Letter to the Minister for Diaspora

Ciarán Cannon T.D.
Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development
Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Iveagh House
St. Stephen's Green
Dublin 2
4 April 2018

Dear Minister Cannon,

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign has written this group letter on behalf of the global network of members of the Irish diaspora who support removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Irish constitution.  The purpose of this letter is to share directly with you, and in the public domain, our collective disappointment at your failure, in your capacity as Minister for the Diaspora, to represent the voice of the Irish diaspora and our valid contributions to the debate in relation to the campaign to remove the Eighth Amendment.  

A personal view vs. Constituency representation

You recently took the brave step to share an account of the heartbreaking loss of your daughter through stillbirth, for which we offer our sincere condolences.  You invited the readership to walk in your shoes to understand why this has informed your personal position on abortion and why you are now actively campaigning to retain the Eighth Amendment.  

However, as a TD and Minister of State, you have a responsibility to reflect not just your personal beliefs but to consider those of your constituency and the wider issues affecting Irish people, whether they are  living at home or abroad.

  • Your Galway East electorate will have included at least some of the 113 women in 2016, each of whom had to travel from Co. Galway to Britain to access an abortion because of their own personal and private circumstances about which you know nothing.  

  • As members of the diaspora, we have no elected representation in the Dail.  Since taking office as Minister of States for the Diaspora, you have repeatedly supported the position that Irish citizens abroad should be represented with their own elected official in Dáil Éireann.  Until such time as the diaspora has an elected representative, you have declared that “As Minister for the Diaspora and International Development I will be voice and a champion of the diaspora in Government ”

Diaspora engagement on social change in Ireland

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ Global Irish Diaspora Policy (2015) describes the Irish diaspora as “both an asset and a responsibility”, and acknowledges that engaging with it “requires a sustained, long term effort”. The Global Irish strategy for diaspora engagement  goes on to prioritise: “better two-way communication with recent emigrants”.  

  • Following your meeting at the Irish Embassy with London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign in October 2017 and our follow-up letter of 4 Nov 2017, it was disappointing to see no evidence of engagement with global members of the Irish diaspora on such a fundamental question as the Eighth Amendment which impacts every person who becomes pregnant in Ireland

  • We wrote to you again 21 Jan 2018 asking you to support the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, but received no response.

We are disheartened that you have not used your position as the Minister for Diaspora to represent our voices. In Ireland, women are 51% of society. As diaspora, most of us feel safer knowing that our doctors would be able to prioritise our healthcare during pregnancy. To return to Ireland currently means surrendering that privilege.

Contradictions & Misinformation

Your recent social media postings to retain the Eighth Amendment (including we note paid-for Facebook ads targeted to people over 19) display a frightening level of ignorance of the reality of Irish women’s experiences.

  • You  are advocating “trust Irish doctors” but only those who claim that the Eighth Amendment has never harmed a woman’s life or health in pregnancy, despite all of the evidence to the contrary presented to the Citizen’ Assembly and Joint Oireachtas Committee .

  • You are endorsing the views of Dr John Monaghan who considered it “a noble thing” to use a brain-dead woman as an incubator.

  • You are selectively quoting the Lib Dem peer, David Steel, in a way which does not reflect his position on abortion access.  As recently as October 2017, Lord Steel advocated that “Northern Ireland’s lack of access to abortion and the fact that we won’t decriminalise it altogether in England and Wales puts us miles behind our European neighbours who allow all women to access abortions on request”

  • You celebrate Ireland’s involvement in the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the UN blueprint to ensure the Rights and Development of Rural Women and Girls which recognises "..that the human rights of women include their right to have control over..all matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and  reproductive health, free of coercion..".  Yet you do not acknowledge that a life free of coercion includes access to a full spectrum of healthcare, the right to refuse treatment and the right to dignity and respect whether pregnant or not.

    • The HSE’s National Consent Policy restricts informed consent and informed refusal of treatment for pregnant women “because of the Constitutional provisions on the right to life of the unborn [Article 40.3.3] there is significant legal uncertainty regarding a pregnant woman’s right to [consent]”  .

    • As a result, there have been several cases of women being brought to court by the HSE for forced medical treatment. Do you support this practice?

Representing the voices of the diaspora

In your support for retaining the Eighth Amendment, you as Minister for Diaspora, are seeking to retain the element of Irish society that punished women, that locked up women, that drove people out of Ireland permanently, and continues to drive families abroad for healthcare today. You, as Minister for the Diaspora are content for a mini diaspora of 10 women a day to continue under your watch.  You, as Minister for Diaspora are content to preside over a system where migrants and women in direct provision are forced to remain pregnant under all circumstances.

  • We call on you to engage with the diaspora and actively listen to why we  believe it is essential to make abortion access safe in Ireland.

  • We call on you as “our” Minister to ensure our voices, as Irish citizens abroad, are heard in the debate

In the words of your own party leader, now is the time to stop exporting Ireland’s problems and importing its solutions.  The cases of Savita Halappanavar, Miss X, A, B, C, D, Y, PP, Sheila Hodgers, Michelle Harte, Amanda Mellet, Siobhan Whelan  and thousands more did not arise by accident. These women and every woman that has to travel out of her country to obtain healthcare are victims of the damage that the Eighth Amendment has inflicted on Irish women and society.

Is mise le meas,

Deirdre Gorman, London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, London
Lynne McCarthy, Speaking of IMELDA, London
Marian Larragy, London Irish Feminist Network, London
Leah Desmond, Doctors for Choice, London
Joseph Healy, London Irish LGBT Network, London
Fiona Kirk, Dutch-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Holland
Ciarán O Raghallaigh, Repeal NYC, New York
Shauna Stanley, Melbourne-Irish ARC/ Irish Pro Choice in Oz, Australia
Aisling Roche, Manchester Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Manchester
Áine Collins, Chicago For Repeal, Chicago
Jennifer Goff, Scottish-Ireland Abortion Rights Campaign, Scotland
Dervla O’Malley, Berlin Ireland Pro-Choice Solidarity, Berlin
Orlaith Finnegan, Paris for Repeal, Paris
Syllona Kanu, Vancouver Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Vancouver
Aisling McConville, Birmingham Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Birmingham
Michelle Coleman, Seattle for Repeal, Seattle
Fiona Ní Gwóźdź, Portland for Repeal, Portland
Ailbhe Finn, Repeal BXL, Brussels
Dónal Hassett, Bristol and Bath Abortion Rights Ireland Group, Bristol & Bath
Karen Twomey, Repeal Global

Hannah Little