Katie Emerson: My first year joining a St Patrick's Day Parade.
This is the third year that the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign have marched in the London St Patrick’s Day parade, but my first time joining in.
I moved to England just over four years ago from a small rural village in County Down and I constantly meet people who don’t know that abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland. More recently I’ve had people attempt to correct me, until I remind them that the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment was only for the Republic.
I am awful at confrontation, and as I walked from my flat to Wellington Arch carrying my massive “Healthcare Not Airfare/No One Left Behind” placard I started to panic that someone might stop and confront me. At one point two American ladies did stop me and ask what I was protesting. I hesitated before telling them. They didn’t know that abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland and wished us the best of luck. I felt relieved.
That is not to say we weren’t without controversy, at one point a man (very politely) simply gives me a thumbs down. I spot a tiny child probably around the age of six trying to join in with our chants of “the north is next” only for her mother to pat her on the head and ask her to stop.
These minor bad reactions were nothing compared to the cheers, high fives and rounds of applause we were given at every stage of the parade. I was full of pride for the men and women we were walking alongside, as well as the supporters watching. At one particularly emotional point, I locked eyes with an elderly lady with tears rolling down her cheeks. She mouthed a “thank you”. For the rest of the day all I could think about was her, and what awful things she had probably seen in her lifetime. We were thrilled to be joined by some amazing Irish celebrities - Siobhan McSweeney of Derry Girls fame and Bronagh Waugh and Niamh McGrady from The Fall as well as Lord Alfred Dubs and MPs Stella Creasy and Diana Johnston.
Although the atmosphere and support was amazing, we can only hope that this is the last year we ever have to do this.
In 2015, the High Court in Belfast ruled that Northern Ireland’s law on abortion was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and the DUP failed to do anything about it.
As Northern Ireland has not had a government for over two years, we are calling on Westminster to step in and show some support for the women* of Northern Ireland.
We won’t rest until every person in Ireland has the right to choose what happens to their own body. The North is Next.