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Most councillors voted in favour of naming a street in the city after Savita Halappanavar, the young woman who died of a septic miscarriage after she was denied an abortion in Galway in 2012.
“Her death has highlighted the barbarity of this state’s treatment of women,” said People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh, as she put forward the motion at Dublin City Council’s monthly meeting, at City Hall on Monday.
There was some debate in the chamber as to what the process would be for renaming a street, and whether there were rules that hindered the council from going ahead with that.
Some councillors pointed out that the rules for the Commemorative Naming Committee say that nominees must have died at least 20 years earlier, although a lesser period “may be
considered by the committee in very exceptional cases”.
The rules also say that the person must have been born, or lived in, or had strong connections with the city.
Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí said it is difficult to decide who gets commemorated and who doesn’t, but that he thought that in this case, it was a question for Galway not Dublin.
“I’m not going to support the motion. There are differing views on this, it’s a very sensitive issue,” he said.
Fine Gael’s Paddy McCartan said the council cannot overturn their own rules “no matter how harrowing the details are, and how gruesome and appalling what happened was”.
Other councillors said they thought the council should be flexible in trying to find a way to make the motion possible.
“I think we need to look at ways of accommodating the motion, rather than blocking the motion,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Daithi Doolan.
Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party said he remembers debating whether they would put women’s health books on the shelves on the libraries not so many years back. The law agent had told them that they couldn’t.
He said the best memorial to Savita Halappanavar would be to change the constitution and the laws – and that he was concerned about the finer points of which street it might be, and what precedent they were setting.
But “I think the mood of the chamber is to make this happen,” he said.
Some called the proposal a “political” motion. Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon said that was a strange charge to make in a chamber full of local political representatives.
In the end, most councillors voted for the motion, with one independent councillor, one Sinn Féin councillor, and a handful of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors voting against.
It’s unclear whether the naming will go through the Commemorative Naming Committee, or take another route.
At the meeting, Assistant Chief Executive Dick Brady said that renaming streets is managed by the council’s area offices.
The drill goes something like this: residents ask for a name-change, and send in an application. If it’s approved at the council’s area committee, then there’s a plebiscite and residents on the road get to vote on it, before – if most vote in favour – it is approved by the council.
It usually takes between six and eight months, said Brady. “Normally this comes as a ground-up application. What we have here this evening would appear to be a top-down request.”
So because this has been raised in a different way, there would be difficulties in making it happen, he said.
Labour Councillor Mary Freehill suggested an amendment to the motion, to make it clear that if residents on any street want to ask for it to be renamed “Savita Halappanavar”, the council would be in favour of that.
“That would be sending an indication out there, if people want to do it,” she said. MacVeigh said that was implicit in the motion already.
On Tuesday, MacVeigh said that the take-away from the meeting was that councillors wanted to acknowledge how women have been treated by state institutions.
Going forward, there will be more discussion of the details of which path to take to make it happen: whether councillors think a street should be named, or a piece of city infrastructure such as a hospital.
“It can be that we’re proactive, or that it’s residents on a street anywhere in the city,” she said.
The disproportionate amount of time allowed to be spent discussing a motion to rename a street, that councillors are not entitled to rename is an example of how the monthly meetings have been allowed to descend into a time wasting farce.
More time should be spent discussing practical motions like the one brought by Councillor Norma Sammon regarding the control of seagulls in urban areas and other issues that are within the councillors remit and they have the power to effect change.
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