Canvassing push for final week of referendum

Anti-abortion canvassers say tone of debate on doorsteps more respectful than online

LoveBoth canvassers at St Stephen’s Green,  Alexandra Brazil, Una Mary Mc Carthy Deering, Maeve O’ Hanlon, Al Byrne and Miriam Smith. Photograph: John Mc Elroy.

LoveBoth canvassers at St Stephen’s Green, Alexandra Brazil, Una Mary Mc Carthy Deering, Maeve O’ Hanlon, Al Byrne and Miriam Smith. Photograph: John Mc Elroy.

 

Canvasssers for a No vote in Friday’s referendum say they have detected greater engagement with the arguments for and against repealing the Eighth Amendment as voting day approaches.

Al Byrne (23), who has been canvassing with the LoveBoth group since last September, said he had been knocking on doors nearly every evening in recent weeks.

More people were now willing to debate the issues, he said.

“Now they see posters all over the place and they want to know more about the proposals.”

Mr Byrne, who has been canvassing across Dublin, said he finds there is a different reaction north and south of the river Liffey. There was more of a “pro-life tendency” on the northside, he said, while on the southside “there’s more people who haven’t made up their mind yet”.

After his mother had a miscarriage at 15 weeks of pregnancy, Mr Byrne said he became firmly anti-abortion. The baby, Jimmy Byrne, lived for four hours, he said.

“Just being able to see that, he had all his limbs and everything, he had a heartbeat, I could see the humanity,” Mr Byrne said.

‘Plenty of undecideds’

Muireann Lynch, a young mother-of-two campaigning for LoveBoth in south Dublin, said: “The kind of area I’m canvassing you’d expect to be strongly liberal, but we’re getting about 50-50 I’d say, and plenty of undecideds.”

The tone of the debate on the doorsteps was much more respectful, compared to social media, she said.

“There was really only one genuinely hostile house, he didn’t waste our time. He accused me of being in Opus Dei… that was that.”

With two young children, Ms Lynch said the number of evenings she can devote to the campaign trail was limited.

“There will be a lot of pressure just in the final week for everybody to push through and then everybody will collapse,” she said.

Maeve O’Hanlon said the reaction to canvassers in Cork advocating a No vote had been “really positive”.

In her opinion many undecided voters who would support liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws viewed the proposed legislation, to allow abortion at the request of the woman up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, as too “extreme”.

Exceptional cases

Meanwhile, a Fianna Fáil TD opposing the repeal of the Eighth Amendment has criticised the No side for failing to acknowledge terminations should be allowed in exceptional cases.

Anne Rabbitte, who is advocating a No vote, said she does not share the view that abortions should be prohibited in all circumstances.

Ms Rabbitte believes abortion should be permitted when a woman has been raped or a victim of incest, or when there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

This should have been the focus of the No side in the referendum campaign, she said.

Ms Rabbitte said: “If there is a No vote next week, we will still have to look at those cases. I think those of us opposed to repeal should have focused our efforts on that argument.

“I am a No voter, but I am also a realist and we cannot abandon women in these circumstances.”

The Galway East TD said she had made her views known to Save the 8th and Love Both in recent days but had not yet received a response.

The group “did a double lock-down” and refused to put forward a contrarian view, she added.

“I think most people within Fianna Fáil and outside of the party share that view. The No side did not want to engage in that conversation.”

Ms Rabbitte is one of a significant number in the party supporting the retention of the Eighth Amendment. She believes the “wrong question” is being put to the people.

In Friday’s referendum, voters will be asked whether to remove Article 40.3.3, which gives the unborn and the mother an equal right to life, and for the regulation of the termination of pregnancy.