Monday 2 October 2017


At the end of last week our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and his cabinet decided to push the boat out for seven (7! count 'em) constitutional amendments:
  1. repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution (May 2018)
  2. directly elected mayors (Oct 2018)
  3. abolish blasphemy (Oct 2018)
  4. role of women in the home (Oct 2018)
  5. voting for the diaspora (2019)
  6. easier divorce (2019)
  7. votes for 16s (2019)
That's a helluva lot of tinkering at the edges of our Constitution and you might think it is time to dump De Valera's nit-picking intrusions into the fabric of 1937 society and write a new set of truths which we hold to be self-evident 80 years later. Because Dev had a particular romantic view of ideal family life he gave several hostages to fortune by proscribing alternative, actual, ways of forming households. Divorce and same-sex marriage got tied up in the constitution when they might have been more appropriately regulated by legislation. The unpicking costs money: every referendum costs about €25 million to implement.

Because the detail is important, let's capture the actual 8th Amendment. Article 40.3.3 now states:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
If the new referendum  is as simple as "Do you wish to excise article 40.3.3. from the Constitution?", we're still a long way from abortion on demand in Tullamore.
ANNyway, Varadkar's announcement went out just before a March for Choice [above] scheduled for the last day of September. I tell ya boys, I've marched more this year than at any time since 1974, when we marched in defense of student grants and a group of Trots rushed off and occupied the Ministry of Education. In April it was March For Science with Dau.I and maybe 800 others people. As a quid pro quo for her support, in June I went out with her, Dau.II and their mother on a Repeal the Eighth rally in Cork. There were about 1,000 people on that go round the town.

The riot march was due to assemble at 1300 and kick off at 2pm to march from the far end of O''Connell Street to the back of Leinster House in Merrion Square. This 3km trek is now the standard route for protest. Dau.II came up from Cork, The Beloved returned from France, I drove up from the boondocks and we met Dau.I in a café in Smithfield D7. I was surprised and delighted to find another 4 family members sitting round a brunch-covered table making revolutionary signage. I was sort of expecting to meet a bunch of other people whom I knew but I was very much an outlier in the demographic: probably in the 1% percentile for age and in the minority sex as well.  The weather was gorgeous, sunny but crisp and autumnal with little risk of melanoma: the biggest weather problem was carrying winter coats.

The march was HUGE. Best signs. Some estimates are putting out 40,000 people on the side of change. There was also a fringe of counter-demonstrators from the pro-life side. And weirdly, as we shambled down Dublin's principal thoroughfare we saw another march - of Muslims apparently anti-ISIS - going up the other side of the street in the opposite direction. Poor them, they will garner zero publicity from their event. This issue is much edgier than free-the-gays or whether Trump is anti-science or even Brexit across the water. Although it is deeply divisive, a case could be made that nobody will die whether the UK goes or stays in the EU.  In the London solidarity for Repeal march this weekend, they tried to chalk 200,000 white crosses on the pavement outside the Irish Embassy.
<math aside> that's a helluva lot of crosses written while bent double. I've just taken 30 seconds to write 50 1cm x 1cm crosses on a sheet of paper. Chalk will take at least as long. That's 33 person hours on your knees. If each cross takes up 10cm^2 of pavement that's a stretch 2m wide and 100m long.</math aside>
If you're from the pro-life side of the debate, 200,000 'babies' is surely worth fighting for. If you're from the other side, that's 200,000 young women who have been able to pay for a solution to a life-changing situation. Whichever side you're on it is invidious to shunt the problem onto the country next door, and politically charged because we're meant to be a republic independent from that same country.

Around about 3pm we trailed into Merrion Square although still at least 100 closely packed metres from the stage and the speakers. One wizard wheeze from the speeches was the idea to take a leaf out of the post Vatican II Liturgy of the Eucharist  "Let us offer each other a sign of peace" when we were invited to shake hands with the strangers about us as a sign of solidarity.  Another high point was to wheel out Bernadette McAliskey who, in my day, as Bernadette Devlin aged 21, the youngest woman elected to the UK parliament in 1969.  That record was handed to Mhairi Black [aged 20] in 2015. McAliskey has been through the wars,
  • she witnessed Bloody Sunday in 1972
  • the next day in the House of Commons, she slapped the Home Secretary  as an act of proletarian protest when he claimed the massacre was an act of self-defense "I'm just sorry I didn't get him by the throat".
  • in 1981 the McAliskey parents shot in front of their two children  by loyalist paramilitaries while a British army unit looked on. A case could be, and has been, made that McAliskey was 'taken out' with the collusion of the British government in an Israeli style realpolitik of assassination.
  • in 2003 she was, still 5 feet nothing in her socks, denied entry to the US because she poses a serious threat to the security of the United States
Those are just the highlights. Along the way, and before she got married, she gave birth to a daughter Róisin. So she's been in the firing line of sexual politics as well. On Saturday she called on Sinn Féin, especially deputy leader MaryLou McDonald, to row in actively on the campaign to Repeal the Eighth. All political parties are adverse to risk; they are unwilling to take a stand on any principle if a substantive number of their traditional supporters are likely to be against it. Sinn Féin is the largest radical party, and popular among those too young to remember The Troubles. They could really show leadership and gain traction on the Repeal campaign. Have they the bottle?

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