Martin feels warmth on the doorsteps but may yet feel heat from his party I know the party. I have spo­ken to al­most ev­ery TD on this. They are not wor­ried that I am vot­ing Yes.

Few thought they would ever see a FF leader can­vasses for ac­cess to abor­tion

The Irish Times - - Home News - Sarah Bar­don Po­lit­i­cal Reporter

Micheál Martin is on the first of his three can­vasses a week. It has de­vel­oped into some­thing of a mid-week rit­ual for the Fianna Fáil leader.

He has one rule for can­vasses and that is to avoid the “home­land”, or in other words ar­eas packed to the brim with Fianna Fáil sup­port­ers.

This is no or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal can­vass, though. Martin had ini­tially in­di­cated he did not want to be in­volved in the ref­er­en­dum campaign. Now, he is urg­ing RTÉ to al­low him to de­bate the mat­ter and is can­vass­ing door-to-door for a Yes vote in the Dublin area.

He has been in Dublin South Cen­tral with Se­na­tor Cather­ine Ardagh; Dublin Bay South with Jim O’Cal­laghan; and in Rath­farn­ham, on a glo­ri­ous sunny Wed­nes­day evening, it is the turn of lo­cal Dublin South West TD John La­hart, Mayo TD Lisa Cham­bers and Se­na­tor Lor­raine Clif­ford-Lee to join him.

In Stock­ing Wood, an es­tate of young work­ing fam­i­lies, Martin is learn­ing there is no uni­form view on the ref­er­en­dum.

Same ques­tions

Most of the con­stituents here are Yes vot­ers but there is a small num­ber un­de­cided and an even smaller num­ber vot­ing No. But the same ques­tions arise on the doorsteps. Why 12 weeks? Could we not amend the Con­sti­tu­tion to al­low for ter­mi­na­tions in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances?

These are, no doubt, ques­tions Martin con­sid­ered at length be­fore reach­ing his own po­si­tion.

“My mes­sage to peo­ple is to weigh it up. I am not a per­sonal ad­vo­cate of abor­tion but I do think there is a bal­ance be­tween hav­ing our own views and im­pos­ing them on oth­ers through a law that is very in­flex­i­ble and very in­sen­si­tive and the Eighth Amend­ment is a very in­flex­i­ble and cruel law. A lot of un­in­tended con­se­quences have flown from it,” the Fianna Fáil leader says.

“We need to think of women who get a di­ag­no­sis of fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties.

“Do we re­ally want to say to women in those sit­u­a­tions that you are go­ing to have to go to Eng­land?

“Are we say­ing to young 14 and 15-year-olds you can go to Eng­land or you can take the abor­tion pill with­out any care from a doc­tor?”

It was a meet­ing with four women that changed Martin’s po­si­tion. The women had re­ceived di­ag­noses of fa­tal foetal ab­nor­mal­i­ties and trav­elled abroad to seek ter­mi­na­tions. That con­ver­sa­tion and the predica­ment those women found them­selves in moved him to a po­si­tion he prob­a­bly never ex­pected him­self to be in.

He re­minds the res­i­dents of Stock­ing Wood that he comes from a “pro-life po­si­tion” but af­ter hear­ing the sto­ries of those and many other women he felt he could not stand by and “visit that trauma on some­one else”.

“It is not fair. I ac­cept this is a com­plex mat­ter but we are com­pound­ing their an­guish by send­ing these women – our sisters, daugh­ters, friends, moth­ers – abroad,” he tells one res­i­dent strug­gling with the 12-week propo­si­tion.

Spe­cial

As he races from door to door, a num­ber of young chil­dren are play­ing in the es­tate, a rare sight in Dublin these days. Many of their par­ents were at­tend­ing the Ed Sheeran con­cert in Phoenix Park, they tell Martin. He tells them he had seen the pop­star in Cork and if he is good enough for Parc Uí Chaoimh, he has to be spe­cial.

The con­ver­sa­tions drift from the ref­er­en­dum to foot­ball, hurl­ing, the re­cent Cer­vi­calCheck con­tro­versy and the be­hav­iour of vul­ture funds.

