Thursday, 31 May 2018
Referendum of 25 May: Statements (Resumed)
I always have and always will respect that there are different views, beliefs and opinions on this issue, however, the outcome on Saturday and the resounding "Yes" from the people of Ireland to repeal the eighth amendment was one of the proudest moments for me in over five years that I have been in this House. As a citizen of Ireland, it represents a seismic shift and change in our society, especially for the women in this country. I am proud if I played any small part in bringing about that change.
Much of what needed to be said has been said, so I want to thank the people who have played a part, large or small, in this process. I thank the people who campaigned against inserting the eighth amendment into the Constitution in 1983, those who had the foresight to know that it would not save lives but would in fact cost lives. I thank the women, men and organisations who have campaigned since then, many of whom made it their life's ambition to remove the eighth amendment from the Constitution. I thank the Members of the Dáil and Seanad, those in Governments past and those in the current Government. I thank Deputies Ruth Coppinger and Clare Daly for bringing forward proposals and legislation, although they were not compatible with the eighth amendment, and for keeping this issue on the agenda and for continuously trying to do so, even when it was not the popular thing to do.
Our former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, understood what the people of this country needed and had the foresight to recognise that this decision had to come from the citizens of this country. I thank him for bringing this to the Citizens' Assembly and the work he has done in that regard. I thank the members of the Citizens' Assembly and its chair for the time they gave to the assembly, for listening so carefully to the evidence presented to it and for their recommendations.
I thank the joint committee on the eighth amendment, and particularly to my colleagues, the Chairman, Senator Catherine Noone, for her exemplary work and the manner in which she chaired the committee, Senator Jerry Buttimer, Deputies Peter Fitzpatrick, Hildegarde Naughton, Bernard Durkan and, in particular, Kate O'Connell, many of whom have come on their own journeys along the way. I thank the members from all political parties for the difference they have made, the many hours of listening to expert medical and legal advice, and the most important advice, which came from the men and women of this country who have been impacted by the eighth amendment.
I thank our Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, for staying true to his word, for listening and understanding that the people of Ireland would make the right decision. I thank him for setting a date for the referendum so quickly. I thank the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, for treating this issue with such care and for bringing forward legislation, and having set the wheels in motion already for legislation that I believe will allow the women and the doctors of Ireland to make the right decisions for them and their families in their own situations.
I thank the Members of this House from all parties, the people who work in their offices and those from all the organisations who came together and said "Together for Yes", including Ailbhe Smyth, Orla O'Connor and Gráinne Griffin, the people who knocked on doors, who canvassed, dropped in literature, put up posters and who had the difficult conversations that they never thought that they would have. To the many people who came on their own journeys - a phrase that we can probably get rid of now - I thank them sincerely for the difference they have made, and I particularly thank the young women and men who put their names on the register for the first time, who campaigned and made a difference. I ask them to please continue to be involved, to campaign and to make a difference because they are the kind of people that this country needs and will depend on in the years to come.
Finally, to the women who lost their lives because of the eighth amendment, their families who told their stories and the women of this country who told their stories when they never should have had to, I thank them for opening so many eyes to reality. As a young woman, I will be forever grateful.
Last Friday Ireland took a giant leap forward. For the first time in our history, women with crisis pregnancies will be treated with compassion in their own country. They will be supported, have access to professional, regulated medical care, be trusted and be able to choose in their own country.
Many people deserve great credit for Friday's result. There are those who have campaigned for decades, women such as Ailbhe Smyth, Catherine McGuinness, Senator Ivana Bacik and Deputy Clare Daly. Others have worked tirelessly to run the campaigns, to raise money to produce leaflets, newsletters, posters and everything in between. They were the engine of what undoubtedly became a grassroots movement. Women and men all over Ireland, with no background in politics or activism, stepped forward. They spoke with friends and family, knocked on doors and handed out leaflets.
I want to acknowledge, in particular, the women and men who shared their own stories. Their testimonies were deeply personal. In many cases, they were deeply painful, yet still they spoke. I campaigned in Wicklow with women and men who were willing to knock on the doors of strangers and talk about what they had been through. It was an incredibly brave and powerful thing for them to have done. On Friday the Irish people responded. They did so in unprecedented numbers and with compassion.
If my information is correct, this Saturday, seven days after the result was announced, the eighth amendment will no longer exist in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Now it falls to us in this House to bring in the required legislation. Yesterday, we heard that the aim is to have the legislation passed in October and for the healthcare services to be fully operational by January 2019. We need to get the regulations, the legislation and medical care right.
If it takes the next seven months to do that, so be it. We will support all efforts to that end.
