Sunday 22 September 2019

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub

Opinion: Are we to replace decades of religious tyranny with a new secular intolerance?

A supporter holds a photo of Savita Halappanavar (Niall Carson/PA)
A supporter holds a photo of Savita Halappanavar (Niall Carson/PA)
John Downing

John Downing

I STILL have mortifying memories of a comprehensively failed effort to buy a packet of condoms in a certain midlands market town back in the summer of 1986.

After the third pharmacy staffs’ crude rebuff, I became more determined to see out this utterly hopeless chemist shop tour. Much good it did me.

The Labour Party health minister of the day, Barry Desmond, had yet to see his recent legislative writ run so far beyond the leafier confines of his Dún Laoghaire bailiwick.

“We’ll have none of your carry-on down here,” was the unrelenting God-fearing pharmacists’ message.

I voted Yes last Friday and that vote dovetailed with my No vote way back in September 1983 on the issue of abortion.

I voted for divorce in 1986, against a tightening of abortion laws in 2002, and in favour of the same-sex marriage referendum two years ago.

In between I was living on mainland Europe, where we know they have no God.

But I would have voted for the right to travel and information and against removing the suicide threat on abortion in 1992; and for divorce in 1995, had I been living in Ireland in those years.

I am more than happy with what happened last Friday and invigorated by the turnout – especially young voters’ participation. In retrospect, the difficult and uncomfortable debate was extremely good and productive.

So, what’s my point here?

Well, it is that there is a certain dislikeable triumphalism among a minority on the Yes winning side.

Last week I wrote about the importance of including No voters in social policy developments and taking account of the views of people in the various religious denominations.

Muslims and Presbyterians also opposed the removal of the Eighth Amendment. But clearly, most of all we are talking about the Catholic Church here.

The Catholic bishops, and many aligned groups, unsuccessfully advocated No.

On RTÉ’s ‘Today With Seán O’Rourke’ yesterday, one bishop, Kevin Doran, said that if a voter who was a practising Catholic voted Yes they have sinned and need confession.

Many people, who see themselves as fully practising Catholics, sometime Catholics, or so-called “cultural Catholics”, will take issue. But it is an internal matter for those who adhere to that Church to discuss.

Bishop Kevin Doran said that if a voter who was a practising Catholic voted Yes they have sinned and need confession. Photo: Joe Boland
Bishop Kevin Doran said that if a voter who was a practising Catholic voted Yes they have sinned and need confession. Photo: Joe Boland

This writer’s injunction of care for faith communities after the referendum has met with a reasonable question: Why?

Well, in reverse order, try these three reasons. Firstly, one-in-three people voted No. So, that still represents a pretty rock-solid and large community.

Secondly, the bishops can well state that, beyond that third, there are many people who still adhere to the Catholic Church to varying degrees. Just look at Sunday Mass car parks.

Thirdly, there is the crunch question: Are we going to replace decades of dictation from the Catholic Church by some kind of secular trendyism?

Surely, we can do far better in the future.

There have been reasonable questions about the rights of groups like the Iona Institute and others to front-up for the No campaign.

But the reality is that we are still in transition here.

If we had a long-promised Electoral Commission, as recently argued by political blogger Derek Mooney, this and other contentious questions could be resolved.

For now, media are left in a world limited in putting both sides.

Persistent readers may have residual questions about the aftermath of that sad dander around the midlands town in 1986.

Truth to tell, the chemist-shop staff were actually for my good. My would-be lover had decidedly different ideas.

These days none of those pharmacy staff would bat an eye. Alas, all too late.

And alas, also the tendency of some liberals to lurch towards illiberalism when challenged by different views.

Free speech is only any good when we are challenged.

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