The overwhelming vote of the Irish people on 25 May to repeal the 8th Amendment was a watershed moment for human rights and equality in Ireland. Many of the ICCL membership have played key roles in the long battle against the 8th over the past 35 years. The members and supporters of ICCL also played an important part in ICCL’s work on this issue. ICCL membership fees support our political work, including when we take a position on a referendum question. Below we set out the specific activities which we have undertaken to contribute to this historic moment.
ICCL’s history of campaigning for reproductive rights
The ICCL opposed the 8th Amendment to the Constitution in 1983 on the grounds that it would cause confusion and be unworkable in practice, and that it would not prevent women living in Ireland from needing and seeking abortions. In 1992 the ICCL opposed the referendum proposal to prohibit abortion where a woman’s life was at risk by suicide, and supported the constitutional amendments that guaranteed the freedom to travel and the freedom to impart and obtain information about abortion services abroad. The ICCL published a detailed policy paper in 2001 arguing against a further proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion in cases of suicide risk. The paper criticised the government’s failure to address honestly the needs of the thousands of women who travelled abroad each year for abortion and the discrimination suffered by women and girls who were unable to travel.
In recent years the ICCL has made submissions to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Committee Against Torture calling for the repeal of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, the decriminalisation of abortion, and the introduction of legislation providing for access to abortion in Ireland. The ICCL’s submission to the Citizens’ Assembly in 2016 is available here.
We published a position paper on the 8th Amendment in 2017.
The International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations (INCLO)
ICCL was a founder member of INCLO in 2013 and one of the pillar areas of work of the Network is Religious Freedom and Equal Treatment. Under that pillar, INCLO has taken a particular interest in the issue of abortion rights and ICCL hosted and international convening on abortion rights in Dublin in November 2017. The timing of the event allowed a platform for international activists and experts to share their experiences and perspectives in advance of the final report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment. Our international colleagues also had the opportunity to meet with leading Irish activists and members of the Oireachtas during the event. For details of the event see here.
ICCL and the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth
ICCL was a founder member of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth in 2015 and provided logistical support to the Coalition in its early phases. We have played an active part in the Coalition’s work at all stages. In February 2018, as the Government committed to holding a referendum for repeal the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth joined with the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Abortion Rights Campaign to form Together For Yes as the campaigning body for the referendum. Together for Yes was launched in March with ICCL as a member of its platform of civil society organisations. ICCL actively participated in the campaign platform and director Liam Herrick spoke at the Cork launch of Together for Yes.
Funding the Referendum Campaign
Once the proposition for the Referendum was published, the Executive of the ICCL Members Association registered as a Third Party for the period of the Referendum. In line with the requirements of the Electoral Acts, by registering as a Third Party which would campaign in the referendum, the ICCL Members Association was committing that only authorised donations could be used to fund any activities which were aimed at supporting a particular outcome in the referendum. Only ICCL members’ fees were used to fund our campaign activities – these being of an order of €40 per person and all from Irish citizens. By registering the ICCL Members Association as a Third Party (as ICCL has done in previous referendums), we separated our campaign activities from the other non-political work of ICCL, including our charitable work and our work which is funded by trusts and foundations.
The ICCL campaign
ICCL launched our own campaign Her Rights, which focused on the human rights impact of the referendum over the past 35 years. You can find details of the campaign here.
ICCL also joined with members of the legal professions and Lawyers for Choice to work with the sub-group Lawyers for Yes, which acted as the legal arm of the overall Together for Yes Campaign. Together with these groups, ICCL provided legal comment and analysis through the campaign. Liam Herrick provided comment at a press conference on 30 April and spoke at a briefing for members of the Oireachtas on 2 May.
In the final week of the campaign, ICCL hosted a multi-media public event at Smock Alley theatre, entitled Under the 8th, which recalled the history of the 8th from 1983 and celebrated the role of the key leading activists who have led the fight against the amendment – including Pauline Conroy, Justice Catherine McGuinness, Ivana Bacik, Catherine Forde and Máiréad Enright. Read more here.
During the course of the referendum, a number of issues emerged about restrictions on artistic freedom of expression, whereby visual artists and writers had events or works censored, restricted or cancelled due to their political content. ICCL led the resistance to these developments. We issued a policy paper on freedom of artistic and political expression and we publicly launched this paper by commissioning our own mural. We unveiled this mural a week before the Referendum, and leading members of the arts community, including poet Paula Meehan and Project Arts Centre’s Cian O’Brien, spoke at the invigorating event in Phibsboro. Read more here.
Work for the Future
In the aftermath of the result, ICCL is continuing to work with partner organisations, including the Irish Family Planning Association and the National Women’s Council, to ensure that the legislation is compliant with human rights standards. As we have done since our foundation, ICCL will continue to work for women’s rights including reproductive rights.
We will also shortly launch a project aimed at protecting and widening the space within which civil society can operate. This will aim, amongst other issues, at reform of the Electoral Acts of 2001, at protecting artistic and political freedom of expression during referendum periods, and at reform of the Charities Act so that it includes human rights work as a charitable purpose.