Now the referendum is over, the legislative process begins—and activists turn to the North...by Pádraig Belton / May 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
“The North is Next” is the sign that popped up in a corner of the crowd awaiting the count in Dublin Castle on Saturday night, after Ireland voted to Repeal the 8th amendment.
In another corner, activist Sarah O’Doherty says, a woman was giving away After Eight chocolates.
Soon—the chance was too good to refuse—Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, and Northern Irish leader Michelle O’Neill, had borrowed “The North is Next” and were holding it aloft for the cameras.
The North indeed looks like next—and the campaigners say they will target it.
Despite Unionists pointing to conservatism in the island’s south and declaring that “Home Rule means Rome Rule” since 1921, Northern Irish women now find themselves in the only part of the UK and Ireland where access to abortion is restricted in almost all circumstances.
With the Irish government expected to pass new abortion legislation this year, women will shortly be travelling from the United Kingdom to Ireland for legal terminations, McDonald pointedly noted.
“I think the pressure is now on the North,” says Mary Kenny, who in 1971 was central in the founding of the Irish women’s movement.
She, and 48 others, and travelled to Belfast in May 1971 to buy contraceptives on the “condom train,” and bring them back to women in the south. (Contraception was illegal in the Republic of Ireland from 1935 to 1980.) When they arrived in Belfast, says broadcaster Marian Finucane, more than half of them didn’t know what condoms looked like, and “nearly died of embarrassment.”
She, too, has noted the turn to the North.
“After all these years of the Guardianistas berating ‘reactionary’ Catholic Ireland, they’re now discovering that their real target is ‘reactionary’ Protestant Ireland,” the author and journalist adds. “A nice irony.”
But DUP leader Arlene Foster has come out of the blocks to deny that the referendum result will have any impact on the north.
Of course, when politicians deny something emphatically, it’s usually true.
“There is an appetite for change amongst women up there,” says Niamh Kelly, who flew home to Ireland from Hanoi to canvass for the Yes side, while wearing a GAA jersey.…