Rural Ireland exposes remoteness of urban 'elite'
The overwhelming Yes vote and denunciations of rural Ireland throughout the campaign prove that our political classes have lost touch with the people, writes Brendan O'Neill
Friday's astonishing vote, that stirring people's demand for reproductive choice, tells us two things about Ireland.
The first story it tells is the one we're more comfortable with: that Ireland has changed.
That this once rigid, godly nation is finally staggering into modernity, blinking in its light.
This is the narrative the Yes victors will weave and push now, and not without justification.
They'll regale us with tales of modern Ireland's moral arc - how this isle went from being a hell for women, and children, and gay people into a beacon of progress.
How this land of terrifying Jesuits and repressive laundries metamorphosed into a country where Panti Bliss gives a Christmas sermon on TV and almost 90pc of 18- to 24-year-olds vote to liberalise abortion law.
And they'll pat themselves on the back for having made this happen.
In this story, it is always them, the apparently daring metropolitan cliques, who are the heroes.
They see their own campaigning, and badges, and tweets, as the deliverer of Ireland from its 'dark past' into the brightness of a fairer way of life.
But then there is the other thing that was thrown into sharp relief by the tumultuous democratic events of the past few days. The second story, the one these observers will prefer not to talk about.
Because this is a story that threatens to scupper their self-congratulation.
It's a story that raises pressing questions about the remoteness of Ireland's Yes-supporting elites, about their dislocation from ordinary people.
Constituencies with the strongest Yes/No vote
The table below shows the top five constituencies with the strongest vote for or against repealing the Eighth Amendment.
Dublin Bay South 78.49% 21.51%
Dún Laoghaire 77.06% 22.94%
Dublin Fingal 76.96% 23.04%
Dublin Central 76.51% 23.49%
Dublin Rathdown 76.10% 23.90%
Donegal 48.13% 51.87%
It is the story of the political classes' surprise, shock even, at the scale of the Yes victory, and the fact Yes won in rural areas and among people in their 50s and early 60s.
The reason they cannot believe this, the reason it made them splutter on Pinot Gris on Friday night, is because they had convinced themselves Ireland is split between progressives and regressives. Between forward-looking, largely youthful, mainly Dublin-based defenders of the new decency on one side and stuck, suspicious country-folk and oldies on the other.
So there are two things about the mass uprising for Yes that require honest analysis: first, the uprising itself; and second, the open-mouthed bamboozlement in certain political quarters at the size and distribution of the uprising.
For me, a London-Irishman 100pc in favour of Repeal who has been observing the referendum from my familial home in Connemara, one of the most telling things of the campaign happened in the last few hours.
On Friday afternoon, Together for Yes sent out an emergency campaign alert. It sent the Twitterati into a spiral of panic by announcing: "Yes [is] in danger of failing".
Why? Because it looked like turnout in Dublin was slowing. In "some parts of Dublin", turnout has become "comparatively lower",Together for Yes freaked.
Columnist Una Mullally summed up the sentiment: "[Dublin's] turnout is not what it should be. Use your f**king vote. We are a city that challenges the status quo."
The message was clear: Dublin's smart-set had to stand up to The Other - to the backward-looking beliefs of those non-Dublin areas where turnout was looking OK.
Right-on Dublin people were positing themselves as saviours of Ireland from its 'dark past', an educated bulwark against the prejudices of the Other Ireland.
This point was explicitly made by Roisin Agnew in The Guardian a few days before the referendum.
"Can cities protect reproductive rights?" her piece asked.
She said it was largely down to 'urban dwellers' to shake Ireland from its 'conservative, patriarchal foundations'.
This could be a referendum that pits "the capital [against] 'the rest'," she ventured.
This didn't ring true with me. It felt like a caricature of the country.
In Clifden, the capital of Connemara, I had seen people wearing Yes badges.
I had worn my Repeal sweatshirt on the country lanes here and encountered no hostility - in fact I got warm nods.
It never felt to me like people here were biting at the bit to get into the polling booth to say No to a liberalisation that Dublin cliques were determined to see through.
And we now know it wasn't the case. At the time of writing, exit polls suggest every province had strong Yes majorities.
Even the one I'm in, even this wild land so often sneered at: it is thought 59pc of Connacht/Ulster voted Yes.
As Fiach Kelly put it, the Yes victory was not down to a "few segments of Irish society", as campaigners expected.
Rather, the referendum tapped into 'an overwhelming desire for change' that 'nobody had foreseen'.
And this is the rub: why didn't they foresee it?
Yes, it's partly because opinion polls did not point to such a big victory. But it is also because a rather demeaning view of people 'out there' has taken hold in elite circles.
Ireland is now subject to the same divides that stalk Europe and the US: between a political class cut off from ordinary people and convinced it knows best about everything, and a public wary of these elites.
In The Guardian on the day of the referendum, novelist Louise O'Neill wrote about those who were planning to vote No as people who have been "steeped in decades-worth of messaging". They have been morally warped by "intense conditioning".
In short, they're brainwashed,;robots virtually, bereft of the capacity for open thought enjoyed by Ireland's clever novelists and wearers of that bright Yes badge.
In recent weeks, that badge - and I say this as the wearer of one - risked turning from a simple statement of voting intent into a symbol of goodness.
In Dublin in particular, these badges seemed to become a signifier of moral decency, a way of distinguishing yourself from 'the rest'.
O'Neill's view of No voters as automaton-like creatures is how many observers view much of the country.
Hence their conviction - their arrogant, wrong conviction - that in this referendum, it fell to them to drag Ireland out of its 'dark past'.
Too often, the Yes campaign looked less like a vote for something - for the expansion of women's liberation, which I absolutely support - and more like a vote against Old Ireland, against a caricature of the past, against Them.
This is why we have seen the Ireland of the past being talked about in the most reductive way, as if it were a woman-hating hellscape and nothing more.
Because this referendum had a tendency to veer from the issue at hand and become a means for the new elite to express its disdain for the past and for certain people.
I have never understood this caricature of rural Ireland.
Having spent much of my childhood in Connemara, I know Ireland's rural people are actually often questioning and rebellious.
They're not the mental slaves of the Dublin elite's caricatures - they're sceptical, contrarian; they bristle at authority; they fume at being told what to do, whether it was by a hypocritical priest in the past or a Dublin do-gooder today.
It was in Connemara that I first heard people refer to Christian Brothers as bastards, and God as good but religion as bad: 'blasphemies' I had not heard even in my birthplace of London.
It doesn't surprise me that all of Ireland has just made a great ballot-box blow for increased liberty.
Because I know Ireland is changing, and I know the Dublin elites, for all their pretensions, are not the guardians of progress.
That they don't know this, that they still labour under the illusion of their own specialness, speaks to one of the most fascinating things about this historic referendum: the self-insulation of the political class from everyday people.