There are measures which do not have to wait until next year and which could be introduced in the coming weeks. In cases of fatal foetal abnormality, travelling to the UK can cost families thousands of euro. We should cover those costs for families from now and make it free. Contraception could be made free now. Additional funding for counselling services could be provided. Both the 1995 Act governing the provision of information and section 22 of the 2013 Act could be repealed now. That would end criminalisation. Before the Minister and I spoke yesterday, I submitted a Bill to the Bills Office which would achieve both of those objectives. The Minister has asked us to hold off for two weeks to give him and the officials time to focus on the legislation. We are more than happy to facilitate that.
Last Friday, Ireland took a giant leap forward. However, many more steps need to happen. Women are paid less than men. They have much smaller pensions and have much less control over financial assets than men. They are massively under-represented in politics and business. They are far more at risk of poverty traps than men. They are also much more at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. If we are to create a truly equal Ireland in which money and power are shared between men and women, radical change is required. Friday was a day of radical change. My hope and determination is that we can use that momentum to create more radical and important change in this country and a genuinely equal Ireland for women and men.
On Friday, we took a big step on an ever-evolving journey. We all talked about being on a journey. Plenty of Members, including some of my colleagues, and people outside the House were on a journey. I was very lucky in that I was raised in a pro-choice house. My parents, if they ever were on that journey, had been through it. They campaigned against the insertion of the eighth amendment. I have used as many opportunities as possible not just to thank them, because obviously they are my parents and I am very fond of them, but also to thank all the people who campaigned in 1983 against inserting it. They were right. They were absolutely castigated at the time yet they were completely right. Everything they said would happen did happen. They said it would harm women and it did harm women. The vote on Friday and the count on Saturday were a vindication of the stand they had taken, and the stand taken by all the people who campaigned up to then.
I cannot thank all of the people who need to be thanked. There are not enough hours in the day. The sun is shining and nobody wishes to sit here and hear me reel off a list of names. However, I do wish to thank Ailbhe Smyth, whom I have known for a long time. She provided incredible leadership not just in the last few weeks when she was more visible but in the years up to the historic result. We do not have the words to thank those who have been active on this campaign since 1983 other than to tell them we finally listened, recognised that they were right and fixed it. It was wrong to put the amendment in and now it is out. That is a very good thing.
Throughout the referendum campaign, we all spoke about one group in particular whose members touched our hearts. I recall when members of Terminations For Medical Reasons, TFMR, gave their evidence to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. It was disappointing that the Deputies who call themselves pro-life - it is not a term I use but they use it and seem to like it - could not stay for whatever reason to hear those very difficult stories and to see all of their colleagues in tears. I am not ashamed to say that I was one of them. That was the case for both men and women as well as members of the press. Some people might say they had a bit of dust in their eye but there were definitely tears that night, and rightly so. The stories were heartbreaking. I look forward to the day when they no longer have to tell those stories and bare their souls.
The campaign that was run in my constituency by Fingal Together for Yes was one of the most honest, straightforward, grassroots campaigns in which I have ever been involved. I have been a Deputy for just over two years but I have been an activist all my life and have been involved in many campaigns. I can say with my hand on my heart that I have never been involved in a campaign like it. That is not to do down what happened before the campaign by Together for Yes. In particular, I thank the men and women in my area. Whether it was a banner drop at 7 a.m., a leaflet drop after a canvass or a stall we always had more people than we had leaflets or work to do, which was great. We are politicians so we go out knocking on doors. It is great to turn up and find one will have to split a group into two canvass teams because there are so many people. That happened every time.
The most important thing Fingal Together for Yes and the general Together for Yes campaigns did was talk to people. We knocked on doors and we had honest conversations with people. We talked about the nine women who leave Ireland every day, the women who are taking abortion pills by themselves, the chilling effect the eighth amendment has on doctors, the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment the State failed to prevent for women such as Amanda Mellet and the real, lived experience of the eighth amendment for women. We talked about our own stories and our communities. We knocked on thousands of doors and I believe we changed people's minds.
The old certainties have definitely been challenged, and a new and better Ireland will emerge from this. For the avoidance of doubt, the North is next.
There was no Trump effect here. The commentators warned there might be a Trump effect, that it would be terribly close and they referred to Brexit. There was never any doubt in my mind. This was a revolutionary upsurge that had been a long time coming. It was an unprecedented movement of people power and, in particular, of Irish women. It began way back with women being allowed to enter the workplace and third-level education in large numbers and reached a point where they were no longer willing to accept being second-class citizens in their own country. It has been a long time coming but it has been growing steadily. That is the ultimate explanation for what happened last weekend. It ushers in a new and better Ireland. People power - organising mass mobilisation - was critical to all of that. It was not a quiet revolution but a very vocal and determined one.
