Reaction: ‘The country has listened. Women have spoken’

Yes and No campaigners react to expected result in abortion referendum

Ballot boxes are emptied as vote counting takes place after the Irish abortion referendum, at the RDS Conference centre in Dublin on May 26th, 2018. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Ballot boxes are emptied as vote counting takes place after the Irish abortion referendum, at the RDS Conference centre in Dublin on May 26th, 2018. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images


Ireland has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution.

On Friday night the result became clear when an exit poll carried out for The Irish Times by Ipsos/MRBI indicated a landslide victory for the Yes side. Campaigners on both sides of the debate have been reacting.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I think what we’ve seen today really is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s taken place in Ireland for the past 10 or twenty years. This has been a great exercise in democracy and the people have spoken.

“The people have said we want a modern constitution for a modern country, that we trust women and we respect them to make the right decision, the right choices about their own healthcare.”

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ the results so far show the nation is united, not divided. When asked what he believed the key factors were influencing people’s vote, the Taoiseach said: “Most of all and above all, it was the very many brave women and men who told their personal stories as to how the Eighth Amendment impacted on them, and impacted on them adversely.”

Personal stories “allowed us as a nation to understand how this hard law created so many hard cases, and allowed us as a nation to come of age and to make this big change that we’re making in our constitution today.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has expressed confidence that TDs previously opposed to repealing the Eighth Amendment will not seek to frustrate the passage of legislation.

“I think what you will see now is the government moving quickly on the legislation and the opposition will support that too - I think there will be very few people in the Dáil who will try to frustrate what is now the clear will of the vast, vast majority of the Irish people,” he said.

“For me, the margin of victory is important but equally important is that there is no Dublin versus the rest or no urban/rural divide -in virtually every part of the country, people have voted in big numbers to allow the government and the Oireachtas to change Ireland for the better.”

Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness, who is a veteran of the 1983 campaign opposing the addition of the Eight Amendment to the constitution. On Saturday she said they were very pleased at the time with the 33 per cent No vote. “Given the amount of bitterness at the time, we felt we would get 10 per cent. I remember being very pleased that we made 33 per cent of the vote.

“It was a lonely place in 1983. I’ve just come into the count at the RDS where there are young people full of joy,” she said.

Ms McGuinness was part of the Together for Yes campaign, participating in Grandparents for Yes and Lawyers for Yes. “Together for Yes worked very well together. They all held together, that’s important.”

The campaign this time was “much more civilised” than in 1983 she said. However, she added that she felt the response of audience members who supported a No vote during the Claire Byrne show “might have made people vote the other way.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris said this was an extraordinary day for Ireland and for women from across the country.

“The Eighth Amendment abandoned women in crisis, the Minister said.

“Women have been told take the plane, take the boat. Today we say take our hand. Women have been told you are on your own. Today we say we stand with you.”

“People have given us a job to do. It is a big body of work to do. We have been given the go ahead,” he told the Marian Finucane show on RTÉ.

Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, said the referendum result “is all about the women who travelled in difficult circumstances and told their stories.” It is important that doctors can now care for women in crisis pregnancies in their own country,’ she told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show.

“It’s a very emotional day. It’s all about real life and the dilemma faced by Irish women every day.”

The difference between this referendum and that in 1983 is the level of information available to the public, she said.

“This has been a very informed conversation from the get go.”

She pointed out that from the Oireachtas Sub Committees, the Citizens’ Assembly, the Expert Group, people had been “really engaged.” Conversations had occurred, not just in public fora, but at family dinner tables, among students in universities, she said. “The country has listened. Women have spoken.”

Dr Peter Boylan said this is a watershed moment for Irish women and a message to the 170,000 women who have had to travel outside this jurisdiction.

The chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said this was a message to this women that they are valued.

“This is about the women of Ireland and the couples of Ireland.”

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He said he was not surprised by the scale of the result.

