Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Current Affairs (Page 2 of 6)

Simple Solutions

I’ll tell you a secret. I once knew how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know, amazing. I should be a lot more famous than I am. But I didn’t reveal my solution. I assumed my insight was so blindingly obvious it’d be considered a tad gauche to voice it. As it turned out, my resolution would no longer work. It may also not have worked at the time but I’m not totally convinced it wouldn’t.

My cure for that poisonous situation was simple. All that was required was for both Israel and Palestine to join the EU. I know. I know. It’s an obvious fix but no one ever seems to mention it. I can’t figure out why. I thought the moment the Good Friday Agreement was signed all eyes would turn to the Middle East silently indicating; your turn now.

Perhaps it’s the genius of the Good Friday Agreement that so few understand just how simple it was. There was a great deal of complexity in the lead up and it does smack of temporary, but it worked. It works by doing this; it allows both sides to stop killing each other for a bit. But it doesn’t solve what is an unsolvable problem.

The conflict in Northern Ireland is unsolvable. No one should forget that. Two groups that identify as fundamentally different, two groups who claim ownership of the same piece of land, two people who think they are right and therefore the other is wrong. Take away the egregious governing, take away the partisan policing and pump billions of euro into the economy, the fact remains these are two people who wish for wildly divergent destinies.

The Good Friday Agreement manages to give both sides a huge amount of what they want, even if what they are given is contradictory. If you identify as Irish, here’s an Irish passport. Border? What border? If you identify as British. Here’s a British passport. And yes, you’re still part of the UK.  Northern Ireland is expected to govern itself to a certain extent. A whole lot of politicians are paid a lot of money to govern, but with no consequences for choosing not to govern. When they don’t manage the UK government will do it, from afar, while trying not to emulate its previous centuries of vicious misrule of this island.

Simple, imaginative and dare I say elegant. Two fictions facilitated. Two exclusive identities accommodated. Only possibly because the UK and Ireland had pooled their sovereignty within the EU. Equal partners within a structure whose laws superseded their own. A bigger identity. An identity so big that different sorts of Irish and different sorts of British could become small enough not to matter too much.

How could Israel and Palestine not find a peace within that community? Once a border becomes irrelevant it’s difficult to find the energy to murder in that border’s name.

It looks like that opportunity has now passed. Even among those on the UK mainland who understand that Ireland and Northern Ireland are distinct political entities, one being part of the UK and the other wholly independent, there is no understanding of the border. No understanding that the moment it becomes visible the fiction of parallel identities is gone.

And I’m not saying the uneducated and ignorant UK citizens who caused this unnecessary crisis did so by being uneducated and ignorant. No, that’s only one part of it. The other part is that identity in the English part of the UK is now beginning to assert itself. And like the slumbering pig it is, there is not a fuck it can give about shaking the shit off its hide on all and sundry.

If only this return to identity was confined to England. Unfortunately, all over the EU, the nonsense that perfected mass murder is returning because everyone appears to have forgotten what that nonsense was and what it did. It’s like we’ve decided to replace our real history with the bullshit that caused the worst of our history. My great idea won’t work anymore. But there was a moment, in our recent history, where it just might have worked.

Culture Worriers

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

I’m confused by that cohort of my fellow island dwellers who worry about Ireland’s culture. Worried Ireland’s precious culture is disappearing before waves of outsiders. Well, I’m mostly repulsed, but I’m also confused. You see, I have no idea what ‘Irish culture’ means. I have a clue what culture tends to refer to. It’s some amalgam of shared values, norms, habits, and modes of expression, all melded together by a State curated perception of history.

It’s as vague a concept as it is broad. It contains Nobel winning poetry and a shit game of hurling in North Kerry. It encompasses an ease with using bad language and unease with modern European languages. It manages to venerate a mythological virgin woman while treating real women abominably. It lauds piety while voting for corruption. It is timeless. It is unique. It’s also entirely different to what it was fifty years ago. And it can be destroyed by a few thousand refugees fleeing Syria.

It is immutable. Perfect in its aspic tomb. Vulnerable only to the presence of accents and skin colours newly arrived to this blessed land. Unchanging, except I wouldn’t choose to live in the Ireland of ten years ago. As for 50 years ago? No thanks and I’m an able bodied straight white man.

I’m not accusing these culture worriers of racism. I’d never do that. I hate tautology in all its forms. Who can say if blaming a person of colour for the passage of time is racist? It’s obviously racist, but who can say it? When one calls a homophobe, racist, they tend to sue. And use that money to fight against women’s rights. But in fairness looking down on black people, criminalising the gays and hating on women, were important aspects of our culture. They still are, but not as much. Which is sad. For some.

