By Aisling Reidy
The first vote I ever cast was in one of the six referendums that Ireland has had on abortion. Today, I watched with tears of joy as it became clear that two-thirds of Irish people voted to repeal the 35-year constitutional ban on abortion and to allow parliament to regulate abortion access in the future. Voters had turned out in historic numbers. I am both proud and relieved.
I was too young in 1983 to vote in the first referendum that led Ireland to change its Constitution, adding what is known as the eighth amendment, banning abortion in almost all circumstances, even though it had already been criminalized in the country for over a century.
Under the constitutional ban, while “due regard” was given to the right to life of pregnant women and girls, the state’s responsibility was to “vindicate” the right to life of the “unborn.” When I was a university student, anti-choice activists successfully used the ban to make it illegal for doctors and family planning clinics to offer patients information about abortion services outside of Ireland. Student union officers were prosecuted for distributing such information. Magazines from abroad turned up in Ireland with blank pages, which would otherwise have contained advertisements with information on abortion services in the UK.
Over the years, the ban led to an injunction against a 14-year-old rape victim to stop her traveling to England for a termination, and, as recently as 2014, to a forced caesarean on a young asylum seeker, who despite being raped had not been allowed to travel for an abortion. Some women, like Savita Halappanavar, died because of the eighth amendment. The European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committeeruled on multiple occasions that the ban violated women’s rights, and told Ireland time and again to change its laws.
I voted in three referendums that won small but important gains: the right for a suicidal pregnant woman or girl to obtain a life-saving abortion; the right to information about services abroad; and the right to travel for these services. Between 1980 and 2016, more than170,000 Irish women and girls “travelled” (as it euphemistically became known) to have abortions: rape victims, women with diagnosis of fatal fetal anomalies, women who needed to end pregnancies to undergo life-saving treatment, and those who, for myriad personal reasons, could not continue their pregnancies. It’s likely everyone in Ireland knows family members or friends who “travelled” – often alone and in secrecy. I do.
After years of women making this lonely and often agonizing journey, listening to the brave individuals who came forward to break the silence, watching the commitment of the indefatigable pro-choice campaigners, and seeing the thousands who travelled #hometovote, yesterday’s vote was particularly poignant. The emphatic nature of the ‘Yes’ vote gives me hope that it will mark the start of a new, honest, rights-respecting era for women and girls in Ireland.
Activists in Poland, Malta, Italy, and in other regions such as Latin America -- where women and girls continue to fight for access to abortion – watched as Ireland voted. I hope today marks a day where women’s struggle to secure or protect their basic reproductive rights wherever they are, is bolstered.
Published on HRW on May 28, 2018
A Burmese man who spent eight years in direct provision has won his Supreme Court appeal over the legal ban preventing him from working.
In a significant decision on Tuesday, the seven-judge Supreme Court unanimously found in favour of the man, but adjourned the matter for six months to allow the legislature consider how to address the situation.
The court found that, “in principle”, the ban in the Refugee Act on asylum seekers seeking employment, is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment.
The decision could have major implications for other asylum seekers.
Giving the court’s judgment, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said the man was eight years in the asylum system before getting refugee status.
While the State can legitimately have a policy of restricting employment of asylum seekers, Section 9.4 of the Refugee Act does “not just severely limit” the right to seek work for asylum seekers, but “removes it altogether”, he said.
If there is no limit on the time for processing an asylum application, that could amount to an absolute prohibition on employment, no matter how long a person was within the system, he said.
He could not accept that if a right is in principle available, that it is an appropriate and permissible differentiation between citizens and non-citizens, and in particular between citizens and asylum seekers, to remove the right for all time for asylum seekers.
“The point has been reached when it cannot be said the legitimate differences between an asylum seeker and a citizen can continue to justify the exclusion of an asylum seeker from the possibility of employment,” he said.
“This damage to the individual’s’ self worth and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right [to seek employment] seeks to guard against.”
The evidence from the man of the depression, frustration and lack of self-belief at being unable to work “bears this out”, he added.
He said, in principle, he would be prepared to find, in circumstances where there is no temporal limit on the asylum process, the “absolute prohibiton” on seeking of employment in Section 9.4, and re-enacted in Section 16.3.b of the International Protection Act 2015, “is contrary to the constitutional right to seek employment”.
Because this situation arises because of the intersection of a number of statutory provisions, and could arguably be met by alteration of one or other of those, and since that was “first and foremost a matter for executive and legislative judgment” , the court would adjourn consideration of what form of order to make for six months, he said.
After that period elapsed, the court would hear submissions from the sides as to what form of order should be made “in the light of the circumstances then obtaining”.
Represented by Michael Lynn SC, the man’s case was brought against the Minister for Justice, with the Attorney General and Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission as notice parties.
The man had argued, while living in direct provision on a €19 weekly allowance, he suffered depression, “almost complete loss of autonomy” and being allowed work was vital to his development, personal dignity and “sense of self worth”.
Shortly after coming here in late 2008, he was refused refugee status, but appealed. After the High Court found errors in how his applications were decided, there were re-hearings before the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which last September granted him refugee status.
Because that meant he could legitimately seek employment, the State argued the Supreme Court should dismiss as pointless his appeal against the Court of Appeal’s 2/1 rejection of his case.
Lawyers for the man and IHREC urged the court to address the issues and, in its judgment on Tuesday, the court said it had decided to do so for reasons including the case raised a point of law of general public importance.
In dismissing the man’s case last year, a majority Court of Appeal ruled the open-ended nature of the ban on work did not mean Section 9.4 is unconstitutional and rejected as “too broad a proposition” non-Irish citizens enjoy the same general rights as Irish citizens.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan disagreed.
He ruled the man has a personal right under Article 40.3 of the Constitution to work here and Section 9.4. unconstitutionally struck at the “very substance” of that constitutional right.
Published on The Irish Times on May 30, 2017.