The first mass protest in which I participated was the X case demonstration, when the State tried to prevent a 13 year old rape victim from going to England for an abortion. It was an appalling vista that mobilised tens of thousands of people, forced the overturn of a High Court judgment and led to the Supreme Court ruling that began the process of changing everything. I know who led that demonstration. They were people such as Ailbhe Smyth and Goretti Horgan, who is still fighting in the Alliance for Choice in Northern Ireland. I remember Sinéad O'Connor and Eamonn McCann barging through the gates of Leinster House demanding justice for X. Those people inspired. At that time, I got involved in politics as did Deputies Clare Daly and Coppinger. Deputy Bríd Smith had been involved since 1983 and was another person who organised that demonstration for X.
The movement just built and built from there. However, it took tragedy after tragedy, and evidence after evidence of the failure of the eighth amendment to protect and respect women and to give them equality and choice, to get to this moment. It is therefore a victory for people power, for all those young and older women who were out canvassing day in, day out, week in, week out, the unprecedented movement we saw in the last few weeks. I do not have time to thank them all, but they know who they are.
I thought the phrase "quiet revolution" was a perfect one, not as a description of the tremendous, incredible victory from below that took place last Friday, but as a description of the attempt of establishment parties to co-opt that movement and rewrite its history. If the Taoiseach thought it was a quiet revolution, he must have been wearing earplugs throughout the past number of years. It was loud, it was angry, it was described by many establishment commentators as shrill, and it was based on mobilisation. It was those who marched, those who struck for repeal and those who organised civil disobedience through the distribution of the abortion pill who won this. They fought against the majority of the Members of the Dáil, who voted down repeal Bill after repeal Bill tabled by the socialist left. They dragged politicians on a journey which resulted in a referendum, and then they won that referendum absolutely spectacularly. What we saw on Friday and Saturday was a youthquake and genderquake. Yes, it was incredibly positive that huge numbers of people across all demographics voted "Yes", but the result was clearly driven by young people, women in particular. This was seen in the exit polls. Incredibly, there was a doubling of turnout of young women. It was also seen on the canvasses, which, if my experience is anything to go by, involved an incredibly significant majority of young women.
This is also part of an international new feminist wave. It is part of the #MeToo movement in the US and the #NiUnaMenos movement against femicide in Latin America, associated with the feminist strike against violence against women in Spain.
I will leave the Government and the Taoiseach with a warning that they will probably need the earplugs again because this movement will not go away. People have experienced that social movements win change and people will fight against all the oppressions and inequality that exist in our society. They will fight not only for free contraception, for LGBTQ rights to be fully delivered and for the complete separation of church and State, but also for economic equality: pay equality, access to public childcare, full maternity pay and access to decent housing. I call on people to stay mobilised and active and build a movement for the kind of Ireland so many people want to see: a secular and socialist society.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. For me, this was a hugely emotional decision and a coming full circle because the first campaign in which I was involved politically was in 1983, when we campaigned against the insertion of Article 40.3.3° into the Constitution. I was with a small band of brave people in Limerick at the time. Most of us were also involved in the establishment and continuation, despite prayers outside, of the Limerick Family Planning Clinic, and we need to remind ourselves that access to contraception was a battle that had to be fought at that stage. This is why the first thing I want to say is that one of the ancillary recommendations of the Oireachtas committee was that contraception should be freely available. I again call on the Government to ensure there are no barriers to access to contraception. I was talking to a nurse friend of mine recently who works in a GP practice. She talked about how young women, when talking about contraception, still ask, "How much will it cost?". That recommendation is therefore really important, and I say this in the context of my own history and political history.
In saying this, I want to remember a man called Jim Kemmy, a proud Member of this House who was way ahead of his time in fighting many battles. I acknowledge all the young people who were involved in the campaign, but there are older people - Jim has since died - who put their political necks on the line in 1983. I also want to speak about people such as Ailbhe Smyth, who was involved in 1983, former judge Catherine McGuinness, who was hugely important in the campaign, former Senator Mary Henry, who also fought many battles in the Oireachtas, and many others within my party. My leader has already referred to Dick Spring and the extraordinary Labour Party group in the Seanad that tried to stop the Bill in 1983, including Deputy Howlin himself, but also Catherine McGuinness, Mary Robinson and Michael D. Higgins, all of whom went on to play very significant roles in Irish society.
The campaign to repeal the eighth amendment was a tremendous victory and was broader than just the issue of abortion. It was really about Ireland changing its culture to one in which it is accepted that someone in power out there does not know what is best for us as Irish women. Sadly, we had another reminder of this in the story that broke yesterday about the people who had their birth certificates falsified in order to transfer them from their mothers to other families. This culture was very prevalent right across Irish society but, thankfully, it is now gone, and this is very significant.