The culture worriers are correct to note that things are changing. They were once in the ascendancy, now they are a bunch of cranks who live in my phone. Things are very different. Better for many. Disorientating for some. I’m a middle aged man and things have changed but I struggle to name anything I miss.

My lack of nostalgia for the uncontested supremacy of men who look and sound like me might be because I don’t give a fuck about Irish culture. There are aspects to this undefinable miasma of content that I embrace, others that don’t interest me and others I actively hate. And why do I continue to live on this oft times ridiculous island? No one gets to tell me how I should Irish. Many presume they can, but I’m free to tell them to fuck right off.

These culture worriers are not unique to Ireland. They are a bit of a surprise only because they were in charge so recently. The vile monoculture of their nostalgic wet dreams only began to crumble a few years ago. They can still taste that sweet monochrome power.

They confuse me. They repulse me. They can’t disguise their racism. Can’t hide their homophobia. Can’t explain their misogyny. They come from an island that produced four Nobel winning manipulators of the English language and they can’t put together a single coherent justification for their vicious nostalgia. If they are indeed an inherent part of Irish culture, I hope that culture dies quickly.

Summer Campaigning

This time last year I was canvassing for the removal of the Eighth Amendment. I’m reminded of that because the sun is shining. I only remember one evening last year when our canvass was interrupted by rain. Imagine that, months of campaigning, in Ireland, and only one day of rain. It was a truly remarkable run of warm comfortable campaigning. I find myself only remembering how much fun I had. It was exhausting and all that but I was walking in the sunshine, every single day, with people I felt honoured to know. What better way to spend a summer? If I’m not careful, by this time next year all I’ll remember is the tan I earned. I suppose, having won by such a large margin also contributes to my rose-tinted reflection.

I find it worryingly easy to forget that we were involved in a life and death matter. That we were trying to free women from the yoke of a pernicious constitutional injunction. I even find it easy to blank out the awful people who were intent on keeping women under the thumb of religious zealotry. Easy to forget. Easy to rest on one’s laurels. Easy to become complacent.

Last year’s campaign cannot be forgotten. And not just because it’s important to acknowledge the amazing work and brave stances of so many women. It cannot only be about commemoration. I wish it was. A few statues, an annual minutes’ silence, increasingly boring war stories, and that would be that. Quickly consigned to an unread history book.

If, to belabour the analogy, we were remembering a victorious war, then growing irrelevance would be grand. Wars should be left in the past. They are wars after all. But we didn’t win the war or a war. I’m not even sure we can call it a battle. We won a reprieve. Some respite. What comes out of that moment of progress, that relief of pressure, is yet to be determined.

I don’t believe in good or bad abortions. I dislike the concept of safe, legal and rare. These are nudges towards judgement. Nudges towards a sliding scale of deserved medical attention. Our law, as it now stands, gives legal standing to this idea. An abortion at nine weeks, fine. At twelve weeks, problematic. At sixteen weeks, you better be fucking dying. So, some women, in very restricted circumstances, can get an abortion in this country. We cannot forget that.

While I don’t believe in rare, I do believe that a good rule of thumb for a better life is never having to go to a doctor. I never feel quite so vulnerable to unspeakable diseases than when in a busy waiting room. Who thought packing a bunch of sick people into a tiny room was a good idea? Fuck that.

A provable way of negating the necessity for some abortions is access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. Remarkably, those who live to restrict the lives of women, I mean oppose abortion, are also against increased access to contraception and sex education that is more suited to the 21st century. It’s almost as if they oppose sex more than they oppose abortion? But they opposed Repeal on human rights grounds, not religious grounds. And we know this must be true because they said it and lying is a big fat sin.

Greater access to contraception and better sex ed (and by better I mean, any) are still not a thing in Ireland. Children and teenagers (even an uncomfortably large number of adults) are walking around, hopped up on hormones, a sex crazed media and easy to access non-contextualised porn, without the tools to navigate this crazy smorgasbord of desire and consequence.

But teaching people about sex, in all its wondrous aspects and providing them with contraception, is more than a way of preventing the necessity for some abortions. More than just a way of avoiding getting the flu in some poorly ventilated room of group sniffles. It is about creating a society where each and every one of us own our body. Get to choose what we do with it. Know how to recognise and respect the boundaries of others. How to have bloody great sex. How to take care of ourselves or others when something unwanted happens. How to value our own choices and to respect the choices of others. Last year we took a single, if large, step towards that goal of educated self-possession. But a single step it was. And those religious campaigners, I mean human rights activists, who rail against free people, especially free women, still own our schools. Still have the ear of politicians. Still have unlimited resources to call on from the US.

