Stop The Campaign I Want To Get Off


From top: Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath (left) has said he does not support Party leader Micheál Martin (right) on the removal of the Eighth Amendment with access to abortion up to 12 weeks; Derek Mooney

Back in late 2014 I was invited to assist the nascent Marriage Equality campaign with its preparations. They asked me to help draft a campaign playbook, or ‘campaign bible’ as it was labelled by some, along the lines of the one I had put together for the successful 2013 Seanad referendum.

As part of my groundwork I tried to get some insights into the mindset of No voters. To this end I went for a few beers and a chat with an old political colleague who I knew to be quite socially conservative.

I dragged the conversation slowly and steadily around to the topic of gay marriage and prepared myself for the explosion. None came.

Have you decided how you will vote?”, I asked

Not sure, yet” came the reply.

I was astounded that he was not a definite No, so I pushed a bit further.

Are you saying that you might even vote yes”, I enquired.

Yes” he said. “This is not like abortion. I am not comfortable with gay marriage, but it doesn’t hurt me and at the end of the day this isn’t about life or death… abortion is.”

That was the moment when I realised that the marriage equality referendum was very winnable. It is also the conversation that echoed in my mind in the weeks after the marriage equality result when some sought to use that big win as a predictor of any future abortion referendum.

In that one line my friend summed up the outlook of many of those opposed to repealing the 8th Amendment. They sincerely and passionately believe this is about the protection of life.

It is black and white to them. It is not about some zealotry or wanton disregard for the rights of women, it is about a deep-seated belief, not necessarily religious, that this is about taking a life.

I am not arguing that they are right, neither I am defending the campaign material the No Repeal side has produced, I am merely reminding the Repeal the 8th campaign that many who will vote No will be acting sincerely.

I am also suggesting that the Repeal campaign recognise that, something I have not discerned from much of their public commentary, so far.

To this end I offer a paraphrasing of the cautionary note I included at the start of the marriage equality campaign playbook/bible:

This campaign is not about being proven right or correcting the wrongs of the past, it is about getting 50% +1 of those who turn out to Vote YES.

Do not criticise voters for their deeply held views. These views should be respected. Avoid labelling opponents, and dismissing sincerely held beliefs, as ‘conservative’, ‘backward’ etc.,

…but be firm in identifying where the other side is scaremongering, raising baseless fears and deliberately misleading and confusing voters.

Messages that fail and are counterproductive:

Voting No will embarrass us internationally

We need to drag Ireland into the 21st century

This will be a liberal victory over conservatism

I offer this to the repeal side not because I am implacably on their side but because much of their messaging so far has seemed directed at those who have already decided to vote to repeal. The same is true for the No side, some of whose self-ordained leaders have already decided to go with the old “scorched earth” approach.

As it stands, both sides appear more focused on addressing their own partisans rather than persuading the cohort of “undecided” or “unwilling to say how they’ll vote” – which a recent poll put together at 20%.

While it may seem like a winning strategy on paper for the repeal side right now, they ignore the ‘differential turnout’ factor at their peril. As the good folks in Ireland Thinks observed in the analysis of their December 2017 poll for the Daily Mail on this question:

In any referendum campaign it is not just which side people prefer but whether they actually turn out and vote that is important… It is often ‘who wants it more’ that determines who is more likely to turn out and vote.

Perhaps it was the prospect of a shrill and deeply entrenched campaign that helped bring the calm and reasoned Dáil statement of the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, last week, into focus.

In my view it was the first major input into the debate that (a). sought to persuading the undecided middle ground and (b). didn’t attempt to portray the other side as the devil incarnate.

Though many pundits seemed surprised by its contents, it was clear he was heading that way, indeed he flagged it himself in an interview (from 11m35s) on Radio Kerry a few days before.

There he also readily accepted that the majority of his TDs were opposed to the Oireachtas Committee recommendations – perhaps by a margin of 4:1 – so why are some Fianna Fáil activists acting so shocked?

Fianna Fáil adopted the policy of allowing a conscience votes back in 2013 when the Protection of Human Life Bill was being discussed. The idea that you can allow some a conscience vote but then bind the leadership according a members’ vote is an affront to the concept of conscience, democracy and leadership.

Party membership carries many rights and privileges but replacing you and your views for the electorate at large is not one of them. Neither 50,000 nor 500,000 self-selecting members of party X or Y are representative of anyone except themselves. It is one of the mistakes that Momentum has made in its relationship with the UK Labour Party and there is no reason to go that road here.

