Last week, Maynooth University’s Pro-Choice society published an open letter to the Student’s Union, accusing them of failing to follow up on promises made regarding the University’s pro-choice stance.
The letter, published on the society’s Facebook page, was in response to a lack of advertising a proposed “Repeal Week”. The letter claimed that “to date there have been no posts on social media advertising any events that the SU have organised for this week. There has been no campaign, no posters, no planning.”
The society said that “because of the lacking commitment to the Repeal Movement on your behalf, we have needed to run events, put ourselves under strain, and almost jeopardise our degrees in order to ensure a Pro-Choice voice is present on campus”.
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When speaking to Campus.ie, Jen Keane-Molloy, President of the Pro-Choice society, said that many promises were made to the society last year. “They said that they would have a pro-choice stance, and they would campaign to repeal the 8th”. However, when the society tried to run events to gather support for the campaign, they “didn’t get much support. [We were] very disappointed when FemSoc had a Repeal Week, Repeal Week 2.0 they called it … it wasn’t very well advertised [by the SU]”.
They blame it on “a serious lack of communication within the SU… we told you, we gave you the list of our events, we asked them to be promoted and we didn’t see anything”.
Keane-Molloy expressed frustration at the SU for the lack of advertising and support for the society’s events. A Repeal Week was intended to take place last week, but did not go ahead. “Repeal week was supposed to start on Monday … you were advertising Wellfest months in advance, I’ve been getting emails about that in January. Why didn’t you start [advertising] 6 weeks ago like you did with your other campaigns?”
Keane-Molloy claims that current Welfare Officer Aoife Fennell “promised us many things. She promised that she would set up to get people registered to vote”.
Fennell has not yet responded to a request for comment. The SU has laid out their position on the 8th amendment in a document online.
The SU held a referendum in April 2016, which saw the University opt an official pro-choice stance. Despite this referendum being held two years ago, neither the Pro-Choice nor the Pro-Life society feel it is necessary to hold another referendum.
Rob Kelly, Communications Officer for the Pro-Life society, said that “the referendum barely met quorum when it was held that many years ago. It should be noted the referendum was binary for being pro-choice or not, whereas we feel a neutral option would have skewed things significantly … 3 years is a long time, a whole arts degree has graduated and the people who voted it in then are likely gone now. Polling again could be a good option.”
However, Keane-Molloy of the Pro-Choice society feels that even though there are students on the campus who did not get to vote in the referendum, it’s “beside the point. Because 72% of people did vote and it’s up to the SU to fulfil that, it doesn’t matter if they were doing work or not doing work, we were still mandated. It doesn’t matter if the referendum doesn’t go through and it’s another 10 years, the stance of the union was still pro-choice. There was no time limit on it, and it shouldn’t be that now that we have new people in here it doesn’t matter anymore.”
The two societies have been active in their campaigning for their respective beliefs. Last week, they took to the university’s airwaves by having a debate on MarsFM. Is it important to engage with the other side?
“Absolutely”, Kelly says. “While the discussion didn’t go as planned for many a reason our society has been striving for more conversation between the two groups. We pushed for an SU mediated meeting between our two societies so that we could keep it civil and respectful. We are in talks with other societies including MarsFM to host other debates on the topic. We think it’s important to recognise each others’ points when true and realise we have a lot of common ground on these surrounding issues. Often times demagoguing on this issue is an easy out instead of honestly dealing with your opponent’s arguments.”
Keaney-Molloy also believes that it is important engage with the other side. Maynooth campus has been host to several pro-life supporters outside various campus buildings in the last few days, and they engage with the supporters because they feels “we can all learn something from it.”
“We as a society, and I personally, we respect people’s right to protest. There is a fine line between hate speech and an argument when things get personal. Having people shout …. at our students is not on. It’s not hate speech, but it’s definitely not free speech because it is not an argument. I completely dismiss the freedom of speech argument because there’s a fine line there because you can’t say anything.”
When speaking about their use of graphic imagery on campus, they disapprove of such tactics. “I can’t allow that on the campus because Irish abortion is a reality. There are staff, students visitors to the campus who have had abortions. No way should they have to walk past that on the way to class, to the library or to get lunch … if you want to say that you support the 8th because you have all these reasons and have fact checked them, by all means”, Keane-Molloy argues.
When asked about these signs, Kelly said the Pro-Life society has “made a statement on our Facebook page about the group’s tactics near campus. We believe that those pictures should be shown to people but in a controlled setting, either by them agreeing to see a leaflet, in a talk/lecture about abortion, or looking them up in their own time. ICBR is right that it highlights the reality of abortion however the public display of those images is something we do not agree with. We respect their right to do so.”
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Keane-Molloy argues that it boils down to the Student’s Union. “It is the SU’s responsibility to educate everyone to make their mind up, and to open up the space for debate as well. We don’t want to alienate them [the other students], we want to bring them along with us, to the same level as us on this issue … They need to feel welcome in the debate and that is how the SU can represent the debate by encouraging and engaging and giving the platform to this issue.”
While Kelly does not define the 8th amendment as a student issue, he says the society “respect their mandate as it stands and we try to keep their campaigning respectful in any way we can. So far the SU has been respectful to our side which we greatly appreciate.”
Looking forward, the Keane-Molloy says the SU “will promise that there will be a repeal week. It’s looking … likely to be the end of April”.
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