New ‘Farmers for Yes’ group campaigns to repeal Eighth Amendment

‘Nobody makes the decision lightly to go to England or to order a pill across the internet’

Eddie Downey’s comments on the referendum are his first major public intervention since he was forced to resign as IFA president in 2015. Photograph: David Sleator

Eddie Downey’s comments on the referendum are his first major public intervention since he was forced to resign as IFA president in 2015. Photograph: David Sleator

 

Former Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Eddie Downey is among a group of farmers who have launched a “Farmers for Yes” campaign group to call for a Yes vote in the abortion referendum.

He is among a network of 40 farmers across Ireland who have launched the campaign to show a diversity of views across the farming community.

Mr Downey said “we’ve treated women in this State abominably, particularly pregnant women in difficulty over the years.

“I think it’s time we stood up and said ‘look it, we’re going to care for them at home. We’re going to do this properly’.”

His comments on the referendum are his first major public intervention since he was forced to resign as IFA president in 2015 following the controversy surrounding the salary of then IFA general secretary Pat Smith and the crisis in the organisation over his subsequent exit package.

Based in Slane, Co Meath and farming with his son with whom he has just started a new dairy enterprise, Mr Downey said he had thought long and hard about abortion, which was such an emotive and difficult issue for everyone.

He believed that if women had the option of abortion in Ireland there was a better chance they might opt not to have a termination because they would not be in the same rush to travel for an abortion.

“If we give them the support at home and the access to a GP and proper advice, there’s a better chance that they’ll make a different decision and we get a better outcome in a lot of these cases,” he said.

“If they’ve got the option then they’re not rushing to get on a boat or scrambling to get the money to get to England and do all the things they have to do to do that.

“They’re able to access it at home. They’re able to discuss it with a GP, discuss it with family or people they trust and I think there’s better options.”

“Nobody makes the decision lightly to go to England or to order a pill across the internet.”

He said he had heard the No side talking about putting in place different safeguards and better care for people at home with a No vote. “I think we vote Yes and put the better care in place and look after these people. The adoption option and all those things make much more sense in a society that cares for women in difficulty.”

He acknowledged that farmers had a reputation for being conservative and rural Ireland for being more conservative than urban areas but he believed people were better informed now and “they’re more inclined to make up their own minds”. He added: “People are more compassionate now than they were.”

Mr Downey had been out canvassing in Slane and Navan where the reaction was “very positive - not positive as in all Yeses, but positive in that people are thinking deeply about this and I think that’s a real plus for society”.