Director of the National Women’s Council and Co-Director of Together for Yes, Orla O’Connor thanked “every woman and man in every town, village and county who came out and voted yes. Because this is phenomenal.”

“This was a grassroots, people campaign and I think what today will show is that this is a people’s referendum. Presuming that these exit polls are correct, the public haven’t just spoken, this is a resounding roar from Irish people about the horrors of the Eighth and how women should no longer be treated as second class citizens in our society.”

“Today I think there will be an overwhelming feeling of relief, but also a very emotional one in terms of really being listened to and heard by the Irish public.”

Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland commended the “decades of campaigning and activism” that led to the referendum.

“The scale of the indicated win in this is just phenomenal. We’re just incredibly proud and honoured to have been part of this campaign, what I’m struck most by is that this win is the result of decades of campaigning and activism by a very wide range of organisations and activists going on now for a very long time”, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “But today’s vote is mainly the result of the courage and integrity of women and families who have spoken out about the harm and suffering that they experienced because of the Eighth Amendment.

Dublin South West Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said the projected result was a political “earthquake”.

“It’s such a rejection, driven by young people and by women, of an Ireland of the past, of domination of the Catholic Church, of oppression of women,” he said.

“People are looking for a very different type of society and it should send a clear message. It’s a rejection of dishonest lies, of the conservative right in Ireland which has had so much power for so long that their time is gone.”

Ailbhe Smyth, co director of Together for Yes, speaking on Saturday morning said the indications are that Ireland is heading for “absolutely extraordinary” milestone in its history.

“For those of us who have been campaigning for a long time and all of the younger people we have been campaigning with over the past several months, we are truly stunned and deeply relieved, deeply pleased and deeply grateful to the people of Ireland,” she told RTÉ.

“Because this looks as if we have come to a real milestone. It is an incredibly significant change on a number of different levels, very immediately of course for women who need abortions - it is absolutely extraordinary.”

Minster for Children Katherine Zappone said new laws legalising abortion will be passed “as quickly as possible” as much of the groundwork is already completed.

“I think the legislation will go as absolutely as quickly as possible as any legislation could - I believe very much we can get this done before the end of the year,” she told RTÉ.

Ms Zappone added: “I feel very emotional, I’m especially grateful to the women of Ireland who came forward to provide their personal testimony, about the hard times they endured, about the stress and the trauma they experienced because of the Eighth Amendment. “It is because of them that I feel a deep gratitude today as we hope and wait for the polls to turn into official results.”

The Irish Family Planning Association has said it is committed to providing abortion care in Ireland .

“Today is a transformative day for women’s health and reproductive rights,” IFPA chief executive Niall Behan said. “The people of Ireland have righted a historic wrong. The Yes vote ends decades of stigma, shame and silence around abortion and unintended pregnancy. It ends the rejection and abandonment of women by the state.”

Tara Flynn, Irish actor, writer and Yes campaigner, said in a Twitter thread: “This is our home. Not some fictional 70s postcard hiding misery and shame. This proud, young, progressive, kind country is our home. There’s a lot to fix. But now we know we have the people power to fix it.”

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said the projected scale of the Yes vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment was “impressive,” and early tallies in his constituency appeared to confirm the exit polls.

Mr Bruton said based on “the scale of the decision people have made, it’s fairly clear that they favour change.”

People did not see the referendum campaign as one led by the Government, he said. “Parties weren’t taking a prominent position, so I think voters made up their own minds which I think is the strength of this decision,” he said.

Caroline, who travelled to Liverpool with husband for a termination after FFA diagnosis: “This is a very emotional day for my family, I’m hoping that this will give us further closure for our grief, really hope that young women like myself won’t ever have to go through the same journey that we had.”

“I’m glad to say that I’ve just given birth to my little girl since I last spoke to you. Things are really looking up for my family,” she told Morning Ireland.

“I knew all my family and friends and any one that I spoke to about my story was going to vote yes, but I was very anxious. I regret that anxiety now, because I really should have trusted the people of Ireland.”

