From top: Pro-choice protesters challenge a Pro Life demonstration on O’Connell Street in 2016; Dan Boyle

The starter’s pistol is at the ready. We are close to another bout of our real national sport of moral breast beating.

The 2018 event may yet be seen as definitive, although we have been here before particularly during the two Divorce referenda of 1986 and 1995.

Those campaigns began fuelled by a liberal giddiness, informed by favourable opinion polls, that proved themselves totally divorced from the reality of the eventual results.

We live in a changed Ireland than that which existed in 1983. That was the time of my first vote in a constitutional referendum. I had already voted in three general elections. I was only 21 years old.

It was a dubious privilege to have voted in that first referendum. Almost 35 years later, where after changing demographics more than half of our existing electorate did not participate in that vote, the time has long since passed to revisit the question.

It reminds me of that couplet from Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda‘, about the First World War, though applicable to any conflict situation.

“The young people ask what are they marching for?

And I ask myself the same question”

Along with most my friends I voted No in 1983. I couldn’t, and still can’t, grasp the concept of the equal value of life of a mother with developing life within her womb. It seemed to me, and to us, unbearably cruel that a woman who had been raped would be expected to carry a resultant pregnancy to full term.

Since then I’ve grown to despise the Eighth Amendment and what it represents.

It has been a piece of constitutional virtue signalling that has caused the State to turn its back on thousands upon thousands of Irish women, forced to flee to a neighbouring jurisdiction to deal with their crisis pregnancies. These women were often on their own and all lacked any type of appropriate support.

The lines are being drawn now for what must be a definitive battle in this war. As with previous battles the chief weapon will be fear.

For those on the Pro-Life/Anti-Choice side of the aisle, the fears seem to be of an extraneous bent, based on projecting a dystopian future of eugenics and euthanasia which beckons.

Those on the Pro-Choice/Anti-Life(?) side of the argument have not, either, been beyond pulling emotional heart strings.

The anniversaries of the Kerry Babies saga, as well as the horrendous death of Ann Lovett in Granard, have somewhat cynically been used to hammer home the choice angle.

That said the fear of what has definitely happened in the past will always supersede the fear of what might, but probably won’t occur in the future.

The role of a Referendum Commission will be vital in this campaign. To control emotional overspill, that risks the peeling of truth, a firm Commission needs to define the narrow confines in which the debate is being held.

It needs to be especially vigorous in ensuring that the arguments being made are truthful and are medically and scientifically based.

It would be nice to believe that the arguments about to be made, will be made in a calm and informed atmosphere. I wouldn’t be holding my breath though.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

67 thoughts on “And We’re Off

  1. Sam

    Moral breast beating is a good description of it. I’ve often asked the ‘pro lifers’ what they do to reduce the demand for abortion as opposed to simply signally their own supposed moral virtue and they are very short on answers. Make life easier and less of a stigma for the single mother or the rape victim? Not many have ever given me an answer on that. Many of them being fanatical supporters of the organisation chiefly responsible for the stigma and shame (and the imprisonment and enslavement of old) that drove many to fear being a ‘single mother’.
    I’ll continue to ask these chest thumping mobs whether or not do anything other than let it continue to be an exported problem. It’s what they should be asked every time, rather than let them pose as ‘Loving them both’.

    “and I ask myself the same question.”

    1. Amy Band

      WELL what they do to reduce demand for abortions is not have sex because who in their right mind would even look at one of them ginnets?

      1. Daisy Chainsaw

        Oh I saw it. It’s a stupid phrase not in common use in this debate and only occasionally used by the swivel eyed loon section of so called “pro life” so I question its inclusion.

    1. cian

      it’s fair enough, I suppose.
      If one side is “pro-choice” then the opposite is “anti-choice”.
      If one side is “pro-life”, then the other is?

      1. Daisy Chainsaw

        You think prioritising the life and health of a sentient woman or girl over the contents of her uterus isn’t prolife?

        1. cian

          I don’t think ‘anti-life’ it is a good phrase.
          I think we should prioritise the life and health of a sentient woman over the contents of her uterus.

          But if you consider that an abortion actually means ending of the life of a foetus, it’s not inaccurate.

  2. some old queen

    Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Ireland is also a country which until recently was largely dominated by the Catholic Church. As religions go, the Catholic Church is one of the most vocal opponents of abortion. These three facts are connected.

