Tag Archives: Ciaran Tierney

From top: Luke’ Ming’ Flanagan addresses a public meeting in NUI Galway on the increasing militarisation of the EU; Ciaran Tierney

On a cold Thursday night in November, a few dozen of us congregated in a beautiful but obscure new lecture hall on the western outskirts of the sprawling campus at NUI Galway.

Two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), four TDs, academics, and peace activists had gathered for a lively and informative three hour discussion which garnered little or no media attention.

I know, because I asked three news editors in advance of the meeting if they would be interested in a piece. Not one of them even replied.

The subject of the meeting was the thorny question of whether or not Ireland is being steamrolled into joining a European Union army since PESCO – Permanent European Security/ Military Co-Operation – was rushed through the Dail last December.

In theory at least, Ireland is a “neutral” country. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, the Independent MEP, called the Galway meeting in response to growing alarm over what PESCO actually means to Ireland.

Are we on our way to becoming part of a European ‘Super State’?

Is our military spending going to increase dramatically to €6 billion per year (or half of what we spend on our desperate health service) because of something our country signed up to with so little debate last year?

Does anybody care?

It is astounding that we hear so much about Brexit on the national airwaves every day, because Britain’s shambolic departure from the EU has such massive implications for Ireland, but we hear little or nothing about the contentious issue of a European Army.

Are ‘Ming’ and the Independent TDs just alarmist crackpots? Is it really acceptable that unelected EU officials can lead us toward the formation of a ‘super’ army to rival those of the USA and Russia in the future?

And why, oh why, are so few Irish people talking about this?

Perhaps Irish neutrality is a sham, but shouldn’t we at least discuss this issue?

In Shannon last week, the important Shannonwatch peace group noted that a US military plane stopped off in a civilian airport on its way to and from Tel Aviv.

Nobody in authority Shannon ever checks the contents of the US military machines which have been landing there each and every week since 2001.

Last year, over 61,000 US troops stopped off in Shannon on their way to and from wars in the Middle East. That might mean a hell of a lot of leprechaun and whiskey sales in the duty free shop, but it also makes a mockery of the concept of Irish neutrality.

If it wasn’t so serious, Irish people would be laughing over Brexit and the shambolic way in which pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, in their jingoistic haste to leave the EU, seem to have had no vision for the future.

Perhaps reform, rather than withdrawal, might be the correct response to an undemocratic, unaccountable Europe; but at least in Britain they have had some sort of debate about the EU and their country’s place in it.

The Irish, meanwhile, see ourselves as “model” Europeans even though it was our EU masters who forced us into the “bank bailout”, with devastating implications in terms of the loss of public service jobs, health care and welfare cuts, the privatisation of state assets, and a new wave of emigration at the start of this decade.

Not to mention the huge debt our country has been saddled with for years to come.

Now PESCO, according to the Independent TDs and MEPs, will see Ireland being steamrolled into an EU Army and it is quite amazing how little talk there is about this in Ireland.

“We have to work on a vision of creating a real true European Army,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the formation of a “real” European Army during the Armistice Day commemorations last weekend.

On Tuesday, the European Commission said that a European Army is “likely” to be formed one day.

So the Galway conference this week seemed to be extremely timely.

“Does PESCO damage our neutrality?” asked Catherine Connolly TD. “Yes, it does. We are normalising war and the militarisation of Europe. PESCO was not discussed in our Dail. The good news is that 42 of us voted against it. Language has been stood on its head. We are heading towards a militarised Europe.”

She said that Irish soldiers have to rely on family income supplement in order to survive, in the middle of unprecedented crises in health care and housing.

Deputy Connolly pointed out that the head of the European Commission has never been elected by anyone and spoke of how uncomfortable she felt when he was given a reverential reception in the Dail.

A Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, has called for the “redefinition” of neutrality and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have denied that PESCO will impact on Irish neutrality.

Independent MEP Flanagan has described the massive global arms industry as an “untapped goldmine” in the eyes of the European Union.

Just as US President Donald Trump feels that punishing human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia would only be foolish if it damaged his country’s $110 billion arms trade with Riyadh, perhaps the Irish should be far more honest with ourselves.

Does our ‘neutrality’ mean anything when we get a chance to cosy up to and find favour with the world’s military powers?

Do we want to stand beside the French and Germans as they, too, aim to become global powers?

Perhaps, ultimately, the vast sums of money to be made from militarisation are far more important than the human rights of children in Syria, Palestine, Yemen or Afghanistan as the US military aircraft land and take off from Shannon Airport with total impunity every week.

“When you question why they are militarising the European Union, you must understand that this is not to protect or defend you,” said Flanagan. “It is about money . . . and billions of it.”

Next time you have a loved-one lying on a hospital trolley for 48 hours, or finding it impossible to find an affordable place to live, remember that PESCO is set to increase Ireland’s military expenditure six times over.

Sometimes, when you look at the stories which are creating headlines, it’s just as informative to check out which stories are being ignored.

When a ‘neutral’ former colony wants to be part of a new global super-power, when arms sales are more important than human lives, language truly has been stood on its head.

Neutrality means next to nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes.

Neutrality means nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes (Ciaran Tierney)

Best Current Affairs Blog in Ireland  winner Ciaran Tierney

Ciaran Tierney writes:

The annual Blog Awards Ireland event took place in Dublin city centre last Thursday night and I was thrilled to be awarded first prize in the Best Current Affairs / Politics category, after coming second last year.

After flying in from New York that morning, where I had met ‘Tuam Babies’ survivor Peter Mulryan, I was over the moon and slightly shocked to take the gold medal.

By a wonderful coincidence, I also won second prize for the Best Blog Post for a piece I wrote about Peter’s search for justice for his little sister – one of the 796 missing babies – after meeting him in a Galway graveyard back in March.

Here’s the piece I wrote with Peter at the time:

It was a thrill to discover that 1,200 blogs had entered the competition, in all categories, for the prestigious awards and that my blog had gone through three rounds of judging in order to win the top prize.

The final round was judged by media, journalism, and PR professionals, which gave me a huge boost as my path has not always been certain since I took voluntary redundancy from one of Ireland’s leading regional newspapers, The Connacht Tribune, four years ago.

After writing a travel blog which was very warmly received during a career break in 2010, I set up my blog in August 2014 in the midst of great uncertainty and a crisis in my industry.

My blog did not have an exact focus at first, but I felt it was important to keep writing in the wake of redundancy from the newspaper in which I had worked for more than 22 years.

