Tuesday 18 December 2018

Radio: It's a milestone moment as the people are heard

Celebrating the 8th amendment being repealed at Dublin Castle. Picture:Mark Condren
Celebrating the 8th amendment being repealed at Dublin Castle. Picture:Mark Condren
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

In the end, it was passed as expected. What wasn't expected was the margin of that Yes victory in the abortion referendum. Early exit polls pointed to a landslide repeal, which meant from Saturday morning onwards, radio was discussing this as a done-deal.

Coverage was heavy all weekend and well into the week, with the tone mostly - mostly - respectful, sober (while also happy and relieved on the Yes side) and balanced, with little grandstanding or triumphalism.

Newstalk went particularly big on Saturday, with a special show Ireland Decides running from 9am until noon, then intermittently throughout the day. And why not? The clue is in the station's name: huge news stories such as this are its bread and butter.

Ivan Yates delivered a heartfelt spiel, describing the result as "a decisive moment in our history… a milestone moment. We are leaving the past behind us". Quite powerful stuff, though he spoiled his bib a little with this needless response to a Save the Eighth statement: "It's time to say to the campaign that has been roundly rejected - back off."

The same show/shows heard Leo Varadkar say that "a quiet revolution has taken place, and a great act of democracy… Today, we as a people have spoken… we trust and respect women and their decisions".

Fellow Fine Gaelers Simon Coveney and Health Minister Simon Harris, who led the Yes campaign, both made the interesting and valid observation that, contrary to what both sides either declared or insinuated, there isn't this huge "rural-urban" divide in Irish society. Words to be heeded, I think.

We heard from the No side, too. Katie Ascough said: "Today's result won't discourage us from this cause, which is now more important than ever. We commit to working towards a day when the lives of mothers and babies in Ireland are protected." Save the Eighth spokesman John McGuirk pointed out that "people who opposed it, with all sincerity, and for very good reasons - it's not a time now to demonise those people".

On Radio 1 Marian Finucane (Sat-Sun, 11am) looked at international reaction - the "global spotlight" on our referendum - with this newspaper group's political editor Kevin Doyle and Swedish-based journo Philip O'Connor. Kevin described press reaction abroad as "huge" and "phenomenal", with "every newspaper in the world, pretty much, covering this story". Reporters had travelled from the UK, Europe, North America, even China and India.

On Today with Seán O'Rourke (Mon-Fri 10am), Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said legislation should now be brought forward "as quickly as possible… in line with the wishes of the people, as declared emphatically in the referendum".

Colleague Michael McGrath, a prominent No voice, was asked on News at One (Mon-Fri 1pm) if he was "out of touch" with constituents because so many had voted Yes. Not at all, McGrath rightly pointed out; abortion is a private matter for the conscience of each individual.

Meanwhile, Liveline (Mon-Fri 1.45pm) heard from Jane, a nurse who specialises in dealing with the "hard cases" of foetal anomalies - some fixable, some not. She encapsulated for me the maturity, the recognition of ambiguity and complexity, demonstrated by Irish people last week when saying: "There's relief that the debate has come to an end… it's a very sad topic to have to discuss, but Ireland has voted Yes and this voices openly their wish for change."

Hear, hear. It may not have been a good day for No voters, but it's been a very good few months for democracy.

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