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Ireland gets an update

Inside Politics: From the second The Irish Times exit poll was published on Friday night, people knew that the change was emphatic

The events this weekend have been like the classic closing line of a Frank O’Connor short story: “She knew from that moment on, things would never be the same again.”

From the second The Irish Times exit poll was published on Friday night, people knew that the change was emphatic. Perhaps the underlying sentiment has been there for a long time, and this merely made it official. Or that people realised in the past few weeks, as a Yes canvasser in Roscommon, Jacinta Lynch, said yesterday: “This Ireland is out of date. We need to update Ireland.”

And Ireland was updated. The 66.4 per cent to 33.6 per cent Yes vote was unequivocal.

It wasn’t a ‘them versus us’, ‘country versus rural’, ‘young versus old’ thing. People of all ages, of all geographies, of all social classes, of all demographics, of all political persuasions, supported it.


So how will the politics of it work out? Fiach Kelly has a great piece on the political winners and losers, explaining why the likes of Simon Harris, Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald, Brendan Howlin, Eamon Ryan, Clare Daly, Ruth Coppinger, Catherine Murphy, and Bríd Smith will get all the plaudits.

Sinn Féin and the other parties of opposition - Labour, the Greens, Solidarity, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit- were all strong supporters of repeal. For them, there is no issue.

The next step is for legislation. Given the clear result, it is now expected that the Bill will be drafted during the summer and introduced to the Oireachtas by autumn with the new laws in place by Christmas. Sarah Bardon lays out the issues and the expected sequence and timetable.

The political difficulties will lie within the two biggest parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, particularly the latter. There were a significant number of parliamentarians within both parties who opposed repeal, with a more organised group within Fianna Fáil.

The clear nature of the result yesterday means that group no longer has political leverage on this issue within the party. A few years ago some within Fianna Fáil made the suggestion the party should present itself as a socially conservative party to capture that particular vote. But as the two referendums since 2015 have shown us, that group in society is reducing.

The result copper-fastens the leadership of all the parties, especially Fianna Fáil. Micheál Martin took a brave decision in January to support Repeal (which was very unpopular internally) and yesterday’s result gives credibility to that. Otherwise, besides a few token liberals, the party would have had the image of being a backwoods operation.

The TDs and Senators in both big parties who voted No will have a quandary now. Do they accept the overwhelming will of the people that the Eighth must be amended and  legislation legalising abortion up to 12 weeks passed?

It is certain that not all will, but some will swallow hard and accept the inevitable. Fianna Fáil Deputy leader Dara Calleary said so yesterday. So did his Roscommon-Galway colleague Eugene Murphy. There may be some hold-outs but most will accept it. Besides, the two big parties have invoked a conscience clause so any opposition will be symbolic and have no disciplinary repercussions.

It’s the optics that are important. Fianna Fáil in particular has struggled with its ‘dinosaur’ image at a time when it is desperately trying to modernise. If Martin had not taken the stance he had taken, the party could have found itself in serious difficulties this morning.

Unlike other parties, Sinn Féin does not allow votes of conscience. The party is holding a special conference in June to endorse officially the 12-week proposals and it would be astonishing if it were defeated. That will leave its two parliamentary outliers, Peadar Tóibín and Carol Nolan, with difficult choices to make. Both are so identified as pro-life politicians that it is hard to see them accepting the legislation. Therefore, it does put a question over their respective futures with the party.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times