by Frank Schnittger
Fri May 25th, 2018 at 11:25:01 PM EST
The Eight Amendment to the Irish Constitution, passed by a margin of 67% to 33% on a 54% turnout in 1983, made abortion all but equivalent to murder in all circumstances except where there was an immediate and certain risk to the life of the mother. 35 years later a referendum to repeal that amendment was held yesterday.
The Irish Times exit poll predicts a 68% to 32% victory for the repeal side. A much higher turnout, approaching 70% is also expected to have occurred. This is a better result than the Yes side dared to hope, given that the No campaign had the full support of the Catholic Church and assorted well funded right wing think tanks and organisations who used emotive posters and language basically portraying YES supporters as baby killers.
As might be expected, the younger the voter, the more likely they are to support repeal. However the contrast between the 50-64 demographic (YES 63-37) and the 65+ demographic (NO 60-40) is stark. A sea change appears to have occurred between voters born before and after 1953, a period which saw the Catholic Church defeat the first attempts by government to introduce publicly funded health care for mothers and children.
Women and urban voters also supported repeal in greater numbers, but again, it is striking that there was no great Male/female or Urban/rural divide. All parts of the country voted for repeal, and men supported repeal by 65-35%.
An exit poll published later on Friday night by RTÉ during the Late Late Show mirrored the projection seen in The Irish Times exit poll. The RTÉ poll showed 69.4 have voted for Yes, while 30.6 per cent have voted for No.
At a political level, I was concerned that a no vote could stall and perhaps reverse a 30 year trend towards greater secularisation and liberalisation in Ireland. Every reactionary group seemed to jump on the No bandwagon and sought to harness an anti-establishment vote similar to what we have seen with Brexit and Trump. Once again Ireland has bucked that trend - similar to the popular vote for Marriage equality
in a referendum in 2015.
There may also have been something of a backlash against the Catholic Church and assorted otherwise marginal right wing and religious groups such as the Iona Institute seeking to hijack the issue to support their political agendas.
A number of voters have protested about the presence of religious symbols at polling stations amid voting in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, but no formal complaints are understood to have been made to authorities.
A Department of Local Government spokesman said the removal of religious symbols or covering them up is a matter for local returning officers, who procure the venues for voting.
A Co Leitrim voter was angered to find a bible in front of him on the desk where he got his polling card in Co Leitrim.
“The last thing I saw before I voted was the Bible,” Declan McGovern (33) said. “I thought there was a very strong message being communicated there.”
Mr McGovern stressed he was not pushing his views on the referendum, but wanted to raise the issue of a Bible being present at a voting centre. Similar concerns had emerged during the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015.
Describing himself as a Yes voter and a non-practising Catholic, he had voted in the village of Drumshanbo, where he grew up.
Many politicians seem to have been some way behind the people in changing their views on this issue:
Exit polls a shock to political system
The findings of these exit polls will surprise and even shock many in the political system.
There was undoubtedly a sense that the Yes side had gained momentum in the final week of the campaign but the likely scale of this result was unexpected.
It means the Government's proposals to allow abortion up to 12 weeks will progress through the Oireachtas before the end of the year.
It's likely the early work on this will now begin when the Cabinet meets on Tuesday.
And the result could even see the process set in train in the Oireachtas a little sooner than originally planned.
For other political parties too the result is significant.
A majority of Fianna Fáil TDs may have opposed constitutional change, but party leader Micheál Martin's decisive backing of the proposal strengthens his position.
And the new Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald can, with no little authority, ask her party members to support the upcoming legislation, when it holds a special Ard Fheis next month.
Based on these poll findings, the Government too has carefully and skillfully addressed a difficult social issue.
Its approach spearheaded by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health Simon Harris has won support in all parts of the country and across almost all age groups.
The Citizens’ Assembly, which plotted the path to this point, has also proved to be reflective of the public mood.
And that is something very few in political circles would have accepted before now.
The final results are now in and in turns out every one of Ireland's 40 constituencies except Donegal voted for Repeal - and the Donegal vote was a close 48-52% call. The overall result was 66.4% to 33.6% - a resounding 2:1 margin of victory and a complete reversal of the 2:1 margin by which the original amendment was passed in 1983. However the turnout this time around was 64% - a full 10% higher than the 54% turnout in 1983.
The government is now free to legislate for "abortion on demand" up to 12 weeks and afterwards where there is a fatal foetal abnormality or a risk to the health of the mother. It is expected that the legislation will be passed before the end of the year. Technically the government is a minority government and doesn't have the seats in Parliament to pass the legislation on its own. However it would be a brave party or politician who would now block the legislation given the decisiveness of the people's verdict.