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How the ref was won

13 heroes of the Yes campaign

The Irish people have voted for same-sex marriage but some campaigners deserve a special mention.

IRELAND HAS BECOME the first country in the world to enshrine the right of same-sex couples to marry in the Constitution.

It’s a clear win for Yes. This hadn’t always been expected and nerves were fraying in the finals weeks of the campaign but the strong turnout did much to aid the passage of the referendum.

Several civic society groups and all the main political parties campaigned, canvassed, debated and leafleted for a Yes vote but there were a few standout heroes who helped swing the result.

In no particular order, here are our picks…

1. John Lyons 

The Labour TD was put front-and-centre of the party’s campaign for a Yes vote and he did not let his colleagues down. He consistently and passionately argued for the referendum’s passage in the media and didn’t shy away from debates.

This was personal for Lyons, as we found out in this heartwarming campaign video released in the final days of the campaign:

Labour / YouTube

He was also responsible for what was arguably THE picture of the entire referendum campaign:

2. Brighid and Paddy

This Dundalk couple have been happily married for 50 years and Paddy admitted he probably would have voted No if the referendum took place 20 years ago. But in 2015 he and his wife were voting Yes.

“Now that I know gay people, and can see the love and the joy they can give to life, and I will be voting yes,” he said in this lovely viral video released by the #VoteWithUs organisation.

Padraic W / YouTube

3. Yes Equality 

This newly-created organisation mounted an impressive voter registration campaign. It was also behind those ubiquitous ‘Yes Equality’ badges, pins and stickers and did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to canvassing and postering all over the country.

Several politicians we spoke to throughout the campaign said the referendum campaign could not have been done without the work of the group set up by GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Gay Marriage Equality Referendums Pat Carey holding up those famous Tá badges Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

4. Pat Carey

While others in his party hid, the former Fianna Fáil minister was out in force to campaign for a Yes vote. But his most powerful contribution to the campaign was when he spoke about his own personal experience of grappling with his sexuality and the problems being gay have posed for people of his generation.

I know this for certain – there are many, many people of my generation out there who are living excruciatingly lonely and isolated lives. They’re finding it virtually impossible to exist.

5. Colm O’Gorman 

The director of Amnesty International and former PD senator was widely praised for his strong performance in the final RTÉ Prime Time debate of the campaign.

Bright, well-informed, articulate and passionate, O’Gorman did more than most to successfully argue against the No side’s view that this referendum was about children, the family, and the complex issue of surrogacy.

6. Noel Whelan

The astute political commentator wrote a series of well-researched op-eds in the Irish Times dealing with the No arguments and outlining the case for a Yes vote.

He also appeared in a number of broadcast debates and brought the sort of detailed, well-informed views that were crucial to convincing some voters.

7. Averil Power 

While others in her party were AWOL during this campaign, the Fianna Fáil senator did the most important thing one can do in a referendum campaign: She got out and canvassed up and down her constituency.

There were even reports that Power was jeered and heckled by colleagues when she bemoaned their lack of support for the amendment during a private meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. While others failed to do their part, Power was never found wanting.

8. Jerry Buttimer 

Fine Gael’s first openly gay TD led what was a surprisingly strong campaign from the senior government party. It had been thought that Fine Gael was lukewarm on an issue primarily driven by Labour in government, but Buttimer and many – but not all – of his party colleagues consistently made the case for Yes.

We also loved this response from Buttimer when we asked him if he planned to get married himself:

Video / YouTube

We followed up with him today:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 19.59.58

9. Enda Kenny 

The Taoiseach gets a lot of flak for all sorts of things but for someone who appeared reluctant to discuss the whole issue two years ago, he made a series of passionate arguments for Yes throughout the campaign.

Kenny often spoke of the journey he had come on this issue and by the end he was playing down talk that he was about to become a gay icon.

10. Ursula Halligan 

In arguably the most powerful opinion piece of the entire campaign, the TV3 political journalist revealed she was gay and detailed her long and painful struggle with her sexuality. Halligan only revealed to her family that she was gay days before she told the country in a memorable Irish Times op-ed:

For me, there was no first kiss; no engagement party; no wedding. And up until a short time ago no hope of any of these things.

11. Una Mullally 

Presenter of Ceol Ar An Ime Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

Mullally was always a strong advocate of a Yes vote and did several high-profile debates. But the campaign took on greater significance for the Irish Times columnist when she revealed her cancer diagnosis in an extraordinary op-ed last month.

Mullally detailed her anger and embarrassment at ‘stuttering’ her partner Sarah’s name to a nurse when asked for next of kin details in hospital. ”I guess it’s hard to accept yourself when your country doesn’t,” she wrote. 

12. Mary McAleese 

The former president was criticised in some quarters for breaking the long-standing tradition of ex-officeholders maintaining their silence on contentious issues.

BeLonG To Youth Services / YouTube

But McAleese, whose son is gay, organised a series of well-timed and strategic media appearances where she argued that a Yes vote posed no threat to heterosexual marriage. Rather, she said, it was important for the children of the country:

It will give us peace of mind about our children’s future and pride in our country’s commitment to true equality. It will right a glaring wrong.

13. The ordinary people

They pounded pavements, knocked on doors, handed out leaflets, gave out badges, and got out the vote on Friday.

Without them, the referendum simply would not have passed.

We also asked you on Twitter for your heroes of  the referendum campaign: 

Here are just some of the names you came back with: 

  • Ross Golden Bannon
  • Leanne Woodful
  • Áodhan Ó Ríordáin
  • Tiernan Brady
  • Mrs Brown
  • Leo Varadkar
  • Micheál Martin
  • Eamon Gilmore
  • Eoin Neylon
  • Daniel O’Donnell
  • The USI
  • TCD Students’ Union
  • Dearbhail McDonald
  • Waterford Whispers
  • William Quill
  • Fergus Finlay
  • Vicky Curtis
  • Rebecca Moynihan
  • Carole Leger
  • Sinn Féin
  • Joan Burton
  • Tara Flynn
  • Helen O’Rahilly
  • Buzz O’Neill
  • Philly McMahon
  • David Norris
  • Frances Fitzgerald
  • Joe Caslin

Have we missed anyone? Let us know your thoughts in the comments… 

Read: David Norris got an amazing reception at Dublin Castle this afternoon

“Everything changes with this”: Tears, relief (and sunscreen) at a jubilant Dublin Castle

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