Friday 20 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

'Yet again the pace of societal change in Ireland has moved up a gear'

Shona Leahy arrives at Dublin Airport from London, having travelled to vote in the referendum. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne
Shona Leahy arrives at Dublin Airport from London, having travelled to vote in the referendum. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne
John Downing

John Downing

Yet again the pace of societal change in Ireland has moved up a gear. But let's not forget that these struggles have often been long and often hurtful and abusive.

This writer was a young reporter in the original 1983 campaign which gave us this abortion amendment to the constitution.

Happily, we have since learnt - with certain lapses and exceptions - to talk to one another respectfully and kindly about the difficult issue of abortion.

We are today witnessing the end of the "Irish solution to Irish problems".

This is definitely the biggest change in what former Church of Ireland Bishop, Dr Walton Empey, once called "Ireland's alternative Trinity" of divorce, contraception and abortion.

The prohibition on divorce was taken out of the Constitution by a tiny majority in November 1995 after an earlier vote in 1986 which was beaten by 2:1.

Stock photo
Stock photo

It is all of 33 years ago since the then-Health Minister, Barry Desmond, instituted changes to allow the free availability of contraceptives.

Prior to that, the theory was that, if a man or woman had a certain urge, they required a marriage certificate and a doctor's prescription to get a packet of condoms.

That was a formula devised by a man called Charlie Haughey in the late 1970s when he was Health Minister and encapsulated in the dreaded "Irish solution ..." slogan.

Way back in 1988, Senator David Norris won a marathon case in the European Court of Human Rights ordering the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Ireland accepted that ruling as they have contracted to accept all such rulings in principle under membership of the Council of Europe.

But every six months Ireland's ambassador to the Council of Europe had to appear at the headquarters in Strasbourg to explain why it was going to take more and more time to comply with the ruling. It took until 1993 for then Justice Minister, Máire Geoghegan Quinn, to enact legislation which ended the criminalisation of same-sex relations.

In 2010, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party introduced 'Civil Partnership' giving tax, welfare and succession rights to cohabiting partners.

Then two years ago we as a nation historically voted to allow same-sex marriage.

Now we have decided to allow abortion in less restrictive circumstances.

It has come after a marathon debate spread over some four years.

Abortion is the most difficult issue of these matters. It is never easy to decide upon and most of us would prefer it was not a feature of our own lives or the lives of people around us.

But we have to take account of the difficulties faced by everyone in society.

We are moving towards an increasingly secularised society where faith and belief are distinct from our political government.

It is the way of the western world and suddenly Ireland is playing catch-up after decades of delay.

It is important that we afford a strong place for all faith groups, not least the Catholic Church, in national political and social dialogue.

And we need a sense of perspective at a time of major change. But for now let's just note that today marks a major step-change in Irish social and political life.

Irish Independent

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