It has allowed me to reach a whole new audience and provide a platform for groups such as the ‘Tuam Babies’ families and survivors, victims of clerical abuse, the Shannonwatch protesters, anti-racism and homelessness activists, who feel they do not always get adequate or fair coverage in the mainstream media.

Sometimes blogging can be a lonely occupation, but it’s fantastic to get such wonderful recognition from my peers.

The voices of the voiceless need to be heard at a time of so much injustice, inequality, and suffering in Ireland, and the rise of racism and populism, both in Ireland and overseas, is a cause of huge concern.

I dearly hope to return to full-time journalism at some stage but, in the meantime, I am absolutely thrilled that my humble little blog has received recognition at a national level.

In fairness

The Best Current Affairs Blog In Ireland (Ciaran Tierney)

Pic: Paul Sherwood

Last night.

At The Blog Awards in the Tramline, D’Olier Street, Dublin 2

Galway-based writer and blogger Ciaran Tierney won a Gold Medal for his blog and a Silver Medal for his moving post (see below) on Tuam Mother and Baby Home Survivor Peter Mulryan (top with CIaran).

In fairness.

For Peter And The Families, It’s Personal (Ciaran Tierney, March 12, 2018)

Yesterday: Are We Hot?

 

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and US President Donald Trump in the White House Washington last March; Ciaran Tierney

It has been amazing to hear so many people in Ireland express regret that President Trump has postponed (or cancelled) his Irish visit this coming November.

They were so fired up that many said they were looking forward to joining a political protest for the first time.

Irish protesters had to reach out to their counterparts in the UK, who turned out in their thousands to make the President feel so unwelcome when he visited London back in July.

Sorry, they said, we won’t need to ship the giant orange “baby blimp” to Ireland after all!

People in Dublin were really looking forward to the sight of a giant baby Donald in a nappy floating across the skyline.

And a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign had already covered the cost of bringing over the six metre high blimp within days of being set up.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be part of mass protests against the US President. The sense of anti-climax was palpable as soon as the White House announced that he had postponed his travel plans.

The leaders of two opposition parties, Labour and the Greens, had come  together to announce plans for a joint rally for “democracy, decency, and international solidarity” in Dublin.

As though such concepts, so alien to Mr Trump, were plentiful across the political spectrum here in Ireland.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin went as far as to say that President Trump was “no friend of democracy or human rights”.

Mr Howlin said it was important to stand up to Trump on issues such as climate change, the treatment of migrant and asylum-seekers, spending on arms, and the slashing of aid budgets.

In Galway, the local anti-racism group wanted hundreds of people to gather to spell out the words “Feck off Trump” (with a little Irish humour, from the ‘Father Ted’ TV series) on a beach.

In much different times, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy addressed 50,000 people in Eyre Square and the city authorities renamed it as Kennedy Park in his honour.

We are unlikely to see a ‘Trump Park’ in Galway any time in this millennium.

So many people are disappointed that the street protests are off. They wanted to convey a firm message that Trump’s policies have no place in a modern, prosperous, outward-looking Ireland.

They want to reject the anti-immigrant rhetoric on an island where emigration provided the only refuge for the afflicted through much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The street protests are off . . . as though there was nothing to protest about closer to home.

The economy might be in recovery, but the recovery does not seem to have reached so many Irish people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Last week, masked thugs – protected by masked Gardai – used heavy-handed tactics to evict homelessness campaigners from an empty building in Dublin.

The sight of masked policemen with no identification on their uniforms caused consternation at a time when there are almost 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation across Ireland.

And now our Minister for Justice says he would support moves to criminalise the photographing of Gardai as they carry out their duties.

Such a move would be an attack on press freedom and should lead to questions as to what the Gardai have to hide.

Would that mean banning photos of public events such as GAA games or the annual Macnas Parade?

The last time I checked such measures were only being considered in states such as Israel, where an oppressive occupation force has a vested interest in covering up its crimes in the West Bank.

Given recent Irish history, we don’t have to cross the Atlantic in search of police forces who abuse their power. In fact the filming of protests has helped to prevent injustice from occurring.

So, instead of worrying about Trump, perhaps we should be looking at how power is being abused much closer to home.

Last month, a photo of homeless children sleeping in a Garda Station went viral. The youngsters had to sleep on hard chairs in the police station because there was nowhere else for them to go.

The distraught mother who took that photo could soon be guilty of a crime.

Last week, a photo of a sick and distressed 92-year old woman sitting on a chair in a public hospital Emergency Department went viral.

Gladys Cummins posted the photo on Facebook out of frustration and despair. Her mother did not even have a trolley, as she spent 25 hours sitting on that chair.

Two months ago, I saw a 93-year old family member spent 48 hours on a trolley in the ED Department in Galway. The unacceptable has become acceptable and lengthy waiting lists in our public hospitals have become the new norm.

In a supposedly “socialised” health service – compared to the US at any rate – the old and the weak are being forced to spend days lying in corridors in overcrowded facilities.

But Irish people are not taking to the streets to protest about our health crisis.

In June, Irish people became outraged by the images of child migrants on the US-Mexico border crying in distress after being separated from their families. They were outraged by Trump.

Yet few of them have much awareness of the hardships endured by those who spend up to seven or eight years in Ireland’s own Direct Provision system.

About 5,000 asylum-seekers are detained at 31 accommodation centres without permission to work, or even to cook for their children. Among them are 2,000 children, growing up in highly inappropriate shared spaces with adults from a variety of countries.

Direct Provision centres have been described as the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes of our times. Some even see them as a “time bomb” for future problems to come.

We have British politicians steamrolling headlong towards Brexit, with little or no awareness that their dangerous language is threatening the peace process which transformed life in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years.

We have the families of victims of loyalist collusion who are shocked that a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is now at the helm of the Irish Gardai.

They believe he has questions to ask about their long search for justice for atrocities such as the Miami Showband Massacre and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

We rant against Trump for his sexism, at a time when Irish society has been convulsed by a cervical smear test scandal in which the Irish Government treated Irish women appallingly this year.

A lot of Irish people are disappointed that they won’t get a chance to protest against President Trump, but let’s not pretend that we don’t have some pressing problems much closer to home.

Call Off The Blimp (Ciaran Tierney)

Top pic: MerrionStreet

From top: Monthly peace vigil at Shannon Airport; Ciaran Tierney

It’s just an ordinary Sunday afternoon at Shannon Airport.