So many people and groups were involved in the campaign, but I think many of us who were members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution have already said that the representatives of Terminations for Medical Reasons were really powerful. I pay particular tribute to Limerick Together for Yes because it was genuinely cross-party and involved many people who were not in any political party and who are a lot more politicised now than they were at the start of the campaign. It was a fantastic campaign in which to be involved. I am thinking in particular of a young couple I met at the count in Limerick last Saturday. They had a little baby in a buggy and they said to me, "This has changed our lives." They had faced a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly, they had had to travel to Britain, they had had one child after that, who is a perfectly healthy, lovely little boy, but they said, "We would not have chanced another pregnancy if this referendum had not passed." They left the count absolutely happy. They could now try to have another child because they knew that, if there were a problem - I do not know the details but I think within their family there was a possibility there might be a problem again - they could now say that they were safe in their own country.
Finally, I urge the Minister to get the legislation through as quickly as possible. No one in the Opposition will hold it up in any way. I know the Government is saying it just wants to deal with the general legislation, but if Senator Ivana Bacik's proposals concerning decriminalisation and the other requests concerning other issues, which I think some Deputies have already raised, can be accommodated, I ask the Government to do so. The Minister for Health himself played a blinder. I think we all just feel a great sense of relief that we finally live in a country of which we can be proud.
Last Friday's vote was a truly historic event in the almost 100 year history of our State. I was quietly confident of a "Yes" vote, given the response while out campaigning in my own constituency of Dublin South-Central. I think I said last Thursday that it was a question of people vindicating what they had said on the doorsteps. The three-to-one vote on polling day was not a great surprise, but we did not know what the country as a whole was thinking, what everyone else was thinking. I was at Heuston Station at 4 o'clock on Friday with Together for Yes and was just overwhelmed by the number of people coming off the Luas at Heuston Station, walking up to us, grabbing stickers even though they had already indicated they would vote "Yes", smiling, winking, enthusiastic. After that activity, I just thought, "This is going to pass confidently - there is no doubt about it." I even texted a few friends about it. It was just the way the wind was blowing. One could feel it; it was tangible around the station. The big surprise of the size of the national "Yes" vote was for the commentariat. These people are of course convinced of their own liberal views but what about the great unwashed? Who knew how they would vote. The anticipated differences between urban and rural, older and younger, and men and women never really materialised because they do not really exist. To my mind, people have voted in accordance with their life experiences.
Legislation will now follow to bring Ireland into line with the norm in most European countries. However, this vote was not just about abortion; it was a victory for women over the forces that have demanded for centuries that they be kept under control and on a tight rein because they cannot be trusted. The joyous celebrations in Dublin Castle can be understood from this perspective.
Those who voted "No" from a moral or religious convection absolutely deserve respect, but it is necessary to differentiate between them and the forces behind the "No" campaign and the self-styled pro-life movement. The issue is about control and power. It was about maintaining their power to enforce their reactionary views on women and to impose that particular Catholic ethos on the State and its institutions. They were quite happy with the status quo, that is, that abortion could take place outside the State, or that women could take abortion pills purchased online without medical supervision. In fact, in the last week of the campaign, as they saw the writing on the wall, they changed tack to say the eighth amendment could possibly be amended to take account of what they termed "hard cases" - fatal foetal abnormalities and rape.
Noticeable throughout the campaign was the relatively low key role played by the Catholic bishops. Yes, they used the pulpit and held prayer vigils in churches, but nowadyas most people do not go to church, especially young people. This was a recognition, I believe, of the fundamental change which had taken place in society and the limits of their power.
This is a victory for those men and women who have long campaigned not just on abortion rights but on contraception, divorce, gay rights, liberal rights, equal pay, etc. It is at the same time a massive defeat for the international forces that want to roll back the clock on women's rights. I hope many thousands of women and men in countries such as the Philippines and Argentina who are under the same strict rules that we were derive hope for change from the "Yes" vote in Ireland on Friday.
What do we need to do now? A number of Deputies met with the Minister yesterday. We need proper sex and relationships education for young people in schools. It should be part of the curriculum and delivered by trained teachers in schools, working in catchment areas with age-appropriate education. We need freely available contraception for both men and women. All services funded by the State should be owned, controlled and run by the State in the interests of all, regardless of faith or lack of it. These are the political battles that will take place in the future.