Until last year, they wholly owned women. That ownership is now contested, but not yet settled. The sun is shining. It’s great campaigning weather. And for the next month we won’t have to knock on doors because politicians will be knocking on ours. What better use of their time can there be than to be asked how they intend empowering women to wholly own their own bodies?


What Of The Fathers?

I’ve had a few conversations recently, about abortion, with men. Their objection to abortion was based (or part based) on the rights of the father. It’s a point of view I struggle to counter. Not because I see any merit in it, rather I see so little merit in it I struggle to explain my thoughts. Sometimes a value is so fundamental that one rarely has to examine and elucidate it.

I hold that a man has no rights over a woman’s body, regardless of what may or may not be going on inside that woman’s body or any connection he may have to that woman or what is going on inside her body. This is not a feminist conclusion, this is being a liberal. I believe, with every fibre of my being, that no one has a right to control or a right of access to anyone else’s body, ever. While the physical autonomy of Irish citizens is routinely violated, I tend to focus on the criminalisation of abortion as it is, by a long distance, the most egregious example.

But that all sounds a bit wordy and ideological.

I’m not a father. I’ve never been a father. And am intent on never being a father. I’ve never felt that connection to a life I have helped create and/or have chosen to call my child. I can, at best, imagine it based on the experiences of friends who are fathers or what is depicted in literature and television. My conclusion is that the connection is real, it is profound and it deserves respect. It is at once, base evolution and beautiful.

The question then is how does one give due cognisance to this true emotion in the creation of a right for the father that can be vindicated, but one that also vindicates the right of the pregnant woman to her physical autonomy?

I used the term ‘father’ deliberately. I could have used any number of terms, from ‘sperm donor’ to ‘potential father’ but am opting to focus on the cohort of men who are not MRA types or who only use the status of father to disempower women. What does one say to those men, who on learning that a woman is carrying their child, deems fatherhood to have begun at the point of revelation? What does one say to those men when the pregnant woman decides she does not want to continue with that pregnancy?

My head knows and says, there is nothing that need be said. Her body, her choice. This is not mere sloganeering, it is the most basic tenet of the pro-choice movement. All our efforts are based on that simple phrase, her body, her choice. But how does one translate this assertion, this assertion of autonomy into a message that can assuage the hurt and fear of the fathers who feel that connection to their child? Is it even a worthwhile endeavour?

In asking how we convey this message of autonomy, I am aware that I am wondering how a woman can ask ‘more nicely’ to not be a slavish incubator? My skin is crawling. I don’t even know if the question is necessary. Perhaps we have the numbers already, perhaps the few men I have spoken to represent a statistically insignificant cohort who need not be given our attention during the campaign to come. I do know the majority of men of my acquaintance get the difference between potential fatherhood and ownership.

And yet, I still long for a form of words to convey my understanding while also answering the question I posed about rights. How, with empathy, do I say; you have absolutely no rights concerning a woman’s body, regardless of what’s going on inside her body, regardless of your connection to her and your connection to what going on inside her body. None, absolutely none and you and anyone else should never have the power to dictate what another person does with their body. And unless you are prepared to contemplate strapping a pregnant woman to her bed for the duration of her pregnancy there is no practicable way of giving you any say on what happens inside her body beyond what she is prepared to grant you, and even then, she can grant you no more than to listen to your opinion. But I understand her decision may cause you pain.

I’m not sure it’s an argument that will way sway anyone, but it’s all I have. It just that it happens to be true.


Do you ever worry that the Eighth Amendment won’t be repealed because of the purity of the campaigners’ message? Yeah, me neither. Do I worry that the media lacks the energy and interest to accurately describe the Repeal Movement? You betcha. When a journalist, or a politician or anyone for that matter describes Repealers as extremist, you know you’re in the presence of a lazy person or an anti-choicer.

Understanding Repealers is not that difficult. We are the 80% plus, of the population, who think there are circumstances where forcing a woman to remain pregnant is not a good thing. We are the more than 80% who understand that to address this, the Eighth Amendment has to go for there is no other way to allow, some women, in certain circumstances, have abortions. Labelling over 80% of the population as extremist is some next level bullshit. Repealers are the mainstream.