Funny how, in an upside-down world, the small group of peace activists waving flags at a roundabout are made to feel like criminals while the police force ‘protects’ members of the most powerful military in the world . . . just a few metres down the road.

It’s almost a pantomime at this stage, as everyone knows his or her role.

On the first Sunday of every month, the peace activists descend upon the roundabout on the fringes of the civilian airport.

They unfurl their banners and flags, and commuters, bus-drivers, or cars containing families honk their horns in support as they drive by in sunshine, hail, wind, rain or snow.

It’s some record. They haven’t missed a first Sunday of the month for over a decade now and, indeed, the protests have been going on for a lot longer.

They wish they didn’t have to meet at the roundabout, that they could find something better to do on a Sunday afternoon. But every month they feel a need to return.

One man makes the round trip from Donegal, it takes him ten hours by bus. Another comes all the way from Dundalk. He feels he has to make the effort.

Others have less of a journey. Former Irish Army man Edward Horgan and academic John Lannon, who never seem to miss a monthly Sunday gathering, make the short trip out from Limerick City. Quite a few drive down from Galway.

Horgan and Lannon are the two main men behind Shannonwatch, the group of peace activists who protest at the airport every month.

Their mission is simple, to highlight the fact that a ‘neutral’ country is continuing to support the US war machine, to raise awareness, and to remind the Irish Government and international community that this civilian airport on the west coast of Ireland could be facilitating war crimes.

For them, Irish neutrality actually means something. With talk of a European ‘super army’ on the horizon and President Donald Trump set to visit in November, their monthly protest seems as timely and relevant as when they began to assemble outside Shannon over ten years ago.

Even today, as I write this, the National Security Advisor to Donald Trump has attempted to discredit the International Criminal Court. He has described the internationally recognised court as “illegitimate” and “dead” in the eyes of the superpower which uses Shannon every day.

It’s pretty easy to discredit a court if you feel you have something to hide or you are in breach of international law.

They know the routine.

The activists stand at the roundabout. A young lady sees the irony when she pops into the new Starbucks nearby to pick up a coffee. Drivers and their families honk their cars in support. And the gardai maintain a safe distance, sometimes driving up close, though, to monitor the activists and their parked cars.

There are rarely confrontations, but the gardai maintain a visible presence. After all, some of these activists have undertaken direct action – breaking through the airport’s perimeter fence in order to try to inspect the US military or chartered civilian planes. The protest starts at 2pm and finishes within an hour.

It’s a small but clear reminder that not every Irish person is happy with the fact that US troops land in Shannon on their way to and from their wars in the Middle East.

This month’s protest could not have been more timely. During the one-hour vigil at the airport, two Omni Air planes on contract to the US military landed at Shannon.

Shannonwatch activists, who track the military flights in and out of the airport, told me that one of the planes was coming from a NATO base in the north of Norway. The other was on its way to the US from Kuwait.

They said they had no idea whether there were up to 600 troops or cargo on board, and they were pretty sure that the Irish authorities had no idea either.

Horgan, who has a camera with a powerful lens, invited me to join him at the perimeter fence. He focused his camera on the two planes, under the watchful eyes of plain clothes gardai who pulled up alongside him as he took his photos.

Now in his late 70s, with a respected military background, he told me he was banned from flying from Shannon. It’s a bit of an inconvenience, given that he lives just down the road in Limerick.

But he made headlines across the globe when he decided to inspect a US military plane as he was about to board a Ryanair flight to London. Ed does not believe in mellowing with old age as he is disgusted that nobody in Ireland has a clue about who or what is being carried on the military planes at Shannon.

Horgan took legal action against the Irish state in 2003, on the basis that the US military’s use of Shannon violated Ireland’s status as a neutral country.

He finds it strange to be under scrutiny from the gardai every time he brings his camera along to his local airport, but he’s determined to continue annoying those in power.

To him, the criminals are inside the airport fence, not those trying to document their movements from the outside.

As the wind howled around us, Lannon told me that the Shannonwatch people had no intention of giving up their monthly protests.

They will be back at Shannon next month and they hope to organise a huge demonstration if, as expected, President Trump used the airport when he visits Ireland, and nearby Doonbeg in particular, in November.

“Two planes arrived here today which have been contracted out to the US military. One of them has just arrived in from a military base in northern Norway. We believe it may have been involved in some NATO exercises,” he tells me.

“We track these planes as best we can on websites. We photograph them. These are military planes. We have our own way of tracking these planes. It’s not just with cameras, we use software to track them. We believe they are involved in NATO exercises even though Leo Varadkar and all our Ministers promise us that the planes that land here have nothing to do with NATO.”

Shannon has served as a refuelling stop for warplanes and protests have taken place there ever since President George W. Bush began his ‘war on terror’ with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Most of the military flights since then have been to or from countries in the Middle East, including Iraq and Syria.

A decade ago, concerns were raised that Shannon was used for rendition or torture flights by the CIA.

In 2006, the Irish Independent reported that a cargo playing carrying Apache helicopters had landed in Shannon on its way to Israel.

In 2008, Irish activists became suspicious about a C-130 Hercules plane, normally based in Little Rock, Arkansas. They linked it to white phosphorous, a weapon known to cause horrific burns, which originated in Arkansas and was used in the bombing of Gaza.

Given Irish people’s traditional support for and empathy with the people of Palestine, such claims would alarm many Irish people in a supposedly ‘neutral’ country.

Few Irish people want to be associated in any way with war crimes.

But of course the peace activists have no proof.

Nobody does, because no inspections have ever been carried out on US military or contracted planes during their stopovers at Shannon.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Just another Sunday afternoon at Shannon (Ciaran Tierney)

Previously: For The Record


From top: Historian Catherine Corless (third right) and survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home lead the vigil in Tuam, County Galway last Saturday; Ciaran Tierney

They stood together, side-by-side, in solidarity in the heart of an Irish town.

Their hearts beating loudly, but their heads held high.

These were once the marginalised, the forgotten ones, the ones who were never supposed to speak out, express their pain, or make much of their lives.

As children, they were called the ‘Home Babies’.

Or . . . the children of the ‘fallen women’.

Or . . . the illegitimate ones.

Or . . . appallingly, the bastards.

Bastards –  the disgusting word of choice of a judgmental society, which allowed the imprisonment of innocent women and children to go on for decades.

There were thousands of children like them all around Ireland, malnourished, tearful, forced to march to school in hobnailed boots; forced to arrive later than the luckier ones who were considered “legitimate” in the eyes of a Church and a State which never cared much for their welfare.

