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Ireland: civil rights and equality issues in 2013

2013 will surely be remembered as a key year in the development of civil rights in Ireland: in June the Dàil – the Irish Chamber of Representatives – approved the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows abortion in case a woman’s life is in danger. Moreover, in November the Cabinet agreed to submit to the popular vote the extension of marriage to homosexual couples, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention.

According to an Irish Times/Ipsos poll, 75% of the population are in favour of the new abortion bill, while only 14% oppose it. However, the conservative wing of the country managed to set up demonstrations and make its voice be heard, even though no influence on the new legislation has been exercised. As regards homosexual marriage, surveys seem to show a favourable background for the approval of the proposal: the Union of Students will invite students to give an affirmative vote to the bill that will change the Constitution and extend marriage to homosexuals. Besides, a large part of the rest of the population seems to be willing to give LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trangender) the right to get married. This would be the last step towards the complete marriage equality after the approval of civil union between same-sexed people in 2010.

The parliamentary progressive wing and most of the population are satisfied by the process of extension of civil rights began by the parliament. However, the far left – mostly represented by the Socialist Party – argues that the progresses regarding women’s rights issues have been too little and is trying to set up a “popular movement” to obtain a new bill to give women a complete right to choose when and whether to abort or not.

However, Ireland had no legislation on abortion before June 2013 and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is a step towards an actual freedom of abortion for Irish women – which will involve the radical reform of the 8th amendment of the Constitution – as thousands of them have been travelling to England every year in order to have the possibility to abort in a hospital. Regarding homosexual marriage, instead, Ireland seems to be on the way to establish a completely equal marriage and the movements which support homosexual rights seem optimistic and satisfied by the governmental proposal of referendum.

2013 will be remembered as the year in which Ireland began to walk along the path towards a true development and extension of civil rights: it is still distant from the average European countries that allowed abortion decades ago, but it can soon become one of the most progressive European countries on equal marriage issues.

The country seems to have abandoned – at least partially – the conservative Catholicism that characterised it for decades and to have embraced a new progressive behaviour. The next few years will be decisive in order to understand how civil rights will develop.

Riccardo Nanni



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