Miriam Lord: It took 35 years to build this stunning result
Cheers and tears greeted the verdict – a just reward for decades fighting the good fight
It took 35 years to build a landslide.
Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was neither quick nor easy, despite what the margin of difference might say.
Sixty-six per cent said “Yes”. Makes it look simple.
But that two-thirds majority conceals hard history and hard-fought battles behind a stunning final result.
Woman by woman, story by story, year upon year, day after day. The rocks and pebbles of countless unjust ordeals and small personal tragedies piled up after each furtive trip to Liverpool and beyond.
Brave campaigners for basic abortion rights did everything they could to increase the pressure, their efforts ignored and condemned by priests and politicians and that tiresome class of pious people who live in terror of the slippery slope.
They thought they could hold back a landslide. On Friday, gravity kicked in. The slippery slope did for them in the end.
The Eighth Amendment, which guaranteed a foetus the same right to life as the woman carrying it, is gone from the Constitution. Good riddance to it. It brought nothing but difficulty and despair to Irish women in times when they desperately needed proper care and compassion at home.
It was a wonderful morning on Saturday in the RDS when the boxes were opened and the votes counted. It was a wonderful afternoon in Dublin Castle when crowds filled the courtyard to hear the official declaration. It was a wonderful day for Irish women.
A day made even better in the happy knowledge that the vast majority of Irish men are looking out for them and want only the best for them. By voting in their droves to repeal, they placed the concerns of women far above the fears of ideologically-motivated crusaders who prize saving souls above having a heart.
With repeal looking the likely outcome, there were calls from some quarters for a muted and dignified response. Perhaps it was the reason why there was neither screen nor public address system for the huge crowd at the castle.
But no. For all the decades of all the women who suffered, and for all the women who fought and agitated for change, we had to celebrate this historic turning-point in modern Irish society.
Some never thought they would live to see the day. Some, like Monica Barnes and Mary Holland and Nuala Fennell and many more, didn’t. The celebration was for them too.
It was for Ailbhe Smyth, who never stopped fighting. It was for senator Ivana Bacik, Catherine Murphy, Joan Burton, Catherine McGuinness and many more who were there from the start.
Political rivalries were cast aside for the day. “Oh, c’mere to me,” said socialist Bríd Smith, giving Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley a hug.
Obstetrician Peter Boylan, looking very cool in his shades turned up and it was like George Clooney had just rambled in, such was the clamour which greeted his entrance. The three co-directors of Together4Yes – Ailbhe Smyth, Orla O’Connor and Gráinne Griffin – arrived to rapturous welcome.
Senators Lynne Ruane and Alice Mary Higgins were in floods. Ruth Coppinger was hugging for Ireland. Katherine Zappone, who demanded the referendum as her price for supporting the Government, was ecstatic.
“Oh God, I told my husband I’d give up the fags if there was a repeal,” said Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell, one of the party’s most active campaigners, as she ran out for a smoke.
Brendan Howlin arrived in just after Mary Lou McDonald’s big entrance. The Labour party was fighting the cause when all the others didn’t want to know. “We never get the credit,” said Howlin, shrugging. “We carry the flag, but then in comes the fresh faced Leo to take all the glory.”
Maybe not. Health Minister Simon Harris pretended to be embarrassed by the “I fancy Simon Harris” poster, but he was secretly thrilled. Wherever he went he was mobbed. No wonder Leo stuck close by him.
As Micheál walked through the crowd, tearful young women hugged him
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin maintained a low-key presence, but his early intervention and support for repeal and the proposed legislation was a pivotal point in the campaign.
It was a courageous move which now sees him on the right side of history and one half of his parliamentary party stranded on the other.
As Micheál walked through the crowd, tearful young women hugged him. A man and woman approached. “We’re one of those couples who had a fatal foetal abnormality,” the women said to him. “Thank you. Just, thank you,” she sobbed.
Meanwhile, back in the RDS, the Attorney General was chatting to former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness.
She had had eye surgery the day before but the doctor gave her a special dispensation to attend the count. “Theoretically I should have a patch over my eye today.”
At Dublin Castle, Frank Crummy (81), who set up Ireland’s first family planning clinic, was resplendent in his repeal jumper, alongside his wife Evelyn.
There was a lot of discussion about why so many politicians and pundits called the campaign so wrong. The Together4Yes team remains amused by the old school, outmoded metric used by some of them to evaluate their very effective efforts. It was as if they were affronted at the idea that people outside the Kildare Street bubble might actually know more than they do about what the electorate really wants these days.
Independent TD Clare Daly, a politician hugely deserving of credit for the part she played, decided to stay away from the castle bunfight. Instead, a number of Johnny Come Lately politicians with a weakness for self-publicity preened and waved from the platform.
It’s always the same.
Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll take it from here
A third of the electorate voted No. “I feel like I’ve lost my country,” a woman told us amid the celebrations in the RDS. She was very sad. She couldn’t be consoled.
Cheers and tears and champagne greeted the announcement. The sky fell in briefly when a few drops of rain fell. Everyone danced.
Because it was a monumental day. The day when the intelligent, compassionate citizens of Ireland turned to the Catholic Church and the retreating fundamentalists and firmly said: “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll take it from here.”