Prime Time's debate proved that Simon Harris is Ireland's star politician 5 years ago

Prime Time's debate proved that Simon Harris is Ireland's star politician

The Yes campaign's response to Simon Harris' Prime Time performance was unequivocal: you smashed it, son.

If you'd told any Yes campaigner, even a year ago, they'd be beaming with pride as Simon Harris cut through another anti-repeal argument on Prime Time — "Women in this country are not going around demanding abortions, they're in crisis" — you know what the response would have been.


Simon Harris? ... The skinny guy?

A TD since the tender age of 24, there is no denying that it has always been kind of funny to imagine Harris doing things that the average person his age might do. Donning a bucket hat for EP? Nope. Singing karaoke on a stag night in Prague? No way. Successfully identifying a nice pair of runners? Honestly... probably not.

But stood before the nation on Prime Time last night, Harris was imperious.

When it was put to Harris that a woman might "get over" the trauma of rape, he calmly demanded: "Isn't there a better chance that the woman will make an informed decision of what's best for her and her family by being able to talk to her own doctor in her own country, rather than going to a strange land?"


Harris was fearless when the gloves came off too, telling his interlocutor Peadar Tóibín that "the greatest protector of a pregnancy is a mother, it's a woman, and I trust women to protect their pregnancies and you constantly don't trust them". Whenever Harris won the ball, he made sure there was plenty of bite in the tackle.

He even proved himself more of a natural than our Taoiseach at social media when he took to Twitter to make fun of the No side's last-minute cancellations for the Prime Time debate.


Last night was a culmination of Harris' stellar campaigning on the issue since he first called for a referendum in 2015.

In one case, posters were put up in Bray that showed Harris standing in front of an aborted foetus. But Harris has remained patient and steady throughout. The tired old chestnut that pro-choice campaigners inherently alienate middle-ground voters has been roundly dispelled by Harris' own performance throughout the entirety of this campaign.

Of course, Harris is not, and has never been, the true driving force behind repealing Ireland's restrictive abortion laws. For decades, women have toiled to push boulders uphill, fighting for rights that are available to women in almost every other western democracy on earth. Simon Harris has simply proved himself to be the best conduit they could have hoped for. That he has so emphatically won the favour of so many Yes voters is evidence of that. Where a weaker advocate could have been a drag on their campaign's momentum, Simon Harris has been rocket fuel.

But perhaps more important than Harris' current strength on the issue has been his clarity around how he arrived at this new conclusion.


Harris was not always such an adamant advocate for repeal. As Tóibín noted on Prime Time, Harris voted in 2013 for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which included a 14-year minimum sentence for those who would procure an illegal abortion in Ireland.

But speaking at Fine Gael's national conference last November, in front of an evenly divided crowd, Harris was a changed man: "I've sat in many rooms with far too many women who have found Ireland to be too cold and too lonely a place when it comes to facing a crisis pregnancy." That's what he said then, and he's carried that conviction with him in the seven months since.

Whatever risk that comes with being an adamantly pro-choice politician in Wicklow, Simon Harris has welcomed. Since re-evaluating his stance, he has relentlessly gone to bat for Ireland's women, and two days out from the referendum —Harris is still batting a thousand.

Harris has been at the forefront of the most daring move taken by an Irish government in perhaps its entire history.

While Tánaiste Simon Coveney hummed and hawed over whether or not to support the Oireachtas Committee's recommendations, Harris ploughed ahead. While Leo Varadkar promised that Fine Gael would be a "warm house" for those with conservative opinions on abortion, Harris ploughed ahead. As the race narrows and the future becomes less certain with each passing day, Harris ploughs ahead.


It was the women of Ireland who changed Simon Harris' mind on abortion, and it is Simon Harris who dragged Ireland's government by the scruff of its neck into the fray.

Most importantly, Harris has shown a trait that we need our politicians to have: a profound propensity for listening. For learning. For seeking out the voices of those affected by an issue and going hell for leather trying to implement the changes that they think will make Ireland a better place for its most vulnerable.

In the coming years, Ireland will face crisis. Ireland is facing crisis now.

Beyond the divisions that have emerged throughout the referendum campaign, Ireland's homelessness figures are unacceptable, the HSE remains mired in the Cervical Check scandal (to say nothing of people on trolleys), and in the past week alone, two women have been violently murdered. Ireland has no shortage of problems to solve. Problems that, much like Eighth Amendment, politicians have ignored for years.

Simon Harris' Prime Time performance epitomised his talent for taking on an issue that decades of Irish governments have refused to touch and carrying it all the way to the finish line without breaking a sweat.