Martin al­ways tries to bring it back to the vote next Fri­day. To those who say they are vot­ing Yes, he re­peat­edly re­minds them turnout will be key.

For t he un­de­cided, he re­minds them of his own strug­gles with the is­sue.

Hav­ing read all of the ev­i­dence, he says, he con­cluded there is no al­ter­na­tive.

“There is no other way if we re­ally want to deal with the issues of rape and incest. The lawyers have made that clear. You can­not leg­is­late for rape and incest, plus peo­ple are tak­ing the abor­tion pill and that is cre­at­ing dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions for young peo­ple, where women are tak­ing the abor­tion pill on their own. We need to be hon­est with our­selves,” he says.

For those who are vot­ing No, he is pa­tient. He does not seek to change their minds or force his opin­ion on them.

In­stead, he at­tempts to cor­rect some of the mis­in­for­ma­tion they have ac­cu­mu­lated.

Un­fair

“This is not the United King­dom. Bri­tain is an out­lier in terms of its abor­tion laws. The com­par­isons are un­fair.

“We were told in 2013 [dur­ing the de­bate on the Pro­tec­tion of Life Dur­ing Preg­nancy Act] that the flood­gates would open. It did not hap­pen,” he tells one man who is a strong No voter.

It will come as no sur­prise to the Fianna Fáil leader that the im­age of him de­liv­er­ing To­gether for Yes leaflets and de­bat­ing the mer­its of re­peal­ing the Eighth Amend­ment will irk some of his party’s sup­port­ers.

While most of the par­ties have vary­ing views on the is­sue of abor­tion, the divi­sion in Fianna Fáil is very pub­lic.

Thirty-one mem­bers of the par­lia­men­tary party gath­ered for a No vote, high­light­ing the ex­tent of the op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal. Its TDs are at­tend­ing ral­lies and pub­lic events for the anti-abor­tion campaign.

This is prob­a­bly one of the rea­sons Martin made his views known early in the de­bate. With­out any ad­vance warn­ing, he told the Dáil in Jan­uary he would be sup­port­ing the re­moval of ar­ti­cle 40.3.3 and the leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als.

It was a sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­ven­tion in the campaign. Sup­port for the propo­si­tion was ex­pected of Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar and the Sinn Féin lead­er­ship but not of Martin.

In the months that have fol­lowed, the party has be­come frac­tious, even if the party leader does not want to ad­mit that.

“It is not a sharp di­vide . . . I know the party. I have spo­ken to al­most ev­ery TD on this. They are not wor­ried that I am vot­ing Yes. They are not an­gry that I am vot­ing Yes. They un­der­stand and re­spect my right to vote Yes.”

Op­ti­mism

Given that the sun is out and the sound of an ice-cream van is swirling around the es­tate, we can for­give his op­ti­mism about the cur­rent state of play in his party.

It may be­come a trick­ier sit­u­a­tion for Martin if the ref­er­en­dum is passed and leg­is­la­tion is nec­es­sary. What of those who op­posed the ref­er­en­dum but are faced with im­ple­ment­ing its re­sult?

Fianna Fáil will not block any leg­is­la­tion if there is a pos­i­tive re­sult in the ref­er­en­dum. He sees no rea­son for de­lay­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the law and wants it to be com­pleted by the end of the year.

En­cour­age

So would he en­cour­age his party to sup­port the leg­is­la­tion? “I have al­ready said they have free­dom of con­science. We can’t have a sys­tem that al­lows free votes and then change it mid-stream. But I would en­cour­age peo­ple to sup­port the law.”

He points to the Sinn Féin po­si­tion, which is cur­rently not in line with the pro­pos­als be­ing put for­ward by the Gov­ern­ment. Surely he is wor­ried about the pictures of Mary Lou McDon­ald on posters across the coun­try?

“That would mean we are putting up posters for our­selves and not the is­sue,” he re­sponds.

Many peo­ple never thought they would see the day that the leader of Fianna Fáil would be can­vass­ing for ac­cess to abor­tion. “This is about the fu­ture,” Martin says.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVE MEE­HAN

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and Se­na­tor Lor­raine Clif­ford Lee talk to Gerry Quin­lan and his wife Louise on a can­vass in south Dublin.

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