The findings of today's latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll will come as welcome reassurance to those who wish to see a change in Ireland's restrictive abortion laws. However, they should take nothing for granted. There are five weeks from today until polling day in the referendum. It will be an intense and hard-fought campaign.
Today’s findings, however, suggest that the repeal campaign is in the driving seat. Just under half - 47 per cent - of all voters now say they will vote in favour of removing the constitutional ban on abortion, while 28 per cent say they will vote against the measure. A fifth of voters (20 per cent) say they are undecided, while four per cent refused to answer or say they will not vote. Once the undecided and the likely non-voters are excluded, the extent of the repealers’ lead is clear: 63 per cent to 37 per cent.
Although the numbers of voters who say they will support repeal has declined since our last poll in January, some tightening of the contest was probably inevitable. Significantly, there has been no growth in the numbers who are committed to voting against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
The poll again attests that it is the settled will of the Irish people that our laws on abortion should be changed to allow for abortions in Ireland. The remaining question is whether voters believe that this is the proposal, and the model, they want to follow. Campaigners in favour of repeal will stress that without a Yes vote in May, no changes are possible.
As today’s poll demonstrates, while the bulk of repeal support is strongly committed, there are also those who nurse doubts and concerns about the Government’s proposals for what would follow deletion of the Eighth Amendment, especially the plans to introduce abortion on request up to 12 weeks in pregnancy. These voters are best approached not by hectoring or preaching, but by acknowledgement and understanding. If this is an obvious political lesson, there are those on both sides who seem unwilling to learn it.
Repealers can expect a strong challenge in the remaining five weeks from anti-abortion campaigners, who have foreseen, and prepared for, this campaign for many years. They know that the tide in Irish society is towards a more liberal stance on abortion, but they will seek to portray the Government’s proposals as a step too far.
A successful campaign for the repeal movement will take not just commitment to stay the course for the next five weeks, but discipline and realism. The prize for those who favour reform is visible, past many obstacles, in the mid-distance. The campaign is there to be won, or lost.