip to Down Syndrome. We see this here in England, with 90 per cent of all babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome being aborted. Coming from a family where some have these conditions, I cannot watch such an unethical practice being introduced in my own home country. I am going home to vote No which is the only way to avoid abortion on demand in Ireland.
Brian Caball, New York
I’m currently stuck between both worlds - fortunate enough to fly home, not fortunate enough to cast a vote. I booked a flight home from New York upon announcement of the referendum date, excited to support Irish women and their right to choose. I discovered this week that though I am on the voting register, as I have lived abroad for more than 18 months, I am ineligible to vote. Voting illegally is a risk to my fellow Yes voters that I am not willing to take, but I will still travel home in solidarity for all the women who have had to travel due to the existence of the Eighth Amendment. I hope that this 18-month rule can be revisited; my life is based in Ireland, just not physically at present.
Ailbhe Longmore, Cologne, Germany
I’m an Erasmus student at the University of Cologne and will be flying home to vote Yes. This referendum has caused me to lose sleep at night and cry in cafés and libraries. I am frustrated about not being able to canvas in my hometown, but I would feel utterly devastated if I couldn’t go home and vote. This is the vote of a generation. To show the women of Ireland we do trust them to make the right decision. My mam, who became pregnant with me at 26 while her and my dad were unmarried, considered all her options, but she chose to have me. She died six years ago and I know she would have advocated heavily for Yes. My vote is also her vote.
Julia Adams, Berlin, Germany
I am travelling home from Berlin this Friday to vote Yes. It doesn’t sit well with me to consider the cost I have incurred to fly home to be a “sacrifice” when 12 Irish women have to travel under terrible circumstances, at any cost, every single day. My mother is German so I have grown up knowing that in a worst case scenario we can go Germany, we could have always afforded it, I have always had the choice. I have always had the support. My mother can’t vote. She has lived in Ireland longer than she has lived in Germany but her lack of an Irish passport prevents her in having a say in something that is so important to her. I am voting Yes because I want to support all my friends who have had to travel to the UK and end the shame they have had to endure. I am voting Yes because I want to one day return to Ireland.
Hazel Nolan, Berlin, Germany
I’m currently on Erasmus in Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin but usually study in UCD. I’m flying home this Thursday along with most of my Irish friends in Berlin. This referendum will be the most important one in my time. Regardless of whether or not someone believes abortion is morally right, this referendum is about choice and the bodily autonomy of a pregnant person should be with them, not the State.
It has been difficult watching the referendum get increasingly ugly through TV debates, social media posts and various articles, but the hard work of canvassers and other volunteers has been inspiring. I was lucky to be able to volunteer for Together for Yes last month during my semester break. I urge everyone who is eligible to vote to fly home so that the Eighth can finally be repealed.
Eileen Crowley, Geneva, Switzerland
I am an Irish lawyer working in Geneva. I left Ireland five years ago to pursue postgraduate studies and have worked abroad since then. I will be returning on Friday, but do not have the right to vote. I hope to move back home in time and perhaps someday to raise a family in Ireland. The referendum will affect my rights, yet I have no say.
While I recognise that providing emigrants with a vote in general elections can be problematic because we are not tax domiciled in Ireland, I should have the opportunity to vote on a potential change to my rights as a citizen. The UK system, where citizens abroad can vote for 15 years after leaving, is much more fair. If the proposal to repeal the Eighth is not passed, this result would influence my decision to return home. In every other western democracy my rights to privacy, choice and reproductive health are upheld.
Georgia Jones, Vancouver, Canada
I wrapped up my life in Vancouver a summer early when the date was set. I left an amazing job and swanky apartment in Downtown Vancouver. I’m sad for my fellow countrymen and women who’ve been pushed out by the lack of opportunity here but hope to return one day to be with their families. How can we not let them create the Ireland they want to one day live in? There has to be a way to make their voices heard. Emigration is a part of our culture and if we want people to know they are welcome back we have to let them know that they are valued.
Ines O’Gorman, London, UK
I’ll be making the journey home from London to Dublin on May 25th, gutted I won’t be able to vote. I’ve been living in London for eight years so I’m no longer on the register, an important detail I realised only after booking my flights. I may not have an address or pay taxes in Ireland but I still see it as home and therefore believe I deserve the right to have my say. The Eighth Amendment has caused so much unnecessary suffering but following the debate from outside the country, it’s also a national embarrassment. I cringe when I read shocking exposés of our draconian laws in foreign press. I hope to move home one day, but I can never live in a country that denies me or any other woman her fundamental human rights.
Padraic Doorey, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France
I own and run a luxury bike touring company and, as such, I qualify for a postal vote - I am frequently out of the country because of my job. But before my most recent departure from Ireland (April 26th) my postal ballot had not been delivered. The repeal of the 8th Amendment is such an important issue to me (as a teenager I marched at the X-case protest in 1992) I cannot in good conscience not be home to vote, whatever the financial cost.
Mariel Whelan, Brussels
I joined the pro-choice movement in early 2013. After two years in Australia, I was in Galway in 2012 when news of Savita Halappanavar’s death broke. It was shocking. I felt it my duty as a woman, as an Irish person, as a radical feminist, to get involved.
I am fortunate I can afford to travel back to vote, and haven’t been out of the country too long. When I started my current internship, that was one of the first things I mentioned, “I need to get back to Ireland for the referendum!”, and all my colleagues were supportive. I know far too many people who wish to vote, but are unable to do so. Their right to democratic expression is being violated.
Giselle Eugenia Connell
Travelling home to vote isn’t all smiles and celebrations; it’s awkward; risky; inconvenient; tiring, as well as a general disruption to people’s weekly work or home lives, but women are making this journey every day of the week in order to access abortions in the UK. So my journey from the UK, and the vote I’ll be casting on the 25th of May, is for these women, and to hopefully put an end to all who have to embody the obstructive politics of travel over abortion access in Ireland.
Aissa Lopez, Gothenburg, Sweden
I am in my final semester of a Masters in Sweden, and will travel home to Cork. There are no direct flights, so I will fly to Copenhagen, then on to Dublin, get the bus to Cork, and from there travel to east Cork. I explained to my tutors that I would have to Skype in for my final seminars, emphasising how important it was that women gain some bodily autonomy in Ireland. They were all in support, and even moved classes so I would not miss out.