Minister’s opening address ensures summer school started with a bang
CHILDREN’S MINISTER Katherine Zappone launched an impassioned plea for the Government to move on the referendum for repealing the 8th amendment at the Kennedy Summer School on Thursday night.
Ms Zappone was greeted at St Michael’s Theatre by a silent protest of almost 30 Pro Life campaigners who travelled some distances to attend, a few of whom were carrying young children.
She warned that Ireland can only become a true ‘Republic of Equals’ when the Eighth Constitutional amendment is repealed and the State stops treating an unborn foetus as equal to a woman.
The Dublin TD warned that Irish politicians can no longer hide behind the availability of abortion in the UK to avoid dealing with one of the most difficult and divisive issues to have faced Ireland.
The independent TD said it was an honour for her to open the summer school. She said it is easy to imagine the late president having a positive impact on today’s world, adding that he could have been a ‘guiding hand’ to guide the world through these turbulent times.
‘We can take great encouragement that the Kennedy legacy and vision lives on. It is needed in these uncertain times.’
Kennedy Summer School Co-director Larry Donnelly, who is a professor at NUI Galway, said it waas fitting that on the centenary of President John F Kennedy’s birth, that the programme would be the biggest and best yet.
He thanked chargé d’affaires of the US Embassay Reece Smyth and embassy political director Faith Colvin for attending, along with the speakers who travelled from America to attend the three day summer school.
Afterwards, in a keynote speech Ms Zappone staunchly backed the campaign for the amendment to be repealed, warning that women must be given full rights over their own bodies. She acknowledged that the looming debate over abortion “will trouble many.”
‘As long as the Constitution treats a foetus as equal to a woman, her autonomy can be nothing more than a myth,’ she warned.
The remarks sparked a storm of criticism on social media from Pro Life campaigners.
Ms Zappone warned that Ireland needed to tackle the issue.
‘As a woman, a progressive, a campaigner and a Government Minister I firmly believe we need a system of reproductive justice – which must include a referendum on reproductive rights. That is why repealing the Eighth amendment is about reproductive rights for all women, including those who want to continue with their pregnancies. Of course, for those who don’t the amendment means they cannot access abortion in Ireland.’
She said tens of thousands of women have already paid the price for Ireland’s stance on equal rights
‘As we know every year thousands travel, unknown numbers import and take the abortion pill, and more still self-harm to end their pregnancies,” she said. We do not know how many thousands of women have continued with pregnancies against their will since 1983.
‘We do know that women without means, without visas, without freedom from abusive and oppressive partners are denied their rights. The availability of abortion in England has allowed generations of politicians to avoid this hard conversation.’
That time, she argued, has now come to an end.
She said: ‘I know this raises complex questions that trouble many, and I acknowledge and respect that,’ while warning that Irish women must address the long-overdue issue of proper equality.
‘It (the Eighth amendment) oppresses us with the burden of choicelessness.’
Ms Zappone chose the opening of the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford to deliver her keynote address on the repeal of the Eighth amendment and her policy priorities over the remaining term of the Fine Gael-led Government.
The Dublin TD said she was inspired throughout her political life by the legacy of President Kennedy.
She spoke of how her late wife Dr Ann Louise Gilligan - who died in 2015 - worked at the Mercy Secondary School in New Ross, breaking down with emotion at one point.
Ms Zappone was cheered as she left the stage.
Minister Katherine Zappone and Charge d’Affairs Reece Smyth.
Protesters outside St Michael’s Theatre last Thursday.