Yesterday Deputy Clare Daly spoke very emotionally about the campaign and why we are here today. She mentioned organisations such as the Irish Family Planning Association, IFPA, the Well Woman Centre and the abortion clinics in Britain which had helped Irish women and paid for them to have abortions there. She mentioned Ms Ailbhe Smyth, who should be mentioned. I highlight the role Deputy Clare Daly played because she did not recognise it in her contribution. She has played a key role and I was very proud to be part of it with Deputies Mick Wallace, Richard Boyd Barrett and Catherine Murphy, as well as all those who supported the legislation we brought forward.
I will finish by saying onward to a modern, secular Ireland, both North and South. I hope the people will continue in their struggle to change Irish society.
As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, I am particularly pleased to speak in this debate. For me, the referendum was not about winning or losing, although that is the obvious outcome of such referendums. It was more about an acknowledgement of how informed debate could change society, how the expert - I stress the word "expert" - evidence given to the Citizens' Assembly and then the Oireachtas joint committee changed people's perceptions and minds. It also showed what politicians could achieve when they left their bias outside the door of a committee room and agree to do what was best for the women of Ireland, no matter how much it might conflict with a perviously stated position. We in this House have to learn a valuable lesson from the referendum. The lesson is not to dismiss every suggestion because of some intrinsic bias. The lesson is that we should listen more and speak less. The lesson is that we should gather and analyse the evidence and respond accordingly. That is exactly what occurred in this case and look at what has happened.
While I thank my colleagues on the committee, they will excuse me if I reserve the vast majority of my thanks and praise for citizens. They are the people, men but mostly women, who have worked for this result for decades. I praise those who showed huge bravery by telling their own personal and very intimate stories, stories that resonated with people up and down the country, that were communicated to people as they canvassed from house to house, that people remembered and translated into a "Yes" vote in the ballot box. I also thank the Together for Yes campaign that did Trojan work on the ground. Its members were so well informed and such an impressive group who worked tirelessly in the campaign.
As a Deputy for Galway West which includes south Mayo, I have to mention Savita Halappanavar. No matter how people try to spin it, the expert evidence is that the eighth amendment was most definitely a contributory factor in her death. Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran who conducted the case review gave clear and concise evidence to the committee in that regard. I acknowledge Savita today and also thank her family for their dignified contributions to the referendum debate. I acknowledge the clear leadership given by the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. While I am not holding up a sign declaring my undying love, I think all sides of the House will agree that he deserves great praise for the understanding and compassion he showed for women in crisis pregnancies.
I also thank the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, who originally agreed to set up the Citizens' Assembly which was invaluable in the process and Deputy Leo Varadkar who, since he became Taoiseach, has at all times supported the referendum being put to the people.
I thank Deputy Hildegarde Naughten who has allowed me to speak for two minutes.
When the Taoiseach asked me on 29 March to be campaign co-ordinator for the Fine Gael "Yes" campaign, it was on Holy Thursday and the first thing I did was to go to the Taizé prayers in Mount Merrion parish. The irony is not lost on me. It was something that was going to come to the fore during the campaign. I had anticipated it when he asked me. It was not an easy campaign. It would be an overstatement if we said it was something that was not complex. As Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said, it has been one of the most contentious and complex topics in Irish society in recent years. My part was very small, but it took place over eight weeks. I tried to ensure the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and, of course, members throughout Ireland came together to have a dignified and respectful debate. I think we achieved this in the main, against, I have to say, quite a lot of vitriol and acerbic barbs coming from the "No" side, which was difficult. I thank them for it. In particular, I thank people who whelped with our campaign - Dr. Peter Boylan, Ms. Nuala Jackson and Professor Fiona De Londras in particular, as well as the larger committee team within the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.
I have to say that on Saturday I did not feel the exuberance that I think some people felt. It is important to say there are many compassionate people on the "No" side also and that not everyone who voted "Yes" is pro-abortion, but they are pro-choice. There is a really big distinction. For me, it was bittersweet; as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan said, it was more a sense of relief than anything else. It is a really pivotal, extremely significant moment in the history of the country and I say that as a woman and a mother. I do not have any daughter. I have two sons, but I hope my granddaughters will benefit from this, as well as their friends in the future. There is a line from Maya Angelou that I would like to use in finishing up which resonated for me during the campaign: "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated". To me, that is something that sums up the campaign.
I am happy to make a few remarks, although I am less happy with the outcome of the referendum. We now know that more than 1.2 million voters voted "Yes" for the removal of the constitutional protection of the life of the unborn child. They voted "Yes" to a Government proposal that I still believe will be seen in the fullness of time as an historic lost opportunity to choose a better way. In many respects, it is difficult to see how the result could have gone any other way under an avalanche of misrepresentations which buried the truth. It is also certain that the vote was swung by those who engaged with what are termed "the hard cases". I understand and respect the generous way we need to deal with those hard cases and assist the families involved.
