Tens of thousands of people gathered at the Garden of Remembrance last weekend to protest for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which criminalises abortion in Ireland.
Protestors walked from Parnell Street through Dublin’s City Centre and finished at Merrion Square, a short walk from Leinster House. It marked one of the largest pro-choice demonstrations Ireland has ever seen.
Students from around the country amalgamated at Trinity College before the protest and were addressed by Annie Hoey, President of the USI. The crowd practiced a series of chants, exclaiming “they say no choice, we say pro-choice” and “what are we feeling? repealing.”
A wide range of organisations contributed to the estimated crowd of 20,000 people, with members of political parties: People Before Profit, the Anti Austerity Alliance, Labour and the Social Democrats coming out in support.
Marina Reilly, a member of the Social Democrats said it was “abhorrent that we export our women to have a medical procedure done.”
“We’re sticking our heads in the sand about the issue but it’s happening”, she continued. “Women have to get the boat and are shipped out of the country. I just don’t think it’s acceptable.”
While the majority of the crowd was composed of young people and students, there was a relatively even gender mix, with Ms Reilly unsurprised by the male turnout.
“Men are our allies in this,” she said.
“Men have watched their partners, their sisters, their mothers, their wives go through these things. I’m not surprised but it’s nice to see.”
Echoing similar sentiments was Cody Byrne, Vice President for Welfare and Equality, who represented DCU’s Students Union at the march.
“I wasn’t surprised by the number of men to be honest. This isn’t just a women’s rights issue,” he said. “It physically affects the woman, correct. However, this is a shared issue.”
“I have a sister whom I care about deeply and if I knew that she became pregnant, only later to discover something like a fatal foetal abnormality, that she should be given the option to spare both herself and said ‘child’ from any further distress. The same goes for my younger cousins,” he said.
“They are women that experience emotional difficulty which, at least in my family, is a shared emotional difficulty. I think that this resonates with men of all ages and that’s why there are more and more men backing this.”
The Students Union has maintained a pro-choice stance since last year, when 71 per cent of DCU students voted in favour of this in a preferendum.
In order to facilitate student participation despite the Dublin Bus strike, Byrne organised a shuttle bus from all DCU campuses.
“I think it is so important for the student body to actively voice their opinion in societal matters,” he said.
“From my own perspective, abortion is not a ‘sexy’ topic. It’s certainly nothing as happy-go-lucky as the Marriage Equality Referendum that Eve Kerton had two years ago.
“I think it is controversial for a Students’ Union to take such a definitive stance but, at the same time, it is so important that this act is amended. The students are passionate towards this so I felt the need to provide the opportunity to do so.”
Marching alongside students were dozens of members from Irish social activism group, ROSA (for Reproductive Rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity), who have advocated repealing the Eighth for the past number of years.
“We’re basically campaigning for a referendum straight away and saying that a citizens assembly is just a talking shop. We need to have a referendum and then legislate for the right to choose straight away,” said Diane O’Dwyer, a ROSA member.
When asked whether she thought it would be legislated by the current Government, O’Dwyer was hopeful.
Shee said: “They (the Government) are so conservative, they’re going to have to be pushed into it but I think if there’s enough movement out there in society then yes.
“Public opinion is really strongly in favour of having a referendum and it’s really only the politicians who are holding it back at this stage.”
Meanwhile, a small group of pro-life campaigners gathered on Grafton Street in opposition to the pro-choice march.
Image Credit: Rebecca Lumley