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'Any politician that says repealing the Eighth doesn't come up on the doorsteps is living in cloud cuckoo land'

With the political landscape so uncertain, the current government is unlikely to rush a referendum through.

Members ot AAA-PBP wearing 'Repeal' jumpers in the Dáil this week.
Members ot AAA-PBP wearing 'Repeal' jumpers in the Dáil this week.

EARLIER THIS MONTH Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins appeared on TV3′s Tonight with Vincent Browne and said the issue of repealing the Eighth Amendment was not something he came across on the doorsteps during the last election.

“The big issues for my constituency are jobs, health and education… the whole issue of repealing the Eighth and abortion, of course is very important, but is not top of everyone’s agenda.”

Fast forward two weeks and more than 20,000 men and women took to the streets in torrential rain for the March for Choice in Dublin’s city centre. Those people might disagree with Collins.

The Dáil was also subject to its own protest by the AAA-PBP TDs who entered the chamber in uniform this week – wearing black and white ‘Repeal’ t-shirts.

repeal-4-390x285 (1)

With those protest numbers and the fact that the issue has hit the floor of the Dáil, politicians can no longer sideline the topic – regardless of what their own personal views are.

Citizens’ Assembly

As politicians farm out the job of deciding on the Eighth Amendment to next month’s Citizens’ Assembly, momentum towards a referendum appears to be inching slowly forward.

The political landscape is uncertain and this minority government has already experienced a few wobbles and close calls. Politicians haven’t packed away their election posters just yet, as they know that at any moment, the house of cards could come falling down.

With this in mind, the current government is unlikely to rush a referendum through. Some critics believe they are simply biding their time – perhaps there will be another election next year, and the issue will be somebody else’s problem.

Anti-abortion activists insist that the push for a referendum has little support on the ground, with the Life Institute stating that amongst ordinary people there’s abortion debate fatigue.

However, now more than ever, there are members of government speaking openly about repealing the Eighth. Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell and Health Minister Simon Harris (notably two of the party’s younger members) have not shied away from talking about the issue.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Independent Alliance members

Cabinet also has a number of Independent Alliance TDs and independents who have said on the record that they are in favour of repealing the Eighth.

These include Minister of State for Skills and Training John Halligan, Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, who actually donned a black and white repeal jumper and marched in the protest last weekend.

Last year, Halligan said the hypocrisy in the Dáil about the issue of abortion is “stenching”.

Most of the Dáil is made up of men, we’re never going to need an abortion so we don’t know what it’s like.
They’re completely out of touch with how women feel when they’re violated, and that’s shameful on all of us.

29/9/2016. Repeal the Eight Amendment. L to R. Ail Repeal the Eight Amendment. L to R. Ailbhe Smyth, Coalition Convenor,Niall Behan, Chief Executive Irish Family Planning Association, Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International, Deirdre Duffy, Deputy Director, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and (front)) Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Womens Council of Ireland. Source: Eamonn Farrell

With support in the Dáil greater than ever, this week the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment took the opportunity tell politicians that there has been a shift in society, in their view.

Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor said:

I think there has been a real shift in the Dáil, for example in the march we saw Fine Gael TDs out there. We’ve also seen our Minister for Health Simon Harris giving a lot more positive comments in relation to the need for abortion services, so we would be very confident there will  be a referendum, it is a matter of when, it will, we believe, within months.

‘Not coming up on the doorsteps’

Amnesty International’s Colm O’Gorman said the “old line” of “it’s not coming up on the doors” is something that is repeated by those who are either personally opposed to something, or people who just don’t want to engage in a certain subject matter.

“I think we heard it repeatedly during the marriage equality referendum from some of the few politicians who were opposed to that referendum saying: ‘oh, this isn’t something we hear coming up at the doors.’ We all know how that went,” he said.

Though the group disagrees the Citizens’ Assembly is the best process to proceed with getting to their end goal of a referendum, O’Gorman states that today’s political landscape is somewhat positive towards their cause.

Politically — there isn’t a single political party or grouping in the current Oireachtas who has it as a matter of party policy the retention of the Eighth Amendment – not one. Not one.
Every Party and grouping, bar Fianna Fáil, have a commitment to progressing the issue in some way.

He said a year ago people wouldn’t have said that would be the case. “We held two weeks of demonstrations outside government buildings during the negotiations for the programme for government.

On one particular day we had reps from every party bar Fianna Fáil present at the protest, supporting our collective call to repeal the Eighth Amendment and we had three party leaders there.”

“There is very significant political support – we perhaps aren’t hearing it publicly or voiced as much,” said O’Gorman.

7/9/2016. Anti Abortion Protests Issues Members of the Pro Life anti-abortion group demonstrate outside the Dail in their ongoing campaign against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Source: Eamonn Farrell

Pro-life activists, such as the Life Institute are working to block such a ballot of the people on the issue.

Their hope is the government will reach the conclusion that there isn’t a big demand for a referendum.

As the second Dáil term gets underway, the government face significant challenges ahead – the Budget, water charges, Nama and Project Eagle as well as the Citizens’ Assembly and repealing the Eighth.

Unlike what was done with water charges, Smyth said politicians should read the public mood.

Any politician that doesn’t think that this comes up on the doors and that it is not an issue or that it is going to go away is living in cloud cuckoo land because I would be saying to them, there is no place to hide.

The group backs up its calls for more political support on the latest polls results The Amnesty Red C poll in February 2016 found that 87% of respondents are in favour of expanding access to abortion in Ireland, as did RTÉ’s General Election exit poll, finding 75% in favour.

“If there are politicians or parties that want to stay in hiding they won’t be able to do that for long,” concluded Smyth.

Read: Repeal the Eighth campaigners call for referendum within 12 months>

 Poll: Were TDs right to wear ‘Repeal’ jumpers in the Dáil chamber?>

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