    But there is marked generational differences. Even those younger who practice are much less likely to follow teachings on things like contraception. Pro choice needs to temper their language and reach the middle ground, the 35-55 year old demographic, some of whom still need convincing.

          1. some old queen

            The context of this debate is framed by the country’s relationship with the Catholic Church. Anti choice will deny any influence but we are all shaped by it, how could we not be? They deny it because it is a vote loser so it is important to point it out.

            That may be obvious to you but you’d be surprised how many people are not aware of the impact that has had on us all. Otherwise, why so long for this referendum to even happen?

            Now do you actually have a point to make or are you just sniping for the sake of it?

          2. johnny

            The 2016 Census indicated that Ireland remains a strongly Roman Catholic country, with 78.3% of the population identifying as such. This represents a fall of 5.9% since the last census in 2011 and a fall of 13.3% over a 25 year period since the 1991 Census.

            In comparison to the 2011 census, the total number of Catholics fell by 132,200 (3.4%) from 3,861,300 to 3,729,100.

            There has also been a significant rise in the number with no religion which grew by 73.6% from 269,800 to 468,400 or nearly 1 person in 10 of the total Irish population.

            Around 12% of persons aged 30-34 have no religious adherence, the highest of any age band.

            The Muslim population has grown to 63,400, increase of 28.9%.

            The fastest growing religious belief was the Orthodox branch of Christianity, whose adherents in Ireland grew from 45,200 in 2011 to 65,200 in 2016, an increase of 37.5%.


          3. Cian

            johnny – you’re not wrong, but it would be interesting[1] to see the religious numbers for Irish-born Vs immigrants to see how much is it Irish losing their religion, and how much is it foreigners ‘watering down’ religion.

            [1] okay, *I* think it would be interesting

  3. ahjayzis

    “For those on the Pro-Life/Anti-Choice side of the aisle, the fears seem to be of an extraneous bent, based on projecting a dystopian future of eugenics and euthanasia which beckons.

    Those on the Pro-Choice/Anti-Life(?) side of the argument have not, either, been beyond pulling emotional heart strings.”

    These two things are not the same, you do know that right?

    Ursula Halligan talking about her rather poignant story was not the mirror version of David Quinn telling us children will be dragged kicking and screaming from their mother.

    Imaginary scary future stories to appeal to fear of the unknown are not the same tactic as real people telling their real stories to appeal to empathy and understanding.

    1. cian

      @ahjayzis – you are correct with your two examples, however there are others. The “Savita Halappanavar died because she wasn’t allowed an abortion” trope has been widely used by the pro-choice side – is this closed to the pro-live lies?

  4. edalicious

    It could be looked at as a ‘beautiful ideal’ vs ‘grubby reality’ argument. Pro-life orgs seem to mainly be arguing from a point of view that if certain circumstances were met, there would be no need for abortion, whereas pro choice orgs are arguing from the viewpoint that, given the current conditions, allowing abortion is required for best possible outcomes.

    A lot of the debate from the Life side is hypotheticals; if there was better sex-ed, if people used contraception, if people just gave the child up for adoption, if there were better supports for single parents and poor families then there would be no need for it so therefore we shouldn’t have it and we should try to do those other things instead. While it is a great aspiration, unfortunately not as much effort seems to be going into doing those other things.

    The Choice side is dealing more with the reality of the world we live in; women ARE having to travel, women ARE having to delay trying again while/after a non viable pregnancy, women ARE having illegal and potentially unsafe home abortions, women ARE not getting sufficient follow up care afterwards.

    I know I’d much rather we dealt with the realities of the situation as they currently stand but, much like the Pro-Life side, I would aspire to live in a country where abortion was unnecessary because we had sufficient educational, medical and social systems in place to deal with crisis pregnany, etc. But to stick your fingers in your ears and pretend to yourself that Ireland is the perfect country you want it to be, while completely ignoring the reality is pure madness.

    1. cian

      @edalicious – are you reading my mind?
      You have managed to capture (succinctly and with great eloquence) what I have been struggling to express. Bravo.

    2. some old queen

      I wonder if there wasn’t a class issue at play how it would pan out. Women who can afford to slip off to Britain do so but poorer women may not be able to.

