Where next for newly energised Mná na hÉireann?


One of the slogans adorning pro-repeal t shirts before the referendum was ‘In Awe of Mná’, and following the astonishing result of Friday’s referendum on the 8th amendment, it’s clear that slogan was prescient.

Yes campaigners at the count in Cork city. Photo: Fiona Corcoran

We are all in awe of mná.

Politicians, particularly, should be in awe of mná, because this campaign has awakened a sleeping giant, and from what I am seeing and hearing, it’s not going to go away.

After a resoundingly successful campaign, the Yes campaigners are not prepared to stop. They have got the result they sought, but now that they’ve realised change is possible, it feels like the sky’s the limit.

During the campaign they were told by – mostly – grey older men that they were naive, they were too soft, they weren’t soft enough, they were strident, demanding, they didn’t understand how politics or campaigning or Ireland worked.

But, after a huge turnout and an astounding margin, perhaps, after all, it’s the grey older men who don’t understand how Ireland works.

The Mattie McGraths, the Healy-Raes, even the less old and grey Michael McGraths of the world… perhaps it’s they who are out of step. Perhaps they haven’t realised that women are talking, and we are all listening, perhaps for the first time.

Maybe they haven’t realised that the safe option of ‘do nothing’ is not what we want any more. Maybe we have had enough of ‘do nothing’, and now that women of all ages have realised that protest, and activism and talking, something most of us do very well, can change things…

Maybe this is only a beginning.

Of course, the battle over abortion rights is not over. One TD – Carol Nolan of Sinn Fein – has already said she will not vote for the new law, despite the wishes of her constituents, although most TDs are willing to respect the will of the people.

Many in the ‘No’ campaign are girding their loins now for court challenges to any new legislation. Actually implementing new legislation may be a challenge, with many medical professionals unwilling to provide abortion services. And, let’s not forget of course, most of our hospitals are still under Church control in some shape or form. But the Yes campaigners are well aware of this.

All over social media, in pubs and cafes, the talk has already begun. What next?

Protests are being organised all over Ireland to highlight the Cervical Check scandal by the StandingUp4Women group. However popular Simon Harris has been with the Yes side during the campaign, it hasn’t gone away, you know.

Housing and homelessness are on the radar. Direct provision is on the radar. Mental health is on the radar.

Perhaps unusually – and in a way that is going to be difficult for party strategists on every side to get their heads around – most of those who campaigned for a Yes vote have zero political allegiance.

Some are seasoned campaigners, with many of those organising protests etc having a background in the campaign against Irish Water or in left wing socialist groupings with little Dáil representation but very strong activist roots. Many have no allegiance whatsoever.

Some have never, ever engaged with the political system before but have realised in the course of this campaign that their voices are powerful, and their votes matter. And, from what I am seeing, those votes will be issue driven. Given the nature of Irish political parties, where does this leave them? And where does it leave the system?

In 1990 we rocked the system. In 2018, could we be about to rebuild it?

Mary Robinson rocking the system at her inauguration in 1990.

Published in The Herald 29.05.18.

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