An Island of Saints and Sadists: Abortion in Ireland

by | 19 Aug 2014

People often ask me why I write such dark books.

You’re such a sunny person, they say.

I say: Look around you, what kind of a country do you think you’re living in?

Here is a tale of the island of Saints and Sadists.

eireA young woman came to our country for help, for a home, for safety.

We call her an immigrant and it has become a bad word in the way that the simple trade of tinker became a bad word when I was a boy. And sometimes we call them refugees, which is even a worse word. Or fugees. At least we’re not racist about it. It applies to anyone in distress who asks us to take them in.

And she had been raped in her own country and she found she was pregnant when she came into the care of our state and we carried out the usual compulsory medical examination.

And nobody told her you couldn’t have an abortion in Ireland.

And nobody told her that our state has fought long and hard to force women to keep babies until they are born and then our state has fought long and hard to take their babies away from them and give them to decent people who deserve them or to the nuns.

Because our state cares for women. In the way that any decent man cares for his woman. And there are 221 men in our parliament and only 25 women. So that’s a lot of caring.

And the young woman was suicidal, although a team of experts decided that she was not suicidal enough. We set the bar high for suicide because we care about foetuses. The best way to prove you are suicidal is to commit suicide and then we have organisations who will worry about why you did it. And the rate of suicide among men is exceptionally high and we worry a lot about that here on this island of saints and sadists.

And she so despaired that she applied at an early stage (some say as early as eight weeks) for permission to have the pregnancy terminated. And they said no. Because she could have a termination in Britain if she could afford it, if she weren’t in Direct Provision which is what we call the incarceration of people who come here to ask us to take them in, if she could get a special visa to leave the country. If she could afford it.

And she so despaired that she stopped eating and drinking. The hunger strike has always been the weapon of last resort of the powerless, the only way to impress power with the gravity of its actions, a last desperate attempt to achieve autonomy over the expropriated body – prisoners use it mainly, those who have no command over even the smallest conditions of their lives, often not even over their mental state.

They force-fed her. Her doctors. Under their care.

And this state has valorised hunger-strikers since its foundation, but only male hunger-strikers (Maud Gonne was a bit mad, don’t you know, a bit hysterical):

In a lonely Brixton Prison where an Irish rebel lay
Close beside a priest was standing ere his soul should pass away
And to him he softly murmured as he held him by the hand:
Tell me father, ere you leave me, shall my soul pass through Ireland?


And just like our old oppressor did to our national martyrs, we put a tube into the young woman’s belly and filled her with unwanted food and water to keep the unwanted foetus alive long enough. Or so they say. We can never know these things because it is all a secret. We don’t talk about what we do to women here on the island of saints and sadists.

And, in accordance with the law called, with delicate irony, The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, she was passed from her own team of psychologists and gynaecologists to a panel of experts.

And these experts decided that her ‘suicidality’ wasn’t suicidal enough to merit aborting its cause.

And it’s well-known anyway, that when pregnant women commit suicide the baby often survives, which is a good thing. And then the baby can be taken into care.

And when the foetus was viable, more or less, they opened her belly under sterile conditions, very carefully of course, and removed the baby at 25 weeks, the earliest opportunity for such a procedure in which the child has a good chance of surviving. Under their care.

And they placed that child in care.


Because you cannot leave a child in the care of a suicidal young woman – even if she is not suicidal enough. Even if she is not suicidal enough to spare her the anguish, humiliation and shame of bearing a child that she does not want. Even if she is not suicidal enough to placate the carers.

Because the young woman was such a suicide risk that it was better to carry out the procedure at the earliest possible moment because.

Because she might kill herself. Somewhere that the carers would not reach her in time to save the baby. She might die and the baby might die. So it was better to open her up and take the baby, even if there were risks. Even if both might die.

Because she was in the care of the state.

Because the young woman is an immigrant and therefore in the care of the state.

Because in the care of the state your life is not your own, nor your body. Not even your past belongs to you but is a matter for examination by a panel of experts who may or may not believe your version of events.

Because she was not suicidal enough to spare her.

Because she is a woman first and foremost.

Because women are in our care. The vessels of god’s divine will. The future. Women are saints. How do they put up with us at all, God bless them?

Because she is an immigrant. And now her baby, born in this state, will not be a citizen of this state because we don’t want her mother. Because this state cherishes all the children of the nation equally, except the children of mothers who come to us for help.

Because there are 221 men in the Dáil and 25 women and one of those women said ‘Obviously I would be concerned…’ but she didn’t say under what circumstances she would be concerned. And she was a minister for justice. And aside from the possibility of her obvious concern she ‘declined to comment.’ But she did say ‘obviously’ four times and ‘clearly’ twice.

And the men said nothing. Although some time ago Professor William Binchy, a saintly man by all accounts, a man who cares deeply for women and who was a former Commissioner for Human Rights, said that ‘the core value of human rights as a philosophical and ethical system is that it recognises the equal inherent worth and dignity of every human being.’ He is an advocate of legislation that prevents all abortion in this state. For him, we are far too easy on these suicidal women. We should think of the foetus who has rights too, thanks to his tireless efforts.

And another of those women said she hoped the case reassured people that there were checks and balances and a safety net in place in the legislation.

A safety net is for tightrope-walkers.

Because this is how we talk here.

Because this state is a barbaric place.

Because nobody should come here without money in their pockets. Tell them not to come. There are kinder places in this world.

And never again ask me why I write such dark books. They are not dark enough.

Reposted from William Wall’s Ice-Moon Blog. Further details of the case, its reporting, comment and analysis can be found here on Human Rights in Ireland.

William Wall is the author four novels, the most recent of which, This Is The Country (2005), has been described as a ‘broad attack on the Celtic Tiger’. He has also published poetry and short stories.


  1. Poorly written

    • Yes, you really should try writing complete sentences.

  2. Excellently written.
    You have summed up in minimalist terms the outrage and despair felt by myself and many others.
    I am not a bra burning feminist.
    I am not the stereotypical angry woman.
    I have a partner who, as a man, is supportive of the pro choice movement.
    Because he has daughters. My step daughters are growing up in a world where anonymous faceless politicians are controlling their bodies and denying them the rights to choose their future reproduction.

    They are a long way off from child rearing but how can we say, god forbid, that something won’t happen to either of them?

    If that happens, I want ALL their options available to them. I want them to be able to have a termination if THEY so choose.

    Just as I have no right to ask another woman how she managed to have four children, or ask a man how often he pleasures himself, what gives ANYONE the right to comment on another person’s body?

    Thank you.
    Thank you is all I have left to say in response to this article. Thank you for highlighting this very dark topic in our country.

  3. I love the Persona, this has the feel of poetry… the short sentences… its like Salinger… beautiful.

  4. The spirit must help persons of thought .Mr.Mom Platter , John the Baptist.Not The rapist . Narrow is the road to heaven .We do not double talk with the gift of gab .The silver tounge of the cockatrice
    We see by the light of christ your darkness is not true light .so fade away.


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