Comment & Analysis
Feb 2, 2024

Women in the Home: Your Voice, Your Vote

Dr Becky Long reflects on her personal experiences of voting in Irish referendums and emphasises the value of each and every vote in shaping societal change

Dr Becky LongColumnist

In 2001, Ireland voted in three simultaneous referendums. (Or is that referenda? Another debate all to itself). The twenty-first amendment to the constitution introduced a constitutional ban on capital punishment. The twenty-second amendment was about establishing an investigative body to oversee judges. (I remember not really understanding that one very well …) The twenty-third amendment permitted the Irish State to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And the twenty-fourth amendment was about the EU’s Nice Treaty. Give that one a Google, for the laugh – I definitely don’t have enough space here to get into it! 

I wasn’t old enough to vote in the June of 2001. At the risk of revealing my age, I had just finished sixth class, and my secondary school career was looming at the end of the summer. But I walked into my local polling station – which happened to be my newly old primary school – with my nana, because I was curious. I wanted to see what went on when people voted, and I was not disappointed. I remember standing beside my grandmother as she read each of the proposals. (This wasn’t strictly allowed but the man running the centre was a neighbour, so he smiled and pretended I wasn’t there). I remember watching her as she thought and thought before she cast her ballot on each piece of paper. I asked her why she was taking her time, because I thought she’d already made up her mind. I’d listened to her and my mam talking it all over endlessly. She said it was because it was important. And she wanted to be able to stand over the decisions she’d made. That was when I realised that voting was a big deal. Because my nana had high standards when it came to important things. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to vote in some pretty momentous referendums since I turned 18. I remember the elation that swept the country when we voted for equal marriage in 2015. And that one meant so much, because not only was it the least LGBTQI+ couples deserved, but it also represented a fundamental pushback against a No side who had tried to equate equal marriage with the devaluing of “the normal family”. As though such a thing exists. 


But the vote to Repeal the 8th Amendment in 2018 hit differently, somehow. I remember the traffic on the way home to Wexford. I was stuck in a solid traffic jam in Ferns for about forty minutes, and it was 26 degrees in my 03 Golf. (I loved that car!) But I didn’t care. Because I knew that almost every single person in the cars in front of me and behind me was driving home to vote. And it felt fantastic. I collected my mam and we made for the school. This woman who’d been told, in 1988, by the senior matron in the hospital where she nursed, that she would give me up for adoption. Because she wasn’t married. We thought about all the women and girls who hadn’t made it this far. And we voted for them. Not for the first time, I realised how lucky I was to be this woman’s daughter. Later that night, I was sitting in a pub with a good friend, and for once neither of us cared that we were checking our phones constantly, because we were waiting for the exit polls to come in. And when they did, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We had been part of something amazing. And we were in the right place to celebrate! 

I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life, not least because the person I love most in the world made a huge sacrifice to vote to repeal the 8th Amendment. My partner, Fergal, was waiting for a lung transplant. His Cystic Fibrosis had gotten worse and worse, and life was hard. Life was harder than it should have been. He walked into his local polling station, carrying his oxygen concentrator, because he wanted to use his vote to make things better. He knew what it was like to not be in control of his own body, and he wanted to be a part of changing that for everyone he knew, for strangers he had never met. 

Don’t get me wrong, reproductive rights in this country aren’t perfect, even now, almost six years on. But that’s the work. It never stops. It’s never done. Voting is part of the work of making things better. And that’s the best work you can ever do. 

In this year alone, almost 4 billion people are eligible to vote in elections and referendums – but that doesn’t mean they’ll all be free or safe to do so. This is why anyone who says that they can’t be bothered voting or that they don’t think their vote will count utterly baffle me. Your voice, your vote, right? That’s how it works – but it only works if you step up! I wonder if we could introduce a by law that prohibits people who haven’t voted from complaining about the state of the nation. It’d probably be unconstitutional, not to mention practically impossible to police, but that’s beside the point. If you don’t contribute to the conversation, you don’t get to moan that your voice isn’t being heard. Just in Ireland, we’ll have two referendums – two!! – in March, followed by local and European elections, and (if my nerdy politic prayers are answered) a general election before the end of the year. And let’s not even talk about what’s probably the most important US Presidential election in generations looming in November. There’s a lot happening, folks. 

Referendums don’t come around very often, so you need to pay attention when they do. And I think it’ll be tough to find anyone who isn’t affected, either personally or ideologically by the proposals to amend Article 41 and 41.2 of the Constitution, the first to provide for a wider concept of Family, the second to remove text concerning the role of women in the home and to insert a new Article 42B to recognise family care. Personally, because I come from a single parent family, my mother and I have never been recognised by the State as a legitimate, valid family unit. So, you can bet your next SUSI instalment that I’ll be casting my vote on that. I’m not sure about about the second proposal yet, because I don’t know if it goes far enough. But I have time. And I’ll figure it out. I hope you figure it out too. 

Even if you can’t vote this time, this year, wouldn’t it be fun to find out what all the fuss is about? Never waste a learning opportunity, especially when it comes to politics. That old cliché about politics doing you even if you don’t do politics is a cliché for a reason. Because it’s true. Your access to education. Your access to housing. Your right to build a good life for yourself. That’s all politics. So, get engaged. Get thinking. If you do one thing after reading this, check the electoral register. Make sure your name is there. Register to vote if it’s not. Ok, that might be two things. 

Actually, do one more thing. 


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