Alan Kinsella: Creating A Personal Archive

I started collecting Political Material in the February 1982 Election, an election, like the one the following November where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael both promised a Pro Life Referendum.

How do I gather material? When I started family, relations, friends, classmates and later College friends and Work Colleagues would gather material for me. Pre Internet I would have written to parties, groups looking for material. The beauty too of the internet is that through that I am able to source material as people make contact, or I make contact and they kindly send me stuff. Aside from that, for the 8th Amendment , I attended protests, ARC Marches and so on. I would also regularly pop into Churches, where often there is material left at the back of the church for collection by the Mass going public. Whilst a lot of the focus is naturally on Catholicism, some of the newer Baptist churches also produced material even more vehemently against Abortion as some of the Catholic organisations. 

Doing exhibitions also opens doors to gathering material. People may have had stuff gathering in an attic for years and be only delighted to drop it off knowing that it has found a good home. They also like the fact that it will be exhibited, put on the website or shared online, so that the material gets a wider audience.

For the 8th Amendment in particular my collecting spanned that era, so through posters, leaflets, badges and papers I’m in a position to tell that story with material from all sides. Having material from all sides is really important. Often campaigners would have amassed material from their own side, where if you have it from both, it is more reflective of the campaigns. For the Marriage Equality Campaign a lot of people material from the Yes side, very few kept it from the No side, I ended up scanning a lot of No material and sending it off to the Marriage Equality Campaign in Australia who wanted to know what type of material they would be up against in their Referendum. 

The election material also covers the period, be it promises related to abortion from parties but also the ‘Catholic’ parties such as The Christian Principles Party, Catholic Democrats, Muintir na hÉireann and The Christian Solidarity Party. Parties like Renua set up primarily because of a change to Abortion legislation. You get the leaflets from the Presidential Elections insinuating that Mary Robinson would open an Abortion Clinic in The Park. The Pro Life leaflets targeting candidates in elections and also the pro life material posted to public representatives.

To me, this is a hobby, although I love doing exhibitions and if I won the lotto, I’d open a museum. Outside of the 8thAmendment, the collection can tell the story of Social change here, be it Divorce, Adoption, Marriage Equality, the role of women in society to Housing, Industry, Health. I do know that had I not collected some material, it would be gone. There is plenty of leaflets that must now be the only ones in existence. 

Personal collections tend to be unique, be it my own or other collector friends material. As for the collection, In time I suppose I’d like to partner with an Institution.

So how does the collection tell the story of the 8th? 

The 1983 material I have, literally all of the No material from the time was prophetic.

“This Amendment Could Kill Women -Vote No” ,”Catholic State or Irish Nation – Vote No” , “Raped Pregnant No Choice? -Vote No” , “For Democracy and Tolerance -Vote No”, “It’s a step in the wrong direction – Vote No”. On the Yes side the focus was on the baby rather than the woman. Although where there was a focus on the woman One SPUC Leaflet “Some Foolish Women Say “I Have a right to my own body” – This is not true- God has the first right over our body. No Woman has a right to interfere with a life God has created”

Other similar material in 1983 “Contraception, abortion , infanticide and euthanasia are the Four Spearheads of the anti-life campaign. To be truly pro-life we must oppose all four”

The next battle was the right to information, I’m lucky in that I have a number of Left Wing papers and leaflets which had Abortion Information in them and the famous 6794700 number which was a regular chant at protests. 

The X-Case marked another change in focus and I have material from some of the protests at the time. This in turn led to the 1992 Referendum on The Right to Travel, The Right to Information and The ‘Substantive issue’. 

The change to the ‘Substantive Issue’ was in effect the rolling back of the X-Case Ruling or as A Dublin Abortion Information Campaign leaflet put it “Vote No to this attempt to reverse the Supreme Court ruling. It allowed a 14 year old girl , pregnant by a rapist, the right to have an abortion rather than face suicide. The proposed wording would condemn some women to death”.

Democratic Left had a picture of a teenager and Mother on the front of their leaflet in this Referendum, in doing so it reflected the X-Case.

When I exhibit material from this Referendum it regularly leaves younger people speechless. The arguments presented by The Pro Life Campaign and Youth Defence especially against Information are eye catching. That “English Abortion Clinics will advertise … On Television. In Newspapers. In Magazines. On Hoardings, in the streets, on Bus Stops. Agents for clinics touting here for customers”. This Referendum also saw the extreme pro-life sides advocate a No vote for the “Substantive issue” as it went too far for them, this led to leaflets condemning the Bishops, Albert Reynolds and others.

The 2002 Abortion Referendum saw a measure proposed that didn’t go far enough for the pro choice side and didn’t go far enough for many on the pro life side. The Pro Life Campaign is the only group that I have a Yes leaflet from. 

The campaign to Repeal continued from there, in fact a lot of it was concentrated around “legislating for X”. There were ARC Marches and momentum building up. Sadly it took the death of Savita Halappanavar to create a new momentum. I attended the vigil outside the Dail on the 14th of November , it was a whole new wave of revulsion at the 8th Amendment. There were many attending their first protest. I gathered material there and again the following weekend when there was a massive march in Dublin.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013 led to some Political Turmoil with The Reform Alliance and eventually Renua being founded. Over the following years protests grew, The ARC Marches but also the annual Rally For Life. The Citizens Assembly recommendations and then the actual Amendment Campaign.

One of the main thigs in recent years has been the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and women being forced to carry to full term. These stories and others such as the “In Her Shoes” project led to a lot more open discussion about Abortion in Ireland.

The other aspect of the campaign was the creativity on show, The Repeal Jumpers, the number of different badges produced. Groups like Hunreal issues online, The wearing of a badge, a jumper all signs of support.

The Referendum itself produced a huge amount of material, lots of leaflets, posters, badges, bags and so on. There was also a lot of digital content produced, videos , graphics and so on.

As a collector, it’s almost impossible to track everything digital and that is a huge challenge for institutions and collections, not just the volume of material but the formats it was produced in. 

As I write this material from the Pro Life Campaign detailing their upcoming online events but also their “A humane response to foetal pain” leaflet outlining their plans to amend the current laws….. So although The 8th was repealed, the debate and collecting on this issue continues.

Published: 1 September 2021

Alan Kinsella who runs the Irish Election Literature site, has been collecting Political material since the February 1982 General Election. The Collection includes 400 posters, around 50,000 leaflets, stickers, badges and other political accessories from Ireland and elsewhere.

He has had a number of previous public exhibitions in The National Print Museum, The Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, The Kenny Gallery in Galway , The Limerick Spring Festival and The Newbridge Junefest. He also has done displays at Fianna Fáil , Fine Gael, Labour and Green Party Ard Fheis /Conferences.