John Downing: Citizens must use their vote - a decision by default is not good enough
Many referendums have been decided by the people who stay at home and don't bother to vote. Today's referendum will be no different as turnout will have a big say in the result.
Last time we voted on the issue of abortion, on March 6, 2002, almost six out of 10 people did not vote. Even in the very first referendum on the issue, which in September 1983 created the provision we are being asked to keep or throw out today, almost half the voters stayed away.
The exception on turnout was back in November 1992 when almost seven out of 10 voters participated. It may well have been influenced by the extraordinary emotive circumstances surrounding the campaign which arose from the notorious 'X' case.
But it is also more likely that the holding of a snap general election on that same day was the main factor which increased the turnout. November 25, 1992, saw everyone picking up four ballot papers at their local polling booth - three referendum papers, and one election ballot to pick the local TD.
The outgoing Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader of the day, Albert Reynolds, was in very bad shape going into that general election. In his autobiography, Reynolds's successor, Bertie Ahern, recalls a train of events centred on personalised rows with the Progressive Democrats and their leader, Des O'Malley.
Ahern also recalls things getting far worse as the short campaign wore on and Reynolds's morale sank lower and lower. But Reynolds did one thing right: voters would separate out the election, based on economics, and the referendum with its extraordinary emotional tangles.
We must stress both Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern were, like most of the rest of us, cut to the quick by the events surrounding the 'X' case. Here was a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant as a result of rape being denied the right to travel to England for an abortion as part of the provisions of the 1983 referendum.
The immediate issue was resolved by the Supreme Court which ruled the girl must have access to an abortion. The following three-part referendum further remedied certain other issues on information and travel, and re-affirmed a mother's suicide threat as grounds for an abortion.
But it has remained as unfinished business over the ensuing 25 years and this referendum is an attempt to resolve things.
For many people, today's vote is about endorsing change to vindicate mothers', and by extension families', rights to safe healthcare. For others, it is about preserving an important provision which protects human life.
Anyone who is not emotional to some extent really does not comprehend what is at stake. But it is time to dial down those emotions and make a practical choice by putting an X in a box opposite Yes or No.
Many citizens are often indifferent whether their TD is from one party or another, or none. They could not care less whether that TD is from up the road or the dark side of the moon. It is not a particularly laudable viewpoint and often smacks of extreme selfishness and a lack of care for those around us. But it is to some extent understandable.
Today's question laid before voters is very different and transcends usual election issues. It touches the very heart of life around us and we must not remain indifferent and abstain.
It is not too late to equip oneself with the information and decide which way to vote. The alternative is to shun the polling booth and influence outcomes in a very dispiriting way by default. A decision by default is not good enough.