Sunday 15 September 2019

Two Irelands, one referendum divide

Options: Referendum posters
Options: Referendum posters


Today's Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll highlights a divide of opinion in the country in relation to the issue of abortion, certainly, but it also seems to underline the emergence of what we might call two Irelands: an urban, liberal and a rural, conservative Ireland. This phenomenon has, of course, always existed at some level, but the referendum campaign is highlighting what appears to be a growing polarisation which is unfortunate, the exploitation of which should be resisted in the weeks ahead.

When the referendum is ultimately decided, whatever the outcome, every effort should be made to accept the result, which will no doubt be the case, but also to avoid blame and recrimination.

Relative to the abortion referendum campaign in 1983, the current referendum on a proposal to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution has, so far, been conducted in a reasonable spirit. The level of bitterness which was evident 35 years ago is thankfully absent today, although the campaign is still being fought in a trenchant manner which is to be expected, indeed welcomed, for it serves to illuminate the issues to be decided upon.

At this remove, it is apparent that there is strong momentum in favour of repeal in urban areas, such as Dublin (where a clear majority are in favour) as well as in Cork, Limerick, Galway and to a lesser extent in other larger, urban areas. However, it is equally evident that there is strong opposition to repeal in rural areas, with the farming community, for example, significantly more against, and also in rural locations throughout Munster and Connacht/Ulster in particular.

In a way, today's opinion poll reflects what has been a widely-held belief throughout rural Ireland that it is, in some fashion, the poor relation in terms of the onward progress of the country, particularly in the aftermath of the economic recession. While official statistics and data do not strictly adhere to that belief, certainly in the more recent years post the crash, there is undoubtedly a widely-held view, bordering on resentment, that rural Ireland has and continues to lose out now that the recovery has taken root. This view has, to an extent, been exploited by some politicians and that, too, can be understandable in terms of their engagement on the ground. However, it is also undoubtedly true that national politicians and policy makers are, in general, most anxious indeed that no part of Ireland should be left behind as the country strives to advance after a lost decade.

Neither would it do, of course, to overstate the polarised nature of opinion on such a sensitive issue as abortion or ascribe that divide to all manner of issues. Divided opinion on this issue is to be expected. It is the fault which may be applied afterwards which concerns us. In many ways we are all of the land. It is to be hoped, indeed expected, that national leaders, and other public figures, will listen to and accept the will of the people as enunciated at the end of this referendum campaign, that they will move quickly in the immediate aftermath to ensure that there was no recriminations, and in the months and years following that again, that they will do all in their power to alleviate any sense that there are two Irelands when there is only one.

Sunday Independent

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