- 25 May 18
The referendum on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland takes place on Friday, May 25th. During the final week of the campaign, Hot Press is bringing you Home for Yes , a series of interviews with Irish emigrants scattered around the globe, who are returning to their native soil to Vote Yes. From Japan to Canada, England to America, we meet the heroes, who are travelling from far and wide in the name of social and political change. We salute them, and wish them Bon Voyage. See you in Ireland!
On the day of the referendum we're hearing from Dr Jennifer Cassidy, Lecturer in Politics at Oxford University . Although Dr. Cassidy is unable to vote in today's referendum – she has lived out of Ireland for more than 18 months – she played a big part in helping Irish Oxford students make it home to vote.
What can you tell me about the Oxford student union decision to open up funds for students returning home to vote?
The decision of the Oxford Student Union to financially support eligible Irish student voters was brought about by a motion proposed to the Oxford Student Union itself. The motion openly declared, three core statements:
That this common room should oppose any measures which make it more difficult for our student members to choose either to terminate a pregnancy or to carry it to term and to work to ensure that no additional restrictions are imposed at any level so that Oxford students have a real choice.
The financial status of our student members should never be a barrier to exercising their right to vote
It is important that this common room facilitates any Irish students in our common room to exercise their right to vote in Ireland on May 25th.
Regarding the specifics of the funding, it was declared that Oxford SU Student Council would allocate up to £500 (in total – not per student) to contribute towards the travel costs of students wishing to return home to vote in the Irish referendum on May 25th.
It should be noted that the National Union of Students (UK overall student body for all UK Universities) had already set up a travel cost matching fund, that students’ unions could apply to, in order to subsidise their own funds. Electoral Law in the Republic of Ireland states that an individual can accept a political donation of up to 126.97 euros (£110), before they must register as a third party.
Therefore, Oxford SU is able to provide up to £55 per student, which will be matched equally by the NUS fund, meaning that students can access up to £110 overall to contribute to their travel costs. Both the money secured through Student Council and the NUS subsidy are finite and are being distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.
Finally, two fundamental aspects of this decision should be noted: 1) although Oxford SU is openly Pro – Choice, as is the NUS, funding in this instance is under no circumstance linked to voting preference. There is no discrimination regarding how or why a student is voting. There is not even a space on the application form to declare your voting preference, even if you wanted to, 2) Funding is only available to students who are eligible, as per Electoral Law. The application for this funding requires you to provide proof of this eligibility.
What was your involvement in this decision?
A small part, in a very large movement.
The motion was made and passed by the Oxford Student Union. It was done in an open setting, and the vote was open to any member of the University Body. I, myself, was just one of a number of overwhelming voices (both Irish, English and International students) who stood in favour of this motion and cast our vote to pass the motion. It was an honour to be even a small part of that historic vote.
However, it must be noted, that this decision could not have been made, let alone gotten to the voting table, were it not for the phenomenal work, and unwavering solidarity of the NUS (National Union of Students here in UK) and the USI (Union of Students in Ireland), alongside phenomenal organisations such as the London – Irish ARC (London branch of the Abortion Rights Campaign). It was these organisations, alongside so many other strong organisations and individuals that enabled this movement to be created. For this, all credit must be given.
Will you be coming home to vote in the Referendum?
I will be returning home for the Referendum.
However, due to Ireland's strict voting laws, it is with a heavy heart, that I say, I am not legally eligible to vote. Although, I have strict intentions to return and live in the country that I love, I currently fall outside of the 18-month residency limit.
The very fact that I cannot walk into that polling station, take my ballot and cast a vote, is something that I have struggled with since the Referendum date was called. I was born in Ireland, raised in Ireland, and educated there for 18 years. I have every intention to return, and build my future on Irish soil. I left the country to pursue a PhD on Digital Diplomacy, deciding to attend a University that engages with cutting edge research on this topic. However, in return, I waived my right to vote. Indeed, as the vote draws nearer, my feelings of disenfranchisement and disempowerment have only increased.
No words can accurately describe the feeling of not being able to actively participate in how your nation's narrative will be sculpted, and what its future will look like. It is perhaps for this very reason that so many Irish people abroad felt compelled, by any means they could, to work towards the outcome they wish to see announced on May 26th. This work could and did involve anything from being an active voice online, engaging with events and fundraising aboard, to simply having an uncomfortable conversation with a close family relative on where you stand and why. So when the vote is called on May 26th, and with that signal to our citizens and the international community as a whole, how we view and respect the women of our nation, we can at least say we did everything we could.
How has it felt watching this debate happen from a different country?
Watching the debate happen from a different country, has been an extremely emotional experience. Particularly when watching from a country that is integral to the debate itself: the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is the nation we export ‘our problem’ to. It is the nation where Irish women travel every single day, simply to be granted reproductive rights and care, and it will remain so, until Ireland as a country openly decides to respect the fundamental rights of all its people.
Finally, one moment of high emotion for me during this debate, was when the 8th amendment itself was read out during the Oxford Students Union session. I immediately started crying. As I have been discussing and writing on this issue for years, I did not expect to be so openly emotive to it, and I was taken aback by my own reaction. However, there was something about my law, Ireland’s law, being read out in a country that it did not extend to, and to a group of people to whom it did not directly affect, that instantly struck me. Hearing it read out to the room, only confirmed to me once again, how archaic the law was, and how disempowered the women of Ireland are, when it comes to controlling their own bodies.
However, with that said, when the law was being read, I sat amongst a phenomenal group of Irish students who have worked tirelessly on this campaign, and have given their time and energy in droves, to see this motion passed. So any time I doubt the future of our nation, and the history that we will write, I look to them – as, to me, they are the true beacons of light, just like so many other Irish citizens living and working aboard. Citizens who wish only for the betterment of our country, and all those who reside in it.