Fine Gael women of 1983 says repeal ‘not foregone conclusion’
Women discussed political climate in 1983 when Eighth Amendment was voted in
Former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey told women at a meeting about the Eighth Amendment there has been ‘a long list of bills and inquiries and tragedies‘ since it was introduced. File Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Fine Gael women who served as politicians when the Eighth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution in 1983 have said Friday’s referendum on repeal of the amendment is “by no mean” a foregone conclusion.
Women from the party gathered in Dublin on Tuesday to describe the political climate in 1983 when the amendment was being considered.
Gemma Hussey, who held a number of ministerial positions, said: “It’s not a foregone conclusion. All of us who have been through the political maelstrom know there are very few foregone conclusions. This is by no means a foregone conclusion.
“There have been so many attempts to undo the damage that was done in 1983. There is a long list of bills and inquiries and tragedies, and each one brought a resolution that we were going to put things right. But we have never succeeded. Now is our chance.”
Nora Owens, who was minister for justice from 1994 to 1997, said there was no need for the amendment in 1983.
“The 1861 Act, which was still relevant in Ireland, forbade abortion,” she said. “The law did not allow abortion, but a campaign built up that frightened people.”
She said a campaign was started.
“I came into the Dáil in 1981, and already by then there were groups sending us letters. There was no email by that stage, but thousands upon thousands of cards would arrive in our letter boxes.”
She said she did not know where the money was coming from.
“It was a very difficult time, and very fraught. There were very serious issues confronting our country at the time, and this issue really took over,” Ms Owens said. “The leaders of the main political parties bought into the idea that we needed a referendum, but I know from talking to Garrett Fitzgerald that he knew we didn’t need one.”
She said library books were removed from the shelves of libraries.
“British magazines coming into Ireland had to publish separate copies of magazines so there would be no ads in them for any kind of abortion clinics.”
Madeleine Taylor-Quinn, who served for more than 20 years in the Oireachtas, said there was “huge pressure” on public representatives.
“There was pressure no matter where you moved, whether it was in Leinster House, or any street in any village or town in your constituency,” she said. “You were constantly subjected to harassment, pressure and lobbying.
“As a rural TD, I was subjected to regular deputations from firstly priests and curates. Then it went on to parish priests, and then it went onto monsignors. Eventually I had a major interaction with the bishop, and there was a major clash. I was met with a very frosty response on the doorsteps.”