Unions call for referendum to repeal the eighth amendment

Solidarity is a ‘powerful weapon’ in women’s ‘struggle for bodily autonomy,’ Unite says ahead of rallies

Leaders from number of prominent trade unions gathered in Dublin city on Wednesday to call for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The group met on Rosie Hackett Bridge over the Liffey River to announce the rallies that would go ahead in Dublin and Cork this Friday.

Ailbhe Smyth from the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, which represents 66 groups, said the demonstrations would be in solidarity with women across Europe, South America and Asia, who plan to protest on Friday demanding action from governments on urgent issues including reproductive rights.

"In Ireland, we will be calling for a referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment to protect and respect women's lives, health and choices," she said.


“The Eighth Amendment is a profound source of discrimination and national shame and for over two years, polls have consistently shown that most people in Ireland support repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

“We cannot, as a country, continue to oversee the violation of women’s human rights. We’re saying that women deserve better and Ireland can do much better.”

The Eighth Amendment guarantees the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn in the Constitution. The amendment was passed in 1983.

Mary Diskin, from the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th, said young women and those on low or welfare dependent incomes in Ireland had the fewest options.

“They cannot afford to leave the State let alone pay for abortions elsewhere,” she said.

“Travel restrictions prevent refugee and asylum seekers from availing of terminations abroad.”

Ms Diskin said abortion was a “reality” in Ireland and between 1980 to 2014 at least 163,514 Irish women registered for terminations abroad.

Síona Cahill from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said figures from the Department of Health in the UK showed up to 25 per cent of women that gave Irish addresses when using abortion services were aged between 18 to 24.

“Students are affected by it every day and are being failed not only by the system, but the State when it comes to responsibility for their healthcare,” she said.

“We cannot keep thinking it’s legitimate to force people overseas when an issue doesn’t suit us, further condemning so many young people into shame and secrecy when they should be able to make an informed, supported choice with their own body - and their own lives.

“This is an issue that cannot and should not wait any longer.”


Jim Kelly, regional secretary for Unite said solidarity was a "powerful weapon" ordinary people had.

“We know the power of that weapon in the trade union movement, and Women Rising 2016 is another example of solidarity, as voices around the world are raised in support of each other’s struggle for women’s rights,” he said.

“In Ireland, one of the most pressing issues for women is the struggle for bodily autonomy and repeal of the Eighth Amendment”.

Mags O'Brien from Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU)said women in direct provision were particularly affected by the issue.

“They are without the funds to travel and may lose their place in the centre they live in, but also would be afraid to leave the country for fear that they would be denied re-entry,” she said.

Patricia McKeown from Unison said the Irish Government should not be allowed "side-step" the issue.

"It will not be good enough to rely on the Citizens Assembly of 99 people to make recommendations," she said.

“Legislators must legislate for a secular and democratic Republic which recognises that women have human rights and we must be allowed to make individual choices.”

Frank Keoghan from the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) said almost the union's members were predominately men, the members unanimously agreed to get involved in the campaign.

Unions also involved in the campaign include Mandate and Communication Workers Union (CWU).

The rally will be held on Rosie Hackett Bridge on Friday at 1pm and on on St Patrick’s Bridge in Cork city from 5pm.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is Digital Features Editor and journalist with The Irish Times