The March for Choice took place on Saturday from the Garden of Remembrance to Merrion Square. According to RTÉ News and the Irish Times, the march contained so many people that it took 45 minutes for it to pass the Spire. Some claim that up to 50,000 attended the march and that it was the largest march for choice Ireland has seen. Sabbatical officers Niall Torris, Robert Sweeney, Barry Murphy were in attendance. While Katie Ascough’s absence did not appear to negatively affect the march, recent controversies surrounding her presidency may have caused an increase in numbers and her impeachment was a known topic at the march among even non-UCD marchers.
It is the first March for Choice since Leo Varadkar announced that a referendum will be taking place in May or June of 2018.
Despite having left USI, UCD students gathered in the grounds of Trinity College, before the march, along with USI. Similar collaborations with Trinity may continue in future according to Campaigns and Communications Officer Barry Murphy “We’re going to now collaborate on a lot of things. Whereas before the recent scandals, we weren’t really planning to.” Murphy was also in talking to USI Vice-President for Equality Síona Cahill, “I’m going to have a meeting with her in the weeks ahead to discuss our plans further for the year.”
Dani Desio, Public Relations Officer for UCD for Choice said, in conversation with the University Observer, said “The march went extraordinarily well! We were thrilled to see students, staff, and alumni join us in such numbers. We believe we had at least 350 marching with us or in their respective UCD groups.” Barry Murphy told the University Observer that “We had just under 100 at last year’s March for Choice.”
While a few counter protestors were present bearing signs such as “Hope not abortion,” and “I was almost aborted,” the march carried on without hiccups. The march also passed signs stuck on poles inviting people to a pro-life event that had already occurred. One sign read “My child is innocent just like me. Ours laws should punish rapists, not babies.” These were in stark contrast to signs from the march reading “RuPaul the 8th,” “Don’t leave our reproductive rights in the hands of Ryanair,” and “No woman has an abortion for fun.”
Many signs highlighted how long this nation has been waiting for a change in law with some pointing out that 63% of Ireland’s current population has not been given the chance to vote on this as they were either not old enough to vote or not yet born when it was last voted on. Murphy added in his reasoning for marching that “We need our voice to be heard before government, before the decisions are made about the date for next year’s referendum. If it’s June, so many students will be gone on their J1, gone travelling. That’s the only way that a referendum will pass.”
Desio of UCD for Choice explained the group’s reason for marching: “we feel that every individual person has the basic human right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and the 8th amendment violates that basic right.”
UCD SU’s Welfare Officer Eoghan MacDomhnaill could not attend the march due to a family emergency. The other sabbatical officers, not including Katie Ascough did attend.
Similar marches were held in other counties and countries, as were some pro-life demonstrations. It is clear that many people are angry about this issue.
This march comes after UCDSU President Katie Ascough faced criticism and now the possibility of impeachment over multiple issues that could have upset the repeal campaign. These include removing abortion information from the Winging It in UCD handbook and expressing discomfort with UCD for Choice’s position in the freshers tent, the size of the repeal budget, and the acquirement of pro-choice class reps. Murphy explained that this encouraged people to march, “Recent controversies have started a movement of very very passionate repealers who have a lot of confidence. They’re being motivated to do something now because of what’s been happening and that’s not a bad thing.”
The recent events in UCD and the upcoming referendum are being heavily covered by the media. Recently the Irish Times has begun describing those who identify as “pro-life” as “anti-abortion.” As the Irish Times also features articles by Breda O’Brien if favour of the eight amendment this does not mean that the newspaper holds a stance on the issue.
Many at the march, outside of UCD were aware of recent issues, according to Murphy: “A lot of people from the repeal coalition, from ARC from ROSA, approached me on Saturday asking “Oh are you in support of the impeachment of your SU president? Get her out. Do everything you can to get her out.” I didn’t really appreciate that. It took away from what the march was really about.” Someone from ROSA even asked him to comment using a microphone, on the issues: “At the end I wanted to grab the mic of someone from ROSA. I just wanted to thank everyone for coming. I said a bit, then she got the mic back off me and she started going on about impeach! impeach! impeach! I was a bit appalled so I took the mic back off her.”
The UN Committee against Torture has criticised Ireland’s abortion laws and stated that they must be changed. The current punishment for acquiring an abortion in Ireland is a 14 year prison sentence. This is longer than the sentence for rape which is, according to thejournal.ie, on average 5-7 years. Some however, praise our laws, arguing that they save lives.