Are you familiar with that conversation where you discuss what mega star / demigod you might invite along to a dinner party? You know, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi and Oprah all back to mine for vol au vents and spag bol? (Nightmare). Well, it was had amongst a small gang of us out to dinner recently. Most had no qualms about putting forward names – Stephen Fry, for instance, everyone agreed, would be a clever, interesting and jovial addition to any party. Most had absolutely no problem coming up with their three. In fact, the majority of our other conversations thereafter were peppered with ‘Actually, can I swap Madonna for Sarah Jessica Parker?’ type interjections. Rather than swapping people out, my husband continued to add to his roll call as new areas of achievement were recalled; ‘I never even thought to include sports personalities!’ and ‘Oh – you mean they can be dead too?’. Dear GOD Alan, who do you think is going to clean up after this gathering of the nations?
I overthought the whole thing. Fretted about them all not getting along – Germaine Greer can be very argumentative… What could I possibly say to Tom Wolfe that wouldn’t make him want to curl up in boredom? Sinéad O’Connor, I fear, would need too much attention. STRESS!
So my dinner party, it turns out, will be just myself and Mary O’Rourke (retired Irish Government Minister, TD and Senator). What can I say? She makes me laugh, I find her interesting, I think we might get along… for the duration of an early bird anyway… Alright, let’s make it a coffee & scone affair.
A few weeks later it happened to be the tenth anniversary of the death of possibly my favourite demigod, the writer and commentator Nuala O’Faolain. I had first come to know Nuala through her Saturday column in the Irish Times. I grew to love her through her books ‘Are You Somebody’ and ‘Almost There’. I grew to respect her when I saw her speak in a live debate about the evolution of Irish feminism, commenting on the 2008 US Presidential Election for RTÉ and speaking with an open heart to her friend Marian Finucane having received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. (She sadly did not live to learn of Barak Obama’s election win).
Nuala should be the perfect celebrity dinner guest choice. She’s accomplished, famous and ‘no longer being of this planet’ does not exclude her. Brilliant! But unlike any other celebrity, she’s also my friend. She wouldn’t have ever been aware of this – or me – of course… But she truly was. I admired her and felt a great bond and affinity grow as I got to know her – guts, warts and all, she was that kind of super-honest woman – through her commentating and writing. And as it is when any friend is gone, I miss knowing what her thoughts – this feminist, this forward thinker – would be on the cusp of our nation voting to repeal the eight amendment to our constitution. Or not.
I’m voting Yes. I believe in a woman’s right to choose – her choice should not be taken away and handed to anybody else. I believe that a mother is the strongest guarantor and defender of any child’s right to life, not the constitution. I believe that parents dealing with the diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality (the coldness of that term) should be treated with the same dignity, respect and care in respect of their deciding to end that pregnancy afforded to those who decide to continue up until birth. I believe that a No vote will not prevent or stop abortion – it merely denies the problem, exports it and endangers the lives and health of women forced to travel for help. I believe we are not British – let’s not be guided by their dismal statistics and let’s create our own effective and compassionate legislation around this awful issue where, yes, healthy women do abort healthy babies. Can we work to ensure that nobody dies because they’ve taken a drug prescribed by Google? Can we bring our problems and our people home so that we can have all the statistics, the stories, the reasons – try to understand them and strive to improve health & care for all pregnant women?
Voting Yes will not create a problem. We already have a problem. We need help. The eight amendment is not helping.
I wonder what Nuala would think. I think I might already know… but her way of articulating an argument, of not pulling one single punch, of speaking passionately on behalf of the women of Ireland is a real loss to this emotive, awful and yet progressive debate. This discussion is the lesser for her loss.
As with any celebrity, I would be mortified to have Nuala to my house for dinner (I mean, what would I wear? Cook? Aggggghhhhh). But as my secret friend, I really wish she were around for a chat on the referendum. Maybe over a coffee. Sure between herself, myself and Mary we’d surely have the problems of the world put to bed quick smart.
Failing that, I’ll put my vote to good use on Friday.
May is the month for lilac and using your vote
Some links to commentary, in support of a Yes vote, you may find interesting:
Justine McCarthy, The Sunday Times, May 20th: I Will Vote Yes To Make Ireland A Fairer Country
Olivia O’Leary, RTÉ’s Drivetime, May 22nd: Access Podcast Here