The Empty Room by Eoin O’Faogain

 

So, how do we deal with an issue where a particular law results in access to healthcare being outsourced abroad? Oh! How about outsourcing the issue of the outsourcing to a randomly chosen 99-person assembly, collated by…an outsourced polling company? We could call it The Peoples’ Assembly. Not to be confused with the 158-person, superbly paid assembly of national parliamentarians, which, apparently, is not in fact a peoples’ assembly at all.

The above, unfortunately, is not a proposed sketch for Irish Pictorial Weekly. It might be amusing if it wasn’t so very real. But it is real.

87 is the real percentage of Irish people who want access to abortion broadened.

9, in contrast, is the real percentage of elected TDs who deemed last night’s debate on that issue worthy of their precious time.

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A political establishment that misreads the mood of its electorate is not a new phenomenon.

Last night, however, was as drastic an example as there has been in a long time. With only 14 TDs turning up to debate Ruth Coppinger’s Repeal Bill (as pictured above), Dáil Eireann showed not only its indifference to an electorate who demonstrably want this issue addressed. Most significantly, in fact, it showed downright contempt for 3,500 women a year whose vulnerabilities are ignored, whose rights are denied and whose basic needs are exported abroad, or underground – risking imprisonment in the case of the latter.

In advance of the debate, swathes of people gathered outside the Dáil to voice their anger once again. The hordes of empty seats inside could have been filled twice, perhaps three times over, by a gathering of people whose passion and perseverance was in stark contrast to that of those who represent them.

The debate itself offered few surprises. Each of the six AAA/PBP TDs, along with Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats, Catherine Martin of the Greens, Louise O’Reilly and Kathleen Funchion of Sinn Féin, and left Independents Clare Daly, Seamus Healy, Joan Collins and Mick Wallace spoke with conviction – they highlighted the very real facts and figures along with anecdotal experiences to passionately convey the importance of supporting the Bill. So to, in fairness, did Jan O’Sullivan of Labour – although her party colleague and runner-up to Denis O’Brien in last year’s prestigious Megalomaniac of the Year award, Alan Kelly, saw fit to use his five minutes as a party political broadcast for his now beleaguered force.

Kate O’Connell of Fine Gael led into a bizarre tirade against left-wing politics, framing the AAA/PBP as ‘hazardous to progress’ on the issue. O’Connell had previously spoken candidly and courageously about her own experiences and her wish to see the 8th repealed, so the narrative taken – completely distracting from the issue itself and derisory in nature – was disappointing.

Her colleague Catherine Byrne’s indifference was not surprising, but it’s worth remembering that as a TD for Dublin South Central, she represents a large number of women in extreme and consistent poverty, for whom the 8th is especially detrimental.

And then there’s Michael Harty and Mattie McGrath. When Harty spoke of how ‘we have evolved to allow ladies the right to travel’ it was rightly met with derision inside and outside the Dáil – both men are regressive, misogynistic and out of touch with modern Ireland, but here’s the thing. The only difference between them and the swathes of blank-faced, grey-haired, grey-suited men who populate the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenches, is that these 2 vocalise it. The vast majority of those absent from the debate, and enthusiasts of the Assembly, think – quietly – along very similar lines.

Katherine Zappone, meanwhile, continued to deliver in her brief as Ireland’s biggest hypocrite. Repeal jumper in tow one day, absent from an introductory debate the next.

A couple of speakers at the demo earlier in the evening alluded to strikes in Poland and elsewhere around the world in recent months as examples of how forcing the issue by mass mobilisation can influence change. In the context of a Government that flatly refuses to respond to its people’s demands, where a referendum is now highly unlikely before 2018, isn’t it time to look at all-out strikes? Isn’t it time to disrupt the conventional order of things and send a shockwave to our establishment elites that people won’t tolerate any more delay tactics, any more indecision, any more excuses.

They haven’t listened to the lived experiences of 166,951 people since 1980. They didn’t pay much attention, evidently, to 20,000 marching in unison last month. They’ve ignored the opinion polls and the palpable demand for change. In light of the indefensible disrespect shown by a majority of TDs to this issue last night, surely the time has come to stop asking, and start forcing action.

This coming Friday marks the 4th anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar, a wonderful, talented young woman whose life was lost because of the horrendous eighth amendment. We owe it to her, and to every pregnant person who has been so cruelly failed by the Irish State, to force the issue relentlessly.

Eoin O’Faogain – http://www.twitter.com/Eoin_OF

Resources:

Abortion Rights Campaign – http://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie 
Please consider donating to or getting involved with ARC by visiting the above website. Monthly open meetings are held in Outhouse in Capel Street, D1.

Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment – http://www.repealeight.ie
A growing alliance of over 60 organisations campaigning for Repeal including trade unions, pro-choice organisations and NGOs. Information on local branches can be obtained via their website.

Abortion Support Network – http://www.asn.org.uk
A voluntary organisation that provides financial assistance and accommodation to pregnant people travelling from Ireland to the UK for an abortion.

Women on Web – http://www.womenonweb.org
An international support network which assists in securing safe, affordable abortion pills and provides online aftercare.

Repeal Project – http://www.repeal.ie
Repeal Project seeks to vindicate the rights of Irish women by reflecting, respecting and representing the need and want for free, safe and legal access to abortion services. The Project sells the well-known ‘Repeal’ jumpers and other attire as a way to both destigmatise abortion, and raise much-needed for funds for ARC.

Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) – http://www.ifpa.ie
Ireland’s leading sexual health charity, which promotes the right of all people to sexual and reproductive health information and dedicated, confidential and affordable healthcare services.

 

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