There but for the grace of a God who didn’t show much concern for them in the first few years of their lives.

They could have been adopted to America, illegally, to “good” Catholic families who were able and willing to pay the right price.

They could have been farmed out to “respectable” Irish families, some of whom were quick to remind them of their true place in this earth and their lowly station in life.

Abuse did not always end in the confines of those homes.

Or, God forbid, they might have lived just a matter of days or months, and found themselves dumped in a mass grave in a septic tank.

These were people who were never meant to make it onto our TV screens or into our newspapers, but thanks to the tireless research of a brave historian called Catherine Corless we are now getting to know their stories and their names.

They stood together in the heart of Tuam on Sunday afternoon and tears were shed as they began their silent, dignified walk through town.

People like Peter, who expressed his anguish to a small group of us in a Galway graveyard last year.

At 70 years of age, he found out about the little sister he never knew he had. He’s 74 now and only a disgusting, morally bankrupt Church or State would dare to deny him access to justice and the truth about what happened to his younger sibling.

People like Annette, whose older sister, Mary Margaret O’Connor, died as a child in the home in 1943. Annette, who lives in Manchester, England, described it as an “obscenity” that the site was not being excavated in order to provide closure and the truth to the families.

“I don’t know a country that would put 796 babies in a disused sewage tank. Those babies aren’t hidden, they are in that septic tank and they need to be given back to their families,” she said.

People like Anna, who only discovered she had two older brothers after he mother’s death in Dublin.

“The Tuam grave is a jigsaw and it needs to be put together,” she said.

How can any of us imagine the emotions Anna went through when it began to dawn on her that her brothers could have been buried in a septic tank on the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home?

How can any of us imagine how they and other family members feel when they see that part of the site is now a children’s playground in a Council estate in the North Galway town?

As though the authorities really went out of their way to cover up and forget the horror of what happened at that site.

How can any of us imagine what they go through every day when the Irish authorities fail to comply with their absolute conviction that there should be a complete and thorough exhumation of the site?

Can we even begin to imagine what it’s like to believe you have a close member dumped among 796 children in a mass grave in a septic tank?

If all of those family members are even there at all, because many Irish campaigners now believe that dozens of the “home babies” were adopted by families in the United States.

While Pope Francis was appearing before thousands of Irish people at a Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday, these amazing survivors came together in the heart of Tuam.

The hundreds who turned out to support them were moved into a sustained and dignified round of applause after their silent vigil through the town.

They read out the names of all 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, one-by-one.

Local people hung children’s toys along the route to show their support to the survivors and to remind participants of the terrible, brutal injustice which occurred at the site.

While the visit of Pope Francis was expected to cost €32 million, these families are waiting on tenterhooks to see if the Irish authorities will come up with the funding required for the full exhumation of the site.

Local people tied baby shoes, toys, and teddy bears to railings all along the route to express solidarity to the families, the survivors, and the 796 children whose names were read out at a simple, but poignant, ceremony.

Now that Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland has concluded, the Tuam Home Survivors Network have called on the Irish Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, to convene an Inquest and complete a full exhumation of the site.

They want her to show them what correspondence, if any, she has had with the Bon Secours order who ran the infamous home from 1925 to 1961.

The Bon Secours order has refused to engage with the survivors and the families and even hired a PR person to try to ‘spin’ their role in this terrible affair.

Minister Zappone wrote a letter to Pope Francis on Monday, calling on the Vatican to contribute €2.5 million as part reparation for its role in the scandal of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

The families read her letter with interest, but released a statement claiming that the letter “smacks of a stunt, a desperate attempt by a Minister completely out of her depth”.

Their anger has not disappeared.

Two activists who have campaigned for justice for the ‘Tuam Babies’, Izzy Kamikaze and Sadie Cramer, cordoned off the site with tape on Sunday and declared it a crime scene.

They said they were sickened that the Irish authorities had not carried out a full investigation at the site.

Catherine Corless, Izzy, Sadie, the families, and the survivors all came together in the heart of the North Galway town this weekend and they won’t be silenced any more.

Perhaps that, more than anything, will be the legacy of Pope Francis’ 2018 visit to Ireland. The whole world has been alerted to and shocked by the crimes committed against Irish women and children and their subsequent cover-up.

The loved-ones of the 796 have found their voices and they are determined to find out the truth now, no matter what barriers they face from the Church or State authorities, or the concerns expressed about the cost involved.

Because, thanks to the overwhelming support and solidarity of ordinary Irish people, all of their shame has gone.

Their search for justice goes on.

They stood together in an Irish town (Ciaran Tierney)

Saturday: Deliver Us From Evil

From top: The youth mass at Ballybrrit Racecourse, County Galway during Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979: Ciaran Tierney

In far more innocent times, as children, we got up at the crack of dawn. I remember the excitement in the family home, as we arose and prepared for the biggest and most symbolic walk of our young lives.

I still recall the folded deck chairs, the home-made sandwiches and flasks of tea, the yellow and white flags.

At the house, the looks of envy on the faces of the younger siblings and the two grandmothers, who were not old enough or able to join the mass exodus on foot to the racecourse on the other side of the city.

We met up with the cousins, seeing the sense of adventure in their eyes, and the adults around us gave us a sense of what a huge moment this was in our shared history.

There were thousands upon thousands at the racecourse, corralled into zones at the biggest event I had ever seen. This was bigger, even, than an All-Ireland final and a ripple of excitement went through the crowd as the helicopter landed near the grandstand.

And, then, the immortal words . . .

“Young people of Ireland, I love you!”

This was Ballybrit, Galway, in 1979. It felt like a moment of triumph for Catholic Ireland and I could see its significance in the eyes of my parents as they told me how wonderful it was that Pope John Paul II had come to our town.

Our generation of children even became known as the “Pope’s children” after that day in Ballybrit but, looking back almost four decades on, it now looks like the end of an era rather than the start of something wonderful and new.

It actually seems unbelievable now that 79% of the Irish people went along to welcome Pope John Paul II to our land 39 years ago.

Up on the altar in Galway, Pope John Paul II was flanked by two Irish clerics, Bishop Eamonn Casey and Fr Michael Cleary, both of whom it would later transpire had fathered children in the years prior to that memorable day in Galway.

As many people have pointed out since, their indiscretions paled into significance in the context of so much criminal abuse which has been uncovered in recent years.

So much has changed.

