Una Mullally: Where was No when babies were put in septic tanks?
On Friday, do we want to blink in the sun or shiver in the shade?
I look at the No campaign with sadness. What do they want to do with babies of forced pregnancies? What did we do with those babies before?
This week, breath will be held. Will Irish people turn out? Will this grassroots movement come to fruition?
The Eighth Amendment is a legacy of 1983, the year I was born. In 2015, we were met with empathy on the doors. Three years later, the overwhelming feeling is one of trauma.
For years, I naively thought repealing the Eighth Amendment was one of the “last battles” in Irish society. I thought it would close a chapter on darkness and cruelty, on silence, shame and stigma. But my experience during this referendum has been that we are only beginning to examine what lurks in the shadows of Ireland.
The shadows in grottos and bedrooms, in hospitals and airport gates. We have withered so long in those shadows. Entire families and communities have been existing in this eclipse of trauma. Towns take on a shorthand of pain: Granard, Tuam. Even letters cast shadows: X, P, Y.
A while ago, my mother and father sat on my couch and we talked about the Eighth Amendment, which they voted for in 1983.
“We didn’t know,” my mum said. “It’s what we were told.”
My dad talked about teaching religion for 40 years, instilling Catholic doctrine in young men. “I don’t know if I could go back and do that now,” he said.
I could sense a sort of pain in his voice, the type of vulnerability where you expose a realisation of something once held to be so steadfast being unseated with reflection and hindsight. He’s voting yes. “No woman makes that decision lightly. Who am I to judge her?”
A few weeks later, my mother sent me a photo of her canvassing for the Yes campaign in the suburb in which I grew up, where my parents taught me to stand up for myself and for what was right, that cruelty was wrong and that equality and fairness are things worth pursuing above all else, that a society and country should be judged not on wealth or social status but on how it treats its most vulnerable people.
I was still processing a conversation I had with a No voter while I was canvassing at a Luas stop on Wednesday morning. She was a woman in her 70s, and we started talking very civilly until it escalated and she screamed at me how in a generation’s time people wouldn’t be allowed have children.
Where was that coming from? How did this irrational belief – which is not uncommon – take hold? How little do we think of each other that if we have different points of view on this issue we see one another as evil? How could this woman think that of me?
How little do we think of each other that if we have different points of view on this issue we see one another as evil?
Trauma. There is pain lying behind each No vote. And if you are thinking of voting No, examine your motivation. There is trauma too suffered by canvassers themselves.
Last Thursday night, my girlfriend came home from canvassing in Maynooth close to tears. She had been shouted at, called a murderer and a baby-killer. What could I do? I hugged her and made her dinner and told her to hold on to the Yeses she got and try to forget the Nos.
She’s been out knocking on doors nearly every morning and evening. Thousands around the country are the same. At this stage, canvassers have probably forgotten what their normal routine even was. A routine without leaflets scattered around the sitting room, without pins pricking your fingers when you reach into your bag. A routine where the radio was silent and Twitter searches were about football matches not television debates.
We wade through a soup of trauma. We have to tackle our own pain, and not impose it on others.
This trauma, this suffering, the things we do to each other. No more. Let’s heal. I hear agitation in the voices of those opposed to the whole personhood of women. What’s behind that? We hear it in radio studios and in audiences of television debates. We’ve resided in darkness for so long. I’m waiting for the clouds to lift.
The week of this historic referendum sees us in the twilight now, our eyes adjusting. For many, the light that will streak in should the referendum carry will be hard to bear. But nothing grows in darkness. Darkness offers neither nourishment nor guidance. We lose ourselves in it. We have to get out.
And in the meantime, I look at the No campaign with sadness. What do they want to do with babies of forced pregnancies? What did we do with those babies before?
Put them in homes. Sell them to Americans. Abuse them. Bury them in unmarked graves. Thrown them in septic tanks. Fight tooth and nail against their redress and compensation when they came forward and told their stories of trauma, of rape, of torture, of beatings.
I don’t hear the No campaigners talk about that. I don’t hear them talk about improving rape crisis centres. I don’t hear them talking about the children languishing in direct provision. I don’t see them on the streets demanding an end to child poverty.
I don’t see them marching to the Dáil saying that it is unacceptable for children to be raised in hotel rooms because their parents were just too small against the overwhelming housing crisis.
A Yes vote is not a panacea. But it’s a start. Are we brave enough to take that step? Do we want to blink in the sun or shiver in the shade? Can we step out, together, for Yes?