Autonomy – the second greatest of all the A-words

On May 2nd 2018, at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, Anna Cosgrave and the Repeal Project very kindly let me speak at the Repeal/ Together for Yes fundraiser. In the year where we vote on repealing the 8th amendment from the Irish constitution, of course I spoke (and sang) about ABBA. Here’s what I said (and sang):


In 1983, when the 8thamendment went into our constitution, I was 14 and ABBA were not cool. It was a year after they’d broken up and time hadn’t yet shown that their greatness would endure. That they were so much more than a 70s, spangly flash-in-the-pan.

Did ABBA’s breakup lead to a kind of collective madness that allowed the Irish electorate to insert a cruel, not-fit-for-purpose, anti-woman clause into the laws of our land? Was it the absence of ABBA, the loss of their shiny teeth, jewel-coloured jumpsuits and pristine harmonies, that led to such grimness? Can you prove that it didn’t, though? How can you be sure? The dates stack up. It’s food for thought.

ABBA taught me what being a woman can be. I was seven, the Catholic age of reason when you’re deemed old enough to confess sins and get communion. I was listening to ABBA’s Arrival. Instead of the diet of shame and be-seen-and-not-heard I was getting at the convent, this is what I found… (Now, I’m mixing the lyrics up to make a point, so don’t hate me, ABBA nerds)… I found a song about a girl called Carrie. That’s Me. Allow me to break it down:

Are you sure you want to hear more / Would I be the one you seek
Mild and meek like the girl next door

So the one people seek is ‘mild and meek’, even in Sweden. Bummer. A girl-next-door type, like in the ads, like the nuns ask to join them. Impossibly good girls. Perfect. Never making mistakes. But wait. Wait! Carrie isn’t like that:
I can’t help my ways

Carries’s bold!
I’m just not the girl to hide my face

She’s one of us, a brazen hussy!
I’m jealous and I’m proud / If you hurt my feelings I’ll cry out loud

Carrie, I’m always losing it too!

I’m Carrie not-the-kind-of-girl-you’d-marry/ That’s me

Carrie’s not getting married and she couldn’t give a feck. This was radical to me. Maybe there was more to life than what was laid out for women in the constitution – a life baking brown bread and churning out butter and children. There was one last bit:

I don’t believe in fairy-tales
Sweet nothings in my ear
But I do believe in sympathy

Carrie doesn’t believe in fairytales. Me neither. The 8thamendment is a fairytale. It says that all women want to be parents, that all wanted pregnancies will be viable, it says we’re vessels. And we’re not. But we do believe in sympathy. Or maybe empathy’s a better word.

This is the reality referendum, where we acknowledge that the 8thprevents nothing, it only adds hardship. The unselfishness referendum, where we vote not on our own beliefs, but on not imposing them on others. The empathy referendum: I can’t know your life because I don’t walk in your shoes. I support you. I trust you to make difficult, informed decisions about your own life, health and future.

So where do ABBA come in? Well, this year, they’re reforming. Could it be an omen? I never thought I’d see the day. So maybe something else I never thought I’d see will come back this year, too. Autonomy. The second greatest of all the A-words, after ABBA.

We’re bold girls. We’re good girls. We’re messy. We’re not perfect. We’re doing our best. We all deserve respect.

Did I construct an entire ABBA analogy just so I could fulfil my dream of singing ABBA songs on the Olympia stage? Maybe. Maybe I did. But… that’s me.

Vote Yes on May 25th.