It dawns on me now that my family and I walked past the Magdalene Laundry in Galway in order to make our way to Ballybrit to hear the pontiff express his love for us.

Only nobody ever talked about the young women who were incarcerated inside, washing the bed linen for the “great and the good” of our city.

As children, we never heard anything about the 10,000 women and girls who were locked up in Magdalene Laundries across Ireland from 1922 to 1996.

Yes, it’s still shocking to think that these prisons for “fallen women” remained in place until well into the 1990s.

It dawns on me now, too, that so many of my generation were being abused at the time of the last papal visit, because nobody questioned those in authority and certainly not members of the Catholic Church who had so much control over our daily lives.

In any Irish family, it was considered an honour to be an altar-boy. In 1979, if a young woman became pregnant outside marriage a priest could still arrive at the front door of the family home to whisk her away to a life of imprisonment. Such was the shame.

We did not question those in authority and we had never even heard of child abuse or peadophilia in 1979.

It dawns on me now that it would take another 35 years before we heard about the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, dumped in unmarked graves less than an hour up the road from where the Pontiff expressed his love for all the young people of Ireland in Galway.

We were never told about the women and children who were imprisoned in that now notorious Tuam home until 1961. I guess the lives of those women didn’t matter because they were ‘guilty’ of being born outside marriage in a far more judgmental Ireland.

As Ireland prepares to welcome Pope Francis next week, it dawns on me now that the Church he leads has done so much harm to my people, destroyed so many lives, and that so little has been done to make amends.

Doubtless, there were children in Ballybrit that afternoon who are no longer with us, because the pain and trauma of what they endured at the hands of the Irish clergy was far too much to endure. For many, death and self-destruction was the only answer to the pain.

So many Irish families were torn apart by clerical abuse, their pain magnified by the response of church authorities who moved abusers around from one parish or part of the country to another rather than helping to find justice for the victims.

So many people were labelled as “illegitimate” or less than human, so many young mothers had children taken from them against their will, perhaps for adoption by “good Catholic families” in the United States, because unmarried mothers were too stigmatised to be allowed bring them up here in Ireland.

So many of us now see the Catholic Church as an international organisation which ignored, facilitated, and covered up the abuse of Irish children that it’s hard to imagine how enthusiastically we welcomed a former Pontiff back in 1979.

Were we really so innocent? So naive? Did people really have no idea that such terrible crimes were taking place at the time?

We now know that a comprehensive report found that the church authorities responded to clerical abuse with “denial, arrogance, and cover-up” nine years ago. In the interim, what has changed?

We now know that the Bon Secours order stonewalled or ignored the victims and families of the “Tuam Babies” when they sought the truth or some semblance of justice for their 796 loved-ones.

They are still refusing to engage with the families in 2018, a year after the research of historian Catherine Corless has been completely vindicated by the Irish Government.

We know that up to 140 Irish children were abused by just one priest in Northern Ireland, Fr Brendan Smyth, who was free to travel throughout the land (and continue to abuse) even though the most senior cleric in Ireland was aware of allegations against him.

Had action been taken, how many shattered lives might have been saved?

We have found out about so many shocking cases of abuse, cover-up, and denial involving Irish women, children, and men at the hands of members of the Roman Catholic Church that it seems we cannot be shocked any more.

It’s because of the clear litany of scandals they have endured that Irish people have changed immeasurably since 1979. In the intervening years we have legalised homosexuality, divorce, marriage equality, and abortion, despite strong opposition from a church which seemed to dominate all aspects of our lives back then.

Now people want the Catholic Church to be removed from our schools and hospitals and they want full and meaningful apologies for all the hurt caused and lives destroyed.

When Pope Francis speaks to thousands of people in the Phoenix Park in Dublin on Sunday, August 26, hundreds of others will assemble at silent vigils in places such as Tuam and Dublin.

All they want is acknowledgement of the truth and the terrible damage caused to so many innocent Irish people by the Roman Catholic Church.

As a child, I took part in the longest walk of my young life to see Pope John Paul II in 1979. Like so many others, I was innocent, joyful, and enthusiastic that the head of our global church proclaimed his love for me and all the young children of Ireland.

Almost four decades on, all that innocence has died.

I would far prefer to attend one of the protests, to stand side-by-side with the amazing victims, than celebrate the visit of the figurehead of an international organisation which has always seemed far more interested in protecting its own power than the welfare of Irish children.

The innocent victims have found their voices and Pope Francis is missing out on a powerful opportunity to atone for a terrible past if he refuses to meet them, hear their stories, and apologise.

Those of us who are of a certain age may have walked in our thousands to Dublin, Galway, Knock and Drogheda in 1979, but Ireland is a very different place right now and people are no longer willing to accept the blatant abuse of power.

Decades of abuse and cover-ups won’t be wiped out by protests, but it is so important that Pope Francis and the entire Catholic Church is reminded of the damage done.

Those who have been abused will stand together in solidarity at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin on Sunday, August 26, and at the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

That to me will be a far more powerful ceremony than trying to regain the long lost innocence of 1979 and a ‘Catholic’ Ireland which has long since vanished.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook here

Pope Francis And Long Lost Innocence (Ciaran Tierney)

Pics; RTE/Connacht Tribune

From top: Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin outside the offices of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Maynooth, Co Kildare, last month, as the details are published for the the pastoral visit of Pope Francis; Tuam survivor Peter Mulryan and historian Catherine Corless; Ciaran Tierney

The only surprise about the revelation that survivors of institutions and clerical sex abuse are planning to protest during the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August is that anybody might be surprised.

There are thousands of people across Ireland, the UK, the USA, and Canada who are waking up to the injustice inflicted upon them and their families. They are determined not to be silenced anymore.

They want the Catholic Church to face up to the abuse inflicted on young mothers and their children in both Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes throughout much of the 20th century. As far as many of them are concerned, the religious orders have never faced up to their crimes.

All across Ireland, hundreds of people believe they may have uncles, aunts, brothers, or sisters scattered across the globe.

They believe they have close relatives in cities such as Boston, Chicago, or New York who have no idea of their own true identities, as they were adopted out, illegally and for cash, by nuns whose only concern was that they ended up in good Catholic homes.

The history of Catholic institutions in Ireland in the 20th century is one of physical and emotional abuse, shame, judgement, and even baby trafficking and child abduction, as many “illegitimate” children were forcibly taken from their traumatised mothers after they were transferred to institutions all across the country.

