In the coming weeks you’ll start seeing them. You’ll spot them in airports, ferry ports and train stations. They’ll be streaming through Busáras or hitching a ride on Dublin Bus. They are, of course, the masses of people who make up the #HometoVote movement.
In a month’s time, Ireland will vote on whether to repeal the eighth amendment. As posters are
hung on lampposts and canvassers nightly knock on doors, anticipation is building for May 25th.
The promise of a referendum – for years called for by pro-choice activists – has called home many emigrants. From around the world, many repeal supporters are streaming back in a bid to end Ireland’s restrictive abortion law.
Of course, like many such campaigns today, social media has spread the word. On Twitter, the #HometoVote hashtag has been ever-present in recent weeks, while on Facebook the “Abroad for Yes” group is dominated by stories of booked flights, breakneck visits and offers of financial support.
I always knew I was going to come home
Inevitably, the campaign is fronted by young people. Irish citizens living abroad can only vote if they’ve been abroad for 18 months or less, so the faces, stories and worries of the people coming home are often from young emigrants, still starting off their lives in another country.
Just this week, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, which has raised awareness of repeal in the UK in recent years, released a video that called young emigres home. With classic folk song “Bread and Roses” – “We bring the greater days/For the rising of the women/Means the rising of the race” – acting as the soundtrack, the video shows young people in taxis, Tube stations and airports, making their way home to vote from all corners of the globe.
“Our campaign is about mobilising citizens who are eligible to vote to go home and exercise their right to vote. This is mainly important because no one under the age of 52 has been able to vote on this topic. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity”, says Sarah Murphy, of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, speaking to The University Times.
“It’s also more and more clear that the different trends of emigration patterns in Ireland mean people are more likely to go abroad for a couple of years and return home than to emigrate for life. So this is becoming more a topic that is likely to impact people’s lives, even if they’re living on the other side of the world”, Murphy adds.
And from across the world, people are coming. Ciaran Gaffney, who graduated from European studies in Trinity last year, is flying from Argentina to come back and vote. “I always knew I was going to come home”, he says, speaking to The University Times.
Gaffney booked a flight as soon as the referendum date was confirmed. He got the cheapest one he could – €800 from Buenos Aires to London. “The original flight I was going to get was from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. Uruguay to Madrid. Madrid to Dublin. Then down to Limerick to vote. Which would have been crazy”, he says.
For Gaffney, who’s been campaigning for repeal for the past three years, he hopes his visit home is worth it.
Emma Beuster is coming home from New York to vote. “I feel like it’s almost obligatory to go home”, she says, even if she acknowledges that it’s “financially very difficult for many”. It’s something that crops up a lot in conversations with people coming home – how lucky they are to be able to afford to come home.
Beuster, a European studies graduate from Trinity, tells The University Times that she can barely imagine being in the US when the vote is on. She’ll arrive home on May 23rd to vote, before staying home for a week. Her employer in New York, a real estate company, offered few qualms about her leaving, even if she had to tell them what the vote was actually for.
For many, the vote produces similarly strong feelings to that of the marriage equality referendum in 2015, a victory still heralded for the backing it received from young people. Murphy, who is originally from Cork but has lived in the UK for over a decade and isn’t eligible to vote, says there is plenty you can do to support repeal from afar.
I really hope I’ll see other people on the day. It’s such an amazing feeling of solidarity
“It’s phoning home, it’s having those conversations with your parents, grandparents, friends, siblings. For a very long time, this was an area full of stigma and secrecy and shame. So one thing we’re trying to advocate is getting people to build that confidence to have these more difficult conversations”, she says.
Some graduates, who are still students in another university, are juggling exams and deadlines to make it back. Rachel Kelly will finish an exam in the London School of Economics at 12pm, before rushing off to Gatwick to get a flight at 3pm. She’ll land in Dublin at around 5pm, before rushing to Dun Laoghaire to vote and then fly home the next day for more exams.
“It’s the worst timing in the world, but like I think I would be so sorry, regardless of the outcome, for myself, I’d have so many regrets not coming home”, she tells The University Times. Kelly graduated from philosophy, political science, economics and sociology in Trinity last year.
“It’s going to be a bit mad. I’ll probably be cursing myself on the day, but I’m very glad I can do it”, she says.
“I really hope I’ll see other people on the day. It’s such an amazing feeling of solidarity.”
For other people, while they’re happy to come home, the fact they have to is frustrating. Adam Boyle, who graduated from law and social justice in University College Dublin (UCD) last year, is currently working as a volunteer in Athens and will come home to vote alongside nine of his colleagues.
Friends and colleagues, he tells The University Times, were a little surprised to hear they’d all have to fly home to vote. “Overall it’s just fucked that you can’t actually vote from an embassy. I’m working with a lot of Europeans at the moment and they’re all shocked that about half the team have to leave to go home to vote.”
For him, it’s a question of battling injustice. “You go through the law itself and you realise the extreme cases are the norm under the eighth, the extreme cases of suffering and death of people because of an ideological amendment that probably shouldn’t be in the constitution at all.”
As Murphy says, May 25th is a “very special opportunity”. For many graduates, it’s clearly worth a long journey home.