As an Irish national, albeit one that has lived most of his life away from the mother land, I have a strong sense of nationality. I’m Irish not British, and I always will be. But sometimes my home country makes me wonder whether it is the modern outward looking place I think it to be.
You see abortion is illegal in Ireland.
In 1968 when the UK government passed the abortion bill, a steady stream of young Irish ladies found the only options open to them if they found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy was to:
- Proceed with the pregnancy and hand in the baby for adoption.
- Take the risk of a back street abortion at home.
- Take the boat across to the UK mainland and have a legal abortion.
None of these were particularly useful, but the fact that some chose to come to the UK mainland seemed weird. Surely it would be easier to hop across the border to Northern Ireland and have the abortion there.
Well it would if abortion was legal there. It isn’t.
Strange as it may seem, the UK’s abortion law doesn’t apply to the six counties. Despite some progress being made on the issue in recent years, pregnant ladies wanting an abortion face the same issues regardless of which one of the 32 counties they come from.
The Irish government has promised a referendum on changing the countries constitution, because it prevents abortion except in exceptional circumstances. If the referendum happens, it promises to be a divisive campaign. On the one hand the religious and conservative groups, and on the other the younger, more liberal population.
In the north, things haven’t been helped by the demise of the Northern Ireland Executive. It hasn’t met for a year since the power sharing coalition collapsed after Martin McGuinness’s resignation. In June 2017 the UK government stepped into the debate and announced that women from Northern Ireland could receive abortions in England and Wales.
That’s a positive step, but it doesn’t go far enough.
There are some horrific documented stories of how Irish women have suffered. Amnesty International has documented some of them.
It is time for such practices to stop. You can help Amnesty International by taking action on their website.
I’m proud that the country of my birth has taken some big human rights steps in recent years. As of 2015 gay marriage is legal. It is sometimes hard for non-Irish people to understand what a massive step that was. The Catholic hierarchy may not have the same strangle hold on debate that it once had, but it still wields a lot of influence in Irish society.
If the referendum on abortion follows suit, I strongly suspect the result will be a constitutional change. That just leaves the north to sort its act out. If they can’t, and it doesn’t look likely that they’ll be in a position too any time soon, it is the UK government’s responsibility to step in and do the right thing.