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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 17 December, 2018
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'A defining moment for our generation': Why emigrants are coming home to vote

Thousands of Irish people are coming #HomeToVote in tomorrow’s referendum.

THOUSANDS OF IRISH people are expected to come back from abroad to vote in the Eighth Amendment referendum tomorrow.

Many people making the trip are documenting it by using the #HomeToVote hashtag on social media. People are returning from various parts of Europe, the US and as far afield as Australia, Africa and Asia.

Irish emigrants who have lived abroad for 18 months or less are eligible to vote.

hanoiSource: HoorayForNiamh/Twitter
home to vote tweetSource: LdnIrishU4L/Twitter

Tomorrow people will have the chance to vote on whether or not the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal constitutional status to the mother and the unborn, should be repealed. You can read about the legislation that is likely to be enacted, if the Eighth is repealed, here.

Two groups based in London which are encouraging people to return home to vote are the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) and London-Irish United For Life (UFL).

Claire McGowran of the ARC told TheJournal.ie the committee has sought “advice from legal experts” to make sure the information they provide is correct.

“We’ve made it clear to people they have to have been resident in Ireland within the last 18 months in order to be eligible. It’s hugely important to us to ensure people are aware of the law, before coming home.”

Just over 30,000 Irish people emigrated between April 2016 and 2017, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office. The ARC estimates that more than 40,000 Irish citizens who are living abroad are eligible to vote in the referendum.

Posted by on Monday, 17 December 2018

“I think it’s massively important to individual voters to feel like they’ve had their say on this, to feel like they’ve played a part in what will be a defining vote of our generation.

“But in a wider sense, I think the symbolism of so many people taking these lengthy journeys home to vote – when women are forced to travel every day – is hugely significant. We’ve seen people travelling from LA, Dubai, Sydney, Madrid, even Syria and Iraq to vote Yes,” McGowran said.

In recent months both the ARC and UFL have encouraged students who wish to return home to vote but can’t afford to do so to apply for a travel bursary from participating students’ unions.

Laoise Ní Dhubhrosa, spokeswoman for UFL, said that about 300 people have been in touch with the group to check if they are eligible to travel home to vote.

As well as students getting in touch, Ní Dhubhrosa said older people have also been in touch with the organisation after seeing ads in Irish community newspapers in the UK

“Others have asked us about eligibility when they’ve come across us handing out Home to Vote leaflets at sporting and cultural events.

It’s sad to have to tell people they aren’t eligible because they’ve been away from Ireland for too long.

Ní Dhubhrosa said it’s important for people who are eligible to “return to have their say” on the Eighth Amendment “because it’s literally a life and death issue”.

“We think it’s crucially important that people go home to vote to keep respect for human life and human rights at the heart of our Constitution and society.”

Posted by on Monday, 17 December 2018

Who can vote in a referendum?

Here’s what the Referendum Commission, which provides independent information, has to say about who can vote:

  • You must be an Irish citizen
  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • Your name must be on the Register of Electors
If you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered on the Register of Electors. This means that you cannot vote in an election or referendum here in Ireland. The only exception to this is Irish diplomats and their spouses, who are on duty abroad and may cast their vote by post.

Some people who have lived abroad for longer than 18 months will still receive polling cards and can illegally vote in the referendum as the 18-month rule can be difficult to enforce. It’s up to local councils to make sure registers are up to date, including through door-to-door checks in an area, but this doesn’t always happen.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government had not replied to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Speaking about people who are ineligible to vote, McGowran said that the ARC has been promoting a counter-campaign called Be My Yes.

“We’re encouraging the Irish abroad all over the world to call home, and speak to their friends, family, neighbours – anyone who’ll listen – about why a Yes on Friday is so crucial for women in Ireland.

These one-to-one conversations are so important, even in the final days of the campaign. A large number of people have also travelled back to canvass.

UFL has also encouraged people who aren’t eligible to vote but want the Eighth Amendment to be retained “to talk to family and friends back home in Ireland, particularly undecided family and friends”, Ní Dhubhrosa said.

