Voices for Choice: Dublin North West Together For Yes
The complete change in political landscape which has brought about a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment has been thanks to many small but organised groups around the country making it impossible to ignore the issue any longer. LookLeft met with one such group, Dublin North West Together For Yes.
After a busy morning, the members of Dublin North West Together For Yes pile into Costa Coffee in Finglas. They buy teas, some cakes, and get down to the serious business of discussing the canvass, stories from around the country, and predictions of how the vote will go.
It’s clear that co-convenor Ber Grogan isn’t just proud of the morning’s work.
“In Dublin North West we’ve had really brilliant, amazing, lovely, people,” she says. “There’s such a sense that every canvass is welcoming. Everyone makes an effort to ask everyone’s name and they buddy up. Everyone is checking in to make sure everyone is ok. It’s really warm. Even so many people coming back for a coffee afterwards! I think that’s just the type of people that we are and that’s why we’re giving up our time to campaign for change. But also it’s why everyone who cares as well is welcome and is welcomed into the group. I think it’s a real credit to the people in Dublin North West.”
That Dublin North West Together For Yes has a family feeling is possibly down to the fact that it is family for a lot of them. Several members of the group attended the launch with their mothers. Grogan’s mother and cousin are both regulars on the canvass, and her brother recently made it out too. Couples have canvassed together with their babies. It has even brought old school friends back together.
It helps that the canvassers have had a good reaction so far. Grogan points out that the constituency, which covers Ballymun, Finglas, Whitehall, Ballygall and Botanic, had a high turnout and support for the marriage equality referendum. She explains, “I think our constituency really wants people to be equal and I think we can be maybe left out at times of political conversations and investment and things like that so we want people to be equal and we want them to feel cherished in their constituency.”
However, the impact of the Eighth Amendment is never far away.
“People get the reality as well,” adds Grogan. “People understand the reality because they know people that’ve travelled for abortions. They don’t want women to have to continue to go to the UK. And it’s also that if you experience an unintended pregnancy and if you don’t have the money to do that then you’re trapped, you can’t go anywhere.”
One of the group’s initial activities was to raise awareness of that exact point. They chose several local landmarks to write the word “repeal” on. After taking a photo, they washed off the chalk and moved along. The photos were then used for posters on social media. One, outside the Finglas Credit Union, highlights the disproportionate effect of the Eighth Amendment on low-income women, often forcing them into debt in order to travel. Another is of a taxi rank accompanied by text saying ‘No more women should make the lonely taxi journey to the airport to travel for an abortion’.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly to plan. As they were using washable chalk and it was promised rain, the group made a decision not to wash away the word repeal at one of the landmarks, a statue of a mother and child. Although the photo was used for a poster highlighting that over half of women who have abortions are already mothers, that didn’t stop a certain level of controversy. “Of course it was taken by the other side and turned into something that it wasn’t,” admits Grogan. “It was never anything negative at all.”
The poster project was just one part of the awareness raising campaign in the area which started almost a year ago. Having seen other groups popping up around, Aoife Traynor thought it was time for a group in Dublin North West and put out a call. The people who turned up to the initial meeting had a variety of backgrounds; some had gained experience in the marriage equality referendum, some in the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), and others in different political parties. Grogan had been a member of ARC’s partnership and outreach group for a year when she saw the call on Twitter.
“We knew a referendum was going to be coming up because the Citizens’ Assembly was happening,” explains Grogan, “so we just started getting some of the ground work done”. Dublin North West Repeal, as it was then known, set up social media accounts, organised stalls in Finglas village and Ballymun, and attended marches together. In August the group held a public meeting, with speakers from Doctors for Choice, the Repeal Project, and Terminations For Medical Reasons.
In recent months many politicians have cited listening to women as the reason for coming out in support of repeal, often reversing long-held beliefs. They didn’t change their minds because it was popular. They listened because many groups, often small but organised, made it impossible to ignore the issue any longer. In Dublin North West, the newly-formed group hand-dropped letters in to local TDs to make sure the politicians knew the group existed, visited TDs at their clinics to speak face-to-face about the importance of supporting the Citizens’ Assembly, and encouraged people to support the national campaign.
That link with what was happening at the national level was there from the beginning. At the very first meeting the group decided to join the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, cutting out any potential duplication of work and ensuring updates on what was happening around the country from two members who attended the monthly Coalition meetings. After every canvass, the Dublin North West group feeds back into Together For Yes.
Grogan is adamant about the importance of canvassing. “The media have tried to tell us for a really long time that people weren’t engaged in [the campaign]. But they’re not turned off. They’re really, really engaged. They’ve been reading and they’ve been listening and they have questions. And I think having a face to face conversation with someone is the best way to answer those questions.”
Dublin North West Together For Yes has an extensive reach across the constituency and canvassers also pick up information which can be missed in the polls: “The undecided that we’ve been talking to, there’s some part of the Eighth Amendment that they want to change so they say ‘I’m thinking about voting yes but…’ or ‘I’m leaning towards yes but …’ None of them have said ‘I’m leaning towards no, convince me’,” explains Grogan.
Having been knocking on doors since mid-February, Dublin North West Together For Yes is now doing eleven canvasses a week in an effort to cover the entire constituency and get back to any areas with a high proportion of undecideds ahead of 25th May. They hope to manage some other awareness-raising events in their spare time.
“It’s like it’s there for the taking,” says Grogan. “And that’s why getting out to as many doors as possible is so important.”