This is not ancient history, as we saw in the emotional but wonderful scenes in Dublin two weeks ago when more than 200 former residents of Magdalene Laundries were honoured in public for the first time.

Many of them flew home from the US and the UK, because the shame of their incarceration – or giving birth outside marriage – ensured they could never return to the towns or villages they came from.

The last Magdalene Laundry only closed down in 1996. Some of the women were so institutionalised after spending three decades in these harsh institutions that they did not wish to leave even when presented with the opportunity to do so. They had given up the will to live independent lives.

The youngest woman to have given birth in a laundry is still only 40 years old. These are real, living, breathing people and now they want the truth – and justice – after so many years of secrets, lies, and shame.

The children born in these horrible places did not all end up living in Ireland. They were trafficked in their hundreds to the USA, their birth records falsified, and to this day many do not even realise that they were adopted or born in Ireland.

When we talk about the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’ we should remember that they are not just skeletons buried in and around a septic tank in a North Galway Mother and Baby Home.

They are the flesh and blood of people like Peter Mulryan, a noble man in his 70s who wants to know what became of the little sister he never knew he had for most of his adult life.

Until he finds proof of her death, for all he knows Peter’s younger sibling could be living out her life somewhere in North America, totally oblivious to her roots or where she came from.

This need to know the truth seems to be of hugely important to the survivors and their children as they reach old age. Who would not want to know what happened to a sibling if he or she was forcibly removed from a tearful mother’s arms?

Even if they knew nothing about them for most of their lives.

Birth records were falsified, an order which ran a notorious Mother and Baby home is now making money from private health care, and religious orders are refusing to hand over records until they receive legal indemnity for crimes committed in the past.

Institutions circumvented the rules to send children out for adoption and priests were moved around from one parish to another when ordinary people raised concerns about clerical sex abuse. For many victims and their families, peace will only come when they hear full apologies and they receive redress for the crimes which destroyed so many lives.

Most of all, people just want to hear the truth.

It’s a theme which recurs again and again in ‘My Name is Bridget’, the new book by journalist Alison O’Reilly which examines the desperately sad case of a woman who had two sons taken from her in the Mother and Baby Home.

Bridget went on to live in Dublin, marry a good man, and have a daughter who never knew about the two older siblings who were seized from her mother in Tuam. It was only after Bridget died that Anna discovered she had two missing brothers, who may or may not be buried in that infamous septic tank in Co Galway.

Right now, Anna, Peter, and other survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home are waiting on tenterhooks to see if Galway County Council are prepared to undertake a full excavation and examination of the Tuam site.

They will be shocked and dismayed if the authorities try in any way to cover up what happened in Tuam after all the pain they endured.

Decades may have passed, but they are still entitled to find out what happened to close family members – were they buried in an unmarked grave or were they trafficked to America?

in a letter to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, Anna wrote:

“This is a national scandal, not a popularity contest for who wants the tidiest cover-up. This can’t be the same as in the 1970s. How dare you,”

Anna sent copies of the letter to every member of Galway County Council to make it clear that she and other family members would not accept any kind of ‘cover up’ at the site.

Alison’s book is a very topical addition to the national debate. It shows how important identity is to the adopted and the truth is to survivors of institutions and their families.

In a powerful chapter at the end of her book, entitled Snapshots of Stolen Lives, Alison spoke to a number of survivors about their need to find the truth, justice, and peace.

“Everyone deserves to know who they are and it should not have taken this long and I should never have had to fight so hard,” said Breda Tuite, who was adopted through the St Patrick’s Guild Agency in Dublin in 1959.

It took Breda, from Dublin, years to track down her late mother from Co Kerry. For her, there was a kind of healing in visiting her grave and meeting her friends and family.

Sharon McGuigan was just 16-years old, an innocent child, and had been groomed by an older man when she became pregnant in 1985. She was admitted to the Dunboyne Mother and Baby Home in County Meath and gave birth to a daughter in February 1986.

The daughter was taken from her and adopted. Sharon had no say in the matter. Her daughter is still not ready to meet her but Sharon hopes to build a relationship with her some day.

“We should not have been made to feel so shamed and to be cast aside,” Sharon told Alison O’Reilly. “I just want to tell my story and not to be mistreated because of something that wasn’t my fault. I want an acknowledgement of what happened to women like me.”

Anna Corrigan has described the Tuam grave as a jigsaw which needs to be put back together. The survivors and their families point out that there were many institutions like Tuam all over Ireland and an awful lot of healing still has to take place for those who had no voice for far too long.

They believe that religious orders were engaged in criminal behaviour during the darkest days of 20th century Ireland and it is time the Catholic Church faces up to issues such as the shaming of pregnant women, child abductions, and the trafficking of Irish babies to the USA.

They believe that the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland will be a pivotal moment for the Catholic Church on the island.

If he listens to the people who had their identities stolen or who were separated from their families, a huge amount of healing can occur in August.

Otherwise, Pope Francis can expect very vocal – and hugely embarrassing – protests from victims who are not prepared to be silenced any more.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Victims vow to protest when Pope Francis visits Ireland (Ciaran Tierney)

Rollingnews

From top: site of the Bon Secours Mother and  Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway; Ciaran Tierney

It can be very empowering when the marginalised, the denigrated, and the shamed overcome their fear and find their voice.

In a quiet Galway graveyard last year, I heard an amazing man tell a heartbreaking truth with unbelievable conviction and power in his voice.

Where, he wanted to know, was his little sister?

Why was nobody giving him any answers?

It brought tears to many an eye to hear him speak his truth. I stood there, stunned in admiration, listening a man who had been told he was worthless all his life.

Born into a horrible institution, fostered out to a family who beat and abused him; dealing with the terrible stigma of being branded as “illegitimate” as he set off on his journey through life.

And now, late in life, he found out that he had a little sister who may or may not have been buried in a septic tank.

I marveled at the conviction in the voice of a man who had found love and become a good father against all the odds, despite rather than because of a land which proclaimed to cherish all of its children equally while it branded some of them “bastards”, considered the cruellest label of all.

In the same graveyard this year, I heard an amazing woman find her voice.

She wanted to know why she had been locked up for years, even though she had committed no crime.

She wanted to know why she worked as a slave for nuns in a laundry, within a two minute walk of the beating heart of an Irish city.

Why was she imprisoned?

Why was she forgotten by the world outside?

Why? Why? Why?

And, in case we wanted to blame the nuns, she reminded us of a girl who managed to get a workman to sneak a letter out to her sister in affluent Salthill.