Members earn the right to be listened to and to have a say in candidate selection and party organisation by virtue of their activism, but that very activism, knocking on doors and meeting the wider public, reminds them that there is a diversity of views out there and that political parties that succeed are the ones who listen to that diversity and reflect it in their policies. Good leaders realise that. Great ones act on it.

Hopefully Martin’s intervention – and the measured response yesterday from Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath on Sean O’Rourke’s show on RTÉ Radio 1 arguing the other side – is an indication that tone and pitch of the campaign debate is set to rise, but I will not get my hopes up.

And even if it does, bear in mind that this week sees the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe Vs Wade case where US Supreme Court ruled abortion legal. 45 years later it is still a defining and divisive issue in American politics. Win, lose or draw, this debate is not likely to go away for very long.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

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87 thoughts on “Stop The Campaign I Want To Get Off

  1. Joe Small

    Good article. I’ll be voting to repeal but I have many, many relatives and friends that I’m confident will vote against. Abortion as some sort of human right does not make any sense to a large cohort in this country. I’m not sure that cohort is 50% of the voting population. We’ll see.

    I have a less impressed view of Martin’s actions. If Fianna Fáil was to be back in power they need to improve hugely in Dublin and shifting towards the Eamonn O’Cuiv worldview isn’t going to help that. This is a political move by the leader of FF.

    1. Anomanomanom

      Abortion is not a human right and shouldn’t be talked about as if it is. But I’ll be voting to repeal.

      1. Nigel

        I think you can only dismiss abortion as a human right if you completely wipe the X case from your memory.

    2. Harry Molloy

      It’s easy to be cynical, maybe people could be happy that an older end of middle aged supposedly conservative guy changed his mind and will influence others to do so?

      This is what the pro choice campaign is supposed to do so why not be happy?

      It’s typical of the poo you see around here that it doesn’t matter what was said, but who said it.

      1. Bodger

        Harry, Micheál Martin was in cabinet (Minister for Health and Children) when the furtive indemnity deal with the religious was struck. This capped church liability for child abuse compensation at €128 million.

        Fianna Fáil said there would be 2,000 claimants. There has been more than 16,000. The bill is estimated at more than €1.5 billion. If that isn’t cynical enough for you, read Mr Martin explaining that deal today:

        1. Brother Barnabas

          yes, martin was in cabinet at the time but as your own linked article states: “The agreement was made by [Michael] Woods…and cabinet approval was never sought. It was also never run past the Attorney General of the day.”

          (i don’t understand why the legality of this agreement has never been challenged… or was it?)

  2. Yellow Cheese Dog

    Abortion is the deliberate destruction of a human life.

    Repeal-ers deny this reality in favour of their nebulous concepts of ‘Choice’ and ‘Bodily Autonomy’.

    Yet they simultaneously deny ‘choice’ and ‘bodily autonomy’ to the human life destroyed in utero.

    It is the ultimate liberal hypocrisy.

    “All those in favour of abortion have already been born”.

    1. Cian

      It depends on your definition of “human life”.
      Many would argue that a 2-day-old clump of cells isn’t human. Granted it has the potential to become a human, but isn’t, at that stage, human.

      The attributes that will make it human will grow through the next 9 months (and indeed in the first few years after birth).

        1. Rob_G

          Well, a few skin cells from my elbow, although they come from a human being, wouldn’t constitute a human being either, in my book.

          1. Yellow Cheese Dog

            Deliberate cognitive dissonance is deliberate.

            Suppose we destroyed all your cells would you be happy about that?

            The only way repeal-ers can argue for abortion is to deny the truth of things.

            “All those in favour of abortion have already been born”.

          2. Rob_G

            “All those in favour of abortion have already been born”.

            Perhaps we should also canvass ejaculated semen and menstruated eggs, just to make sure that all affected stakeholders have their opinion heard(?)

          3. Yellow Cheese Dog

            Deliberate cognitive dissonance is still deliberate.

            The only way repeal-ers can argue for abortion is to deny the truth of things.

          4. Frilly Keane

            here Yellow Cheeze

            would you speak up for the cells from my elbow too
            and even the hard stuff
            on me heels

          5. Yellow Cheese Dog

            Deliberate cognitive dissonance is still deliberate.

            The only way repeal-ers can argue for abortion is to deny the truth of things.

            Abortion destroys a human life.

          6. Nigel

            This simply can’t be true. No-one coming back from having an abortion in London is ever arrested from murder. No-one is calling for anyone coming back from having an abortion in London to be arrested for murder. Therefore they do not think it’s the taking of human life. Therefore you are employing extremist rhetoric you do not truly believe.

