Yes campaign needs to win middle ground – Tánaiste

Simon Coveney says focus should not to be on voters who have already decided

Campaigners for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment need to focus on undecided voters and convince them the status quo needs to be changed, Tánaiste Simon Coveney had said.

He told an event in Cork that the health of women could not be prioritised under the current legislation.

Mr Coveney said he believed the referendum would be won if the Yes campaign focused on the 30 per cent of voters who are undecided.

The Yes side should present its case to undecided voters not in stark anti-abortion or pro-choice terms, but rather say that change is necessary and reassure them about the proposed legislation, the Cork TD said.


“The focus should not to be on people who have already made their minds up because then you are talking in a bubble. What we need to do now is reassure people whom I would see are in a similar category to myself, who accept it needs to be changed but aren’t quite sure how far it should go.”

Speaking at a cross-party photo shoot for the Together for Yes campaign in Cork, Mr Coveney said he believed the key issue for the Yes campaign was to avoid “getting dragged into a nasty spat where it becomes hard-line pro-choice versus hard-line pro-life”.

Mr Coveney said such a development would make a lot of people in the middle ground very nervous about voting for change and those were the people whom the Yes campaign needed to convince.

“What we are proposing to do here is still protect unborn children, but we are deciding to rebalance the discussion around prioritising the health and lives of women particularly early on in pregnancy.

“I think we need confront people with that and give some examples of why we need to do that,” he said. “You will not get a majority in the country saying, ‘Well I used to be pro-life but now I’m pro choice’, whereas you will get a lot of people saying, ‘Well I’ve always been pro-life but I can see that the restrictions the constitution imposes is putting a lot of women in cruel and impossible situations’.”

Mr Coveney's comments were echoed by Sinn Féin Cork North Central TD Jonathan O'Brien, who said he changed his views on the need for terminations when he sat on the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

“The key to this is information and to be honest, if I didn’t sit on the Oireachtas committee, I wouldn’t be as far down the road as I am now. Going into that committee, I went in with a particular upbringing, a particular background and to be honest, pretty ignorant about the whole issue,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said t he did not know what abortion pills were or how they worked until he sat on the committee. He believed if the Yes campaign presented people with clear and factual information, then it would succeed in persuading undecided voters.

“One of the things we need to avoid is pigeon-holing ourselves [AS]pro-choice or pro-life. That old language going back to the 1980s doesn’t do any of us any service. One of the things I learned pretty quickly on the committee is that you can be pro-life and still be pro-women’s health,” he said.

“I consider myself pro-life and that’s not easy to say because people have hijacked that label. We are not asking people to change life-long held views from pro-life to pro-choice. We are just asking them to prioritise women’s health and that’s how we should couch the debate to convince people.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times