Through the Chair, I firstly wish to commend Senator Catherine Noone for the role you played as Chairperson of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

I think you were calm, patient, fair, and everything an institution like this can hope for in the conduct of a Chairperson, and those traits all the more impressive when we consider the issue at hand, and indeed the behaviours of some.

For quite a while, it has been apparent that we would be discussing, in our first sitting week back, the Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

And isn’t it something that on our return, that during the first statements of 2018 – the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland, we debate, discuss, and converse about where Ireland lies concerning women’s healthcare and women’s rights.

Over the course of this year, the Oireachtas will mark the work of the suffrage movement in Ireland going back to the early 19th century. There will be cultural, historical and educational events – A celebration of the lives of women involved in legislative reform and women elected to parliament.

In the words of Rita O’Hare:

“Brave, beautiful and extraordinary women who defied the social mores of that era, who came from every class and creed and background, from rural communities, from the slums of this city and those who rejected the confines of class and privilege to join that combination of the national movement, the women’s movement and the labour movement in declaring that they stood for the republic”.

This centenary year is not just about the marking of an anniversary, it is about continuing a struggle.

They struggled for agency, not only for themselves, their sisters or their comrades, but for the independence of a nation.

Having watched much of its proceedings, and having already reflected on the work of its chairperson, can I commend also, committee members such as Louise O’Reilly TD and Senator Lynn Ruane. I think that they and others in that committee room have proven yet again that this institution and our society will be best served by a diversity of imagination and a diversity of representation.

There are only 35 women of 158 TD’s in the Dáil (22%), and there are only 19 women of a total 60 Senators (32%). Something needs to give.

Senators, my sister, and my women friends stood with me when I demanded equality. Now I stand with them, and with the women of Ireland.

We are on the other side of a Citizens’ Assembly. We are the other side of an Oireachtas Committee. It is time to repeal the 8th Amendment. To begin as broad a conversation as possible, and to bring as many people with us as is possible.

This isn’t the 1980’s, the information is accessible, the factual evidence is there.

During the proceedings, it was heard that 1 in 8 Irish women, of child bearing age, have availed of an abortion.

How truly diverse and far-reaching an issue this is.

And it has become obvious, that we need the ability to legislate. To do so, we must remove women’s reproductive health from Bunreacht na hÉireann in order to robustly respond to the unpredictable and exceptional aspects of many pregnancies. We also need to formulate legislative responses to technological and medical advances.

Article 40.3.3 does not take account of the unpredictability of any given pregnancy and cannot respond to effectively safeguard a woman’s health. Many witnesses to the Joint Committee confirmed that the 8th Amendment restricts our doctors and medical staff in their response to guarding a woman’s health.

It is time to listen to our medical professionals. They will play a central role in this campaign.

We need only reflect on the case of Savita Halappanavar to know that the ambiguity of our laws have led to uncertainty in medical responses.

Savita was a victim of that ambiguity.

I say to those who oppose abortion, that to truly reduce the need for such a service, we must work together to give women a full range of accessible contraceptive options and a fully effective and inclusive sex education curriculum including modules on consent. And indeed to reduce the number of delayed abortions overseas, we must make provision for this medical procedure in Ireland. The 8th does not “save lives”. Instead, it puts women’s lives at risk and supports a regime of medically unsupervised abortions, via pills ordered online.

I want to commend the brave women who have come forward to share their stories.

Stories of difficult decisions made.

Stories of shame shipped overseas.

Stories told in a selfless manner, that articulate difficult circumstances.

And stories put into the public space so we, as policy makers and citizens can listen, and reform a law so that others will not have to confront the same.

Previous governments have passed the buck, not favouring the electoral turbulence of taking action on a challenging issue.

We need to have the bravery where previous administrations have not, to do what is right, and not with a view on re-election.

We need to listen, as the calls have never been louder, to hold a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment and we need to confirm this as soon as possible.

I believe that it will pass, and that the core human decency of the Irish people will prevail. Every day, I see young people demanding agency, independence. We saw that in the referendum for civil marriage equality. I think that older generations with different experiences will expose the state misogyny and ingrained sense of prejudice, historically experienced by the women of this state.

The 8th Amendment is not only the biggest obstacle to women’s healthcare in this state.

It is a representation of a state, a society that did all it could, to control and police our bodies and our sex lives.

It condemned and continues to condemn women to be victims of a dodgy and obscured version of morality.

We live in a state that has condemned independently minded women – whether it be the denial of basic contraception, upholding a rape culture or incarcerating women in the laundries, mother and baby homes or other mental institutions.

We have stigmatised women for having sex yet acted oblivious to the lack of any equal moral standard expected of heterosexual men.

We stigmatised Ann Lovett, a 15 year old from Granard, Co. Longford, who died after giving birth beside a grotto in 1984, who felt she had nowhere to turn.

We owe it to her, we owe it to every woman who has travelled in fear of criminalisation, we owe it, in this centenary year, to the women of An Cead Dáil, not to be so hypocritically reliant on British policy, and we owe it to our generations who deserve better. Who deserve universal healthcare.