‘Be polite, and don’t get involved in prolonged debates’
The ‘pep talk’ begins with a prayer and a run-through of foetal development
On a hot Saturday morning, in the car park of small modern church in Bawnogue in west Dublin, a group of 10 people meet up.
The preparation ritual is a little like togging out for a football game. The kit is taken out of the boot of a car. They all don their “ganseys” – scarlet vests emblazoned with Save the Eighth.
The “pep talk” begins with a prayer led by Brian O’Flynn. He then talks the Life Institute canvassers through the development of the foetus across the weeks of pregnancy before dealing with the preferred response to any questions on rape (a woman is the victim but if aborted the baby becomes the second victim).
O’Flynn also tells them to be polite, and not to get involved in prolonged debates with those on the other side.
Another member of the group sprinkles them with holy water before they start moving towards Westbourne, a newish estate of neat semi-Ds about a kilometre way. Before reaching the first house they pose for a social media photograph. “Clondalkin is pro-life; proud and pro-life,” they chant in unison.
Is it really? Well, not numerically. Like the rest of Dublin, the No side will always be playing against the wind here. This canvass will involve hard work, some long conversations and an uncertain outcome.
There has been some feedback from the No side that it is making headway in Dublin, particularly in more traditional areas with an older demographic. But in this estate, with most parents either in their 40s or younger, it is harder work.
“I am more for a Yes vote,” a man tells the canvassers. He is not from Ireland and does not reveal where he’s from. “In my country there is no restriction,” he informs them.
When they start talking about the unborn child, he simply says “it is sad” and shrugs his shoulders.
A few doors down O’Flynn and Ruth Foley have a long exchange with David McCarthy. He is pleasant and chatty but he has already said he intends to vote Yes.
“It’s important that people have a choice,” McCarthy tells them. “It’s up to them to choose for themselves. Ireland has to change and the choice has to be
left to the individual.”
O’Flynn and Foley make counter-arguments in a ten minute exchange of views. McCarthy accepts the literature but he reminds them he has “definitely made my mind up”.
Around the corner, a father in his 30s, is pleasant but firm.
“Unfortunately I’m going the opposite way and will leave it to the woman to choose it for herself,” he says.
It’s not all one-way traffic.
There are a fair few straight-up Nos, including a couple originally from the Philippines.
Robbie, a lone parent of a 12-year-old is cleaning his house when they call. He says he has not thought about it too much and. He would be unhappy if he had a partner who had an abortion but at the same time he says he thinks it’s a decision for women. He remains in-between.
At two or three doors, mothers in their 30s tell canvassers the same thing: they would not have an abortion themselves but would not prevent any other woman from having an abortion. “I want people to have a choice. Personally I will vote Yes,” one says.
There is one ugly moment. A young woman relates how a friend of hers with a fatal foetal abnormality was forced to carry the foetus to term. “I think you Save the Eighth people are monsters,” she shouts at the canvassers before slamming the door rudely.
But there are brighter moments for the team. A young woman, Shannon, is walking along the road with her two two young children, aged six and three.
“I was No and then I was Yes,” she tells them.
“I would never have an abortion myself. I have two kids.”
She then asks: “If my daughter was older and if her life was at risk would they make her die?”
She is told absolutely not, with the canvassers saying that the mother’s life would be saved ahead of the unborn child if it was at risk.
Shannon asks for the literature and says she will read it again. “My partner and his mother are No,” she says, signalling that she may be moving back to No.
A small battle won perhaps. But you still wonder, for all their team spirit, if O’Flynn and his colleagues will get the result they want in parts of Dublin like this.
‘‘ It’s up to them to choose for themselves. Ireland has to change and the choice has to be left to the individual
Canvassing for a No Vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, in the Westbourne area of Clondalkin, Dublin.