      1. edalicious

        There’s a MASSIVE class issue at play and I’m sure it plays a large part in maintaining cycles of poverty.

        Poor child: lower education: higher chance of crisis pregnancy: can’t afford to take the boat: have to drop out of education: lower potential earnings: restart cycle

        A strict abortion regime disproportionately affects lower income women, without doubt.

        1. cian

          @edalicious if this were true would you not expect to see fewer “cycles of poverty” in the UK where they have had abortion available for two generations?

          1. edalicious

            I don’t know that you would necessarily. There’s probably way too many other contributory factors. I’d imagine you could look at at rates of women dropping out of education though and compare those.

        2. cian

          …but you literally just said lack of abortion plays a “large part in maintaining cycles of poverty.”

          so are you rolling back on that one? And think there are many contributory factors to the cycle of poverty – where (lack of) abortion is just one?

          1. edalicious

            Sorry, I didn’t mean that most of the people in Ireland that are poor are that way because of a lack of abortion but that in a particular instance, an unavailability of abortion could play a large part in preventing someone from breaking the cycle of poverty. I know that sounds a bit wishy washy as an answer and will totally hold my hands up to that!

            And anyway, you’d need to do a like for like comparison to see if abortion was making the difference between someone breaking a cycle and not, and Ireland and UK have way too many differences in terms of social welfare, healthcare, education, etc. to be able to call it a like for like comparison. You could, like I mentioned above, compare drop out rates of teens and young adults in education and possible glean some insight from doing that but I don’t think you’d be able to look at the broader system as a whole and make any sort of meaningful comparison. Even in Ireland, pre and post a successful 8th referendum, you’d have to wait generations to see if it had any effect in a broad sense.

      2. cian

        I don’t think it’s a class issue so much.

        If you can’t afford an abortion – you certainly can’t afford a baby.
        An abortion is cheaper than a year’s worth of disposable nappies.

          1. cian

            why be sarky? I’m pointing out a truism that (if you are in a crisis pregnancy) if you find it difficult to scratch together enough money for an abortion that you will find it tougher to find enough money to raise a baby.

    3. Nigel

      Abortion will never be unnecessary because there will always be women who do not want to go through with a pregnancy and that should be their right.

  5. Frilly Keane

    Ah now Dan
    you know as well as I do that there was no such thing as rape here until the late 80s……………. and even then ….

    all those girls were only given the recognition of rape victims years later when they found the strength to make a complaint

  6. newsjustin

    “That said the fear of what has definitely happened in the past will always supersede the fear of what might, but probably won’t occur in the future.”

    I don’t know if that’s true. Even forgetting about the abortion debate, I think humans tend to be more worried about what might happen in the future (No matter how unlikely) than things that happened in the past.

    1. cian

      I half agree:
      I think humans tend to be more worried about what might happen to themselves in the future (No matter how unlikely) than things that happened to themselves or othersin the past.

      Do I worry that the plane I (or a loved one) am on will crash? I probably worry more than the likelihood it will actually crash.
      Do I worry that some random plane will crash? Not at all.

  7. phil

    I feel sorry for any campaigners that would have Dan Boyle on their side. He destroyed far more lives than prolife or prochoice people ever have.

      1. ahjayzis

        Dan I supported the Green Party wholeheartedly up until you hoodwinked us all and forged, in secret, a MASTER ring, to control all the others.

        1. phil

          How quickly you forget the Bank Guarantee. The green party had an opportunity to save us from that disaster, but no, their own self interest, self importance, and incompetence, ensured that that could not happen. These guys were telling us that they would be the break of the corrupt FF, I was foolish enough to believe them, but it didnt take them long to get down in the mud with them.

          Im sure Dan reasoned , that his pension would keep him safe , and fupp the rest of us.

          Dan will you be applying for the ‘artist revenue exemption’ on sales of your book? Of course you will …

          1. ahjayzis

            I’m NOT defending the Green Party.

            But the Bank Guarantee was voted for in the Dail with 114 TDs for and just 22 against.

            The greens could have committee mass suicide on Leinster Lawn in protest and it’d still have been passed.

          2. phil

            @ahjayzis it seems to me you are .The greens could have collapsed the government and forced a general election , but by not doing so they ensured the guarantee would happen.