“Talk to them about the importance of keeping the right to life in the Irish constitution. Talk to them about Ireland’s culture of life and family and how we don’t want to lose those things. Talk to them about the government’s extreme proposals and how they go way beyond so-called ‘hard cases’.”

Why are people coming home to vote?

‘My wife and I experienced a fatal foetal abnormality’

Devin John Doyle is travelling home from France to vote Yes. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, he said his decision to come home was influenced by the fact he and his wife experienced a fatal foetal abnormality in 2010.

The couple lived in Australia at the time and Devin said they “experienced what happens when the health system can respond appropriately”.

“I’m horrified at what would have happened in Ireland, and I’m bewildered that we think it’s okay to inflict that suffering on people.”

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Devin said his wife had a termination at 14 weeks “to protect my wife’s health and limit our daughter’s suffering”.

“The doctors and nurses cared for us. They gave us choices. They gave us dignity and compassion when we needed it most. I find it unconscionable that we in Ireland refuse to do the same.

When we moved back to Ireland I had to explain to my French wife that if we tried again and had another FFA diagnosis in Ireland, we’d have to travel. I was embarrassed and ashamed.

Devin said he spent “a couple of hundred euros” on flights but added: “It’s less money than the women who flew to England today for the care they should get at home will have spent.”

He said he’s cautiously optimistic that the vote will be passed tomorrow.

“My parents are in their 70s and they’re both Yes voters, other older relatives are too. Most of my younger friends and family seem to be Yes voters. My peers largely seem to be Yes voters, but I’m a middle-class suburban Dubliner, so that’s not surprising.

“What strikes me about my peers is that we were 13 when the amendment came in, and we’re 48 this year.

All of those girls I grew up with, all of those women I’ve known since school, spent their entire reproductive lives under the shadow of the Eighth. Now that I’ve heard some of their stories, I can’t believe we let them go through what they went through. And I can’t believe we’d allow it to continue.

“Even if the No side wins, the floodgates have been unlocked. The stories are being told, and the shame is withering in the light. Ireland will be a different place on Saturday.”

‘Ireland is in the Dark Ages’ 

Rachael Lavin, a 24-year-old student, is making the trip from Berlin to Kerry so she can vote Yes.

“This referendum is extremely important to me, as it is to countless others.

It’s so important to use the power we have and to make our voices heard. Not voting is a waste and it’s the most apathetic thing you can do. The women of Ireland need every vote we can get.

Rachael said she’s also “cautiously optimistic” the vote will pass, but isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I have faith in the people of Ireland to bring us out of the Dark Ages and into the 21st century. I’m not 100% [sure], which is why I want to make my vote count.”

‘Removing all legal protection for babies’

Owen Cronin, who is from Co Clare, is returning from London to vote No.

He said he’ll be voting No because he believes the Eighth Amendment “helps to protect both the mother and child”.

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Photo: London Irish United for Life/Facebook

“It puts our country in a unique position in Europe, one in which we show compassion and love to both. The Repeal side has been throwing out a lot of catchy slogans over the last few weeks, using words such as ‘choice’ … but what do these words really mean for us? The choice to stop a beating heart?

“As a man, I sincerely acknowledge the fact that I will never be able to fully understand what a woman is going through and the fear she may experience in an unplanned pregnancy.

We as men need to take responsibility and we as a society absolutely must improve the support provided to women in these situations, and we have to do more to confront the scourge of domestic and sexual abuse.

“But the bottom line of this referendum is not whether we think that women should have the right to choose. This referendum is about whether we think that human beings in the womb should have the right not to be unjustly killed,” he said.

‘I’m spending €700 on a flight to spend 36 hours here’ 

Ause Abdelhaq, 23, is spending €700 on a plane ticket to travel from Nairobi in Kenya to Clonmel in Co Tipperary. He’ll only be in the country for about 36 hours due to work commitments.

Ause said he’s coming home because the 3,265 women and girls who travelled to the UK for terminations in 2016 is “3,265 too many”.

