The Paris March for life was attended by 15 members of Youth Defence who had travelled from Ireland for the event. Organiser Patrick Bray welcomed members of YD as he addressed the crowd and congratulated us on having travelled so far to represent one of the few remaining pro-life countries in Europe.
More than 6 million unborn children have been killed in France since the passing of the Veil Law in 1975.
Ultrasound, Ireland’s most active student pro-life network, presented free viewings of the film Bella in three locations in Ireland. Brought from the states by Stand True’s Bryan Kemper, the films central theme revolves around despair and redemption and addresses abortion in a very subtle, oblique, and non-didactive way.
It was shown in NUI Maynooth and Dublin City University, and in Potter’s Hall in Dublin city centre to packed theatres. After the screenings Bryan Kemper talked about the films themes and message.
The film went down very well everywhere except in UCD where it wasn’t shown. It was cancelled at the last moment when the college authorities gave in to the extreme strop thrown by a few lefties in the Students Union who had put aside their anti-censorship concerns to screech for the pro-life movie to be censored.
Based on a concept started in the US in 2004 Precious Life began a lenten campaign asking for prayers and fasting for the defeat of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill which would be debated in Westminster in March. The campaign had three elements: prayer, vigil, and action. As part of the action element it included a postcard petition calling on the Secretary of State to ensure Westminster does not impose abortion on the North of Ireland but to leave it in the hands of the Northern Assembly.
On Sunday 11th May, the leaders of four of the main political parties in the North co-signed a letter to all Westminster MPs stating their opposition to the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the North. It was the culmination of Precious Life’s work, which began in January, to expose this latest threat from Westminster by alerting church leaders, holding meetings with politicians, and informing the public.
Unless you were hiding under a rock in 2008 you must have gotten wind of the Lisbon referendum. The campaign, and the result of course, knocked the political parties sideways when things did not go as they were supposed to.
From Youth Defence’s point of view the mooted European Union as proposed by the Lisbon treaty was something to resist. The Lisbon Treaty would supercede all previous treaties and in a sense make a new EU. Although just about every commentator said it was the European Constitution re-dressed and re-branded, the yes side tried to sell it as a necessary step in the evolution of Europe.
“Come on now” said the sceptics.
Cóir, a bunch of said sceptics who had previously campaigned against the Nice treaty and who align with Youth Defence on a lot of issues, pointed out that the treaty – or constitution if you like - would give the European Court of Justice enormous powers, including the right to combine the Charter of Fundamental Rights with the Declaration 17 on Primacy in the Treaty, and decide our social and moral laws.
“This,” they said, “made it a constitution in everything but name.”
Sensing something coming down the tracks, Cóir took out the kitty in December 2007 and saw the plain fact that they couldn’t afford to pay for a Christmas pudding. A depressing looking couple of shillings was all that stared forlornly from the tattered and dejected purse. It looked likely that the YES campaign (no prize for guessing who this line up of gunslingers would be) would resemble a carousel of swag bags and bank rolls, and cash would be flung in all directions like a Roman senator on the make, so Cóir, in the absence of any likely plan, put all their hope in the triumph of brains and effort over strength. Now while Cóir turned out to be blessed with the sort of marketing cunning that produced the three monkeys poster – the hit of the campaign - they also have a gluttonous appetite for donkey work; they’re pure sluggers.
Cóir went for legwork, to include: meetings, leaflets, booklets, a website, the internet including youtube, posters, a canvassing roadshow, and a few stunts to get on the airways. And so the race began with the No side taking all the early initiative. The Yes side seemed blasé about the whole thing thinking only “headcases and loolaas” (as an Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn said) would be mad enough to vote NO - or read the treaty for that matter.
By April, with less than a month to go, panicky reports were working their way back through the party system that the Lisbon idea wasn’t being openly greeted on the streets. They kept finding that a certain issue arose on the canvass - one which they hadn’t anticipated. Some “loolaas” were saying they were concerned about the treaty because of its implication for our abortion laws. The Government tried to play this down but the snarl on the lips of Mícheál Martin, (the Minister for Foreign Affairs) every time the issue came up said otherwise. In one memorable radio showdown Martin clashed with Niamh Uí Bhriain who was now speaking for Cóir. The studio temperature practically came to boiling but while Martin played up outrage and denial like a seasoned pro, the results showed that the bothersome electorate believed Cóir had won the debate.
As Ciaran Cuffe, the Green party TD said “Cóir hit the ground running. The monkey’s worked.” 6,500 of these posters were erected nationwide by volunteers, and 5,000 posters with a different message were produced for the final stretch of the campaign.
All in all the Cóir campaign produced 144 snazzy, bright adverts on the Luas, a website- www.lisbonvote.com, a youtube video, 11,500 posters, over 5,000 Catholic Voter Guides, 1.5 million leaflets, 100,000 cards which targeted voter segments, 7,000 bumper stickers, 7,000 Canvassers Cards, 2,000 badges and more!
Some of the feedback that canvassers reported was that people on the doorsteps felt the EU was arrogant; that Irish politicians were only out for themselves; that Ireland’s sovereignty was in danger. They believed that the Lisbon Treaty was a step too far; that we would lose control of our economy and the right to decide on moral and social issues.
The count in Dublin Castle was broadcast all over the world, with the image of Cóir workers cheering with delight and tossing Niamh Uí Bhriain, about the room on their shoulders making the front pages from Slovakia to Panama.
The No vote was helped of course by the fact that everyone is just tired of the EU, tired of hearing how miserable we’d all be without it, and generally as mistrustful of it as one would expect of secretive, all-powerful, mean-spirited power-mongers.
In the aftermath of the vote the political parties, the government, and some segments of the media, were falling over themselves declaring that abortion had absolutely nothing to do with the rejection of the treaty. They all looked pretty foolish two weeks later when a Red C poll knocked that drivel on the head. It showed that abortion was a significant issue for a huge majority of NO voters and that, in fact, all of the issues highlighted by Cóir were the major factors in the NO vote.
In any case, the poll confirmed what the canvassing and the work on the ground had already told us, and what the political parties already knew to be true. Micheál Martin admitted the significance of abortion concerns on the day of the count, and, in his address to the EU leader’s summit , an Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, stated that one of the chief reasons for the NO vote was a belief that the European Court of Justice would change our laws on abortion and euthanasia.
Youth Defence hosted Sr. Briege McKenna in the Red Cow Inn, Dublin for an inspirational talk on the pro-life ethos entitled “Being a Witness.” Sr. Briege, who is based in Florida, is so highly regarded that her time is almost entirely taken up giving retreats to clergy and other religious.
She kindly stopped over on one of her round the world trips to oblige Youth Defence with a talk to a crowd in Dublin. It was great; uplifting and, as the Unbelievables say, fair moving. Sr Briege is a legend. She warned everyone that they needed to get out of their armchairs and take some action against abortion (in nicer terms than that of course, being a lovely person, but she was pretty firm about it all the same).
The Roadshow saw everyone come out in high spirits after the Lisbon victory of the previous month. Although everyone had been on the go for the last six months with the Lisbon campaign there was no shortage of appetite as everyone was still in celebratory mood. In the usual packed itinerary the Roadshow visited 15 towns in 10 days. A fair few new members learned the ropes and joined the team.
YD’s No Exceptions report was sent to UCC academics as it emerged that the college was considering initiating experimentation on tissue harvested from human embryos.