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Analysis: Six reasons why Ireland was a landslide Yes for repeal

The country has voted to abolish the Eighth Amendment.

Ireland abortion laws Celebrations in Dublin Castle this evening. Source: Niall Carson

IRELAND HAS VOTED overwhelmingly to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The final results are in and the government’s proposal has been passed by 66.4% to 33.6%

Campaigners have been seeking the removal of the amendment for many years and there have been several fateful events that brought the issue into the national consciousness.

In recent years pressure to repeal has been building, culminating in today’s result.

But why is it that people voted in such numbers repeal?

TheJournal.ie has compiled a few reasons…

Savita, Miss C, Miss P, Miss Y and X

Ireland abortion laws A mural of Savita Halappanavar in Dublin by street artist Aches. Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

It seems almost wrong to cite individual tragedies as reasons in a debate, but the reality is that these horrific cases angered large numbers of Irish people.

All can agree that the women mentioned above should not have been put through what they were and yesterday was Ireland’s opportunity to say no more.

The same can be said of groups like Termination for Medical Reasons who spoke bravely about their own experiences and the put themselves into the spotlight.

There is little more to say about those awful tragedies in this context except to say that many voted compassionately with those women in mind.

Ireland wanted more liberal abortion

ballot 207_90545930 A Yes vote in the Dublin Count Centre in RDS. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

That may seem like stating the obvious after such a huge vote, but it’s worth repeating that this came about because Ireland was simply not happy with the way things were.

Today wasn’t because of some kind of insurgent movement that came out of nowhere.

Opinion polls over recent history have consistently shown that people wanted change.

An Irish Times poll last year found that 57% wanted a vote allowing abortion in cases of rape, fatal foetal abnormality and a threat to the life of the woman.

Before the current government came into office in 2016, more than half of people said expanding access to abortion should be a priority. Three-quarters wanted a referendum.

Go back further to December 2012, a Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post found that 85% wanted the X Case legislated for and 82% of voters wanted abortion legalised in cases of rape.

In all those polls, none were not supportive of the current proposals to legalise abortion without restriction up to a period, but it is clear that change was wanted.

Today’s vote is a reflection of that.

The Citizens’ Assembly worked 

Source: The Citizens' Assembly/YouTube

The Citizens’ Assembly sat for five separate weekends listening to hours of evidence about the Eighth Amendment.

They heard from doctors, lawyers and on one particular emotional day heard the testimony of six women who were affected by it.

While there was criticism of both the idea of the Citizens’ Assembly and its make up, there is no doubting that the members were exemplary in how they carried out their task.

Just over 13 months ago today, the assembly members began voting on what they thought of Ireland’s abortion laws.

In a series of votes they recommended that the Eighth Amendment needed to go but advised that the Constitution should direct politicians to legislate.

The Irish public has agreed with them today.

Almost to the number in fact, the Citizens’ Assembly voted by 64% to 36% for abortion on request. The assembly was set up to be representative of the Irish people and it proved to be.

Furthermore, politically it was also a success and former taoiseach Enda Kenny has been receiving praise today for initiating it.

The Citizens’ Assembly voted that abortion should be available on request up to 12 weeks. This is also the government’s proposal and it will now likely happen.

What’s clear from this is that, what the assembly recommended, politicians eventually followed.

Crucially, it meant that politicians didn’t have to propose the ideas in the first place, because it’s unlikely they would have.

Even from the cynical viewpoint, if the assembly was set up as mudguard for politicians who didn’t want to get their hands dirty, it succeeded in doing that too.

The Yes side boxed clever

One of the early tropes of the referendum campaign was that the Yes side was slow out of the blocks and that the No side was steaming ahead.

The talk was that the No side had all their posters up first and when the Yes side did get their posters up their messaging was weak.

But this was the longest of long referendum campaigns and getting out of the blocks first was not the priority. If ever there was an example of a referendum campaign being a marathon and not a sprint this was it.

It also ignored some other vital considerations. The main one being that the referendum was the Yes side’s to lose rather than to win.

As few weeks before the referendum was confirmed, polls showed that people backed repeal as well as the 12 weeks proposal. These numbers remained steady throughout the campaign.

During the campaign, polls consistently showed a near 2:1 ratio in favour of repeal excluding undecideds.

Assuming those numbers were correct, the Yes campaign’s primary mission was to not alienate voters or do anything that would change their minds.

While a loud, confident campaign may have been ideologically sound, it would have risked doing just that. When things are going well, perhaps best not to chance it.

Instead, what Together for Yes side did was focus on something that was perceived to be one of the main strengths of the Nos.

It was always said that the No side would have an unbeatable ground game that would knock on doors and get people to the polling stations.

Instead, Together for Yes turned that on its head and not only did they conduct a large and sustained canvassing campaign but their numbers seemed to swell in the past week.

There was bravery from some politicians

pill 144_90544655 People Before Profit TD Brid Smith. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

It was almost an accepted wisdom among politicians that even discussing the issue of abortion was a bad idea for them electorally. In 2016, TheJournal.ie asked every TD about the Eighth Amendment, fewer than half even responded.

Choosing individual politicians who have staunchly campaigned in favour of abortion rights risks leaving some out.

But in recent years, Clare Daly TD has been vocal in support of legalised abortion while Bríd Smith TD made the unprecedented step of talking about her own abortion in the Dáil.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also namechecked Ruth Coppinger in the Dáil this week for her tireless efforts.

The current government also deserves credit for not sitting on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment sat within months of its completion and despite some misgivings about the timeline, delivered its report on time.

By and large, it also conducted its work in collegiate manner and its chairperson Senator Catherine Noone put herself in a vulnerable position to lead it and should be applauded for that.

People found ways to talk about abortion

90423672_90423672 A pop up shop selling repeal jumpers on Dublin's Essex Street. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

While talk from some during the campaign focused on ‘silent Nos’, the reality is that there was a huge ‘silent Yes’ waiting to cast its vote.

With the Eighth Amendment in place for 35 years and more than 170,000 women and girls travelling abroad for an abortion in that time, this is an issue that touched many people.

Many knew someone who’d travelled and others had a family member who had a diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormality. But while people knew their position, it was not one they felt like talking about.

The Repeal jumper became the iconic image of the campaign not only because of its simplicity of message but also because it changed the point of argument.

People who may have felt uncomfortable advocating for abortion rights felt more comfortable doing so without using the word itself. ‘Repeal’ became the byword for campaigners and it has proved to be the winning one.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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