Are all Repealers the same? No. Repealers can be broadly divided into two groups. One group regards every abortion as a tragedy, but sometimes a necessary one. The second group regards some abortions as tragic and some as a positive choice.

The only thing keeping these very different perspectives in the same camp, is the Eighth Amendment. In a civilised country, this difference would be the only debate being had. But with thousands of Irish women being forced to flee the country every year for health care, we find ourselves on the same side.

Those in the former group will be asked to make their peace with ‘abortion on request’ up to twelve weeks because it’s the only practicable way to ensure victims of rape can access the health care they want. The latter will have to accept that women who are thirteen weeks pregnant will have to continue to leave the country because in the current environment it is the only way to ensure some women get health care closer to home.

It’s an uncomfortable alliance, but a necessary one. It is a recognition that the status quo is unsustainable. A recognition that the current regime pertaining to reproductive rights is at best hypocritical, and at worst cruel and dangerous. But while we are in the nowhere land of no referendum yet called, we are all free to still opine on abortion. We are still free to say there are good abortions and there are bad abortions or that there are no good and bad abortions, only abortion. We are still free to say that the decision to have an abortion should, in every circumstance, be the woman’s. We are still free to imagine and to plan what we’ll have to do after the (hopefully) successful conclusion of this alliance.

Once the referendum is called though. Once we have a date. Then it’s the dirty and cynical world of politics and winning a vote. Then and only then will this alliance come truly alive. Its disparate parts, some admittedly holding their noses, will have one purpose, one message and one goal. It won’t exactly be easy, but it will at least be straightforward. It will be an alliance of the over 80% trying to convince that 80% to come out to vote. It will be a campaign of explaining the logic of twelve weeks on request. It will be a campaign of assuaging the fears of those who think it goes too far and reassuring those who think it does not go far enough.

Time will of course be wasted arguing with anti-choicers. Unfortunately, that will be our only way to access the media who are already gearing up to make this a straight up fight between extremists. But away from the media, not a breath will be wasted on anti-choicers. We already know what way they will vote. It’s about the over 80% who are, already to some degree pro-choice. It’s all about them. But until the date is set and the proposed legislation indicated then please expect us to be at least be honest in our views.

Yet Another Think Piece

Something we don’t see enough of these days are think pieces on the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment. Or more specifically, pieces on how these women are doing it wrong. So, I’m going to explain what the repealers are doing wrong and why they are making faux-repealers feel all jittery. Perhaps my unique male perspective will have an impact on female repealers and motivate them to do better. And I didn’t even refer to these women as ladies, so I think I might be able to win their trust. It’s important to speak their language.

To understand the Repeal movement, one has to examine its constituent parts. But as this is a think piece, policing the tone of the Repeal movement, I’m not going to bother my arse with that. I will instead target just one organisation within the movement. And as I happen to think I know a bit about them already I won’t need to research the innumerable other organisations that are campaigning to repeal the 8th Amendment. Economy of effort is a much-underappreciated skill these days.

Anyway, I’m going to have a go at the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC). This is the group that runs the annual March for Choice protest. This group of volunteers somehow managed to get 40,000 people onto the streets of Dublin in support of its extremist agenda. But let’s not dwell on that unattributed success or the amount of work that went into getting that march organised. I am here to admonish them after all.

What is ARC’s extremist agenda? Abortion on demand. Yep, they believe a woman should retain control of her body at all times. This is, by definition, extremist, because the vast majority of Irish people only support a woman’s right to choose in special circumstances. This inconsistency, or hypocrisy if you will, has been designated the middle ground by those of us who write think pieces and is therefore beyond questioning by anyone, ever. To win any referendum on any topic, one must always pander to the having their cake and eating it too majority.

ARC, though rarely specifically named, is often criticised for making the cake havers and eaters uncomfortable. They insist on pointing out that philosophically, logically, ethically and biologically, a foetus is a foetus. Taken to its natural conclusion, allowing abortions in only certain circumstances means that the foetus doesn’t actually matter. What is being judged is the pregnant person. (Person?)

This is an emotional and moral sleight of hand designed to ease one’s discomfort at the idea that some women are having sex and possibly even enjoying it. If you do the crime then you must be prepared to do the time, is the value espoused by the majority, the middle ground, the non-extremists. The crime in this instance being, sex. The having of it. The possible even enjoyment of same. When an unwanted pregnancy is the result of good sex then that foetus acquires a special status that requires constitutional protection. This is the reality, yet ARC extremists continue to refuse to cater to this cohort of referendum deciders.

