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'The two nations' - How the 1983 Eighth Amendment referendum revealed Ireland's urban/rural split

That split has only become more evident with each referendum on a social issue


The front page of the Irish Independent on September 9 1983

The front page of the Irish Independent on September 9 1983

The front page of the Irish Independent on September 9 1983

The morning after the result that put the Eighth Amendment into the constitution the Irish Independent headline on September 9 1983 read 'The two nations' with the sub-headline 'City, country split in poll'.

The final count of votes revealed that the Yes side in that campaign won in a landslide, 67pc to 33pc.

However, within those figures, the signs of a divided nation were clear. Out of the then 41 constituencies, only five voted not to put the Amendment in the constitution, and all of these were in Dublin.

These were Dun Laoghaire, Dublin South, Dublin South West, Dublin North East and Dublin South East.

The 11 Dublin constituencies as a whole did vote in favour of adding the Amendment, but by a fine margin of 51.64pc to 48.36.

In contrast, Connacht/Ulster's combined vote saw 79.06pc in favour of introducing the anti-abortion clause.

Fast forward 35 years and Ireland votes to repeal the Eighth Amendment with a resounding 'Yes'.

Since 1983, the urban/rural divide in Irish voters has become more apparent with each referendum that dealt with a social issue.

The 1986 Divorce referendum, which was rejected by 63.48pc to 36.52pc, was approved in six Dublin constituencies, with Dublin North joining the five that had rejected the 1983 abortion proposal. In addition, the other five Dublin constituencies were all among the top Yes voting areas in country.

By the 1996 Divorce referendum, which passed by just 9,114 votes, a significant urban/rural divide was even more evident.

In total, 16 constituencies voted in favour, all either in Dublin, surrounding Dublin, or urban constituencies outside the capital such as Cork South Central or Limerick East. The proposal was very narrowly defeated in Waterford (203 votes) and Galway West (1,284).

The 2002 referendum, which proposed to enforce even greater restrictions on abortion, was very narrowly defeated by 10,556 votes.

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This time 19 constituencies rejected it and again it included all 11 Dublin constituencies as well as Wicklow, Kildare North and South, Cork South Central and North Central, Limerick East, Waterford and Galway West.

Ireland's most recent social issue referendum, 2015's same sex marriage vote, saw 42 of the now 43 constituencies vote in favour of the proposal.

But even in such a nationwide popular vote in one direction the urban/rural divide was clear. The 10 highest Yes votes in the same-sex marriage referendum were all Dublin constituencies and the five highest No voting constituencies were all in Connacht/Ulster.