Abortion vote: Referendum result ‘still all to play for’, Harris says

Micheál Martin says abortion debate has ‘far less aggression’ than it did back in 1983


The referendum result is “still all to play for” and every effort is being made to get Yes voters to the polls, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Speaking at noon as he voted in Delgany, Co Wicklow, Mr Harris said he visited the Dublin offices of the Together for Yes campaign on Friday morning and that there was “a real energy” about the place.

“They are still working on social media about getting people out to vote,” he said of the campaign group.

Mr Harris said “it is up to people to come out and vote” and that he was “encouraged by the turnout so far”.

He warned against complacency and said Yes side would “keep on campaigning right up until 10pm”.

“It really is all to play for now we are in 24 hours where punditry becomes irrelevant because it is in the hands of the people. I hope the people will vote for a compassionate and caring Ireland” he said.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he believed voters were more appreciative now of the complexities surrounding terminations of pregnancy than they were in 1983. He said this fact may well lead them to support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

‘Less absolutism’

Mr Martin said he was still a student back in 1983 and his sense today was that “there is far less aggression, far less intensity and far less absolutism about the debate now than there was back then”.

“I think people in the current debate have a far greater sense of the complexity of life itself and the complexity that this question opens up and I think people get the nuances that life isn’t simple, it isn’t straightforward, whereas back that in the 1980s it was almost a battle between two absolutes.”

Speaking after he cast his vote at St Anthony’s Primary School in Ballinlough in his Cork South Central constituency, Mr Martin, who was accompanied by his wife, Mary, said he believed turnout would be important particularly in Dublin, where he believed the Yes side was in the ascendancy.

“There’s a been a significant focus on this debate in the last three weeks - I think the momentum really grew from the May Bank Holiday weekend onwards - the increased registration is a telling sign and I think that’s more towards the Yes side,” he said.

“And Dublin is very different from the rest of the country, certainly the southside of Dublin is overwhelmingly Yes, so if you have a high turnout in Dublin, and the good weather will help, then I think that’s a very strong signal and I think it will pass, that’s my sense of it now.”

Generational divide

Mr Martin conceded that there will be regional differences but also predicted there will be a strong generational divide, with younger voters in favour of repeal and older voters more reluctant to change.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney forecast that the intensification of the campaign in recent days could result in some surprisingly strong Yes returns in rural constituencies.

“Up until ten days ago, there wasn’t same level of intensity to the campaign outside of Dublin as there was in Dublin but I think people are now engaging with the issue and I suspect that many rural constituencies may surprise people,” he said.

Speaking at Carragaline Community Centre in his Cork South Central Constituency after casting his vote, Mr Coveney said he believed there was still “a huge silent vote” out there which still had to make its mind up.

“I don’t think anyone should take anything for granted - referendums are notoriously difficult to predict particularly on social change issues so a lot of people will be very nervous until they see some data from exit polls tonight,” he said.

“My sense from the private conversations I’ve had is that Ireland has changed its perspective on this issue and the stories that people have been hearing over the last number of weeks (show) that a lot of people no longer see this issue in the sort of polarised pro-life vs pro-choice perspective.”

He said stories of cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, in which women have told of having to travel to England alone for an abortion, have had a huge impact on Irish people.

“I am constantly trying to reassure people that if we see a strong Yes vote tomorrow, we will not see the introduction fo some hyper liberal approach to abortion in Ireland - quite the opposite in fact- it will be see the introduction of some of the most conservative legislation in Europe.”