  3. newsjustin

    Sensible words.

    As a pro-life person, I can understand the arguments that pro-choice people make. Some I agree with and some I don’t. But neither are enough to persuade me that abortion is ok.

    I think SOME pro-choice people believe that pro-life views can only stem from ignorance, hatred of women and spite. This is nonsense. The reverse is also true, SOME pro-life people convince themselves that pro-choice people have the worst possible motives also.

    Having said that, I get frustrated by the talk of a “middle ground”. A fantasy middle ground where we protect the right of life of the unborn, but also allow some abortions too.

    1. TheRealJane

      I would find this point of view more convincing if:

      1. Pro life people were campaigning for better healthcare for women;
      2. They did not associate with every misogynistic argument going;
      3. They were prepared to jettison the support of the authors and beneficiaries of magdelan laundries;
      4. They were able to explain what good the 8th amendment does to prevent abortion because it appears that the main effect of the 8th has been horrendous consequences for women.

      I have not seen a single pro 8th person engage with any of these points in anything approaching a meaningful way and so perhaps you’ll forgive me when I reject the idea that there’s a good faith argument here.

      Women are being abused, denied the rights over their healthcare normally allowed to competent adults and treated like a meaningless detail in all this to achieve absolutely nothing. That’s the worst if it – listening to the sanctimonious sentimentality about preserving foetuses while knowingly, callously subjecting women to some of the grosses abuses imaginable. Keeping a dead woman on life support, forced feeding and c sections – utterly dystopian lack of respect for the humanity of women.

      I do not see how anyone can defend it.

      1. newsjustin

        Points 1 and 2 here are just wild generalisations, examples of the behaviour that the author is pointing out i.e. some pro choice people believing that pro life people have the worst possible motives.

        Point 3 is interesting but irrelevant to the real debate. Much like Amnesty and their Soros money is irrelevant to the actual debate.

        Point 4 – “what good the 8th amendment does to prevent abortion” Someone presented figures comparing Irish abortions (abroad) and UK abortions. I honestly forget the exact figures but I think the Irish figure was approx 1/4 or 1/5 of the UK rate. This results in real children being born to real mother’s who, in a different jurisdiction, would have been aborted. At least part of that is due to the 8th amendment.

        1. nellyb

          Imagine your 50+ mother got pregnant during menopause, while being ridden by hypertension and rheumatoid.
          What are you going to say and do to your mother? Will you rob her of abortifact pills? Or steal her passport? Will you go to Gardai if she did take them pills? If you won’t – then you’re just another Mullen style hypocrite in this matter.
          You never mentioned amending 08th with criminal responsibility for males, who engages in procreative activities without desire to procreate. Surely it takes a male to procreate, no? :-)
          Until pro-life ACTIVELY seek criminal prosecutions, pro-life can be dismissed like a fart in a lift – smelly air. And why is it pro-life seek not seeking prosecutions? They say women are duped victims, mentally deficient to understand everything involved. How the hell are women allowed in IT? In air traffic control rooms?
          Even more horrendous side of pro-life is the notion of parenthood as punishment. Yes, having child as a punishment. I don’t know how one can be OK with that, but I know that this thinking filled a septic tank with 700 young children.
          Disclaimer: I have a deep respect for people who will carry to term regardless, not in fear of criminal prosecution, but because of beliefs. They don’t need the 08th. And I don’t understand why you do.

  4. some old queen

    To put it mildly, FF were the least enthusiastic campaigners of equal marriage. Therefore, they will be the most likely to be anti abortion. The No crowd on Equal marriage were quite happy to force their views on others and they did not deserve respect for that. This is no different because the idea that the removal of a few cells as taking life is a religious, not a scientific view.

    1. newsjustin

      “The No crowd on Equal marriage were quite happy to force their views on others…”

      They were asked to vote in a referendum. Same as the “Yes crowd”.

      “….the idea that the removal of a few cells as taking life is a religious, not a scientific view.”

      That’s clearly wrong.

      1. some old queen

        It was a vote that would have denied people the right to marry. They WERE focing thier views on others, what else could they be doing?

        ‘First do no harm’ swear doctors so if there was the slightest scientific evidence of life at that stage, none would be advocating for a yes. Everyone is entitled but when one section of people FORCES that view onto another, they should be called out on it.

        1. newsjustin

          So by your logic, all laws should be removed as they are forcing people to do what they otherwise might not?

          1. some old queen

            Nope not at all. But let’s be clear, when some clown decided that forcing his or her opinion meant more than my right to get married, I am definitely not going to respect them for it.