“I’m so pleased that everybody in Ireland is very informed, they’re very educated and they really do have hearts of gold.”

Independent Alliance members Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and John Halligan have welcomed the early tallies.

The three members campaigned for a Yes vote. They said they now believe it is important to get the legislation through without delay.


John McGuirk, spokesman for Save the 8th, told The Irish Times he had “made peace” with the result, acknowledging it is an overwhelming majority for Yes side.

Katie Ascough, of pro-amendment LoveBoth, said the No side have been galvanised by the referendum for continued campaigning. “I think this is only the beginning of a really, really strong grassroots movement with the pro-life campaign and their supporting groups,” she said.

Iona Institute spokesman David Quinn has acknowledged that many people who voted Yes were not pro-abortion, but were pro-choice. He told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show: “Even the expectations of the Yes side were surpassed.”

This was a complete reverse of the 1983 result, he said. “I don’t think any one expected it to this extent.”

The anti-abortion side was “boiled down to its core” one third of the vote, he added. In 1983 it had been a lonely place to be on the pro-choice side, said Mr Quinn. “It took 35 years to reach this position.

“No societal position remains forever. This is the position for the next few decades.”

When asked about social media in the campaign, he said that Twitter was not the best way to judge anything. He defended the Iona Institute’s poster campaign saying that they used one simple image.

“We didn’t run a ground campaign. We’re about getting profile in the media.”

Declan Ganley, entrepreneur and anti-abortion campaigner, siad on Twitter: “When due to the snuffing out of their human rights, the first of countless thousands of Ireland’s unborn children are killed in Irish clinics or hospitals, all those that voted No can at least know you fought the good fight to try to save those little ones. Heros all.”

Cora Sherlock, spokeswoman for the Love Both campaign: “This is a very sad day for Ireland, that people have voted for abortion.”

“We need to remember what they have won,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“All that is being offered is abortion. There has been no talking about why Irish woman travel, what options could have been put on the table.”

She said that the last time “a proper discussion” on alternative possibilities to abortion had taken place had been 20 years ago.

Ms Sherlock paid tribute to Pro Life campaigners: “We will regroup, we will re-organise to ensure the safety of mothers and babies in Ireland.”

Maeve O’Hanlon of the Love Both campaign said Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar had promised there would be restrictive abortion if people voted Yes in the referendum and he should now honour that commitment in whatever legislation is brought before the Dáil.

“We have had very little discussion in this entire debate about the 97 per cent of abortion that take place for socio-economic reasons and very little discussions on why women have abortion and what we can do to bring those numbers down,” said Ms O’Hanlon.

“We have heard nothing in recent months but about these rare tragic cases that we all have compassion for . . . for me whatever happens today it’s been a missed opportunity to address the underlying reasons why women have abortions.”

Anne Rabbitte, Fianna Fail’s Children and Youth Affairs spokeswoman, who advocated retaining the Eighth Amendment, said “democracy has ruled” and the Oireachtas should now support the will of the people by legislating for abortion. “I think this tells us we are no longer a conservative society,” she said.

“I think we might be traditional but we are not conservative, and I also think the fact that there was such a fantastic turnout yesterday gives an overwhelming, resounding support.”

Independent TD Michael Healy Rae commented: “I voted no because of firmly held beliefs. The people voted the way they did, now it is over to the legislators. We will have to look at what the Minister will do in the Dáil. The people have spoken.”

Independent TD and “no” campaigner Mattie McGrath has admitted he is “a bit surprised” by the projected outcome of the referendum and called for “compassion” for women in crisis pregnancies when it comes to drawing up the legislation.

“The people have spoken and we have to listen to that,” the Tipperary TD said. “We have to see the legislation when it’s published and examine it. I’m certainly not going to obstruct it. We’ll have a constructive debate, hopefully, and a respectable debate. In Tipperary, up to 40 per cent of the people will have voted differently and they must be accounted for in the legislation as well.”

Abortion Referendum