Tánaiste denies Government complacency on abortion referendum

Simon Coveney rejects claim while canvassing with FF leader Micheál Martin in Cork


Tánaiste Simon Coveney has rejected suggestions that the Government is complacent about the outcome of Friday’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment and said the Yes campaign would be working right up to polling day to ensure that the provision was repealed.

Mr Coveney said he believed the country had engaged with the issue and people were discussing what they were being asked to vote on. He said he expected a high turnout, and the Yes side needed to continue to reassure people about what was being proposed in order to win the day.

Friday’s referendum will ask voters whether they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which enunciates an equal right to life for the unborn and the mother, and allow the Government to legislate for termination within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, without restriction as to reason.

Recent opinion polls have suggested a likely Yes result but a narrowing lead for the repeal side.

Mr Coveney stressed that there remained a lot of work to be done to convince undecided people to come out on Friday and vote Yes.

“There are still many people who are undecided, but I think when they get the details and the facts of the case and the reassurance behind what the Government is proposing to do if they vote Yes, then I think they will vote Yes,” he said.

“And that’s a particular role I have in this referendum campaign, to really explain why we are making this change and why Ireland needs to move away from the status quo of sending thousands of women abroad each year because we can’t deal with their needs here.”

He said he was confident the Government’s proposal for a doctor-led approach, which recognised the magnitude of the termination of a pregnancy while at the same recognising the reality that women were choosing terminations, would reassure undecided voters.

Mr Coveney was speaking during a canvass for a Yes vote on Trinity Bridge in Cork, where he was joined on Monday morning by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Senator Jerry Buttimer of Fine Gael, Cllr Mary Rose Desmond of Fianna Fáil and Lorna Bogue of the Green Party.

Complex views

Mr Martin echoed Mr Coveney’s concerns and said he wasn’t sure that the opinion polls were necessarily capturing the complexity of people’s views on the issue, given the reluctance of some to discuss their views openly.

“I think there are quite a significant number of people who haven’t made up their minds – the polls may not capture the nuances of people’s decision-making that’s under way at the moment – I think it will be tight but I get the sense a majority is in favour [of repeal] and it will pass,” he said.

“As to the precise margins, I wouldn’t be certain of that. From meeting people on the doorsteps in Dublin and in Cork, there is no question but the majority of young people are in favour and I think a majority of women are in favour so a lot will depend on turnout in various areas.”

Mr Martin said he didn’t believe one could make definite correlations between turnout and the referendum result, but he did suggest that some people who were leaning towards No with reservations might not vote at all because they were also unhappy with the status quo.

“It is a very personal issue and so people may not be revealing their views on it – it’s a very different canvass to any other canvass – when you are talking to people, you don’t broach it by saying ‘do this’. As Nell McCafferty said, you have a conversation because there is no perfect resolution to this.

“I think the current system has proven cruelly inflexible to women so therefore there has to be change and I think the Oireachtas committee wrestled with that and came forward with, what in my view, is a framework that can deal with rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

“So there will be people voting Yes with reservations; there will be some voting No with reservations. There are a large number of people in between the hard doctrinal and ideological views who are genuinely wrestling with this and they may vote one way or another but with reservations.”

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