I feel so very let down and disappointed by both the national and international response to what we now recognise as the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War.
Of course, I am talking about the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. As a society, we seem to have managed to distance ourselves emotionally from the reality of it. It is not happening on our doorstep – therefore it is difficult for us to truly register in our minds the terrible conditions these refugees are forced to endure. Millions are fleeing terrible violence, bombing, ethnic cleansing, persecution and a life of fear and yet we feel that we have the right to turn our backs on them because “we have enough problems to deal with ourselves”.
This year represents an important moment in the history of this State – we are celebrating and remembering those who struggled for our freedom and our rights. However, I do not feel like celebrating. How can I celebrate when we are consistently refusing to respect the human rights and dignity of millions of people who need our help? Why should I be proud of a nation that is only accepting a pitiful number out of the millions that are trying to escape a war-torn country? Our rights and freedoms mean very little to me if it means ignoring those of others. How is the Irish struggle for freedom from religious and political oppression any different from the Syrian people’s struggle?
Of course, it is unfortunately not possible for Ireland to accept every single refugee; but Ireland can most certainly afford to accept many more than the paltry 4,000 it has agreed upon, especially given that the conflict in Syria has generated over 4.5 million refugees so far. I understand that many in this country are fearful for many reasons – fearful that an influx of refugees will severely stretch our resources, fearful of loss of Irish identity/values, and fearful of the unknown. Many will argue that we should help our own homeless and suffering people first but in my mind it is not and never will be a question of having to choose – it is not a matter of pitching one population’s needs against another’s. We should not feel forced to choose, we can help both. For me, it is fundamentally an issue of inequality – if we address problems of inequality in our society, it will go a long way towards helping both our own population as well as the lives of any refugees we accept. Think about how much revenue Ireland could generate if our government properly enforced its tax laws with regard to multinationals?
Therefore, I ask you to bear these issues in mind when you cast your votes in the upcoming election and I urge you all to act and do something, anything, to help these suffering people – write letters to local politicians, donate to charity, raise awareness or volunteer – act now and help end this humanitarian crisis and protect these people’s human rights!
Lydia Howard Chevalier,
NUI Galway student.
In the run up to the General Election, the issue of repealing the Eighth Amendment has received extensive coverage. Certain candidates have come out in favour of holding a referendum during the next government, giving the opportunity to women of childbearing age today to vote on the issue for the first time, while other candidates have called for its maintenance, leaving Ireland with punitive legislation which criminalises women and is in violation of its international human rights obligations
Clearly, abortion is still a stigmatised topic that elicits vocal public opinions from a broad spectrum. However, Galway Pro-Choice and many others (81% favour liberalisation of abortion laws – IPSOS/MRBI 2014) believe that the removal of the Eighth Amendment is the first step towards making Ireland a country that is more progressive and inclusive, one that trusts women and their doctors to make the choices that are right for them.
Below are some of the most important reasons on why the 8th Amendment should be removed:
Our laws do not respect women’s human rights – The right to health is violated and will continue to be with the maintenance of the 8th Amendment. Both the United Nations and the World Health Organisation list abortion as a basic and essential medical treatment that should be provided by all state health systems.
A woman should be able to access an abortion if she chooses to do so – Women need abortions for various reasons; a risk to her life or health, economic reasons, personal choice, contraception failure, fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest. Many women and families have described how the already traumatic experience of a wanted pregnancy diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities was compounded by their country abandoning them and making them feel like criminals.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 is so restrictive even women who should be able to access abortion in Ireland cannot – Unlike many other abortion laws, Ireland’s legislation criminalises women as well as their doctors who could face a prison sentence of 14 years. Criminalisation doesn’t reduce abortions – it reduces safe abortions and makes access more difficult to those who cannot afford it or are unable to travel.
Irish women still have abortions – Over 160,000 women have left Ireland to access abortion since 1980. Many women cannot travel for an abortion because of their immigration status, their health, or due to financial constraints. While over 90% of abortions take place in the first trimester, due to restrictive laws, women in Ireland are forced to have later terminations than are necessary.
The 8th Amendment not only impacts the access to free, safe and legal abortion, but it also denies women’s choices in their maternity care – It removes women’s right to ‘informed consent and informed refusal’ for procedures, meaning pregnant women have fewer rights than everyone else. This makes Ireland an unsafe place to be pregnant.
Rather than engage in heated, inflammatory debates with individuals, or succumb to “opening the floodgates” arguments (predicted during debates on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, but which never actually occurred), Galway-Pro Choice urges pro-choice voters to make their voices heard, and for candidates and politicians to really listen. It is time for Ireland to join the 21st century and stop ignoring the 12 women who leave Ireland every day seeking medical treatment they should be able to access in Ireland. Join us in saying “Our bodies, our choice, our vote!”