ARC supports all women in all their choices. That’s bad of them. This is permissive. The majority doesn’t know what permissive means but they know they don’t like it. Supporting all women, in all circumstances, means some women we disapprove of, not paying the price of our disapproval.

What ARC need to do is be more strategic. This is easy to do. Let me explain it for them. Simply throw several thousand of the women they support under a bus. Then get a nice haircut and politely ask that a few women, who pass the test of having suffered sufficiently for the majority’s satisfaction, please be allowed have an abortion here instead of in the UK. It’s not rocket science.

And anyway, in a few decades, there’s every chance the icecaps will have melted and we’ll all be dead anyway.

But now that I’ve explained how ARC can win a referendum they don’t want to win, I think it’s important to point out another major flaw in their campaign. They keep using politically correct language. They insist on reminding the majority about every single minority that is disproportionately affected by the 8th Amendment. Do I have to explain what’s wrong with this? The clue is in the term, minorities. Minorities are minorities for two reasons, first, there aren’t many of them and two, they spook the majority. The majority aren’t all that keen on trans men, asylum seekers, the disabled, the mentally ill and the poor. Yet, day in, day out, ARC rub the noses of the easily offended majority in their inclusivity. It’s a stunning level of contempt for long held, carefully nurtured and greatly valued prejudices.

I don’t expect to be thanked for my insights and unsolicited advice. I give both freely because as a man I think it is important to educate those with less understanding of the complicated world we live in. You may call it the wise man’s burden. I fully expect there to be some shrill pushback but I have no doubt the sisterhood will eventually understand that the time is yet not ripe for them to enjoy the freedoms I hardly notice I have. One day perhaps, but not today. And probably not tomorrow either. You’re welcome.

On Being A Dickhead

Barry Walsh is a bit of a dickhead. Fortunately, this isn’t a crime. Who among us isn’t guilty of the occasional lapse into dickishness? That Barry lapses and stays lapsed isn’t necessarily the point. The point is he didn’t commit a crime. He spoke his mind and though his mind may be a small and grubby place, it’s his mind and he gets to vomit out its contents without fear of legal consequence.

And the thing is, he hasn’t and won’t face legal censure. His free speech is protected. It’s a wonderful thing, free speech. Even little men, with tiny personalities, can say what they want about whomever they want and not have to fear a knock at the door from the jackbooted agents of the State. Every Barry and even this particular Barry, is entitled to verbally abuse the women who remind him of his innate inadequacies. Free speech is indeed a wonderful thing.

The problem with free speech though, is that it only applies to legal consequences for things said. Nasty and pathetic comments are indeed protected by our State, but only in so far as the State doesn’t give a shit if you insist on being a dickhead. The State also doesn’t a shit if someone calls you out for being a dickhead.

That’s the thing about the State, it likes free speech because it means it doesn’t have to do anything about dickheads. The State also avoids having to define what being a dickhead actually is. And as what constitutes a dickhead is endlessly subjective, the State prefers to leave well enough alone. It prefers dickheads, however they are defined at any particular time, to sink or swim on their own.

This particular petty little gobshite verbally abused a number of women who weren’t impressed by his brand of dickishness. They decided his oeuvre required a pointed critique. Essentially, they fucked him up. And they fucked him up in a terribly devious way, they simply stood up to him. Nothing is more galling to the little man than a woman using her free speech, her strength and whatever other resources she can call on, to show that little man the evidence of his essential smallness. It’s a terrifying sight. Well, more funny and satisfying than scary, but you get my point.

Some may call this political correctness gone mad. Fuck them. Fuck them very much. This is far from political correctness. This is a simple example of a petty little man verbally abusing women who were in a position to fight back. Free speech would also have protected his right to verbally abuse women who didn’t have the power to fight back. And that is where political correctness comes in. The PC Brigade, bastards that they are, wish to radically change our values. They want it to be unthinkable for petty little men to verbally abuse women, in any and all circumstances. Even when those women do not have the power to fight back. I know, disgusting really.

Public life may have lost this little man forever. It’s unlikely. His brand of dickishness may well come back into fashion. Or he may actually take the time to examine his attitude towards women who disagree with him and grow the fuck up. I won’t hold my breath on that one.

The comforting thing, for me, about this little man and his ilk, is that I never have to worry about the little men. I’m a straight white man. I’m never the target of these little men. It would be a job of mere moments to alter my life so that I’d be entirely oblivious to the very existence of these petty men.

Even now I have to actively search for instances where little men verbally abuse people who don’t look like me. I’m never the target. I look like these little men. I sound like these little men. I pee like these little men.