I don’t want to look at my sister, or my cousin, or my best friend, or my future daughter, and worry that she has to break the law in order to access an abortion.

“Not one more woman should have to take a plane to Manchester and feel humiliated for making the choice that any man would if they were in her shoes.”

Ause said every vote counts and he’s not confident the referendum will pass, which is “what’s motivating me to go back”.

He believes the referendum will be a moment of huge historical importance.

“Generations from now, when this ridiculous debate is laughed at, they’ll look to the unity that we showed at this time – all of us.”

He said it’s time to “do away with the religious guilt and shame that has been hanging over our country for centuries” and say “enough is enough”.

20180430_Abortion_2 Source: Statista.com

Suzanne Conway, a 32-year-old based in London, said she’s coming home to vote No “because I believe that there is an obvious right to life before birth and the Eighth Amendment is simply the only protection that is safeguarding this right”.

“If the Eighth Amendment were to be repealed, the protection for babies in the womb would then be removed.

We know that the unborn person is a human being and yet this fact is often dismissed for short soundbite reasons such as personal choice or a human right. There is no such right and we need to be reminded of the reality of what happens with an abortion: a human life is ended.

Suzanne said she’s taking annual leave from work so she can vote and booked a flight home as soon as the date for the referendum was officially announced.

She said a No vote “would mean that the Irish people have spoken out in defence of the most defenceless in society”.

“A No vote may also mean an opportunity to discuss how we can implement better support systems for pregnant women and those facing crisis pregnancies and for babies with life-limiting conditions.

“Leaving abortion aside as a ‘solution’ to these situations will place Ireland in a unique position, in which we can demonstrate authentic compassion, solidarity and proper social progress.”

Coming home from US 

Sarah Gillespie, a 21-year-old UCD student from Co Donegal is returning from Pennsylvania in the US, to vote No.

When asked why she’s coming home to vote, Sarah said: “I am openly a feminist, and campaign for equal rights for everyone – including those of different race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, those with disabilities and, of course, the unborn child.

“This is a vote on the most fundamental human right – the right to life. The Eighth Amendment protects the life of both the mother and the unborn baby, so it’s only natural for me to travel home, by any means, to vote No in this referendum, and to protect the only constitutional right our unborn human babies have.”

Sarah was originally due to come home in June but said she moved her flight forward once the date of the referendum was confirmed, cutting short an academic scholarship.

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She said changing the flight cost her an additional €300, on top of the price of the flight itself.

Sarah said she’s hopeful the Eighth Amendment will be retained as it “has saved and will save so many lives in our country”.

“The proposed legislation is extreme – abortion for any reason, or no reason, up to three months pregnancy is extreme. Ireland is capable and should be advocating for better support for women in crisis pregnancy.

We should be campaigning for free contraception, financial aid for women who need it, and better healthcare.

Sarah said repealing the Eighth Amendment “will not help us with our current healthcare issues”, such as long waiting lists and hospitals being “understaffed and overcrowded”.

“For the sake of the rights of women, men, children and unborn babies in this country, I hope the Eighth Amendment is retained.”

‘The legislation needs to change’ 

Hazel Nolan, a 20-year-old UCD student who’s currently studying in Berlin, is voting Yes tomorrow.

She said she’s travelling home to vote in the referendum because the Eighth Amendment is “an extremely restrictive and outdated piece of legislation that needs to change”, adding: “Pregnant people in Ireland deserve bodily autonomy.”

Hazel is studying at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin as part of her Erasmus year. She said she needed help to afford her flight – getting an airline voucher from her sister for Christmas “as I knew I would need to fly back at some point for the referendum”.

Campaign group Abroad for Yes, which linked sponsors to people who needed money to travel home to vote, helped her pay for the flight back to Germany.

Hazel previously campaigned with Together for Yes and said the “positive response” she received at the time “really made me hopeful for the outcome of the referendum”. She said the fact that the #HomeToVote movement has been gaining momentum also makes her think that the Eighth will be repealed.

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Órla Ryan

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