The human embryo was thrust into the political limelight in February of 2009 in a rather strange custody case. The embryo in question was frozen and while the mother wanted to implant the embryo, her estranged husband didn't want another child to be born. The case - RvR ended up in the High Court.
The Attorney General became involved, ostensibly on behalf of Embryo X, but with the most bizarre comprehension of his client's best interests.
His office took the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach and took a stab at interpreting the meaning of the 1983 abortion referendum. On February 4th, the AG's representative, Mr Dónal O'Donnell, said an embryo is not an "unborn" within the meaning of Article 40.3.3.
Youth Defence said speculative and baseless conjecture was being cast about as to the intentions of the electorate in 1983, and this conjecture was being passed off as if it were certain knowledge.
YD made the distinction between the wishes of the people and the agenda of the few even clearer when they launched a 'Not in Our Name' campaign opposing proposals to allow embryonic stem cell research in University College Cork (UCC).
This was a major multi-media campaign drawing public attention to the issue and opening up the university's proposal to the public arena.
The campaign was centred around a very visible street advertising outreach, concentrated in Cork, which explained the difference between ethical adult stem cell research and embryo research; and encouraged the public to speak up against embryonic stem cell research in UCC.
YD also organised an influential campus tour bringing stem cell expert Dr. David Prentice to speak to packed theatres in UCC and Maynooth about the science of stem cell research. Ethicist Wesley Smyth joined him to un-muddy the bio-ethical waters and argued for ending the equivocation on the humanity of embryos.
The Lord Mayor of Cork supported a ban on research on human embryos, but the local-boy-in-politics-who-made-good, the sitting Minister for Education and Science, Bat O'Keefe, was not available for comment as he was worried about whether to quit politics and get the pension or go down with the FF ship.
While the Governing Body of UCC approved importing embryonic stem cell lines, the public opposition raised by Youth Defence campaigns meant that a national ban now looks likely.
The machinations of those involved - including UCC law lecturer, Deirdre Madden - are explored and detailed in a hugely important investigative book, Join the Dots, from the Life Institute. Nothing stays secret when they're on the case.
Cork University Hospital were up for doing a bit of campaigning of their own when they invited one Len Doyal over to talk about "Why euthanasia should be legalised".
Doyal didn't get to say much however, since protests at the talk meant it was abandoned before it started. One man, whose wife was grievously ill with cancer in the hospital, said that the decision to promote euthanasia was insulting and traumatic for patients and families.
Doyal has a very romantic view of a world without any sick people (whether they like it or not), and since 2009; a world without angry hecklers.
Whilst all this stuff was going on, the ever-energetic Youth Defence found time to join more than 20,000 people on Sunday 25 January at a very vibrant and lively Marche pour la Vie in Paris. Oui!
Also in 2009 the government of Ireland asked us to reconsider our earlier hasty decision not to accept the Lisbon treaty. Seeing the country spiralling into depression and job losses they said "tis an ill wind that blows no one good." The government managed to find something to be positive about this bleak future and used it to scare the voters into accepting the Lisbon Treaty. Vote for recovery and not to mention jobs was the mantra of the yes campaign, and bedad we were all so petrified that we just went along with this plan. In the absence of anything better we swallowed the Lisbon medicine.
Lisbon (the real Lisbon that is), as well as the rest of us; were in for something as far removed from recovery as Pluto is from the warm light of the sun. Lisbon passed, and Professor Anthony Coughlan said that it was not the will of the people but the fear of the people that had caused the referendum to pass. Cóir, who had succeeded in getting political promises on abortion from the EU overloads after playing a major role in defeating Lisbon Round 1, said the people were "shamelessly bullied" into supporting the treaty.
The leaders of the three main political posses declared, with great solemnity, that the people had spoken and there was no going back on it. This was done with far less po-faces and infinitely less stress than on the previous occasion when old Biffo had to take a tongue-lashing off Manuel Borrosa and the real bosses in Brussels. FG and Labour had the happy task of popping over to the EU troika to tell them that they did the job properly this time - and slag off FF.
YD chairman, adult prodigy, Eoghan De Faoite, attend the "Here I am" pro-life 2nd International Student Conference hosted by SPUC Scotland in early March. He made an inspiring speech about activism and stuff. People clapped, and it wasn't in sympathy.
In the merry month of May the all-new YD websites went live. New informative and interactive stuff. All redesigned and snazzy and dripping with cool stuff. The names stayed the same but they had a serious makeover. They are now zippier, sleeker, and looking ten years younger.
The old web wasn't the only thing we took a spanner to. The Mother and Child Campaign morphed and in its place was the fearless research institute and strategic think-tank The Life Institute. The time has come the Life Institute said to think of other things, of life and death, and ageing, and the value of life -the bigger picture as good old Charles Lutwidge Dodgson used to say.