            IMO there one group in the marriage referendum who were completely underestimated. Those who did not agree but still voted yes. Why? Out of common decency and this is no different.

          2. newsjustin

            We can agree to differ on the SSM vote, but I would stress that SSM is a drastically different kettle of fish than abortion. The author covers that point in his piece.

      2. Daisy Chainsaw

        The anti marriage equality campaigners made it about children and the right to 2 opposite sex parents. Where are the marauding gangs of gay couples stealing babies from the breasts of mothers that we were promised?

        1. newsjustin

          No one ever said that, obviously. This is all pure fantasy…which is harder to do in retrospect, so we’ll done.

  5. MayJay

    “In my view it [Martin’s statement] was the first major input into the debate that (a). sought to persuading the undecided middle ground and (b). didn’t attempt to portray the other side as the devil incarnate.”

    Other than the months of steady, respectful (by most) contributions to the Oireachtas committee? Statements by members of the Oireachtas committee itself? Years of contributions to the debate by campaigns including TFMR? No? Michael Martin is the first. Gotcha.

    I mean, his statement came as a result of listening to these contributions. He said as much himself.

    Also. Certainly, I agree that people should be free to express deeply held views and I always strive to be respectful to the people expressing them. But the *view* itself does not earn respect simply because it is deeply held. If, in this case and in the marriage equality debate, the deeply held view seeks to restrict peoples’ human rights then I can’t respect that.

  6. Zaccone

    I’m male, and would never describe myself as remotely feminist. But sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to limit the vote on any abortion referendum to women between the ages of roughly 15 and 50 (post puberty and pre-menopause – ie those who could potentially get an abortion).

    The spectacle of hordes of men in their 60s offering their views on an issue that has likely never directly affected them, and never can, always boggles my mind.

    1. rotide

      Should we only allow people convicted of a crime to vote on the death penalty?

      That is the way pro life people see it.

      1. Nigel

        Perhaps it’s just best to accept that for the large part of Irish history such decisions have been made for women by men more informed by misogyny, ignorance and religious doctrine than concern for women’s health, and this is merely an expression of frustration that we are, essentially, still tidying up the mess left over by that state of affairs. It’s hardly a realistic proposal, after all, and to get outraged at it when the opposite was the norm for so long seems to miss the point.

        1. rotide

          No outrage here.

          Although I’m a little surprised that you and others don’t seem to have a problem with the fallacy of thinking that because it’s wrong that only one set of people made decisions, another set of people making the decisions is right.

          1. Nigel

            It’s an expression of frustration. Men have had the chief say in these things for centuries. Women only relatively recently.

      2. Zaccone

        Only people who could potentially be sentenced to death should be allowed vote on it, yes.

        To expand on your comparison would be to have a whole class of citizens of a state who cannot biologically be subjected to the death penalty, but who get to vote on imposing it on the rest of the country.

    2. newsjustin

      Ah Zaccone, come on.

      Issues around the right to life affect everyone, men and women.

      And even more directly, the Constitution belongs to all of us, men and women.

      1. Zaccone

        How does an 18 year old girl having the ability to get an abortion or not effect a 70 year old man who lives on the opposite end of the country to her exactly?

        For one of those two parties its a life changing decision. For the other its a vague theoretical idea that will never bother them directly.

        1. newsjustin

          And someone being shot in Aleppo or Naples is likewise just a vague theoretical idea. No skin off my nose, brother. Work away! It won’t affect me.

          1. Zaccone

            So you think the Irish government, which does not have any legal powers or interests in Aleppo, should be able to enact laws that the people living in Aleppo will then have to abide by?

            That stance rather neatly proves my point about the illegitimacy of certain groups dictating the behaviour of others in matters of no direct relevance to them.

          2. newsjustin

            It doesnt.

            My point is, it’s ok for humans to care about other humans being killed. Geography doesn’t matter.

  7. rotide

    Great Article, it should be copied to the masthead for the coming months. Already theres a few replies here from people that didn’t fully understand what you were saying.

  8. Gerry

    It’s a campaign to you but it’s related life for the women affected. There’d be a lot fewer men on the pro-life side if they could get pregnant themselves. Mysogyny is a factor.

    1. Darthra

      I think, with utmost respect to your point of view, that the word ‘misogyny’ here is counter-productive in any debate of this nature.
      To be called a misogynist is hugely insulting to lots of people, a horrible slur. Most men/women who adopt what you would call misogynist viewpoints and positions certainly don’t consciously hate women, and suggesting they do only entrenches them deeper in their ideological silos.
      Language is key in understanding and reconciling two vastly different viewpoints. Perhaps saying that someone might have a gap in their knowledge and understanding of women’s reproductive rights and issues would prevent the argument from shutting down as quickly as it might when what is perceived as a slur is thrown. I say this with no iron in the fire. It’s just an observation.

