Recalling the words of Mary Robinson, instead of rocking the cradle, the women of Ireland have rocked the system. A campaign led by small groups of women in every county has voted to consign the eighth amendment to the dustbin of history. Hope and history now rhyme for a future when Irish women will no longer have to seek help abroad in their time of need.
Treacys Oakwood Hotel in Shannon was the designated count centre for the referendum result in Clare. On Saturday morning with the opening of the first boxes, there was a great anticipation of a historic occasion marking a new era for Irish women. Early in the day the tallymen and women were joined by Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway, Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley and Independent TD Dr Michael Harty in a clear demonstration that this was a united campaign, above party politics.
A boxing ring occupied a prominent place in the counting venue, booked in for 3.00pm for use in a white collar boxing event by a local group Shannon’s Fight Against Cancer. At 2.30pm the returning officer, Pat Wallace, stepped up to the podium to declare that the Clare electorate had voted 34,328 (64.3%), Yes and 19,079 (35.7%) No. Later it would be announced at Dublin Castle that 66.4% of the electorate had voted Yes.
Local tallies reported overwhelming results in some areas, for example, a box from Ogonnelloe in Timmy Dooley’s heartland of East Clare had 247 Yes votes and only 97 No, 71.8% in favour. Martin Conway’s North Clare also polled highly for yes, his native Ennistymon had a 70% majority, Doolin was 85% in favour, Kilshanny was on 72%, Lahinch on 70% and Liscannor 66%.
It was not only younger people who voted for what Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described as a quiet revolution. The majority of voters in two Clare nursing homes voted for repeal, one had 135 yes voters compared to 122 no while the second had 93 yes and 85 no.
The highest yes vote in Clare was in Ennistymon where all 132 votes in one box were marked yes, 100%! In Shannon voters at St Conaire’s NS registered 197 yes to 56 no, a 77.87% majority. One box from Cratloe showed 196 yes to 94 no. A box in Newmarket-on-Fergus had 118 for yes and 44 no, a 72.84% majority. In East Clare, 77.26% of Shannonbanks voters said yes.
Back in 2016 more than 3,200 Irish women went to the UK seeking treatment. Among them were young mothers diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities. On average, ten women per day, some who had been victims of rape or incest, made that harrowing journey. This has been another “Irish solution to an Irish problem”, a phrase coined by the president of the Irish Medical Association (IMA) who opposed Dr Noel Browne’s 1951 attempt to introduce a Mother and Child Scheme to provide free maternity care for mothers and their babies.
On Friday the people voted for change. Hundreds paid a lot of money to come #hometovote from all across the world and a record number of young people registering to vote for the very first time. For many, this was a tough and emotive decision. At issue was a constitutional clause equating a woman’s life with that of an embryo. People genuinely struggled with their conscience, including those in public life like Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, and Fine Gael Minister of State, Pat Breen, who both still mourn the deaths of young children but still found it in their hearts to support the repeal side.
During the campaign, Clare TD Timmy Dooley was reminded on several occasions that he had once strongly opposed abortion. Dooley acknowledged that his mind was changed when he listened to the many heartrending stories told by too many women over the course of the campaign.
Minister Pat Breen credited the Citizens Assembly for creating the space to have difficult conversations. Guidance was also provided by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment. This committee reported that it could not “ignore the extent to which Ireland has an underlying rate of terminations, the majority of which are carried out either in medical clinics in the United Kingdom or in Ireland through unsupervised use of abortion pills procured through the internet.”
All election campaigns are fought with an element of competition and this one was no different. For the most part, both sides were respectful as they were dealing with a sensitive and very personal subject. Campaigners for a No vote had concerns of floodgates opening, some believe that repeal of the eighth amendment will lead to abortion on demand on wide-ranging grounds. In stark contrast, the Joint Committee noted the World Health Organisation’s finding that the introduction or liberalising of abortion in France, Italy and Turkey actually reduced the number of terminations.
While debate raged in public, on TV, in newspapers and on social media, there was one constant – Irish women with a crisis pregnancy continued to seek help in Britain and elsewhere. For this reason, the eighth amendment has failed, it failed the 14-year-old rape victim in the X Case, it failed a 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar who died when medical staff in Galway refused to terminate her pregnancy because there was a foetal heartbeat. For too long the State has failed its own citizens.
Thirty-five years after the eighth amendment was voted into the constitution, Irish people have decided in overwhelming numbers that it is time that we, as a republic, cared for our own people here at home. It is important now that the Government acts with urgency to bring forward the appropriate legislation and engages with doctors and nurses to facilitate the changes necessary to deliver on the huge mandate given to them on Friday – a truly historic day for Irish democracy.
See the tallies for your area below, thanks to Seamus Ryan.