Tuesday, 19th June 2018
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In the end it wasn’t the fact that we voted Yes that was a surprise, but the margin of victory. Sixty-six per cent in favour was an emphatic win for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, and it was in line with opinion polls and exit polls, but until the counts started coming in there remained the doubt that the polls were wrong and that the No vote was being seriously underestimated, as has happened before here with votes on abortion and divorce.So it’s over to the politicians now to legislate for the provision of abortion here. This is something we could have done many years ago if we hadn’t been encumbered with the Eighth Amendment, which shouldn’t have ever been put in the constitution.

The Eighth Amendment was anti-women. It reflects well on us that we have voted to repeal it, but it reflects badly on us as a so-called modern, progressive society that it has taken us until 2018 to do so.

Our attitude to women in this country has a poor track record in modern history. Women had to fight for the right to vote in the last century. Even into my lifetime women were often obliged to give up employment when they married, ensuring they were dependant on their husbands. They had no access to family planning or contraception and had no means to escape an unhappy relationship.

There was nowhere to turn for help and support back then, if your life didn’t follow the ideal scripted by the Catholic Church. You couldn’t just get a divorce and walk away – that was banned too. They had the front and back door closed in order to ensure their views were forced on the populace. How cruel must that have been? The question is easily answered – just ask your parents if you weren’t around yourself 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

The turnout in the referendum vote was healthy. This pleased me enormously. The campaign may have been protracted and bitter but this proved people – on both sides - were engaged with the issue, and articulated their views passionately. We had a full and proper debate, and it was the people having the debate - the politicians were a sideshow, with their strategic politics and bandwagon jumping. It would great to see this level of engagement with the other issues we face. The housing crisis. The urban / rural divide. The HSE. The need to act on environmental issues and other challenges thrown up by global warming. That’s just for starters. Let’s talk about these matters and set the agenda for the politicians – they are there after all, being paid out of our taxes, to do what we tell them; let’s start giving them more specific and necessary work to do.

The No vote was undoubtedly highest amongst older voters. Donegal’s No majority essentially proves this, as did the highest No in the Marriage Equality referendum being in Cavan / Monaghan. Counties where the young people have left in droves because of a lack of employment and education opportunities. But let’s not forget the No voters. Let’s listen to their concerns and see if we can use them in any way as inputs into how we design our abortion provisions.

If we are to be an inclusive society then we need to listen to all voices, and the No voice was the voice of a sizeable minority. If it was an older voice then that was the voice of the people who have built this country up as best they can, and are handing it on to us.

Their voice is one to be listened to and taken on board, not ignored in the excitement of victory.

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