Uplift Ireland and the National Maternity Hospital

In April of 2017, Denise Kiernan saw a news story about a decision to move the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin to a new site — one that was owned by the Sisters of Charity, a congregation of Catholic nuns. This was alarming because a government commission had identified the Sisters as an organization involved in child abuse and other scandals around the health and welfare of women and children throughout the 20th century.

Denise decided to do something about it, and she launched a petition on MyUplift, a campaigning site run by Uplift, a multi-issue progressive organization in Ireland. The petition demanded that the Sisters relinquish ownership of the hospital, as well as pay their share of a redress plan for their past abuses.

The petition grew rapidly and was quickly noticed by Uplift’s staff. Since the issue was squarely in line with their organizational priorities on women’s rights and the separation of church and state, they began working closely with Denise to carry out a full-fledged campaign.

Uplift promoted the campaign to portions of their membership, and once it was clear that their members were passionate about the issue, they sent it to their full list. Within days, the campaign had garnered over 100,000 signatures. Knowing that they had such a huge backing, Uplift and Denise developed a campaign strategy to get supporters to call, email, and write the Sisters of Charity directly with their demands.

At the same time, Uplift garnered publicity for the campaign by issuing a press statement and fielding media inquiries. They fundraised and ran a full page ad in The Independent, one of Ireland’s major newspapers. To deliver the petition to the Minister of Health, they printed each signature on a roll of paper 50 meters long and unfurled it during a rally at the Department of Health.

They also worked in coalition with other organizations: Parents for Choice, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and Justice for Magdalenes, an advocacy group for survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, one of the sites of the Sisters’ abuse.

The tactics paid off. Because the current Irish government is a minority government, it is particularly susceptible to public pressure. The Health Minister, Simon Harris, also appeared to agree with the aims of the campaign. Within weeks, amid “massive public backlash,” the Sisters of Charity agreed to hand ownership of the hospital to a private trust. Denise and Uplift had won their campaign.

But it didn’t end there. Uplift knows that in addition to immediate victories, good campaigns build stronger organizations. With the 50,000 new members that had come in through the National Maternity Hospital campaign — as well as their previous supporters, who were passionate about the separation of church and state — they pivoted to the next issue. In partnership with EQUATE, they began working on the “baptism barrier,” a longstanding policy that gave Catholic children preference in school admissions. By June, they succeeded in pressuring the Education Minister to introduce new legislation banning religious discrimination in schools.

Energized with newfound political clout and a powerful base of member support, they are also working toward the long-term goal of abortion rights for all people who need them.

Transformative change always starts with a small spark — and in this case, the spark was Denise Kiernan. Using the MyUplift platform, powered by ControlShift, Uplift was able to build power for Denise’s campaign and inspire others. Contact us to find out how ControlShift can help your organization tap the potential of your members and take your campaigning to a new level.