Organised Advocacy for Life
The first phase of the Mother & Child Campaign consisted of the most organised political lobbying this country has ever seen on the abortion issue in July, August and September of 2000.
Some 350,000 lobbying leaflets were distributed, designed not just to inform, but to encourage lobbying for a pro-life referendum and the results were spectacular.
Questions and Answer booklets were distributed and advertisements were placed in selected media. A dedicated website was estalished. Our office was literally inundated with calls from ordinary people of their intention to lobby their TD's.
The interview conducted in July (2000) by the Irish Examiner with Brian Lenihan, the Chairman of the All-Party Oireactas Committee on the Constitution finally revealed the thinking of the political establishment on abortion. The Committee had, among other things, to deal with the consequences of the X case judgement and to deliver, based on the options outlined in the Green Paper, a recommendation to the cabinet on what should be done. The official report was to be published when the Dail reconvened in October, but Mr. Lenihan pre-empted that publication with the declaration that a consensus had been achieved among the Committee members to exclude the option of a Constitutional prohibition of abortion.
Anyone who has been following the so-called consultation process will be aware that this was in spite of the fact that only 50 of over 10,000 written submissions to the Green Paper, favoured any form of legalised abortion howsoever limited. This Committee had received in excess of 105,000 submissions, and, again the message was unanimously the same; the Irish people wanted a referendum to totally prohibit abortion in any circumstances. Of course, the Committee, in coming so quickly to its conclusion, was also ignoring the evidence from repeated independent opinion polls which showed that between 70% and 75% of the electorate consistently called for a referendum.
The Mother & Child Campaign were not surprised by the Committees "consensus." We never felt at any time that what was underway was anything more than a public relations exercise, designed to fool as many people as possible into believing that a genuine and fair consultation process was being conducted, which, when concluded, would produce the only decision possible.
There is a reason, however, why the Chairman would have revealed the major point of the report some weeks before publication. The Mother & Child Campaign believes that the non-committal silence of the Taoiseach tells us all we need to know. It was clear that the Taoiseach intended to test the temperature of the nation on the abortion issue prior to any official government statement. The nightmare scenario was that when the Committees report was finally published and when the parliamentary parties were consulted, TD's would be telling their leadership that abortion was not a significant issue in their constituencies, and that, in fact, people didn't care that much. In that instance, with pressure undoubtedly mounting from the European Union, and the ever-present liberal media bias, the decision for legalising limited abortion would quickly be made.
With this in mind, we initiated a new and innovative campaign. The focus of the campaign was on something which has been done before but never in this way, namely the intensive lobbying of our political representatives for a rejection of the Committee's proposal of limited abortion and positively for a Pro-Life referendum sooner rather than later. Certainly, such lobbying has been an integral part of the work undertaken by our group and others over the years but largely speaking this has been done sporadically, here and there, now and again. Never before has it been done on a national, structured scale, and focused within a specific time period, which, in this case, was before October. Every T.D. in the country came under intense pressure from the grass-roots of their own constituents.
For the purposes of the campaign, we produced a special leaflet and poster to inform the general public of the nefarious intent behind the Committee's deliberations and urged ordinary people to make their voices heard at this critical time. Mother & Child Campaign speakers, travelled the country, impressing on meetings the urgency of the situation and the need for activism on a large scale.
The response throughout the country was magnificent. We set ourselves a preliminary target of 10,000 phone calls to politicians before October, (an average of 60 per T.D.), and the reports from return meetings revealed that we were target, if not exceeding it. There was also of course, the vitally important representations being made to politicians at their clinics.
We knew from the feedback that the T.D.s were feeling the pressure. For example one young woman who called Tony Gregory's office was greeted with an almost panic response that this was "about the tenth call" he had received that day alone.
Most significantly there can be little doubt that the report from a "senior government source" in a following Sunday Business Post article that the government intends a referendum before the next General Election with a view to copperfastening "current medical practice" was in direct response to the Mother and Child Campaign.
The measure of the success of the campaign was seen in the juxtaposition of two newspaper headlines. The first, from the Irish Examiner (July 2000), quoted Brian Lenihan’s bare-faced declaration that the Committee had reached a consensus against the constitutional prohibition of abortion.
Some three months later (October 2000) the Sunday Business Post quietly reported that a “constitutional amendment that will seek to strengthen the ban on abortion is likely to be put to the people in a referendum next year”. Three months of hard work and intensive lobbying showed the desired results.
Some 350,000 lobbying leaflets have been distributed and the results have been spectacular. The office was literally inundated with calls from ordinary people telling of their anger at the situation and of their intention to lobby their TD’s. YD members who have in turn rang their own TD’s, have been met with none of the arrogance shown previously, but with almost panic-stricken reassurances of support for a pro-life referendum
What was done
The task of informing and motivating the pro-life majority towards lobbying their TD’s involved not just the production of a lobbying leaflet but accompanying lists of TDs phone numbers and addresses and a suggested procedure for phoning TD’s, making first-time lobbying as easy as possible for the maximum number of people.
Printed and Distributed
|TD Contact Lists||200,000|
|Suggested procedures for phoning TD’s||150,000|
|Meetings organised around the country||52|
|Parish Priests mailed with posters and leaflets||1,200|
Phone calls from member of the public to the office regarding the lobbying of TD's
|A new website at www.motherandchild.ie||1|
M&C member speaking with Brian Lenihan, TD, then head of the APOCC, regarding the statement he made to the Irish Examiner