With the countdown to the election in full-swing, Megan Hickey examines one of the biggest social issues today: which parties and candidates actually support repealing the eighth amendment?
The lack of trust between politicians and the people has become part of our strained relationship with those in power. Scepticism of party’s manifestos and whether or not they will carry these policies into power means people are unsure of which party to vote for. Social issues are always important when it comes to elections, and for this general election, one of those issues is repealing the eighth amendment.
The case of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 shone a much needed light on Ireland’s restrictive and unclear law on abortion and also brought about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. This Act was supposed to make Ireland’s stance on abortion clear and help both the mother and unborn child. Instead, the Ms Y Case in 2014, in which a fourteen year old asylum seeker who had been raped, was denied an abortion and forced to carry her baby against her will. Again in 2014, in the case of PP vs HSE, a woman was declared dead but kept on life support against her family’s wishes to keep her unborn child alive. While the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was supposed to make Ireland’s laws on abortion clearer, the people of Ireland and Irish health professionals are still unsure of Ireland’s stance on abortion.
Repealing the eighth amendment is a controversial topic in Irish politics, and as such, TDs’ opinions on whether or not they want to repeal the eighth are often ambiguous. Many politicians refuse to take a stance on the issue or try to take a middle ground for fear of alienating a diverse electorate. The topic of abortion is important for young people and students as it will be the new generation of voters who will make all the difference in voting, as seen in last year’s Marriage Equality Referendum.
For Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, students can definitely make a difference to politics, and this is certainly true of the movement to repeal the eighth. “Students now are getting a lot more politically aware and active,” she says. “It’s the final step, once your consciousness is raised and you’re getting politically active, the final step in that journey is to go out and express that at the ballot box.” 2015 was filled with protests and rallies from both pro-life and pro-choice campaigners and with the 2016 election, this issue will become a crucial political topic in 2016.
Renua Ireland’s Dublin South Central candidate, Michael Gargan, would like to see the eighth amendment repealed but also doesn’t think the consitituion is the place for the national stance on the issue. “We should be legislating on medical procedures in the constitution, I don’t think that’s the right place to do it,” he says. “I don’t think that is where decisions on a medical procedure belong.”
The Labour party are very vocal about their support for repealing the eighth amendment, with it being an important part of their manifesto. New party, the Social Democrats have said from the beginning that they “support the repeal of the eighth amendment and will campaign for a referendum on this matter.” Direct Democracy believe that “the people should decide on this matter.” Sinn Fein is also in favour of repealing the eighth.
While repealing the eighth hasn’t exactly been the primary focus of this election campaign, there are quite a few who support the movement. People Before Profit’s TD in the Dublin Fingal constituency, Barry Martin, supports a referendum, as well as Fingal TDs Brendan Ryan of the Labour party and Louise O’Reilly.
For O’Reilly, repealing the eighth amendment is an important issue as both “a woman and a mother,” she explains. “I think it’s also important in terms of giving some certainty and some protection to our regulated health professionals who need the guidance that we have. I think for far too long in Ireland we have exported the issue of complicated or unwanted pregnancies and we need to face up to it. I think we are mature enough as a nation to have a debate and to recognise that it’s an important issue for women, it’s an important issue for families and for the health and safety, welfare and wellbeing of our young women.”
Fianna Fáil’s Dun Laoghaire TD Cormac Devlin is against repealing the eighth, as Fianna Fáil will not initiate a policy to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution. Fine Gael’s plan is to establish a new Citizens Assembly within six months. The Assembly will examine political issues and these would then be passed on to the Oireachtas which would discuss the eighth amendment.
Right-wing party Renua Ireland is led by Lucinda Creighton, who broke away from Fine Gael after she opposed the legislation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. Renua Ireland is a unique party, as Michael Gargan explains, with politicians in Renua “free to vote their conscience”, as opposed to having to vote with the party whip, as Fine Gael and Labour both were required to do at the last repeal the eighth Bill in May of 2015. Renua’s Dun Laoghaire Candidate, Frank Cronin and Dublin Rathdown’s, Alan Daveron, are both supportive of a referendum on the eighth amendment.
Support has grown over the years from politicians to repeal the eighth amendment and legalise abortion. There are candidates and parties who are for and against repealing the amendment, allowing people to vote for candidates that will represent their opinions on this important topic. However, it is important to keep in mind the restrictions of the party whip system. While this has affected previous attempts at repealing the eighth, will a new coalition be more willing to allow its TDs to vote independently on such an important matter? If not, the next step is to see whether the overall support from so many TDs will allow for a referendum, and if so how the party positions will affect the subsequent campaign and results.