Una Mullally: Election result is not a victory for anti-abortion lobby

Candidates who specifically positioned themselves as against choice failed miserably

Renua  failed to elect one any candidates, including Lucinda Creighton, viewed as one of the most recognisable and vocal TDs against abortion.  Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Renua failed to elect one any candidates, including Lucinda Creighton, viewed as one of the most recognisable and vocal TDs against abortion. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

It won’t go unnoticed amongst marriage equality campaigners that several candidates who were to the fore during last year’s referendum failed to get elected, most notably Averil Power, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, John Lyons, Alex White and Jerry Buttimer.

Did they lose their seats because people don’t care about marriage equality? No, they lost their seats because of a largely anti-government vote.

For those who want to see social justice issues and reproductive rights to the fore as the next Dáil takes shape (if it ever does), it is of course concerning that the Labour Party has been decimated to the extent that it has. There is a feeling that if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael end up forming a coalition, that so-called “liberal” issues will take a backseat. But in case no one has noticed, they generally always have. The marriage equality referendum was a people’s movement, pushed to the fore by a legal case, a protest movement, campaigning, lobbying, and a popular appetite for equality that grew in tandem with a global movement. Without disrespecting Labour’s involvement in marriage equality it was an issue that was fought for and won by citizens. Labour took up the baton when in government.

People choose who they’re going to vote for for a variety of reasons, and when a smaller coalition partner is punished, good people are always going to lose their seats because they have been perceived as guilty by association, no matter how glowing their achievements were. There has been a lot of chatter online in recent days about another burgeoning people’s movement, the campaign to repeal the Eighth amendment.

Marriage equality

While it can be tempting to tie the marriage equality movement and the pro-choice movement in Ireland together, they are very separate issues. Ireland was at the vanguard of change when it came to LGBT equality last year, yet on reproductive rights, we trail miserably behind most countries.

The prospect of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forming a coalition would obviously create a very conservative government, but in general, politicians have never been to the fore of championing women’s reproductive rights here. That drive has been, and will continue to be, a people’s movement, something that has to be fought for and demanded and dragged out of them.

If we are going to wait for politicians to spearhead it, we’d be waiting a long, long, time, and in fact, we have. What has changed about the movement to repeal the Eighth has very little to do with the political makeup of our governments, and everything to do with a change in perception of the public on the issue, a cracking open of conversations and a desire for progress.

Politicians have avoided talking about it, but outside of our political institutions, the public conversation has only grown louder. This movement will not stop, no matter who is in government. If anything, a conservative government will galvanise it further.

Dissecting where individual politicians and parties stand on reproductive rights does show progress, however. Despite Enda Kenny’s deflections when it came to making abortion an election issue, it was. Like marriage equality, it is a grassroots movement. But it has also been given a new lease of life by young people who are dissatisfied with waiting around for the system to anoint change, and are instead demanding it themselves.

The Life Institute, an anti-abortion group, accidentally provided a decent guide of where candidates were on a pro-choice spectrum, in an attempt to inform voters about which ones were against choice.

Repeal

By the Life Institute’s own count, 150 candidates who ran in this election had a declared anti-abortion position, contrasted with 356 candidates they listed who are in favour of repealing the Eighth, or whose voting patterns had declared a pro-choice stance on abortion.

Another indication of where candidates stood on supporting holding a referendum was a candidate’s pledge compiled by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, or Repeal Eight. 177 candidates signed the Repeal Eight’s pledge, a high number given that Fine Gael candidates do not sign such pledges, the exception on this occasion being Kate O’Connell who was elected in Dublin Bay South.

Candidates who specifically positioned themselves as anti-choice failed miserably. If maintaining the Eighth Amendment was a priority for the Irish public, then Renua, seen largely as an anti-abortion party, would have swept the boards. Instead, they failed to elect one any candidates, including Lucinda Creighton, viewed as one of the most recognisable and vocal TDs against abortion.

In Dublin Bay North, where Power and Ó Riordáin failed to get elected, Tommy Broughan listed repealing the Eighth as one of his election priorities. Finian McGrath signed the Repeal Eighth’s pledge to support a referendum, as did Sinn Féin’s Denise Mitchell.

In Dublin Bay South, which rejected Lucinda Creighton, Kate O’Connell of Fine Gael also signed the pledge, as did Eamon Ryan. When I asked Eoghan Murphy about the issue on Twitter, he replied with a screengrab of his newsletter, which stated “We must tackle Direct Provision and the housing crisis, repeal the 8th amendment, and protect our environment by addressing Climate Change.”

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil set out their stall well before the election campaign, with Micheál Martin saying that the party “would not initiate moves to repeal the 8th.” Fine Gael’s position on the issue attempted so many sidesteps that it merely tripped up, with a free vote promised, but not before Enda Kenny’s idea to have a constitutional convention take two.

At the time of writing, Fine Gael has 49 TDs, Fianna Fáil 44, Sinn Féin 23, Labour six, the Anti-Austerity Alliance - People Before Profit six, Social Democrats three, the Green Party two.

Outside of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, 40 members of other parties have policies to repeal the Eighth amendment. Of the independent groupings, Independents 4 Change (Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Tommy Broughan) are all in favour of repealing the eighth amendment. Seamus Healy also signed Repeal Eight’s pledge.

Of the Independent Alliance six TDs, Finian McGrath and John Halligan signed Repeal Eight’s pledge.

Of the 12 remaining independents elected, amongst them are Katherine Zappone, who along with her wife Ann Louise Gilligan is perhaps the best known champion for marriage equality in Ireland, and who ran on a platform of equality and a strong feminist stance. That’s before you count those in Fine Gael who want at least a referendum on the issue.

While there might be smugness in some quarters that oppose reproductive rights for women in Ireland in the aftermath of this election, the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment is not going to go away. Ignited loudly in 2015, its voice will continue to roar in 2016 until it is listened to, and until the people are allowed to answer themselves.

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