In her smart, belted camel coat and dark, swept-back hair, the elegant Tania Kaur cut an unlikely figure as a demonstrator. An Irish citizen of Indian origin, the 55-year-old financial services executive stood outside Leinster House at 5.50pm, clutching her speech, looking around at the remnants of earlier demonstrations about disability rights and oil rigs in Dalkey, and wondered if anyone else was going to turn up.
Within minutes, crowds began to assemble, surging on to Kildare Street, unfurling banners and placards in the winter darkness, candles wrapped in foil or carried in glasses casting their gentle light on the pictures of a smiling Savita Halappanavar.
The mood was angry, the speeches terse. “Her blood is on your hands,” read the placard carried by a little girl in a woolly hat.
Dutch-born Odile Hendriks, now an Irish citizen, held a poster featuring an artfully drawn monkey with the message “Primate has more wisdom?”
“Will our kids have to fight this bigoted s**t too?” asked another placard. A Cork woman said her outrage was being exacerbated by a sense that Savita’s husband was being “cruelly treated . . . He is now being used as an excuse by all sorts of people for not doing the ‘right thing’. But so often you see people who have been abused in some way being forced to go to law as he has .”
Dr Sinéad Kennedy spoke of the vigils held in Savita’s memory in New York and now taking place across Europe, after which Justine Murphy sang a moving version of the Irish lament, Siúil A Rúin.
Then Savita’s countrywoman, Tania Kaur, took the microphone. She was representing no religion, faith or political organisation; she was not a theologian, a physician, a lawyer or a politician, she said. “I don’t think I’m a militant in any way.”
She was just a woman “moved by the need to protest against a system that had failed to protect” her countrywoman, a system which in the past had “failed many women who have suffered at the hands of the cowardly and lethargic legislators”. The crowd cheered.
A woman named only as Suzanne spoke of finding herself pregnant at a time when she felt unable to give a child “the best life possible”.
Lacking the money to travel for an abortion, she ordered pills off the internet. “It sounds quite dangerous – taking Viagra is actually more dangerous . . . But I could face life in prison for making the best decision that was possible for me . . . I have no regrets . . . It is for politicians North and South to decide whether they trust women or whether they keep control over our bodies as they have done since the beginning.”
James Burke, standing up with his wife, Amanda Mellet, told the crowd that it was exactly a year since they had discovered the baby they were expecting had Edward’s Syndrome and only then realised they would have to travel to England for a termination.
To loud applause, he asked the politicians to “stop waffling and think what such a diagnosis would mean to them or their families”.
After barnstorming addresses by Mary Lou McDonald and Claire Daly, Sinéad Redmond, eight months’ pregnant, was the last to speak.
“How are pregnant women feeling? Scared. Untrusted. In danger. Civil and criminal law has no place in my medical care,” she said to loud applause. “It had no place in Savita’s medical care either – but it was [there]. A woman died a preventable death in an Irish hospital in 2012.”
While praising those who had turned out, Dr Kennedy said they needed to gather in their tens of thousands next Wednesday, when the Dáil would vote on Claire Daly’s retabled legislation.
There would be a live link-up to the Dáil chamber, “to hear exactly what they’re saying inside”, she said.
“One chance” is what the Government would get, “and after that, if they don’t act, I think we’re going to bring this Government down.”