The man thought he was doing the poor girl a favour.

Instead, she was beaten black and blue, and denigrated for months for daring to make contact with the outside world.

Her sister let it be known that she never wanted to hear from her again.

And she was distraught for months afterwards, if not for the rest of her life. The trauma of being locked up in an institution compounded by being rejected for a second time in caring, ‘Catholic’ Ireland.

This country owes a massive apology to these two individuals; and to so many women, elderly now, who were locked in institutions for the terrible crime of bringing a child into the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’.

Funny, how I never see the prominent ‘Vote No’ campaigners in my area attend the poignant annual ceremony of remembrance for the Magdalene Laundry women in Galway.

They express such concern for the sanctity of human life, but don’t seem so concerned with showing compassion for those who were victimised or had their lives ruined by the land of shame.

The voiceless are finding their voices now.

Their testimonials are so, so painful, and they remind us of an appalling past when our nation shamed its own women.

If you became pregnant outside marriage, you were locked up for a year before your baby was taken from you. Forever.

If your baby died, he or she may have been buried in a septic tank. Or – and you may never know because there are no ‘official’ records – the child was adopted, illegally, by a ‘good’ couple in the United States.

If, God forbid, you were unlucky enough to become pregnant for a second time, you were branded a “repeat offender”.

Even though you may have been raped, or totally innocent to the ways of the world after being incarcerated in a Mother and Baby Home.

This was the land which locked up women for a year and confiscated their babies for the ‘crime’ of having a baby outside marriage.

It was the land which locked them up for two years if they were unfortunate enough to become pregnant for a second time.

It was unimaginable how badly this country treated these women and their “illegitimate” children, treating them as second class citizens when they attended ‘normal’ schools outside the home or locking them up in harsh Industrial Schools, where abuse was rife and nobody heard their cries of despair.

Compassion was nowhere to be found.

This is the land that told us sex was sinful, that the most natural thing in the world was somehow shameful, and that a pregnant daughter or sister was the biggest shame a “respectable” Irish family could face.

This is the land that told so many of us that we should be ashamed of our bodies.

It ensured contraception was illegal right up until the 1980s, divorce only became legal in 1995, and a woman with a crisis pregnancy would have to travel to another country if she wanted health care.

No wonder so many of us buried ourselves in alcohol, suppressing the natural Irish joy for life, and that alcohol abuse led to risky behaviour and yet more crisis pregnancies.

During my own university days, I had no idea that a group of women I was friendly with were so brave.

They were the first generation of ordinary Irish women who dared to bring their children up as single mothers. Had they become pregnant just a decade before, they could have been seized from their own homes in the dead of night and locked up in Mother and Baby Homes.

Perhaps the women themselves, struggling to juggle motherhood, work, and college, did not even realise how ground-breaking they were in the early 1990s.

This is the land that told an Indian woman in distress that “This is a Catholic country” when she was denied the health care she was crying out for at my local hospital.

The death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway led to a huge outpouring of grief in my city, a beautiful candlelight vigil in Eyre Square, and the start of a movement for change.

It is the land which told hundreds of women there was nothing it could do for them when they received a terrible diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

They found there was a special section in Liverpool Women’s Hospital just for Irish women, who made the same lonely journey knowing that the child they desperately wanted had no chance of survival.

This is the land which banned books by the likes of John McGahern and Edna O’Brien, which seem so innocent now but were seen as “controversial” because they dared to explore issues of sexuality in a place gripped by guilt and shame.

This land had the power to destroy a writer’s livelihood, or force him or her into immigration, for daring to explore issues which seem so tame to the modern reader.

It’s a land where priests had the power to name and shame single mothers from the pulpits, or could collude with Gardai to drag them from their beds at dawn, never to be seen in their homes and villages again.

It’s a land which had the power to force the resignation of a Government Minister for daring to try to introduce a mother and child healthcare system. It would have greatly enhanced the ability of single mothers to bring up their own children, rather than being locked up in horrible institutions.

Dr Noel Browne, forced to resign in 1950, was way ahead of his time. His radical measure was seen as too much of a threat to the power structures in Irish society at the time.

It’s a land which has exported so many of its problems. As a much younger man, I met so many wonderful but troubled Irish people in Britain who had fled their native land, branded as “illegitimate”, beaten or abused, and many dealing with addiction issues brought about by so much pain.

In 2018, Ireland is still exporting its ‘problems’ in terms of so many women with crisis pregnancies from every one of the 26 counties who travel to the UK for terminations every day, week, and year.

Not many people I know want to see a widespread “culture” of abortion in this country.

Nobody I knows believes in the concept of “social abortion” which has been repeated as a mantra over the past few weeks.

But we do have compassion for women in crisis and we sure as hell want an end to this land of shame.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Farewell to the land of shame (Ciaran Tierney)

From top: (left to right) Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes campaign speaking in Galway; supporters of the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project, also in Galway; Ciaran Tierney

Ahead of the abortion referendum on Friday, May 25, 2018, Ciaran Tierney attended the launches of both the pro-choice and pro-life campaigns in Galway.

Ciaran writes:

Two meetings in the same city, but they felt like different worlds.

As campaigning begins in earnest ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum on May 25, the battle lines were drawn recently when both sides of the debate launched their respective campaigns at a series of regional events and rallies throughout the country.

Two very different events took place in Galway within 48 hours of each other which underlined the strong feelings in both camps and the intense battle expected to win the hearts and minds of undecided voters over the next seven weeks of canvassing.

Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and the legislation, known as the Eighth Amendment, which acknowledges the equal right to life of the mother and unborn child was passed by referendum after a bitter, divisive debate in 1983.

Most of those who will vote on the issue next month would not have been around or entitled to vote 35 years ago.

It was notable at the launch of the ‘Together For Yes’ campaign in Galway that many young women in their 20s and 30s were hugely engaged in a political issue for the first time.

Young women made up the majority of the 200-strong attendance at the Harbour Hotel in Galway city centre where a range of seekers called for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in order to legalise abortion in Ireland for the first time.

For Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes, the key issue is to show people that abortion already is a reality in Ireland, but that women are being forced to travel to the UK or Europe for terminations or take illegal pills in secret at home.

Although canvassing had only just begun, she said that those who were in favour of change were receiving a very positive reception at the doorsteps.

“A really important part of our campaign is making sure that people know that women are already travelling to the UK every day or taking abortion pills at home, in secret, but they feel they cannot go to a doctor. It’s already a reality here,” she said.

