Alarm at apparent lack of urgency in repeal campaign
Well-organised anti-abortion campaign is weeks ahead in its postering and canvassing
The leaders of the Together for Yes campaign gathered in Dublin on Monday to publicise the launch of their postering campaign in advance of the referendum on May 25th.
Cameras clicked as T-shirted activists ascended poles. But many of the poles the campaigners and workers decorated with their message already had competing messages – the anti-repeal campaigners had beaten them to it.
In many cases, they had already been there for nearly a fortnight, since the day the referendum was formally called and it became legal to put up posters. For some repeal supporters, it was a worrying sign that they are weeks behind the anti-repeal campaigners – in publicity, fundraising, canvassing and implementing a campaign strategy.
“No,” says Orla O’Connor, co-chair of the Together for Yes campaign. “We are exactly where we want to be, it’s exactly how we planned it.”
As of this week, she says, groups are now canvassing in all parts of the country. They are crowdfunding a possible second national poster run. They are connecting with the political parties, and will be co-ordinating local canvass groups all over the country with them. They’ll be meeting Fine Gael campaign chair Josepha Madigan this week.
‘Last 10 days’
“It was only in the last 10 days of the marriage equality referendum that a lot of the donations came in,” O’Connor says. “That only happens when people engage with the campaign and that’s only beginning now.”
Posters aren’t that important, but they are when only one side has them
There are certainly similarities with the referendum campaign on same-sex marriage. But there are also differences, one of the main ones being that there wasn’t much of an organised campaign against the marriage proposal.
By contrast, there is a very well-organised, well-funded and committed campaign against the abortion proposal.
“Posters aren’t that important,” says John McGuirk of the Save the Eighth campaign. “But they are when only one side has them. So we find the ‘one in five’ [the campaign’s poster says that one in five babies in the UK are aborted, an interpretation of the UK statistics] thing is coming up on the doors a lot.”
“The postering also helps us frame the debate,” says McGuirk. “The comparison with the situation in the UK is a very, very important comparison for us to make.”
Campaign observers agree that the anti-repeal side has had the better of the early running.
“Look at the No side, look at how they have constructed and progressed their message since January,” says one pro-repeal public affairs consultant, who has looked back over the campaign since January. “They’ve done it in a series of three-or four-week blocks. It’s all very disciplined, very clear. You know, the voices on the radio match the slogans on the posters and the leaflets coming through the doors. There’s a great message consistency.”
Clearly, anti-abortion campaigners have been getting ready for this fight for a long time. But some repealers are wondering why they haven’t been preparing with the same urgency. It is not, after all, as if the referendum was a surprise.
Privately, some anti-abortion figures say that they are a “bit mystified” by the repeal campaign so far.
Nervous repealers do not entirely disagree with them.