And that’s the problem with political correctness. It makes not noticing feel a little like not noticing on purpose. This little man took on women who had the power to fuck him up. Political correctness is about supporting those who don’t have the power to fight back when the dickheads come after them.

On Being An Extremist

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I find it unsettling when I remember I’m considered to be a bit of an extremist. It’s not usual for a woolly liberal centrist to be described as an extremist. Yet here I am, a firm believer in the notion that a woman is the best judge of what should or shouldn’t happen to her body. And that apparently is enough to mark me out as an extremist. Only in this age of homeopathy can such a thing be said to make any sense.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those who believe abortions should only happen out foreign and those of us who believe abortions should be provided here. Supporting a woman to have an abortion in her own country is extreme. Insisting a woman leave the country to have an abortion is considered to be the best way to avoid spooking those poor denizens of Middle Ireland. Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who consider this to be the rankest of rank hypocrisy and those who consider this to be winning.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who think women should enjoy the ride, as men have always enjoyed the ride. Sexual incontinence for all, as it has always been, but now women are allowed to have a say in the process and also to enjoy the experience. Yes, use precautions, but please enjoy yourselves. Sex is brilliant. And if those precautions fail, then feel free to choose whatever option best serves you. And then there are those who shake their heads. Consequence free riding is and always has been the preserve of men. We didn’t spend generations incarcerating pregnant women just to enrich the religious. We locked them up because riding is for men. Abortions for women who enjoy the ride is akin to saying that locking up women who enjoyed the ride was somehow wrong. And that can’t be right. Can it? That’s just too extreme for Middle Ireland to ponder over its morning cornflakes.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us think it indefensible to pick and choose the abortions we are comfortable with and to decide which women have done enough suffering to merit an abortion. This is thought of as extreme. Then there are those who need women to suffer to the point that any misgivings they have about abortions are overcome. Misgivings that will return the moment the next woman has the temerity to demand an abortion and the whole process begins again.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who are quite certain that a foetus is never the equal of the women carrying it. Well no, it is the equal and even more important than the woman who carries in one circumstance, when the woman carrying it decrees it to be so. A woman owning her body and knowing her own mind is dismissed as extreme. On the other side, the foetus is considered the equal of the woman carrying it unless the woman has suffered or is suffering to a yet to be legally defined degree. This legal bar of suffering may end up in our Constitution or the Constitution may oblige our parliament to make suffering and tragedy a prerequisite for women with the temerity to demand an abortion. This is not thought of as extreme.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those who think campaigning for women to have access to abortion in their own country is extreme. The very act of saying we want abortion services to be available in Ireland, without demur, without apology, without euphemism, without shame, is dismissed as gauche and divisive. Then there are those who think abortions are gross and women’s voices are scary so just please leave me in peace to eat my cornflakes.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those of us who go to great pain to ensure we present a professional and reasonable front when campaigning. We keep our accounts public, write letters of persuasion, advocate, canvass and lobby within civilised norms. Then there are those who see this effort and dismiss it as just the same as those who abuse, those who threaten, those who picket politician’s houses. It is considered extreme to expect people to look at what people do and note the difference.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into three camps. There are those of us who reacted with surprised satisfaction to the outcome of the Citizen’s Assembly. We’d forgotten that when presented with the facts, people will see the inescapable logic of greatly extending abortion services in Ireland. Then there are those who dismiss facts as being less important than their sincerely held beliefs. And then there are those who simply don’t expect ordinary people to be able to deal with facts. In this era of homeopathy, Brexit and Trump, they are convinced people will not raise their heads from their cornflakes to consider facts. They will keep to their prejudices and assumptions and vote accordingly. It is considered extreme to trust voters as it is extreme to trust women.

Ireland, it seems, is divided into two camps. There are those who are called extremists and there are the self-serving and lazy commentators who call them extremists. And I find I am getting quite comfortable with being the extremist they keep speaking of.

A Measure Of Success

It’s difficult to know how to assess the long career of Enda Kenny. He has been a professional politician for almost my entire life. And I’m old. I suppose the fact he managed to keep getting elected for that length of time is something of a success. Though just citing his longevity might appear to be unnecessarily churlish. He did rise, quietly, ever so quietly, to the leadership of his party. And he did manage to survive both the public’s and his own party’s indifference long enough for his only obstacle to high office to spectacularly self-destruct. He was the head of this nation’s government for six straight years. An unheard-of length of time for someone from his party. This is unquestionably something that can be described as success.

