By Helen (guest blogger)
Growing up I was always told that I was lucky, I was the first of a new generation of Irish people who could look forward to a future in Ireland, free from the trauma of emigration.
There has been enough coverage in the news for me to not have to tell you that they got that monumentally wrong.
Perhaps another thing that they got wrong wasn’t the trauma of emigrating as a young Irish person- but rather, the trauma of returning to Ireland and living in a state with a narrow definition of Irishness, which it imposes on itself.
My status as an emigrant is just another hallmark of the not so new, “new generation”. It seems that, in the end- not much has changed, changed utterly, after all.
Not if you happen to be a woman, gay, a socialist, a traveller, the list goes on…
Despite the central role played by both women, socialists (and even dare I say it: socialist women) and others in the movements that led to Irish Independence, only one group got to play a role afterwards. The nationalist, and that nation was capitalist & catholic.
Women were only to be promoted through symbolism- the image of Éireann, as a young beautiful woman.
There is another young, beautiful woman that I’d like to talk about. Though she isn’t Irish. Not that that matters. It didn’t matter that Savita Hallaparava wasn’t Irish, not when she asked her doctor to give her an abortion due to the excruciating physical and emotional pain she was in as a result of spending four days enduring a miscarriage. It didn’t matter when she died. It doesn’t matter now.
What does matter is that it should not have been in vain. I wish the debate in Ireland on women’s rights, was a debate about the right of a woman to choose, vs. the right of an unborn foetus. Sadly, it doesn’t. It centres on the right of a woman to life, vs. the right of an unborn foetus.
Savita is not alone though, Michelle Harte, despite suffering from cancer- was forced to travel to the UK for an abortion in a private clinic. The X-case, where a 14-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated by a close family member, was prevented by the state from traveling to the UK with her parents, also to seek an abortion had to bring the Irish State to court. 20 years after the Irish Supreme Court ruled that a 14 year old girl, who was reduced to threatening to kill herself, be given the right to access basic healthcare we are still waiting for the Irish State legislatures in Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) to introduce laws which state that a woman can have a legal abortion if there is a threat to her life.
These women aren’t alone though, because since 1967, at least 50,000 other Irish women have been forced to make the same journey to the UK. The ones that can afford it that is, because although having an abortion is available on the NHS to British women- Irish women have to pay on average £1,700 to have the same operation in a private clinic, thousands of miles from home. When they return back home, there is no counselling or supportive service available to treat them or help them cope.
Ireland’s economy wasn’t the only thing to fail Irish emigrants, a narrow authoritarian definition of what being Irish means- has been driving away young, open minded people for generations.