          3. Bonkers

            If I remember correctly around about the time of the bailout in the Dail the main item the Greens were pushing was for a ban on stag hunting. John Gormley was re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when he should have been doing the nation some service and getting FF out of power. Instead what we ended up with was Brian Cowen going around like a punched drunk well beyond his time.

          4. cian

            We don’t know what would have happened if people did things differently.

            However, we were in the middle of a financial crisis. 114 TDs voted for the guarantee. If the greens had tried to bring down the government, in my mind, it is most likely that the guarantee vote would have happened anyway (and passed) – there was huge time pressure to get it voted on straight away. The Ceann Comhairle would have ensured that the ‘vote of no confidence’ in the government happened after the guarantee vote.

            The only difference is that the Greens would have triggered an early election and maybe would not have been wiped out.

            But it’s all a big “what-if”.

          5. Dan Boyle

            The Bank Guarantee that Sinn Féin voted for is it? You do realise that banking debt existed separately to the guarantee. That debt forgiveness wasn’t part of the guarantee. I don’t believe you know for a second what the bank guarantee was or how it worked. It seems to be something you parrot because you’ve been led to believe it was a bad thing.

          6. Nigel

            Can you just imagine how thrilled the country would have been if a general election was forced through in the middle of the financial crisis?

          7. phil

            Dan you guys in government conveniently ‘forgot’ that Irish depositors were guaranteed up to 130k by the ecb, yes sure it would have been a tough few months , scary, but most people in this country didnt have more than 130k in the bank, I understand well enough what was going on to know who you were bailing out .

            Sinn Féin , Im getting really bored of that excuse , who cares what Sinn Féin did or didnt do.

            Your Pension, I believe is ballpark €20k a year , for how many years work ? Plenty of people would be happy with that , I know I would as someone who has to work while suffering with a chronic illness, Ill swap you if you like…

            Come to think of it , if I had your stipend, I might have the time to write my book.

            Get back to me when and if you grow up …

  8. Dan Boyle

    Stag Hunting Bill was a year after the Guarantee. It never had the type of priority with Greens you think it had. The economy always had precedence.

    1. phil

      And what finally was the Greens reason for pulling out of government? Concern about FF’s leadership LOL, I think its have more to do with passing the 2 1/2 year threshold .

      1. Dan Boyle

        It’s a two year threshold. We left after three and a half years because government became unsustainable. You’re not very good at this are you?

        1. nellyb

          what are you saying? we must have precise knowledge of political process to talk to you, while absence of such gives you license to mock us?
          do you understand that your reasoning gives tech support folks license to mock you or hang up on you, because you don’t know how your modem works? or worse, a GP turns you away because ‘tummy ache’ is not a correct medical description for your condition?

  9. Dan Boyle

    I get more mocked here than I do the mocking. I don’t consider the trite repetition of slogans to be talking points. If people present ‘facts’ to suit their prejudice, I’m not going to take them seriously. I don’t have to cater to other people’s preciousnesss.

    1. phil

      Dan, You really don’t understand the nature of the suffering you have caused people in this country, and yes I get it it wasn’t all you , but FF didn’t surprise us, they behaved like they always did, but what you don’t get is people like me were very impressed with Trevor Sargent, an honorable man, a real green. Back in the day, for some stupid reason I believed that the other greens must be like Trevor , why would Trevor surround himself with mediocrity. How wrong I was, immediately after the 2007 election we started to see who ye really were, Trevor if I remember correctly promised those of us who would vote for his party, could be assured that they wouldn’t get down in the gutter with FF. It became very clear to me anyway, that you and the other 2 boys couldn’t wait to push Trevor out , and get your snouts into the trough.

      Iv’e just realized that by voting for the Green party in 2007 , I’m also partially responsible , I feel sick now… There is no mechanism in this country to get justice for what you guys did, so all I can really do is to keep peacefully reminding people, until they are sick of it, what you guys did to us.

      1. Dan Boyle

        Spare me another mangled version of history. Trevor (a good friend of mine by the way) decided to resign as party leader. He wasn’t pushed. He continued to serve in government. There is no Machiavellianism in the Greens. It was our members who decided to enter government (84%). You have a perverted sense of what level of power we had and what level of responsibilities we hold. I’m not going to be lectured by anyone who can’t even get basics facts right.

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