It was an incredible weekend in Ireland but one with very little drama. The race was run for the No side by about 11pm when the results of the RTE exit poll re-affirmed that of the Irish Poll and showed a clear majority had voted to Repeal the 8th Amendment from the Irish Constitution.
I boldly made three predictions for the 8th Amendment in April and repeated them last Friday week and now I must humbly accept I was wrong on all three counts.
Obviously, I underestimated the desire across the country for the 8th Amendment to be replaced but I also think I overestimated the division in the country and the negativity around supporting Repeal.
I thought turnout would be lower than in 2015 for Marriage Equality as I argued that;
“The Yes campaign for the Marriage Equality had a real “feel good” that allowed many to openly support the campaign even if it was not an issue that was high on their political priorities. So far, I do not see the same level of enthusiasm for the Yes campaign amongst the “non-aligned”.
By May 24th, the sheer numbers of women (and men) out on the streets campaigning for Repeal meant that more and more people were being engaged and the referendum almost became omnipotent in Irish life.
Even those who initially had wanted nothing to do with it were being asked daily what they felt and which way they were inclined to vote.
The personal stories shared on media and across social platforms also helped to normalize the debate and bring the issue much closer to home for many.
If the 8th Amendment had been an abstract law at the start of the campaign, by the end it was a much more tangible force that either hurt women or saved the lives of the unborn, depending on your final views.
Ultimately though, and despite the graphic posters, the Irish electorate related the 8th to women and the women and men of all ages, religions and political creeds mostly voted for change.
This uniformity of this belief by the end of the campaign meant that while the Yes % vote varied only Donegal actually voted No.
The #hometovote campaign also helped the Yes side and it was encouraging to see so many Irish citizens come home to Ireland to help change the laws. However, at the moment I believe this group can only be energized for referendums and will not play a role in shaping the next government.
There is no doubt the great weather also helped boost the turnout by a percentage point but given the scale of victory I don’t think even the most ardent No supporter could claim it had a decisive impact.
Most of the reviews and articles will focus on how Ireland is now finally transformed and has eradicated the last vestiges of the Catholic Church’s influence in Ireland’s political thinking. I will leave this point to more eloquent Irish (and international) writers.
What I finally want to look at is whether this result has changed the political landscape in Ireland.
It does seem highly likely that we will have an election before the end of 2019 and it may even come at some point in 2018. Have any parties or politicians benefited from their campaigning and the result.
Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris played major roles in the campaign and Harris’ appearance in one of the last televised debates was widely praised. Fine Gael currently have an unassailable lead in the polls and the result will only have strengthened this lead.
There may be a slight increase in female support for Sinn Fein away from Fianna Fail given the respective party positions on the 8th. Mary Lou McDonald played a very public role in the campaign and was a key figure on the Yes side.
However, the campaigning of Micheal Martin has bolstered his leadership over Fianna Fail. It was a brave decision to campaign against the party position taken at the last Ard Fheis and it would have ended his leadership if the campaign had failed.
The role of the Citizen’s Assembly has received a lot of attention as a means to bring more direct democracy and electorate led legislation.
It would be very interesting if a major party proposed using the Assembly for something like housing or healthcare. I do not know if this possible, but it would be very interesting to see if the Irish electorate is as far ahead of its politicians in other policies as it was on this initially.
Finally, the 8th Amendment campaign had a very all-island feel and approach with many women from the North canvassing here. In Dublin Castle Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill held up a sign “The North is Next”.
This could pose another challenge to Anglo-Irish relations as the British Government come under further pressure to legislate in Northern In the absence of an Assembly.
Unionists are skeptical of many of the movements for social progress in Northern Ireland after the alleged “Trojan horse” comments of Gerry Adams.
However, it will be a lot harder to ignore and dismiss these campaigns when they are soon led by women from leafy suburbs in Belfast and Dublin and bolstered by those returning home to campaign from the British mainland.
Ireland is changing but moving forward it looks set to increasingly change united island. Regardless of how hard or soft the final Brexit border is, the island of Ireland is united in its desire for progressive politics and policies…