Miriam Lord: Clare Daly reminds Dáil of the real agents of change
Emotional Independents4Change Deputy tells TDs it was public who led on abortion
So they have been on their journeys and are now in that place called Enlightenment and it’s a big relief to be able to move on.
But not quite yet.
As this was the first Dáil sitting since the voters, by a massive majority, opted to allow Irish women deal with their own pregnancies on their own terms, there was more talking to do.
Statements on the outcome of the referendum were duly scheduled so TDs could repeat for the parliamentary record what has already been said countless times since the votes were counted on Saturday.
As it turned out, the only speakers were from the Yes side. That will change as the vanquished custodians of women’s reproductive choice get second wind. Tuesday was just too soon for them after such a crushing defeat.
But before the statements, came the statements.
Leaders’ Questions was devoted almost entirely to the referendum result and what should happen next. The exception was Danny Healy-Rae, a passionate anti-abortion voice in the House during the campaign, who found something far more important to talk about now that the results of the Kerry jury are in and the Kingdom voted to repeal.
But the Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour leaders did their thing, congratulating the groups from civic society behind the winning campaign. They are all too aware that these grassroots activists schooled the career politicians – and their media Boswells – in the art of listening and responding to the needs and will of the people.
There was praise for the Citizens’ Assembly – its conclusions on the abortion question were mirrored by the national vote. There was praise for the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment which, when similarly presented with unemotional fact, produced a similar set of findings.
Much praise too for Senator Catherine Noone who chaired it – she had to put up with some terrible playacting from a couple of committee members during the hearing.
And most of all, much praise for all those women who opened their hearts and told deeply personal stories of life, love and loss.
The legislation can’t be done quick enough. Upon that, all were agreed. The Taoiseach agreed too, after agreeing with everything his fellow leaders had to say.
There was recognition for those activists – mostly women – who tirelessly campaigned for women’s abortion rights since the 1980s. The Taoiseach made a point of mentioning TDs in the Dáil “who spoke out on the issue of abortion when it was not easy to do so”.
Women are still leaving the country to have terminations. It was agreed by all that the legislation righting that wrong will have to be completed as speedily as possible, even if it means sitting during the summer recess.
There was no sign of Mattie McGrath during Leaders’ Questions or the Order of Business or while the statements on the referendum were happening. But it shouldn’t take long before the Tipperary Independent has the wind back in his battered sails.
It was good to see such a cross-party consensus and collegiality in the Dáil, with people generously crediting political rivals for parts they played in bringing about the repeal.
Although nothing new was said by the politicians, who have been saying a lot in recent weeks.
But one member of the Dáil, while working tirelessly on the ground during the campaign, kept herself out of the limelight when her colleagues were publicly welcoming the popular vote and lavishing praise on the public for delivering such a decisive margin. Some of them must be very sore this week from their bandwagon jumping and selfie exploits.
Clare Daly, Independents4Change deputy from Dublin Fingal, has been the most compelling voice of recent times in Dáil Éireann in the fight for abortion rights. She not only talked the talk and walked the walk, but came up with legislation to try and move on the situation.
When she rose to speak, the chamber hushed.
There weren’t too many TDs there, although most of the female deputies were present.
She was brilliant.
The Taoiseach, party leaders and a handful of TDs listened intently as she gave an impassioned welcome to the result and dealt out a much-needed reality check to the political bluebloods who are now the most ardent champions of the cause.
“Abortion has been there as an issue all my adult life,” she said, voice trembling with emotion as she described how the result was like having an enormous weight lifted from her shoulders.
“A ball and chain that dogged us all our adult life being finally gone and I can’t believe that I’m 50 years of age and it’s taken this long.”
She spoke of how her daughter came home to cast her first vote “to get us here”. It was like society atoning for everything it’s done to women.
Back in 2012, with Mick Wallace and Joan Collins, when she first introduced abortion legislation, only 20 deputies supported them. But then brave women came out and told of their pain and tragedies and helped create “a social movement that changed history”.
These are the “glory days” now. But it wasn’t always like this. Daly paid a special tribute to Ailbhe Smyth, the veteran campaigner – “a giant in terms of this movement” who “has stood there when there was no glory to be had”.
But she also commended the Taoiseach and Minister for Health Simon Harris for their roles, spurred along, she suspected by Katherine Zappone and FG backbencher Kate O’Connell. (She might also have mentioned Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy from Offaly, who took some terrible barracking from male colleagues at the parliamentary party when she spoke in support of choice.)
But Daly wasn’t letting them away too lightly.
“Let’s be honest here, right,” she began. “Politicians haven’t led on this issue. We haven’t even followed until recently.”
The long, uphill battle was like pushing a boulder up a hill for decades “and nobody in here was involved in pushing it up. Let’s be honest about it, for once, can we? Nobody was. In actual fact, a lot of people in here were sitting on the boulder making it even more difficult for those outside who wanted to push for change.”
And then she called out the others who, once the boulder crested the summit, jumped ahead of it to try claim some of the glory.
They were at it again on Tuesday.
“People trying to out-posture each other into who’s going to be the most radical.
“Sure we’ll cancel all holidays between now and forever. Let’s bring legislation in tomorrow. Sure we’ll bring it in yesterday. It’s a nonsense, lads. Can we please just cop on with the games?”
Nobody said a contradicting word. They sat there and took their medicine because they knew Clare Daly was telling the truth.
Voice cracking, she finished by thanking the young people who voted.
“I was one of those students years ago and we never, we didn’t succeed in changing the world but I really hope that this generation does . . . They’re the legends out of this and I hope they make a better job of changing the world than we did.”
And she sat down just before the tears came. Mick Wallace was bawling like a baby.
The chamber broke into applause as the two cried. Slowly, TDs drifted outside. “Did you hear Clare’s speech?” they asked people they met.
It was special.
And so to Danny Healy-Rae.
He spoke about “demountable homes” and rural cottages.
Like Saturday never happened.