Belfast Telegraph

Barabara McCarthy: Ireland is much as it was before Saturday... only with more bigots who think they're actually liberals

I don't want to rain on the Yes campaign's parade, but I just can't celebrate killing the unborn, says Barbara McCarthy

Ireland is still the same country today as it was before, just a little more tolerant, open and respectful," Leo Varadkar said outside Dublin Castle on Saturday, where thousands of people chanting "Yes" gathered to celebrate. I'd love to rephrase that: "Ireland has more authoritarian bigots who think they're liberals than it did before."

Repealing the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution was, essentially, a victory over the Catholic Church. Feminists, non-partisans and politicians hugged each other, crying "we made it" as they shattered the illusion that the Church was their moral arbiter.

It would be great if it wasn't so righteous. All I can see is a country that isn't that different than it was before, because, ultimately, Irish people are sheep who will do anything to impress global outsiders.

One of the great paradigms of propaganda is bandwagon mentality, which was evident outside Dublin Castle on Saturday. But I don't want to rain all over their repeal parade.

I'm happy for the tireless campaigners who have been fighting for women's rights for decades and for women who no longer have to travel to the UK for abortions when their babies suffer from fatal foetal abnormality. I'm happy victims of rape, incest, or domestic violence can have abortions at home.

But will I jump up and down like a fool singing Tracy Chapman's Talkin' Bout a Revolution amid cars beeping down on South William Street in Dublin's enclave of the absolutist Left and the blue haircut? Absolutely not.

I can't bring myself to celebrate abortions. I know, what a weirdo. Anyway, the No side, who make up one-third of the electorate, has been gracious in defeat. Many expressed sadness that they couldn't do more for the unborn. For many repealers, unfortunately, it's been a disgusting gloat-fest.

This was not an easy campaign to get behind. Many of us spent years deliberating, ruminating, going back and forth. It was like Sophie's Choice. I'm pro-life, but I really don't like telling people how to live their lives. The No side voted out of conscience against the introduction of the death penalty to the unborn. Yes voters voted for women to have autonomy over their bodies.

The dichotomy was palpable. But how can you be 100% for one or the other? It's not that women haven't suffered under the eighth amendment - there are heartbreaking stories on both sides. I have two cousins who were both told their babies would have Down's Syndrome and doctors suggested they abort. Both kept their children. Both were fine.

In this age of idealistic social media obsession and positivity memes, the lack of compassion - especially from female journalists - was unnerving. Nell McCafferty was one of the few who displayed some empathy towards the embryo. That's not to say the No side didn't make mistakes. The posters were too much and the fact that many campaigners were Catholic worked against them.

But, then again, as we officially release ourselves from the shackles of the Church in front of a global audience, it's easy to forget how Irish people let priests control their lives. Mothers were complicit, not afraid to take the priest's word over that of their own child, spoiling their sons over their daughters. But, yeah, in hindsight, let's blame the Church and bang on about how awful old Ireland was.

I sometimes forget I grew up here, too. I'm not Catholic and I never went to a convent school, which is good because I was allowed to think for myself, but like many others I'm not downtrodden, abused and enslaved. From my recollection, the 1980s and 1990s were amazing in Ireland. It's important we remember that, just because women who came before us suffered, doesn't mean we can collectively ride on their coat-tails of victimhood. If you haven't been oppressed, don't make out you're oppressed. The women crying outside Dublin Castle in repeal jumpers probably haven't been to the Magdalene laundries, or even had an abortion, so why are they carrying the burden? Victim culture is dangerous for the individual and for society.

But not to worry, we're a great little country, open and modern - at least CNN and other global media outlets think so. And we're amazing at selling ourselves, even to each other.

"Under the eighth amendment, women in crisis have been told you are on your own. Today, we say that we want to stand with you," health minister Simon Harris said, after being egged on by the crowd who were donning "we fancy Simon Harris" posters. Momentum is great for governments. In the ecstatic trance of a Yes vote, people were saying things like, "I trust our government to legislate on this properly".

Forgetful much? What about the cover-up surrounding the cervical smear scandal, endemic corruption, domestic abuse, murder and the fact that women are less safe in Ireland than ever before, out-of-control homelessness, static housing, obscene rents, vulture capitalism, inequitable taxation, gangland crime, expensive childcare, soaring suicide rates, mental health, corporate largesse ... The list goes on.

Sure, once the repealers have stopped trolling pro-lifers online in a virtuous trance and thrown their repeal jumpers in the back of their wardrobes, maybe they'll see that, too. Once the smoke and mirrors are gone, life in Ireland has never been more people-unfriendly.

Trailblazer Ailbhe Smyth said "equality and justice and freedom for people" exists now that women can have abortions. But what if we can't afford to live here? Or afford abortions? With that in mind, let's make our next battle about something that really affects us all, like the rental crisis, and we'll see how much political engagement we get.

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