Ireland’s Incomplete Revolution

When we see the word ‘Revolution’ we think of the French or Americans in the 18th century. We think of war, uprising, political turmoil, not 21st century Ireland.

The Revolution I speak of has a few factors.

  1. Growing opposition towards the Church’s role in Ireland & Irish politics
  2. Irish women standing up to the backwards Irish way of life.
  3. Most importantly, the repealthe8th movement for safe & legal access to abortion.


The catholic church has historically been very significant in Ireland; we have a long abusive relationship with the Vatican here and all across Europe. If you have a quick glance at the Irish constitution, you’ll see just how complicated the relationship is.

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people of Éire, humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ,”

Over the last few decades, however, Ireland has been distancing itself from religion. With the never-ending flow of awful stories relating to the catholic church it is hardly surprising. In Ireland alone the clerical sex abuse scandals, the discovery of a mass grave of 800 babies at the site of a former mother and baby home run by the catholic church and the general corruption that always surrounds the Vatican and their refusal to treat women as equals has driven people away.

Why then in 2016 is our constitution so religious?

Why are 90% of our schools owned/formerly owned by a religious institution?

Education is the answer to both. When we look at who is teaching the future generations we can see that almost all teaching schools in Ireland are owned/formerly owned by religious institutions as well. So, in a sense we are creating a connection between religion and young people from the moment they start school. Also, many of our politicians are former alumnus of these colleges, including our Taoiseach (PM), so it is understandable why the Irish state and church are still so closely linked.

I like to think Ireland is a progressive place most of the time but it is simply untrue. Every year we are reminded that the church is in control by abiding by a law made in 1927 prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Good Friday. This may seem like a small thing; it isn’t about the lack of access to alcohol but it is another reminder how in control the church still is in Ireland.

The 8th amendment is the real reason Ireland has turned against the church recently. “Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983 [Acknowledged the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.]

The last Referendum on abortion was held in 2002. So, according to the government anyone born after 1984 doesn’t deserve a choice. Just this week the government blocked a bill on a vote the repeal the eighth amendment stating that a citizens’ assembly would be more beneficial at this stage. This assembly they are talking about will take 6 months and another 6 months to analyse the results. This essentially means no referendum until 2018. has stated that at least 2580 more Irish women will travel to get an abortion by June 2017 (the end of the citizens’ assembly.) This is based on the figure of 14 Irish women travelling every single day to access abortions. One small thing which makes me so disappointed and ashamed to be Irish is the fact that some British abortion clinics offer Irish women a discount because of the expense of travelling. It hurts that a different country cares more about you than your own.

Irish people, both men and women are speaking out, protesting and doing everything and anything to highlight their views. The protests are getting bigger and gaining more momentum and support each time. Unlike Poland the Irish government is not taking notice of how the public feels as of yet. Irish men and women are demanding change in our society. At this point Ireland needs to do something because too many women have died or suffered so much because of one backwards amendment.

So far I have just spoken about Ireland but Malta has no access whatsoever, and just recently there were mass demonstrations in Poland because of a proposed abortion bill. It is obviously a complicated area but as a member of the EU, a progressive and relatively liberal union, how does it make sense for women to be denied access to bodily autonomy? This may seem like an attack on the Catholic church, it is not. The separation of Church and state has always been important around the world but somehow Ireland has not managed it completely yet. We never were very good at revolutions.

Emma Sheeran is an International Relations and Intercultural Studies student in Dublin City University but is currently on Erasmus at the University of Warsaw. She is a graduate of the Second edition of the School of Democracy.


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