Up north YD's sister group Precious Life got wind of a report circulating in the Department of Health which recommended guidelines for abortion. It wasn't the first time abortion had been surreptitiously slipped onto the agenda in this way - sort of folded into the morning's papers so no one would notice. If you remember, it was also previously on the agenda but was roundly rebuffed with the help of Precious Life's nationwide postcard campaign. Precious Life; never less than a thorn in the side of the abortion industry and its political campaigners; shouted 'not in our name' again in the most public and forthright way possible. The cat was out of the bag, teeth were ground, and the forces of darkness muttered but conceded defeat on this occasion.
And then there was the big conference shindig. As 2009 progressed, word got out that something fairly cool was brewing in Maynooth. It couldn't be helped, we tried to keep a lid on it but a critical mass built up and all the heads turned up for the Viva la Vida conference. It was supposed to be a conference with a difference for young pro-life activists, between the ages of 16-35 and it sure worked out that way. Addressing all these aimless youths were theorists and thinkers and activists –in fact many speakers were all three, emphasising the importance of being fully informed in your mission.
We had abortion survivors and abortionists all together in one room. You would think that could be awkward! But no, the spirit of reconciliation, forgiveness, and compassion is strong in this lot. It was like an Iwo jima veteran's reunion: and the love and inspiration flowed.
The speakers were magic: Gianna Jessen, Lila Rose, Bryan Kemper and Dr Tony Levatino who explained exactly what he used to do when he worked as an abortionist. You literally could have heard a pin drop in the room.
John Pridmore, former gangster turned Catholic speaker, also made a big impression when he kicked the door down; I mean kicked off proceedings, with a powerful witness. This guy used to relish his reputation as the most feared tough in town but eventually saw his life was empty (like all his beer bottles) and changed it all around. He was great.
The weekend came to a close at the GPO in O'Connell St in Dublin, with the candle-light vigil in commemoration of "Baby C". It reminded us of the closing line of the conference by E De Faoite "You can make a vital difference - you just have to be willing".
On July 4th the Rally for life took place in Dublin. This yearly event had been growing every year and we wanted it to be bigger than ever. So with this in mind we wasted no time in printing promotional materials (meaning that we did it; but muy rapido; not that we didn't do it) for the rally. With websites and snappy promo videos buzzing about, swarms of interested people started contacting us.
Between 4,500 and 5,000 people turned up on a miserably wet morning. But their dedication was duly rewarded as the day turned into a scorcher just as the march started.
The rally was picketed by a loose collection of what looked like left-over cartoon characters. They were pretty cheesed off when no-one gave a toss about their opposition to a Celebration of Life.
Read more on Rally for Life 2009 here...
See the Rally for Life site...
Later that year (October 17th) some of us joined with more than 1.5 million people in a simply colossal Rally for Life in Madrid. There was a nice exchange involved in this. One of the Spanish organisers -Marta Serranillos from Derecho a Vivir - spoke at our Dublin rally and extended a return invite. So we went. And what's more; stuck it to the man on Spanish telly. Viva la Vida!
See the photos from Madrid here...
For the annual YD Roadshow, YD had hired very cool 'digi-van'; a van with an enormous screen and speakers on the side, which played pro-life videos and messages during the day. It made a serious impacts in the towns and hamlets of Ireland. One of our international volunteers, Rupal Bavishi's had this to say. "Street sessions were daunting for me at first, having never done anything like this before. I felt completely 'on show' and out of my comfort zone, standing next to an information board with pictures depicting the humanity of the unborn baby." She concluded that she was impressed with how many people walk away with a changed heart - and had a whole lot of fun too tearing about the country with 50 or so head-the-balls. Rupal is just one of the many people who have come to Ireland over the years to get experience of this pro-active side of pro-life work.
In December, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the RvR case. (That's the embryo case we mentioned earlier.) Several judges in their rulings pointed out that the human embryo was entitled to respect (but not too much), and Mr Justice Nial Fennelly said that it may be open to the courts in a future case to consider if an embryo enjoys constitutional protection under other provisions of the Constitution. The thing most in contention before the Court was the ruling by High Court Justice McGovern that Article 40.3.3 did not protect embryonic unborn children outside the womb, since it was not the intention of the electorate in 1983 to extend protection to such embryos.
Youth Defence said "How do you know what the people meant, did you ask them?"
The court sniffed and was silent. YD sniffed and called on the government to get off the fence and respect the wishes of the people and to move to protect human life from the moment of conception. Then we produced a leaflet which concluded that the verdict was lousy and distributed it widely.