A Reflection on The Referendum by Archbishop Michael Jackson
SOME BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
Now that the result of The Referendum is known, the legislators along with the medical profession have the responsibility of reflecting the decision of the majority of the electorate and of creating policy and practice to give effect to that decision. It is hoped that this will provide personal dignity and respect along with care and compassion for the women of Ireland and for the people of Ireland. The Government decided to put the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution to the people because of escalating concern in many quarters about its effectiveness and about uncertain legal consequences and parameters relating to it. Concepts, in and of themselves, rarely move people emotionally. Relationships and stories, however, do move people. One of the factors that has come through consistently as having been a contributor to the discussions ahead of Friday May 25th has been the telling of and the listening to stories ‘on both sides.’ This process of telling and listening to stories began in the context of The Citizens’ Assembly and continued thereafter, around kitchen tables and on the national airwaves, right up until, in the latter case, the moratorium on public broadcasting ahead of The Referendum itself came into force.
THE STRENGTH OF STORY
Story is germane to community. Story shapes memory. Story gives individual and corporate identity. Telling and hearing story builds relationships of understanding across seemingly unbridgeable divides. People have found in the stories of lives lived for others the outworking of friendship and compassion with people who experience crisis and vulnerability. These are people like any of us – people who hold strong opinions, people whose values infuse their consciences while they continue to agree to disagree agreeably with one another. We are all members of this human family of citizens. In the Jewish tradition, on which the Christian tradition is ever dependent, we can read of God saying in Isaiah 54.10: But my loving kindness will not be removed from you. And my covenant of peace will not be shaken. Equally, contemporary women and men in the last days and weeks have been moved by stories and lives and, after reflecting on all they have heard, have decided as individuals to cast a vote, in personal conscience, in democratic freedom and in the privacy of the polling booth.
NEW PATHWAYS EMERGING
As a consequence of the decision of the people, the Constitution of Ireland is going to change. The citizens of Ireland are, as of now, called upon to show dignity and respect, care and compassion as we continue to co–operate and to collaborate at every level of our society in what will undoubtedly be onerous days and weeks of decision around policies and practices. The national expectation now is that the promise of positive and proactive regulation will be put in place safely in regard to the termination of pregnancy locally within the twenty–six counties. This will be a powerful antidote to the reality of specific dangers such as currently exist for individual women who have felt stigmatized in countless ways for long decades. A further hope will be that this outworking of democracy can initiate a real and lasting acknowledgement of the unborn in Irish society, an acknowledgement that needs to extend over many decades when stigmatization has too often been the default setting of response. We will all have to learn how to enable the private to be public, the intimate to be protected in a society too ready and adroit in quick–fire communication. It is a new situation for everyone. Once again Ireland will need to dig deep, as we have done often in our long history, into words such as healing and reconciliation but in a new area of life. My hope and prayer are that this will enable everyone, yet again around the kitchen table as well as in the Houses of The Oireachtas, to address the vital question: How are we all together to participate and to share in the fashioning and the sustaining of the common good, now that the will of the people has been expressed and now that we all together remain the people of Ireland?