We differed on what we believed should be done. In the final week of the campaign, the Taoiseach and others suggested that those who advocated a change in the Constitution to deal with these cases were engaged in a so-called pro-life tactic. I remind him and the Minister for Health that the majority of the Citizens' Assembly also voted for that option. They are always talking about that. Indeed, 56% of those balloted at the assembly supported a vote to replace or amend Article 40.3.3°. Was that a pro-life tactic? Hardly. Of course, the vote was overwhelmingly for repeal, so here we are today.
That said, I want to talk about the 750,000 people who voted "No". Where will their voices be heard? I want to talk about the thousands of young and not so young people who devoted time, energy and compassion to protecting the life of the unborn child and its mother. We live in a society in which their voices are silenced. Are they to be? I fear there are already moves afoot to completely silence the pro-life voice. That would not only be extremely anti-democratic but it would also be a gross insult to the sincerity and reasonableness of the pro-life position. I hope we can do better than that.
I have no intention of obstructing the forthcoming Bill but I certainly have every intention of tabling amendments. I definitely did not like what happened yesterday. The Minister said he was going to be proactive and very transparent but denied me the right to attend the meeting.
Yes, he did. I was not allowed to go to that meeting yesterday. The Minister will find out. I spoke to his top person and was told there was no problem but then that person came back to me and said the Minister did not want me there. Is that the way he is going to move forward? We are used to this kind of deceit and trickery from the Minister. I will be reasonable and understanding. Are we going to have the all-party group that met yesterday representing just one side while forgetting the 750,000? Just because I was on the "No" side, I was not allowed into the room. It is a disgusting, perverse and anti-democratic action by the Minister. He is not entitled to do that because we have seven elected Deputies in our group and I was entitled to be present. Deputy Harty was invited because he is Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health. I have no problem with that. I wanted to attend alongside him on behalf of my group but the Minister said I could not do so. If that is how the Minister wants to deal with this, it is very sad. I will be tabling constructive amendments.
I thank the pro-life groups, including Save the 8th and the Life Institute, and all the groups that worked so hard and so diligently. While there might have been tension at the edges on all sides, the debate was respectful. I appreciate that. I thank those groups that had the courage and bravery to go out and campaign. I will not mention names but they know who they are. They worked tirelessly. They are down but not out. They will be back and they will be fighting for the good and for life issues in the future.
I thank the Irish people for the resounding "Yes" vote they cast as a nation on Friday last. We have come so far since 1983, when the pulpit ruled and we were subjected to the threats and fearmongering of a vengeful creed. Looking back now, it is hard to imagine that Ireland back then was very different from the modern, globalised and informed country we have today. An information deficit left a void filled by dogma and shame. Free secondary school education, introduced in 1967, had a radical effect upon our culture, social mobility and economy. Education - and the freedoms arising from it - was the preserve of those who could afford it. At that time, fewer than half of those aged 15 were still in school. What free education did was establish an educated population across society. We have an electorate that is informed, engaged, compassionate and aware as a result.
The eighth amendment was sold as a way of protecting unborn life. From what, however, was the unborn being protected? It was from women. When one considers the matter, one realises that it is a terrible way to think of women - the very women who bore us and continue to bear the children of Ireland. The consequences of the eighth amendment have been discussed at length, including in the context of the nine women who travel per day, the three per day who take abortion pills and those who will today receive the brutal diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.
The principle of power and control over women is not erased, however, in spite of the huge vote in support of the 36th amendment. We have quite a way to go. This is not just an aspiration for a society of participating equals; we need to atone for wrongs that were done to so many for so long and to address the imbalance that persists within this House.
We heard much disturbing commentary in the House in the months leading up to the referendum campaign, including suggestions that women are doing grand and that the heads of Glanbia and FBD are women. We heard the head of the National Transport Authority "is a lady" and that the head of the Road Safety Authority is also "a lady". Well, good luck to them. What on earth was the point of using them as examples and as weapons against other women? Would we not look well in here speaking about a subject concerning men who are directly suffering if we said:
Sure, the Taoiseach is a man, the Leader of the Opposition is a man, the President of Ireland is a man, and the head of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a man, so men are clearly doing grand. What would be wrong with ye?
Imagine if we said that in this House. Some of this commentary regarding abortion involved nods towards misogyny and prejudices that were not reflected in the local ballot boxes of those responsible. If people are feeling sheepish now and feeling out of step with their electorates, they should be. The insertion of the eighth amendment into the Constitution was far more than what they sold it as; it was designed to exert power and wield control over women.
