Against The Tone Police, by Eoin Ó Faogáin



Be visible, but not too visible. Be loud, but not too loud. Be strong, but not too strong.

What’s interesting and somewhat unique about the movement to repeal the 8th amendment is the number of interventions by self-proclaimed ‘moderate critics’, armed to the teeth with appropriateness hazard lights; props for a series of sustained tone policing.

Two opinion pieces in Irish newspapers over the past weekend sought to critique the repeal cause on the grounds that, apparently, the middle ground is being lost. Apparently, women emerging in growing numbers to demand control over their own bodies is upsetting to the sensibilities of the unaffected.

I must have been imagining that 25,000 people from every imaginable demographic marched through Dublin ten days ago. I must have been imagining that last night, 500 activists took to the Polish Consulate on Eden Quay in a last-minute demo in solidarity with women in Poland striking against planned legal changes there which would see abortion access further restricted.

I must have been imagining that a Know Your Repealers hashtag trended at #1 in Ireland for 48 hours on Twitter.

It raises questions as to why the need is felt by apparent moderates to tone the campaign down. In doing so, whether intentional or not, the message put across is ‘it’s okay to be angry, just do it more quietly.’

For the many women who have shared their stores over the last twelve months in particular– courageously, passionately, loudly – a line of quiet frustration is being drawn in the sand. Silence did not lead to the largest March for Choice to date, it did not lead to an explosion of publicly visible solidarity in the form of the now iconic Repeal jumpers and it did not lead to 87% of Irish people supporting a broadening of access to abortion according to polls.

That enormous surge is certainly not a result of going about the campaign timidly, tentatively.

We always expected vile, insensitive commentary from Ronan Mullen, Breda O’Brien, David Quinn et al. After all, despite their hysterical nonsense being rejected resoundingly by the Irish electorate eighteen months ago, you’ll never keep a good bigot down for too long. People were prepared for and are well capable of another round of making them look stupid, though. It’s actually quite easy.

What was perhaps unexpected, and certainly unwelcome, is the emergence of so much tone policing. Alongside the deeply concerned columnists, politicians who coast through their generously paid lives without having a meaningful opinion on anything, ever, have fallen over themselves of late to decry abortion as a ‘divisive issue’.

Abortion in and of itself is not a divisive issue. It is a part of reproductive healthcare. It is a procedure which is chosen internationally for a multitude of reasons – all of them legitimate. The divisive issue, in fact, is that Ireland is one of two countries in the world (alongside Chile) where abortion access is treated as a constitutional matter. The law is divisive, not the action.

The momentum built by the Repeal movement, the Abortion Rights Campaign and the abundance of other superb pro-choice organisations in Ireland has served many benefits, but among the most important is the normalisation of abortion, the removal of stigma, the rejection at last of generations of foetal fetishisation.
This campaign is going to keep growing, it’s going to mobilise people on an enormous scale and when the time comes for a referendum, it will absolutely win. And it will win because of visibility, perseverance, anger, courage and strength channeled energetically through a wonderfully led campaign.

It is a movement that will not tone things down for fear of offence and it is a movement will not bend to compromise. 150,000 Irish women’s mental and physical health has been compromised by going underground and over the sea since 1983. No institution has the right to set a scale for what is and isn’t acceptable discourse.

The time for subtlety has long since passed.

So let’s be visible, more visible than ever. Be loud, louder than ever. Be strong, stronger than ever and in doing so, let’s clear the fence of its inhabitants.

Eoin Ó Faogáin