Roscommon shakes off ‘conservative’ tag with Yes vote

Abortion result aftermath: ‘People said, this is out of date; we need to update Ireland’

Breege Comer with her granddaughter Gráinne O’Brien, eight months, arrives to vote at the polling station in Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Breege Comer with her granddaughter Gráinne O’Brien, eight months, arrives to vote at the polling station in Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

 

At times during the abortion referendum campaign in Roscommon, there were more international journalists and television crews touring around than there were Yes canvassers.

Roscommon-South Leitrim had borne the dubious distinction of being the only constituency in the country which had voted against the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.

International media swarmed into the county and some painted it as the Alabama of Ireland, as one local put it over the weekend. There were reasons behind that: it was one of Ireland’s most rural counties with an older demographic.

On Friday, Roscommon-Galway (the configuration of the new constituency) turned the tables on its image and voted handsomely by 57 per cent to 43 per cent to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

In the suitably traditional setting of “The Hyde” (Hyde Park, home of Roscommon football) a group of Yes canvassers gathered happily to wait for confirmation of the tallies. The campaign launched in April with a core team of just 15 people, rising later to 30.

Among them was Julie O’Donoghue from Roscommon town who took her six-month old daughter Ailbhe with her on many canvasses.

“I think there was a tone here in Roscommon based on the marriage referendum. People did not want to be on the wrong side of history.”

MEP Luke Ming Flanagan, the only national politician in the county who canvassed, said the result was partly driven by “Roscommon nationalism”.

“When the result of the marriage referendum came through people like us were not happy. There was a light shone on us and it did not represent us in the best light. I think that helped massively to mobilise the Yes campaign this time.”

The west and northwest counties are traditionally conservative. Driving through Roscommon, east Galway and Mayo on Saturday the No posters outnumbered the Yes by at least five or six to one. The number of No canvassers was also much greater.

In the end, however, just one county, Donegal, had a No majority. It rejected repeal of the amendment by 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent.

In the Travellers Friend in Castlebar, Yes and No campaigners gathered to hear the results. It was all low key, with no triumphalism or rancour.

A sizeable group of Save the 8th campaigners stayed until the end of the count. Tommy Horan from Kilmovee said his disappointment was not losing, but “the consequence for babies not born”.

There were various theories advanced as to why the Yes side won: personal stories; judgments that hard cases needed to be dealt with; a perception that the 12-week limit was not excessive.

In Roscommon, a lively and engaged Yes campaigner Doireann Markham from Ballinlough said Yes canvassers outnumbered the No and their polite, respectful approach on the doorstep helped.

Her colleague, Kieran O’Donovan, said he sensed a week ago that the Rossies were “going green”.

Another Yes campaigner, Jacinta Lynch, offered the explanation: “People said, this is out of date; we need to update Ireland.”

All agreed there was a sizeable group of “silent” Yes, voters who didn’t wish to show their hand until Friday.

Over in Castlebar, Yes campaigner Bernadette Carroll agreed with this observation. Aged in her 60s, she said in the last few weeks she talked to many women of the same generation. “Even though they were not saying Yes, they were voting Yes. The No side got very negative and that turned people off. I am also a very good practicing Catholic by the way. I feel sorry for the other side and hope they come around to our way of thinking. I don’t think this will open the doors to abortion on demand. I hate that statement. There is no such thing.”

At the count centre in Castlebar, local Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy said he was amazed at the number of older single men who were saying they were voting Yes. “I think a lot of people took the view that personal stories came through that needed to be dealt with by compassion.”

Murphy, a No voter, said he was likely to support the legislation when it was introduced. “I will take it step by step but there are elements of it that I will support,” he said.

Beryl McCrainey from Ballina said the referendum marked Ireland’s time to say sorry to women for historical misogyny.

On the No side, there was deep disappointment. Áine Killian, a nurse in Roscommon general hospital was at the count centre with her daughter, 13-year-old Éadaoin.

“Last Sunday I knew the feeling on the ground was not good. I felt that people were not listening and not prepared to listen. I went home and cried. The media presented Roscommon as as a jewel in the crown. I am a single mother and my daughter is 13 years of age. So many girls like me have had their baby and not regretted it, who rang abortion clinics in England and then changed their minds.”

Friday’s vote was “giving a message we are giving a blessing to having abortions in Ireland in future”.

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