“Our experience being out leafleting or canvassing is that a lot of people have changed their minds on this issue. People have seen that the Eighth Amendment did not work. It did not stop people from having abortions overseas and it also had devastating consequences when we think of, for example, the death of Savita Halappanavar here in Galway.”

Six years ago, Savita’s death at University Hospital Galway (UHG) made headlines all across the world and galvanised activists in the West of Ireland to seek a change in the law.

The young Indian dentist is remembered at a candlelight vigil in the city on her anniversary every year.

Savita (31) died from blood poisoning at UHG after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy. When the distressed young woman requested a termination in the hospital, she was told: “This is a Catholic country.”

She had presented to the hospital with back pain in October 2012, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later. The resultant outpouring of anger revived Ireland’s abortion debate.

“It’s important for us to make sure that people come out to vote. Our feeling is that people want change. This is affecting thousands of women each year and people have changed their minds about this issue. They see that this is necessary. We are confident, but we are not complacent,” said Ms O’Connor.

“We can see that this is an issue which has really captured young women, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. It affects men, it affects couples. It’s about making sure there is proper health care here in Ireland and about making sure that people don’t have to go through the trauma of having to travel.”

She said that the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage via a popular vote, showed how much Irish society had changed over the past 35 years.

Ms O’Connor said that the issue had galvanised young Irish people abroad so much that many were planning to fly home just to vote on May 25.

Less than 48 hours after the Together for Yes launch, the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project came together for a rally to mobilise support for a ‘no’ vote at the Leisureland conference hall across the city in Salthill.

Bus-loads of supporters from throughout the West of Ireland attended the event. It was notable that there were far more elderly people and families with young children in attendance at the ‘Stand Up for Life’ event.

There was also far more merchandise on show in the vast hall, including graphic images, posters, and sweatshirts, calling on people to vote no on May 25.

During an extremely well-choreographed event, everyone was asked to move to the front of the hall to take a large group photo to mark the launch of the ‘Vote No’ campaign in the West of Ireland.

There is a widespread perception out there that there is far more financial backing available to those who oppose repealing the Eighth Amendment, including funds from the United States, and this was very much in evidence at Leisureland.

One of the organisers, Katie Ascough, defined next month’s referendum as an “absolutely defining moment” in Irish history.

“I want you to think about the thousands of lives that will be protected when we win this referendum,” she said, to a huge round of applause. “There won’t be any second chances to save the Eighth Amendment. We must stand united.”

Another speaker, Bernadette Goulding, claimed the Irish Government had “awakened a sleeping giant” by attempting to repeal the country’s abortion ban.

“Women don’t talk about abortions, it doesn’t lend itself to conversation,” said Ms Goulding, who runs Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for women who have experienced painful post-abortion emotions.

“Those who are pro-abortion don’t acknowledge the grief women experience after having an abortion,” she claimed. “No country is perfect but we all need to be proud of Ireland’s abortion laws.

“Those who are ‘pro-choice’ believe that ‘pro-life’ people only care about the baby, but ‘pro-life’ people care about the mother and the baby. Many people are alive today because of the Eighth Amendment.”

She claimed that the birth of a child “heals the effect of rape” and called on people to stop rape from happening rather than kill an unborn child.

One of the organisers of the launch, Eilis Mulroy of Galway for Life, said anti-abortion campaigners were incredibly encouraged by the huge number of people who were enthusiastic about protecting Ireland’s ban on abortion.

“We want to encourage people to get out and canvass, to tell their families, their friends, their neighbours about the preciousness of the Eighth Amendment, to explain to them how many lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment. There are people in this hall tonight who are alive because of the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

“Certainly, Ireland has changed since the 1980s, and there’s a lot of positive change, but not on this topic. I’m very encouraged that recent opinion polls have shown there is no majority in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. If you look at the numbers here tonight, you couldn’t but be confident about a ‘no’ vote on ballot day.”

Ms Mulroy said it was too easy to “stereotype” people, but it was clear from the huge gathering in the hall that a huge cross-section of Irish society was concerned by the prospect of having legalised abortion.

“I know many people who have been through an abortion and, for many of them, it wasn’t their own choice. It was the people around them. The challenge for us is to be the type of society that supports women,” she said.

“Our view is that people should get online and inform themselves. People should inform themselves of what’s involved in this legislation, unrestricted abortion, which is a horrendous proposal of ‘social’ abortion.”

When it was put to her that many people would have a difficulty with the term ‘social’ abortion, given the trauma involved, she said that every abortion was a tragedy and claimed that one in five pregnancies in Britain ends in a termination.

“Once you introduce a liberal or unrestricted regime, it becomes socially acceptable in the same way as the smoking ban. You can probably remember being able to smoke on an airplane, but now it’s socially not acceptable, because laws change behaviour. If you say that some people have less of a right to live than others, of course it’s going to make an impact,” she said.

“This proposal is for unrestricted abortion up to eight weeks. I think it’s really important that people are straight and that the facts are out there. We would encourage everyone to be respectful of each other. It’s important that the science and the truth about ‘abortion culture’ and how it harms babies needs to be articulated, and given fair treatment in the media debates.”

An intense period of campaigning is now underway to win over undecided voters ahead of the referendum on May 25.

Ultimately, the real-life testimonies of women across Ireland could be pivotal in terms of deciding the outcome of the vote.

Arlette Lyons of a group called Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) spoke of her personal trauma when she was forced to travel to England for an abortion after being diagnosed with a case of fatal foetal abnormality six years ago.

“We were expecting our third baby when we found out she had a fatal condition at 12 weeks,” said Ms Lyons. “I expected something to be done there and then, but I was told that there was nothing that could be done for me and my family here in Ireland.

“To be given the news that my baby was going to die and then to be told that the only options were to go to the UK or to go full term, I actually thought I was the only one this had ever happened to. The staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital were so understanding, they had seen Irish couples in this situation so many times.

“I travelled back home by boat, because I could not face the ‘plane. I did not want to fly after having my termination. I felt travelling by boat was less public. When I got back to Ireland, an anger just came over me. That’s why I just went public. It was unjust, what happened to me. Since then, I came together with other women to form TFMR and at least 400 families have been in contact over the past six years.

“The only way women and couples with fatal foetal abnormalities can receive the help they need is to repeal the Eighth Amendment. My story could be anybody’s story, even though I hope it does not happen to anyone else. We need to stop punishing tragedy.”

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Rallying the troops for a divisive campaign (Ciaran Tierney)