He rose to be head of government after his only credible rivals for the position destroyed both the Irish economy and themselves in an orgy of complacent incompetence. He headed a government with an overwhelming majority, tasked with governing a nation that had careered itself into a crisis of existential severity. Through his efforts, eye-wateringly stern compromises with our international friends and swingeing cuts to the living standards of people who probably didn’t vote for him, Ireland survived as an independent (or as independent a tiny nation wholly dependent on trade with bigger neighbours can be deemed independent) nation. The nation retained what nominal freedom to conduct its own affairs that it always had. This is not nothing.

He then faced the electorate with this success as his badge, and they went a long way towards removing him from government. Only retaining his role as head of government by gaining the support of the party that had destroyed the nation’s economy. This resurgent party, whose blithe ignorance of economic good practice had heralded Kenny’s initial rise, now decided that their mess required another term of Kenny to clean up or, at the very least, be erased from public consciousness. A second term, even a cobbled together one, reliant on those who went so close to destroying the nation, is still a second term as head of government. This must be deemed a success.

After six years of Kenny as head of government, Ireland is undoubtedly more stable than it was. It is more prosperous and there is less unemployment. The sort of unrest one would associate with the self-inflicted economic castastrophe we visited upon ourselves never materialised. And during his six years as head of government, Kenny never found it necessary to change anything. As an amalgam of institutions and competing interest groups, Ireland is as it was before he rose to his position as head of government with a huge majority. Maintaining the status quo can be described as a success.

Maintaining the status quo did come at a cost. Though a small one. Those who depended on the state for support were protected from the worst of the economic ordeal being endured. Except those deemed too young to matter. Being rational people they got the message and can now be found sunning themselves in Australia. Poverty did increase. Hospital waiting lists did grow ever longer. Homelessness became uncomfortably visible. Our debasing deference to transnational corporations even turned the heads of judges. But the status quo was maintained. Ireland is now very much as it was and even the desire to change has been successfully enervated.

There were social issues that almost tripped him up. Issues he managed to negotiate without risk nor commitment. Marriage equality took everyone by surprise by not being controversial at all. He made eloquent noises at the Church of Rome while carefully ensuring it retained all its power and access. He used his huge majority to allow 26 abortions a year in Ireland, while offering 14 years in prison for anyone else who dared. And managed a form of filibuster through consultation so as not to have to deal with this issue again as leader of this nation’s government. And he managed to leave refugees asylum-seekers languishing throughout his entire term. So much potential unpleasantness, successfully negotiated. Will his successor, as head of government, be as skilled or indeed as fortunate?

How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set? Even in this he is a success. He achieved everything a successful politician would deem a worthy ambition. The nation, whose government he led, is under almost all metrics, better off now than it was after his opponents imploded themselves and the country. He was head of government for six years. This is not something that even the most ambitious of his party would dream of. Yet he did it. He left before he was pushed. A rarity for a politician who achieves such high office. How does one attribute success or failure to someone who is so clearly a success within the parameters he himself has set?

Confusing Agreement With Support

I’m a writer who wants to be a novelist when I grow up. I love words. I’m an activist who wants to change the world. I love being involved in campaigns. I’m a man. I have a huge ego. I am convinced that if enough people would just listen to my words they would finally see every issue from my point of view and necessarily agree with me.

I often day-dream about going on Radio Kerry to discuss the Eighth Amendment and being so eloquent that Kerry becomes a bastion of pro-choice sentiment. It’s an enjoyable daydream. But I’m a writer, so sometimes I look at my daydreams for ideas. I examine the detail. And when I examine the detail of this daydream I quickly realise how full of shit it, and I, am.

I search for the words for my barn-storming appearance. They aren’t there. I know my opponent’s words. They run the full gamut of ‘unborn baby’ all the way to ‘unborn baby’ and she wipes the floor with me.

I’m an activist, I know pithy beats considered every time. What are my soundbites? I have; trust women, forced birth, Savita, choice, medical care, the UK, ten a day, autonomy. I could throw in, misogyny, hypocrisy, patriarchy and religion, but these have too many syllables to tap a nerve, inspire empathy, take the listener’s mind from…unborn baby.

I’m a writer. I try to imagine what it would be like to be someone else. I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to experience a crisis pregnancy in this country. I last about two seconds before I’m overwhelmed by feelings of panic and despair.

I’m a straight man. The obstacles to my physical autonomy include not being able to smoke weed when I want to and the theoretical possibility that I may not be able to end my own life at some future date, if the circumstances call for it. How do I describe in soundbites the panic I imagine? How do I equate my moral outrage to their moral outrage?