  9. Harry Molloy

    Excellent article and reflects how a lot of people feel. I will be voting repeal but I won’t be dancing in the streets because I think this liberates women, I just think it is a lesser evil than bringing an unwanted child into the world.
    The pro choice side are very naive if the presume anyone on tho fence is a religious conservative or hates women, and that might end up hurting them.
    People are fickle and can react negatively when you put their back up and call them x, y or z.

    Donal Lynch had an excellent article in the Sunday indo a while back :

        1. Daisy Chainsaw

          If I got pregnant tomorrow, unless it was by force, I’d have a baby. If there was a diagnosis of disability, I’d have a baby. If there was a diagnosis of FFA, I honestly don’t know what I’d do. Just because I believe a woman or girl should have access to abortion in this country, rather than the hypocritical export of it, doesn’t mean it’s something I’d choose for myself.

  10. TheRealJane

    Further, I’d like to see fewer references to “shrillness”, Derek, if it’s all the same to you. You may not like the timbre of women’s voices, but you shouldn’t seem to dismiss us talking about women’s health concerns because of it.

    1. rotide

      Are you actually incapable of comprehending context or does your knee just jerk up into your own face whenever you detect the word ‘shrill’ being used?

      There is no sign of the word being applied to women in the above piece. It’s talking about 2 entire campaigns. Your reaction to it says more about you than anything else.

  11. Daisy Chainsaw

    If this amendment fails. the status quo remains – Thousands of women risking 14 years in prison to self medicate with abortion pills bought online and thousands more having their Irish abortions in England. If it was about “deeply held beliefs” and not hypocritical NIMBYism, anti abortion groups would be campaigning for a repeal of the 13th amendment.

    1. Donal

      Why don’t they want a re-run of the 13th referendum? Surely it is a stain on their consciences that this baby and mammy protecting country doesn’t do pregnancy tests on all women at all ports and airports and either A) stop pregnant women from departing, or B) re-test when they arrive home and arrest and prosecute if an abortion was deemed to have been procured while abroad.
      Abortions happen every day and they don’t give a damn, they just pretend to so that they can continue to believe that their mindset is the one that exercises control over women within this state.

  12. Leopold Gloom

    Was the Seanad referendum succesful? Nothing changed, all is the same, there has been no reform.
    I guess success for FF, FG etc, is don’t rock the boat, keep your hands in the till , don’t get caught

  13. Willie Banjo

    “Back in late 2014 I was invited to assist the nascent Marriage Equality campaign…” there seems to have been more people now involved with the winning marriage equality campaign than were in the GPO in 1916.

  14. Frilly Keane

    Nothing to do with Jim O’Callaghan then

    btw hope you remember Neither 50,000 nor 500,000 self-selecting members of party X or Y are representative of anyone except themselves. the next time you’re stitching it inta Marylou etc

    in the meantime, any news from John O’Donoghue lately…………

  15. Jimmey_russell

    there’s nothing “sincere” about fascism, “playing nice” didnt get the Yes vote for the marriage referendum and it wont do it here, if you’re campaigning for a No vote you’re fair game, pure and simple.

    1. Andrew

      As you’re throwing around the term fascist; could you clarify? Who are the fascists in this scenario?

        1. Andrew

          I am pro choice and will be voting that way. However I don’t regard people with a different point of view to me as fascists.

        2. newsjustin

          I dunno. It seems like removing the right to life of some humans and selecting the weakest for extermination are things fascists would do.

  16. some old queen

    A distinction between the last referendum and this one is bizarre.

    Last time we were told that people who voted no were not homophobic and that we should respect their right to have such an ‘opinion’. They were homophobic enough to say my ‘opinion’ is worth more than your civil rights.

    A bunch of cells is not a life; otherwise, vitro fertilization would still be illegal.

    Spin it all you want Derek but this is real people in real situations and I genuinely don’t think activists should be softening their cough. Having an ‘opinion’ is very different to forcing it onto others. There will be no civil war over abortion being made legal in Ireland. It is going to happen and with a lot less friction than predicted.

    1. newsjustin

      It won’t.

      An 11 week foetus with legs, arms, a beating heart and unique genetics is not “a bunch of cells”. Nor is it the same as two people wanting to enter into a civil marriage.

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