The news that the Sydney Rose called for the repeal of the 8th Amendment is nothing surprising. Brianna Parkins is a journalist for ABC in Australia and she certainly won’t be the last reporter-turned-campaigner on this particular issue.
The real question is why the organisers thought that the way the participants felt about abortion was something to be considered at all.
After all, this is the Rose of Tralee, not Prime Time. If the festival describes itself (as it does) as apolitical, then why did a behind-the-scenes documentary show that abortion was a topic for discussion in group sessions? Apparently, the three topics for discussion were the refugee crisis, the question of a united Ireland 100 years after the Rising, and the 8th Amendment.
To be honest, it’s hard to know where all that is going. Like most people in Ireland, I grew up watching the Rose of Tralee, the harbinger of the end of the summer and the swiftly-approaching return to school in September. It focussed on the excitement of Irish parents bursting with pride while their beloved was on the stage, spending her few minutes talking about her ambitions and how amazing the people of Kerry were. The one thing that always stood out about the Rose of Tralee was that it focussed on the women themselves, not how they looked in bikinis or whether their Irish dancing was Riverdance worthy.
Was it kitsch? Yes, probably. But there was something genuine about it too, particularly when the camera scanned back to the parents so obviously bursting with pride (and sometimes tears) as their daughter talked about how they had emigrated years before with next to nothing and this was why she entered in the first place.
In that sense, the Rose of Tralee is a distinctly Irish festival and more than anything else, that’s the reason for its survival.
So it’s hard to understand why the organisers seem to be trying to move away from the kind of nostalgic affection that sees the Dome remain so popular year after year. Are they planning to introduce a political question on the stage? If not, why do they care how the Roses feel about abortion? How does that impact on whether they go forward in the competition or not?
I don’t get the reasoning. If you’re prolife or prochoice, what does that say about your ability to represent the Rose of Tralee festival? If it’s apolitical, why the interest? And if the questions are purely for the purposes of getting to see what kind of people the Roses are, isn’t there something a little less controversial that could be used to feed a friendly? Abortion, really?
At the same time, it’s very easy to understand why prochoice campaigners will seize on this latest mention. Any time the slogan “repeal the 8th” gets a shout-out – on walls, t-shirts, badges, wherever – it’s like a rallying cry for those who want to remove all legal protection for unborn babies, without actually discussing what that means.
Because that’s the problem. You can’t dip your toe into the abortion debate. The Sydney Rose might be happy to say “repeal the 8th” but is she prepared to talk about abortion in Australia? How does she feel about the fact that 1 in every 6 pregnancies end in abortion in Australia? Most people would think that’s pretty high, and it’s certainly a lot higher than Ireland’s rate of 1 in every 19 pregnancies. We’re not perfect but we should be proud of the 8th Amendment which protects all human beings in this country.
Like everyone else, the Sydney Rose is more than welcome to the abortion debate in Ireland – just so long as she’s prepared to do what other campaigners won’t and talk about the human rights abuses that abortion causes around the world. As for Ireland, well if the Rose of Tralee festival is really interested in promoting everything that’s good about this country, then our excellent record of protecting mothers and babies in pregnancy should come top of the list.