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

'This time I think it's more personal'

Abortion debate has been vigorous, but measured, among Roscommon voters, writes Kirsty Blake Knox

Dennis Caulfield in Strokestown, Co Roscommon Photo: Mark Condren
Dennis Caulfield in Strokestown, Co Roscommon Photo: Mark Condren
Natalie, Triona, Teresa and Georgina Barrow. Photo: Mark Condren
Christy Deely Photo: Mark Condren
Bernadette Brudell Photo: Mark Condren
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

For three years Roscommon has taken a good deal of flack. In 2015, Roscommon-South Leitrim gained notoriety when it became the only constituency to vote No in the same-sex marriage referendum.

This led some to write it off as Ireland's ultimate rural, Catholic backwater.

Some of this is founded - it is a religious county, and it does have the highest density of over 65s in the country as younger generations have flocked to cities for third-level education and secure jobs.

This doesn't mean, however, the county is backward looking.

Or, as Roscommon for Yes campaigners have argued, that a No Vote on the Eighth Amendment is a given.

School teacher Natalie Barrow (27) is quick to point out it was never the county of Roscommon that voted against same-sex marriage in 2015.

It was the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency. A constituency that has since been replaced by Roscommon-Galway.

"We have been portrayed very unfairly," Natalie said.

"There were other counties who did vote a majority against but the border of a neighbouring county pulled them over.

"We have been the butt of jokes for three years."

Natalie sits in her family kitchen in Strokestown along with her sister Triona, her mother Georgina and her grandmother Teresa.

They are three generations of Yes voters, and have been canvassing for votes since April.

"We have become comrades in arms," Natalie said. "Not just mothers and daughters. It was a once-in-a-generational vote - we just couldn't sit by and do nothing."

On the wooden table badges with Tá and Repeal lay scattered.

Youngest daughter Triona, who studies and works in Dublin, travelled home to vote on Thursday night.

Triona, who identifies as bisexual, hopes people in the county will find the issue of women's health more relatable than same-sex marriage.

"I think people could distance themselves from the marriage referendum by saying 'I don't know anyone who is gay. This doesn't affect me'.

"But everyone knows a woman," she explained. "This time I think it's more personal."

The family say the people they have encountered on door steps have been overwhelmingly positive.

"Many, from men in their 70s and 80s, who are so pro-repeal," Natalie said.

"They are asking us for stickers for their cars."

But old habits can die hard.

Along with Mayo, Roscommon had the highest proportion of Yes votes backing the introduction of the Eighth Amendment in 1983 with 83.8pc casting a ballot in favour.

In the town, some seem happy to keep things as they stand.

Dennis Caulfield (76), a fruit and vegetable seller from Athlone, was going to head to the polling station in the late afternoon.

"And I'll be voting No," he said. "There's too much hype for the Yes. If abortion comes in a lot of people will be going for it."

It's a concern other voters who wish to remain anonymous share.

"There will be no end to it," one young mother muttered while cradling a child. "People will be getting it done without a second thought."

Bernadette Brudell said she was voting No because new legislation would allow "young girls in distress to make a momentary decision that they will surely live to regret".

Opinions are strong whichever way you cut it.

In some families the intensity of debate has led to division and fall out.

I find Bridget Brannigan (21) on a street corner holding a placard advising No voters to 'feck off'.

"My mother and my family disagrees with me and I've lost a good few friends but I had to stand up for it," she said as a passing lorry honked it's horn in support.

Strokestown resident Caroline Greene (64) described herself as "an enthusiastic Yes voter" as she made her way from the local butchers to her car.

"This was not a hard decision for me because it is a basic healthcare issue - no more and no less," she said.

But for others the issue was more complicated.

Joan Harkness (45) and her husband Howard both voted No.

"We don't have the right to say who lives or dies," she said. "I have looked up abortions on the internet and it is the stuff of nightmares.

"The one place a baby deserves to be protected is in the womb - if we don't have that than what do we have."

Most anti-repeal politicians who have spoken despairingly about 'hard cases' have also been eager to shirk and shy away from circumstances of rape and incest.

"You would feel compassion for those people," Joan said.

"But I believe that rape is an act of violence, if a woman gets an abortion that too is an act of violence against a baby."

It's a close call - with all sides passionately caught up.

"Whatever the outcome," Natalie Barrow said before casting her Yes. "The people of Roscommon have really thought about this.

"These are considered votes, I hope they are compassionate ones too."

Irish Independent

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