I would like to thank a number of people who have come out in recent years in support of the repeal of the eighth amendment and those who have exposed some of the dark, dark chapters of our history, chapters in which we paid headage payments per woman and child incarcerated for their sins behind the walls of mother and baby homes. I thank those who told their personal stories in this regard. I know that Galway County Council paid the nuns a pound per child per week in Tuam. That is what the historian Mary McAuliffe told me.
We came together last week and we did it from all quarters. Ailbhe Smyth, Orla O'Connor and Grainne Griffin deserve considerable praise for the Together for Yes campaign, and so do Deirdre Duffy and Amy Rose Harte. So do the doctors and the lawyers, particularly Fiona de Londras. I thank the activists around the country, particularly those I met in Donegal when I travelled there to support them in Ballybofey. I thank, in particular, Theresa Newman and Etain Hobson who worked for and supported me every day and who travelled to Ennis, Tullamore, Limerick, Abbeyshrule, Meath, Donegal, Kildare and beyond. I thank my colleagues Deputies Durkan, Bailey, Hildegarde Naughton, Corcoran Kennedy and Fitzgerald and Senators Buttimer and Senator Reilly, who all supported me throughout this work. I thank my constituents, the people who put their faith in me at the last election and whom I hope will do so again. They returned the highest "Yes" vote in the country at 78.49%. Of that, we are immensely proud. Most of all, I thank the women, especially the young women, who turned out in their droves to vote in the referendum. This is your country and your voice. This is your victory and your future, and it is your choice.
One of the things I learned in the last few weeks of the campaign was that compassion is not an exclusive commodity. By its nature, it is open and sharing and it belongs to everyone. The people I met canvassing, mainly young women who had not been involved in politics before and who were energised by the campaign, had such compassion for themselves, their sisters and friends who had been in difficult circumstances. They were determined to get a "Yes" vote, which is what happened. It is a huge reward and achievement.
Sometimes the campaigners heard harsh words from people on the other side, usually, most ironically, from older people. Supposedly, wisdom comes with age but sometimes the campaigners were subjected to harsh words and they decided they would respond by being respectful, not engaging in a real row and by walking away. I hope we continue in that tradition because it brings real strength. Compassion is strong.
Towards the end of the campaign, I met a friend on the "No" side at the bottom of Grafton Street. I believe she had just been crying because she, too, had many hard words said to her from passers-by. I stopped to chat to her. She said to me that, ironically, it was sometimes people in the sharpest suits who had said the hardest words.
I hope we can recognise that there is compassion on every side. I was out at night when posters were being taken down. I saw a chap on the other side of the street - a man with his son in a family saloon taking down posters. It was not big American money or anything like that. They were just ordinary decent Irish people doing what they thought was right. We should recognise them and try to not to see this as a really divisive moment. I do not think it has to be. With regard to any of the priests I have heard or any masses I have attended, and I do go, I have not felt excluded as a "Yes" voter even though I was there last Sunday and I am the representative of the party with the highest "Yes" vote. My parish priest is the same compassionate individual. They do have a belief and we have a belief. Let us remember the Church's teaching that every individual is special. This should not be forgotten, given up or dismissed. I hope we can do that.
I heard what the Taoiseach said the other day. I think we must start looking. What are we doing now? What are we doing for the future? The Taoiseach said, and it was the most important thing he said in my opinion, that we should use this as a moment, and I think we can get agreement on this, to make this the best country in which to raise a family. This is one thing people on the "Yes" and "No" sides have in common. Nobody thinks that having a huge number of abortions is necessarily a good thing so trying to work together to ensure there is an environment where there are fewer crisis pregnancies is surely something on which we can unite, which would be a good thing for this country.
My colleague, Claire Bailey MLA, who has been a great campaigner on this issue, and Deputy Catherine Martin have written to the Minister saying that the first thing we should do in the legislation is provide provisions for women from Northern Ireland to be able to avail of whatever services we provide here. That would be a compassionate approach and a recognition that the UK health system has helped us in times when we turned our back in this House.
Second, we should concentrate on the real things that make it difficult to raise and think about having a child, whatever type of family it is and it should be all different types of family instead of one being better than another. However, someone cannot have any sort of family if they do not have a home. I am sorry. All the words about how great we are now and what a brilliant and compassionate country we now have stick in my craw. It is a slight taste of the new craw thumper world where we talk about brilliant and compassionate we are when we cannot build homes for people. We have an economy that is not about the family. It is all about growth, profit and greed. I would love to see that sort of sense of compassionate revolution and change in terms of what we do so that every pregnancy can, in the words of Nell McCafferty, who was brilliant in this campaign, have that sense of celebration, wonder, excitement and joy. That should be the scale of our response rather than just pat ourselves on the back about how brilliant we are at the moment and talk about what a great country we are. We are a great country. I love this country but we should be slightly careful that we do not lose the run of ourselves and lose compassion for all sides and all people in this country, which is what makes it a great country to live in.
