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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 18 July, 2018
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'I think a lot of men are inclined to opt out and say 'this doesn't affect me'. But this is vitally important'

Some of the most senior government ministers were out canvassing for a Yes vote in the Eighth Referendum at Stephen’s Green today.

They could be our wives, our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our nieces, our neighbours or people you go to work with today. They could be the wife or relative of the guy you play football with.

TURNING FROM SOUTH King Street onto St Stephen’s Green in Dublin city centre this morning, you would have seen a smiling Richard Bruton handing out leaflets to passers-by during the early rush.

Every so often he stopped someone and asked how they were voting in the referendum.

A few metres away from the Minister for Education was Senator Jerry Buttimer doing the exact same. And just by the Luas stop where thousands got off to head to work were Ministers Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy.

Last week, this would have been a fine sunny morning in Dublin but there was an unwelcome chill in the air as many walked past on their way to work but many – spotting the familiar faces of the Ministers – did stop to talk.

A men’s issue, too

Speaking to assembled media after speaking to the public, the Fine Gael Men for Yes cohort of senators and TDs said that their canvassing this morning was about emphasising how important it is that men realise how the Eighth Amendment affects them.

Ruling out undecideds, last week’s Irish Times/Ipsos Mori opinion poll had 58% of men saying they’d vote yes in the referendum and 42% saying they’d vote no. In contrast, 67% of women said they’d vote yes, while 33% said they’d vote no.

And, with one in five people saying they haven’t made up their mind about how they’ll vote yet, there are still many votes to be won on both sides between now and polling day on 25 May.

The politicians all said that men could not think that the Eighth Amendment is something that doesn’t affect them.

Minister for Health Simon Harris, for example, said that “men cannot abstain from this debate” and have a “responsibility to engage in this”. He said:

They should ask themselves the question: ‘if it was a women in our life, who we know, would we want her to be treated with compassion or care or would we want her to be feel  the cold shoulder that the Eighth Amendment has presented to Irish women?’

Harris said that, when we hear of the numbers of women going abroad for abortions or taking abortion pills, it’s easy to think of them as an “abstract concept”.

“But these are women we know,” he said, adding how it could be family members, close friends, work colleagues or the wife or partner of a friend. “This is an issue that affects all citizens in this country.”

Bruton also said that talking about the Eighth Amendment was something men sometimes shirked from.

“I think a lot of men are maybe inclined to opt out and say ‘this is something that doesn’t really involve us’,” he said. “I think it’s vitally important. Half of the electorate are men. We need to get this across the line.”

Referencing the work of the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee, Bruton added that “the more people investigate the issue… the more they’re convinced of the need to make a change”.

This was echoed by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy who said that by reaching out to people like they were doing this morning, and by knocking on doors in the evening, to give them information “the more people start to realise they need to vote yes”.

Murphy added that they were talking specifically to men today to make sure that they are “engaged” on the issue, and say that it is their responsibility to inform themselves and check the facts, rather than trust what they may see on social media about the referendum.

Making a choice

Referencing the people who hadn’t made up their mind yet, Minister Jim Daly said that there’s a “huge middle ground of people out there”.

He said it was up to politicians to reach out to these people and emphasise how the Eighth Amendment has, as Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said today, “served Irish women particularly badly”.

Daly said: “[It's about asking yourself] if this was my daughter in the morning with a crisis pregnancy, what would I want for her?

Would I want her to able to have a termination here? Or would I want her to go under a cloud of darkness and fear and guilt abroad to deal with it. For me, that’s what it is about.

Simon Harris said that politicians and campaigners should have the difficult questions put to them as it ‘s such a complex and sensitive” issue but that there was also a duty for those on the No side to explain why “the status quo is fine”.

He said: “It’s very hard to try and state that the Eighth Amendment has served women well in this country. I would respectfully ask where are their plans to deal with victims of rape or incest?

What would they suggest for a 15-year-old that’s been raped, because currently in this country she has to carry her baby to full term. What would they suggest for the three women today that will take the abortion pill, potentially in their bedroom alone with no medical supervision? What would they do to address the fact that at least 9 women are travelling from this jurisdiction to the UK today?

The Fine Gaelers also emphasised on a number of occasions how this is not just a Dublin issue, but one that has affected “every town in the country”.

Laois TD Flanagan was asked if he’d found a difference between the views of people in his own constituency and in the capital.

He said: “What I see is people reflecting on the issue at hand, and taking a far more compassionate approach. There’s not a rural, urban divide. Ireland’s become a small place.”

And with that, the politicians posed for a picture (Eoghan Murphy took a selfie) and sped off in the direction of Leinster House.

IMG_5467 The assembled Fine Gaelers Source: Sean Murray/TheJournal.ie

Fine Gael are following the example of parties Fianna Fáil by not putting up posters on the streets of cities and towns.

However, while their advisors remained close by throughout canvassing this morning, this was an example of how the party’s Ministers, TDs and Senators are taking part in the boots-on-the-ground campaign across the country for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

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Sean Murray

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