‘We won’ may seem tone deaf – but it was an apt re­minder to pro-life TDs

Irish Independent - - Health News - Laura Larkin

THERE were some eye­brows raised this week amid the heated abor­tion leg­is­la­tion de­bate in the Dáil when Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell es­sen­tially de­clared ‘we won, you lost’.

For some, the in­ter­ven­tion seemed tone deaf, while for oth­ers it was sim­ply a blunt as­sess­ment of the ref­er­en­dum re­sult.

Pro-life TDs who had made re­peated bids to dra­mat­i­cally change the abor­tion leg­is­la­tion had ac­cused peo­ple of mak­ing per­sonal at­tacks or ig­nor­ing the views of the vot­ers who had voted No last May.

But for the Dublin Bay South TD that was a mis­nomer as she told them:

“I have lis­tened to the voices in here ad nau­seam. But we will lis­ten to your voice but we won. And when ye get to 51pc ye’ll get your way. But we won in May and we will get our way. You can take your seven min­utes and your two min­utes…but ye lost and it must be hurt­ing,” she said.

It may have been plainer lan­guage than we had heard the ref­er­en­dum re­sult char­ac­terised to date, es­pe­cially in the Dáil cham­ber, but the mes­sage at the cen­tre of the Fine Gael TD’s words re­flected the re­al­ity: six long months ago Ire­land took to the polls and made a de­ci­sion on a sub­ject that had di­vided fam­i­lies and friends for decades.

In the in­terim it’s been in­ter­est­ing to watch the is­sue fade from the pub­lic con­science.

What had been a sore and sorry sub­ject for so long had sud­denly be­come nor­malised. For most peo­ple the ref­er­en­dum re­sult gave pause for thought as it re­quired them to re­align their views in the con­text of how widely they were held. For those who voted Yes, it was a re­al­i­sa­tion that what they may have thought was a mi­nor­ity view was in fact a view held by the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try. For No vot­ers, it was a sim­i­lar shift but in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Per­haps that’s what Ms O’Connell was re­fer­ring to when she told pro-life TDs “it must be hurt­ing”.

The fact that the Yes side “won” may seem un­com­fort­able to peo­ple, in the same vein that ahead of the count day the Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar had sug­gested there would be no cel­e­bra­tions like we saw af­ter Mar­riage Equal­ity passed.

At a pri­vate meet­ing of Fine Gael TDs and sen­a­tors, Mr Varad­kar had urged against cel­e­bra­tory scenes if the pub­lic voted in favour of in­tro­duc­ing a more liberal abor­tion regime. But on the day, there was a cel­e­bra­tory mood. Cam­paign­ers – mostly women – packed the grounds of Dublin Cas­tle and there were songs and danc­ing and tears.

For No vot­ers that must have seemed like gloat­ing. For re­luc­tant Yes vot­ers who voted on the hard cases it may have seemed jar­ring.

But to the peo­ple who had cam­paigned for a life­time it prob­a­bly felt like the most nat­u­ral con­clu­sion to a bruis­ing cam­paign.

The ref­er­en­dum on the Eighth be­came about much more than abor­tion. Like most ref­er­en­dums, vot­ers had more than that sim­ple ques­tion of re­peal or re­tain on their minds when they stepped into the polling booth. For some it was about women’s health, free­dom of choice, step­ping out from un­der the shadow of a pa­ter­nal­is­tic at­ti­tude that led to scan­dal af­ter scan­dal in re­la­tion to Ire­land’s treat­ment of women through the decades and a mul­ti­tude of other things.

Peo­ple didn’t dance in the street to cel­e­brate abor­tions. They danced be­cause they won, but what ex­actly they won likely felt dif­fer­ent to each per­son. It may have sounded glib in the cham­ber this week, but against a back­drop of some try­ing to re-run the ref­er­en­dum it was an apt re­minder: the ref­er­en­dum has al­ready hap­pened.

Peo­ple didn’t dance in the street to cel­e­brate abor­tions, it was be­cause they won

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