In January, when I addressed this House on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, I spoke of some of the dark moments in our country's history, in particular our treatment of women. Today, I address this House in what promises to be a brighter Ireland. The people have spoken, spoken clearly and spoken in large numbers and they have said "we care". The women I have spoken to since last Friday's historic step for our country feel that their fellow citizens have voted to tell them they are trusted, they are valued and they are equal. I am so proud of the Irish people. We have had a number of referenda to bring about social change in this country over the years. We have referenda on children's rights, divorce and marriage equality and now on the eighth amendment. Each and every time, the people of this country have seen through the scaremongering and voted with compassion and care to the fore. For me, this referendum was always about much more than just giving the Oireachtas the power to regulate termination of pregnancy. It was about shouldering our responsibilities and making sure that compassionate healthcare will be provided to women at home in Ireland at last. It was about women's rights. It was about respect. It is about consigning a misogynistic legacy to our country's history books. It is about maturing as a tolerant, non-judgmental and inclusive republic.
I acknowledge the unwavering work of so many women over so many years, some who had been working since 1983 and before then, in campaigning for this day to come. They worked so hard for so long. On occasions, they must have wondered whether the day would ever come. I acknowledge the work of women and men in other parties and groups here who have campaigned long and hard for this across many Dálaí. I acknowledge Deputy Clare Daly, who has been quite a legend in this area. It pained me as Minister for Health to come into this House and to not be able to accept the Bills she was putting forward because of the constitutional barrier that was the eighth amendment. I acknowledge that parties like the Labour Party and people within that party like Senator Ivana Bacik have been working on this issue for years - long before it was popular. I thank and commend the Oireachtas committee chaired by Senator Catherine Noone which worked on a cross-party basis and did not engage in this Punch-and-Judy partisanship where people shout at each other because they wear different jerseys and really just rolled up its sleeves and got down to tackling the issue. It has served our country well. Most particularly, I acknowledge the Together for Yes campaign, members of which I will be meeting today. It built an incredible coalition of compassion right across our country and fought so hard to deliver the result we got. I think of Termination for Medical Reasons. I think of the times I sat in rooms with its members and shared tears as they told their stories. They shaped my views and the views of so many who felt that we were adding to their cruel and painful tragedy by making them travel. I thank Amanda Mellet. I felt so inadequate as Minister for Health having to sit in a room with Amanda and her partner James and to only be able to say "I'm sorry". As a result of the bravery of people like Amanda, we can now take action in this country. I think of Savita, her parents and her husband. I thank her parents for speaking out. Our country has acted in a kind and compassionate way as a result of Savita's death and I hope her parents and family know this. I thank the medical leaders, particularly Dr. Peter Boylan and others who put their heads above the parapet only to be sneered at on occasion by opponents. Their bravery in providing expert clinical advice to our people is something for which I am very thankful. I thank lawyers like Fiona de Londras and others who came forward to explain why the eighth amendment was a real legal blot on our judicial landscape. I thank the media for providing factual information to people, covering this issue over a long period of time at Oireachtas committees and the Citizens' Assembly and providing fact checking, something that was very important in a referendum. When I voted last week, I thought of all these people but I also voted thinking of the women in my own life - my mum, my sister, my wife and others - who had to endure the vile posters with personalised attacks aimed at me and others across this country.
The people have spoken and now we need to get on with our job. I am eager to implement the will of the people without delay. I brought a memorandum to Cabinet this week and received approval to draft the Bill to regulate termination of pregnancy. This Bill will be in line with the Bill that was put before the people when they cast their votes last week. I thank the Opposition for engaging with me yesterday. It is so important that we continue to work in a bipartisan fashion. If we do that, we can get this Bill published through this House before the summer recess.
There are lessons for those of us in this House. There are questions for us as an Oireachtas - questions for all of us because on this issue, the people led and politicians followed. People in this House thought there were many different types of Ireland. People in this House said to me "ah, you might pass it in Dublin but you won't pass it in rural Ireland". That was untrue. People said "ah sure, the women might vote for it but you won't get it through the men". That was untrue. People said "ah, you'll just get it through the younger people but nobody else". That was untrue so I think we have a lot of self-reflection to do in this House. If we are the messengers of the people, I hope we heard their message, which was loud and clear.
However, I do not think we should stop right here because on Friday, Ireland addressed a complex and difficult issue with compassion and decency. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach wishes to establish a citizens' assembly to examine all other issues relating to equality and fairness for women.
There is a movement under way in this country and those of us in the House would do well to hear it.