I like telling stories. I like telling farfetched stories. Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a law was passed that gave an appendix the same legal status as the man it inhabited. Why would an unthinking, unfeeling clump of cells be granted such rights? No one could really remember, but they were pretty confident that it had something to do with control and keeping men in their place.

How dare you compare a vestigial organ with an unborn baby. A paragraph of talking, undone by a soundbite. How do I inspire empathy without soundbites? How do I inspire empathy when I do not want to bruise?

Imagine you became pregnant through rape. Do I want to ask someone to imagine that? Do I want to ask women, mothers whose entire experience of pregnancy was positive and joyous, to imagine something so ugly? Imagine your mother, sister, wife or daughter was raped. Really? Am I really going to ask you that? I can only manage about two seconds of imagining a crisis pregnancy and I’m asking someone to imagine something so vile as a loved one being raped?

This is the greatest weakness that we who support choice have, it is a weakness none of the tone policing columns ever hit on, we actually care about the feelings of others. But the downside of that is that we are fighting up hill, one arm tied behind our backs while taking the time to worry about the safety of those who are watching.

And because we care we end up trying to appeal to the mind, rather than the emotions. We speak in abstractions and ideals. And every time we hear, unborn babies, Down Syndrome and regret.

We hear ‘abortion on demand’ and because it has been so befouled we must condemn the term, though it is exactly what we want. It is a soundbite I wished we owned. But it does serve a purpose. We know who uses it and why. It is used by the fanatics to appeal to the middle. It is used to give comfort and protection to the sexism and hypocrisy of the middle.

We know what it means, who uses it and why. It is code for ‘no abortions for sluts.’ We know who uses it and why but we can’t always say it.

We need the hypocrites, the benign misogynists. The men and so many women, who value the foetus of the broken condom over the foetus of the rape victim. The men and oh so many women who value the foetus of the poor woman over the foetus that is unlikely to live. But how do you go into these hypocrites’ homes and help them see their hypocrisy for what it is?

And then we get a tantalising glimpse of what evidence, shorn of soundbites can actually achieve. Lock a hundred people in a room for five weekends and bombard them with facts and they will embrace free, safe and legal. But we know we can’t force four million people to examine the facts. We have to use soundbites and we must be true to our values so we won’t try to wound. We will fight their battle, on their terms, on their ground. And our allies will gripe and our false allies gripe even harder.

We will get a referendum and it will be so restrictive, so far removed from what the Assembly recommended that some of us may even vote against it. We are in the hands of cowardly politicians who don’t even know they are hypocrites. And we will continue to fight fair, declaring where our monies come from, expending energy on making our voices representative, caring for the feelings of those listening and greeting viciousness with calmness.

And in the end, we will be fighting for the right of some women, in certain circumstances, to be considered more important than a clump of cells. We will be fighting for the further institutionalisation of the concept that some women just don’t deserve the medical care they want. And we might even fail at that.

I’m an activist who does a bit. Just enough to avoid the shame of having done nothing. I do less than many but more than most. And I wonder at those who confuse agreement with support. I wonder about that gap between agreement and joining in. Is it laziness? Is it fear? Is it the misapprehension that their help isn’t required? Or is it the belief that defeat is inevitable? Or is it the belief that activism is what other people do?

We must speak in long sentences, inspire strangers unused to grappling with long sentences to think in long sentences. We do not have the soundbites. We do not have shortcuts. We must speak in long sentences. And to speak in long sentences we need speakers, so many speakers. Men and women who confuse agreement with support. Men and women who think joining in is for other people. We need numbers, so many more numbers.

To campaign for free, safe and legal abortions is to be considered extremist. We are considered by the lazy as the mirror of the anti-choicers. The lazy get to think this because there are still too few who have joined in, joined up, who confuse agreement with support.

There will be a referendum next year. It probably won’t be the referendum we want. But even at this late hour there is an opportunity to shape those words. All it takes is everyone who agrees with free, safe and legal abortions taking a single step. Joining in rather than passive agreement.

Join your local group, most counties have one. If there isn’t one, start one. It is so easy even I helped set up the one in Kerry. It’s a small step, but it could mean the difference between a dozen women a day fleeing this country and perhaps half a dozen fleeing, and one day, no woman having to flee. It’s a small step. Don’t confuse agreement with support. A hundred activists can be dismissed as extremists, a hundred thousand is a movement.

And a movement gets to speak in long sentences, it has the power to inspire thinking in long sentences.

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