Simon Harris: ‘I threw everything at this,’ says Minister for Health

Yes campaigners helped politicians ‘put their heads above the parapet’, says Minister

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that legislating for abortion is his "number one priority" and he will "get it done this year".

Speaking on the latest episode of the Irish Times Women's Podcast, he told presenter Kathy Sheridan that there is a "huge body of work to do now", but that he would "get this right for the women in this country and for doctors in this country".

Last Friday, 66 per cent of Irish people voted in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which recognises the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn.

After a campaign that saw hundreds of women and couples share their abortion stories publicly, Harris said he worried that those same people would have been caused further pain and hurt, had the referendum been defeated.

“People had literally put their most intimate details into the public domain in the hope that their neighbours, their friends and fellow citizens, would respond with compassion. That’s really why I threw everything at this,” he said.

The Minister has received widespread praise for the role he played in leading the referendum campaign, however he said that politicians owe campaigners and civic society a debt of gratitude for their grassroots efforts.

“I am blown away by the success of the Together for Yes campaign. That made it easier for those of us in politics to stick our heads above the parapet,” he said.

Together for Yes brought the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth and the Abortion Rights campaign under the one banner to campaign in favour of the referendum.

Also speaking on the podcast, Ailbhe Smyth, co-director of Together for Yes, said they realised “something was happening in this country” midway through the campaign, when they raised a week-long crowdfunding target in one afternoon.

“Young people were so important in that crowdfunding. They felt it was about their present and I think we all felt it was about the future of the country.

“We’ve always said that this was about women, but it was also, in some way, about making amends for a past that none of us is all that proud of,” she said.

Asked whether he believed that those responsible for the introduction of the Eighth Amendment in 1983 owed the women of Ireland an apology, the Minister said that rather than an apology, the result of Friday’s referendum was public vindication that the amendment was wrong.

Deputy Features Editor of The Irish Times and co-producer of the Women's Podcast, Róisín Ingle, who shared her own abortion story three years ago, said the referendum result last weekend had lifted a burden of shame from her shoulders and from the shoulders of every person affected by the Eighth Amendment in this country.

“All I wanted to do was lift that shame,” she said.

“I feel like I’m walking taller around this city. I feel like I belong and I feel included in this country.”

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