In June 2018, the Republic of Ireland voted by a two-thirds majority to remove article 40.3.3 (or the eighth amendment) from the Irish constitution. Although the government party that just happened to be in power at the time have sought kudos for this victory, the real architects of change was a 35-year long grassroots, often community-based movement that was, in the main organised by women.
Ireland has a rich history of women’s group coming together at local level to contemplate the circumstances of their lives and take action to instigate change (Fitzsimons, 2017). However, there has been a neoliberalisation of many of the groups that were established in the 1980s and 1990s as part of Ireland’s second wave of feminism. Professionalisation, co-option through the subterfuge of social partnership, forced mergers and harsh cuts have forced many groups to either close or to fundamentally tailored their work to meet a European led agenda of education for employability (Magrath & Fitzsimons, 2020).
When grassroots activists began gathering as part of the ‘repeal movement’, they were no longer able to look to local women’s project that had been neutered to such as extent that many didn’t even declare a position on repeal for fear of straying outside the tight parameters of the Charities Regulator (Fitzsimons, 2021). With the support of grassroots anti-repeal organisations such as Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) and Parents for Choice, a new layer of feminist networks thus emerged who were free to decide on their own organisational structure and tactics.
I will draw from three online anonymous questionnaires (2018, 2020 and 2021) with over 400 pro-repeal activists, the majority of whom were connected through one of these locally based groups. A key finding is that although many people remain connected, there are high levels of burnout. Another finding is the extent to which groups have expanded their focus beyond the singular issue of abortion access. Their work now incorporates a range of issues including homelessness, gender-based violence, racism and discrimination. Much of their work thus picks up where their predecessors left off as they now create spaces for consciousness raising and politicisation. The article asks where to next for these voluntary groups as they seek to stay together and holistically engage in the issues affecting the lives of ordinary people in Ireland.